transport | urbanism | adventures | pontification
Many of the used European vehicles being resold in Northern Africa make their way across the Mediterranean by ropax (roll-on-roll-off passenger) ships. I decided it would only be fitting for my project that I follow suit. So I booked a ticket on the Grimaldi Lines Sorrento, which took me from Civitavecchia (the Port of Rome) to Tunis (with a stop in Palermo, Sicily).
When I bought my “deck passage” ticket, I didn’t realize that it meant I would be sleeping (or trying to) on the seating in the ship’s dining area. A number of nearby passengers were playing Arabic rap music from their cell phones until late in the night. The lack of sleep, however, was definitely worth the excellent people watching. In addition to the many Tunisians heading home, there was a group of Italian tourists who were taking a convoy of campers to Africa. A leader of the group, wearing a yellow rain jacket, was the spitting image of the Gorton’s Fisherman (he seemed jovial, but I didn’t trust him enough to snap a picture).
My closest neighbors were a group of three Algerian men. Working in a team, they made their living transporting cars from Europe to Algeria for resale there, crossing the Mediterranean about twice per month. On this trip, they were taking a Citroën Berlingo from Barcelona by ferry to Tunisia (via Rome), then driving through Tunisia to Algeria. In addition to Arabic and French, one of them spoke Italian, and another one (with whom I chatted) spoke Spanish. They graciously spent a few hours of the twenty-five hour trip teaching me some Arabic phrases (with definitions in Spanish – yes, my travel notebook has entries like “Salaam Aleikum = Hola” and “Chocron = Gracias”) to get me through Tunisia. We also shared meals and Dramamine (though I don’t have a history of seasickness, the trip got pretty choppy). Their hospitality was a great way to start my time in Africa.
I find it striking that less than two months later, a “biblical exodus” traveled in the opposite direction along the same route.
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In Belize, I had the opportunity to meet Juan Guerrero, an artisan boatbuilder. Since he was 14, he has been taking locally harvested timber and transforming it into beautiful sailboats in the town of Sarteneja. Located in the northeast tip of Belize, Sarteneja was historically a fishing village and is still home to many of the country’s small boatbuilders. Quite a few of the sailboats I saw in Belize City and Caye Caulker had their origins in Juan Guerrero’s workshop.
The lifecycle of these sailboats presents an interesting contrast to the typical lifecycle of the buses I’m studying. Instead of being produced from thousands of anonymous industrial parts on an assembly line, these sailboats are uniquely crafted from various local woods by one craftsman in his backyard. Instead of heading south like the old school buses, the boat I saw being manufactured was, according to the wishes of its future captain, going to head north making no/low-emission trips to Cuba ferrying organic produce grown around Sarteneja.
I enjoyed my visit to the ruins at Lamanai, the original name of which, Lama’anayin, means submerged crocodile. Once a city of about 35,000 people, Lamanai survived the economic collapse of the Classical Mayan civilization around 900 A.D. and was still an important commercial hub when the Spanish invaded.
From Orange Walk Town, I took a 90 minute boat ride up the New River, enjoying the sights of birds, iguanas, and spider monkeys. The sound of Howler monkeys (and swarming mosquitoes) greeted us when we docked at Lamanai. Our guide Wilfredo, from Jungle River Adventures, was excellent. As a trainer who had instructed many of the other guides there, he gave detailed explanations of the site’s architectural features, cultural background, and monumental engravings. Part of the Mask Temple had just been renovated and revealed to the public. Most of the massive site is still buried under dirt and trees that grow quickly in the tropical climate, and archaeologists estimate it would cost $70 billion to unearth the whole city. Even so, the excavated parts were impressive. Unfortunately, a thunder storm made it imprudent to climb the High Temple (though others decided to take the risk), but everything else was great.
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