4 November 2022. I’m in the no man’s land in the departure lounge of Dublin Airport awaiting my chariot to sweep me away on my odyssey to Arabia.
But, first some mithering, and then some background.
To be or not to be? Brian, that is. Or Tom. Confused? Let me explain.
A few years ago, I was travelling on the Reunification Express train from Hanoi to Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City. (Flashback to the ’60s: Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh; we shall fight and we shall win. Yes, we really did use ‘shall’; way back then).
Incidentally, since reunification, the official name for the whole conurbation has been Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). However, the city centre is still officially called Saigon, the city’s traditional historic name. In fact, the city appears as Sai Gon in all Vietnamese railway timetables. It says ‘Sai Gon’ on train tickets and says ‘Sai Gon’ in big letters on the station itself. The ruling elite may toe the line and call it Ho Chi Minh, but everyone else calls it Saigon. So, I do what the locals do and call it Saigon!
On that trip, I spent a few days in Hoi An, a historic must-see town featuring on most visitor’s itineraries. I have great memories of that trip.
Anyway, I ramble again. Must be an oul’ wan thing. The reason I’m wittering on about the Reunification Express is because I met a person on that train and had a conversation with him that had interesting consequences for me.
A few seats down for me, I overheard a conversation taking place between a Malaysian man and somebody else I couldn’t see. The guy in the seat was Irish and the Malaysian man was saying how much he likes Ireland. When the Malaysian guy left, I made a comment “everybody likes the Irish”. This caused your man to chuckle and we had a conversation. We introduced ourselves to each other and he said his name was Brian, the same as mine. Then he said that his real name is Tom and Brian is his second name and that he always uses his second name when he’s on the road. This is because he feels a different person when he introduces himself as Brian instead of Tom. He said that he gets a sense of dislocation from Ireland and his usual life and feels more alive to what’s happening around him, when he uses Brian. I thought this was a fascinating idea and decided to copy that on my next trip.
My next trip was across Central Asia and I used the name Tom, my second name. Interestingly enough, the guy in the train’s name was Thomas Brian and mine was Brian Thomas so that synchronicity made the idea interesting enough to tickle my imagination and enter my imaginal world.
It was interesting hearing people look at me and say Tom and feeling like I was Brian. After a while though, I got used to being called Tom and Tom became a separate person in his own right and Brian was the personality who lived in Ireland and worked as a therapist etc etc etc. Tom was lighter; he had less baggage and liked the craic better.
So, on my next trip to the Arabian peninsula I will use Tom instead of Brian.
Talking about my next trip, I’m off again for a 3 month trip across Arabia. I leave today and travel to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and we travel through the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan and end up in Egypt on the 16th of January next year. I thought I would spend a week or so in Cairo and then fly back around the end of January and start our back of work at the beginning of February.
My last few trips were with a company called Oasis Overland who were very good but have closed down because of the pandemic. They have recently merged with another Overland company and are back in action again. I’m glad to hear this because the people who work there were really great and I’m happy that they are back working again.
This time I’ll be travelling with a company called MadVenture who are similar to Oasis Overland but a bit more bare bones and consequently less expensive. I heard about them from a guy on the Oasis Overland trip to Africa a couple years ago. He travelled with them and was very positive about the company and the people who worked in it.
It will be similar to most overlanding expedition trips in that we will wildcamp or bushcamp about half the time and spend the other half in hostels and hotels. When we wildcamp, we buy food at local markets and shops and cook our own meals. All this keeps the price down. It’s also great craic.
The guys who drive have been doing this for a long time and have very good experience of what is an interesting place for a campsite and also interesting places to see that are off the beaten track.
That was certainly the case in my Africa trip when we went from Nairobi to Cape town and then on to Johannesburg through 11 different countries. The guy who drove the truck was called Often and he was a legend. He was a man from Kenya and extremely knowledgeable about the wildlife and spotting signs of wildlife. While we were driving along he would often stop and point to something. We would see nothing until much later and then began to see a lion or cheetah or some other animal or a bird. He was also extremely friendly and warm and an overall wonderful man.
The original trip ends in Amman, Jordan on 2 Jan but I am extending the trip, along with others, to Cairo and will spend a week or so in Egypt to see the museums.
In overlanding trips, the journey itself is way more important than the destination. Often, the destination is a spot on the map you have never heard of before. The journey linking all these destinations is really interesting and takes up the most of the experience, as you can imagine.
Also, the journey doesn’t start with the first destination. It starts long before. For me, it started several months ago when I made up my mind that I was going to go on the trip and paid the deposit to hold a place. This was around 6 months ago. At that point, in my head, the journey had started. I began to read up about Arabia and vaccinations and visas and things to watch out for and things to be careful of etc etc. Of course, I made spreadsheets.
About a month ago I pulled my backpack from under the bed and had a look at what I was going to bring. From my previous trips, I have gear to survive from situations in Siberia to the Serengeti. As the temperature on this trip will be quite high, except at nights, I can pack lightly.
I pack everything in little packing cubes with mesh fronts and different colours so it’s very easy to find stuff. For example personal hygiene and health stuff is in blue packing cubes, techy stuff is in yellow, clothes are in red ones and miscellaneous & maintenance stuff is in a green pack. There are various sizes of these from quite small, about the size of two books to quite large. I put these on the table in my living room and add and take away stuff until I’m satisfied. Then I pack them in my bag.
I have an excellent Osprey Farpoint 70 backpack I bought several years ago and used it on several long trips. It’s very comfortable and has an excellent strap and body harness arrangement. However, on overlanding trips I need to also bring a tent, sleeping mat, groundsheet and other camping paraphernalia. This almost doubles the weight and, with my banjaxed knees, I’d never carry that. Overlander companies usually insist on soft sided luggage and don’t allow suitcases. This is because of space restrictions. They also have a 80 or 100 litre volume limit. Because of all this, I bought an Osprey Transporter 80 litre rolling bag for my Central Asia trip a few years ago and it ticks all the boxes. It’s a cross between a backpack and a duffle bag on wheels.
As I said before, I’m in the airport now and waiting on my flight which boards in about an hour’s time. Security was very fast and I was in and out as fast as a fiddler’s elbow.
The place is very crowded and you’d never think we’re in the middle of a recession. People lashing down pints like the gargle is going out of fashion.
That’s all for now. I might update from Istanbul but certainly from Dubai.