278- Security on the Road: Magic and Witchcraft.

Vudu with a cock in the streets of Havana, Cuba

©Pablo Rey. Published on Overland Journal Magazine, Winter 2014.

After 15 years overlanding the world, Pablo Rey shares some important tips on how to not end up walking in your underwear on a faraway road in the middle of nowhere.

Of all the items we’ve used to prevent theft, the most original, without question, was a small sea snake we found mummified on the shore of the Red Sea in Egypt. In the beginning it was just a pet, another weird element to carry on the dashboard. But when we entered Sub-Saharan Africa we realized that the traditional religion includes animism, which gives a great significance to the magic of certain objects like bones, skulls, and the recognizable remains of certain animals. We learned this in Uganda when we stayed for a couple of days at a campsite run by two Dutch travelers. They were fed up with regular nightly burglaries: their hi-fi system, tools, and loads of spirits from the bar had all disappeared. Following the advice of a man from the local village, they got several monkey skulls and placed them strategically at the bar and around their land—where their hollow eyes could see all that occurred on the property. They had no more problems.

When in Pemba, Mozambique, we were surrounded by a bunch of curious people and opportunists looking for the right moment to take any unattended object from our house on wheels. Remembering the monkey skull lesson, we showed them our powerful sea snake. Actually, it was a common little snake, unnamed, useless even for a broth in the event we ran out of food. When we placed it with care and respect in a revered place on the dashboard, one of the prowlers came closer and asked, “Is it a magic cobra?” “Of course,” I answered. Everyone moved a few steps back.

Since then I’ve started playing with superstitions, particularly with one surreal idea: If you want that no one, absolutely no one, to approach your vehicle, go overland in a hearse and a coffin-shaped roof rack. I’m sure you’ll find that nobody will try to break into your vehicle.

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Get the books of Pablo Rey about Around the World in 10 Years @ Amazon.com and Kindle, or download the first adventures HERE.




Overland Journal Editor’s ‘Must Read’ Choice: The Book of Independence

La Vuelta al Mundo en 10 Años - @viajeros4x4x4

(‘Around the World in 10 Years: The Book of Independence’, review written by Chris Collard and published in the winter issue of Overland Journal Magazine.)

“I first met Pablo Rey and his wife, Anna, at the 2001 Overland Expo in Amado, Arizona. They’d parked their Mitsubishi L300 four-wheel drive van, La Cucaracha, on the outskirts of the camp area, where Anna was crafting decorative necklaces and wristbands from twine. I joined them for tea, and within a few minutes we were lost in conversation. Pablo, an Argentinian, rattled on in his curiously sarcastic way, sharing detailed and colourful accounts of their travels and his philosophies on people, governments, and life on the road. The 5 square meters of space behind La Cucaracha’s windscreen had been their bedroom, kitchen, and living room for the past 10 years. They travelled on the cheap; Anna sold her crafts and Pablo did some freelance writing and had recently published a book. I quickly realized that these two vagabonds were the real deal.

For our inaugural Adventure Reads in 2011, I asked Jeremy Edgar to take a look at Around the World in 10 Years: The Book of Independence, which was only printed in Spanish at the time. Jeremy gave it high marks, and when Pablo released an English version this spring I put it on top of my growing stack of “must read” books.

Pablo’s existence, before he “killed” his former life, was similar to that of many: work Monday through Friday, receive a check at the end of the month, pay the mortgage and car payment, save the trivial reminder, and daydream about what far-off land you will travel to…someday. Decorating the walls of Pablo’s small flat in Barcelona, Spain, were dozens of maps. Travel books and magazines cluttered the table, the sum of which would take him to the ends of the earth without leaving his apartment. “One of these days”, and “in a couple of years”, became his excuses for not pulling the trigger.

Determined to break his chains of servitude, he chased one of his daydreams to Southern Africa. Upon returning, he opened the door to his mortgaged abode and knew that one of these days was now. “What lay inside was the life of a stranger. Staying meant taking the path to security…and that meant planning a nice funeral.” He knew what he had to do; he put a gun to his head and squeezed the trigger.

“…I’ll never forget that Monday when I put the barrel of a gun to my head and fired until I was out of bullets, without stopping to think of what I was doing so I wouldn’t have a chance to change my mind… It was ten minutes after ten in the morning and my last words were, more or less, ‘keep the corpse, I’m leaving.’ My body collapsed and I walked out the door…” Pablo Rey.

As the old Pablo, a subservient droid of societal expectations, fell limp to the floor, a long-repressed Pablo, uninhibited and prepared to embrace the world around him, was released. Fortunately, Anna, his then girlfriend of just a few months, agreed to quit her job and join him.

I’m about two-thirds of the way through The Book of Independence, but I can tell you I was hooked after page one. Pablo’s observations of the human race are exhaustive, his attention to detail and the nuances of his surroundings exceptional. Few writers can immerse my senses of sight and smell as well as this talented wordsmith: to smell warm cow dung on a cool morning in Southern Europe or the pungent aroma of a Cairo street market, or to gaze west through a Mediterranean sunset. The Book of Independence will put you in La Cucaracha’s passenger seat for a Syrian border crossing, negotiations to “purchase” Anna in Jordan, and down a remote corrugated track in a far away desert.

He lays everything on the table with regard to strains on their relationship; travelling in tight quarters through foreign lands under often-difficult situations. Their first major argument escalated into personal insults and counter insults. After 10 rounds of progressively offensive verbal assaults – mosquito brain, donkey’s ass, meter-and-a-half-long hemorrhoid, mange with legs – they broke into hysterical laughter. Arguments became a game, and, of course, the rules state an insult cannot be used twice or you lose: legless centipede, rat lice, #&*@%…Brilliant.

These two nomads are my heroes, and The Book of Independence works its magic like a bellows on the embers of wanderlust, inspiring us to break away from the norm, to slow down and smell the proverbial roses… or cow or elephant dung. It’s not about what you’ll do after you retire, it’s about what you do before you die.

I’ve daydreamed of living a vagabond’s life, maybe driving or sailing around the world. I don’t know if I’m truly cut out for it, but I’ll never know until I commit that “someday” is today. I’m getting on a plane bound for India in a couple of weeks and looking forward to turning the closing pages of The Book of Independence. ISBN 978-1482769951.”

Get now ‘Around the World in 10 Years: The Book of Independence’ at Kindle/Amazon

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Overland Journal Editor's Must Read: The Book of Independence. Chris Collard. Around the World in 10 Years. Road book. Overland. Travel. 4wd, 4x4




239- Adrenaline | story for OVERLAND JOURNAL

© Pablo Rey. Published on Overland Journal Magazine, Spring 2013.

WALKING ON THE WILD SIDE OF MANA POOLS

Few travelers know of Mana Pools, one of the most spectacular national parks in all of Africa. At first glance, it appears to be just another patch of protected bush land, scarred by seasonal flooding, then sprinkled with every species of wildlife. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, but boasts no outstanding geological features. It’s not located inside a silent volcano like Ngorongoro; it doesn’t have facilities for wildlife observation found in Etosha; nor the endlessly seeping plains of Masai Mara or the Serengeti, where the epic migration draws tens of thousands of visitors each year. Nope: Mana Pools National Park, lying south of the Zambian border in economically-ravaged Zimbabwe, doesn’t have any of that. What Mana Pools does provide, and in copious quantities, is adrenaline.

Here, you can partake in an activity that is forbidden in the rest of the African national parks –stroll amongst lions, hyenas, and elephants without the escort of a park warden. Nobody will keep you from parking under the shadow of a baobab tree and straying unarmed in any direction, wherever your steps and common sense –or lack thereof –take you. It is a place where personal decisions dictate your freedom to roam, where your actions can reap great rewards… or cost you your life. Your most beautifully crazy deed of the day, walking with the lion, is possible.

You walk to the shore of the Zambezi River, imagining the steps of the first men here. Looking down, you find your foot rests in the fresh casting of what looks like a family-sized pizza. A group of 15 elephants lumbers slowly towards the river’s edge. There are two large males, a few females, some adolescents, and a couple of calves. To the left, a group of zebras hide amongst gnus and antelope, trying hopelessly to appear inconspicuous. Hippos, their eyes and massive nostrils barely above the water, clear their throats in chuckling grunts. You are there, amongst them, standing far from your vehicle, dead still. You are armed only with a Swiss penknife.

On the opposite shore, in Zambia, a soft carpet of trees covers the foot of the mountains. The view is broad, the landscape impressive. It is October; the rainy season is coming and the air remains warm. You then let yourself go again, following slowly behind the group of elephants and towards the wind. Scanning the tall grass that surrounds you for lions, you hope not to find any. Your eyes fixate on the river’s edge; you are well aware of the river’s healthy crocodile population. Occasionally, one pokes its little eyes out of the water. Adrenaline surge through your veins. Is this an ingenious suicide scheme? No. It’s an escape from the mundane, the return to a wilder life of real adventure. It’s pure excitement.

Camping sites are not of the incubator-type found in Kruger national Park, partitioned from wild Africa with a labyrinth of wire –to keep the humans in. At Mana Pools, it’s common to have elephants breaking branches near your tent, buffalos scratching their backs on a Land Cruiser, or lions and hyenas moving in close at nightfall, drawn by strange smells. White meat, raw, must be a delicious meal.

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IT IS A PLACE WHERE PERSONAL DECISIONS DICTATE YOUR FREEDOM TO ROAM, WHERE YOUR ACTIONS CAN REAP GREAT REWARDS… OR COST YOU YOUR LIFE.

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Vervet monkeys, which run and scream like mad children, climb on top of the ablution block, urinate from high branches in what seems like spontaneous rain on an otherwise dry day, and send their young to inspect the supply crates of travelers –in search for soggy bread, cake-flavored plastic, or a dented Coca Cola can. Watching them is always quite a show. They hop onto the roof of our van like a gang of deranged acrobats, and spy the interior through the windshield. Then they contemplate the situation while scratching under their arms, as if they had their brains in their armpits. One of them, standing on the rearview mirror, thrusts its arm inside the slightly opened window. Nothing is within its reach. The monkey scratches its armpit again… he’s thinking. In frustration, he hangs from the glass and starts shanking it violently.

In Mana Pools it’s easy to feel free. The fairness, the opportunity to walk amongst wild animals (who can kill and devour you if you make a mistake), make it a unique experience. In this environment you’ve got to trust your instincts. All of your senses must stay alert, even those that most humans put aside centuries ago due to our dull lives. Recalling a Frenchman who died a few weeks prior, the park ranger reminded us, after reciting the park rules several times, “ You must think to stay alive”. He continued, “He was walking absentmindedly to a public phone, there, near the toilet, and came across an elephant. The elephant got scared, held him in its trunk, threw him on the ground, and stamped on him with its front legs. Then it kneeled on him.”

Nothing can stop an upset elephant, and the best place to hide is always somewhere else.

“If you want to see a dead elephant, follow the tracks to Vundu. We found it yesterday, shot by poachers who crossed the river at night. But this time the elephant walked away, wounded, before going down. We already cut the tusks, feet, skin and tail and sent it to Harare. The park sells everything. We also cut out some meat and shared it amongst the park staff”

“Meat? Elephant meat? Would it be possible to get ourselves some? We have a braai, but no meat. An empty barbecue is always a sad sight. Maybe, could we buy some meat from you?”

“I can’t sell it,” answers the ranger before nodding his head towards another man in the office. “But he can.”

Thus, this carnivore (who is now writing of the wilds of Mana Pools), and his friends got hold of 3 kilos of elephant meat, already stripped for biltong. We bought some cold beers at the park ranger’s shop and off we went to have an elephant barbecue.

At the Carnivore restaurant in Nairobi, Kenya, we had dined on zebra and crocodile. Those were true T-bones an experienced butcher has carefully cut, removing tendons and fat, and taking into account the size of the plate it would be served on. That was nothing like our strips of elephant meat, salted, with a little water, and now on the fire.

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“ELEPHANT’S READY!” I ANNOUNCED A BIT LATER.

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Pablo Rey article about Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe, for Overland Journal Magazine. Around the World in 10 Years

“Elephant’s ready!” I announced a bit later. Anna and our Belgian friends, Jorick, Winnie, Ronald and Sophie, who were also crossing Africa en route to Cape Town, sat down at the table. Elephant meat is tough and has a strong gamey taste; this must have been an old elephant. A hundred meters from us, a group of water buffalo sipped silently from the river. A secretary bird ran down the shoreline, then took flight for the safety of the trees. The sun was setting and there was time to go to the toilet before dark, before we became supper for other carnivores.

It wasn’t hard to find the remains of our extraordinary dinner the next day. By the main trails, three fallen tree trunks framed a large bloodstain that marked the kill site. From there, a new track dodged a few trees, terminating at a vulture-covered corpse. I returned to the van for my camera and Swiss Army knife, then approach carefully, one step at a time. I scan my surroundings for shadows, for lions, shaking bushes, golden stains on the grass, but all is clear. I draw close; the vultures moan and fly away. Intestines as thick as the leg of a football player lie like a tangled anaconda on the dry soil. The skull bone appears brownish, the legs are missing, and the flesh has turned black. As I walk around the carcass and a toxic sour clud surrounds me, I hold my breath. I see an old green Land Rover pull up and park beside our van. The rangers approach us, rifles in hand.

“Are you mad? Don’t you know there’s lions around?” asks one of them.

“Yes. That is why we’re here. We want to see them, but it looks as if they’ve already left,” I answer.

“Nope, you don’t see them, but they’re there. Shouldn’t be doing this but… follow me.”

The rangers, wearing green shorts and knee-high socks, march in a single-file line in front of us. A short distance out, the leader points to a spot in the bushes. We were just 40 meters from the rotting elephant corpse, and there was the lion. To his right one could make out the outline of a female lying in front of two young ones. They just stared at us with curious bewilderment as they had been watching me while I’d strolled like a dumb tourist around their lunch.

Spectacular. Beautiful. Dangerous if one is not careful. Leaving the safety of my van to walk amongst Africa’s wild animals, to descend from my top rung on the proverbial food chain, was a primal impulse to take risks and find new personal limits. Since then, when I don’t dream of elephants lumbering around the Zambezi forests, I daydream of returning to this lost world. Pure adrenaline –this is Mana Pools.

Related link: 3 Gringos, 10 Days and a 6 Log Raft

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On year 2000, Pablo Rey (Buenos Aires) and Anna Callau (Barcelona) quit their jobs and rented out their apartment in Spain to travel around the world during four years. Four somehow turned into fifteen. The couple, living out of their small 4WD van, a.k.a. La Cucaracha, has travelled more than 220,000 miles, passing through 60 countries, with no end in sight.

After leaving Southern Europe, these committed nomads have driven through the Middle East, Africa —from North to South, the entire American continent —from Tierra del Fuego (at the Southern tip of Patagonia) to the Arctic Ocean in Alaska, before settling in for a couple of years of discovery in North America. Getting here was no small feat. They crossed the Atlantic Ocean from South Africa to Argentina in a fishing vessel, survived elephant and Kalashnikov attacks in Africa and paddled down an Amazon river in a 6-log wooden raft. Their engine broke down in the middle of the Sudanese Sahara and froze at 15,000 feet during a very cold winter in the Bolivian Altiplano, and that’s just scratching the surface.

In 15 years they have met, shared food and stayed with some truly amazing and hospitable people. Whether in a house, hut, tent or under the stars, the take away is the same, in whatever culture, remove the dogma and indoctrination and you realize that we are all the same, one big human family living in a beautiful, albeit fragile, Earthly home.

Pablo has written three books in Spanish; one has been translated into English, Around the World in 10 Years: The Book of Independence, available at Kindle and Amazon.com. Follow the latest adventures of Pablo and Anna on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube @viajeros4x4x4




Five days in no-mans land (Story for Overland Journal Magazine)

© Pablo Rey. Published on Overland Journal Magazine, Fall 2011.

THE EASY WAY OUT… OR PLAN B FOR A FOILED PLAN B

I have a special ability to get into trouble. This has been rou­tinely verified during the last 11 years of my trip around the world. Anna, my partner during this time of adventures, has suffered through this unique attribute by my side. Let me say something important before going on. This trait is not something learned, it is innate, something you are born with, and one that you car­ry for the rest of your life. It is also one that lends to finding yourself in situations without provocation.

When someone asks for my overlanding CV (curriculum vitae),I al­ways say, “In two months time on our trip through Africa we survived two breakdowns in the middle of nowhere. One of them in the deep sands of the Sudanese Sahara, the other one beside Lake Turkana, 500 miles from a decent mechanic.” Then I keep silent for a few seconds, as if the story is over, before revealing the cavalry. I continue, “In that two months we also suffered two robberies, one crash, a runaway from the transit police in Addis Ababa, and being accosted by two men on a motorbike, armed with rifles, who wanted us to pay for a cow they said we killed. I also got a little angry with a military man who was pointing his Kalashnikov at me. Then we had to run away from 30 men, who were drugged with khat/qat and dressed in loincloths, that had encircled us on an isolated road near Lalibela -they also wanted money. And there was the time we crossed the border between Ethiopia and Kenya, ap­parently illegally, and we were detained at the police station of a small town where no one could speak English (we could not speak Amharic, either). Least I forget being detained by police again for sleeping at the gate of a national park without paying the entrance fee.”

Such an array of experiences for only a two-month timeframe –­Thus went our introduction to Africa, a bit of unexpected pleasure on the wild side. Consciously or subconsciously, this is what you are look­ing for when you embark on an overland trip across the Dark Conti­nent. I don’t particularly go looking for these troubles, they just happen to find me. I do know people who glide through their travels without so much as a flat tire. And while these “adventures” must be my fate, I must admit that I may have provoked a few-just slightly though.

Most of the time when you face a problem, finding the solution may be a challenge, but it can almost be fun (ok… maybe more “fun” in hindsight). But there are some moments when you just want to hit your head against a wall.

It was in Kruger, South Africa, while waiting for a lion pride to do something interesting (climb a tree, tell a joke or eat a nearby Jeep driver who could not stop talking), that we realized we’d made a big mistake. I can assure you that during extended hours of lion watching, one has a lot of downtime to think about things.

I leaned over to Anna and said quietly, “Do you realize that our temporary import permit (custom papers) from South Africa says that our vehicle is from Botswana?” Silence … Hmmm, I’ve visited manv countries, but don’t remember buying a 4wd in Botswana. “Dang” she broadcasted loudly (she used a different explicative that means, uh, “dung”). And it was not a small deposit of common cow dung … this was big dung … elephant dung.

The problem was that our trip from Europe through Africa ex­ceeded the allowable time, and the Carnet de Passage of our 1991 Mit­subishi L300 4×4, OUf home for the past several years had expired … again … and I’d not requested a renewal on time. See what I mean about finding trouble.

FOUR-DAY FLASHBACK

Departing Zimbabwe to South Africa, we found ourselves on the Limpopo River Bridge, the neutral zone between the two nations. Without the Carnet de Passage, we could not pass beyond the South African Customs parking lot, nor could we return to our beloved Zim­babwe-which was beginning to suffer the significant impacts of a long and forgotten dictatorship. We were in no man’s land with no way out.

A solution presented it elf, a disgustingly simple and tempting one. You see, there were two old Defenders from Botswana also waiting for entry to South Africa, and one of them had the exact same license plate numbers as our Mitsubishi from Spain- and in the exact same order. Hmmm?

Oh no … Oh yes … It would be too easy. The customs employees did not even lift an eyebrow to check the vehicles, to be sure that the information given matched our car.

Four days later, watching the most boring “wild” lions on the plan­et, we realized that my special ability to get into trouble was alive and well. The genius that drives one to find quick solutions, to take the easy route around unexpected situations, was in motion. The idea worked like a well-oiled machine … temporarily. Our epiphany at that “elephant dung” moment was that we had crossed the line. If we were stopped by the police, we would be in big trouble. There was only one solution. We had to go back.

Five days in no-mans land

Anna drove back to the border wearing her best, innocent-good-­white-girl-from-Botswana face. She returned our temporary import permit without issue and slipped through South Africa customs. She was again on the bridge, in no man’s land without papers.

She found an out-of-the-way spot to park next to the river while I assessed a new plan that would not lead u to more problems. Basi­cally, I had to figure out a Plan B for our sneaky Plan B, that normally means going back to Plan A.

But, the idea of getting a new earner was discarded. It could not be done. Only our smooth-talking traveling acquaintance Butch could manage such a feat. Butch, an Australian biker, was re-issued a Carnet de Passage from the Automobile Club of Jordan (AC])-not based on a money guarantee or security, but merely on the good faith of people. He rode into the AC] on his Soviet motorbike, said he would bring the bike back (with his best lost soul smile), and received his papers. It was not likely that this approach would work in capitalistic Spain, the coun­try of our vehicle’s origin.

Somehow; I had to convince an official employee from the Real Au­tomóvil Club de España (RACE) who had issued my previous earner, to authorize the Automobile Association of South Africa to issue a new one (my third)-and this needed to be based on a bank guarantee linked to an expired earner which could not be verified.

It was not complicated, but it was complicated. I had to rely on my charismatic personality, on people’s faith that I would do the right thing (I’d not impressed myself in that department so far). I had to call in the cavalry, enlist the help and protection of all saints from all religions, and add some desperate intensitv to my words.

Spending hour on the phone with various offices and officials be­came my Sport. I started with the patient and humble approach, but I have to admit the intensity in my tone was growing as the days dragged bv, and a cache of emptied telephone cards began accumulating in my pocket. I could no longer take NO for an answer. I had to rescue Anna from no man’s land and I needed to do it soon. Feeling desperate, I needed to make more calls, send more emails, get more people to take notice. I needed to convince government employees whose only no­tion of adventure would be a luxury seven-day, all-inclusive, organized lodge stay in the Masai Mara. Not likely.

My last card to play was to push the mass media button. It seems that journalists and the mainstream media have an affinity for stories of hapless souls in distress. Innocent Spanish girl abandoned in African no man’s land would make a good headline. I got on the wire, pouring hundreds of press releases into the black hole of the Internet ocean.

I never knew which press release landed in the right hands, but five days later, authorization for a new Carnet de Passage arrived. It is pos­sible they simply got tired of fielding my calls, or deleting my persistent emails. I suppose it is difficult to ignore people who pursue a cause with such passion, determination and intensity- but Anna and our Mitsubi­shi home on wheels would be set free.

I’ll probably act with slightly more discretion the next time I’m presented with a lion in a gazelle-skinned suit. Maybe sniff for the scent of elephant dung? We’ll see … For the moment we were free to go. And what happened during those five days in no man’s land? I have no idea. You’ll have to ask Anna.




La Vuelta al Mundo en 10 Años: Historias en Asia y África

@viajeros4x4x4 - Foto Chris Collard

Este libro tiene un valor especial. Fue el primero que editamos allá por 2007, en Buenos Aires, antes de emprender el camino hacia Alaska. Desde entonces ha tenido 3 reimpresiones (Cusco, Manta y Managua) con un total de casi 4.000 ejemplares.

Historias en Asia y África tiene 126 páginas, formato de bolsillo, y está ilustrado con 50 fotografías en blanco y negro. Los textos son una selección de las mejores historias del cruce de África, con capítulos sobre Europa, Turquía, Siria, Jordania, Egipto, Sudán, Etiopía, Kenia, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zimbabue y Sudáfrica. La ruta.

Este no es solo el relato de una aventura personal. Trata del descubrimiento de los otros lejanos, de los extraños que no hablan tu idioma, y de lo que uno realmente quiere hacer en la vida.

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Consíguelo por muy poco para cualquier tipo de tableta y teléfono en Kindle

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Otros libros sobre La Vuelta al Mundo en 10 Años