Welcome to mad nomad’s adventurous website! This site is about travelling the way I’ve been dreaming of as a child! When I took the decision to make my dream come true, it seemed remote and totally unfamiliar to me. Finally, after two years of profound research and intense preparation, I hit the road!
On the 14th of April 2007 I set off solo from Thessaloniki, Greece by my small motorcycle (Honda XR 250S), on a journey to four countries, for ten months’ time: Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and India. During my trip, however, there were many changes in my schedule, and, finally, I ended up returning to Greece after two years and two and a half months, having covered 73,000 km. (45,361 miles), after travelling to 14 Asian countries: Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh! That was my journey known as “greece2india“. You will find my trip reports from that time at: http://www.moto.gr/forums/showthread.php?t=38448
On July 18th, 2013, we hit the road for an even longer journey! Africa and Middle East were calling us and we were eager to explore those lands! Why do I use the plural form? This time, Christina, the she-mad nomad, was travelling with me for 10 months. Therefore, we were riding two motorcycles of the same type (Honda XR 250), travelling according to my usual recipe: innumerous detours, in order to visit everything interesting, years on the road, to catch the scent of the local societies we visit, always guided by the love for People and Nature. Since August 2014, I kept traveling solo, as Christina decided to fly from Zambia back to Greece because of personal reasons. I finally completed this three-year adventure on June 29th, 2016 having covered 96,000 km (59,653 miles) in 39 countries. That was the expedition called “mad about Africa“! You can check out our route on Live Trip Traveller and you can enjoy our reports at the Trip diary section.
After our scary experience at the Israeli border, we entered again this country to explore its northern part. We rode the picturesque mountainous route around Mt Gilboa to calm down and release the stress created by the Israeli soldiers. We were hosted by a young Israeli couple in the little town of Kfar Tavor. Gal was telling us stories about her army service! It is weird listening to army stories from women but it is happening all the time in Israel…
When kids are young in Israel, their parents tell them by the time they will be adults the wars will stop and conscription will not exist anymore. Unfortunately, these kids always get older and the wars never stop. The truth is the opposite: Israel is one of the very few countries, along with paranoid North Korea and Eritrea, which enforces conscription to both males and females. Males serve almost three years and females serve about two years, depending on their department. It is still one of the longest compulsory military services in the world. People who refuse to serve Israel’s army, for conscientious reasons, are punished hard, usually by imprisonment.
We visited Nazareth and the place where it is believed Angel Gabriel appeared to Virgin Mary and announced that she was pregnant with the Son of God. Today Nazareth is the largest Arab city in Israel. Palestinians who did not flee the 1948 Arab-Israeli War found refuge there and they eventually became Israeli citizens. That is why nowadays the majority of Nazareth’s population is Arab. 31% of them are Christians, while the remaining are Muslims.
We rode to the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus Christ was preaching. We visited the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish, where it is believed that Jesus laid the five loaves and two fish that multiplied to feed 5,000 people. We were surprised to see construction work around the church and photos showing everything burnt down. In June 2015 the church was attacked by some Jewish extremists who set it on fire and left a Hebrew graffiti that reads: “the false gods will be eliminated”. Israeli officials have labelled the attack as “terrorism”. Five young, Israeli Jews, part of an ultra-nationalist organization, were arrested and their trial is still ongoing.
This is a typical “price tag” attack. The last decade this kind of attacks is becoming more and more common. They are acts of vandalism, usually by Jewish fundamentalist settler youths, aimed mostly at the Palestinian population but also at any non-Jew or even at Jews who act against the illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine. They claim to “exact a price from local Palestinians or from the Israeli security forces for any action taken against their settlement enterprise”.
We travelled further north to Golan Heights. Internationally recognized as Syrian territory, the Golan Heights has been occupied and administered by Israel since 1967. Israel demolished over one hundred Syrian villages there and the land was given to Israeli settlers. It is a beautiful area on the cool mountains, dotted with some medieval castles and resorts for Israelis who want a taste of Switzerland in “their own” country.
We were right next to the troubled lands of Syria… We could not go there, of course, due to the war. We set camp in the thick oak forest. It was already dark when we collected some firewood and we carefully lit a fire to cook, since my stove was not working anymore. Every once in a while we could hear animals walking on the fallen leaves. Stella was scared. When she turned her torch that way, she saw a harmless rodent running away. I was trying to calm her down when we heard loud steps from several animals coming towards us! We stood up and we tried to look around with our torches but we couldn’t see anything. The light from the fire was making us blind. The animals stopped but we heard wild boars roaring really close to us, although we couldn’t see them. I got some jars that we had on the ground and I started hitting them to make noise. Happily, that was it… The animals left us alone and after several quiet minutes, Stella was calm again.
The next day we were riding through some minor roads along the Lebanese border. Lebanon, of course, is another country which is often in war with Israel. Stella had to fly back to Greece, so I explored the north coast of Israel by myself. I visited Caesarea and some other picturesque towns but what I liked most was the Old Town of Akko (Acre). Akko passed, amongst others, from Alexander to the Romans, the Arabs and the Crusaders, who made it their main port in Palestine. St Francis of Assisi and Marco Polo had visited Akko too. Today it’s interesting walking in the labyrinth between the walls of the fortified Old Akko. Old mosques built out of stones are everywhere. The amazing views to the Mediterranean are only adding to the charm!
Tsfat was another picturesque town I visited. It is the center of Jewish mysticism. During the 15th and 16th centuries many mystics migrated there to avoid the persecution in Spain. Today medieval synagogues are full of Orthodox Jews in black and religious tourists.
Haifa had to be my last stop during “mad about Africa”. I could not travel anywhere else around Israel because of the wars. I had to ship my motorcycle from Haifa to Greece, while I would fly there. After three years on the road and 96,000 km (59,653 miles) in 39 countries, this extraordinaire adventure was coming to an end… I decided to spend my last night outdoors in Rosh HaNikra, the northernmost coast of Israel. I was just laying down on the beach and I was watching the 37th and last full-moon I saw during “mad about Africa”. The waters of the Mediterranean were pitch-black. I was thinking that somewhere there, to the west, was Greece.
That full-moon happened to coincide with the summer solstice. That’s a very rare phenomenon which occurs only every 70 years or so! What a unique way for the full-moon to bid me farewell… I was feeling we had an appointment that night. Maybe it wanted to see me one last time as a nomad, lit by its silver moonlight, to bid me farewell and to tell me that everything is going to be all right. We arranged our next appointment in another continent…
You can check out the map with more photos and reports at: Live Trip Traveller
P.S.: I can only say a huge “thanks” to all those thousands of wonderful people I met on the road and to all of you who were following and supporting my expedition. Don’t underestimate your involvement in this… You always give me strength to travel one step further!
I also want to thank the companies that stood by me on this mission:
The first days I was studying in university, in Greece, I was on a queue waiting to deliver my homework. I heard a classmate in front of me saying that he’s looking for a flatmate. I jumped the queue to tell him that I’m looking for a flatmate too! That’s how I first met Ahmed back in 2001. He is a Palestinian who had migrated to Greece in order to study informatics. He had already attended a Greek language course and we could communicate in Greek. We always had fun talking about strange Greek words and similarities between Arabic and Greek.
We were living in the same house with Ahmed for four years. I soon realized his personality is a treasure. He’s one of the most honest, helpful and generous people I have ever met. He was always cleaning and tidying up and we never had any argument at home. Ahmed is a Muslim who always respected me being Christian. This made no difference, actually. He never forgets to wish me Merry Christmas and Happy Easter. Sometimes I was feeling ashamed because I didn’t know when the Ramadan ended to wish him back…
We became so good friends with Ahmed, that we call each other “brother”. The moment came that I wanted to hit the road to Africa and Middle East. We knew my adventures would keep me on the road for years. One of the most difficult sacrifices somebody has to make, when he decides to live a nomadic life, is detaching from family and friends. There is always hope, so we were dreaming with Ahmed to meet each other next time in his homeland, which I was wishing to visit during my adventures. Therefore, we didn’t say “goodbye”. We said: “See you in Palestine, bro”!
It was looking so far… To tell the truth, I didn’t even know myself if I would be able to visit Palestine! After almost three years and 96,000 km (59,653 miles) exploring the African continent, I reached Palestine having Stella on my saddle. I was always in contact with Ahmed but unfortunately, he wasn’t there. He had graduated and left Greece, since his visa was valid only as long as he was studying. On top of that, the manmade economic crisis in Greece pushed Ahmed to migrate to yet another country. By that time he was working in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. However, he gave me the contact details of his family.
Most of Ahmed’s family live nowadays in neighboring Amman, Jordan. They were some of millions of Palestinians who were forced to migrate there after Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Ahmed’s origin is in Bethlehem and he got family members who resisted the fierce war and they still try to survive in the occupied area where they were born. We rode my motorcycle to the designated neighborhood and we asked for Ahmed’s uncle. Somebody who couldn’t speak English, just stopped a passing car, got inside and told us to follow him. They took us to the family’s house. It was the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and we happened to be there around sunset, which is the time that they break their daytime’s fast and the whole families eat together. Having a guest for dinner is considered a gift from God, so we couldn’t refuse the family’s invitation to join their plentiful meal, despite the fact they were not expecting us.
The appetizer was a soup with bulgur, while the main dish women cooked was musakhan, Palestine’s national dish! It’s chicken baked in the oven with pita bread and sautéed onions and pine nuts, sumac, saffron and other aromatic spices. The salad was consisting of finely chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and tahini. On top of all those, there was a dessert of qatayef. That’s a sweet dumpling filled with cheese, which is often served during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
After such a huge and tasty meal, we sat in the living room discussing over hot glasses of mint tea. They were explaining us about the hardships of living under the military occupation of Israel. I told them about my life with Ahmed in Greece and they were eager to hear his news. We actually called him and we talked all together through the phone.
This was the last action of the “You’ve got mail” project that I was conducting around the Balkans, Africa and Middle East. It was also the most touching one… On one hand, the reason is my long and deep personal contact with the protagonist of this story. On the other hand, probably most importantly, another reason is my deep sorrow for these people who are refused for decades their basic right to live peacefully and with dignity on their own land. The goal of this project was to publish the stories of refugees and immigrants and let people know about their neighbours. We all share the same world after all… My goal always is to build bridges between people and not walls. Of course, I cannot oppose the huge 712-km (442 miles) wall that Israel built around the occupied territories. However, if we all refuse putting a stone on that inhuman wall and we put it instead to build a bridge, our world will be much more peaceful…
Dedicated to Ahmed and all the People, Palestinians, Israelis and others, who really struggle to make peace in this land and elsewhere…
I already analyzed on my previous article how Israel was formed in 1948 on Palestinian land but I hear from many people a basic question: “Is Palestine a country?”. Well, it depends who you ask but in practice it’s hardly a country anymore… It’s not absolutely recognized and the Palestinian authorities have little actual power. It is a country held by Israel under military occupation. Of course, Palestine doesn’t exist for most Israelis. All that area is Israel according to them. They are very offended and they become verbally aggressive when they hear words like: “Palestine”, “Gaza” or “West Bank”. What the rest of the world calls “West Bank” is Judea and Samaria for them.
There are only two little pieces of land left that somebody could call Palestine. The smallest of them is the Gaza Strip, a piece of land 45 km (28 miles) long and less than 10 km (6 miles) wide. About 1.4 million Palestinians live in this densely populated land, which is the world’s largest outdoor prison. Nobody can go in or out by land or by sea, except a handful of people who got special permissions by the Israeli authorities.
We went just next to the Gaza Strip but of course, we were not allowed to enter. We were determined to visit the West Bank, though. Entering the West Bank from Jerusalem, we didn’t even have to stop. We needed no visa and there is no border post, since according to Israelis this is the same country, their country… However, there is a new 712-km (442 miles) wall that separates Palestinians from Israelis and there are military checkpoints where people are controlled when exiting the West Bank. Of course, most of them are Israelis and usually the control is nothing more than letting the soldiers know that they are Israelis.
After the Oslo Accords in 1993, the West Bank was divided in three areas. Only Area A (18% of the West Bank) is under Palestinian civil and security control. Area B (21% of the West Bank) is under Palestinian civil control but Israeli security control. The majority of the West Bank (61%), Area C, is under full Israeli control over security, planning and construction. In practice, the Israeli army enters even Area A. Area A and B are made out of 166 islands of Palestinian towns in a sea of Israeli-controlled Area C, which is the only continuous area in the West Bank. That means Palestinians are restricted on their movements, even inside the West Bank. Their houses and farms are routinely demolished due to claimed “security reasons”, while building a house is almost impossible since in most areas they need permission from the Israeli authorities. Israel formally controls the West Bank’s largest area and most of its natural resources, including the water which is scarce and a main issue on the conflicts in Middle East.
Me and Stella were invited in a Christian Greek Orthodox Palestinian wedding in Bethlehem. We met again Spiro and his family, that we first met in Jordan. It was a cousin of Spiro who was getting married. The wedding took place in a Greek Orthodox church and the party in a modern wedding hall was really vivid with powerful traditional dances. However, what we remember with the sweetest memories was the informal party which took place the previous day in the grandma’s house… Like in Greece, the grandparents’ house is always the family’s meeting point. No appointments or arrangements are necessary. People get in the house whenever they are free, somebody plays music and the party starts in a moment. Blue-eyed Ms Sophie, 83 years old, got up and started dancing between her children and grandchildren. As they had told us beforehand, we had to forget what is happening in Palestine… Everybody is happy and celebrates in such an occasion!
Ms Sophie surprised us when she talked to us fluent English and French! She is a well educated old lady and it was very interesting for us to hear her childhood stories from Jerusalem, before the Israeli occupation. She showed us old, black and white photos. I noticed a little girl with the Star of David, a Jewish symbol, on her necklace. I asked who is she. Ms Sophie told me this was Judith, her best friend, a Jewish little girl. Before the occupation, Muslims, Jews and Christians were living together for centuries in a mostly peaceful situation. Jews were few and other Palestinians were taking pity of them and helping them, since they were poor.
It was in 1948 that the First Arab-Israeli War started… The word was spread to Palestinians: “Go seek a refuge in the West Bank and after a few weeks, when the conflict will be over, come back.”. It was a good plan to get rid of them… Initially the family of Ms Sophie rented a simple room in Bethlehem. The time was passing by but the news were not getting any better… When they tried to return to Jerusalem, they realized their houses were confiscated by Israelis and Palestinians were feeling foreigners in their own country… That’s how thousands of Palestinians moved to the West Bank and elsewhere. Ms Sophie lost track of Judith, her Jewish best friend and now she cannot even set foot in Jerusalem.
One of the worst obstacles on the way to peace and the re-establishment of a legitimate Palestinian State are the Israeli settlements. The Israeli government has built hundreds of settlements inside the West Bank, which are illegal according to international law, since a nation’s transfer of civilian population into land it occupies is illegal. Of course, Israel doesn’t accept that, since they don’t even consider the West Bank occupied. Thus, they keep building new settlements and expanding the existing ones.
These settlements are strictly protected either by the Israeli army or by the armed settlers themselves. There are 520,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank! Some of them are secular Zionists who benefit from the subsidized prices, while most of them are religious Jews who think this whole land was promised to them by God and God wants them to take it even in blood.
When I was still in Israel, a friend of mine took me in his car for a drive. Before I even knew, he let me know we’re in the West Bank. Since he was Israeli, it was very easy for him to enter even in a settlement. We stopped at the top of a hill to see the area. An armed settler came immediately on a patrol car to check who we are. These settlements own also vast amounts of farmland. Having access to better technology means they can use most of the area’s water resources while the Palestinians need impossible-to-get permissions just to make a simple well… Without water they cannot farm and without farming they cannot live.
This situation is what drives Palestinians crazy. Imagine that Israelis benefit from being under civil courts jurisdiction while for the same crimes (e.g. attending a peaceful protest) Palestinians are under military jurisdiction and are detained for months even without any charge! A few hopeless Palestinians end up resisting the occupation in a violent way. A much bigger number of them are fed up and leave this mess for a decent life in the West. After all, that’s one of the Zionists’ goals: to get rid of Palestinians in any possible way…
We walked around the Old City of Bethlehem which is picturesque with its narrow streets and the houses made out of local stones. Visiting the Church of the Nativity, which is believed to be the place where Jesus Christ was born, we were wondering if all these popular religions born in this area brought peace or war finally… There are many monasteries around and some of them are located in gorgeous, remote places, like Mar Saba Monastery.
We had to be courageous and visit the town where the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis gets at its worst. That’s Hebron in the southern part of the West Bank. There are thousands of Jewish settlers living in several illegal settlements around the town. Things get much worse in Hebron because armed settlers, each one protected by Israeli soldiers, live even inside the Arab town, between the Palestinians! Palestinians, obviously, are arrested, tortured and jailed even for having a knife. That sets the Jewish settlers free to insult and abuse Palestinians, under the protection of the Israeli army which usually turns a blind eye… However, sometimes Israeli settlers get so radical that they clash with the Israeli army which tries to stop them.
We were walking carefully between the Israeli soldiers with our cameras lowered, of course… Hebron is where the Cave of the Patriarchs is situated. That is believed to be the collective tomb of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their wives. The patriarchs of the three most well-known monotheistic religions make this place sacred to Muslims, Jews and Christians. As you would guess, this brings serious conflicts… The worst of them was the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre in 1994. Baruch Goldstein, a prominent Jewish terrorist, opened fire on hundreds of Muslims who were praying in a mosque during their holy month of Ramadan. If you are already shocked, wait for that: Jewish settlers made even a memorial tribute to their hero, Goldstein and they still celebrate that day!
We hit the road to visit Jericho, the oldest fortified city on earth. It happens also to be the lowest one, at 258 m (846 ft) below sea level. Most of the West Bank was cool, since it sits on higher elevation. Jericho was hot but we wanted to visit a farm and witness ourselves how the Israeli settlers and government make the life of Palestinians ridiculously harder. On one hand, illegal Israeli settlements are everywhere in the West Bank and they use most of the area’s water. The Israeli authorities almost never issue permission to Palestinians to pump water out of their own field. Palestinians, however, are persistent and they even drive to carry water from elsewhere in big tanks. Then they meet an Israeli checkpoint and the soldiers force them to empty all the tanks because they say they want to “make sure there is nothing illegal in the tanks”…
If they ever succeed to get a harvest, they have to struggle to sell it. The Israeli army often doesn’t allow them to use the roads and transfer their products for alleged “security reasons”. When this happens for a few days in a row, the produce is not fresh anymore and the farmers cannot sell it at all or they have to sell it much cheaper and forget about any profit. At the same time, for the Israeli farmers in the illegal settlements the highways are always open and they export their produce all around the world.
On our way north, we had a walk in the vibrant Old City of Nablus. It was easy to enter the West Bank but we knew it wouldn’t be so easy to exit towards Israel… We were ready for detailed checks of our luggage and extensive questioning about ourselves, our itinerary and our acquaintances in Palestine. However, we didn’t even imagine what would happen…
We approached the checkpoint north of Jenin. This is not a real border, so the border post reminds of toll gates. We queued behind the cars but we immediately heard an Israeli soldier from the control tower yelling through the speakers. It was in Hebrew, so we couldn’t understand anything. A fully armed soldier from a distance made clear to us that we should disappear immediately! Obviously, the Israelis were scared of the motorbike and they thought we may be Palestinian terrorists. I had that before… In no time, I turned the bike around and ran away.
The Palestinians saw what happened and they gave us some advices. The worst thing was that we didn’t even have the chance to talk to somebody and let them know we are not Palestinians. Stella removed her helmet and started walking towards the soldiers with her hands raised. She was holding her red passport to make them understand we are Europeans. Fairly enough, Stella was absolutely stressed out but as Palestinians told us, she was the one who had to do it, since I would be much more suspected as a male. She was very brave to do that… The Israeli soldier was still yelling in Hebrew through the speakers. Stella from that distance shouted as loud as she could: “English, please!”. The soldier, pointing his machine gun towards her, was ordering her to go back!
We had to be extremely careful… A wrong movement of our hands at that point could result to our death! If, for example, I would try to put my hand in my pocket and get my passport out, they would shoot me straightaway thinking that I’m a Palestinian terrorist who tries to activate a suicide bomb. They got the power and the order to shoot and they don’t do it just for scaring people. Their shooting has to be exact and effective in putting the enemy down before he can do anything. When they kill somebody that they shouldn’t, it seems they always find an excuse to make him guilty.
Stella stopped walking while she was yelling that we are tourists. The soldier talked to his officers and finally two other soldiers walked towards Stella. She showed her passport and she explained that we are tourists who just travel around “Israel”. They questioned her a bit and then they gave me the green light to approach by my motorcycle. They asked me the same questions, to cross-check what Stella said and when they were convinced, they finally allowed us to pass through the checkpoint…
With the adrenaline rushing in our blood, we entered again Israel. We rode a bit further and we stopped at the roadside to think what happened and recover our heartbeat. After all, we had just a small glimpse of what Palestinians regularly face. It turned out to be risky in the end but it was definitely an important lesson to witness ourselves how is life in Palestine…
You can check out the map with more photos and reports at: Live Trip Traveller
There are a lot of objective resources on internet to learn about what is happening in Israel and Palestine. Some of my favourites are:
5 Broken Cameras – Academy Award Winning Documentary by a Palestinian, co-directed by an Israeli filmmaker.
Gaza, We are coming – An awarded Greek documentary about the first foreign boats since 1967 that broke Gaza’s naval blockade.
The General’s Son – The son of an Israeli general talks honestly about the current situation.
Breaking the Silence – Israeli soldiers talk about the occupied territories of Palestine.
Rabbis for Human Rights – Israeli rabbis fight for human rights in Palestine.
B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories