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Pseudo egyptology

When I visited the funerary temple of Seti I, I was enthusiastically welcomed by a guard who came running after me, shouting: ‘Doctor! Doctor! This form of address naturally, creates expectations and one feels compelled to pick up a few pot shards, look at the ubiquitous hieroglyphs and advance some interesting hypothesis. It is easy to indulge in all sorts of fantastic theories when inspecting these admirably formed hieroglyphs. Well, doctor, what do you make of these? Most of them can be read, but even so, a lot still have an uncertain provenance. Many times I have looked at scribbles that I clearly identified as penguins, golf clubs and so forth.
It is unfortunate that in their pursuit of baksheesh the caretakers are as blatantly inaccurate with their information as with their flattery. At the Tombs of the Nobles, a guard explained to me that all that, and here he made a sweeping gesture, was 500o years old. He was a mere 1500 years off…

At the Ramesseum I actually found what could be a bread mould, one of the many left over from countless offerings at funerary temples. Of course it is equally likely to be a part of a rubbish heap from Bedouins or other people that have at one time or another camped among these ruins in the last 200o years or so…


Photo I took in (one of) the Tombs of the Nobles. These portraits obviously depict prisoners. The one to the right has a distinctly South American appearance…

As a side note I should mention that in most tombs photography is forbidden, but as the guarding, or indeed the management, of the archaeological sites is a travesty, it is not discouraged in any way provided a little baksheesh is forwarded.

In my hotel I started dabbling a bit myself with post truth and alternative facts with what I would say tolerable success. It is here my object to use pseudo-Egyptology to upset some beliefs held by palaeobotany, a competing field:

Bananas were not introduced in Egypt until the 10th century AD or so. Curious fact: botanically, and indeed, surprisingly, bananas are categorised as berries…

On a more serious note: Wikipedia article on pseudoarchaeology:

In the early 1980s, Kenneth Feder conducted a survey of his archaeology students. On the 50-question survey, 10 questions had to do with archaeology and/or pseudoscience.[..] Questions also included issues such as: Tutankhamun’s tomb actually killed people upon discovery, [..]. As it turned out, some of the students Feder was teaching put some stake in the pseudoscience claims. 12% actually believed people on Howard Carter’s expedition were killed by an ancient Egyptian curse.

At the temple of Medinet Habu I meditated on the subject of pseudo-Egyptology. Looking out at the temple I was thinking that what if they had dug the last artefact from under the sand, when they had puzzled the last stone fragments together and had deciphered the last hieroglyph. Then we would hardly know anything more than we do know now, at least nothing important, nothing that will alter our general beliefs on the subject.
Pseudo Egyptology, however, even though much less likely to have any bearing to the truth whatsoever , has the advantage, that if it would be accidently true, then it would be spectacular. We would know about the gods, how they came from beyond the stars and if we can decipher their messages we would be able to send a spaceship.
And then we would wait.
Wait for a few thousand years for it to arrive.
But it would be all tremendously exciting in the meantime.

It’s the Illiterati, Sammy said later, they will take over the world.
What? I said.
The Illiterati, he said.
Illuminati, I said, you mean Illuminati
Yes, Illiterati, Sammy said, .. the people that try to cover up, you know, the secret knowledge, the energy and the pyramids, I am not saying…. but the Jews and the pentagon, it’s probably likely… the aliens, you know, unless… of course….
Sometimes it takes only minutes to change otherwise coherent people into raving madmen.


Sketch from a scene on a small gate in Medinet Habu where pharaoh Ramses III has a go at one of his adversaries who still seems to be hopeful of a more diplomatic course.


Luang Prabang

It wasn’t on my bucket list, but it deserves to be: having breakfast with muesli, yoghurt and fruit, overlooking the Mekong River in the cool morning air. Later drinking strong Lao coffee. It was a very pleasant experience indeed.

Luang Prabang is another UNESCO heritage site, but sadly, it’s being so has also resulted in a sterile, sanitised old city. Families that lived here before had rented their houses to restaurants and guesthouses and had left the city to the tourists and monks. There is none of the frantic traffic, street stalls, etcetera, that are so familiar in other parts of Asia. It is eerily silent.
Hello, waterfall.
No, I don’t want to go to a waterfall. I don’t do waterfalls anymore, I stopped doing waterfalls a long time ago. If I want to see water fall, I take a shower.

Luang Prabang is built at the confluence of the Nam Khan and the mighty Mekong river. There’s lots of history here. It’s the ancient capital of Lan Xang, the Land of a Million Elephants and the White Parasol. The founding father of the country is Fa Ngum who was born with 33 teeth and that was the wrong number (normal is 32, I googled that) and he got exiled for that. Then he became the ruler, fought many battles and ran the kingdom, much as he pleased. Sadly, at the end of his life he got exiled again…

Reading up about the history, I was somewhat surprised to learn that it was a Dutchman who was the first European to travel to Laos in 1641. In search of trade. The trade didn’t take off as the journey was too  long and arduous, but Gerrit van Wuysthoff wrote  a travelogue that was later translated into French. This was the guidebook for Laos in the next few centuries. Basically till the first Lonely Planet of that country was published.

One day after enthusiastically using the squat toilet in my hotel, I got pain in the back of my knees (both) again. After my struggles in the Algarve, in Portugal, I was anxious about this new development, but luckily the pain subsided and the next day was business as usual. I have no idea what caused the pain, but I go easy on the toilets now. We used to call squat toilets French toilets.  Funnily, the French call them toilette à la turque.

In a small supermarket I had found some of the local liquor. Its label made some wildly inaccurate claims about its supposed benefits for the health of the prospected imbiber: Alcohol is traditional medicine (..) [it is] to relieve nerve pain, back and waist pain, to have an appetite and sleep well. Suitable for the elderly and labor. That was too good to be true. I bought it.



This watercolour was done in a hurry and is unfortunately not finished. Maybe I will continue working on it later. The reason was the sun that forced me to abandon my place in the little park opposite the building where I had been able to work for some time. That is the bane of working on location in the tropics: during noon the shadows are not moving fast, giving the painter time to set up an outline and to get the colours right, but the light is not very good and it is extremely hot. Later, conditions are more favourable, the light gets better as the sun moves lower, but the shadows start running and the colours change. One has to work faster and faster. Then it gets dark…

Escape from KL

This morning I was trying hard to decide between fresh frog porridge and crispy innards porridge for breakfast, when I noticed the secret recipe rice noodles. The noodles were yummy, though not so much that I would go to any length to try and discover the ‘secret’ recipe.

With Rita I went to the Thaipusam celebrations at the Batu Caves near Kuala Lumpur. Many Tamils were doing penance for some reason or other, maybe they had served undercooked chicken. I don’t know. Most devotees  carried pots of milk on their heads to be offered to the effigies of the gods inside the cave, but some participated in acts of mortification which included the piercing of various parts of their body with metal rods. Small bands played riotous music and women were dancing around in trance with bulging eyes and swollen tongues. The heat was maddening.


Tamil worshipper at Thaipusam


Back in KL I tried to do some writing but after muddling for a while I had to admit failure in compiling a short history of Kuala Lumpur. I had been intrigued by Yap Ah Loy, the third Kaptan Cina, who was born in Kwantung Province, somewhere in China, and who had played an important role in the early history of Kuala Lumpur. The Chinese, the enigmatic pioneers, didn’t come back to life. Yap Al Loy stared at me from his Wikipedia page, young and angry. He only lived 47 years.

Kuala Lumpur’s history started when miners first began to hack a way though the jungle to clear space for a village that had to accommodate the Chinese workers that were working in the tin mines further upstream. It was at a muddy confluence of two rivers close to where ships could not sail any further. Chinese labour was used in the mines as the indigenous Malays were too busy in the banana industry, or at least so they said, and so, accordingly, Chinese businessmen set up shop in the town to cater to the miners. Beriberi and malaria were rampant, most people didn’t even know what beriberi was. Living conditions were severe  because of the heat and the stifling humidity and the lack of air conditioning. Sudden downpours drove the people mad because most of the mining was done in open mines and umbrellas were not provided. Warring Chinese secret societies killed so many that one wonders where people found the time to die of beriberi.


The SIn Sze Si Ya Chinese temple, founded by Yap Ah Loy

With rusty rifles they tried to shoot metal grit at members from the opposing secret society to stop them from breathing and loving the ones near to them. The shadows, those enemies, that were so alive, much more so in the face of lurking death or the imminent threat of mutilation, laying in the mud under green dripping leaves, so alive trying not to die. What was wrong with these people?

Even without this civil war, working conditions for the Chinese workers were abysmal. In some mines 50 % of the workers died anually…

I got out for coffee and sat down among the frantic pace of hawkers at work in ramshackle tea stalls in alleys at the back of my hotel in Chinatown. Old men that looked like myopic turtles, were slurping noodle soup. The air was full of monosyllabic shouts. Scurrying rats added a sense of squalor. A man at the flea market opened a tin and smelled the contents, peered suspicious inside and closed it again. I paid for my coffee. My back was wet with perspiration and I hadn’t even done any mining…


The local Starbucks

The hairdresser had long sleek hair and a thick face with protruding lips. He put me in a chair and walked aound me.
You’re handsome, he said, your eyes, what colour are they….?  Grey….?  Blue….?
I don’t know, I replied evasively.
Good, he said, as if he had reached a decision, I am going to cut your hair. You are going to be so handsome when I am finished with you...
He draped a cape around my shoulders and he cut my hair and when he was done, he said: You look like George Clooney.
This was an obvious lie and the girls hanging around on the chairs in the salon were giggling with alarmingly low voices.

It was time to leave KL, the durian season was nearly over, and in the early morning I left for the airport and flew to Bali.

The Ultimate Guide to Budget Travel

Tip 1

Find a midsized town with an agreeable climate and look for a cheap hostel with a fully equiped kitchen, free breakfast and free wifi. Prepare your own food everyday with a bottle of cheap Vino Tinto thrown in every now and then. Budget around 15 euro per day. For keeping up appearances: pretend you hurt  your knees or something ridiculous.

More tips coming soon in my new bestselling blog: The Ultimate Guide to Budget Travel…

Arthroscopy Now

The horror, the horror.


In his office on the ground floor of the hospital, Dr Fernando Pessoa had another look at my knees. We discussed  the progress of my medical condition in the last couple of weeks and he told me he thought it would be best for me to have a knee arthroscopy. This is a small, minimal invasive surgery with a good chance of success and so we made an appointment for the next week.

After the operation I should expect to rest for another two to three weeks and so I am hopeful to continue my journey, after a short delay, by the end of April, It’s not entirely sure if I could do so by bicycle, although the doctor seemed quite optimistic.

I have to wait…

After failing to spot a chameleon in the National Reserve, I was very surprised to see a gekko on the rooftop terrace of my hostel. I didn’t know of the existence of a Mediterranean gekko species, but a quick search showed that it’s common in all warmer parts of Europe…

The gekko hid in a small hole under the glass plate of the table I sat at and where it, quite unexpectedly, died.


Navigational skills lacking…

The third day I had to get through Rotterdam. To aid cyclists in navigating this metropolitan area, people had begun signposting the way, but for some reason they had at various points abandoned their tasks.  After hours and hours, trying to find my way across several waterways and a myriad of motorways, I finally found my way out of this labyrinth.

I slept at a campsite in Lage Zwaluwe and at night it rained. The Hubba Hubba (see Equipment) kept me dry.

The next day I crossed the border into Belgium. It was overcast and I thought about my compass not working as I mentioned in my last post. Since it applied to navigation and navigation being a mathematical skill, I decided to tackle this problem in a logical way.


All directions

So if my compass pointed northwest  ALL THE TIME, it must be pointing the WRONG way MOST OF THE TIME. Therefore, if I wanted to go northwest, my best chance would be to go in a southeastern direction using my compass, because going in northwestern direction using my compass would lead me in the WRONG  direction MOST OF THE TIME, so going in the opposite direction must lead me in the RIGHT direction MOST OF THE TIME. Vice versa, if I wanted to go south, I just had to follow a northern direction.

Anyway, I am in BELGIUM!!!!!

First moves

The morning of my departure I handed the key of my apartment to the man of the Housing Association. For some reason he ignored the fully mounted bike in the middle of the otherwise completely empty room pretty much the same way one ignores the proverbial elephant.
He asked me where I was going after this.
I’ll be riding my bike, I smiled, pointing at the biped with the pachydermic qualities.
He nodded.
Very unusual, he said. Will you sign here please?
When I moved my bicycle outdoors he waved goodbye.

Before the man arrived, I had made coffee, thrown away the coffee-maker, made sandwiches, thrown away the plate and knife, and after breakfast, I threw away what was left of my kitchen. I cleaned up, packed my bags and threw away all the cleaning stuff.

Extreme decluttering.

That first day I cycled to Amsterdam and noticed my compass was  broken. It told me I was cycling northwest, which was not true. Well, at least not most of the time
In Amsterdam I was received with great hospitality by good friends.

Distance cycled: around 80 km
Number of wrong turns: 2
Other statistics: 0