We all wish we could just pack up and leave on an adventure every now and then, but most of us are scared to actually take the plunge. Lovin Malta spoke to Andrea Portelli, a solo traveller who’s recently returned from a trip around unconventional lands.
What route did you take?
According to Google Maps, the whole journey was around 3,700 km long and was carried out entirely over land – bar some brief crossings with ferry boats. I flew in from Sudan, travelled through Egypt, keeping close to the Nile, and flew out from Amman in Jordan.
What made you go alone?
Solo travelling builds character. It makes organizing the logistics of the trip more interesting as you need to depend on yourself and what you bring with you, and I always feel rewarded when I see that my planning and calculations work out.
Us Maltese are not exactly the most adventurous lot, and I wouldn’t like to miss out on experiencing these places because others are not interested. But it was namely a challenge I posed to myself to see whether I was capable of pulling it off, given that it was the first time I would be backpacking across borders.
Travelling alone makes it easier to go off the beaten track and get to know more about ordinary people and their lives. I find that simply looking at locals from a distance defeats the purpose of travelling. Travelling, for me, means getting out there, experiencing authenticity and absorbing as much knowledge from the locals as possible. It shouldn’t be about the hotels and high-street shopping.
What made you choose the countries you did?
Funnily enough, my interest to visit these places first started off when I played the first ‘Tomb Raider’ game back in 1996, a part of which is set in Egypt. And they say video games don’t educate. I’m an Undergraduate in History and Archaeology so I’m naturally inclined to visit such countries.
However, I also wanted to challenge the negative media coverage these countries receive by judging for myself. Plus, it was the perfect opportunity to absorb as much of the Arabic language as I could, having started studying it by myself last December.
I also wanted to challenge the negative media coverage these countries receive
Any unexpected incidents?
Plenty. Firstly, not having mobile phone reception in Sudan, coupled with a near-total absence of WiFi, so I was cut off from any communication with the outside world for a week. The next surprise was the bus I was on breaking down for an hour in the 45°C midday heat in the middle of the Sudanese desert.
My luck with public transport didn’t end there. Despite the adverts, the ferry boat service in Egypt was no longer operating, which meant having to take a 16-hour bus ride instead to cover the distance required to get to the next town.
The last one that made it to the list is being questioned for about an hour by the Jordanian authorities about how I entered the country from the Sinai Peninsula; a region which is currently experiencing a high-level of terrorist activity. Never a dull moment!
What did you experience and learn from the locals?
I had several opportunities in this case, such as sitting down in local shisha bars in Giza and talking with the locals about everyday subjects, having lunch with the owner of a stable and his family in their home in Petra, and one Bedouin man telling me about how excited he was that his wife was about to give birth in their tent out in the desert of Wadi Rum. I did not however take photos any of these encounters as I personally consider taking photos of locals to be somewhat in bad taste.
But more than anything, I was humbled by the hospitality and goodwill that was shown to me, particularly by the Sudanese. Many, who clearly had little to share, would insist on paying for my bus fare, or for a glass of tea, or would give up their seat by a window or at the front of the van for me. These little things are what truly mattered and will stay with me.
Many, who clearly had little to share, would insist on paying for my bus fare, or for a glass of tea, or would give up their seat by a window or at the front of the van for me.
However, on a more somber note, it is evident that this region suffers from a political reputation which has negatively affected the economies of these countries, notably Egypt and Sudan. I came across several people who are simply ordinary people who want to live peacefully and with dignity and get on with their lives.
Did locals know about Malta? What were their reactions?
I would say that for every three people who didn’t know about Malta there was one person who did, and that those who did normally thought that Malta was officially part of Italy. Given that all these countries are fairly large (particularly Egypt and Sudan) it was sometimes difficult for them to conceptualize the idea of an island microstate.
What did you enjoy the most?
I would say the moments where I was in isolated locations in deserts, canyons and atop of mountains where I was able to have some time to myself and do some thinking and reflection. I also feel incredibly lucky to have come face-to-face with the Pyramids of Meroe in Sudan which, although have mostly succumbed to ruin, are still a sight to behold due to their historical value. Watching the sunset in Wadi Rum and enjoying the night sky dotted with millions of stars soon after was also quite memorable.
Would you encourage others to travel alone?
Traveling alone means that you get to enjoy a full programme of events of your own personal making. Many people do not feel comfortable with this style of travelling, which is totally understandable. Trips like these require a certain amount of dedication and risk-taking.
I do encourage people to try this out at least once in their life, wherever appeals to them. I don’t think I would have been able to do many of the things which I set out to do on this trip if I’d gone with others, such as climbing the top of Mount Sinai in the middle of the night to watch the sun rise at 5am, or lodging with a family in the a remote village, or backpacking across three countries altogether with one-way flights thousands of miles away from each other.
I don’t think I would have been able to do many of the things which I set out to do on this trip if I’d gone with others