We met in the lobby of the Aswan hotel at three in the morning. Outside it was dark, and not much cooler than during the day. “Hurry up, hurry up,” shouted the manager of the hotel. I think he had gotten out of bed especially for us, and wanted to go back to sleep. My wife (at that time my girlfriend) and I, together with three French tourists, piled into a taxi. The taxi driver gave gas, and off we went: to the temple of Abu Simbel. This was a five-hour drive through an unwelcoming, hot desert; the reason why we had to leave so early. We would arrive at Abu Simbel at around seven in the morning, visit the famous UNESCO-protected Egyptian temple for two hours, and arrive back at the hotel before the hottest time of the day.
And Aswan was hot. We visited Egypt in late winter/early spring and had both brought a flu along, which quickly developed into bronchitis. In Luxor, famous for its many temples, we had to organize a home visit by an MD, who gave us a large array of drugs to get us walking again. I experienced the temples of Karnak and Luxor through a fever- and codeine-induced haze. We had arrived in Aswan by train from Luxor a few days before and had spent the afternoons in the Old Cataract Hotel, drinking tea and eating sandwiches, convalescing, and escaping from the oppressive heat.
Nevertheless, now we were reasonably fit and ready for adventure. The taxi driver drove like a madman, overtaking other taxis and tourist buses along the way. We had a short stop halfway, just after the sun had come up, which hung like a burning metal plate above an endless and completely flat desert. I found some dung and saw a few flies, and was surprised that anything could live in this place. Another taxi hiccupped towards us, and over the next half hour several taxi drivers tried to repair its accelerator, but if I recall correctly, they didn’t manage to fix it. I don’t think those tourists ever arrived in Abu Simbel.
We did arrive at the temple, which is both an impressive architectural feat by the pharaoh as well as modern man, since the temple was moved five hundred meters so that it wouldn’t be covered by the waters rising in the gigantic Aswan reservoir. I can’t remember the temple well, except that its back is covered by an ugly dome of modern concrete, and the presence of a large airfield for the richer tourists. We were poor students at the time, traveling with backpacks and staying at three dollar hotels in obscure sidestreets, cheap because they were located closely to a neighborhood mosque. This was Ramadan time, so we didn’t need to set an alarm; the recorded singing of the muazzin and a 500 Watt loudspeaker took care of that.
After visiting the temple, we arrived back at the taxi, the driver already impatiently pacing about. We waited and waited for the three other tourists. “Let’s sit in the front,” suggested my wife. “that’s cooler anyway.” Finally, the three others arrived and climbed into the back. The taxidriver cursed and cursed, but as they didn’t speak English, I don’t think they realized what was happening. He didn’t pay them much respect anyway, as the women wore skimpy dresses, showing a lot of leg and chest, which doesn’t resonate well in Muslim countries. Off we went again, burning rubber! This time we had a few more stops as the heat began to take its toll on all of us. First, we paused for tea at a military post (at that time there was considerable tension with Sudan), where we had a chance to chat with the drivers.
A hundred miles north, we passed by an overturned taxi. It looked as if it had careened off the highway, hit the soft desert sand, and had gone topsy-turvy. There were many tracks and footsteps in the sand, but no humans. “Probably helicopter, bring to hospital,” shouted the driver over the hot wind, shaking his head. “Only for good driver. Desert danger!”
The three Frenchmen in the back had conked out from the heat; these taxis didn’t have any air conditioning, and we survived by the hot air that blew in through the the windows.
We arrived at a burnt-out ruin, and the driver roiled the taxi next to a few other parked cars. Tea time apparently. He got out, men hurried towards him. They spoke, and our driver started shouting and cursing. No tea this time, he immediately got back into the cab and we set off again. We continued to race north. “What happened?” I shouted at the driver, the wind blowing away my words.
“Whose father? How?” I thought I had misunderstood him.
“That taxi.” He pointed toward the back with his thumb.
“Is he in the hospital?” I shouted, almost afraid to press the point.
The taxi driver put his right thumb underneath his left ear and pretended to slit his throat. “Dead.”
“What’s he saying?” asked my wife. I repeated the conversation to her. “Jesus.” We didn’t know what to say, and stayed silent for a while, stealing occasional glances at the driver, who looked straight ahead, seemingly unperturbed, which made the entire affair even more unbelievable. As far as we could understand from the driver, the tourists had indeed been transported to Aswan by helicopter.
The issue is that a trip to and from Abu Simbel followed an extremely straight and tedious highway. There’s nothing to see but tarmac and flat sand. To make ends meet all taxi drivers held multiple jobs; they would drive a taxi in the morning, work in a garage during the day, and sell clothing in the Souk until ten in the evening. Due to exhaustion, accidents were bound to happen.
At the next military checkpoint, my wife and I swapped places. The soldiers already knew what had happened, and shook hands with our driver. He didn’t react much. Up to that point, the driver had occasionally already started to nod off, struggling to keep his eyes open. My wife began to ask him questions to keep him awake. I was struggling with sleep myself. The three tourists, deep asleep in the back, looked like pale meat overdone in a microwave.
Finally, the driver managed to pull open his eyes and sit up straight: Aswan came into sight. Taxis stood parked on the street, the drivers waving at our cab excitedly. News had spread around fast. “I am sorry,” we said to the taxi driver, as we gave him a generous tip. He shrugged, and hurried across the street to his colleagues.
“What ‘ees ‘appening?” asked one of the French tourists.
“His father died in the accident in the desert. The overturned car we passed?”
“What? What ‘appended?” Obviously, they hadn’t seen or noticed anything. We didn’t hang around to explain, why spoil their vacation?
My wife and I returned to the Old Cataract Hotel for tea, which had a bitter taste, which no sugar in the world could cure.
The adventure novel TWO JOURNEYS tells the story of a man who is the sole survivor of a post-apocalyptic event.
How is it possible to survive as the last man on earth? In adventure literature, Robinson Crusoe is probably the most famous imaginary character in such a situation. But real-life people have been separated from humanity for extended periods of time – if not the remainder of their life. These include the likes of Thorgisl, Grettir Ásmundarson, Fernão Lopez, Juan de Cartagena and Pedro Sánchez Reina, Gonzalo de Vigo, Marguerite de La Rocque, Jan Pelgrom and Wouter Loos(the first westerners to set foot in Australia), Miskito Will, Alexander Selkirk, Philip Ashton, Pedro Serrano, Ada Blackjack, Jesus Vidana, Salvador Ordoñez, Lucio Rendo, Leendert Hasenbosch, Chunosuke Matsuyama and Charles Barnard – and there are many more names of people that were forced to live in isolation over extended time periods. Some lived isolated for a few months, others for years… What unites these involuntarily castaways is their tremendous drive to return to humanity.
Some also select to be alone for extended periods of time, such as Gerald Kingsland and Lucy Irvine or Tom Neale (the latter spent 16 lonely years in solitude on the Cook Islands – by his own choice).
Survival is possible, and depending on the character of the castaway, might even be seen as enjoyable … one of the reasons why I selected this theme for my novel Two Journeys: how does an individual thrown from modern society, deal with the prospect of being alone…perhaps for the rest of his or her life?
In my novels Two Journeys and Fields of Fire, this shocking situation is caused by a global epidemic. Humanity has gone a long time without a major pandemic. But recent outbreaks of viruses such as SARS, corona or influenza (e.g. H2N2 or the Asian Flu H3N2; or bird flu) have occurred again and again in the past years. Is humanity prepared? In my books, I show a different path than what some so-called “preppers” or the “prepper movement” appears to advocate. If catastrophe strikes, keeping to the higher ground morally shows that we are human.
Learn more about the adventure books by Clemens P. Suter here.
More images from our trip to Japan – this time mainly Tokyo and Kyoto.
Below a snap from the Shinjuku Gyoen park. We visited a number of parks on this trip, and this one had a beautiful conservatory, a koi pond and two teahouses. Shinjuku is densely populated, and to escape into the green is a great distraction. But the high rises are always visible!
We also visited several museums and the MOMAT (museum of modern art Tokyo) was definitely a highlight. Especially intrigued by the paintings originating from the time of Second World War. Most were quite oppressive and disturbing to look at.
Better not travel by subway around rush hour- but sometimes it can’t be circumvented.
Below: a delicious cup of coffee with Macha-based cream!
The picture below was taken in Kyoto (the place where the Kyoto Protocol was signed). Ironic to see this air conditioner in action: cold air exits the smaller tube, hot air is released from the bigger exhaust. Great for the patrons, but not truly CO2 conscious.
No trip to Tokyo is complete without a visit to the Meiji shrine. Below the iris garden created for the Meiji empress at the start of the 20th Century. A beautiful, well balanced park, you can see a lot of gardening effort goes into the maintenance.
Visitors leave their wishes at the temple, which are later burned by the priests.
In Shibuya there’s a cafe where you can stroke cats! It costs a few hundred yen for an hour or so. You can just see a white cat at the top of the arrow. We didn’t go in, the idea made us feel a bit guilty.
You think that’s weird? How about a cafe where you can stroke hedgehogs? The lady holds up the sign to invite you in.
Or would you rather pet an owl?!
Then again, Shibuya is a wild place, heavily frequented by hipsters and tourists, and full of weird stuff (which is not typical for mainstream Japan).
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Flying JAL we experienced terrific service and great leg space in a brand new 787 plane.
The familiar corner shops to get a quick nibble or a hot or cold coffee:
Our Airbnb in Shinjuku- an intriguing neighborhood with some interesting nightclubs (ladies pay 0¥ !):
We thought this was a supermarket, but this is a gift shop where you can buy mainly melons as expensive giveaways. We witnessed a customer buying a banana wrapped in cellophane with a gift string attached to it. Probably for his superior?
Next we went to Roppongi Hills, a 40 floor business tower with a great museum. Last time we saw an exhibit by Warhol. Take a look at that roof garden in the building opposite.
That must be Shibuya in the distance, the district built on top of the second busiest train station in the world. The busiest station is Shinjuku, which handles more than 3.5 million persons … EACH DAY! “The station was used by an average of 3.64 million people per day in 2007, making it, by far, the world’s busiest transport hub” (Wikipedia)
On the top floor of Roppongi Hills is the Moro Art Museum – with a great exhibit by Shiota Chiharu. “The Soul Trembles” – a very dreamy exhibit, beautiful work.
At the foot of the tower, an evaporation system to keep people cool.
Sushi bar Genki Sushi in Shibuya, a bit overcrowded, but OK quality.
Drinking an ice old coffee in XFLAG STORE Shibuya. It isn’t every hot, but humid.
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Progress in completing the manuscript of the new adventure novel REBOUNCE was disappointing these two past weeks. Other obligations took time and effort: the marketing of TWO JOURNEYS (available e.g. as eBook $2.99, you can find it for instance at Apple Books) and FIELDS OF FIRE (available e.g. as paperback $19.99, for instance at amazon.com), needed urgent attention. In addition, I have been looking at ways to identify a publishing house and a literary agent; both of which take time. And I had a lot of other things to do too… taken together, all these distraction didn’t help to focus on corrections of the manuscript’s storyline. It still needs work; the flow and the action have to be smooth like silk.
So I have set up a rigid schedule, with specific times each a day (also weekends) dedicated to finalizing the corrections. After all, the aim is to publish five books in considerably less than five years… and that, to say it bluntly, is a challenge.
In any case, below is another tasty snippet from the new manuscript. Enjoy!
++++++++++REBOUNCE+++Draft+++Copyright+Clemens P. Suter+++++++++
We crossed the Swiss border and passed into the town of Basel. The road was four-lane, but soon we came to a traffic jam that disappeared into a tunnel underneath the northern site of the city. Like so many other tunnels, it had flooded with water shortly after the power-stations had shut down; most tunnels depended on continuously running pumps to stay dry. We had no other option than to maneuver through the narrow streets of the town, across the Rhine bridge, past the old city hall with its characteristic red façade, and from there in the direction of the railway station and the highway beyond. Francois insisted on getting some quality Swiss chocolate, so I parked the truck in an alleyway leading up to the Munster cathedral, a landmark of the town. I stood guard with the dogs, machine gun in my hand, pistols in my belt. Although the city seemed to be deserted, I still felt edgy and listened for sounds constantly.
Finally, Francois appeared again. I couldn’t help smiling, as he was lugging a cardboard box so heavy that the sweat was running down his face. “If I had known you were such a Luculus, we should have stayed in France.” He looked at me vacantly, clearly oblivious of the Roman dignitary famous for organizing lavish banquets. We boarded and continued towards the main station.
The curvy street had allowed only a single file of cars and only in one direction. Parked cars stood on the sides, many blocking the view of the sidewalks and the shops. I was driving slowly and both of us were checking our surroundings intently.
Suddenly a man appeared in the middle of the road. He wore army gear and a machine gun and raised his hand. I saw a couple of other men crouching down behind the parked cars. Although we had been expecting this to happen, we were still surprised, and Francois cursed underneath his breath.
With the bored air of a commanding officer, the man stepped up to our car and signaled me to lower the window. Francois and I had gone over possible scenarios, so it came as no surprise to see Francois steadying his machine gun towards the window. I quickly glanced back at the three dogs.
“Je dois vous demander de sortir de la voiture.” Get out of the car, the man said.
“We have important information for your boss,” I said in English, “tell us where we can find him so that we can speak to him.”
“First get out of ze car. Leave your gunze in ze car.”
“I am not going to discuss this. We are not getting out of this vehicle, and we won’t disarm.” I looked ahead, pretending disinterest.
He seemed slightly astonished and considered his options. After a few seconds he spoke again. “Wher’ ar’ you ‘eading?”
“To your boss. Show us the way and we will talk to him.”
Silence followed. Without speaking, he turned around.
“There will shooting,” I said, “he seems to be in command, there is nobody he is going to ask for advice or commands. He will try to get us out of the truck.” Francois nodded. I checked the gas; the engine was still running. The officer withdrew behind the parked cars. We couldn’t see him or his companions. Somebody shouted. ”Get out of ze car, now!” To emphasize these words, one of the men fired a few shots at us, which cracked the windscreen. I would have been dead if the glass hadn’t been bulletproof. I opened the car door and grabbed Bo by the skin of his neck. “Show us what you can do, boy. Get them! Go! Go!” Enthusiastically, Bo clawed his way over my lap, his claws scratching my bare skin, and jumped to the ground. I didn’t have to say anything to the other two dogs, who immediately followed their leader. With their ears in their necks and low to the ground, the three dogs stormed forward and disappeared between the cars, silent and deadly like ghosts in the night. Francois and I jumped out of the vehicle too, and staying low to the ground we quickly moved forward, one of us on one side of the street. A few shots were fired in our direction, but soon, shortly after a horrible growl, the shooting stopped.
Within seconds, we came upon the officer and two soldiers. The dogs had them pinned to the ground, snarling, holding their arms and necks. The officer tried to go for his pistol, but Lex released the man’s throat and went for his hand, his fangs closing on the man’s fingers. The officer’s face contorted from pain and panic. “Get him off, get him off!” he shrieked with an unnatural high-pitched voice.
Francois and I removed their guns and kicked them underneath the parked cars. I called the dogs back. Immediately they retreated and sat down beside me, liking their jowls. The officer held his bleeding hand close to his chest. “Wat ‘ave you dunn?” I kneeled next to him and took his hand. “You will need to get that hand taken care of, and your colleagues also need medical attention. Is there a doctor in your unit?”
“Get into your car and bring us to your medical staff.”
I helped him up, while Francois kept us covered with his gun. One of the men was still able to drive, and we put him in the driver’s seat of a small jeep they had parked around the corner. Francois got into the back with the officer. I took the dogs to our armored car.
A few minutes later we arrived at a hotel opposite of the central station. It was a stuffy, old fashioned place, with a guard just inside the door. He jumped to attention as I stepped in, and when he realized that I wasn’t a member of the staff, he attempted to raise his gun. I pulled the officer forward and the guard lowered his gun again, but he stared at the injuries of his comrades with considerable shock.