A Wild Winter
Dec27

A Wild Winter

A year earlier, my friend Ed left his squat in Brighton, UK, and ambled off to Scandinavia to live in the forest. While influenced by primitivist ideas of withdrawing from civilisation and ‘re-wilding’ to a more natural state of being, Ed was also keenly aware of the benefits of modern civilisation — from the glasses he wore to the tools he used. He wanted to practically explore his primitivist ideas to see if they were realistic. It was an adventure, a personal challenge, facing fears. Others joined him — a community of sorts — but the hard winter whittled the group down to three young guys, the hardiest of the bunch. This was Ed’s second winter in the forest, and he decided to hold a Winter Gathering. I think he was lonely. It was a long, dark drive from Copenhagen, up along the coast of Sweden. Jim and I entertained ourselves by watching snow by the roadside thicken with each passing kilometre. Our driver Pete periodically stopped the car and slapped ice on his face to stay awake. Jatta dozed in the back of the van. An SMS from the forest advised that since it was getting late, we should stay with a friend for the night in a small town not far away. We laid our mats on the floor of Pär’s one-room apartment, thanking him for letting us stay. A variety of foraged herbs hung about the room; bookshelves were lined with Jensen and Zerzan, two of the most prolific anti-civilisationalist writers; a hand-bow Pär had carved himself hung proudly on the wall. The following day, the van impressed us all by climbing a frosted gravel track to a lay-by at the forest’s fringe. Three men appeared from thick white bushes to greet us, knives dangling from their belts. They advised us to don the same, as we were about to cross a frozen lake. If the ice were to break beneath our feet, we should stab the ice with a knife and pull ourselves out. I remembered the Ed I met in Brighton two years earlier: more Public Schoolboy than Man of Forest. This Ed had a frosty beard, wild hair, and a confident ease in his frozen environment. He carried a length of rope and a large, empty backpack, which he filled with food from our van. When we reached the lake, I had to take a breath. A vast expanse of pristine flat, white ice sparkled in the morning light. A forest shaped from glass grew around it. Silence penetrated the space. I began to step across, tentative at first. A powdered layer of snow dusted the ice, where...

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Thumbing the Iranian Desert
Oct24

Thumbing the Iranian Desert

Late last year, I found myself travelling solo in Iran for about 6 weeks. This was something of an accident, considering I’d travelled with two other people through Turkey, Georgia and Armenia, and only came to find myself alone, suddenly, at the Iranian border. A die-hard hitchhiker, I was faced with something of a conundrum: a) hitchhike alone in Iran: a country where I had only very basic language skills, a few contacts and a lot of confusion about the dress code, or b) take public transport. I opted for the latter. Happily, the prices of trains and buses in Iran are affordable, even for my shallow pockets. But I still wanted to experience hitchhiking in the giant, mountainous, sand-covered Islamic republic. It wasn’t until a few weeks into my stay that I first got my chance. The continuous bombardment of Iranian hospitality had left me craving independence and personal space. I decided to stay in a hostel in Yazd, to take a break from being a guest and — without wishing to do any injustice to the amazingly kind, generous and thoughtful people who had hosted me — the social pressures that brings. Staying in a hostel gave me the chance to meet other independent travellers — something of a rarity during the preceding weeks. It takes a special kind of something to get a Western traveller out of their comfort zone and into an Islamic republic on their own. I found myself befriending almost all of the solo travellers who came through. Mark was one of those. Having begun his journey at his home in Switzerland, Mark was on his way to China, mostly using public transport. He jumped at the chance of a hitchhiking trip to Chak Chak, a Zoroastrian fire temple out in the desert, 76 km from Yazd. Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion of Iran before Islam came along, and is credited as the world’s first monotheistic religion. Chak Chak, named for the sound drops of water make as they hit the floor of the cave, is still one of the most important Zoroastrian sites today. Neither Mark nor I had hitched in Iran before, but I’d already done my research. I’d come to the conclusion there would be two main problems with hitchhiking in Iran: In Iran, everyone’s a taxi. It’s common and perfectly normal for an unmarked car, driven by someone who isn’t a taxi driver, to stop and collect people from the roadside. It is expected that you should pay for this service; however, some cars will take you for free if you ask. How do you arrange this without unwittingly...

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