A German, an ethical dilemma and a #lockdown2 micro-adventure

Just when you thought all the microadventures had slowly wound up at the end of the last lockdown, they’ve made a reappearance! Here in Dublin, with our 5km limits, we’re realising that we’ll no sooner be out of our lockdown than we’ll be back into it again in January. So here’s another fun idea for families, couples, housemates or bubbles.

Tuesday night adventures

Or Tuesday night something-or-others. We still debate the meaning of what an adventure is (and thus what a micro-adventure could be allowed to be), but the bit we’re more sure of is that these happen on Tuesday nights. Of course if you choose to adopt such activities, they needn’t occur on Tuesdays, which means the continuity between you taking these ideas and us doing them, is simply that you’ve read this blog post and thought “I haven’t a clue what this Irish guy is wittering on about, but we might try something similar”.

They came about because we often work all day at our desk inside and soon realise that it’s past sunset (16.15 here at the moment) and we haven’t got outside or moved all day. Our motivation to leave into the dark, cold and wet is not often abounding, and so we figured we might need something to help us.

And so last Tuesday, just before I finished my Zoom call, I heard someone at the door and got up to investigate. I was too late to find anyone there, but did indeed find a letter from a local resident, Mr On. A strange name, I must confess, and one from whom I’d never received any personal correspondence before. Mr On was a well known character in the area, although sometimes considered a wandering nomad, far from home. Far from home, not because of his German roots (for which we should really call him Herr On, out of respect) but because he was nowhere near his normal abode.

Herr On, photographed (C) by Deirdre Horan of Crumlin Community Cleanup group

But although far from home, he seemed to know how to write a good letter more than most young people do these days (a great travesty, if you ask me). I attach his charming address below:

And so the stage was set for what would soon be known as the first ever Tuesday Adventure. Of course, somewhere in the world (perhaps even my world) before, there had indeed been an adventure which had happened on a Tuesday, but for these purposes we ask that you allow us some generosity as we recount the great feat of that first Tuesday.

And off we went on the first of our 10-step adventure, all to be completed in a mere 90 minutes, without ever straying out of our 5km lockdown limit.

Enjoying a quick break from the arduous adventure, by resting underneath one of the recently found clues.
Determined that this was to count as a cul-de-sac, it soon became apparent that Herr On did not agree and that the Germans are a little more precise about their terminology than I might have liked.

It was fear-invoking, outrageous acts like this that for me, were the reason that this was definitely an adventure. Just seconds before this photo was taken in fact, I was mere seconds away from being run over by a passing van, who for some reason did not understand that I was not crossing the road, but was obeying orders to stand in the round-a-bout in the middle of the road. (Perhaps this is why the US was so slow to adopt such madness as the modern-day roundabout.)

But this was not even the most challenging act of the evening. A request to get a photo of a dog being walked in the area was a challenge more suitable to an adventurous man like myself.

Forgetting all the controversy of the definition of a cul-de-sac and leaving it behind me, I set off for Eamonn Ceannt Park, in the dark! For even considering such acts of bravery, I hoped I would soon be rewarded by exactly what I was after.

Sadly it appears that during lockdown, not many people are venturing out of their houses at around 10.45pm on a Tuesday evening to walk around the streets. One kilometre in, and my hopes were raised by a person in shorts, moving from west to east across Clonmacnoise circle. The only moving target in many minutes. Desperate as I was to return to my warm bed, preferably having completed my adventure, it did seem a little ambitious to ask said shorted runner to find for me a dog in the local area and run back to me with it so that I could have a photo. So I moved on. And much to my delight, before even crossing the road to get to the dark park, I found what I was after!

My recent learning via the Photography Ethics Centre meant that I was uneasy with taking photos of people (and their dog) without their permission and posting it online on what might become a viral blog post (I always dream).

And so I was left with a dilemma. Here was indeed my one opportunity in perhaps the whole night (for who walks their dog after 11pm??). My options were limited.

And so, determined to do the ethical thing, I approached the man with the dog. He was the type of man, who, if I’d been someone prone to making stereotypes (which of course I’m not), I would have said he was a rough drug addict, just out of jail and walking home (you can tell by the look in their eyes). And so I didn’t feel as bad about what I was about to do.

In what would be later described by a local paper as an act of extreme gentrification, I subtly walked towards the man (and his dog), looking simply like I was off to take part in an adventure that a local heron had given me. The man suspected nothing.

In a flash, without him realising, I had his dog and had disposed of the owner. I turned, realising I now had what I needed. A way of getting my photo of a dog walker, without needing to ask for permission, by becoming the very thing I needed. Moreover, the dog I had commandeered (or shall we say, offered to walk), was none but a local German Shepherd dog. Herr On would indeed be impressed.

And so, our grand Tuesday night adventure was completed for week one. Little did I know the traditions that would come about following such an adventure.

Inspiring? I would say so.

But please don’t all go out on Tuesday night for your Tuesday-night-adventure. Lest it all get a bit much on the streets and I get questioned by the Gards for the craze.

Microadventure day 8: After Darkness, Light

This comes as part 8 of our series on Microadventures in the lockdown. Due to my lack of energy to write them all up, I’m afraid we’re only going at about one every two days. Perhaps they’ll do us for May too!

Have an idea? Why not let me know!


Sleep.

I’ve written quite a bit elsewhere (particularly in ‘Travel’), about our culture’s aversion to sleep. So often we pretend we are too busy for it (with important things, you’ll understand), don’t really need so much of it, or are simply distracted and don’t realise the time. To be purposely productive is the idol of many, including myself (sadly) at many times. The world is too enjoyable to sleep – there’s too much to explore! We’re definitely no longer a culture that wakes with the sun and goes to sleep with the darkness.

And that’s particularly true for the backpacker – we come in to places in the evening and still want to explore. We get woken up in the hostel at night by others in the dorm. We sleep on busses or trains or wherever we can find cheaply, but perhaps don’t quite get an uninterrupted 8 hours for many of those nights! For many of us, we think we can survive longterm living like that. Sleep experts would strongly disagree (see review 1).

But for these few days, I am attempting to get back to waking up when the sun rises (or just before) and going to sleep earlier, just to see what being in rhythm with the natural patterns of the world is like. Luckily for me, the hours suit well at this time of year where I am. If they don’t suit where you are, then perhaps just rise earlier in the morning to see sunrise and go to bed at a suitable hour.

So today was day 1 of this episode.

The alarm went at 6am, and I stumbled out of bed about 20 minutes later, already struggling and wondering why on earth I thought of doing this!

But 5 minutes afterwards, and my first reward was obvious.

A stunning sunrise over the water, with no-one else within miles to see it, apart from the odd cyclist, whizzing past on their way to work or their next target.

The stillness and quietness of the morning overtook me, as I stood, watching the majesty unfold. The day’s tasks rested far ahead of me and out of my mind as I watched the carefree oyster catchers and gulls fly over the still waters and come to land near me on the beach, wary of this strange species that had turned up amongst them.

The world may be in a panic and uncertain, but for my feathered friends in front of me, it was business as usual. And the only worry was what to eat that morning. The dining table for them, spread out with panoramic views.

My heart sang a short reflection of thanks to God.

all photos my copyright

And the rest of the day was set with a foundation of joy. Walking back home for coffee, I turned to some more immovable sustenance of joy as I opened God’s words to us, recorded in history for us (in the Bible). And then onto breakfast before the day sped up and reality hit.

But just in case you think it’s all very well for me – having a nice sunrise to watch, I guess my post is less about chasing sunrises (which are of course, still a ‘brucey bonus’) and more about connecting with natural rhythms, stilling your heart before madness hits, and meditating on the bigger picture.

And much as I do think sunlight and other such daily rhythms do indeed have an affect on us, I do wonder whether we also have quite some cultural prejudice towards times of day in some circles of society. Today, I sent an email at 8am, and got heralded for my ‘godliness’ of being up early. Previously I’ve sent emails at 2am and got berated for how immature and out of control I was! Neither need be necessarily true at all though, depending on the circumstance or patterns of life we are living.

But for now, let me simply encourage you to join me on a dawn microadventure, and see what you find!

Microadventure day 7: pushing boundaries

This is the seventh post in our microadventure during [Coronavirus] lockdown series. You can find the others here.


Murphy’s Law! It’s what we call it in Ireland when anything that could go wrong, does go wrong. Like when we are have to isolate indoors, and the weather blazes the best sunshine we’ve seen all year. Similar to exam season for children – when it occurs, and they must stay indoors revising, we suddenly get good weather too. And so it’s happened.

The weather that comes when one isn’t on holiday.

I’m a little hesitant about when I go out on such days. My local walking path (just 200m away) is sometimes teeming with people who’ve driven in from elsewhere, and so I try and go when the crowds die down.

But as I stepped out of my front door to stretch before my run, it wasn’t just the area that was teeming with people. The air was teeming too.

Midges.

The crafty little things that loitered in the shadows, stealing the cool, shady areas of my driveway, and popping out at the sight of human flesh, to take a nibble and enjoy the crazy attempts of a human trying to swat and clap and do ANYTHING to get rid of them. Entertainment at its finest, for a midge-sized-eye.

But I put up with them for a short while, knowing that I’d soon be out plodding the pavements, quicker than any of them could catch up with me, or so I thought.

Glendalough: probably one of the worst places for midges I have ever been

Pushing Boundaries

Today was the day I decided to go for a long run – to push the boundaries of what I’d been doing recently. I was used to doing ultra-runs over the past couple of years, but I was a little out of shape this winter, given how much I tend to consider myself a fair weather runner. Today, for our microadventure, would you join me?

Why running?

For many reasons.

For one, it gives the day shape. Somehow I find that slotting a run into my day, shapes the rest of my day. On running days, I’m more likely to have a good time alone with God too. On running days, I’m more disciplined in my work routines. Running seems to do something to me, which puts everything else in order.

But much as I could go on, I’ll come back to more reasons for running, later in our run!

Today’s challenge was to go push myself further than I’d gone recently, which for me would be over an hour of running. And it was a beautiful day for it – blue skies, sun beating down.

My route would be the coastal path along Belfast Lough, which sadly turns away from the coast and goes through endless industrial estates at a point not too far from my house, and leads to the city centre, and then out the other side along the river (or alternatively, along the rest of the shore path to Bangor). Today though, I was grateful for the industrial estates, because they lessen the crowds and give some shade.

And we’re off

And so I set off, glad to get away from the swarm of biting friends, and head in the opposite direction to where most of them hang out, by the water’s edge.

I love running, but particularly by the water’s edge, or through beautiful regions. It’s partly what made me take up ultra-running – to remove the concrete from under my feet and remove the constant glancing at my watch from my runs. Not that I don’t care about time anymore, but its not what drives me. The joy of running drives me onwards.

FREEDOM!

And it gives me a mental release from over-thinking. I’m a person who thinks alot. I replay situations in my head, I mull over problems that aren’t even my own problems, I am always engaging intellectually with something. But running is the chance to lose myself (in the music, the moment….you only get one shot etc etc – sorry a little sidetracked) and think about nothing apart from the path ahead, the beauty around me, and the nothing-ness of the moment.

And so there I was, delighted to be free of worry, until a mile further on, as I passed a shady wooded area, dappled in sunlight trickling through the branches, I was slightly alarmed to find them again. I pushed on through the infested cloud of indiscernable bites, in the hope I could outrun them still. My legs felt fresh enough to give them a run for their money today.

On I plodded, knowing that I didn’t have to keep going. The danger with setting a time on running, rather than a distance, or setting joy as your driver, rather than set distance targets, is that I find it easier to turn round at nearly any point or to be reduced down to a snail’s pace (if time is my goal). I mean, technically you could do this, no matter what motivates you. And some days, one does really need to dig deeper, even when you don’t feel like it. Even when joy is not there in your mind. Even when your mind groans at the thought of the miles ahead.

No pain no gain?

Let me differentiate though between your body painfully groaning at the miles ahead, and your body mentally groaning. Yes, there is sometimes deep connection between the two, and it’s not quite as simple as I might make out here. But my mind will often complain at the journey ahead. But my body will only complain in pain if I’ve been pushing it too hard for its own good, if I’ve picked up niggling injuries or if I haven’t been sleeping well or physically doing ok in the recent days. The two are very different things. And it’s essential to listen to your body. To put your ego of your training routine or targets behind you, and listen well to your body, and not just your lazy mind (that will perhaps rarely choose to run any decent distance at times).

This, in today’s world is a counter-intuitive thing for anyone to do – to not listen to the loudest voice in your mind. For the mantra of the modern age is “be true to yourself”. But for the runner, if one was to listen to this internal voice, you would never leave the sofa. For the good of one’s self, one must not listen to oneself (which raises big questions for other areas of life…but I digress).

Choosing a goal

I say this, as I lay down the gauntlet of our microadventure today being to run farther than you’ve done before. Can I suggest pushing yourself just one or two steps further, rather than trying to break land records for running? Perhaps it’s only me, but my teenage self would often just take a whim to do some stupidly mad long distances on a nice day. To take off, and never return. And that was normally on top of a physically gruelling training schedule. The day after, I’d always suffer. In fact, often the whole week after, it’d put my other training into reverse. My ego would have tried to persuade my body that this was fitness. Instead, it was normally just pride.

I must never run so hard, that my body feels damaged by my actions (with perhaps a few exceptions of escaping danger or occasionally when I push myself in a competition – but still, I would be foolish to do this without knowing what will result). Because I partly run, to keep myself in shape. I sleep better when I run. My body feels fitter, when I run. And the endorphin release after running is the only drug I need for the day. There’s something about the elation and buzz of coming back from completing a run that leaves me buzzing for the rest of the day. I don’t know all the science behind it, but it feels good!

So if you’re choosing a distance to push yourself this week, perhaps consider your current level of fitness and go just beyond it. If you’re used to running 2km, run 2.5km. If you normally do 10km, do 13km. Or run the same distance at slightly faster speed or on a more hilly route. The “couch to 5k” challenge is beautiful for this reason – it sets reasonable targets over weeks, that won’t break you beyond what your body is capable of.

Pounding concrete

But as I ran on, I came to the depressing part of my route – the industrial estates. Thankfully they were quite quiet, given the nature of the times we live in, though they must still be ok to traverse at other times, given the main cycle route to the northside of the city goes through this route, giving a perfect path to run.

Here, I smiled. I had outrun my fellow competitors. Nothing moved for several miles around me, apart from two cyclists, whizzing past at high speed.

At the 35 minute mark, I turned, stuffed a few more jelly babies in my mouth (I’m a type 1 diabetic, so need constant sugar supply) and turned to run the same path back again.

It was 10 minutes in to my run back again that I sensed a cheater in our ranks. Had the race adjudicators not noticed? I was once again being bitten by my friendly rivals. But they’d not been anywhere near the distance I had traversed? Angrily, I pushed onwards, sure that even with less of my body in tact from their incessant biting, I could still outpace even cheaters like these.

And so I was still confident as I hit the sign for one mile to go – and it was all along coast now, with a gentle breeze off the shore, and stunning views of the Cave Hill to my other side. A flock of geese forming a “v” shape in the sky, flew by, effortlessly flapping their wings and gliding close to the water. Stunning!

Passing a walker, they dived into the bushes, sensing my deep breathing might smite them with undesirable viruses, as I ran past. But on I ran, keen to keep going.

One hour 10 minutes struck. And I was back within a few hundred metres of home. Time to slow down to a walk, for the last bit to allow my body a chance to recover before I spent the rest of the day indoors.

Overtaken at the final hurdle

But sadly it was that decision (which was a good one, I must add) to slow down, that cost me the race that day. Just in those last few hundred metres, my fellow competitors caught up with me for one final time, and gloated over me as I headed towards my finish, continuing to bite at any possible juicy morsels they could find on my body. Too tired to swat or dance away from them like I did at the start, I resigned myself to defeat. How had they run faster than me on such an occasion? I slammed the door, hopeful that they’d remain outside of my isolation bubble and at last, I could have some peace for the rest of the day.

Collapse, midway through an ultra.

It’s over to you

So, at the end of our little microadventure for today, could I encourage you to get out there and use your one exercise per day to push yourself just a little bit harder, faster, wiser, (and erm stronger?) in the days ahead.

PS: What if you’re only allowed 2km away from home by government isolation?

Don’t worry, there’s always running round your garden a billion times:

Or doing many lengths of your seven metre balcony, in order to run similar distances:

So what are you waiting for?

Let’s get running!

Microadventure day 4: voices of the world

Part 4 of our microadventures series continues but you can find the rest (as well as an introduction to microadventures) by clicking here.


What travels all the way round the world but never leaves its corner?
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A stamp!

Or so the old joke goes. But having simply taken us out for a walk to the unknown yesterday, I thought we’d go round the globe today, whilst remaining in our own little corners!

What many relish about travel, is the educational perspective it gives you, as you often see the world through other lenses. And as Christians, being united to our brothers and sisters in Christ around the globe, this world perspective can theoretically come without leaving our houses or towns – as we join with the global Church and learn from each other long past any fleeting chance to meet with each other in person. Here’s a few ways I’ve done that today from my living room:

  1. Surfing USA
    I’ve been chatting with the Christian Travelers’ Network leader in the USA, hearing what Coronavirus in the States is like, the challenges of life there and how the Church is responding. The bit that was recorded (alas) was me waffling on about microadventures, the future of the travel industry and many more travel related things that you can listen to, here.

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  2. Learning from our African friends
    A fellow IVP author shared this on Twitter recently:
    “A group of African Christian leaders once said to me: when you western people suffer, it is unusual for you. You think you need to know why. This reveals your temptation towards rationalism. When you can’t find out why, you are tempted to question, doubt and then dismiss God.

    When we suffer on the other hand, it is normal to us. We don’t think we need to answer questions about why. It is common in a fallen world. So our instinct is to seek God, humble ourselves and worship.

    One of the lessons from the book of Job is to not ask the wrong questions in the face of catastrophe. As if getting answers and understanding is what we need to help us.

    The necessary answers to catastrophe are rarely academic ones, regardless of whether they are correct.

    There is no doubt about God’s agency in Job’s story, but it turnedout not to be profitable to speculate much more than that. What was needed was not THE Answer, but lamenting, support and most of all – God.”


    I’m not sure I have much more to say. How we have robbed ourselves of a theology of mission being participating in suffering! Rather than the ultimate goal of our prayers/lives being our comfort. Teach me O Lord what this might look like!

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  3. Race the World: South America
    I’m one who doesn’t watch many things on screens (because why would you watch someone else doing something, when you could be experiencing it yourself? And on-screen entertainment is so slow-moving compared to reading, if one wants to learn.) but I have succumbed to a few travel documentaries/soaps recently. BBC have Race around the World, 4od have Travels of a Gringo (and of course for those outside of the UK, there’s plenty to enjoy on YouTube, Netflix and many other places).

    I’d probably categorise them in different ways – I turn to some places to learn in intentional ways, I turn to other things to relax and inspire me, and some are a mixture of both, like the two aforementioned series which are giving me a hilarious overview of South America – the continent that I know least about (probably because it’s so ‘Christian’ that I’ve never thought about its needs very much?).

    The one thing I tend to stay clear of, unless I’m wanting marketing tips or videography demonstrations, is pleasure travel videos on YouTube. Sitting watching carefully curated videos of professional travellers, of infinity pools in sunny resorts, luxury ice hotels in the arctic, dare-devil cliff jumps and other such things, while stunning, don’t tend to create in me a healthy love for the world or how I can serve God in it. Perhaps the hashtag #travelporn or #wanderlust says an awful lot of what’s behind the fast-paced fake reality we long for, leaving me lusting after the travel brochure picture, the perfect travel video and forgetting the messy reality behind it. I’m not saying there’s anything objectively wrong with these either – I just don’t find a diet of them, helpful (or that creative – after a while of watching).

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  4. Praying from pole to pole
    Starting a tour of the 5 continents was always going to end in trouble with Antarctica! Did I really engage with people from there that day? Well, no. But I did get an email from a Christian friend who lives up in the Arctic amongst the Sami people in northern Norway. She reminded me that “isolation” isn’t really at all painful to them there – some quite often go days without seeing those outside of their family and so life goes on as normal! I suppose my regular contact with Christians round the globe by email is a little like letter-writing of old – ‘snail-mail’ to the modern-day individual!

    Still, I do love a deep email, speaking of the Lord, what God is doing, sharing photos and memories and spurring each other on. I was encouraged that day when it arrived, and I learnt yet more insights into the churches in such places and how we can pray for them (which let’s be real – I don’t do often…though I do like the habit of daily getting out Operation World, IFES World updates, or Joshua Project Unreached People Group of the Day and daily upholding up a radically different place and people).

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  5. An up-side-down videocall (Australia)
    I was meant to be off work and travelling this week with an old colleague visiting from Australia, my fiancee and a few other friends. But…of course I’m at home, sitting in my room for yet another evening. But it was a joy to at least call Australia and catch-up without the usual timezone constraints (as most of us can get away with flexi-hours, if we’re still working). Sadly, she had lost more than just a holiday when her trip was cancelled, but a trip that was to visit some future possible teams/locations to minister, and a visit to support missionaries working in hard places. Do you ever have those people who you call, who leave you humbled, in awe of God’s sovereign hand at work in the world, and delighting at Christ more, despite our sinfulness? I hope you do. And I love that this conversation was one of those.

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  6. A rebuke from Asia
    Well to be more precise, this one was actually from one of my own church community, in Europe, but the quoted voice was an Indian tweet that has done the rounds on social media, and that is worth reading the full thread by clicking below…

It’s times like these that put into perspective our cries that “we’re bored” isolating. Or even our very real fears that someone we know may suffer. It’s voices like these that we could do with shaping our lives more from day to day – when we know many in the world are not asking “will I die with the virus?” but “will I die of hunger or of the virus first?”

Dr Hiremath vents (as an Indian consultant) that rich travelers are to blame for the spread of such disease to poor places which can’t cope and don’t have the privilege we have. Should this put an end to our constant travel talk here and elsewhere? Will we wake up to what we are doing to our fellow human and to our climate by our travels? Such questions do indeed need to be wrestled with, as travel enthusiasts. There are serious questions to how we travel, which are to be thought through. But I’m not sure banning travel, or stopping talking about it, is the answer. Did less pleasure travel stop the Spanish Plague a century ago? Is it only certain western pleasure travel we should legislate against (only a fraction of all flights)? What would that look like? What about the Indian air industry which is (I’m informed) the third largest in the world?

These are complex questions with no easy answers. They deserved to be talked about more rather than less, if we are to reason with the world traveler and come to answers that will help all in the world, especially the least privileged. I hope this blog can continue to be a place for exactly that. Soon I might write on why we’re “micro-adventuring” in the middle of a world crisis.

  1. Coming Home (Europe)

But should these 6 visits to various cultural contexts and continents, all regularly happen in one day, we’d be all too exhausted to invest in local community where we live. And I know many who do ‘church’ with like-minded people online around the world, because they find the community more understanding, deeper and more authentic amongst open-minded travelers. The preaching bears in mind various cultural contexts, so keeps the main thing, the main thing. The prayers are made in light of world events and the darkest of dark in the world, but also the incredible things God is doing in various places – experienced first hand by many. The expectations of what Christ-like-ness is, are not culturally bound to political systems or culturally ingrained ways of living.

Yet, local church is what it is, for a reason. A random bunch of completely different, broken people, filled with His Spirit. Yes, every local church community would benefit from people who are aware of the world, can see clearly the strengths and weaknesses of cultures, and live out their connection to the worldwide body in very real ways.

But every traveler like me, would benefit from being humbled to serve people who are not-like-us. To learn to love the conservative individual who never leaves their home village. To be challenged in my extreme independence and use of time and money for my own goals. To sit under the authority of God’s Word in a community of people who know you well, rather than getting frustrated by the endless cultural faux-pas of sermons, and only meeting with those online who can’t really see your heart and life.

But thankfully, today was an unusual mix of experiences. And one that hopefully won’t take away from serving my local community here in my neighbourhood (and my church) in these hard weeks for many.


So what about you – how are you travelling the globe this week, learning about the world, joining with the global Church, and hearing voices that challenge you in your living? I hope you can #travelintandem

Enjoy!

Microadventure 3: a walk into the unknown

This comes as part of our series of 30 microadventures during lockdown. You can find the rest here.


I will never forget the look on my Uber driver’s face in Egypt when I brought him into the desert and showed him pyramids, more impressive than the ones in Giza, that he’d never known existed. I mean, technically he was the one who was meant to be bringing me to new places! His jaw dropped.

But that can be like any of us in our home surroundings. We can live somewhere years, and never open our eyes to the extent of the reality around us. And so my microadventure for day 3 of April was going to be exactly that – simply walk in a direction that I hadn’t before and keep my eyes open for unusual things that spark my curiosity.

Now I live near the coast of Belfast Lough, and so I feel a little privileged. Within 200m of my door I can be out on coastal paths with lapping waters, sand and shore. But that was the run I do every day. So wanting to diversify, I set off into the concrete jungle of suburbia.

I also decided to do this walking, despite the fact it infuriated me. I’m a runner at heart. Walking bores me. Running frees my mind, gets the endorphins rushing and gets me quickly to beautiful places. But Mum and others have taught me that when I flee at high speed, I miss many incredible sights, sounds and experiences that I wouldn’t if I took the time and had the patience to slow down. So today I resigned myself to walk. With reluctance, but with a determination to make the most of it, if I was going to ‘suffer’ in this way!

And having thought I would need to hunt scraps of beauty, discarded under brick, mortar and tar of city-life, I was pleasantly surprised and quite ashamed to find that just a few hundred metres the other direction from my front door, lay a glen. A glen that I’d never been in before. And albeit a glen that was between two rough housing estates, nevertheless the green of a marvelous glen.

Roughly translated: The Salmon Stream Glen

Now we’re quite privileged in Northern Ireland to have greenery in many places near to us, which makes even inner-city life pleasant at hard times. But still, I can’t believe I’d never been to this mile-long glen, so close to me!

I noticed 3 things in particular this time round:

  1. Just listen to the birdsong – tremendous! Life around every corner.

2. The trees – incredible if I actually stop and take time to enjoy the majesty of the HUGE ones, and the fun shapes of others:

3. If you struggle to get started with slowing down and learning things like birdsong or looking at trees, there are still fun challenges to be had, like this very simple one:

Sadly, I chickened out from that crossing….the grey skies of an April afternoon meant that I didn’t fancy the high likelihood of falling in (though why I shied away from this, given I was only under a mile from a fresh pair of socks and a warm shower, I don’t know). If you live close-by enough to return regularly to such places, (as long as you don’t damage the surroundings,) you could even try creating simple pleasures, like this rope swing across the stream:

And so as I turned round, having walked straight into a housing estate at the other end of my walk, I mentally skipped a few steps down the path again, excited at all that I’d found and thankful for new eyes on my surroundings. It was still very much a grotty, unkempt glen, which could do with me bringing a bag for rubbish/recycling next time I visited, but seen with other eyes, it was an adventure playground and a classroom for isolation times.

Perspective can change an awful lot for us these days, but is not easy to come by. Perhaps you can join me in slowing down, and finding a direction you haven’t yet walked from, and seeing if you can look on it with new eyes? And for the cynical, who think I’m just privileged where I live, I’ll go off in a different direction down a city street some day soon, and hope we don’t run into a brick wall with our adventurous spirit!

Microadventure day 2: sleeping outside

This post is part of the 30 Micro-adventures in 30 days of lockdown series. You can find all our microadventures so far, on that page.


Sleeping outside divides the population. Some think there is nothing better than every hour spent in the comfort of our own bed, snuggling up and keeping warm. The alarm is our enemy. On holidays we tolerate other beds. Comfort rules the roost.

But for others, comfort is nothing compared to the freedom of the outdoors! For the feeling of being close to nature. For the thrill of falling asleep looking up at the stars. To slow down the rhythms of life, and forget the hum-drum of life and the rush that we seem to have got our minds into.

What do I mean by sleeping outside?

Well although I have occasionally slept outside with nothing but my clothes on (most occasions this was not an intentional choice I made hours before – I just happened to fall asleep and stay there all night – I’ll keep those stories for later), I wouldn’t recommend it. Instead, 2 main ideas come in to my mind:

  1. Camping in a tent
    This is probably the one that appears the most expensive option, but one that over time, is actually far cheaper than hostels, Airbnbs, or wherever else you or your family like to stay. I’d recommend you still have a roll-mat for
  2. Sleeping outside in a Bivvy bag
    Sleeping under the stars in a waterproof layer (as well as a sleeping bag) may sound ludicrous in countries like Ireland where it always seems to rain as soon as you consider such ideas. But there’s more opportunity for this than you might think, and it’s cheaper, more flexible and more inconspicuous too, away from the public eye. If being up close to nature and the stars is a big seller for you, yet you’re still in a rainy country, then you might consider adding on a Basha to your kit to keep the rain off.

For me last night, I was a little too scared of the overcast skies to go for a Bivvy bag idea, but a little too bored by a tent to simply go for that. So I went for a third option: the pop-up festival tent!

Bought from a mainline supermarket in Ireland for a little over €20, transporting this tent to other countries has cost us more than the actual tent cost! As festival tents often don’t have the two layers of material, to protect you from the rain (touch the material in a festival tent, and you’ll often get soaked, if its wet), I’ve rarely used it in anything apart from hot countries like Tunisia! But tonight, with only light April showers forecast, I thought I would get it out and see if it still was surviving!

Although I camped in my garden of the house I’m renting, you wouldn’t need grassy gardens necessarily for such things. I’ve tried front pathways to houses, balconies of apartments or even when I was really stuck – a hammock inside a city house (ok, I may as well have taken the sofa!)!

The advantage of starting in your garden is that it is most likely private, and if anything disasterous happens, you can quickly bolt back to your warm comforts inside the house. It’s a great place to introduce kids to camping, and during a time like this, one or two families I know have even exchanged their real holiday they’d booked (before Covid19) for a “camping holiday” in their back garden, just to give themselves a change from normal life, and a bit of an adventure!

My sleep was a little shortened at the start of the evening by a call to join a “Houseparty” app conversation with friends involving a glass of wine (or two), but after that, and a short time reading some more of old Irish adventurer Dervla Murphy, the stillness of the night ensued, causing me to rest from my frantic thought patterns, and sleep soundly through the showers, til 6am. When, unbeknownst to me, at this hour each morning, our heating boiler machine starts making a racket in the back garden, along with the more pleasant twittering of the birdsong as they sense dawn coming. There are some disadvantages of the garden!

But as I stumbled into the house for a final couple of hours sleep before work, I was already thoroughly happy and had a deep sense of peace at having slept an evening part-way into nature, re-finding my place in the world and enjoying re-living the memories that have come from that small, orange tent across the world. And for the rest of the day, I’d a feeling that I’d made more of the last 24 hours than I ever do waking up on a normal morning.

The 6am view, slightly disrupted by our garden light.

If I wanted to learn a moral lesson too, I might think of all those in the world who sleep in far worse conditions each night, in other lands, or even on our own streets as the southern housing crisis continues for many. Shaping our perspective of the world by sitting with others who have less materially than we do, round the world, can indeed be done in our back gardens (though perhaps not escaping indoors part way through!). Waking to a new day, I sense a small piece of why such people who have materially less than I do, still may wake each morning far happier than me. My comfort, I have tragically elevated to immovable status – might a night camping helping with this?

A prayer:

Father,
We thank you for the world you made – awesome, diverse, fun;
And ask your forgiveness when we isolate ourselves from elements of it in bubbles of comfort, in western spheres;
And look to you to shape our perspective, to help us explore and enjoy;
And to lay down our heads, knowing that you are in control, even as we sleep.
In Jesus name,

Amen.

15 Microadventures for April lockdown

Many of you will have come across Al Humphreys’ helpful short introduction to “Microadventure”s below, but I wanted to take up the gauntlet laid down by all those around the country who are crying that they are bored in their houses in this Coronavirus lockdown. To alleviate our boredom, I’m going to suggest 15 days of microadventures in April. And to help fuel ideas, record experiences and enjoy it, I’ll be recording 15 microadventure ideas and stories (linked) here on this blog post which you can come back to if you want some inspiration.

But what is a microadventure?

(One other response might be to tell those crying over such “boredom” to “suck-it-up” as many in other lands would happily take boredom over their ‘choice’ to die by hunger, or die from the virus. But in the spirit of staying friends with everyone, and in the very real battle of many of my friends with mental health issues, I guess that 30 days of Microadventures may be a better way to help us in our more bored moments!)

The difference about our Microadventures of the coming 30 days, will be that we have the unfortunate travel limits of 2 kilometres in the south of Ireland, and in the north, although technically legal to do more than that, it is not appreciated by the emergency services if we start climbing mountains (for risk of needing rescued or touching styles/gates), filling cars with petrol (which involves shared surfaces which may transmit the virus) or other things which may cause risk. And much as some lucky friends of mine have just moved to the foot of local hills, most of the rest of us are stuck with the city streets around us. Our adventures must not just be physical ones this time.

So please send me any of your suggestions. Remember, they don’t necessarily need to be the world’s hardest adventures – I’m hoping they’ll be accessible to most of us, whether 12 years old or 60.

What microadventures can you think of, that we could do in lockdown?

Here’s a few that came to my mind, that I might include, that were inspired by Al and others.

  • a night in a Bivvy bag (or a tent) in the garden
  • walk one usual route in your area, but keep an eye out for any birds or other species we can learn about locally – take photos if you can!
  • read a short fantasy novel to take you on an adventure into another world
  • write a short story of a memorable adventure you’ve been on in the past that you think others might enjoy reading
  • walk one usual route in your area, but keep an eye out for any plants, flowers or trees that catch your eye but you don’t know about – take photos.
  • paint a picture of one of the plants you’ve seen on your walk another day
  • an evening watching a stunning documentary about nature or adventure (online)
  • turn off your phone and all electronic screens for one day – enjoy being present with others, or by yourself for the day in all you do
  • let a housemate or friend (online) pick 4 random ingredients that remain in your cupboard (having not been to the shop for a week) and see if you can make something for dinner from them

So that’s just a few ideas of mine to get you started – I hope to update this post (bookmark it!) with each idea as it happens. But I’d love to hear more from you – let me know! Perhaps you could even guest-post an idea or a microadventure you’ve taken during this lockdown season.

Not sure these are all truly adventures? Think the idea is a little naff?

Well, I hope these are the type of adventures that leave us as rounded humans, not exceedingly gifted in one area (physical ability) but lacking in character, curiosity, imagination or awareness of others in the world.

Adventure is a state of mind, a spirit of trying something new and leaving your comfort zone. It’s about enthusiasm, ambition, open-mindedness and curiosity.

Al Humphreys, Microadventures
Walking past the same market stalls each day, but recognising the small changes!

So yes, the month ahead will frustrate us all at some point. We’ll all probably struggle with how simple some parts are, how impossible other parts seems, how little motivation we have to do some of the ideas we don’t connect with, or how much we still struggle to control our craving for what people like me can sometimes falsely deem “real” adventure.

But amidst the frustrations, challenges and learning about ourselves and the world around us, I hope it’ll forge time to savour and enjoy even the horrible season that our world has been plunged into.

Could the cry of our lockdown experience be not “I’m bored”, but instead “what a wonderful world!”?

Could the cry of our lockdown experience be not “I’m bored”, but instead “what a wonderful world!”?

And for me, whose curiosity is driven by the awareness of doing life with the Maker of the Universe beside me and within me, I might also add some thoughts on these adventures from the perspective of a Jesus-follower as we #travelintandem with Him. But you’ll have your reasons, motivations and reflections during this month too, so don’t be afraid to share them!

So let’s pack our bags and get started…

….are you joining us?


Remember to bookmark this post, as I’ll be updating it each day with a new microadventure idea, or someone’s story or how they got on with another microadventure.

  1. Microadventure day 1: failure!
  2. Microadventure day 2: sleeping outside
  3. Microadventure day 3: a walk into the unknown
  4. Microadventure day 4: Voices from round the world
  5. Microadventure day 5: Nightfall
  6. Microadventure day 6: Curiosity killed the cat
  7. Microadventure day 7: Pushing Boundaries
  8. Microadventure day 8: After Darkness, Light
  9. Microadventure day 9: The birds and the bees
  10. Microadventure day 10: Finding colour
  11. Microadventure day 11: Fighting Zoombies
  12. Microadventure day 12: Imagination: Socially Distant Discos
  13. Microadventure day 13: Seeing Opportunity in Adversity
  14. Microadventure day 14:
  15. Microadventure day 15:

Missionaries are just adventurers?

“I’m not going to the Missions Conference” said my friend in church. Having just given everything to help organise the conference that hundreds of people came to every year, I was deflated to hear these words from a core member of the Christian community. Why?

“Missionaries at conferences are just a bunch of extroverted adventurers who tell cool stories about their adventures following God elsewhere in the world. I’m not supporting their adventures under the name of Jesus.”

And to some extent, I could see where they were coming from. So many missionaries to gain support, tell story after story of impressive things, in scary situations, or radical moves of God. The story often revolves round them, their work, or their experience, and that’s somewhat natural.

And so many mission teams and people, end up doing things abroad that they would never dream of doing at home, or never think was wise or sustainable to do. Spending your time painting orphanages may seem wonderful, until you rob the local painter of a job. Blitzing the city of [insert name] that is predominantly [insert other religion] with gospel literature before leaving may seem brave and fearless, until you realise the negative impact it has on sustainable work of local Christians.

If those were the missionaries we were having on stage, I might go to be entertained, but equally I might decide to stay at home.

Thankfully, they’re not. For at least three reasons:

  1. Every Christian is a missionary

God is on mission – the Mission Dei. And He calls us along to partake in His vision, which we glimpse as we see His heart in the scriptures, and see His hand at work across the nations. It’s not an optional calling. It’s not a thing for adventurers or extroverts. It’s for everyone, both at home and abroad. And I hope our conferences reflect that – this year, we’d a diverse range of people speaking, from a teacher, to a student, to a golf green-keeper, a church worker, a stay-at-home parent and many more. Forget the scary terminology, or questioning whether missionaries are good for the world. They are. Because we’re all on mission. And His mission is His church, which is the best thing to happen to the world.

2. Every personality type is used in the body

There was a generation who delighted in Myers Briggs personality tests. “I’m in introvert” and “I’m INFP” were things you often heard. Those were very useful (and still are) but often were labels that people hid behind and used as excuses. “I can’t tell people about Jesus like that, because I’m not that kind of person.”

But while respecting the diversity of Christ’s creation, we can’t simply hide behind personality types as a reason why we’re not living and speaking for Jesus wherever we are. Yes, we must cherish the different parts of the body of Christ, value our unity in diversity, and not try and force everyone into the same mold, but we must also always push ourselves out of our comfort zones a little, so that we grow in areas we are not comfortable in. Perhaps that’s what might challenge even the current “Strengthfinder” generation, who like to build on people’s strengths primarily.

It’s why some of the people who’ve left Cork to go on mission to some of the more extreme places in the world, are actually introverts and humanly speaking far from being the stereotypical “adventurer”. And it’s beautiful when God does that – so changing people’s hearts and convictions as to who He is, that they can’t help but radically be re-orientated to His call. It’s who they were made to be, even if that doesn’t seem obvious to them years ago.

3. We must tell God’s story, rather than our own

This is something I struggle with. When does telling an incredible story about God working, actually point to me? Does every story I tell, necessarily have to be about me failing or being weak, but God still using it? I look at some of this in chapter 2 of my book.

And what do we expect of our cross-cultural missionaries….do we ask them to be normal church leaders in a local context, plus have the ability to speak other languages, learn other cultures, thrive amongst other worldviews and perhaps have a normal job on the side too? It’s very hard to say the sentence “God primarily uses ordinary followers of Jesus” when you’ve just said the sentence before it. That doesn’t appear like a normal person to me. That appears like an extremely gifted person (humanly speaking) in certain things, which we could not expect everyone to be. There’s a joke in some circles that love to emphasize how God uses “ordinary” people, that it’s a bunch of extra-ordinary personalities trying to persuade us that we can all be ordinary.

Regardless, every time we organise a conference, we try and excite people, not primarily with big personalities or intrepid story-tellers, but with God’s Word, His work and His story.

The Christian hostel community that I stayed with in Scotland the other night.

Regardless, every time we organise a conference, we try and excite people, not primarily with big personalities or intrepid story-tellers, but with God’s Word, His work and His story.

But it brings me back to thinking….

Perhaps if God uses all personality types and gifts, we should play to the strengths of those who are adventurers at heart? Shouldn’t it be a natural recruiting pool for people who could go to the hardest-to-reach spots in the world where there are still Unengaged People Groups? Sure, we must be careful that this is not the prime reason we pick them – Godly character, a love for God, and for His Church should still ooze from them. But to not tap into the adventurous spirit of many – to overlook travel – is to overlook some of the people most humanly fitted to going.

What if, instead of ranting about travelling people being always on the road, we were to empower them to do what they do well, to the glory of God, and for His mission? What if the way they learnt to love the local church, was to see that their adventurous spirit can be a key part of local church community, without making them feel like they are tied to a chair and strait-jacketed by Christianity?

By loving them, in their diverse gifts and passions, we give them an example of loving people of radically different gifts and passions, and serving and honouring them. And we trust that they’d start to do the same – to value to 9-5 office worker and the stay at home parent. To show love to the disabled kid, or the person who would rather sit at home playing computer games. To intentionally demonstrate that God’s community includes all sorts.

It’s why I wasn’t surprised that out of all those I talked to at a recent Christian hostel, many (even new believers, who’d come to faith in another hostel, and were now plugged in to local church) were considering overseas mission in hard places where Jesus isn’t known.

Perhaps, we should stop looking down on travel as a subsidiary luxury of the western church?

***********

PS: A question for another day is what church looks like in those hard-to-reach warzones, nomadic tribes or other places, when a bunch of extroverted adventurers turn up together on the doorstep. What does diversity look like then? Answers on a postcard please (or in the comments below).

Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide

“I feel heartbroken for your country.  It is so safe, and the people are so warm and friendly.  Your food is a treat and your landscape is beautiful.  But none of my western friends will come since terror attacks in this part of the world”

The words clearly struck a chord with my Amazigh (Berber) student audience in North Africa as I attempted my first ever seminar on travel in such a context.  The looks in the eyes of those I was speaking to spoke volumes.  “Why won’t people come to our country?  Our tourism suffers.  People are scared of us.  Our country languishes without income.”

And for once, I had few words to reply.

“I don’t honestly know.”

Their hurt was real.

But despite the safety that I still proclaim to everyone, wherever I go, I had just 5 days earlier been held at gunpoint while on holiday in a neighbouring county.  And not for the first time.

I had decided to venture down to see the lesser known pyramids in Egypt.  There are the Pyramids of Giza – everyone knows them.  If you visit there, you’ll get constantly hassled by guides wanting your money, people trying to flog their wares to you, and take photos with tourists in that thousands of others have taken before you.

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Trying to get the Giza Pyramids without tourists is hard, but like everything, is doable off the beaten track

Less known, but as old, and just as impressive are the pyramids south of that just 40 minutes by car.  So for around 6 euro in an Uber, I set off there first before the sun got too unbearable.

My Uber driver, although not by any means conversational in English, still managed to convey international sign language to indicate “I’m puzzled and I think you’re crazy” when he saw the destination that his phone sent him to.  In the middle of the desert.

But nonetheless he obeyed, because he was being paid to do so.  On arrival in the desert, he was still just as puzzled, though admittedly more because he has been so intently following his Uber maps that he hadn’t noticed the giant Pyramids looming large to his left.

“Do you really want me to drop you here in the desert, miles from any civilisation?”

Or at least those were the words I could imagine he would have said if I’d understood enough Arabic, or he, English.

I pointed to his left out the window.

20180628_080958

His jaw dropped.

“We have pyramids here?!”

And so I happily opened the door and clambered out, glad that I could help a local discover his own country.  And a beautiful country at that.

2 hours later, and I’d largely finished my meandering around the pyramids, separated by about 4km across the sand from each other.  During that 2 hours I started to understand how baffled he had been – I had not seen anyone else.  These were in the tourist books ok.  This was the oldest pyramid in Egypt.  But there was no-one for miles.  Perhaps around 15 cars in a car park a few miles back signalled that there perhaps was life here that I hadn’t met.  But then again, perhaps they were parked for the only other building within miles around – something that looked like a research centre over beyond the car park.

As I walked back towards the first pyramid, I noticed a track going up the side of it to an entrance half way up.  Perhaps a last stop before I leave?  And it would be a welcome respite from the searing heat that was starting to build.  I’d forgotten that although in Cairo the 43 degree heat didn’t burn me because of the pollution in the air, that out here, I wouldn’t be so lucky.

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Arriving at the top of the winding stairs to the ancient doorway to the tomb of the Pharaohs past, I was greeted warmly by the usual “Guide”, who seemingly spoke only 4 words of English, and had used them all within his first sentence greeting me.

“Welcome!  You welcome.  Where you from?”

Such “guides” are normal everywhere in this culture and many others.  A means of employing poorer members of society without giving them “dole” money, assuming they’ll get tips for their “job” off passers by.  Call it tipping or bribery, depending on what culture you grew up in, the Arabs have a beautiful word “Baksheesh” to sum it up without the many words.  This man clearly hadn’t got the news that the Tourist Board had decided to not promote these pyramids this year, and was waiting for his rich pickings off the hoards arriving that day: me.

To show my thankfulness at his attempt at English and warm welcome, I exchanged his four words for around 10 of mine in Arabic, but quickly gave up.

“Ana men Irelanda!  Ana Irelandi” (I come from Ireland, I’m Irish)

“Ahh. Landan!  Landan great city!  Sun Landan?”

And much as I wondered whether he’d strayed back into Arabic, I was fairly certain that this was English, and he (like many others) had not heard of Ireland.  What was I to expect when their colonial oppressor had also been ours?

At my disappointed look, he knew to quickly change the topic.

“Tathcara!”  (ticket)

I was glad I paid attention in my last Arabic class the day before.  I smiled at him, knowing this game well.  He asks me for a non-existing thing.  I look alarmed and ask him how much.  He states his price and I pay him lots of money.  I’d been here many times before.  But something dawned in my head triggering memories of Lonely Planet saying it was 80 Egyptian Pounds (4 euros) to enter the pyramids.  Perhaps I should pay after all.

“How much?”

“Tathcara!!” he said more firmly, not liking that I was clearly playing a game with him.  A game that he had seen all too often before.  I shrugged and showed him I had no ticket.  He sat in silence, perplexed, and quite baffled at how I could get here without “tathcara”.  I sat similarly perplexed, but more wondering how anyone could actually have “tathcara”!  And just when I thought we were united in a beautiful perplexed state, and nearly friends, he lept up, cupped his hands and let out a low horn sound from his mouth, which carried across the sands into the bare nothing-ness of the desert expanse before us.  I smiled at him, delighted to see no doubt, a local tribal call.  He called again, and I sat back to finish my water, in my platypus pack on my back.  A rich cultural experience.

That is, until a Police car appeared through the dust, quite out of nowhere and came to rest at the bottom of the steps I had climbed to get here.

“Come here Sir!” the voice called out below.  And so I ventured downwards to explain, glad that someone had arrived who had more common language than my Baksheesh collector friend.

“How did you get here without ticket?”

“By taxi”, I honestly said.  My next question was as much tongue in cheek as anything, as quite honestly, there was nothing for miles around.  But I felt I should probably ask.

“Where is the ticket office?”

“Back there, 4 miles.  How did you drive through roadblock?”

And then it dawned on me.  My Uber driver had indeed driven through a roadblock.  But as he was Egyptian and Uber vehicles are not obviously designated so, he was let drive through without me buying a ticket from the “ticket office”.

And so he looked at me quite angrily, as if I was a monster, robbing them of their only tourist wages of the day, which, in all fairness to him, I probably was.  And so he called a cab (why drive me himself, when he could make me pay a local “taxi-man” to do the honourable duty?) and sat me down with the train of his gun nudging me in the right direction, and then fixed on me as I sat.  I reached into my bag to get something.  Foolish move.  The gun swung round to a more threatening position.

Well wasn’t this a nice way to end my Pyramid experience.  Me, a friendly gunman, and 35 degrees of sunshine.  I thought that as an Irishman I should at least make the most of one of those.  So I rolled my sleeves up and lay back to enjoy the warm rays on my skin, much to the annoyance of my newly found acquaintance, who twitched his gun at every minute movement.  Little did he know I just didn’t want my biceps browner than my triceps.

And so my taxi arrived, and I was escorted firmly into the back of it and deposited 4 miles later at the “ticket office” where under gunpoint, I was made to pay.

“Six hundred Egyptian Pounds please”

Or so I could imagine he said, given that he typed the same on the calculator.  The price had clearly gone up a bit since Lonely Planet was last written, or my fines for trespassing were larger than I had thought they might be.  I opened my wallet to reveal the barren extent of it.  Not wanting to smile, but realising the hilarity of doing it, I passed him my debit card instead and looked hopeful.

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He grabbed it from me, spent three minutes fingering it and looking over it, as if a new toy had just been given to him at Christmas (only I could imagine probably not at Christmas, given the country I was in).

He called his Police friend over but quite quickly shook their heads.  No card payment here.  But at least I had offered to pay, right?

Seeing this as the most advantage I would ever have in this exchange with gun-wielding ticket-office Policemen, I asked him a polite question.

“Where is ATM?”

And again, after his blank stare:

“Cash….money?”

He looked blankly at me.  I gave the international sign language signal for an ATM (or at least, what I thought was a good shout at pretending to be an ATM, as a human) and pointed off the opposite direction to the pyramids, down the road.

“I go?”

“You need taxi?  You not survive desert.”

I shook my head.  Cautiously taking one step at a time away from the desk and past the Police officers, I nervously walked off into the desert, not intending to return.

The one who showed the most alarm for this whole ruse of finding an ATM was my “taxi driver” from the pyramid who clearly saw his return passenger walking off into the desert without paying a single iota, and correctly understood that he wouldn’t be getting any fare that day.  But by the time he piped up, it was too late, an I was beyond the perimeter by which anyone would care and safely off into the wilderness.**

1 kilometre down the road I stopped to look back, to check I was not being followed.  From here, I would hide and order my Uber (which, of course, does not need cash), and head off to the next adventure – The Tourist Pyramids of Giza – where thankfully no gunmen were to be seen.

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**If it had been possible to give them the normal entry fee, or the taxi fare without having been given far greater fines and risked my safety, I would have done.   This is not to encourage avoidance of fees or payments, which many local people will dearly need to survive.

Sleeping in your car in North Africa

Having just finished the first draft of my book on faith and travel, I thought I’d include a story here for the fun of it, that didn’t make it into the book and has nothing to do with anything specific.  Thanks to everyone for your support and prayers throughout this process!

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North Africa:

Night was falling and we’d been on the road for a week already.  We had hit a part of the country with 3 major cities near each other and our usual sleeping arrangement (camping in a 20 euro festival tent we bought on the internet a few days before going), wasn’t going to get us anywhere in these rough cities.  Enter the brainwave from Dan!

“Peter, have you ever slept in a car before?  I think it’d be quite fun.”

I groaned inwardly, wondering how I was going to get out of this one.  I had indeed slept in a car at various points in life, and despite it being in pleasant locations, I cared little for the cold, uncomfortable, stuffy, public nature of choosing such fine moments to get some “shut-eye”.  Seen through other lenses: I cared nothing for adventure.

He didn’t seem put off.  And so we continued, finding a spot on a “business park” on the outskirts of rough suburb of the city we were nearest to.  Pulling in to what looked like a place where some had parked cars before, we put on the breaks and set in to brushing our teeth.  The trouble with brushing your teeth in the car, is much like the problems associated with anything to do with sleeping in your car: your car is not designed for this.

And so the door was opened to dispose of the toothpaste filled mouth into the gutter nearby.  But as if they had smelled the sweet aroma of minty freshness, at that moment, a pack of wild dogs had decided to come past scavenging, and just as quickly as the door had been opened, we jumped back inside, slammed it shut and breathed a sigh of relief as the dogs, after surrounding the car, decided there was easier things to scavenge that two scrawny Irish-men locked in a pile of metal.

After that brief excitement, we settled down to sleep, reclining the chairs of our tiny car to full stretch.  We were still a little nervous at how public that cars make sleeping, and were a little annoyed at not being able to open the window for air, lest some mosquitoes or bugs came in.  But eventually we started to settle down.

That is, until our next interruption, this time more unexpected.  Dan was the one to spot when the bright light started shining out of the dark and gradually getting bigger and bigger, as if it was coming towards us.  Our plan was just to lay low and hide there – it probably wasn’t anything, we convinced ourselves.  But the light did indeed keep getting brighter and brighter until it was close enough that we were panicking.  Who was this?  And why did they care about our choice of sleeping venue?  Catching small glimpses of a  figure outside moving through the darkness, silhouetted against the light they were carrying, we could see that whoever it was armed.  Hostel anyone?

And without further a-do, when the figure was still approaching the car, Dan stuck it into reverse and accelerated hard, leaving our first choice of sleeping venue in a cloud of dust behind us.

The fact that my clever idea of a hostel wasn’t much better, shall be left for another story.  Asides from saying that for about three euros, a night in a “prison cell” far worse than any in the west, was an interesting experience.

But it was enough to rest, and in the morning we were on our way again, laughing over the things that were panic moments of the previous day.  Everything in hindsight seems rosier.

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