Montag, 27. Juli 2009

On y va... en Algérie!

I'm thrilled to announce that my trip to Algeria (something that seemed nothing but a crazy idea a few months ago) is not only becoming reality, but is already in its final planning stages and about to start very soon. Since the tickets are already paid, the visa is finally issued, and my backpack's in the corner ready to be stuffed, i think that my mother (who was convinced from the beginning that I would get hijacked) really has to be worried now.

For those of you who don't know where Algeria is, you can find out on the little map below. It is located in Central Northern Africa, sandwiched between Morocco and Tunisia, and although it is actually the 2nd biggest country in Africa (and N° 11 in the world!), not too many people know a lot about it.

This is, in part, due to political and social difficulties the country had to go through ever since it seperated from its former colonial emperor France in 1962, making it unattractive to the average tourist (for the adventurous, Algeria was always interesting). Although, on the surface, Republique Algérienne seemed to improve quickly after its independence, and (thanks to their wealth in petrol) develop into one of the most advanced nations on the African continent, things were boiling underneath the surface (high youth unemployment, cultural and ethnic diversity among the population, corruption & censorship employed by the government), and this boiling pot finally exploded with the unexpected win of the Islamists Party (FIS) during the first real elections in 1991. The reigning government could not accept that defeat and "cancelled" (!) the elections, which started a cruel decade of civil war between Islamic fundamentalists and the Algerian army, with more than 100.000 victims, often innocent women & children, across the country. The capital Algiers, formerly known as La Blanche ("the white city") turned into La Rouge, a city becoming known for its violence: slit throats, car bombs and other cruel assassinations became a daily routine, as Europe and even the neighbour countries were watching helplessly in shock. The Islamic Fundamentalists often picked the country's cultural & intellectual elite (writers, journalists, musicians etc.) as their prime victims, and the government responded with corporal punishment, deportation camps, and merciless special forces to pursue and punish the terrorists.
A few years ago, after the government promised to grant amnesty to former terrorists that decide to call it quits, the conflicting parties agreed upon a kind of cease-fire ("politics of reconciliation") and the situation has slowly improved since. Although Algeria cannot be called a normal and safe tourist destination, the government tries everything to attract and protect foreign travellers. This was apparent a few years ago, when an Austrian couple got hijacked by terrorists in the Tunisian border area and got released later after intervention by the Austrian & Algerian governments. However, not everyone was so lucky: just a few months ago a British citizen was found decapitated after the British government had refused to cooperate with terrorists. In both cases, "Al-Khaida in Maghreb" claimed responsibility for the abductions.
I am hoping that none of this will become an issue for me, and I'm trying to prepare myself as good as possible, so nobody (not my parents, not the Austrian government) has to worry or pay ransom for me ;-)

So what is there to see? First of all, Algeria is a huge country, and therefore one cannot expect to see everything in one trip (unless someone would have a LOT of time at his hands). The main attractions are the Mediterranean coastline, with its lush beaches and towering Tell-Atlas mountains not far behind, which bear countless traces of all the civilizations that landed in Algeria at some point (Romans, Arabs, French...). For example, Timgad (a place I intend to visit) has one of the best preserved Roman Ruins in the world, which are listed on the UN world heritage list! This northern region of Algeria is also home to most Algerian cities and the majority of the population.
The biggest attraction, however, is probably the SAHARA, the greatest desert in the world. It covers several African countries and out of all of them, Algeria owns the biggest piece of the cake. The Sahara covers 90% of Algeria's landmass, yet only a small percentage of the population. But contrary to popular belief, it is not just all dunes, dates & camels, but actually a very diverse landscape. In the south there is even a volcanic mountain range called "Hoggar", that is scarcely populated by the legendary nomadic "Touareg" tribe, and famous for the most spectacular sunrise of the entire Sahara. However, without a 4WD car and plenty of water supplies, there is no need to even think about going there, which is why I will not be able to see it. But I am planning to at least go to Biskra, a town up north which is called the "Gate to the Sahara". So stay tuned as I will try to post travel reports & pictures if possible, or at least sum up the trip afterwards.

Sonntag, 5. Juli 2009

33 years, 30 hot days & 30 cool people

I had many reasons to celebrate my 33rd birthday on July 1, 2009 - the most obvious was the anniversary itself (especially since i hadn't done anything on my 30th), but another reason was the completion of the Bikram Yoga 30-day challenge the day before. So I decided to throw a party under the "33 years, 30 hot days" moniker. As it turned out, exactly 30 people showed up - so looking back, the party should have been labelled "33 years, 30 hot days, and 30 cool people"! Thanks again to everybody who came to celebrate, or wanted to come but couldn't make it.


There were a few more reasons to celebrate this year. One of them is a new job contract which I signed the day after my birthday - I will start working as a freelance physiotherapist in a nice practice in the 9th disctrict, close to Votivkirche. A friend of mine, who embarks on his Master Studies to Adelaide/Australia very soon, suggested me as his replacement, and this came as the right opportunity at just the right time. I will start working there this fall, on October 1. For those of you who are interested to know more, or would like to recommend our practice, please have a look at our website: http://www.vsmc.at/.

Another thing to look forward to is my upcoming "voyage fou" to Algeria in August, which I am approaching with a mixed bag of emotions: 30% yearning, 30% curiosity, 30% excitement and 10% fear (sounds like the perfect recipe for a holiday to me...)! I will stay for 10 days, am blessed to have a local person for company and guide expertise, and expect to see a little bit of everything: the capital Algiers, the Mediterranean coastline with its beaches and ancient ruins, and even a little bit of the Sahara desert. What more can you ask for?

Finally, the last reason for celebrating came about during my party - at about 9:30 pm, just when my friend Mike Regan had started playing some live music in the garden, I slipped on the floor in my appartment, crushing onto the heating radiator with my right orbita. I ended up with 2 cuts below the eyebrow (and a big shiner for a couple of days) but I think I was lucky that I didn't crack my head open!

I had already been promised that I'd feel "somewhat reborn" after a 30-day Yoga Challenge, but this incident gave a whole new meaning to that promise...





Oh yeah, I promised to write a few words about the Challenge itself. Well, simply put, it was a great experience. It wasn't easy, and took dedication & time management, but in the end it was all the more rewarding. Besides whipping myself back into shape, losing 4 kilograms in just 4 weeks, i noticed the big effects the daily practice had on my eating & sleeping habits, mental attitude, and general well-being. After all, Yoga is a holistic practice that affects the entire body (including the brain!), starting on a cellular level, and changing it from inside out. And that's what happens (I guess Obama saw it coming): You change. I know it might sound weird, but as soon as you start practising Yoga, you're somehow not the same person anymore.

Of course there were highs and lows during the challenge, but I hardly ever had a day where I didn't feel like going, because I knew I would always feel better afterwards (which I did). I admit I broke the alcohol rule 3 times (to have a beer for dinner), but on the other hand I imposed a few more "rules" upon myself - no fastfood, no TV, 1 warm meal each day, and lots of fruits & vegetables (I never had so many in 1 month!). Through that, my whole digestion seemed to change as well, which was nothing less than miraculous - my stomach suddenly reacted very sensible to certain (unhealthy) things that I could have eaten without a problem before.

What this challenge also proved to me is that you really can (and should) do your Hatha Yoga on a daily basis, more or less. The challenge naturally makes you implement Yoga into your daily routine, just as brushing your teeth or taking your daily shower. And since your body tells you that it's good for you, you wanna keep on doing it. So I am hoping for my eye to heal quickly, because I can't wait to get back into the Hotroom again! Namaste.