Mijn vriend en ik ontmoetten Markus en zijn zoon Ismail vorig jaar in de woestijn van Marokko. Alle vier hadden we bij hetzelfde hotel een drie daagse Sahara trip geboekt. En daar gingen we… een hobbelige jeeprit, gevolgd door vele uren op een kameel in de grote zandbank van Marokko. Markus vertelde ons vele verhalen over zijn avonturen in het buitenland, waar we allemaal met veel plezier naar luisterden. I durf te wedden dat dit verhaal hieronder slechts het topje van de ijsberg is, dus ga er lekker voor zitten en enjoy. Dit is Markus zijn verhaal:

Selfie in Morocco

In the desert of Morocco with our guide Yusuf (left), Ismail, Markus and us in the background

My name is Markus Mai. I’m born in 1964 in Ludwigsburg, in the South of Germany. This area is still my home area, though I live about 25 km North now. I somehow never had the wish to settle somewhere else, but compensated this with extensive travelling…I work as a musician, guitar teacher and also as a teacher for Taijiquan, the Chinese inner martial art. As a teacher, you have school holidays, which gives you good opportunities and time to travel. Even as a student I already gave guitar lessons in order to save money and travel.

My first “real” trip was a combination of Interrail and hitchhiking to and around Ireland when I was 17. I was a folkfreak in the early 80s and, of course, I took my guitar with me, a basic need, and Ireland was perfect for that: backpack, tent and guitar.
Even during my following trips to Iceland and China a carried I guitar with me. Hard to imagine doing that today, but also nice to remember. The time in life when you show the world your skills and attitude!

It’s hard to decide what is my favorite place in the world so far..
For architectural beauty: the market in Djenne, Mali (ignoring the fact, that it was hard to get food there all the time..) For music: also Mali.
For natural beauty: the Baobab road in the west of Madagascar. The magical, unbelievable sunset of there…For a country, in general, it is Ethiopia, with rough traveling on beautiful highlands.

Madagaskar sunset

Sunset in Madagaskar

After travelling in packed buses and taxi’s for about 14 hours, waiting for days to be able to leave, I decided to try travelling by bicycle. That was in 1996. In those days, I didn’t even have a bike..
I met a guy who rode from Germany to South Africa, he is now a good friend of mine and he gave me his equipment list. That made it a lot easier! I did my first bike trip in Ethiopia and it was a real challenge, but beautiful at the same time. The fact that you are so close to everything and everybody, you are independent, you are faster than walking, but not depending on public transport. And it is a realistic way to escape Ethiopian shepherd boys who throw stones at you…It is a great possibility to work your way through the country and people react with great friendliness ( well, first they are surprised, supposing there is something wrong with you: ”why don’t you take the bus.? What is your mission? You are rich, don’t you have a car?” But then they join you by their own Chinese bike or even by running with you for miles and miles).

The boy who ran with Markus

In 1996 in Ethiopia during my first bicycle trip, I passed a little mountain village and a young boy, about 10 years old, joined me, running beside me. The kids do that very often, it is nice, but usually the stop after a few hundred meters. But not this boy.
It was a high plateau and I had to fight the heavy wind against me, so the boy was sometimes even faster than I was. He kept running, barefoot and laughing. I really liked him, but I was wondering how far he would go. We shared food and drinks and kept on going for the whole afternoon.

At the end, it had been about 20 km until we reached the next village. Such a tough boy! The people there were wondering about us and I told them about him. They celebrated him being such a hero, one guy invited him to join a runners club and I decided to buy him some nice running shoes to thank him. Well, you would say that this is a typical western tourist patronizing offer since he was great in running barefoot. But he said he loved them, so it’s fine with me.

Usually, quite a lot of things turn out completely different than you imagined them. You read a guidebook and you find out that a recommended place turns out to be boring, a hassle, overpriced, whatever and another place, which was supposed to be a “touristy” thing, but you go there because, once you are there, you feel you have to and the place turns out to be beautiful and magical, you can’t believe it.


Bicycle trip in Georgia

In 2014, for example, I went with my bicycle to Georgia, in Southeast Europe. Up to the North leads the old Georgian Military Highway in the direction of Russia. It is a great spectacular road, leading to Stepantsminda over a 2400m Pass. Over Stepantsminda, on a mountain, there is the Zminda Sameda, a church which is supposed to be the most photographed building in Georgia. Our main challenge was to do the military road, but of course, we thought: ‘Ok, let’s have a look at the church and then leave again’ (Stepantsminda wasn’t such a great place) So we walked up this mountain forest road for about 7 km, not a nice way, the forest was quite messy and we had no idea how this area would fit to the picture we had in our heads.
After 2 hours we reached the end of the road and suddenly the area opened up, a high plateau, unbelievably green and beautiful, the Kazbegi Massive in the back, the little Church in front at the rim of the plateau. It blew my mind. There were hardly any people left because it was late in the afternoon. The whole scenery was so quiet and peaceful, the church itself was a real treasure. For the whole time there, we felt as if we should only whisper in order not to disturb the spirituality. I’m pretty sure this place can be crowded with people and we were just lucky to be there at this time of the day. But it turned out to be one of the most beautiful places I have ever been and seen.

Market in Mali

Market in Mali

A funny thing happened in Yemen. My girlfriend and I decided to travel there at the millennium change 1999/2000.
At the first evening, we wanted to have dinner at a local restaurant in Sanaa but had some troubles ordering the food, because the whole thing worked with an obscure ticket system. So one guy helped us out, we sat at his table and talked. When we were finished he offered us to join him and invited us to his house. Since we told him that we are musicians, he promised us that we will meet some other musicians there.
So we met Abdul Rahman, a singer and Oud Player who just came back from a longer trip from the USA. He had a little bit of an Elvis-like style, but he was very nice and seemed to be a bit famous in Yemen. It was a great, funny evening with singing and dancing.
Two days later Abdul Rahman called us and asked: “Would you like to come with me to music show on TV? There will be many Oud players and it sure will be fun for you”
“Good chance,” we thought and we awaited him in the evening. It was Ramadan and it was not a live show but a pre-recorded one, so it started at 10 pm.

So we played, the rhythm group joined us and it was such a beautiful and by the same time surreal performance.

When he showed up to pick us up he had a strange look on us :”Do you really want to go like this?” We were traveling, no evening robes with us, so we wore some fluffy stuff, which could also have been our pyjamas…
At the studio, there was a big rush to find a nice dress for my girlfriend, but the requisite room was locked and nobody found the key…
The show was a kind of musical conference of Oud players from all over the Arabian world. Every musician played a piece, explained the style of his country, a music scientist explained even more, all in a beautiful setting of red and golden Arabic sofas, tables and curtains.
We sat somewhere in the back, watched the whole scenery, enjoyed the music and tried to understand a little bit of the talk. So it went on and on. Hours and hours. At around 2 or 3 am, I was ready to fall off my chair and sleep immediately on the floor when suddenly we heard something like “…..Allemania….”

Muziek maken in Mali

Making music in Mali

What was that? Someone came over and offered us to join the round….so we sat there, in our traveling pyjamas, wondering what would happen.. We got an interview!
Since I was the man, it was my turn to speak, but I was so tired and also had a cold, so all that came out of me were some guttural noises. So my girlfriend took over. She was brilliant, talking about international understanding, love and “habibi” when suddenly they brought a guitar, with one string missing, and invited us to sing and play a song.
So we played, the rhythm group joined us and it was such a beautiful and by the same time surreal performance. Very amazing!
We saw a little bit of it outside in the direction room, but only a few seconds. Apparently it has been broadcast over the whole Arabic world the next day. Abdul Rahman promised us to send the video, but he never did.
I met him a few years later during a transit day in Sanaa on the way to Ethiopia and he said he lent the tape to someone but didn’t get it back.
Bad luck? Who knows.

On top of my bucket list is going to Japan, to walk the pilgrim trail of the 88 temples in Shikoku. I need two months for that, since it is 1200 km. But I can’t have two months off.. So probably I will travel around the South-West Coastal path of England in the summer. I guess I’ll take a step in the direction of Japan next year, for a sightseeing trip..

Danke Markus! For sharingyour stories and beautiful photos. I wish you all the best and I hope that we’ll meet again!