The Magazine  

ISSUE 155, MAY 29, 2018




Timbuktu, GDPR, Survey, MTP and Authentication...

This is an incredibly full newsletter in so many ways and it comes just before our short summer break which will see our next issue released in 3 weeks - on June 19. We are incredibly happy to have completed our first real trip as NomadMania - our expedition to Mali. Our Founder Harry Mitsidis will give an overview of this trip in our next section, along with many fascinating photographs.

GDPR seems to be everywhere these days and since we collected data we feel we are obliged to follow its principles even though we are not a company, we do not advertise and we certainly have no commercial aims at all. So you can read the GDPR section we have established and we hope that satisfies you. You can always delete your profile - we hope you don't though! And you can always rest assured that we do not share your data with anybody beyond our administrators unless we get your permission.

More than 500 votes were cast in our Survey on what counts as a visit and we are very thankful to all of you for your interest. Many comments were made about the survey, thanks again for adding your (very varied) opinions and we will mention some of these verbatim further below. You can see the results in pie-chart form here. A brief overview of the results:

- Less than 15% believe an overnight is necessary for a visit to count.
- About 70% agree that even a short visit counts provided something has been seen.
- However, more than 80% refuse to accept a visit just to the border post/regional line as a visit
- More than 90% reject a visit to an airport without crossing immigration
- Around 80% reject an airport visit even if it is made beyond immigration
- Overflying is also rejected by around 65% 
- All types of train visits are rejected with varying percentages - meaning that even a transit during the day or a visit to the station is not seen as a visit by the majority. Even a transit during the day is rejected by almost 70% of respondents.
- Crossing a region by car seems to get a closer and more disputed result. Not setting foot while crossing by a vehicle is rejected by about 60%; however even a short pit-stop seems accepted by about 60%.
- Visits on a vessel or at a port are summarily rejected by a large majority
- However the legality of a visit does not seem to concern most of you, with only around 10% objecting to such a visit provided the other qualifications for a visit are satisfied.

Some of your comments:
If you are on a boat near the coast, but on international waters, it does not count as a visit. If you are on the coast at that country's domestic waters, then it is a visit.
We wish there was an exception for Antarctica. We spent 3 days cruising in the area but did not land. We think it is better environmentally to NOT land. But it would be nice to have some way to acknowledge the visit to the area. It would be nice to have a classification for "seeing a place" rather than "a visit," to cover places like Jan Mayen and the Antarctic.
For me it's more a personal thing, firstly did I step into a region, means leaving airport, bus and train station behind me; if yes, of course being awake, sleeping does not count, then visit at least one village or highlight, there is no time frame there. But that's a minimal visit which I try to avoid. But I think, if you have visited 900 regions, and just 10 are minimal visits, that is not a big issue. The problem is more of people who have it made a life time hobby: spending lots of money to just visit boder lines and pose in front of sign boards, consider it as visited and checked. I consider it an insult to the people in that particular region.
- Loved the question about flying low over a vast area. Many regions are simply nature and landscapes and can be covered properly on a low flying craft. i.e. if I fly over a certain african region to see wildlife, in 1 hour I can cover the region fairly well, and not set foot there. The experience covering the same area, seeing the same landscape and wildlife but from a 4x4 is very similar. I would not say the same about approaching a landing strip flying over the amazon jungle, or flying over populated areas where the people experience counts. I think the question in very valid but should be expanded.
Special notations for non-counting visits should be allowed in nomadmania trip postings, in order for the trips to make logical sense. These non-visit "visits" should not be counted towards the various counters. Visits to sea/ports without disembarking should only count in cases where the place is best visited in such a manner (e.g. in some uninhabited arctic and antarctic areas), but should not count in places such as the greek islands where ferries touch multiple harbors before reaching a destination.
To me a "minimal visit" requires at least one local experience of some kind. What that experience is depends on the situation - a meal of local food, time spent viewing local architecture/scenery, visiting a museum, talking with local people about local culture/life, driving through the region, etc. (viewing scenery/towns/cities from a train passing through a major part of a region in daylight should count so long as it is extensive viewing, or from an airplane/helicopter at low altitude if that is the only practical or the best way to view). For a minimal visit, the local experience could be at only one location within the region. For a "good visit" the visit should include multiple local experiences preferably at multiple places in the region (if it is practical to do so for logistical/safety reasons) and/or extended time spent in one place in the region (e.g. more than a day trip). On this basis, I expect that most travelers, if they are honest, will count a majority of minimal visits with a minority of good visits. I also recommend that "transit" be removed as a NM visit option, as simply making an airport flight connection or taking a night train through a region without having a local experience should not count for anything in NM.

There are many more comments and we will consider them toward making a clearer policy on what a visit really is. Meanwhile, we hope to launch another survey in mid-summer; if you have any ideas for an interesting survey, by all means contact us.

For those of you who might have missed the last issue, MTP score calculation is available now but requires your attention to get it right. You can read the instructions which were explained in the last newsletter here. We hope you all update your MTP scores as they are visible on NomadMania soon.

Finally, we are happy to note that more than 200 of you have already been authenticated and the ball is rolling for this project. We are in the process of recruiting Ambassadors who will undertake verification meetings in their bases - a chance to socialise and get to know other travellers. As of the next newsletter, we will be advertising places and dates for these meetings: it looks like the first ones will be in Moscow and Lima in July, followed by Dublin, Riyadh and Berlin in August and Zaragoza in September. Meanwhile all of you who have been authenticated have the 'power' to authenticate any other traveller on NomadMania you have physically met just by emailing us.


NomadMania goes to Timbuktu!!!
by Harry Mitsidis
Hello all!

I am very happy to be able to write this. I was so worried before this trip. Organising this was a huge responsibility and one can never really be 100% sure a local fixer is legit until after it has all happened. But it all went fantastically well. In a weird way, we owe this one to the unmentionable William Baekeland - this was one of his advertised trips that didn't run, with three of us losing a considerable amount of money. As luck would have it, the local fixer Ali wrote to his acquaintance Maurizio Giuliano that he had been cheated by William; Maurizio then contacted me, and we had to work from scratch to make this happen. Maurizio vouched for Ali and how right he was!

NomadMania's general philosophy is to try to get good visits of difficult places - in some cases where things on the ground are unpredictable and dodgy, that means fly-ins on chartered planes, making things a bit expensive. But there were 7 of us, which made the price almost bearable even if it was still excessive. I think it was the chance to visit iconic Timbuktu that got most of the others rolling. Ali and I negotiated an itinerary which would get us to see an incredible amount in a mere 72 hours - Day 1 would be the flight from Bamako to Timbuktu to Gao to Mopti. From Mopti we would do the rest by land, visiting the Dogon villages, then Djenne with its famous mosque and then driving back to Bamako via Segou. It was an ambitious itinerary but the combination of good organisation by Ali and trust on our side made it happen.

We arrived on different flights into Bamako and Ali was there to await every one of us. Then, last Tuesday morning, we woke up early to go to the airport, where we were the only flight leaving alongside another filled with UN Forces from Bangladesh. Our 17-seater Beechcraft was manned by three pilots from Congo and Zambia - the flight to Timbuktu took 2 hours, and we landed soon after 9 am in the scorching heat. We had to walk out of the airport in the dust as our vehicles were not allowed inside - the airport area was attacked a mere 6 weeks ago and the terminal building itself is a shambles. Our 2-hour visit to Timbuktu took in all of the old town, the mosque and the calligraphy workshops as well as the famous library of manuscripts. I was quite surprised, admittedly, at how little developed the place is. But we were all extremely happy to be visiting such a famous place on the map. We were told we were only the 5th group to visit since 2013 and the first one by plane.
An hour away is the eastern city of Gao, which is the third largest of the country and felt much more city-like than Timbuktu. Apparently there are four mines around the area and the town itself is therefore an important logistical centre. Here we were met by a whole contingent of the local police who followed us in their vehicles. Gao does not have any big sites except for the tomb of Askia, which is a World Heritage Site. We visited it but it was way too hot to linger about in the sun; we also drove by the local market and a little more around town before heading back to the airport for the flight to Mopti.
Once we landed in Mopti, I heaved a big sigh of relief as the rest of the trip was in more 'familiar' territory where tourists do go even today - the Dogon country and Djenne being obvious draws. Despite our limited time, we saw not only the 'capital' of Dogon, Bandiagara, where we overnighted, but went as far as Sangha with its fascinating cliffs, and Songo, with its rock art. Both the cultural richness and the natural beauty of the area certainly charmed all of us.

We then visited Mopti briefly, seeing the confluence of the rivers as well as the mosque, before driving to Djenne, where we arrived around 4 pm. It was no less hot though - we were sweating away and were all rather despondent when told that due to water shortages we will not really be able to shower. But travellers always adapt and we did too. We were welcomed inside the mosque, even the lady in the group, and were also taken to the local library where manuscripts are also collected. Dinner of rice and fish was on a roof-top with a panoramic view of the town, as darkness took over with the sound of the evening prayers around us.
The last day involved a long drive to Segou, where we had an hour cruise - with a couscous lunch onboard - down the Niger river to Old Segou, meeting the local chief and visiting the palace. By 4 pm we were in Bamako for an optional city tour before leaving on late flights out, each one of us filled with a sense that this was a really incredible trip. Given how fantastically organised it was, with seamless connections, no wasted time, and attention to all of our needs, Ali deserves a big break. For anybody who is interested in a trip to Mali, which is undoubtedly one of the gems of Africa, he is the guy to contact and his email is: He is a real gentleman and his English is impeccable.

NomadMania is now committed to organising one trip a year to a 'difficult' place and the next one will be done through Ali again: Niger in late February 2019. If you are interested, let us know, as we expect this one will be very popular and should include Agadez and Zinder in a similar concept to our trip to Mali.

Please note that NomadMania - and subsequently I myself - does not take any money. We are here to facilitate travel and make people's dreams come true. All money went directly to Ali in this case and any trip we organise will be done in a similar way.

Thanks to all the participants of this trip who had faith in me enough to sign up: Roman Bruehwiler (who is an associate member of NomadMania pending his revisiting all countries in a way we consider legitimate), Artemy Lebedev, Artem Tkachev, Paul Clites, Per Besson and Anna Chernova


Jan Bakker

Jan, tell us something about your early years and Jan the non-traveller.

As a kid I loved being outside, building huts and roaming the wild places around the village where I lived in the northwest of The Netherlands. I actually was really into birdwatching when I was around 9 years old. In hindsight quite unusual, I was always the youngest on twitching tours organised by the local birding association (in fact, most were pensioners!). Although I don’t twitch anymore that kid inside me that wants to go out and explore never left me. Currently I live in Beirut, Lebanon with my wife and two young boys. Our youngest son is 6 months now (born in Beirut) so travel is a bit on hold although we do travel quite a bit as a family. My wife is the career maker and I am a house dad at the moment, mostly writing about the trips that I have done. I just finished the manuscript for a trekking guide to Tajikistan and the Afghan Wakhan Corridor, due to be published in autumn by Cicerone Press.

Tell us a story from your first travels that has great impact on that who you are today.

My parents took me and my sister on holidays but these were always domestic. The first time I went abroad was at age 15 to Mallorca. This is where I did my first hike to this magical mountain I saw. I never made it to the mountain but the seed for my love for mountains was planted. It did take another 8 years before I went on my first hiking trip to the Tatra Mountains in southern Poland. Fast forward, now I work as a mountain professional, guiding groups in the Greater Ranges and the Middle East. Seeing that mountain on Mallorca was definitely a defining moment for who I am right now.

What do you pack first for travelling, beside a toothbrush?

That really depends on what kind of trip I go on. With the family, it’s probably nappies J. On a mountain trip I usually take my SPOT satellite messenger. I tend to go to pretty obscure mountain areas and it offers peace of mind for the people back home. Plus if the shit hits the fan I can trigger a rescue operation. I never had to use it and knock on wood I hope I never will.

Which country makes the best coffee or tea?
A bit of a cliche but the Italians do make the best coffee on the planet. I lived in Tunisia for a while and we would always go to Italy, partly for the food (and coffee). I love the mint teas they make in Morocco, I am a sweet tooth. But the best cuppa I have ever had was in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh, made by shepherds in the mountains. It was proper Indian Chai and I was on my way down because the monsoon rains came in that night. Maybe it was because I was chilled to the bone but man that was a good brew!
What's been your scariest moment?

I went overland from Istanbul to Ladakh in 2005 and passed through Cappadocia. I thought it would be cool to sleep in a cave so I packed a small pack and found a cave at the end of a walking trail. I was alone, great sunset and all. But at night I got completely paranoid that somebody had followed me or seen me. The cave was on a cliff and small so a bit of a trap. I was convinced that somebody would come around to kill me, irrational as it may have been. Needless to say I didn't sleep at all that night.

Solomon Islands.
What's the worst piece of travel advice you've received?

I can't recall anyone giving me bad travel advice. Sometimes I do get annoyed by government travel advice that seems to lack nuance. I know they have to deal with their nationals who get in trouble but sometimes I have a feeling they don't really know what the situation is on the ground. A better safe than sorry approach instead of knowing what the security situation actually is. It's always good to do your own homework as well when you travel to a country with a bad reputation. There are always regions that are peaceful and relatively safe (like Bamian in Afghanistan and Kurdistan in Iraq).

What is the worst dish you've tried on your travels?

I really can’t remember. I never had the honour to eat raw gut or eyeball.

If you were condemned to one country for the rest of your life, which one would you choose and why?
Ha, nice one. The first thing that comes up is a country like Nepal. But I’d miss having the ocean near. Perhaps is my answer a little boring but New Zealand really has it all. Stunning mountains, sweet rolling hills with vineyards, ocean and endless pristine beaches. It pretty much goes from sub-tropic to sub-Antarctic. What else could you wish for?
What is the plan for your next destination?

Personal trips are on hold for this year as we may move out of Lebanon. It could be somewhere in Central Africa or South Asia. Moving country with young kids and a cat is an adventure in itself I can assure you.

Finally, our signature question - if you could invite four people to dinner from any period in history, who would you invite and why?

All personal heroes of mine.
John Muir
He is probably responsible for the preservation of many wilderness areas around the globe. Such a visionary, pushing for the creation of Yosemite to become the world’s first national park in the 19th century, when there was still lots of wild places.

Thor Heyerdahl
He’s a Norwegian scientist and explorer and probably one of the greatest explorers of all time. He wanted to prove Polynesians originated from South America and as a scientist wanted to prove this by building a replica and sail it across the Pacific. Such courage. He must have had so many good stories to tell.

John Lennon
I’m a Beatles fan to start with. But apart from a brilliant song writer John Lennon was such an independent thinker. I’m sure he would make great conversation at the dinner table.

Yvon Chouinard
He’s the founder of the outdoor clothing brand Patagonia (still alive). Chouinard is leading the way if it comes to running a business while trying to minimise the impact of that business and its products. Read Let my people go surfing, very inspiring.

The photos in this interview are from Jan's personal collection and we thank him for sharing them with us at NomadMania!
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