During a trip to Saint Moritz I decided to trek Muottas Muragl in the Engadin region. You can go up the mountain, which is more than 2000 feet high, on a funicular and arrived at the Romantik Hotel. Here, you can have cup of coffee, sandwich and chocolates at the hotel’s cafeteria before embarking on your hike along the pristine snow circuit, and then return to base for another round. It reminded me of one of Agatha Christie’s crime series, “The Labours of Hercules,” in which the Belgian detective Poirot spent some time at a Swiss hotel high up in the mountains.
I had my camera and a video simultaneously in active mode to capture the spectacular and breathtaking view of my surroundings. I refused to leave behind any scenes of the time spent there. During the hike, I met a Swiss lady from Zurich who told me she comes to this mountain for walks on a regular basis to get away from it all. Apart from her chattiness, the only other sound was snow crunching under my boots.
You will find markings to assist you along the path. I cannot but stress how important it is to obey the signs. It is here that I learned a very important lesson in obedience. In the initial, I followed the trek and did not stray. I was not sure what to expect, and lacking the confidence of an experienced hiker, I decided to follow the signs. In the meantime, I was trying to figure out why people were carrying ski poles when they were not skiing. I soon learned the hard way.
As I ascended higher along the slope trek, I found it difficult to balance myself, and because I had a haversack with me, I felt as if I was being pulled from behind. Those sticks would have made my experience much easier. As someone born in the tropics, what do I know? Nevertheless, I should have done my homework.
I continued, my breathing heavy. I noticed a few quirky sign posts with sayings from famous people, including Ernest Hemingway. Also, there were park benches to soak up and enjoy the view of the landscape. The stillness of the snow felt like a soft bed welcoming the sleeper to a dreamy slumber.
On my way down, I saw a boy taking a short cut across the plateau. What a silly boy. Didn’t he read the signs? And then I saw a woman doing the same. I thought maybe they knew something I didn’t. It would most certainly save me a lot of time retracing my steps back to the hotel if I could cut through. What the heck. Everyone’s doing it. I might as well. Big mistake.
Halfway down, I found myself slumping to my thigh in the snow. Unlike the woman and the boy who were both light weight, I had failed to consider my own. Two questions popped into my head: Am I going to sink into this snow quick sand? Worse, could this be a cornice? I might fall through!
I tried to keep calm. Did I have a choice? I took another step forward, probing the ground for solidity. Yes. One step at a time.
Well, I survived to tell this tale. I was lucky this time. Next time I’ll wear a wing suit, just in case…
During a trip to Cape Town, South Africa, I decided to join a few people for a shark cage diving trip. The place: Hans Bay, a regular hangout for this apex predator. Peter Benchley’s book-turned-movie by Steven Spielberg certainly raised most people’s curiosity level, mine included.
Confession: I was among the millions of people psychologically affected by the movie that I started to think twice about going swimming. In fact, I even refrained from going to the pool at one time. I just couldn’t get the image of that enormous and bloody gaping mouth out of my head.
But I had to see “Jaws” — to confront my fear. Who was I kidding? You can’t confront your fear. You can’t learn all the martial arts of the world and take on the great white shark. You can’t even hire Mike Tyson to knock it out. Unfortunately for most of us, they don’t sell RPGs at your favorite corner shop.
So, knowing these things, why did I still decide to go? It’s been said that animals instinctively run for their lives when danger lurks, but man, being the curious animal that he is, would try to check out the fuss before deciding to flee.
Prior to going out to see on a flimsy double-deck, fiber-glass boat, the skipper gave us a rundown of what to expect, along with some instructions, like don’t touch the shark when you are inside the cage otherwise orders would be given to return the boat to shore. Also, in case of an emergency, we were told lifeboat jackets will be issued to each and every one of us. And we were told not to panic. Are you kidding me? I could feel an arrow of sarcasm about to shoot from my mouth saying, “Like those jackets will save us!”
The day was calm, everyone soaking up the salty sea air and breeze. Not me. I was on full alert, expecting the shark to give a surprise attack. I wrong. He didn’t come alone. There must have been at least twenty great white sharks that day. There were four other boats out at sea that day, each one with a crew member assigned to pour buckets of blood into the water constantly to draw attention to the sharks.
As we waited, I saw a woman sitting at the edge of the boat with her back facing the sea. It reminded of the scene in which actor Roy Scheider did the same as he poured bloodied chunks of meat into the water when suddenly our good friend decided to show up, literally. Quietly, I advised the lady to stay clear of the edge, just in case.
I opted not to go inside the cage. Looking at the flimsy structure, I was not sure about my luck. A few questions also popped into my head: “What if the cage broke?” and “What if I got into the cage and someone inside with me had a panic attack?” If this sounds like the person who saw a coin in the fountain and can’t decide to pick it up or not, I can only say this was a different situation. We are not talking about an opportunity; we’re talking about a great white shark. Basically, you can’t win.
No matter how safe and secure or how experienced the staff of these tour companies can claim to be, accidents can happen. Besides, we were all told to sign a disclaimer and assumption of risk. So there you go.
I decided to ascend to the upper level of the boat and record the whole thing on a video cam. Some people were wondering why I even bothered to follow, thinking how I could possibly see the shark from above. Well, if you’ve seen enough shark documentaries, and have spoken to world renowned shark experts like I have, you know these apex water kahunas are unpredictable and super fast. And they can jump.
Above, I sat cross-legged on the floor and leaned against the wall of the superstructure, bordered by a short railing all around, which also allowed me to look over the edge clearly. I had a good reason for sitting in this position instead of standing with the crowd. For one thing, there were other people on board, strangers. Having experienced once before being thrown into sea from high above a boardwalk by a friend (as a joke), I am constantly reminded to watch my back. What if there was a psychopath on board?
With my legs cross-legged and sitting against the wall, there was no chance of that happening. No way now someone could creep up from behind and push me into the water. And why would I even think like that? You’d know if you’ve read the famous poster: “This is the most dangerous animal in the world, responsible for millions of death every year. By his side we can see a white shark swimming peacefully.”
With the amount of blood poured into the water that day, I doubt, if I had been thrown overboard, those sharks would have pass me with just a flipper waive and tell me to have a nice day. They are, after all, instinct-driven eating machines. But man… well, he is…
According to a report I read in Al Arabiya, researchers relying on “virtual autopsy” have discovered that King Tut was not as pretty as his golden mask. He had buck teeth and a severe limp, among other things. But you got to admit, he was most certainly a flashy dude.
If you are wondering why it was easy for ancient Egyptians to produce everything in gold that is because gold was in abundance back then and the cheapest commodity. And you’ll find a lot of that in the famous Egyptian Museum of Antiquities in Cairo. I once even thought about buying a metal detector and exploring the sites although I must admit the idea is not original. And how disappointed I was that I was not at the right time and the right place when they discovered gold after gold in the waters of Alexandria. It just never ends.
I have to make a confession: I once thought about stealing King Tut’s dagger in the museum. How easy it would have been — and what a thrill it would be. I noticed that the lock on the glass casing was old and rusty, and all it took was a knock to break it. The surrounding of the casing didn’t appear to have an alarm sensor, back then. I am not sure about now. Also, the museum didn’t seem to have many cameras, but things may have changed. It’s been a while since I returned.
I had surveyed the interior and saw a few loopholes, but it would mean staying overnight at the museum, complete with some tools, and dressed in black attire and a balaclava – just to look the part of course). I was sure there would be security patrolling, but that’s manageable. However, the question that crossed my mind, how do I smuggle a world famous dagger out of the country? And even if I managed to do that, should I not be acting on my values instead of my thoughts?
You’ll find your fair share of rogue cops everywhere and anywhere. I can still remember the time when I lived in Cairo and I was advised by everyone to stay away from police stations. Don’t even walk near one, they used to tell me. Well, as luck would have it…
The first time wasn’t that bad, but it sent a signal as to how cops behave in Egypt, and how for a very long time they got away with things. Lest we forget what happened to Khaled Saeed, who was murdered by the police in Alexandria in June 2010, and who become a symbol of the Mubarak regime’s brutality.
I had accompanied a friend to a police station after his house was burgled. Before the officer took a statement, he chided my friend in Arabic saying, “Must you bring the whole tribe to the station?” I am not Egyptian, incidentally, but I could pass off as someone from the Middle East or the Mediterranean.
There had been several other incidences, like the time a policeman grabbed me by the collar and prevented me from entering the Egyptian national museum. I managed to convince a senior officer who approached that my intention to visit the museum was purely touristic with no plans to steal the dagger of King Tut or bomb the place.
But it was in Kerdassa, a famous Egyptian village known for its handicrafts, trinkets, brassware and souvenirs that I soon tasted how scary things can be. Another Egyptian friend had offered to take me to the village. When I was done shopping, my friend wanted to go to the mosque to pray. Meanwhile, I waited outside the mosque, located beside a small police station. A few cops, some in civilian attire, some in black uniforms with rifles, huddled outside the compound, smoking. The distance between us, maybe 30 meters. All of a sudden one of the men turned and yelled at me, twice. I ignored him. I guess my three large bags of shopping goodies looked delicious.
The cop, along with another, then walked towards me. He stood in front of me while his colleague positioned himself behind me, rifle in hand. The front man queried in Arabic what I was doing in the village (as if it was not obvious) in a voice he thought would intimidate me. I didn’t reply and instead chose to play dumb. But I didn’t appreciate the way he spoke to me. He then insisted that I follow him back to the station. At that moment I gestured that I wanted to procure my passport from my jacket. I handed it over. The cop man was taken aback. “Agnaby (Foreigner)?” he asked. I nodded with a grin. They left me. I guess it was a bad day to go fishing.
Had I been an ordinary Egyptian, things would have turned out differently.
Purchase a paperback copy of the espionage novel, Smokescreen, and you may stand a chance to win an authentic spy coin! Yes, the one that you can slip in an SD Memory Card.
All you have to do is be creative and adventurous by coming up with what you think is the best and wackiest Selfie-Reading Photograph. Then send your picture to firstname.lastname@example.org
The first 3 photos that appeal to the author will win a spy coin. Deadline is November 30, 2014. Get going!
NOTE: You don’t really have to skydive, unless you can. A photo of you reading the author’s novel while being chased by a bull is cool too.
Terms: All submitted photos must show you holding a paperback copy of Smokescreen by Khaled Talib. Good luck!