All posts by Jonathan

Jonathan has sailed yachts, flown paragliders and paramotors, and driven through snow, mud and sand in various places around the world. He started out by bungy jumping dressed as a pantomime horse. All this to show being vegan doesn't limit your potential?

On The Bright Side

“Some things in life are bad
They can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse
When you’re chewing on life’s gristle
Don’t grumble, give a whistle
And this’ll help things turn out for the best…”

Oh how we could have done with a dose of Python this week. So, retrospectively in some cases, here’s to all the good stuff that happened during our protracted entry into Egypt and our stay so far. We got through the confusing, expensive and sometimes bizarre process and have made it to the desert. This is where we set out to come and we’re here! It began to sink in driving down the Port Said Desert Road towards Cairo that we are indeed looking at the Sahara, and we drove here. This is quite a big deal in a small way for us and there were some wide, slightly disbelieving smiles on our faces.

We drove here!
We drove here!

The last week had been tough, but even whilst in Port Said where having a glass half full was not allowed until after dark due to it being Ramadan,  we did manage to enjoy some of the experience. We were able to hang out with some fellow travellers over a beer or two during the saga. We met some really good people who are a credit to Egypt, and got time to relax and adjust to the way things work here. Whilst it was tricky finding any food during the day, let alone particularly good vegan options, there was a huge choice of fresh, cheap fruit. We slept in beds and had proper showers (that said, as nice as it is to have the luxury of hotels, we are both looking forward to getting back in Troopy…you just get used to your own place after this long on the road and we miss it).

The last day in Port Said was actually an interesting experience I think, if a bit in-at-the-deep-end in how things work here in Africa. In the morning I set off down to the port again with Jack from Africality, with the aim of meeting up with our agent and getting the cars through customs and onto the Egyptian roads. More on the roads later, and why I think it was good to spend a few days here before driving myself! But for now, we needed to get into the port which was as easy as being escorted in by an agent the other day, but today we *apparently* needed a pass from the Police. This provided our morning’s entertainment. There is a room in the police station where the saga is played out – on 1 side, the senior officer sits behind an impressively large desk in an office. A boy sits outside the office ready to make photocopies when called, or to lock and unlock the office as the boss goes in and out. The rest of the room consists of a central space surrounded by perspex screens with 8 or so hatches. Behind the hatches sit various women and stacks of files. In 1 corner of the space there is a table where a man sits chatting to friends and hands out sticky stamps in exchange for cash. The game is quite simple – in order to get a pass to enter the port, we need to get enough signatures, rubber stamps and sticky stamps on a piece of paper for the officer to exchange that paper for a slip authorizing the issue of a pass. It is slightly more complicated by the fact that we have to use an agent to do this, and the agent has to disappear upstairs at unpredictable moments (presumably to another such office) to get more stamps/signatures. We don’t have any language in common. There are also no indications as to which hatch you have to go to for which purpose, and the only way to find out seems to be for the agent to push our paper through various hatches and see if he gets a stamp or shouted at to go away. It reminds me very much of a certain genre of computer game. After several rounds of this (interspersed by periods of sitting in a courtyard playing with stray cats), we seem to have collected the correct combination of stamps to win a pass and proceeded to the next level.

Have we collected all the magic stamps?
Have we collected all the magic stamps?

After that it was pretty straightforward and after some more sitting around the customs house we were able to drive out of the port gates soon after 2pm.

Onto the roads. Now this is where I am particularly glad to have had those days in Port Said, walking and travelling about by taxi to get accustomed to the roads. Things don’t work here like they do back home. It’s a free-for-all and nobody seems to follow rules or signs, but I have embraced it fully. If I were to do a U-turn across a concrete central barrier just short of traffic lights back home, I would expect a ticket. It may have been my worst bit of driving ever, but here it just made sense and actually unblocked some traffic. Honest. We are warned not to drive in Cairo, but I actually quite like it – its just another video game, and so much less tedious than London! The only thing we had a collision with was a horse over at the pyramids – its just so packed with horses, carts and camels that its inevitable that you’ll get a little nudge from something that’s trying to squeeze past you. Just glad it was soft and furry and not a tour bus, so no damage to either! Always look on the bright side of life?

Before it got busy...
Before it got busy…

And now this most excellent adventure continues – we get to go explore the desert!

Crossing a Minor Continent

This week has seen us cross Turkey from the West Coast to Iskenderun, probably completing our travels through Asia Minor. I say probably because nothing from here on is going to be as guaranteed as we’re used to back home. We intend to take the ferry to Egypt tomorrow, but (whilst there are lots of them running around on this little campsite) we are not counting our chickens. I’m leaving this week’s blog empty of photos for now as the photo gallery covers that. Actually, its late and we are tired and need sleep – I might add some later and also tag all the photos, but for now – here it is!

Looking back, we haven’t updated you on our travels since we left Athens so I’ll have a go at bring you up to date with the progress you can see on our map.

After Athens, we drove North towards Thessaloniki and camped in the hills South of Alexandria, where we were woken in the middle of the night by 2 uniformed officers of what they described as ‘Police for Hunters’, checking that we weren’t doing any illegal hunting…all very friendly and slightly amusing when they understood the Vegan Without Frontiers logo down the side of Troopy. All I got to shoot was some practice wildlife pics of some giant bugs that came wandering by in the morning! Check out our week 5 pics below.

Week 5
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After that we made good progress across northern Greece, stopping to look at Storks nesting on lamp posts and going for a swim in the sea, and then crossed into Turkey. As night fell we approached Istanbul with very basic maps and a little confusion, but Katana’s navigation once again came up trumps and we rolled up to the target camp site, where we were let through the gates and shown to a plot, shown around the facilities and wished goodnight. They turned on the lights just for us as again we were the only guests, but the contrast between this beautiful little site and the Athens creep-show could not have been greater. This was our base for visiting Istanbul and a happy refuge once we had endured the Ramadan traffic to get ‘home’ at the end of the day. Ramadan on top of a lack of available vegan food options did not make for happy stomachs, but was an interesting time to visit the Blue Mosque and see the city.

The evening’s entertainment was provided by an exuberant, friendly kitten we dubbed Zorro-Cat after his first appearance with a dynamic flourish at the rear window bounding onto the spare wheel.

After another day spent travelling mostly through Istanbul (we crossed out of Europe by ferry across the Bosphorus), we camped off road and off tracks on a hill with some goats. This set the pattern for much of our travels since, as we have tended to alternate a day on a camp site with a couple in the wilds. Katya seems good at finding the right sort of area, and we together have picked out some beautiful places to spend our evenings and wake up to. I am only half suspicious that she picks long winding dirt-tracks so she can get to practice driving, but its all good for me as I get to be a passenger and look at the scenery.

We visited Bursa, Çanakkale, the ruins of Troy and various ancient sites along the coast. We spent a day just vegging in the sun by the sea. We got on each others nerves, we got baked on the long road as we headed inland and stuck to our seats and were invaded by flies the minute we stopped anywhere. We camped by the roadside outside a mountain village and met lots of friendly locals – including Ufuk and Burhan who brought us watermelon and lemonade and joined us for a good conversation and some food, even though we didn’t speak the same language. We met some overfriendly locals, whose written note to Katana after 5 minutes of non-communication (translated by google as ‘you are so good – so beautiful’), blown kisses, and unrefusable wish to show us some remote springs in the mountains had us making excuses and running away to Pammukale.  There we walked barefoot in the ‘Cotton Palace’ calcite formations before heading further East, lunching by salt lakes and sunken volcano craters. We camped by mountain streams and took refreshingly freezing morning showers, got stuck in village traffic jams of motorised fully laden cherry carts – and now we are at the end of our Turkish adventure. Subject, of course, to tomorrow going to plan…

Katana here taking over for my additional impressions on the last few days. As far as veganism goes, I think the concept of not eating animals is understood here better than how most Westerners imagine. When we have communicated to various people that we do not consume animals, it was understood without any questions. One person even said “So? We have vegetables!” as if the suggestion that they might not have non-meat things was absurd. The other side of that is, people know exactly what consuming animals entails: it is impossible not to come in contact with animals alive, animal abuse, and animal carcasses and various bits of actual animal bodies lying around in shops. I think in a lot of ways Westernised culture has desensitised people to view meat as just a packaged “food” rather than once alive being. We saw cows and sheep grazing happily in fields, and then we saw a cow being driven to slaughter. I also accidentally saw three or four skinless sheep carcasses being hosed down right on the street.

As for the “female traveller” part that everybody always talks about when Middle East is the destination, I have mixed views. Unfortunately, I am viewed as a rarity, an easy target, I am constantly gawked at on the streets walking or when we are driving, and the incident with the note was also very upsetting. I do feel that a certain part of my freedom is restricted, but after a particularly low point I decided that I just don’t care. In some ways, it is what it is. On the other hand, I have found most Turkish people particularly friendly and welcoming, and also very polite and willing to chat even when there is no common language. The positive aspects of this huge and varied country far outweigh the negatives!

The underbelly of a tortoise, and the trip…

This week I’m going to take you on a tour through the other side of the trip. Yes, we have been swimming in the sea in beautiful places (up to 5 times a day as we rolled down the Adriatic coast through Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Albania). Yes, we have found great vegan food to eat and wine to drink. Yes, we have seen absolutely spectacular scenery and weird and unusual sights. But we have also had our issues, hardships and rough moments.

And then there’s the ‘unusual’ aspects of our journey and our characters which you might get to see develop over future posts and videos. For example, as I drive down rough tracks or open roads I am not only watching the road to be safe, but I am looking out for dead things in the road. Katana has a slightly unusual project on the go at the moment which I am supporting with a mixture of intrigue, admiration and revulsion. You will perhaps see the results in a photo gallery dedicated to ‘Katana’s Dead Nature Studies’, though I guess you won’t experience the full sensory affront of the subject. This has however also led to the rescue of a tortoise (I’m sure Katana wasn’t really disappointed to discover that this particular road-kill was just road-turned-on-its-back-unable-to-move)(actually, I’m not at all sure about that but one can hope…).

Free Tortoise
Free Tortoise

We spent some time after that discussing how long it had been there, and whether the poo around it was its own and an indicator of its time inverted on the side of the road.

Stranded Tortoise
Stranded Tortoise

The tortoise rescue day also had other moments. Once we had packed up from our wild camp in the woods and stowed the shovel (they don’t have loos out there), I had a near miss with some road-kill which turned out to be a very-much-alive snake, and then spent a jolly half hour in 45plus degrees under Troopy by the side of the road greasing the suspension which had gone rather squeaky after our detour into the Albanian mountains. Incidentally, Troopy was given a pretty good workout in Albania – a lot of the mainish roads randomly run out of surfacing and turn into rough tracks or riverbeds, and we had deliberately gone off the map to see the wilderness, making the 4WD a necessity as we climbed into the mountains over eroded tracks inhabited by people on donkeys and mopeds.

Albanian Traffic
Albanian Traffic

Actually that last comment also applies to Albanian motorways where the most alarming incident (apart from having to swerve to avoid a lurching coach) was seeing 4 donkeys being dragged across a busy motorway between trucks, but they did seem more at home in the mountains.

Albanian Motorway Traffic
Albanian Motorway Traffic

I think I am also much more at home in the mountains. Put me in a city in traffic trying to find somewhere to park and I am liable to get a bit snappy and take the first excuse to escape I am given. Katana has been an excellent Navigator, of the sort whose good fortune is as much of an asset as her undoubted ability to choose and direct us on our route. But we have had our stressful moments when reality on the ground doesn’t appear to match reality on the maps and we have had to take a few minutes to calm down. That good fortune is awesome though – some of our best adventures have resulted from taking a less-intended route such as that which led us to our first wild camping of the trip.

Even that, however, was not looking good as we were detained by Croatian customs officials at the Bosnian border (where we had arrived by accident), who seemed to take delight in going through Katana’s personal belongings in great and repeated detail. It became clear that the young man’s intent was to cause discomfort enough to get us to ‘pay him a ticket’ right there rather than wait for a sniffer dog to be sent down, and then be dealt with by a judge if they found some hidden illegal items. Katana did a good job of ignoring them, whilst I paid friendly chatty attention to exactly what he was doing until they gave up and sent us on our way – the dog never did arrive. Bad taste left though.

So on the subject of taste – back to our vegan mission. That too has been largely great, but occasionally not so much fun. Driving along the northern part of the Croatian coast was for some time just a succession of whole pigs on spits by the side of the road – which given the sparse traffic must have amounted to 1 per person on the road and was the only food available for some miles. Then there was the restaurant that served the Arrabiata sauce with slices of bacon, though not as stated on the menu.

Attempting to use up Albanian currenc
Attempting to use up Albanian currency

And now we are in Athens, or at least a campsite outside the city. At least, it calls itself a campsite but we are still trying to work out what the true purpose of its existence is. A caravan graveyard? A dog breeding farm? A mosquito super-bug breeding centre? Who knows? We are the only guests. Yesterday there was an Australian couple here who had been here 3 days and seen no other customers. And yet cars come and go, the mosquitoes are watered and the toilets don’t flush. The dogs sit outside Troopy at night and bark at each other or into space. We leave tomorrow and that can’t come soon enough.

Up until now the worst campsite we encountered was a dilapidated site in Montenegro with 1 small toilet block that nobody seemed to use – on getting up early to find them being hosed down, I wandered behind a second (overgrown out of use) wash block and found an area of concrete liberally encumbered with piles of human poo, and a ditch full of toilet paper. At least then I understood. This place is more disturbing than that, and we aim to camp wild more often from now on. Right now we are using beer as an antidote to weirdness…it seems to be working!


To start at the end, we are in Slovenia, and pretty much in love with the place. Whatever expectation we had of this country has been exceeded, from the relaxed tidiness of everything to the friendliness of the people we have met. As we sit on a tiny but superb campsite  in the Vipava valley this morning, surrounded by vineyards and overseen by the tall walls of the Nanos and Kovk plateaux, we are taking a day out from stuff to relax.

Troopy relaxing after a hard day on the road.
Troopy relaxing after a hard day on the road.

The contrast with the drive through the last part of Italy down the coast to Trieste couldn’t be more evident – the clear blue sea of the Adriatic had attracted the massed hordes of sunbathers and we were disappointed to have to give up on the plan for a swim due to the total lack of parking space. So we escaped the traffic and climbed up out of Trieste following a steep tramway, Troopy getting a good workout on the ascent towards the border. The disappointment was short lived, as we found this tiny campsite  in beautiful scenery, inhabited by just us and 2 Dutch couples, and Katana was particularly pleased to start understanding the local language again since it is close to Czech. This makes ordering beer her job.

Anyway, this is where we ended up, but we’ve done a few miles and had a few moments since we last posted from Pisa – where we were bad people and went swimming in the pool without bathing caps (we were scowled at), and took in the sights…well mostly the Leaning Tree.


We took the long and winding road through the Apennines to Bologna – and for those of you who know how much I love driving mountain roads, this one was very long and very windy and I ended up feeling a little like I’d just stepped off a roller-coaster! So I will blame that disorientation for what we shall call the Midge-Fridge Delusion. I had a long and restless night, tormented by an invisible mosquito that kept buzzing around my ear. I swatted at it, wafted at it, blew at it and hid under my sleeping bag liner from it. But it kept coming back. I could hear it, felt it land on my forehead. Katana slept on – oblivious – but mossies leave her alone anyway which just added to the unbearable unfairness of it all.  I finally slept. It was only half way through the next day that I noticed the fridge makes a very similar (in fact identical) noise when attached to mains power and it dawned on me that the midge may not have been quite what it seemed at the time… One of us found this hilarious.

Anyway, after that we travelled on to Venice and spent a couple of afternoons wandering around the city, eating vegan soya ice-cream (Happy Cow is a great resource for finding these sort of things), and generally being tourists. On the way towards Trieste yesterday we pulled into a random roadside restaurant and were made a special dish of grilled vegetables, beans and salad rather than the cheese-free pizza or spaghetti we have become accustomed to.


Jonathan's seat put to better use...
Jonathan’s seat put to better use…

Then we enacted the plot to fill Troopy’s fridge with a giant watermelon from a roadside stall, so are now having watermelon for every meal and sharing it with the rest of the campers here at Kamp Vrhpolje. Time for a reduction in pace I think, and I can’t think of a better place for it.

Kamp Vrhpolje
Kamp Vrhpolje



Dried Mushrooms and Happy Germans

This is a tale of 2 meals, disappearing mossie bites (finally), more thunderstorms, the boredom of motorways and silly IT mistakes that end up with late nights and uncomfortable tents…

It started with good intentions – we had a bag of dried shiitake mushrooms that we felt we couldn’t just throw away. The first night, barbecued in the pit, they weren’t so bad. But then we had the rest of them soaked overnight and used in the next day’s evening meal. I’m not sure whether the flavour of too many rehydrated mushrooms was the problem, or the rubbery texture reminiscent of slug…actually, I don’t think I’ve eaten slug so I might just be wild guessing there…but either way it was lucky we were sooo hungry that we at least got a good meal down us before abandoning the mushroom project to the recycling. After that I hope we can be excused for the particularly good meal the following night – 3 courses of tasty food (even if the leek and potato soup looked a little pondy, it was still delicious, and not just in comparison to spongy ‘rooms). Washed down with a glass of wine. 

Rock Castel

That brought our stay in St Michel to a close, and for me the beginning of the journey into the less well known. We had one last tour of the swimming spots in the Herault Gorge, stood on top of the Roc Castel in Le Caylar admiring the approaching thunderstorm until it struck me that…well, it might actually strike us, and then headed off via a quick dive into the waterfall at the Cirque de Navacelles.

Then came too many hours on the motorway – Troopy isn’t a fast and loose type and prefers to take his time getting places, which is all very well but gets a bit tiring for the crew, so by the time we rolled into Grenoble looking for supplies we’d had enough of the 3 lanes of tarmac for one day. Another push up the road towards Chambery found us a nice campsite for a brief night stopover though, and time to post the week’s photos. That however turned into a bit of a ‘mare as IT glitches, slow internet and fatigue-induced pilot-error ended up with 1 of us up at midnight keeping the other awake with unavoidable shuffling about and probably avoidable mutterings. The 16-yr old Jura came out at this point, followed by a trial run of the pop-up tent for emergency isolation.

Col des Montets
Col des Montets

But another day, another adventure! Yesterday we had a much more interesting trek over the mountains through Chamonix into Switzerland for an appointment with my old friend the Spider Bridge. I did my second ever jump from the 190m water pipe bridge and Katana’s friend Valentyn did his first ever from anywhere. Katana did a couple of zip wire trips across the valley and we had some good cheese-free pizza and found a friendly campsite, and some beers. Watching the World Cup on an outdoor TV under an umbrella on the campsite were a few Swiss types whose mood improved dramatically through the evening, and we were ably served by a jolly chap, in multiple languages. At some point in the day I also noted that all signs of the midge-mauling I received at Salagou have now gone, and my legs are back to their usual shape and colour. So I guess I am again a blank canvas for the insect world…and since we are now camped next to Lake Maggiore, right by a wide reed-bed, I’m a little nervous!


We got here today following the Orient Express over the Simplon Pass, even reaching the remains of the winter’s snow amid the alpine flowers, before descending into Italy for an early evening swim in the lake. The Germans on today’s campsite seem particularly cheerful for some reason…

La Neige en Ete
La Neige en Ete
Une fleur et la cul d’une fourmi