Life as a pariah in Argentina (part 7)


, , , , , , ,

Its grey and gloomy when we drive out of the city towards the airport. The roads are as good as empty, here and there a lost metro-bus, some cars. It seems particularly eerie if you know the situation. The country is in lock down, people are stuck in their houses, this in trying to contain a dangerous virus that can destroy life as we know it. It feels like I am moving into a war movie. There are roadblocks everywhere. The majority of the access roads to Capital are closed off. On several points in town and on the highway there are check points, where your permission to move is checked. If you fail to show one, they just confiscate your car.

We get to the airport with a ticket of Ethiopian Airlines tonight, but we first wanted to try and get on the Air France flight to Paris. With the situation as it is, where people are stuck all over the country, we were hoping in ‘no shows’ and get on the waiting list. Air France flight is only 13h, and when we’re on it we’re on it. Where as Ethiopian airlines will be 16h plus 7h in the plane and take off isn’t certain until it has actually taken off…. so we decide to spend all day in the airport.

The airport is closed. People from the French embassy are organizing things. We wait hours outside in the cold, until we get confirmation that it won’t be possible.

So we check in to our Ethiopian Airlines flight online. Here on the tv screens the flight does not show. There is nobody we can ask. There is nobody. We call Ethiopian airlines in Buenos Aires, in Sao Paolo, in Belgium. They all say everything is normal and the plane will come.

We meet some people that are on top of the waiting list of Air France. One of the 4 can go. Then Air France decides it’s not him but another one of the group who must go. The first guy must get back off the plane, his luggage must stay in the plane ‘for sanitary reasons’ and when he gets back into the airport they say he must go into 2 weeks quarantine. These are crazy times. They hope their embassy can help them out.

We come across a guy who works in the airport and ask him about the Ethiopian flight. He says not to worry, it’s coming. Bit by bit I start breathing again. I won’t be happy until I see the plane take off in São Paulo ánd is on its way here.

We wait hours and hours, regularly checking the internet. The Ethiopian airlines website, the website of the airports of Sao Paolo and BA. Until the news comes. According to the airport in SP the flight is canceled. It confirms the rumors that commercial flights are no longer allowed to land here. The 2 other companies that were scheduled today, air canada and Qatar airways, were also canceled. Only repatriation flights, chartered by the governments can land. Ethiopian airlines on the other hand, still say the flight is operating as normal.

We must now wait an official ‘cancel’ message, or we can’t get back into the city. I wonder if the magical letter from the embassy will still do it’s wonders….

So what is next? We don’t know. Only repatriation is possible now. What a pity we are Belgian and not French or Dutch. They seem to have several flights coming. But no, we are Belgian, I check my passport again, and yes. We are Belgian.

Slowly but surely desesperation and frustration are taking its toll.

Life as a pariah in Argentina (part 6)


, , , , , , , ,

We are on our way to Capital. You can only drive if you have a special permission. Like us, we have a flight confirmation, and a ‘laissez passer’ letter from the Belgian embassy. We have also received a link of the law saying we can go, in case they don’t believe us.

I feel like I am in an apocalyptic horror movie. To me, apocalyptic is horror, and I never watch such movies. So the feeling I now have solely comes from movie trailers.

The road is empty. We went to fill up the car at the gas station on the highway. Normally this is full of people, now it’s just us, and 1 man serving us. The shop is closed and has a big red ‘No entrance’ sign. The guy keeps a safe distance and wears gloves. He tells us they are going to close down completely.

He tells us the robberies in town have started. With this total lock down people can’t work, and many have no money and a family to feed. Argentines have lived through many crises, but this one is particular : the poor can’t even go outside to beg, as there are no people on the streets to beg from.

The highway is as good as empty. The peaje is closed, or rather, open. You can drive through without paying. The animals are already taking over. We have to break for a big bird on the road. Oof. Just in time he flies off.

At the next peaje there is a well organized check up. We are pushed into lanes where several police officers are doing check ups. There is also press, cameras, TV vans with satellite dishes.

We start by saying ‘Somos Belgas’, we are Belgians, and immediately the cop backs off. He asks our documents and takes my phone in his gloved hand. He reads the Embassy letter attentively and checks the flight time. We are good to go.

The 2nd check point is in Capital, what are you doing here? (The airport is the other direction), but they believed our story that we need to hand in our rental car. No proof needed for that. She warned us that we should call the airport first as there have been cancelations. We know all about that. Our flight is indeed canceled. We knew that all along.

We are now waiting on a phone call by the embassy, that some european flight has 2 free seats. That’s how one travels out of here nowadays. At least when he’s Belgian. We depend on the goodwill of other countries to take us along on their planes.

Meanwhile we wait in this little Airbnb appartement in Capital… patiently.

Life as a pariah in Argentina (part 5)


, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Slowly but surely this whole adventure is turning into a complete nightmare. Or rather, a complete joke.

Just recapitulate. I’m sure you already lost me a long time ago.

1. We had an Air France flight leaving on the 31st from BA. It was canceled after Argentina refused planes from countries affected by the virus.

2. We rebooked AF on the same date via Sao Paolo. It was canceled as AF decided to stop flying after the 23th.

3. We rebooked a flight leaving on the 23th. It was canceled because the first part (GOL) was canceled.

4. We were rebooked on the 24th, first part with LATAM. The first flight got canceled.

5. We got rebooked on the same day, earlier flight. Later that was canceled too.

6. We got rebooked on the 27th, first part with GOL. A few hours later that was canceled.

7. Eeeehhmmm. What happens now? Should we still trust Air France and believe they will bring us back? I have certainly lost faith. They just book you on whatever flight not checking if it is still flying.

We have been on the phone and texting to different airline companies and official institutions all afternoon and evening, but to no avail. We even considered a flight through Addis Ababa but thought 5000 usd a bit over our budget.

We are especially dissapointed that our embassy and government is letting us down.

Tomorrow we will yet have another day of calling and searching for a flight. Or maybe we should just start to accept that we will be here for a few weeks or months. Doing nothing. Waiting….

Addendum on Tuesday 24/3

8. I am rebooked by Air France leaving on Thursday EZE-GRU (operated by aerolineas) GRU-CDG. My husband can go on Saturday : EZE-GRU-LONDON-PARIS operated by British airways.

9. Within 12 hours both flights were canceled.

Addendum on 25/3

10. We booked a flight on Ethiopian airlines, EZE-GRU-ADD-BRU we checked in, went to the airport on the 25th. We first tried to get on an AF repatriation flight (failed), later that day the flight of Ethiopian got canceled.

11. Our Air France flight was rebooked. Mine was leaving on the 27th EZE-GRU (by aerolineas) GRU-CDG (AF) and husband on Saturday through British airways. We called AF, they confirm what we already knew : there are no flights to GRU, and they can’t get into the ‘system’. He confirmed that both flights are canceled. We rebooked them on the 1st available flight after the airport reopens. That is May 5th

Addendum 26th of March

12. We are offered to book on a repatriation flight of AF, EZE-CDG on the 29th. We rebooked our flights of May 5 to this weekend.

Life of a pariah in Argentina (part 4)



It feels like our last day, but it isn’t. Probably because it seems like nothing more can happen to us.

We have a new flight. Again. The borders are not closed (at least not for flights to Brazil), and with the necessary documents (boarding pass or ticket) we can leave our house and drive to airport. Borders in Europe are closed (but as a citizen you can always enter.) We have a drop off point for our rental car…

So things are looking good. Right?

We are joking about our life as a pariah. It’s understandable that people are suspicious, but the people around here know us, and should also know that we have been here long enough to not have brought the virus.

We are not allowed into the small town nearby, but we have a small almacén (grocery store) nearby. We asked if it’s still open and they told us it isn’t, but we can order by phone and they get it for us. Convenient right?

Later on we heard that it’s only closed for us. Other people -non Europeans- can go without any problem.

But it seems that other pariahs aren’t so lucky. Some Dutch tourists had stones thrown at them, French were pestered. We are doing well, so far.

We check our flight regularly, and I panic when I see on my phone that our AF flight is canceled again, how many more cancelations can we get? We have had 3 so far! But when I log in on my computer all seems fine.

Our leaving is getting so close that we are starting to live on edge, we would be really disappointed if it went down again. Meanwhile we are getting ready. Cleaning, washing, packing… if they tell us to leave early : we are ready!!

Life of a pariah in Argentina (part 3)

In times of Corona, nothing is sure. Changes are made by the hour, people hardly get time to adapt. Even in Argentina, where today there are (only) 79 cases and (only) 2 people died.

The Argentine government came together to discuss a total lock down. That it would come was already certain. Even what it would like was already published in the paper. What had to be discussed is when it would start. Would it start now, or after the extended holiday weekend?

Probably the traffic jam of today in Pinamar (a popular beach city) caused by Porteños (inhabitants of the capital city of Buenos Aires) who wanted to evade the prohibition to travel over the weekend (in order to contain the virus and not spread it all over the country), this by leaving 2 days early, had something to do with it.

The lock down was to start now. As in a few hours. And is going to last until the 31st of March at least. (Friday morning 0h)

The papers were full of it, with all the details, but -according to our neighbor- suppositions : and as long as the president does not speak to the people, nothing is sure.

And of course, the president only spoke to the Argentines and not to the Europeans who wanted to get out of the country, so we were totally left in the dark.

Meanwhile the Belgian Embassy was keeping busy and let us know that we should not leave our houses ánd that Air France is putting on 3 extra flights to get us home. Stay in our house, ánd take a plane? Eehhhhh? Is it one, or the other?

In all this confusion all I did was take my camera out and go shooting the stars -again- and wait to see what the morning brings.

We aren’t home yet!

Life as a pariah in Argentina (part 2)

We kept an eye on our rescheduled flight to Belgium, (our original flight was canceled and rescheduled through Brazil), it wasn’t canceled, yet, but the situation was getting dire, especially in Europe, where not only Italy and Spain, but also Belgium and France had gone into lock down. The Schengen borders were closed and so was the French-Belgian border. We could but wait and see what happened.

Meanwhile I was keeping busy. Shooting the stars and the Milky Way, shooting the clouds. And again some clouds. How many clouds can one shoot? But the scenery is always the same. If I had brought my big tele I would probably have started shooting birds. Imagine!

And we waited. We kept in touch with our friends here over the phone, as we all practiced social distancing. And with friends and family back home. We regularly received an email of the Belgian embassy.

Until the day that Air France let us know they were canceling all flights after the 23th, including ours… again. We immediately rebooked it for the first available date, the 22nd, but this time to Paris instead of Brussels, as there are no longer TGV trains riding between both cities. Our son would have to pick us up in Paris by car.

But wait? Is that even possible? The borders are closed between Belgium and France, ánd it is forbidden to be with more than 2 in one car. Will he be able cross the Belgian/French border, and can he take us both together or does he have to ride twice?

It’s an interesting question, because however much the press writes about what can and what cannot, nobody seems to have a clue on how nationals can (or can’t) go home.

(Eventually a friendly lady at the diplomatie.belgie Call center gave us the green light so we can start packing!)

So it’s time for a final grocery run to town. But guess what? We are told we can not enter the town to where the shops are. Only people who actually live there (and prove it) can go in. A good thing we are leaving! I make a turn before they stop me. I don’t want them to freak out when they see my passport. They will be worried to death that they’ll die of Corona now that they held my passport. I want to spare them. My shopping isn’t that urgent.

So I go back. To pack.

But in this world, this world where we are at war against a virus, nothing, absolutely nothing is certain.

Life of a pariah in Argentina (part 1)


, , , , , , ,

It was already some time ago that I decided to come back to Argentina for one month to do a photographic project on the city. I already have hundreds, maybe thousands of photos of the Buenos Aires, but all of them quite old and none as I would want them in the style I make them now. So let’s go!!

March it would be! It’s when (as far as I remembered) there are lots of thunderstorms, and the heat is slowing down a bit. So off I went!

I rented a small airbnb apartment close to where we used to live, and last minute, my husband (completely jealous of my new project), decided to come with me. Me, on a photographic project, him, getting our weekend house back in shape.

It were restless times, the end of February. China was still in full Corona virus crisis, and Italy was just rolling in. Belgium just had its 2nd case, (the first being a Belgian coming from China, the 2nd, from Italy.) Argentina still had to get their first case. There were some signs of a disaster coming but nothing was quite clear, yet!

So there I was, in my adopted home. Many Argentines have Italian or Spanish roots, so they follow close what is happening over there. It was still very far away, and even though they looked at it all with horror, they didn’t seem to think it would ever come here. Not in Argentina, not in this country where they all kiss and hug each other, and, where they drink mate. Quite a typical ceremony-like drinking of some tea-like herb, called mate. Basically they pass a kind of cup, also called mate, with a straw, called bombilla, and every one drinks from the same straw. Imagine they would have to go into a ‘no greeting’ and ‘no drinking mate’ period?? No way!!!

And then day 13 of our stay, all of a sudden, they woke up. The government decided that all flights from affected countries (EU, USA, Chine?…) were cancelled for 30 days, and (among other measures) foreigners and Argentines coming from an affected area needed to go into a 14 day quarantine…

We were in day 13, still one to go. The fact that when we arrived here there were only 2 cases in Belgium didn’t matter. We left for our weekend house where we stayed low until day 14 passed.

The government was quite strict, people were checked upon, tourists that didn’t comply were put on the first plane out, locals were detained.

That is the day when we changed into pariahs.

We are European, we are evil, we not only brought the virus here, we are the cause of all the trouble coming at them. As ever friendly they were until day 13, they turned against us at once. Our doorman looked at us suspiciously. The guys at the entrance of our weekend house asked if we had done our 14 days, people hearing our foreign accent gave us the eye!

By then the country had gone into a de facto lock down. Nothing was closed yet, apart from schools, public buildings like museums, the library, tourist attractions… Restaurants and even the movie theatre were still open, even though in the last, the seats next to you on both sides had to remain empty. But people stopped going out, just like that. One day restaurants were full, the next day they were empty. One day there were still traffic jams all over town, the next streets were empty.

When my shoots were canceled we thought it time to leave the city and go to the quiet countryside. The days of taking the bus all over town were over, restaurants were considered unsafe, and me, a European, was looked at in the same way as that one boy on the bus who was coughing.

My Buenos Aires project was put on hold…

Amazing Albania


, , , , , , , ,


I feel like I am a real globetrotter right now, and after one amazing adventure I dive into the next. Another, equally amazing.

From Ethiopia, Africa, straight to Albania, Europe.


In a way, both countries are alike, and then they are also totally different. Ethiopia has never been under European influence. Albania has been closed off from the world (and Europe) for decades. As a communist country they weren’t even part of the Warsaw Pact. Before that they have been part of the Ottoman Empire for a very, very long time. Even though they are geographically part of Europe, they couldn’t be more different than us. One would think.

A series of people on a car event in Tirana

I couldn’t be more wrong. How different everything seemed at first sight, it immediately felt like home. Their housing is different, old, in need of restoration. We would say ‘poor’. But they have the same habits as we do, go to modern coffeeshop and restaurants that could have been in any European city. They even look like us.

City of Pogradec

It is on the first day already, in Tirana, that I lost my heart. My favourite photographic subject is cities with ‘character’, with a soul, that do not look like postcards, where I love to make beautiful what others call ugly. Buenos Aires is top of my list, well Tirana took its (well deserved) place in my list. If you want to go shopping, well, don’t go there, but just to walk around in the alleys, between the buildings, through the buildings, through markets, enjoy, watch people, Tirana is perfect. It’s a city that lives, its vibrant, it’s fun!


From Tirana we drove inland, through villages, small towns, over spectacular mountain roads with amazing views. This is how you get to know the real Albania. Small towns that look like mini Tiranas, villages where everyone comes outside to talk and chat and everyone seems to know everyone. Little hamlets that are dying out because also here, people move to the cities. Old communist era factory towns half in ruins. Driving around is easy, roads are good and distances not too long.

road to Ploshtan

But the most striking is the Albanian people, no matter what their reputation abroad might be (don’t they always play the bad guy in movies?), they are extremely friendly and hospitable, and the country is perfectly safe. They just can’t wait to help you, and when they do, they give you all the time you need. At times ‘help’ is something that comes in handy ; if you want to do something and have no idea how to get it arranged. There is few accommodation for tourists, which does not mean there are no possibilities. ‘Everything is possible in Albania’ is the slogan we used all that time, and that is thanks to its people.

Korab, the highest mountain

Imagine you want dessert after dinner, it’s late, and the restaurant doesn’t have any. Well, they go to the bakery in town, go and take pictures of what they have, let us chose, then go back to buy it!

They can tag along all day, planning, arranging, guiding, and don’t want one LEK for it.

Reading this, it probably does not surprise you that Albania is a perfectly safe country. With a bit of luck you meet people that speak one of the languages you speak. Many have lived abroad and speak fluent Italian, French, English or Greek. And if they don’t, Google translate is always a good friend!

If you want to read the full report of my trip, check out my travel blog

Into Africa


, , , , , , , , , , , ,

There is Africa, and then there is Africa. The Africa we ‘know’, and the Africa we ‘think’ we know.

I was in Ethiopia, I was in Africa.

Ethiopia is the only African country that has never been colonised, and that is what you notice when you are there : European influences are minimal, if not non-existent. It truly is a totally different place. Ethiopians don’t even try to be like Europeans, and that is what I like about them. They are authentic, they are themselves.

Road towards Danakil Depression

We went on a photographic road trip, north as well as south. In a group of 4 plus our local driver. I prefer the north, with its harsh nature, the Danakil Depression -of course- but not just that, I prefer the whole region above Addis. I love its few people, the absence of cars on the roads, the constant flow of people walking alongside the roads, the endless magnificently beautiful landscapes. But most people prefer the south, the Omo Valley with the tribes, which is also the most (and only) touristy place. For me that is just a circus, a show for tourists, where I feel like I am in the zoo shooting people instead of animals. A bull jump is cool to see, but there are more tourists than locals.

boy checking his cellphone(s) during bull jump ceremony

The great thing about driving +4,000km in a country as large and diverse as Ethiopia is, is that you actually see changes as you drive. In nature, we go from an inhospitable but magnificent desert over very fertile terraced agriculture, towards the ‘back in time’ Omo Valley. But there are also 80 ethnic groups, all with their differences. Differences in physical appearance, clothing, in agriculture,…

But one can not go to Ethiopia without visiting the historical sites. Ethiopia is so much more than the Omo valley with its primitive tribes living as if we are 200 years back in time. It’s one of the oldest christian countries (older than Westen Europe), with not just interesting -traditional- worshipping, but also exceptional architecture. Churches carved out of rocks, connected with each other through tunnels, all still in use for daily worshipping. I have never seen anything like it!

Women praying in Lalibela St George Church

And then there is Gondar, which was the Ethiopian Capital from mid 17th to mid 19th C. It is known for its castles, its nick name being ‘Ethiopian Camelot’. It’s a whole complex of castles, build by several emperors and there is even a huge bathing palace! Going there makes you think you are in a fairy tale!

Gondar, bathing house, build by emperor Fasilidas

Of course, Ethiopia is also the traditional ‘African’ markets, the people walking alongside the roads, and then, of course, the children appearing within seconds, out of nowhere, when you stop on an empty road with no houses around it.

Market in Dorzi

It is one of the most beautiful countries, in every single way, but for me it was also the toughest to travel. Distances are vast, roads are going from ok to (very) bad ; driving 5 to 7 hour a day was not unusual, and extremely tiring, trying to remain seated with all the bumps and potholes. Average speed of 40km/h or less is not unusual.

The surreal colours of Dalol. You need to imagine the bad fumes too.

It’s tough because of the altitude, apart from the Danakil Depression (-150m) and the Omo Valley, the whole country is elevated above 2,000m.

It’s tough because of the food, and more particularly, the struggle to remain healthy, and the lack of hygiene.

Still, the balance is more than positive, the beauty and the adventure really makes up for the roughness.

I still have loads of photos to go through, a book to be made, so keep posted to see what’s coming!

PS For more details on my trip, check out my travel blog or watch my gopro video.

FOMO (fear of missing out)


, , , , , , , , , ,

So I made it. I survived the heat wave. Although I must say it was quite bad, or so I read and heard. The Belgian all time heat record has been beaten. It was more then 40C.

But I cheated. I went south, to more ‘normal’ temperatures, even though we also had peaks of 38c, we had lows of 13C.

We have done a bit of an unusual thing, at least for a Belgian. Instead of flying to our holiday destination, or driving straight to it, get there as fast as we can, we took as many detours as we could find, on winding mountain roads, just for the fun of it. Yes, we love driving! For us it is not a way to go from A to B. It’s the sport, the act of driving itself that we love. Our holiday starts as soon as we get into that car. Even though we try to avoid traffic jams, they don’t freak us out as they do to many people.

We did a mere 1000km extra on the most beautiful roads, we drove 5 days instead of the -normal- 13 hours. Driving long distances is something we learned while living in Argentina, and what we learned to love and appreciate. Stopping to visit and see things instead of speeding to be ASAP at the destination is so much more fun! We suffer from FOMO, fear of missing out. Pass by an interesting place without stopping, without finding out what it looks like, imagine!

Mountain roads, mountain passes, hairpin curves, in combination with amazing landscapes, high mountains and grand landscapes, driving uphill and then down again. That’s not what we Flemish, in our ‘plat pays’ (song by Jacques Brel describing our lands), are used to. Our country is flat. Our country is small. And still we think everything is far away. Dinner in Brussels (1h drive)? Too far!


It’s all in the mind!

Grossglockner Panoramic Poad, Goldek Pass, Nockalmstraße in beautiful Austria, have you ever heard these names? And what about the even more spectacular Dolomite Road, Sella pass, Gardena pass and the Santa Maddalena road in Italy? I hadn’t, actually. Mr. Google introduced them to me. Truly amazing and spectacular views! Driving for the fun of driving? Well the Dolomites are definitely my favorite European roads. A place to go back to in other seasons, I guess it’s not for nothing UNESCO world heritage…

5 Days and 2300 km further and my holidays experience is at its height. It has t even started yet, but I’m ready…!

ps all images taken with my phone