The Support Crew

http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=71649

Simon

Cambridge – England

Over the last 18 months, we’ve passed through many countries and landscapes, slogged up mountain passes and rolled effortlessly along flat open plains. We’ve been frozen to the core, soaked in rain, and soaked in sweat. We’ve had aches and strains, been hungry, thirsty, sick and tired. We’ve and had many trials and many tribulations. But without the support of the people on our route, we would not be where we are now, sitting in Cambridge, with only a short stint left to do until we finish in Greystones.

These people have housed us, fed us, shared their stories and shared their culture. They’ve welcomed us into their homes at a moments notice and shared with us whatever they could, from giving us clean water from their well to cooking up gigantic feasts. They’ve given us a dusty floor of their shed, an entire floor of their home, and their own beds in which to sleep. They’ve made us laugh, made us think, told us tales of joy and tales of sadness. They’ve raised our spirits when we were down, buoying us up with their acts of kindness, and humbling us with their overwhelming generosity. These people, these friends, our wonderful worldwide support crew.

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Another Day, Another Dollar

Fearghal

Sun dips below the horizon, and treats us to another peaches and cream lightshow. In the golden dusk we look for somewhere to pitch our tents and wood for our fire. Light dwindles and camp is set, methodical and automatic, a well rehearsed set of economical movements unthought but precise, like a sodlier cleaning his gun. Blinfolded by dusk, tent poles are clicked together and pegs placed with little attention.

As the twigs and logs crackle and damp socks slowly steam dry, two tired boys watch the sparks trace skywards, past the canopy of branches and out towards a star studded midnight blue sky. The moon is out, glowing full and cool. Little is said as dinner sizzles, after 15months not much needs to be said now, and the silence is golden. Both ponder the day`s sights and highlights, lost in a train of thought trailing 26,000kms eastwards around the globe. 

Increasingly, this ribbon of thought is interrupted with a question… what next? Indeed, what next… what next.

For the moment, we´re just content that for now, we´re two lucky bastards. 

Iranian Host-age

Slick

Fearghal

Since crossing from China into Central Asia the hospitality has been something else. At times it seemed impossible to make contact with a local, ask for directions, or stop for a broken russian/farsi and mime chat without being invited to take tea or a meal at their home. If we had accepted every invite proferred, I think we’d still be crossing Kyrgyzstan.

Iran definitely ranks highest in the hospitality club. The Irani feeling an unquestionable duty to house and feed foriegners- in part due to an acute embaressment of their muppet duo; Khomeini and Ahmadinejad and their government’s tarnishing of Iran’s international image. Sometimes the lengths they went to seemed crazy to a reserved European- handing bags of oranges and nuts to us from passing cars at 30kmph on a three lane round-about for example. Or the guy with the scary eyes who followed us for 5 km, stopping every kilometre and trying to flag us down, scaring the bejaysus out of us in the process, eventually catching us at a tea break, stuffing $5 for lunch into our hand and then screaming off again with wheel spin and gravel shower. Sometimes the spontaneous hospitality was over-bearing though, like the guy in Tabriz who just sidled up to us and announced lets go to my house, then wouldn’t take no for and answer until we had to politely but firmly tell him to piss off we were busy.

Central Asian hospitality is more hands on, spontaneous, and in your face than the European variety, as hosts fulfill their pre-designated duty to their guest. Though, occasionally, it seemed that  ticking the boxes of good host-age seemed more important than actually ensuring that we were content and comfortable. There were times when we wished that we’d camped instead of accepting an offer by an overbearing host who wouldn’t give us space or listen to what we really needed, instead doing his duty as a host and often subjecting us to lengthy impromptu photo shoots when we were wet, cold, hungry, tired, or all of the aforementioned, as neighbours gathered with their camera phones.

Inevitably there were crossed cultural lines at times, and I’m sure that we were bad guests also- particularly the time we were told we could sleep in a mosque, bedded down on what we later learned was the women’s side, and were woken up and kicked out at 5am by a group of irritated men, and wailing women who through the haze of sleepiness seemed like black shrouded chimeras.

I guess, a dutiful host is a lot more laissez faire in the west, though unfortunately, more scarce.

I think we crave space and privacy more, need to be left alone, and perhaps aren’t as good at communicating what we really want.  

Knife to see you

Fearghal

Mashad-Iran

I’m writing this blog with a slight tremble. Adrenaline is still coursing through my system following the incident two hours ago.

At first, I thought about not telling the folks back home, as I didn’t want to cause undue worry. But, after thinking about it a bit, I reckon the catharsis of documenting the “experience” will do me good. I’d like to include the caveat that this could have happened on the streets of Dublin or Cork, or most likely, Limerick- so here goes.

The last few days in Iran have been great, I spent my first night in a Mosque and was brought dinner by a chipper young lad who’s name I can’t recall. Persian rice is possibly the best rice in the world. Last night I was hosted by Ali at his restaurant, he invited me in after I stopped to help him unload his weekly soft drinks delivery. Iran, I thought, was turning out just great.

On the outskirts of Mashad, things took a sinister turn. I was happily waving and saalaming my way into the city when a motorbike with three “youths” with face masks burned past. I noticed them enough to register their passing, then thought nothing of it. A kilometre down the road and they stopped at a stretch of waste ground.

My spidey sense tingled, and I ignored their hand signals to slow down as I passed instead pushing the pedals a little harder. But they gave chase. Similiar to Si I have covered 1400km since my last proper rest, and there was little power left to out run them. They caught me and pulled me off my bike. When I stood up to fight, I’m not much of a fighter but there was no way I was letting all of my worldly possessions be wheeled away without one, or at least an attempt to hold them off until help arrived.

The blood was up, and I started screaming like a mad man. And tried to wrench my pride and joy from six pairs of greasy mits and wrestle myself back onto the road. Then they produced flick knives and I had to let go. One of the little bastards, and I remember this vividly, had a mullet! He made several lunges at me with his knife while the others attempted to get to grips with my bike. Luckily with the trailer loaded its pretty hard to handle so this bought me time. The sight of of two hoodrats manhandling a fully loaded three wheeler would have been funny had the situation not been so serious.

Its amazing how clearly you can think in such a crisis. With mullet head lunging wildly at me with his knife, with a delirious venom in his eyes, and while yelling and grunting like a crazed baboon trying to look as fearsome as instinct allows. I still managed to do a quick inventory of where exactly my dollars, bank cards, and passport were stowed and commended myself for keeping them in my backpack which was on my back.

That said, there was a scary moment when I realised that passing motorists weren’t stopping. And the Mulleted twat’s lunges were becoming more purposive as a result. He was growing braver as he realised my powerless. When one missed my stomach due to a well timed arching of my back I was considering abandoning all of my possessions, my clothes, camping gear, ipod, KTM etc, and legging it. I know a they’re not worth getting stabbed on the roadside in Mashad for, but its easy to say that when some one’s not trying to take everything that you worked for three years to accrue. On an expedition things become more than just things. Everything I have is essential to get me home. And I wasn’t ready to switch to flight mode without good reason.

Just as I thought I and/or my stuff was f%^ked the little knackers legged it. Scarpering like simpering hyenas. Some work men had heard my roars and were throwing rocks at the little c*&ts. They jumped back on their motorbike and sped off empty handed. A kindly guy on a motorbike stopped and called the police but after half an hour the crowd-and my protection was dwindling so I decided to go fearing that I was still on their turf. He invited me to stay at his house, but I just wanted to get as far away from the scene of the crime as I could.

I spent an hour navigating the manic traffic of Mashad. With my adrenal glands still set to medieval battle mode I attacked the traffic chaos with an aggression that was with hindsight un-wise. Finally making it to Atefah’, our host’s palatial apartment on the right side of the tracks by nightfall.

As the shock subsides, and I replay the events in my mind its hard not to be a bit freaked out. Three guys pulled me off my bike and tried to stab me fer fecks sake. Still, I’m trying to make sense of nearly being knifed, and remind myself that this could have happened anywhere and I shouldn’t let it interfere with my experience in Iran.  I don’t want to spend the next 10,000km on edge.

Its important that I don’t let this freak occurrence colour my view of Iran and the world.

Its still a big world out there full of a benevolent 99.9% right?

Our Worlds are Round!

Image: Si on sky bridge in Anhui Province- China

Fearghal

I was cycling along through the desert en route to Hami a few months ago when the kernel of an idea popped into my head. I recorded the following on my dictaphone.

The landscape is a dusty monochrome of khaki brown. Its flat. The sky is high, wrapped around me like an azure dome. I must be below a flight path as the space above is streaked with a cotton wool like trail in wide arc’s.

I’m cycling west and these streaks come from the east behind me, swoop over me and it looks like they are diving off into the distance. Obviously, the airplanes are flying in, what appears to the pilots as a straight line, in the same way that my straight line west would look like an arc to someone 8km below me.

Cycling along on the flat earth in the desert in western china, and the earth’s curvature is staring me in the face. I’m reminded that what seems like a straight line is actually an arc.

Each morning the the sun rises behind me, travels around my left flank then sets before me in an orange blaze.

Its a practical reminder of the nature of our circumnavigation, of how it’s possible for one to travel consistently in one direction, never look or turn back, and eventually arrive back at the precise point where you began.

I’ve been thinking about full circles ever since. Metaphorically the concept opens lots of doors, it reminds me of my favourite quote, a simple line from from the simulcraneaic masterpiece Vanilla sky; “every passing minute is another chance to turn it all around”.

Then it makes me think of the following extract from TS Eliot’s Little Gidding, that I promised myself I wouldn’t post again until we got home:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.

Finally, and rather aptly, it brings me back to the begining, to the very conception of this little project of ours, when
Si,Paul and I spent months sweating on our branding, logo, and concept. And eventually decided that Revolution best captured our feelings about the circumnavigation:

rev-o-lu-tion

a drastic and far-reaching change in ways of thinking and behaving;

a single complete turn(axial or orbital)

As you can probably tell, I like the idea that the world is round, things are cyclical, and that at some point the last will be first. And given that the world has been through 365 revolutions and 1 full wobble since we left Greystones this time last year, I’ve been thinking of full circles quite a bit of late.

Thoughts about travel on a train

Dawn view from Tent

Fearghal

These are thoughts from my diary entry written in the early morning on the train from Shanghai to Lanzhou. If you find them a bit deep and rambling, they are published verbatim without being edited as a blog post, don’t worry normal service will resume soon : ) If you haven’t read this blog for a while find out why I was returning from Dublin here.

I studied French for one year at college. I made the mistake of choosing advanced French, relishing the challenge of biting off more than  I could chew after 7 years in the intellectual doldrums working in the food an wine industry. Unfortunately, it was a bridge too far and despite my extensive culinary and viniferous lexicon I was befuddled by the high demands for appropriate syntax and Grammar, regularly scoring zeros in the weekly verb tests, confounded by past anterior, pluperfect, and future conditional. That summer I was relieved to discover I was dyslexic, rather than retarded, and decided that perhaps languages weren’t my forte, so moved on to academic pastures new. 

That year wasn’t a total waste, aside from the dry mechanics of the language I learned alot about french culture and Philosophy. I also got a kick out of learning new words for familiar feelings and occurrences. The french seem to have specific words for the oddest of things, and with an outsiders perspective learning a new word, illuminates the familiar.

One word that sticks in my mind is dépaysement which I think literally translated means de-countrified- although given the opening paragraph I’ll be forgiven for not being 100% certain- ant franco phonistes reading feel free to correct.

Still the sentiment of this piece still holds true if it doesn’t so please, read on. In English it roughly means culture shock. To me it suggests the feeling of having the cultural rug pulled from under you, to be spat into a new milieu, and assaulted with unfamiliar visual, aural, oral and olfactory sensations.

Modern travel is great at delivering a grand dose of dépaysement, with metal tubes either airborne, mounted on rails, or following roads, sucking you up in one part of the world, holding you in a static environment where temperature and light and surfaces are constant, then spitting you out in a different place in no time at all. It can be a place with a different climate, landscape and culture. And the journey, with its sudden jarring from start place to end, with no gradation, does little to prepare for the change. Thus you are, until you adjust your thinking- until you tell your mind and body not to expect the sensations from the place where you came, and that the sensations of where you are now are normal- in a liminal place-less place- shocked from the new and strange, decountrified briefly.

Cycling with its gradual slow pace, and intimate contact with the between bits from start to end place doesn’t deliver such drastic shocks, nor serve up a shocking de-countrified experience. On the contrary, moving at the speed of life in constant contact with the worlds you pass through, the cyclist can often miss big changes, coming as they do in gradation.

So, here i find myself on a high speed train heading to central China from the coast. yesterday i was in Shanghai 2,000km South East, the day before Dublin. It took me ten months to cycle this far on bicycle. Two days by  modern  transport. When I arrived in Lanzhou the first time, I complained about the homogeneity of China of its unchanging, dull landscape. However, travelling by train at 150km an hour, I can see it changing rapidly outside my window. I notice the landscape morphology and its natural form change dramatically.

The tight texture of Shanghai, compact newly built grey apartments and factories, highways and power lines, gave way to dense humid pastoral lands, thickly foliaged with peach trees, and rice paddies. then Night fell. In the morning I woke to steep, sharply walled granite river valleys with clear rushing streams and polished rocks. Then the plains around Xi’an rolled past, open and vast planted with corn an rice. Mountains then loomed, grass covered hills at first, then grass covered towering mountains ,then sandy terraces covering crumbling hillsides, with muddy wide rivers flowing slowly in at their bases.

It strikes me that I haven’t been paying attention, in my career as a cyclist I have not been following due diligence. Its not like I have much else to do, cycle and look around, in my working day. I didn’t notice things spreading out as distances between towns stretched and the country side became less populated. Well, its not that i didn’t notice, more that I wasn’t excited by it, it didn’t make me purr like it did originally or its doing now.

So, how does one travel slowly and still and retain the ability to be de-countrified? In today’s world of on demand and short attention span, is it possible to stay bewitched for long? Is it possible to retain the fascination with the strange and new, or am I culturally programmed to need constant spectical and stimulus to stay amused and interested?

 

This Post was scheduled before we entered XinJiang Province. Find out why here

Stand By Me

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=2539741&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=00ADEF&fullscreen=1

This cover of Stand By Me was recorded by completely unknown artists in a street virtual studio all around the world. It all started with a base track—vocals and guitar—recorded on the streets of Santa Monica, California, by a street musician called Roger Ridley. The base track was then taken to New Orleans, Louisiana, where Grandpa Elliott—a blind singer from the French Quarter—added vocals and harmonica while listening to Ridley’s base track on headphones. In the same city, Washboard Chaz’s added some metal percussion to it.

And from there, it just gets rock ‘n’ rolling bananas: The producers took the resulting mix all through Europe, Africa, and South America, adding new tracks with multiple instruments and vocals that were assembled in the final version you are seeing in this video. All done with a simple laptop and some microphones.

Check out the Playing for Change website for more info