Romanian Fame

Romanian Paper, Adevarul - Front Cover

Read the other inside page here

Simon

Bucharest – Romania

On our first day in Romania, we had just eaten some grub at a supermarket and were hanging about outside, finishing off some yummy gooey chocolate doughnuts, when a lady came up to us and said “I’m a journalist – I want to write about you”. So after chasing her car through the busy Black Sea coastal city of Constanta, we arrived at the newspaper HQ where we had an interview followed by lots of photos on the way to our digs, which they had kindly arranged for us. We were greeted by our host and the towns mayor, and given big shots of home made palinko – a strong spirit made from doubly distilled plums – and fed 2 gigantic pizzas, our third meal in as many hours. We arose bright and early in the morning (for once), and with our bags packed with goodies given by our hosts, we rolled off into the crisp early morning air.

A few locals came up to us in Bucharest, saying that they recognised us from the paper, and have since been literally inundated with requests from people to meet or cycle with us, and today at the bike shop we heard we’ve been the hot topic on the Romanian cycling forums. I just hope we can cope with our new found fame!

Leaving Istanbul

Drying Laundry

Fearghal

Bulgaria

Last Thursday we cycled out of a grey and shiny Istanbul. It had been raining heavily, the road was slippery, and we we had wet feet within a few minutes. Leaving Istanbul was hard. We had spent the previous week hanging out with family and girlfriends, it was difficult to drag ourselves away and get moving again, the cold dirty spray from passing trucks did little to help. By nightfall we had failed to escape Istanbul’s urban sprawl and camped on the only dry land we could find, on the fringe of a petrol station forecourt.

Munching on excellent kebabs, and drinking the endless supply of tea plied by the forecourt attendants it began to sink in- we were on the last leg of our cycle. In a few days we’d be in the EU, in three months we’d be home- the adventure would be over. Somewhere in Turkey the world had changed, and it now seemed behind us. Somewhere along the way, possibly the cold and empty desert of Iran, or the icy passes of the Caucasus we had crossed a bridge, had left a dream and were cycling towards an achievement- and now it was time to start thinking about after. But enough of after for the moment.

Silhouette

Technically our last few days in Turkey were also our first in Europe, but in reality they were our last in Asia. Cycling towards Bulgaria I could feel it, the tea, the dancing with arms aloft, and all the fancy trim of the orient ebbing away. Curved crescents giving way to angular crosses, warm and unquestioning hospitality to reservation. Inshallah to cold rationality. All of this had been happening gradually, but there’s nothing like a border to evoke determinate perceptions where in reality blurry lines exist. Sometimes a line in the sand really helps bring things into focus, and the line in the sand between Bulgaria and Turkey was a bold reminder that most of this is adventure is now behind us and now each kilometre brings us closer to the familiar rather than propelling us into unfamiliar worlds.

Located at the nexus of several realms, where Europe, Asia, Arabia meet Turkey begs cliches and handy metaphors. All of them apt. It is a crossroad and a bridge, it is where the Occident and the Orient merge, its kebabs and beer, ordered roads and pragmatic Islam. For us its where the hard yards, the unknown and unusual begin to give way.

Turkey was good to us. The Turks possibly the warmest people I’ve encountered. They are excellent hosts, generous and undemanding, gregarious and outgoing. I’m sorry to have left.

Tea House

Good Company

Tomatina Festival- Before

Fearghal

China-Xi’an

What are you wearing tonight Si?” was not a question that I expected to be asking my expedition partner on a regular basis.
In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever asked another male that question before setting out on a 30,000km circumnavigation of the world by bike. And I probably could have finished my days without ever having prior notification of my mate’s fashion choices. But, at the moment, and for the next year or so, that question is asked any time we stop in a large town or city for some of the comforts of civilisation as, like almost every aspect of our lives right now, our decisions are inextricably linked.

Co-ordination and co-operation are the words that have ruled our lives since leaving Dublin last November. Every decision weighted and considered in light of what the other might want or think.

We have identical wardrobes generously provided by the house of Patagonia, so if we don’t co-ordinate we’ll look like Bill and Ben dressed in matching outfits when we hit the town- same shoes, identical trousers and t-shirt and matching fleeces… nice.

Cycling as a two man team couldn’t be more different than a solo ride. Everything is multiplied by two, every flat tyre and mechanical problem. Bouts of sickness or moody blues are doubled. In many ways travelling by two and having to co-ordinate and co-operate detracts from the “free and easy” bike ride. Then again, having an ‘other’ to share the unique experiences of the world that the road presents means that you will forever have someone to sip whiskey and reminisce with. For no matter how interested friends and families may pretend to be, launching into yet another “This one time, when I was cycling in…” is eventually and inevitably going to produce a glazed eye and far off stare.

The truth is, much like ‘Nam, if you weren’t there man you wouldn’t understand. And having someone there means that there’ll always be someone else who understands. That, in our opinion, is worth a little compromise now and then even if it does mean setting aside any illusions of machismo and asking my expedition partner, “what are you wearing tonight?”

This post was originally featured on the monthly guest slot at Alastair Humphreys.com .  

Vogue

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=1618052&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1

Last week we had a great photo shoot with Con on Bray Head. He was a picture of professionalism, patience and good cheer with his two wooden subjects. 

I don’t think Calvin Klein will be offering myself or Si work any time soon; )

The photos are on the way, and we can’t wait to see them. The video above is a brief teaser.

Also, a big thanks to Marina for maning the B camera and doing some stunt driving on the day. 

 

Travel Writing

Recently, I came third in a travel writing competition run by the UCC Express.

Which was nice.

The published entry is below.

A homecoming of sorts

Fearghal O’Nuallain recalls a surreal and testing cycle trek that led him blindly into the heart of Egypt’s chaotic capital

Arriving in Cairo is an experience for any weary traveler, and arriving after a 150km cycle through the eastern Egyptian desert, we were weary travelers..

Cairo is a sprawling, organised chaos of 20 million people, a bustling, loud and dusty urban oasis surrounded on three sides by desert. It is a place of ancient gods and pharaohs, temples and pyramids for the tourist, a place of business and day-to-day life for its residents.

When approaching from the east, it rises from the desert like a smoggy mirage, its impending arrival heralded by the cement factories and heavy industrial yards found on the outskirts of most big cities.

Our day began at sunrise on the derelict shores of the Gulf of Suez, littered with half-built tourist resorts and eerie relics, causalities of a tourist boom and bust in the eighties.

We finished well after nightfall on the chaotic streets of downtown Cairo. The previous seven days had been spent riding north, from Aswan on the Sudanese frontier, along the lush green and blue banks of the Nile, through the dusty and desolate Eastern Desert, and the blustery Red Sea coast.

To two men from the grey and green, moist landscape of Wicklow, Egypt’s eastern desert is both a beautiful and alien place – painted from palette of khaki and brownish grey, a landscape of smooth sandy plains, framed by jagged basalt peaks.

It is pancake flat and devoid of trees or any other feature that might give a cyclist the impression of progress. In September, a strong dry wind blows from a northwesterly direction, drying mouths, eyes, and skin, and compounding a cyclist’s feeling of inertia.

The desert has no smell except that of heat; the only taste is the soapy plastic of the tepid water from our bottles, and the occasional salty treat precipitated by drying sweat at the corners of the mouth.

The only sounds are the constant buffeting of the warm wind and the descending horn of the odd passing truck. Due to the lack of moisture, movement grates; even rubbing dry fingers together is an uncomfortable feeling, the feeling of abrasive dry skin on skin threatening a faint gag reflex.

We packed and were on the road before the hot sun had time to start baking the naked earth. But a week on the road, cycling in an unfamiliar place during Ramadan, through tough terrain, against a northerly wind that often felt like a hairdryer on the full setting, had taken its toll on our weakened Irish limbs.

The monotony of the desert had left our minds in a tender state. We craved a beer, the Simpsons and familiar colours, the sensual assault of Irish life. We began to be annoyed by the 4am wake up call of the Muezzin, grew tired the ubiquitous dry flat bread and Fuul, the local staple of braised broad beans, which constituted most of our daily meals.

Cairo, we hoped, would satiate at least some of our cravings. Thus, it was with high spirits that we covered the 150km from the small town of Ain Sukhna to the end of the two-laned autostrada, high on the expectancy of the bright lights of a big city.

“A week on the road, cycling in an unfamiliar place during Ramadan, through tough terrain, against a northerly wind that often felt like a hairdryer on the full setting, had taken its toll on our weakened Irish limbs. The monotony of the desert had left our minds in a tender state”

We had imagined that our road would lead us to downtown Cairo; instead we found ourselves on the side of a four-laned ring road. As we had no map of the city, and could not speak or read Arabic we did not know where to go from there.

We stopped at a petrol station to ask directions but as the staff didn’t speak any English the conversation was little more than smiles and gestures. A customer overheard our plight and offered to show us the way. He hopped in his car, and sped off with us in pursuit. I’m sure he did his best to drive slowly but we still had to push hard to keep up, after eight hours in the saddle we were running on empty.

The road was potholed and there were no street lights; both of us had some hairy moments as we tried to keep pace with our well-intentioned stranger and avoid the debris that litter the edge of Egyptian roads.

We never quite got used to the roads in Egypt, where the rules seemed only to apply some of the time. On several occasions we found ourselves overtaking an ass-driven cart laden with sweet smelling fruit or bundles of mint traveling at a snails pace on the hard shoulder, while being overtaken ourselves by a brand new Merc or Hummer attempting to set a new land-speed record. Avoiding tuk tuks driving at top speed on the hard shoulder in the wrong direction was also a daily and somewhat harrowing experience.

We finally emerged from the hectic motorway into the frenetic chaos of downtown old Cairo. The din of a busy road was replaced by the bustle of narrow alleyways filled with busy people. The tinny rasp of scooters and small cars echoed and reverberated off the four-storey buildings.

The smell of cheap diesel, belched from sooty old trucks, replaced by a pot pourri of spicy hookah smoke and strong coffee wafting from cafes, the heavy ripe aroma of pomegranates, and mint pilled high in bunches on venders carts, all dampened by the savoury smells of lamb kebabs cooking on street-side charcoal grills.

We navigated the increasingly clogged and narrow arteries that are the lifeblood of central Cairo with our cumbersome machines. Taxis cut us off, scooter drivers clipped our handlebars and pedestrians loitered in our path.

A donkey, riddled with mange and with protruding hip bones and shoulder blades, dropped a pungent pile of his steaming dung in our path, oblivious to the two lost Irish cyclists. Every stallholder and tout who caught our eye called in our direction to buy their dates/pastries/leather bags, to sit in their restaurant or just tell them our names and where we were going. Passers-by stared at the two unkempt men with brightly coloured spandex on the strange shiny bikes.

When a taxi diver added his beat up Lada to the growing congestion, I asked him directions in my best Arabic, to which he looked at me quizzically. For a moment, it seemed like we were to spend the night wandering through the rabbit hole that it felt like we had just fallen into. It finally dawned on us; why not pay him the price of a fare to act as our guide?

We spent the best part of half an hour chasing the black and white taxi through the streets. Luckily, Cairo seemed to get more congested the closer we got to its centre, so that the Lada could only manage a crawl at best. It is almost as though Cairo is so big that it has its own gravity, which pulls everything to the centre, where space and time is reduced to a viscous mass of bodies and cars and carts and donkeys.

Our hotel told a different story of a Cairo. One of a bygone age, of a time when Cairo was not so big, not so polluted, not congested with people and cars. Hotel Victoria is a somewhat tired, but no less proud, colonial railway hotel that has its best days behind it.

It was a space of calm and order; quite literally a world away from the chaos only metres beyond the door. The green fronds of a potted plant and black and white check of the tiled floor in the lobby felt reassuringly familiar. As we sat on the crisp white sheets of our soft beds, watched a Clint Eastwood movie dubbed in Arabic on a small TV while eating cake and drinking a cold beer, and once we had left the last grains of the desert sand on the floor of the shower, it was beginning  to  feel  like home.

Radio Interview, Anna Livia FM

Caroline from Anna Livia just sent me this recording of a brief  interview I did with her on the Good Morning Dublin show (weekdays from 9-10) before christmas. There was a problem with the scheduling so it was a little rushed. Myself and Si should be on with her again in March, stay tuned. 

 http://sound.youtunes.com/kickapps/flash/media_drop_audio.swf?b=1&widgetHost=sound.youtunes.com&mediaType=AUDIO&mediaId=60872&as=13869