It might sound obvious, but you must listen to Part 1 before you listen to Part 2. It’s the previous post, below.
Sit down with a cup of tea or a glass of wine for 45 minutes and listen to my talk at the Bike Shed. It was a busy day there with people coming and going so you will hear a few interruptions and background noises.
Part 2 follows separately.
And suddenly it is over. I arrived back in London on 20th. August 2018, after leaving on 1st April 2017.
It has been the most incredible journey. Not about the numbers, but here they are anyway:
506 days away
39, 000 miles / 60, 800 Kilometres
There is to be a celebration at The Bike Shed, 384, Old St, London, EC1V 9LT. I'll start with a speech at 12 noon on 23rd. September 2018, and probably won't stop talking all afternoon !
You can enjoy a drink or two, and a meal there. http://thebikeshed.cc
The customs entry process was the easiest imaginable for me and my bike. The people were so welcoming, and almost spoke the same language as me. So much seemed to be American and British in equal measure. Not to mention very French too, even on the west coast.
Vancouver was warm, familiar, and successful. I liked the combination.
I rode north, following the coast for a while, before swinging inland and up the Rockies. The roads were perfect; a welcome change after 5 months in South America. The scenery was gorgeous, the sun was shining, and there were bikes everywhere loving being ridden.
After a couple of days I hit Dawson Creek, the start of the Alaska Highway. This incredible road begs to be ridden. It’s 1700 mile length was constructed in just 8 months in the summer of 1942 to secure a road supply route for US military needs after Pearl Harbour. It has now been straightened in places and shortened to about 1380 miles. I only planned to ride it to the Alaska border as I still did not have permission to enter the USA.
There are so many twists and turns, following the contours of beautiful scenery, and creating a few of their own. Rising and lowering past lakes, rivers, and thick forests, this vast wilderness teems with wildlife. I saw several bear cubs but no big grizzlies, moose, caribou, elk, bighorn sheep and herds of bison.
Stopping for a photo at the very touristy looking “Welcome to Alaska” sign, I decided to chance my luck and ride on a further mile to the border post. The grey, square block, with a barrier, cameras and people working inside wearing Custom and Border Protection uniforms, looked very much like the border to me. After explaining my plight and asking for permission to enter just for 10 minutes to put a smile on my face, I quickly realised my mistake. The sign at the bottom of the hill was in fact the border, and the grey block at the top of the hill was in fact wholly inside the United States. I had some explaining to do! The conversation that followed quickly changed tone, and several references were now being made to me being an “undocumented alien”. My simple request to have the smile put back on my face, had backfired. I had some serious grovelling to do.
A number of proposals were made to me to recover the situation. I accepted the simplest one, and the one which I trust will not be recorded against me for a future entry consideration. However, I rode back down the hill and when out of sight gave out a series of whoops and hollers as I realised that, yes, if only for one hour, I had got into the United States!
I have had the very great pleasure of riding through so many magnificent landscapes on my ‘round the world journey, but I have now settled on one quite short route that I have appreciated the most. It is Highway 93, running from just north of Jasper, through Lake Louise, and south to Banff. All in Alberta, it appears to run in a straight line but follows the twists and turns of the Bow river as it carves its way through through the beautiful Canadian Rockies. The terrain is mountainous, with numerous glaciers and ice fields, dense coniferous forests and alpine shrubs. The road is generously wide and gloriously rewarding. Numerous view points, trail heads, turnouts and picnic opportunities make this feel well managed but still magnificently wild.
I’ve taken a month to reflect on this, but now think that the biggest disappointment of the whole trip is not being able to get into the USA. The reason, although still not confirmed to me, is that I rode through Iran in 2017.
The US State Department, via its Consulate in Lima, Peru, wasted 50 days of my life whilst I was sat in a hotel bedroom, going steadily more insane by the day. In the end I decided that I could not wait any longer, and left. To the date of this post, it has been 85 days since I was interviewed there, but I still have no answer.
My interview was in fact a shouting match with a disinterested official behind a bullet proof screen. It was followed by the receipt of a further round of questions covering my life, work, travel and personal history for the last 15 years. I have nothing to hide and was happy to answer the questions immediately. Then the wait started.
I have been using the visa waiver system since I first went to the USA in 1986. I have visited almost 40 times since. However, for the first time ever, I was deemed “not authorised for travel”.
I wrote every week to the Consulate. I tried to be respectful and humble. I tried to be pathetic and desperate. I tried to be slightly grumpy and impatient. I even tried humour. But every time I just received a stock reply. “The process cannot be expedited”. “We advise applicants to apply well in advance”. When their timescale moved from “can take up to 60 days”, to “can take several months”, I quit.
No-one showed me the slightest personal consideration. The fact that I had visited the USA close to 40 times in my lifetime seems not to have been a consideration. I explained that I had visited for business and pleasure, and that my company, in its better years, bought a million dollars worth of US goods every year. I pleaded that I had been nothing but a friend of America all my adult life. I love America.
The Iran leg of my journey was a fabulous experience. One that I will never forget, or regret. A condition of my visa was that I had to be accompanied by an official guide at all times. He took me to a number of fascinating cultural sites, whilst traversing the country from north to south in just 7 days, and deposited me at my exit port as arranged.
I have every respect for any country’s right to patrol its border as it wishes, but I struggle to see why it is taking so long to make a decision about me. I struggle to see why the USA should have the slightest concern about me.
I’m still counting the days …..
So, I have flown my bike over USA into Canada, and feel very welcome here.
“Down with USA”, as the posters state in Tehran.
Before the awful civil war broke out I travelled through Syria, and Lebanon, many years ago. It was a fabulous trip, full of discovery about the ancient civilisation and culture in the region, and lead by a well trained Syrian guide. He spoke good English. We travelled over the eastern mountain range, past the ancient cedar forests, and into the Bekaa Valley. The vegetation changed sharply, with arid hill-sides giving way to the lush valley below. Our guide described this as a “fertility bottom”. We resisted a snigger as we all knew what he meant. From that moment onwards, every fertile valley floor has been a “fertility bottom” to me.
There are many in the Andes of Ecuador and Colombia, and they all appear as important for sustaining local populations as any I have seen. They vary in size. Some are little more than a plot with vegetables and a goat. Larger ones have a variety of vegetables and fruit, and several goats. Some are terraced, and some are naturally flat valley floors. Others are mature, well cultivated, and commercialised. They not only sustain local populations, but provide employment and profit. However, they are all still fertility bottoms.
Riding northwards through the near desert-like landscape of coastal Peru, the road starts to run diagonally inland and rises towards the Andes in Ecuador. Large tracts of fertile planes have been maximised for their potential. I rode for at least 100 miles with nothing but banana plantations on either side of the road. They eventually gave way to sugar cane plantations, pineapple production including canning, as well as passion fruit, papaya and other exotics.
Crossing into Colombia, and at higher altitudes, the coffee bean is king. The bushes seem to cling to every richly-soiled hillside, without needing a fertility bottom.
Peru is possibly the most geographically and culturally diverse country in South America despite having the same 16th Century Spanish or Portuguese influences that were so pivotal to the development of the rest of the continent.
The Inca Empire was undoubtably the most successful of its kind, benefiting from strong leadership, good political and administrative structure, as well as accumulated wealth. Many modern-day Peruvians are descended from tribes of the pre-colonial era, but almost as many are of European or Asian descent.
When I am on the bike, bigger than anybody else’s in Peru, I would never expect to blend in with the locals. But strolling around Lima I thought there might be a chance of me being thought of as one of the European descendants. Alas not; I was offered all the usual services that single ‘gringo’ tourists are offered, sex and drugs included. The beggars seemed to pick me out with ease too. One even managed to steal my phone.
Combine these cultures with wide biodiversity and food production, add a few overseas influences, culinary trade fairs and cooking competitions, and it is easy to understand why Peru's cities now have a thriving food scene.
Peru’s jewel for tourists is undoubtably Machu Picchu. The Inca citadel was engulfed by jungle until it was re-discovered by American historian Hiram Bingham in 1911. It was probably built over 500 years ago, and, unlike so many other Peruvian buildings, it has withstood numerous earthquakes. The large stones were cut and worn to a smooth finish before being inserted next to an adjacent stone, fitting absolutely perfectly together without any mortar. Many are not square or rectangular but have multiple corners slotting together. This prevents the walls from falling down! The craftsmanship is remarkable.
With no written records historians are still trying to establish exactly why Machu Picchu was built, how it was used, and why it was abandoned. It would appear that the majority of inhabitants, approximately 1000, were women and children, and a few male priests. Some think that the citadel existed to protect the children and help ensure future generations. Many of the bones found on site indicate that Smallpox ravaged the inhabitants. Others think there must have been fighting men there too, but that none of them returned from battle. Even so, there is no evidence that that the Spanish conquistadors found Machu Picchu.
The Spanish conquered the Inca capital Cusco, about 80 kilometres up the Urubamba river from Machu Picchu, destroyed much of it, and rebuilt it in their style. The historic centre is truly reminiscent of that period.
Ollantaytambo, Sacsayhuaman, Pisac and Moray, all near to Cusco, are well worth a visit. If you have not been, put them all on your bucket list.
I rode in to Peru in the extreme south-east, arriving first at Lake Titicaca. The Bolivian border runs through it, high up on an Andean plateau at 3,812 metres. It claims to be the “highest navigable lake in the world”. I wondered why.
There are higher lakes in the world, and there are boats on them. However, Lake Titicaca has a commercial vessel, making journeys with goods and people around the lake, and across between Peru and Bolivia. The 79m. / 260 ft. long SS Ollanta is no longer in scheduled service, but Peru Rail has a similar sized barge which carries trains across.
The Uros tribe, possibly originating from Brazil, arrived on the banks of Lake Titicaca some time ago and were promptly attacked by other tribes who didn’t want to lose their land. Ingeniously the Uros discovered that they could build ‘floating islands’ from the ubiquitous reeds around the shallows of the lake, and sought sanctuary off shore. They flourished on fish and ducks. Yummy.
[ Click on the image above to see more ]
The Uros now make a good living from tourism. The Tortora reed root systems can be cut into manageable blocks and tied together. They float well and are good for about 40 years. The islands today vary in size but about 50m. x 50m. is common. Fresh cut reeds are laid on top to form a comfortable and level surface which drains well. Small huts are built from dried Tortora reeds. They look quite cosy inside. There are over 100 islands on the lake.
Peru is not only about cultural sites; there are Llamas too. Stuffed toys, full size models, brass or wooden ones, and paintings. They are anywhere and everywhere that a tourist might decide that is the time they want to buy a souvenir.
The cute, fluffy, live ones, with their inquisitive faces, are always out chewing grass somewhere.
In Erich von Däniken’s book ‘Chariots of the Gods’ he claims that the Nazca Lines are some sort of instructions from extraterrestrial beings - airfields for their spaceships. I don’t know why more scientists have not castigated him for the suggestion. I am not a scientist, but I think his suggestion is ludicrous, though his skills as an author and book salesman are considerable.
The lines in the Nazca desert in south Peru, were created by indigenous populations between 500BC and 500AD. They were created for cultural and religious purposes. Mostly messages to their gods. They are many straight lines, and the shapes of about 70 animals, trees and flowers. The animals include huge outlines of a monkey, hummingbird and fish. They don’t have to be viewed from space. The hills nearby will do, or the scaffold tower that I climbed. I saw a ‘tree’. (upside-down)
As soon as I arrived in Lima, the capital, I submitted an application to the U.S. Consulate for a full visa. The usual visa waiver application online had been denied to me with no explanation. I presumed, and had it later confirmed, that it was because I rode through Iran in 2017. The visa application process involved filling in a larger form online, an interview of sorts at the Consulate, and answering more detailed questions about my life a week later. All quite straight forward. I have nothing to hide and fully respect that every country has the right to protect its border in any way it sees fit. I sometimes wish my country was more rigorous. I had crossed many borders on my journey up to this point, following the rules politely, and was happy to answer all the questions that had been asked of me.
It was made clear from the start that the process can take up to 60 days. I did not want to believe this as I considered my situation to be quite straight forward. I have been a regular visitor and friend of the US for most of my adult life. Why wouldn’t they just wave me through promptly? I wrote weekly emails to them, seeking sympathy for the fact that I was not a Peru resident and was simply waiting in my hotel bedroom, staring at the ceiling, day after day, just waiting to hear from them. Each time I received a dispassionate reply telling me the process cannot be ‘expedited’. The last email referred to the possibility of the process now taking ‘several months’.
After 7 weeks of this I decided that I had waited long enough. I had lost too much time, and wasted too much money on accommodation and food. I left Lima and rode north.
Towards the end of my wait I treated myself to a long weekend on the Amazon: not the roof of an e-commerce business, but the river. The Amazon River basin starts on the east side of Peru, and towards the north at Iquitos it is already huge. The river, animals and birds, as well as the fauna, were all remarkable. Hot, wet and sweaty: this was truly a jungle. The riverside lodge, and guide, allowed me to go deep into the thick of it with a machete in hand. There were many highlights for me, but the memory of fishing for a Piranha, catching one and eating it for lunch will stay with me forever. Very tasty in fact!
The ride running north from Nazca and parallel to the coast is a bit dull and dusty in to Lima. The ride after Lima north again to the Ecuador border was not a whole lot more interesting either, despite being imaginatively named the "Pan American Highway".
I am proud to say I have now visited ALL of the New 7 Wonders of the World in my lifetime; 5 on this trip.
Before I list them in order of my preference I need to explain that this new list is not necessarily as definite as one might think. In fact, it is controversial. The only survivor from the Ancient 7 Wonders of the World list, compiled over 2000 years ago, is the Great Pyramid. Egyptian authorities objected to its inclusion in a vote. It was subsequently withdrawn and given “Honorary Wonder” status. So, the list of 7 is now a list of 8.
The vote was the brainchild of a Swiss marketing organisation who claim to be a ‘not for profit’ operation. However, it is clear that a good deal of money changed hands, as countries competed with each other to be included.
The organisation claimed that this was the largest poll in history with over 100 millions votes cast.
Several countries had celebrities, media and government departments engaged to energise people to vote. Via the internet, each person was only allowed one vote. However, by telephone, there was no restriction on the number of times people could vote. Telephone companies in Rio de Janeiro not only allowed the phone call to made free of charge, but sent texts to their customers advising them to ‘vote now for free’.
The new list is not recognised by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) who make it clear that all sites on their World Heritage List have equal importance.
1. Taj Mahal, India
The most exquisite building I have ever seen.
Emotions tug in every direction. The setting, design, craftsmanship, materials and purpose are all perfect.
Built for love.
2. Machu Picchu, Peru
The remote Inca citadel, lost to the jungle for centuries, fascinates all for its location, construction, purpose and atmosphere. Magical.
3. Petra, Jordan
The Nabatean ‘Rose City’ trading hub features rock-cut architecture, water conduit systems, and a long entrance gorge called the Siq. All remarkable.
4. The Colosseum, Rome, Italy
The iconic Roman ‘sports’ stadium and entertainment complex impresses by its scale as well as gladiatorial atmosphere.
5. Great Wall of China, China
The largest structure on the list, and famously visible from space. Its a very big wall.
6. Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The youngest on the list is already a cultural icon, looking down on Rio with a slightly bowed head and arms outstretched. Beguiling.
7. Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico
At the centre of the Mayan city, the Castillo temple demonstrates their understanding of astronomy.
Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt
Immense pyramid from around 2560BC. It was the world’s largest man-made structure for over 3,800 years. Wow!
If I had my way I would put the pyramids in at number 2, and bump Chichen Itza off the list.
I would also add Angkor Wat, Cambodia, and lose Christ the Redeemer. But I didn't vote so I can't do that.
I have come to a conclusion, and have found the courage to share it with you.
I AM NOT RELIGIOUS.
I use the word courage because I realise that some people will be upset with me. I do not wish to upset you or anybody else who is religious, but I think it is time I admitted it to myself. In fact I came to this conclusion about 6 months ago.
May I start at the beginning? At school I sat in classes listening to stories of so-called miracles performed in The Bible. Even at a tender young age I wondered how most of them could possibly be true. The scientist in me is not strong but even so I could explain most of the stories to myself, and dismissed the remainder as fiction. I could not understand why so many stories included reference to sheltering in a cave. Growing up in southern England where there really are no caves at all, only added to my scepticism. Much later in life, during a trip to the Holy Land, I noticed that there were in fact a lot of caves there. Very convenient, but the damage was done by then. Also on that trip I went to Nazareth. I visited the site of Joseph and Mary’s house. Looking down through a hole in the ground all one could see was a table. Immediately I imagined the ‘angel’ Gabriel visiting Mary over the kitchen table. Sorry!
I could never take the burning bush story seriously either. On another trip I visited the site where this story was supposed to have taken place. There was indeed a bush there. But a few metres away, in the corner of a yard, was a fire extinguisher. Presumably there just in case the bush bursts into flames again.
Nevertheless I was raised as an Anglican Christian, and happy enough to go along with all the ceremonies and cultural requirements associated with it. In 1970s England I was not taught a thing about any other religion, even Catholicism.
Somehow, since then, the UK has become a secular state - officially neutral in matters of religion - though I cannot find anyone who can tell me when that changed. We fought wars in the name of Anglicanism, over hundreds of years. I am sure that it is a much better idea to be neutral now and allow anyone to practice their own choice of religion as they see fit.
I was Christened in a church, and married in a church, but never quite got to grips with idea of God. I think I have now concluded that’s the point. God is just an idea.
About 6 months ago, well in to my journey around the world, I came across a notice which changed me. In itself it does not amount to much, but I think I must have been near tipping point. I was in Bali, strolling around the sights with an open mind, trying to absorb cultures and customs. I climbed up a few steps and almost fell back down them. A large notice advised tourists how to behave in the Hindu temple I was about to visit. The first 3 instructions were about dress. The 4th told me that menstruating women were not allowed to enter. I had never seen an instruction like it. It must have been written by men. Up until that moment I had enjoyed learning about Hinduism, especially during my time in India. I had tried to get to understand the role of some of the Gods (there are far too many for me to learn them all). I had tried to understand, and appreciate, the role of Hinduism in communities. I could well see why so many hundreds of millions of Hindus pray to their Gods every day and ask for their help. So many of them need it. I enjoyed what seemed like as many women as men getting involved. But now, to see that women cannot enter their temple when they are menstruating, made me angry. It is not my religion, but I find it intolerable.
I have since then learnt that the same rule is applied against Muslim women entering a Mosque.
The menstrual cycle is essential for reproduction, and the future of the world. It is anything but ‘unclean’. Men!
Religion causes death.
They say that the mosquito is the number one killer in the world, but I think it might be religion.
Just look at how many wars have been fought over religion. Christians against Pagans. Christians against themselves. Muslims against Christians. Muslims against themselves. Almost everyone against Jews. Hindus against Muslims. The list goes on, and possibly accounts for hundreds of millions of deaths over thousands of years, all in the name of religion. I am saddened to think though that most of this has very little to do with religion itself. Individual leaders, with power and politics dominating their agendas, have formed armies of people, and bullied them into killing each other, in the name of religion. My God is better than yours, seems to be a common theme.
My ‘God”, I have concluded, is inside me. But I prefer to think of it as ‘Love’. I like many of the Ten Commandments and the moral guidance that they give, but think that love is enough for me to want to follow them. I will not murder. I will not steal. I will not commit adultery. I will love my neighbour. I will honour my mother and father. Of course when Moses picked up the list there were no laws, police officers or courts, so a set of rules to follow was important. Especially as he had been leading people around the Sinai for so long, not knowing where he was going. I can well imagine that they were getting unruly.
Love not war, please.
I am still learning a great deal from the world as I continue to travel through it. I am disappointed to conclude at this stage that I am not religious, as I can clearly see that religion brings so much pleasure to so many people wherever I go. But I dearly wish that religious love was in the heart and stayed there. There are far too many things that religions oblige you to do that seem to have no other purpose than to separate people. We have so much in common with each other. Separating religions with details like dress, behaviour, idolatry, rituals, and mis-translated ancient scripts adds unnecessary complications for the world.
As soon as I entered Bolivia, I wanted to leave it.
Border crossings are not one of my favourite places, with diesel trucks belching their way past scruffy buildings, and stressed motorcyclists wondering what the procedure is. Brazil into Bolivia was no different except that, after dodging cavernous potholes in no-man’s land, there was no one at the Bolivia frontier. An abandoned building appeared to be where I should present myself with documents, but it looked like a scene from a disaster movie. Eventually a man in fatigues appeared behind me, and ushered me to move on. So I entered Bolivia without a stamp in my passport and with no record for my bike. No one knew I was here. Despite numerous police check-points where I showed my UK documents, and never paid the bribe they blatantly solicited, I was allowed to continue. In due course, I left the country explaining what had not happened on entry. A customs manager whispered to me “We know we have problems in the east, there is no money”.
The lack of money in the east of the country is evident. The only activity I saw was subsistence farming. There were no hotels for me, so, just before dusk, I slipped in to a Hacienda. At least I think that is what it was. There was no sign, just a solitary chicken roasting on a barbecue spit at the entrance. For a room with air conditioning I paid £12. It had half a bathroom: toilet with seat, shower head either on or off, but the basin was outside guarded by wild dogs. The tasteless chicken meal cost £0.90. I later stayed in a room for £4. No A/C, and not much in the way of curtains either. I was always grateful for their big smiles though.
The road quality was adequate up to Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s largest city. I changed from Ruta No. 4 to Ruta No. 7. at that point as it ran more directly towards La Paz. Big mistake! The only hotel in sight that night was a huge 5 star eco jungle resort. I checked in to realise I was only resident in the entire place. A very strange feeling. A few hours down the road the following day I had to stop at a road block. Apparently quite common in Bolivia. Local residents wanted to draw attention to the fact they had a school but no funding for a teacher. After 4 hours we were all allowed through. Then things got worse. The broken road disappeared into roadworks. The unpaved surface gave way to gravel, sand, mud and eventually deep soft shingle. The Rocket could not go any further. I had to turn back.
24 hours later the broken surface on Ruta No.4 disappeared again and I was left making slow and terrifying progress bouncing violently on what was left. I made it as far as another big city, Cochabamba, and realised that two of the four bolts holding my luggage set in place, had snapped. The panniers, melting slightly, were resting on the exhausts. A very conveniently located hotel allowed me in tho their drive and I managed to fit new bolts. They were very kind people. I stayed the night.
The prospect of good roads the following day, as I was due to reach the capital, La Paz, energised me. But oh no. Half way there, with 100 kilometres still to go, the road disappeared into a full scale road reconstruction project. Both sides at the same time. I made it, but exhausted. The Rocket is made for tarmac.
The process of buying fuel in Bolivia was a struggle for me to understand. Only about 1 in 3 fuel stations is allowed to sell fuel to vehicles with foreign license plates. Every customer has to have their plate recorded but I needed a little drop-down box on their computer system to enter my country. Occasionally they got round this limitation and sold me fuel, but more often refused me. There is no way of telling in advance whether they have the ‘system’ for foreigners until you have pulled in and stopped. When it all worked I was charged 2 1/2 times the price of locals. At first I thought I was being cheated, but eventually accepted this was their way of collecting a tax from foreign visitors for using their roads. Fair enough, but I hope the money actually reaches the government.
Eventually reaching La Paz at 3,650 metres above sea level was a welcome relief. It is not far from the Peru border and I was assured the road quality was good.
I regret I could not find anything of interest in Bolivia, and nothing positive to say about it. It is a poor country, with only tin, agriculture and textiles to support net earnings. The people were kind enough. No one stole from me; at least I don’t think they did. I did not visit the Uyuni slat flats which was my intention, as the roads were so bad. They might have been interesting, but there again, they’re just flat and salty.
Just the name of the country alone conjures up so many emotions for me. Passions like football, jungle, rainforests, huge rivers, the samba, and beautiful women.
After crossing the border from Argentina I started to look for a hotel or motel for the night. However, I was puzzled by the exterior design of the motels along the main roads. They had high walls all the way around. There were no windows, and only and in or out sign above high gates. Then I started to notice names such as “Love Motel”, “Motel Intimiso” and neon love hearts beside the name. Only then did I decide that these were not for me. It turns out these are places where couples go to have sex. You drive straight in to a lockable garage before anyone recognises you, apparently. You can rent by the hour, a luxury suite or a cheap room, and even have a meal delivered. Having sex makes you hungry, of course. Condoms are provided, by law. They are not just for illicit liaisons, but most clients are in a long term relationship, or even married. Extended Brazilian families tend to live together, so these motels are a great place to be on your own for a while and make a bit of noise. I chose more recognisable hotels I assure you!
Brazil is so huge, and full of jungle that I pre-decided to head for Rio de Janeiro, then turn west back across the Andes in to Peru. Heading towards the urban sprawl of Sau Paulo, just after lunch, something broke inside my bike. Struggling with shock and disappointment that my previously unbreakable Triumph Rocket was only human after all, I kept going. Selecting a gear now required several attempts by hitting the lever and hoping to find a sweet spot for it to engage the next gear. It was rideable, but with a sickening crunch on most occasions. My plan for dealing with breakdowns or a puncture had always been to stop and phone for help. Triumph have an amazing network of dealers in most countries. Luckily for me they have their own company in Brazil, with an assembly plant and a good service network. There is a big dealer in Sau Paulo and another in Rio. I decided to risk reaching Rio, selfishly because I would rather be delayed there rather than in Sau Paulo, which seemed to have little to offer a tourist. The gamble paid off, and Triumph Rio Barra served me well. I was in Rio for 11 days altogether, over Easter 2018, waiting for a part to arrive. A spring! Yes, after coming all this way, it was just a spring that had broken inside my gearbox.
It is a beautiful and fascinating city, full of wonderful people, who never miss an opportunity to stop what they are doing a have a chat. They call themselves “Cariocas”. A friend bought me a book on how to be one. I learnt the ritual of behaviour on a beach. Rio has dozens of great beaches, all fully integrated with the city. I stayed on Copacabana.
The colossal granite monoliths characterise the city and shape its districts. Between them all life exists: luxury apartments, simpler blocks, shopping malls, a plethora of independent shops, cafes, restaurants and bars called Boteco. Every Carioca has their own Boteco where they are all known by name. Stopping to dance to the rhythm of the batucada there is also a ritual for them.
Rio’s world famous Christ the Redeemer statue thoroughly deserves it’s place on the list of the Seven New Wonders of the World. The design is captivating with its evocative expression and poise. It took a dozen years to build as it is perched 700 metres above the city on the vertiginous Corcovado mountain.
There’s a great view from Corcovado, but my favourite was looking back at the city from Sugar Loaf Mountain. Sugar Loaf is named after its similarity to the shape of the block of refined sugar cane before it was loaded on to ships bound for Portugal in the 16th Century.
My passion for the ‘glorious game’, football, hit an exciting high in Rio. I went to the Maracana stadium and watched two of Rio’s four first division teams play. It was one of the semi-finals of the Carioca Cup. Vasco de Gama beat Fluminense 3 - 2, with the winner being scored in the 97th. minute. Thank you. Although there are team ‘ends’, opposing supporters sit happily enough with each other, if they want to. Everyone hugs each other at the final whistle.
I can’t end without telling you about Rio’s reputation for being a little unsafe. I heeded warnings about venturing too far alone at night; good advice for any city I think. The poor and homeless are evident on the streets, but never looked like they wanted to harm me. The famous ‘Favelas’ are self-built homes in the steep valleys of the granite mountains. You get great views of the city from up there - I paid a high price for a view like that in London! Most favelas now have local government support with roads, electricity water and drainage now provided. Lawless no-go areas are diminishing. There was one just behind my hotel. I only heard gunfire from there twice and was told the shots were just for fun. I bet they tell all the tourists that!
There are only two ways to solve every little problem that arises when travelling solo. One, is to solve it for yourself. Two, is to benefit from the kindness of others.
When my bike was crated and sent by air from Sydney to Santiago, the front tyre had to be deflated to allow the bike to be squeezed in to the box, and the tank had to be drained leaving less than a litre of fuel. Riding away from the air freight company’s warehouse, where there was no tyre inflater available, of course, frankly terrified me as I rode almost 5 miles along a busy motorway to the first fuel station. Crawling and wobbling along in second gear consumed the remaining fuel in no time at all. I ran out of fuel, and luck. So I walked to the fuel station only to discover that they did not sell fuel cans. A forecourt assistant kindly dug a plastic bottle out of somewhere. So after a walk back to the bike, that was that problem solved. However, I then discovered that the tyre inflater at the garage was not working. Problem two was solved by a truck driver who stopped and attached an air line hose to his compressor. He even had a gauge to verify the pressure I needed.
I settled in to Santiago life for a few days. As I was later to discover throughout South America, it has a typical mix of 16th. and 17th. Century Spanish colonial architecture and culture, together with a vibrant modern buzz. Dictatorships, and a military coup have given way to democracy now, and most people seem content with that. One opinion offered to me was that there was little to choose between the political parties; a view I think could apply to almost every democracy!
It was not until I got to Chile that I looked at a map of it separately from the continent. It is very long and thin, ranging from the Atacama desert towards the north, to mountains, fjords and glaciers in the south. I headed south. Five days later, riding 8 to 10 hours per day, I reached my goal. The Perito Moreno glacier. In fact I had swung over the Andes to Argentina by then.
This monster of a glacier slides gracefully down the southern tip of the Andes and tumbles in to a cloudy blue lake. As it does so, chunks fall off. A crack like gunfire, followed by rumbling, splashing, gurgling and yelps from tourists like me, tingled my spine. It’s a truly awesome sight and experience; one I had only hoped to see if I was lucky. It transpires that this happens several times a day throughout the summer months. Global warming is not to blame. It has been happening like this for millennia. Summer temperatures are always above freezing, and the lake surface is only 180 metres above sea level. It ends its glacial life with inevitability at this point.
The further south I rode in Patagonia, the flatter the landscape became. The trees became shorter, the bushes became spinier, and the grasses became coarser. Llamas are the most common animal, hopping gracefully over the sheep fences to reach tastier grass . I amused myself by noticing the gormless look on their faces. We had many a conversation as I slowed down to ease pass them. Strange things go on inside my helmet when there is no one else to talk to. I don’t expect to see many more armadillos crossing the road on my travels, but there are quite a few in southern Patagonia.
Buenos Aires is much larger than Santiago, reflecting the greater prosperity in Argentina, over a longer period. I was drawn in by the passion for football. River Plate and Boca Junior stadiums are both in the middle of town. There are many beautiful buildings, art installations, colourfully painted walls, modern architecture, and places offering Tango lessons.
Even in Buenos Aires I saw references to to the fact that Argentina still thinks that Islas Malvinas, or the Falkland Islands, belongs to them. I had seen several road signs to that effect further south. As a UK citizen I have always seen The Falklands Islands as a British Territory, and supported the short war in 1982. However, there is always another point of view in a any dispute, isn’t there? Argentina claims that by default the islands became theirs when they declared independence from Spain in 1816, but that the mighty British Empire pushed Argentinians off the islands in 1833, and settled Britons there. The majority of the present day 2,900 inhabitants wish to remain UK citizens. Imagine for a moment if Argentina occupied the Isle of Wight, and claimed it was theirs. How would Brits feel about that?
Argentina has a couple of other disputes which interested me. They claim to have invented the Tango, but so does Uruguay. They also claim that the Rio Plata (River Silver, not the mistranslated River Plate) is the widest in the world at 137 miles / 220 kilometres from Buenos Aires over to Montevideo / Uruguay. However, some think it should be classed as an estuary at this point.
3 days riding north from Buenos Aires, the temperature and humidity rises as I cross the Tropic of Capricorn again. The border between Argentina and Brazil, as well as being close to the Paraguay border, runs along the Iguazu river. The main road over the river runs right in to a tourist hot spot, and my next goal. The Iguazu Falls. This is an enormous 1.7 mile / 2.7 kilometre run of 275 waterfalls, making it the largest waterfall complex in the world. The drop is 80 metres so that creates a lot of spray and drenches every visitor. No one minds of course because the experience of being there is so sensational.
Now I’m in Brazil, and the vegetation is lush.
In his 1966 book, The Tyranny of Distance, Geoffrey Blainey explains how Australia’s destiny has been shaped by its remoteness from Britain and Europe. The book’s name is now liberally applied to describe the vast distances between almost anywhere in this colossal landmass.
Heading “out west” from Brisbane the suburban sprawl and satellite towns peter out quite rapidly. Farming and other land management activities congregate around road intersections, and a rail track runs alongside the road for a while.
" Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me.
He sang as he watched and waited 'til his billy boiled,
you'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me."
The long-legged, stocky and well fleeced Merino sheep are the breed of choice here, with the larger stations being dominated by beef cattle; Brangus and Charbray cross breeds. Seven years of drought has evidently taken its toll. But it was the sheep shearers strike, and hard times that followed, which inspired Banjo Paterson to write “Waltzing Matilda” out here in Winton in 1895. It’s lyrics are sad, and end in death, but that has not stopped it becoming Australia’s unofficial national anthem.
Kangaroos line the roads in the dry season to lick early morning moisture from the bitumen. The unfortunate consequence, when startled by traffic, is that they leap in any direction and frequently in to oncoming traffic. Local vehicles all have kangaroo bars fitted, but motorcyclists are given stern warnings. Some sections are heavily littered with carcasses - it’s kangaroo carnage! Emus, and wandering cattle pose a similar danger, but all make a welcome feast for the birds. Buzzards take the first pickings, then Crows, Thornbills and Spinifex pigeons follow. Further along, dead possums, wombats, boar and the odd koala add to my fascination for road-kill.
Road Trains are 53 metres long.
Road Trains pull three articulated trailers. They seem to carry anything and everything needed for life in the outback, as well as sheep and cattle to abattoirs. They weren’t the unstoppable menace that I had been warned about. Overtaking was easy enough as the roads had so little traffic.
It is taller than the Eiffel Tower.
Il est plus grand quest la Tour Eiffel.
The Red Centre of Australia spans four states. It is an ancient landscape whose soil has worn fine, but supports diverse fauna. In an engaging conversation with an Anangu Aborigine named Leroy, I learnt to source and selects fruits such as wild fig and bush plum, as well as bake with wattleseed. I also leant how to source water from small pools at the base of trees with roots in cracks in the rock, as signposted by birds circling above. Handy tip.
Visiting Uluru, also known as Ayres Rock, named after a British Chief Secretary of South Australia, was the prime motivation for my journey through the Outback. It’s a very big sandstone rock, and looks very red at sunrise and sunset. It is also an important feature of the creation according to the Anangu, traditional owners of the region.
Walking up Uluru is now officially discouraged.
With so few people in the outback I found that many welcomed the opportunity of conversation. One lady who I met briefly with a smile at a fuel station, later stopped down the road in a lay-by. When explaining to each other why we were out here, she told me that after a long and happy marriage her husband passed away. She described it as “very inconvenient of him”. We both cried together.
At another stop I met a small group who were on an overland trip by bus from London to Sydney. There were two Chelsea Football Club supporters amongst them! I also met a newly arrived young lady from Maryland, USA, who had just left home to travel Australia and ended up in Coober Pedy. This is Australia’s Opal mining town, but also the most remote and bizarre location on my route. Her self confidence was remarkable.
On the southern edge of the outback I rode through South Australia’s vast wineries. Each one felt like grape farming on a massive scale, far surpassing the size of anything in Europe.
Don’t let anyone tell you that the outback is empty. It couldn’t be further from the truth, and I cant wait to go back one day. The prospect of becoming a so-called ‘Grey Nomad” is very appealing……
5 WAYS TO FIND LOVE
Love is a simple four letter word with a hundred meanings. I love my family and close friends, although each one is loved differently. I love ice cream and Chelsea Football Club, though each of them differently too. I love everyone I have met on my journey. Some of them more than others of course, but I feel love for them all nonetheless.
If you are looking, here are my five tips to find love:
Open up your heart and soul wider than you every thought possible.
You might need to make some physical changes to help this happen. Take a different route to work, order a different drink at the bar, buy some new clothes. Try doing things to make yourself feel differently about yourself. You don’t need to do something as dramatic as I did: get on a motorbike, leave everyone you have ever loved behind, and ride around the world. As you make these physical changes, try to think differently too. Overcome some of your inhibitions. Find the courage to walk up to complete strangers and start a conversation. Peel back the layers of prejudice you have built up over the years. You’ve got them, you know you have. I left London with both of these I am sure. I think they have all gone now, or at least very nearly. I love talking to people, to strangers, about anything. I love listening to them.
The thing about solo travel is that you have to do this. If you are solo, alone, then there is no difference between being a traveller or being at home. Venture out of yourself.
Decide to love everything and hate nothing.
Eliminate the word hate from your dictionary. Score everything you love out of 10. Give the ones you love the most 9 out of 10. It should be easy to think of them. If you are not sure give them an 8 for now. Give things like chocolate, a 7, and so on. You can give that little _ _ _ _ you never liked a 1. Not zero. No one gets a zero. Remember you need to love everybody. I give people who have stolen from me a 1. They must have a redeeming feature somewhere in their sole. If they felt my love they might want to think twice about stealing from me again. I give pigeons a 1, or more specifically their shit. Too many of them have ganged up against me over the years, and fired their evil excrement onto my head, shoulder, bike, the lot. But I can still find something to love about them. Their stupid walk makes me laugh.
Reserve 10 out of 10 for just one person…..
Let love pour out of you.
It will find a home one day. After opening up your heart, after deciding to love everybody and everything, you will start to feel elevated. You will start to feel your smile widen. Walk around with a kind of Mona Lisa enigmatic smile. Quite possibly when you are least expecting it, Cupid will shoot his arrow. Watch out!
If you think you have found the right person to share your life forever, until death parts you, you must commit whole heartedly. Don’t just try and see how it goes for a while. Don’t move in together for a trial period. Jump in. You’ve got to be ‘in it to win it’, some would say. If you are not sure if that might work, then don’t bother. If you are certain, if you can’t offer yourself any other explanation than “it feels right”, then it probably is. It won’t be perfect, it never is. The challenge to keep it going is always stimulating. The secret to making it work, forever, is compromise.
It took me a very long time to understand that this one word is the key to success. We humans have far more in common with each other than we have to separate us. We are genetically all much the same. Some differences in upbringing, experiences, culture, as well as race and creed give us some healthy and stimulating differences. You won’t always agree on everything. You won’t always feel you want the same things in life. You might even think that you are ‘drifting apart’. The simple solution to all of these issues is to compromise. You have to talk until you reach some kind of agreement. Both of you. Just a little should be enough to repair things. I am the first to admit that reaching a compromise is far easier to say than achieve. One of you may well feel you are being asked to compromise far more than the other. Next time, the other person might be feeling that more.
“If a marriage feels like it might be breaking down, repair it. Don’t throw it away.”
The reward for compromise is a life of ever increasing joy. A warm, cosy, enveloping, all-embracing, gooey kind of love.
A love so profound you won’t be able to describe it.
My journey around the world (half of it to this point) has taught me so much about it, and especially its people. However, there is something I knew a while ago, but have re-discovered.
It is simply that the greatest thing in life to learn is to love, and, be loved in return.
5 FACONS DE TROUVER L'AMOUR
L'amour est un simple mot de quatre lettres avec une centaine de significations. J'aime ma famille et mes amis proches, bien que chacun soit aimé différemment. J'aime la glace et le club de football de Chelsea, bien que chacun d'eux différemment aussi. J'aime tous ceux que j'ai rencontrés durant mon voyage. Certains d'entre eux plus que d'autres bien sûr, mais je ressens néanmoins de l'amour pour eux tous.
Si vous regardez, voici mes cinq conseils pour trouver l'amour:
Ouvre ton cœur et ton âme plus largement que toi à chaque pensée possible.
Vous pourriez avoir besoin de faire quelques changements physiques pour que cela se produise. Prendre un itinéraire différent pour travailler, commander une boisson différente au bar, acheter de nouveaux vêtements. Essayez de faire des choses pour vous faire sentir différemment à votre sujet. Vous n'avez pas besoin de faire quelque chose d'aussi dramatique que moi: enfourchez une moto, laissez tout le monde derrière vous et faites le tour du monde. En faisant ces changements physiques, essayez de penser différemment aussi. Surmontez certaines de vos inhibitions. Trouvez le courage de marcher jusqu'à l'étranger et de commencer une conversation. Repoussez les couches de préjugés que vous avez accumulées au fil des ans. Vous les avez, vous le savez. J'ai quitté London avec ces deux, j'en suis sûr. Je pense qu'ils sont tous partis maintenant, ou du moins très près. J'aime parler aux gens, aux étrangers, à n'importe quoi. J'aime les écouter.
La chose à propos du voyage en solo, c'est que vous devez le faire. Si vous êtes seul, il n'y a aucune différence entre être un voyageur ou être à la maison. Aventurez-vous hors de vous-même.
Décide d'aimer tout et ne déteste rien.
Éliminer le mot déteste de votre dictionnaire. Marquez tout ce que vous aimez sur 10. Donnez à ceux que vous aimez le plus 9 sur 10. Il devrait être facile de penser à eux. Si vous n'êtes pas sûr de leur donner un 8 pour l'instant. Donner des choses comme le chocolat, un 7, et ainsi de suite. Vous pouvez donner ce petit _ _ _ _ _ vous n'avez jamais aimé 1. Pas zéro. Personne n'obtient un zéro. Rappelez-vous que vous devez aimer tout le monde. Je donne aux gens qui m'ont volé un 1. Ils doivent avoir un trait rédempteur quelque part dans leur semelle. S'ils ressentaient mon amour, ils pourraient vouloir réfléchir à deux fois avant de me voler de nouveau. Je donne aux pigeons un 1, ou plus précisément leur merde. Trop d'entre eux se sont ligués contre moi au cours des années, et ont tiré leurs excréments diaboliques sur ma tête, mon épaule, mon moto, le sort. Mais je peux toujours trouver quelque chose à aimer à leur sujet. Leur démarche stupide me fait rire.
Réservez 10 sur 10 pour une seule personne ... ..
Laisse l'amour couler de toi.
Il trouvera une maison un jour. Après avoir ouvert votre coeur, après avoir décidé d'aimer tout le monde et tout, vous commencerez à vous sentir élevé. Vous commencerez à sentir votre sourire s'élargir. Marcher avec une sorte de sourire énigmatique Mona Lisa. Très probablement quand vous vous y attendez le moins, Cupid tirera sur sa flèche. Fais attention!
Si vous pensez avoir trouvé la bonne personne pour partager votre vie pour toujours, jusqu'à ce que la mort vous sépare, vous devez vous engager de tout coeur. N'essayez pas de voir comment ça se passe pendant un moment. Ne pas emménager ensemble pendant une période d'essai. Sautez dedans. Vous devez être "dedans pour le gagner", diront certains. Si vous n'êtes pas sûr que cela puisse fonctionner, alors ne vous embêtez pas. Si vous êtes certain, si vous ne pouvez pas vous offrir une autre explication que "il se sent bien", alors c'est probablement le cas. Ce ne sera pas parfait, ça ne l'est jamais. Le défi de continuer est toujours stimulant. Le secret pour le faire fonctionner, pour toujours, est le compromis.
Faire des compromis.
Il m'a fallu beaucoup de temps pour comprendre que ce mot est la clé du succès. Nous, les humains, avons beaucoup plus de choses en commun que nous devons nous séparer. Nous sommes génétiquement tous pareils. Certaines différences dans l'éducation, les expériences, la culture, ainsi que la race et la croyance nous donnent des différences saines et stimulantes. Vous ne serez pas toujours d'accord sur tout. Vous ne sentirez pas toujours que vous voulez les mêmes choses dans la vie. Vous pourriez même penser que vous «dérive». La solution simple à tous ces problèmes est de faire des compromis. Vous devez parler jusqu'à ce que vous atteigniez une sorte d'accord. Vous deux. Juste un peu devrait suffire à réparer les choses. Je suis le premier à admettre que parvenir à un compromis est beaucoup plus facile à dire qu'à réaliser. Il se peut que l'un d'entre vous se sente obligé de faire des compromis beaucoup plus que l'autre. La prochaine fois, l'autre personne pourrait ressentir cela davantage.
"Si un mariage donne l'impression de s'effondrer, réparez-le. Ne le jetez pas. "
La récompense du compromis est une vie de joie toujours croissante. Un genre d'amour chaleureux, enveloppant, enveloppant et gluant.
Un amour si profond que vous ne serez pas capable de le décrire.
Mon voyage autour du monde (la moitié à ce jour) m'a tellement appris à ce sujet, et surtout à ses gens. Cependant, il y a quelque chose que je connaissais il y a un moment, mais que j'ai redécouvert.
C'est simplement que la plus grande chose à apprendre dans la vie est d'aimer et d'être aimé en retour.
OK, a few words then. I have loved thumbing through the pages of the world's greatest travel magazines for decades, and have noticed how remarkably consistently New Zealand tops the lists of reader's favourite destinations. Several of my closest friends have been, and all agree. But it is not until you see it for yourself that you can fully appreciate their views. And they are right. This country is gorgeous, from top to bottom. Conjure up your top ten perfect views, and they are all here. Mountains, hills, trees, fauna, beaches, lakes, rivers, glaciers, wild flower meadows, ancient forests and so on.
Add to this a great sense of space, harmony and wellbeing, mix in some good food and drink, and its hard not to think it is perfect.
A year ago today I lost Sue, my wife, the mother of our sons, my business partner, and my best friend, after a long fight with cancer. We also lost our business, just two weeks before she died.
I felt I needed to turn my life upside down to cope with the cavernous hole. To venture in to the world with an open heart and soul, to make myself vulnerable to its idiosyncrasies, and to ask the world to offer me anything and everything it had to offer. It has certainly done that! I wanted to give the world something in return. To share the love that was within me, and still pouring out. To share some messages, and some of my passions.
I got on my bike, and left London on 1st. April 2017. Today I have reached South Island New Zealand. A long way from home, if I still have one, sitting on a bench staring at the view and wondering ….
what the ****!
I have moments like this on a regular basis, but today I would like to share it with you. I would especially like to share it with those of you who are grieving, whether for Sue, or your own loved one. It’s hard, I know. It has helped me enormously to focus on my journey, and the reasons I am doing it. Not many people get presented with a chance to live an adventure, perhaps even a dream. If life throws you even half a chance one day, I implore you to take it. Don’t think about it for too long, just go. You’ll never regret it, but you’ll certainly regret not trying.
I meet new people almost every day. I’ve met some fantastic people. Whether they want to hear or not, I tell them that I am riding around the world to share two messages.
One: Ride a motorcycle, it can be so much fun. I’m proving it. I can see their eyes start to light up when they begin to register what it is I am telling them. Then they start to grin; then their jaw drops open. I’ve made a difference to their day, possibly their life.
Two: Please stop smoking, you are all killing yourselves. This message does not make them grin. I explain that Sue smoked, Sue got cancer, Sue died. Then they tell me of their loved one who died. A close family member or just a friend; it does not matter. The fact is they all know someone who died from smoking.
If the conversation permits, or seems relevant, I tell them too about my passions for Chelsea Football Club, The Royal Geographical Society, Triumph Motorcycles and the Ted Simon Foundation.
So, back to the bench today. Now I remember what I am doing, and why I am doing it.
Deep in Central Java, in modern day Indonesia, lies the world’s largest Buddha site - Borobudur. What is it doing there? In the late 9th. Century the successful ruling dynasty of the region combined the indigenous cult of ancestor worship with the Buddhist concept of attaining Nirvana, employing Javanese Buddhist architecture, but this time on a grand scale.
There are nine stacked platforms, six square and three circular, with a central dome on top. There are 2,672 relief panels, some in better condition than others, and 504 Buddha statues. Most are headless now, thanks to thieves, museums and private collectors around the world.
What remains though is magnificent. It is huge, and feels masterful.
Severe water erosion, high temperatures, the jungle, earthquakes and volcanic ash deposits have done their best over the millennium to destroy the Temple. Support from British then Dutch rulers, and later German and Unesco funding, have combined to preserve and sustain the site.
Despite heavy rain when I visited, it still managed to enthrall me.
I find that after a while you can become a little overwhelmed by the contents of museums, as well as ancient monuments and cultures. Don’t you? One experience can blend in to another, and a full appreciation becomes more difficult. Angkor Wat stimulated me to the limit for its history, culture, architecture and craftsmanship. The vibe of modern cities beckoned.
Kuala Lumpur surprised me. I stayed right in the centre and found it to be packed full of modern urban life. The city feels very successful. In fact, the whole of Malaysia feels successful.
Prices are low but rising. Taxes are rising to allow the Government to balance the books after years of heavy investment. There is clearly some individual wealth, but many told me their salaries are not rising with prices. So, no surprises there then. Money has been spent well on education, housing and infrastructure. I look forward to another visit soon.
I think Kuala Lumpur may have had an eye on Singapore. This city state is booming. Historically, it traded goods through the ports, between east and west, and now complements that with a trade in information. Money basically. The central business district looks and feels like it should be in the world’s top ten.
Jim Rogers now chooses to live in Singapore. He is a billionaire investor, but more importantly to me he rode a motorcycle around the world and wrote about it. “Investment Biker” was the first book of its kind that I read. Thanks for the inspiration Jim. He lives in Singapore for the ease of doing business throughout Asia, and for the clean air. Good choice.
Jakarta, capital of Indonesia, does not feel like Kuala Lumpur or Singapore to me. I think fundamentally the traffic is the main problem. It is the world’s largest city without a public transport network. Decades of debate, indecision and probably corruption are to blame. Congestion, air pollution, filth and inability to move efficiently, blight the city. Yet, its growth is admirable. Again, there is a very successful vibe here, but it could be better.
Prompted by the Asian Games starting in Jakarta in August 2018, construction of the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) and LRT (Light Rail Transit) looks like it might, at last, be heading for its final stages. Meanwhile, everyone is on the roads, including 5 million motorcycles.
I think it must have been Walt Disney’s “The Jungle Book” that inspired me, although I didn’t know it at the time. Singing along with King Louie the Ape as he swung through ancient ruins, covered by interwoven roots and branches of the enveloping jungle, entertained me as a child and still does so today. It turns out that this place actually exists. It’s all still there in Angkor Wat, including the monkeys.
Angkor Wat is Cambodia’s jewel; it is even depicted on their flag. There is less of a ‘discovered in the jungle’ feel to it these days as 4 million visitors a year can confirm. But a visit to the world’s largest religious site, all 400 acres of it, has been hugely rewarding for me.
It was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman in the early 12th. Century to worship the Hindu god Vishnu, but gradually became a Buddhist Temple by the end of the century. Angkor means City, and Wat is the Khmer word for Temple. As so often happens with Kingdoms, family arguments followed, neighbours invaded, the empire collapsed, and in this case the jungle swallowed it. Fast forward five hundred years to the 20th Century, and the world started to uncover it again. The Cambodian civil war and other interferences interrupted the recovery between 1970 and the late 80s. That makes it all the more remarkable that so much of it remains in fabulous condition. The bas-relief sandstone friezes show very little sign of wear. You can even see some of the paint / pigment applied in places. Sadly most of the statues have been decapitated and can doubtless be found in museums and private collections around the world. There’s only the odd bullet hole and shell repair evident.
There are many Temples in the area but Angkor Wat itself is the best preserved. The centre piece has three rectangular galleries, each raised higher than the other. The highest level has five towers; four in each corner and the largest one in the middle. A mountain-like design. There is a moat and an outer wall.
The reliefs show religious events and beliefs, as well as wars and daily life.
Angkor Thom was built a little later by King Jayavarman VII, and encloses the Bayon Temple (the big bit in the middle, see below)
The faces on the towers are either images of the King himself, or of his guardians. Scholars are divided on the answer, but I liked them anyway.
Ta Prohm always makes visitors smile, whether you are a fan of Lara Croft, Indiana Jones or “The Jungle Book”.
This late 12th. Century Buddhist Temple complex has been left largely as it was found, except for some steel frames added here and there.
Some of the huge trees - one species is called silk-cotton and another is called strangler-fig - engulf the walls with colossal roots both destroying and supporting the stone structures. Their roots remind me of Kaa the snake in “The Jungle Book”.
I am making a public objection, and rejection, of the policies of both the Myanmar and Thailand governments towards independent road travellers. Specifically, this one man and his motorcycle.
When I set off from London in April 2017 I had become aware that I would need to be chaperoned whilst in Myanmar. In much the same way as my passage through Iran in July, I would have to employ a guide to accompany me from border to border, paying for their services as well as accommodation, food and expenses. But Myanmar not only insisted on an Official Guide but also a Liaison Officer. Double the expense. I would also need to allow the Tour Operator to make a profit from me. Myanmar is a sizeable land mass, and importantly is just about the only road route from the east of India to the rest of South East Asia.
Myanmar have made life even more complicated because, assuming they give their permission for a traveller to enter, they now oblige you to do so within 14 days of that permission being given. Giving less than 14 days notice seems ridiculous to me. Do they imagine I am waiting somewhere near the border for them to make up their minds? What am I to do, just sit and wait? What if they reject me?
I needed to take a deep breath, pay the fee, and get on with it. The reward would be to experience some interesting sights that not many others see, as well as engaging with communities as I passed through.
However …. whilst en route …. Thailand have decided to introduce the same restrictions. You can no longer travel unaccompanied in your own vehicle. Thailand require up to 6 weeks to consider your application. I think that’s fair, but not if you are coming from Myanmar with their 14 day rule.
If I were to pass through Myanmar and arrive at the Thailand border, what would I do if Thailand had not yet given their approval? Presumably sit there and wait, whilst still paying for my Myanmar guide to continue to chaperone me, and also pay for the pre-arranged Thailand guide to wait for me.
I also struggle to see the need to be guided at all. The respective government websites do not explain their policies, only the rules and application process. I am quite capable of finding my way through a country, visiting its places of interest, engaging with its people, and learning its culture. I’ve got this far from the UK.
The cost of passing through both countries is frankly too high for me as a solo traveller. Splitting the cost between other members of a convoy or organised tour would ameliorate the restriction. Perhaps that’s what they expect me to do.
If the Myanmar and Thailand governments want to take money off me for the privilege of riding my motorcycle through their countries, then the policies have failed. I am not going. Furthermore, hotels, restaurants, petrol stations and places of interest will not be taking any money off me either. If they want me to be chaperoned to make sure I behave myself, then they only had to ask for a few basic details about me (Visa questions and perhaps a few more). I have nothing to hide.
Whatever the reasons for the policies, they have failed with me.
I am now going around their countries, spending my money where I am welcome.