"Jum Jum" to the top of the World

"Jum Jum" said the dragon, and off we went. Just put one foot in front of the other, and repeat. Eventually we will get from Lukla, Nepal, to Everest Base Camp. It’ll only take 8 days.

"Jum Jum" is Nepalese for "Let's go". Our assistant guide, 19 year old Draigon, softly uttered these words at the start of every day, as well as after every tea and lunch stop, and indeed after every 3 minute pause to gasp for air and sip water. Despite his tender age he set the pace really well, taking into account the three 60 year olds in our party of six.

We were all strangers in the Himalayas together, but united by a single goal: Everest. I have often wondered how strangers can get along so well. Our backgrounds, country of origin, culture even, were all so different. Yet we enjoyed the most heartwarming, intimate, and mutually supportive two weeks together. Conversations flowed endlessly and covered every subject - family, friends, love, work, travel, politics and religion. Dawa, our lead guide and sherpa, needed to know at all times how we were feeling, and how our bodies were reacting to the altitude and diet. Consequently, all intimate details were shared!

15 year old Khalil hopped and skipped uphill with a passion and enthusiasm that defied his age, never complaining once. “Would it help if I complained?”, he asked. He was a credit to his father who was usually a step or two behind him. Abdul paused to give a wrapped sweet to every child he passed en route. Generous with all, at the end of the trek he gave us a personalised memento of our time together. Hand carved in Nepalese slate, each bears our name and EBC 17, the local abbreviation for Everest Base Camp. Praful and I tended to take up the middle of the group. We huffed and puffed and sweated or way along together. Deepa, his daughter and marathon runner, was equally delightful company, and admired for her fitness. My room mate, Chang, was often at the rear, stopping to take the most photographs. He was the joker in the group, cracking comments, one liners, and searching questions to keep us all alert. Dawa took up the rear. “If you see Yaks coming towards you, stick to the inside of the path. They sometimes wobble and might knock you over the edge”. We didn’t challenge the advice.

Every step has to be taken with care. Uneven steps and occasional flat gravel are welcome passages. More often the path was vertiginous, both up and down. Quads burned, thighs throbbed, knees swelled, toes were crushed, lungs gasped, sweat poured and increasing altitude affected our cognitive ability. Occasional dizziness and headaches left us all questioning our determination from time to time. An established technique is to climb higher and sleep lower; that may have helped.

The small houses lining the route are simply constructed from wood or stone, with tin roofs. Many have tiny fields beside them, growing root vegetables, but with the odd flower bed. Quite a few of the hamlets had a community room, which to our very great surprise often contained full size snooker tables, always occupied.

The tea houses offering cooked food were really quite good. There are many dishes built around pasta, rice, potatoes or vegetables. A chicken dish or two makes an appearance now and then, but otherwise meat is not available. Accommodation was simple with a clean bed but very limited bathroom facilities. Toilets were flushed with a jug of water, basins with a rudimentary flow of water were always communal, and hot showers were a lamentable after-thought. We never complained. Life is very simple for the locals. There is no mains electricity. Solar panels charge large batteries to run dim light bulbs. Bottled gas is carried by porters or Yaks for cooking. Wood or peat stoves keep the living space warm at night.

When you pause to gaze up at the hills on each side of the valleys, you are struck by their size and beauty as the tree line fades in to the clouds. From time to time the parting clouds reveal a sight of unimaginable scale. A white wall, with rocky outcrops, rising like shards to pierce the sky above. The Himalayas are huge!

There are a couple of buddhist monasteries en route with a large one in Tengboche at 3,870 metres. Sharing a celebration with the monks which included rhythmic chanting, simple instruments and incense was a humbling experience.

Once the trees and tufts of grass are left behind, the fearsome rocks lend themselves less suitable for allowing a path to be created. The tail end of the Khumbu glacier then appears underfoot. It is covered in loose moraine, but we follow the side of it as best we can. The icy broken leading edge of the glacier pushes us away from it slightly as we lose sight of Everest. Base Camp is empty in September but the grey rocky terrain and the low grey cloud does not dampen the elation of the achievement.

The best view of the summit of Mount Everest, my personal goal, was from Kala Pathar. Seeing the top of the world revealed by the rising sun, whilst alone on a side track, brought a flood of emotions. For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by the mountain. A school visit by the successful 1953 expedition leader, Colonel John Hunt, ignited the dream, and becoming a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society a few years ago, fuelled it. I cried.

The arduous accent was complemented by the speed of the descent, although it still had a number of uphill passages to challenge us. On the last afternoon, Chang was suffering from cramp in his left leg. He was embarrassed by the thought of hiring a horse to complete the trek but eventually conceded that it was the best option. ‘Emperor Chang’ rode in to town right up to the front door of our final tea house. 




L-R: Draigon, Chang, Deepa, Praful, Dawa, Abdul, Khalil, Mark.

L-R: Draigon, Chang, Deepa, Praful, Dawa, Abdul, Khalil, Mark.

Mount Everest

Mount Everest

Alone with my mountain.

Alone with my mountain.

Tengboche Monastery.

Tengboche Monastery.

Emperor Chang.

Emperor Chang.


The Taj Mahal

There are places you look forward to going to which disappoint, and there are places which exceed your expectations. The danger with dreaming about visiting a classic for as long as you can remember, is that the risk of disappointment increases. However, I am elated to report that The Taj Mahal is the most beautiful building I have ever seen. It surpassed my expectations by miles. Oh my goodness, it’s so gorgeous. Emotions tug in every direction. The setting, design, craftsmanship, materials and purpose are all perfect.

‘Exquisite’ was the best single word description I could conjure up to describe The Taj Mahal, but it is hopelessly inadequate really. The ivory white marble, sourced from all over India, still looks pristine today. Famously it reflects the colour of the early morning sun, so that is the time of day to go. The craftsmanship is also overwhelming. Black marble is inlaid throughout. So too are the beautifully soft and swirling arabic letters. Jewels were originally a feature of the building but all have been subsequently stolen. Thanks go to Lord Curzon in the mid nineteenth century for his decision to renovate where needed and upgrade the garden layout, especially the two lakes. They reflect the shape of the building and enhance your wonderment as you enter the site through an arched gateway.

I was the very first person in through the gates on 14th. August (2017), my reward for getting up at 4.30am. A guide rushed me around to the best photograph locations before anyone else got there. It was a real privilege. I later strolled around slowly, sitting and staring in awe.

The four minarets lean outwards, slightly. That's deliberate so that should they fall they will not damage the mausoleum.

Here’s an odd story to finish. Apparently there was a plan to build a ‘double’ on the opposite bank of the Yamuna River, in black marble. Time and events overtook the plan but not before much of the marble had been acquired. It is now in Trafalgar Square, London!

The Taj Mahal is included in the “7 Wonders of the World 2016” list. And so it should be.




Street life and animals in India

At times it seems that all life in India is on the streets. Children, animals, horns attached to vehicles, rubbish, people, more people, colourful trucks, bikes, scooters, beggars, homeless, ‘untouchables’, tourist exploiters, pigeons, pigeon shit, holy cows, holy shit, just the one elephant, chai wallers, fried food stalls, bicycle repairers, repairers of almost anything, carts with fruit, carts with vegetables, carts with recyclable plastics, pigs, camels, rats, dogs, dead dogs, the odd cat, henna artists, shop display overflows, chewing tobacco salesmen, single cigarette salesmen, open air urinals, the odd female public toilet, men and women ignoring these facilities and squatting behind posts or any object, street sweepers with brooms made of reeds, bikes with milk churns, bikes with gas cylinders, bikes with blocks of ice, piles of bamboo scaffold poles,

....... and I even saw a snake charmer. 


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The process of rubbish collection and disposal does not seem to work either. It is strewn everywhere, harbouring disease, supporting wild animals - rats, dogs, birds and even pigs, and the stench makes me wretch. However, there is something of a process, if a little slow. Female ‘untouchables’ sweep it in to small piles on the street. Male ‘untouchables’ scoop it in to bigger piles and sift it for recyclable material. A cart, or even a small truck comes along and carries away the remainder, eventually. What’s left on the ground looks and smells like an accident of humanity. Then the population, all of them as far as I can see, drops more litter. It is not an accidental drop, it seems quite deliberate. I have wondered if they think they are helping the untouchables by giving them a job to do. In defence of their behaviour, there are almost no bins for collecting rubbish. 

I have had a new business idea, manufacturing rubbish bins here. Demand is through the roof; supply is less than minimal. What do you think? Could I clean up, or is it a rubbish idea?

My biggest customer would be the government, but they have too many other problems to solve. Resources are clearly being directed to the problem of poverty, and indeed progress is being made. India’s growth rate is helping, the recent addition of 18% sales tax (GST) helps too, as did the stifling of the cash economy by the implementation of some sweeping reforms. Prime Minister Modi is popular with almost everybody I have spoken to, but many recognise there is much more work to do.

That might be the biggest understatement in India.

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Does it matter that nothing quite works in India?

Does it matter that nothing quite works in India?

I have been in India a month so far and all ten hotels that I have stayed in now merit inclusion in my list of eleven worst hotels ever. Many are simply dirty. I don’t know if the dust clings to the humidity everywhere, or the cleaning methods are inadequate. All suffered from power cuts throughout the day. Air conditioning failed even more frequently. Most have very weak wi-fi even though they all promote the fact that they offer it free of charge. Some had grey bedsheets. One had peeling wallpaper. All had mould in the bathroom. Most had running water, sometimes a touch above tepid. One had a window that was too small for the frame. One had just one light fixture working out of five. I often commented on these issues, when asked by enthusiastic management, but nothing changed. So, should I expect this huge country to match my expectations, or should I accept their standards?

Many people offered me cautionary advice on the standard of driving here, or lack of a standard, prior to my arrival. However, after Turkey, then Iran, I found that things weren’t so bad after all. There is so much traffic everywhere that no-one can travel fast. At low speeds the traffic filters well with every road user. The horn is used to advise others of a turn, an undertake, a get out of my way message, an expression of annoyance, a my turn next message and doubtless many other things that I can’t figure out. Somehow, incredibly, the system of un-written rules, and ignored legislation, works well. To my surprise I am going to say it works really well. The bigger the vehicle, the more expensive the vehicle, the more ‘rights’ you have. Trucks and buses rule the highways, mini vans and 4 x 4s come next, rare imported cars follow, then Indian made cars, then my motorcycle, then Royal Enfield Bullets, then all other motorcycles, then tuk-tuks, then carts drawn by horse, ox, donkey or camel, then cyclists and pedestrians. Pedestrians walk in the street because the pavements are even worse, or non existent. But top of the tree by far are the cows. They are holy of course, and hitting one is completely out of the question. Unlike in Turkey my bike is given a higher status than other motorcycles. It takes other road users only a fraction of a second to spot my size and give me a little extra space. That embarrasses me most of the time, but I am very grateful for the allowance. Honestly, I feel quite safe with other users on the roads here. I am also quite comfortable with traffic coming down the street the wrong way towards me. It really all works well for them, even if they have made up many of the rules for themselves. The secret is to observe what they do, and follow. I would fail if I tried to impose my knowledge of international traffic laws on to them.

There is a caveat though : the roads are terrible. Missing tarmac and potholes the size of small craters have plagued me. Explaining why an adequately built toll road can have a 10 metre or 10 kilometre section of rough shingle but no tarmac has so far eluded me. The towns are the worst. They have little more than mud in them, and none of that is flat. Most of them had tarmac once, I have been told, but after digging up to install or maintain local services, there is no budget left for resurfacing. Probably no votes for the councillors and politicians either. Corruption stories fill the newspapers daily. In my mind peoples’ lives are blighted by the disgraceful roads in their towns, but I have gained the impression that they are largely ambivalent to it.

Mumbai’s roads were awful, and most cities I visited were just as bad. You might not be surprised to learn that Delhi roads are quite good - the politicians and civil servants live here.


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Lord Ganesha

Lord Ganesha

Just before leaving London in April 2017, my dear friend Diana gave me a tiny statue of the Hindu God Lord Ganesha. She chose it for me because he is the God of New Beginnings. He has done his job incredibly well for me.

After the death of my wife, and the demise of our company, I certainly needed a new beginning. I opened my heart and my soul and offered it to the world. Even on the second day of my trip I met people who have remained friends, following my journey, with one in particular offering me regular encouragement and friendship. Almost daily I meet new and fascinating people; the benefit of solo travel. As I have no means of cooking food myself, I take every meal in a cafe or restaurant. I sit down, on my own as always, and look around. Some remarkable conversations have followed. One diner in particular has captured my heart. Not an experience I sought or expected, but I haven’t resisted it either. Definitely a ‘new beginning.’

Lord Ganesha is also an obstacle remover and he has certainly been successful for me here too. Any journey like mine, or even a mini-adventure weekend away, will throw up problems. I am a firm believer that for every problem there is a solution. Some solutions are more difficult to find though. Riding through Europe and Turkey presented few significant problems but failure to secure permission to enter Iran was definitely a substantial obstacle facing me ahead. I applied for permission to apply for a Visa, as solo travellers from the UK (and USA and Canada) currently have to, 4 months before I reached Istanbul. A request for more information about me in the meantime was the only evidence of any kind of progress. So, I needed to work on a Plan B. This would either involve a substantial re-routing of my journey to the north, missing India and Indonesia, or a substantial series of sea passages from Turkey to India. Too much sea for a road trip! Out of the blue, the Ministry of Foreign Affaires in Iran gave their permission. Lord Ganesha, did this have anything to do with you?

It is late July 2017 now, and I have arrived in Mumbai waiting for my Triumph Rocket X to be released from the port - it came by sea from Dubai; I flew. I am seeing Lord Ganesha everywhere. He is in shop windows, on posters, and in workshops coming out of 10 foot high moulds. In the Mumbai slums I saw someone making small shrines for him out of old pallets. They are sold for people to put in their homes, with their statue of Lord Ganesha, and displayed together with flowers, incense and offerings. I have suddenly realised to my embarrassment, that this little chap is incredibly important to Hindus here. The number of people living below the poverty line is diminishing thanks to India’s healthy growth in recent years, but it is still over 150,000,000. That’s right, over twice the population of the UK. I have stopped to consider how hard the Hindu’s amongst this number must pray to Lord Ganesha every day for a new beginning. They need it more than I do that’s for sure. 

Having said that, I need to call on Lord Ganesha again. I need my new beginning to continue safely. From what I have seen on the roads here, and everything I learnt before I arrived, I am going to need him to do his best for me. India’s roads are truly awful. Potholes, cracked concrete, sections of missing tarmac even on toll roads, no lines to follow, no junction markings, few road signs, huge speed bumps placed at random, and the list goes on.

The drivers are even worse. Trucks, cars, bikes, taxis and rickshaws all seem to have their individual set of rules. The blast of a horn seems to have at least a dozen meanings, including “I’m about to turn right across your path even though I can see you coming up beside me, so here’s a blast of my horn instead of using my indicator, which I don’t know how to use anyway”.

Lord Ganesha, I am praying to you.


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Lord Ganesha. 

Hindu God of New Beginnings.

Why you need a Carnet to take a vehicle into many countries, and how to get it.

Correct at July 2017.

Before I left the UK on 1st April 2017 I researched, on line, the need to get a Carnet to take my bike into countries beyond the EU. I found, conflicting, contradictory, confusing and largely obsolete information. Feeling the pressure with all the other things I wanted to do before leaving, which mostly included spending as much time as possible with friends and family, I gave up. Many previous motorcycle travellers have told me that at some point you just have to decide to go, ready or not. So that is what I did. Go, but without a Carnet. That proved to be the wrong decision.

My advice to everyone planning a trip, with a vehicle, is to get your Carnet BEFORE you leave your home country.

A Carnet de Passages en Douane is basically a legal promise that permits you to bring a vehicle in to a country, and take it out again within the agreed time. By making this promise you are permitted to not pay that country’s import duty and tax. If you fail to honour that promise then there is a stiff price to pay. More on that later.

The Carnet document is multi-part. One page per country; each page is divided in to three. The lower part is for the import process and is retained at the entry border with a reference number, stamp, date and signature. The top left part has the same details, but remains attached to the Carnet document. At the exit border the middle part, bearing the same reference, is retained and later matched to the import record. It’s a simple principle, but most importantly, it is the Carnet holder’s responsibility to make sure that the customs process is correctly followed. The top right part of each page is stamped and retained by you. Again, if at the end of the trip there is a rubber stamp or detail missing, then you are liable to the penalty unless you can prove otherwise. 

The governing body for countries who accept the Carnet procedure is the Federation International de l’ Automobile (FIA)


On this page they list the countries who currently require a Carnet. But just look at the first few lines.

“This list may not be up to date due to changes in customs formalities or border procedures.  Certain countries may accept the CPD even though they fall outside the AIT/FIA customs documents network.  Countries may appear in this list but NOT on the CPD cover, notably those in which there is no AIT/FIA guarantor association.In certain countries of Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Central & South America, the CPD is not officially required, but is sometimes used to facilitate temporary importation.”

My big mistake was deciding to ignore this and work it out as I went along. Nearing Turkey’s border with Iran I learnt that I would definitely need a Carnet for Iran, but it was too late to get one sent from the UK. That cost me 28 hours and several hundred Euros to resolve. I had to buy a dedicated Iran Carnet at the border. Don’t try this: It is official (so the Chief of Police told me), but they don’t want to do it this way. My suspicion is that this option will soon be removed.

After Iran I was heading for Dubai where I would again need a Carnet.

In the UK, both the AA and RAC, who used to be the defacto source for Carnets, have withdrawn the service. They cite diminishing demand and diminishing return on capital employed. My pre-departure research uncovered that more and more countries are removing the need for a Carnet, preferring deregulation and adhocracy.

So I went back to the FIA website and followed the link to the Dubai information. I read all the way to the end to find that I must be a Dubai resident to use their service. Ditto India, my next destination.

That just leaves a company called CARS in the UK to turn to:  http://www.carseurope.net/carnet-de-passage-en-douanes-cpd/

I am pleased to report that their service is fantastic. With cordial efficiency and a genuine desire to help me out of a tight spot, they completed my application promptly and despatched my Carnet to get to me as I reached Iran’s southern port, just in time for my passage to Dubai.

You can buy either a 5, 10 or 25 page Carnet depending on the number of countries you intend to visit, or expect to ask you for a Carnet. That’s not too expensive. However, the sting in the tail is the deposit. The system requires the value of your vehicle to be deposited in cash, through CARS. Gulp! If you fail to get the Carnet completed correctly, you risk losing this deposit. Alternatively you can pay an Insurer to deposit that bond for you. That’s the expensive part!

CARS will tell you more.


Correct at July 2017. Please feel free to share publicly as it might help other travellers.


Carnet de Passage en Douane

Iranian Hospitality

Without exaggerating I assure you, I was photographed or videod over 100 times a day in Iran. Every time, they had a huge smile on their face. My very presence in their country, not to mention on a larger motorcycle than they are allowed to ride themselves, seemed to fill their hearts with joy. I felt humbled, and responded with a smile and a wave every time. When stopped for petrol, refreshments, site visits, or the end of the day, they would ask “Where are you from?” “Ingelastan” I learnt was to be my reply. “Welcome to Iran, welcome to my country”. It was very clear that they meant it.  I have never felt so much joy, so much love, from anywhere else I have ever visited.

After a paperwork delay at the border from Turkey, I met my guide, the invaluable Aydin Nezafat, and headed south. First stop happened to be his home town of Tabriz. He took me to the Blue Mosque and built up the story of its history as we approached. Construction began 650 years ago but 90% was destroyed by an earthquake 250 years ago. It has been painstakingly restored. A bit patchy in places but forgivable as all the walls are covered in a mosaic. Not tiled, not painted, but plastered in local stone pieces, mostly deep blue. The scarcely credible craftsmanship is staggeringly beautiful. I almost shed a tear. The ancient bazaar in town, with the former ‘Silk Road’ running through the middle of it, was also amazing. 

Tehran excited me. A huge city with many districts. We took the Metro, with its male / female segregated carriages, to north Tehran. Another mosque, but this one also took my breath away. Inside, the multi-roomed Imāmzādeh Sāleh mausoleum is covered in a mirror mosaic, reflecting light but not your own image. I am allowed to call it ‘bling’. The ancient bazaar here is not for tourists (there are almost none anyway) but still very much the place where locals buy their food and household items.

Next stop, in the centre of the country, was Isfahan. It has a central square / rectangle, which used to be a Polo field. They describe the square as “half the world” as so much is going on. The “Friday mosque” again took my breath away. The blue tile adorned building included the most perfectly acoustic dome. A clap softly echoes 24 times. The exquisite tile pattern matches many of the local carpets for sale. I understand they still debate whether carpet weavers copied the mosque, or vice-versa. In any event the carpets have 70 silk stitches per centimetre to match the pattern. 

There is also a female only mosque, a Palace, a lake, and thousands of people enjoying pic-nics, games, and each others’ company. A fabulous atmosphere.

Further south, the 2500 year old Persepolis had long since captured my imagination. Built over a period of years by Shahs of Persia, it was started by Darius I of the Archaemenid Empire. It was later sacked by Alexander the Great, but many of the reliefs are still evident. They tell of the symbolic importance of the bull, lion and griffin, and of how visitors processed through the Palace to deliver gifts to the king.

Persepolis is near Shiraz, where the grape of the same name was first grown. It still is, but no longer to produce wine here.

After 1500 miles, and with the temperature rising to over 40 degrees C, and humidity to over 80%, I reached the southern port of Bandar Abbas for the short sea crossing to Dubai.

I shall cherish the memory of Iranian hospitality forever. Their smile, their gifts of sweets, fruit, and tea has touched me in a way I have never previously experienced in a country. Thank you.

Blue Mosque, Tabriz, Iran. Mosaic blue stone, not tiles or paint.

Blue Mosque, Tabriz, Iran. Mosaic blue stone, not tiles or paint.

Tea time in the Bazaar, Tabriz.

Tea time in the Bazaar, Tabriz.

Imāmzādeh Sāleh Mosque, north Tehran. 

Imāmzādeh Sāleh Mosque, north Tehran. 

Imāmzādeh Sāleh Mausoleum. Mirror mosaic.

Imāmzādeh Sāleh Mausoleum. Mirror mosaic.

Blue Mosque, ISFAHAN. 

Blue Mosque, ISFAHAN. 

Perfect dome. Carpet pattern or original design?

Perfect dome. Carpet pattern or original design?

Central Square, Isfahan. "Half the World".

Central Square, Isfahan. "Half the World".

Persepolis, near Shiraz, Iran

Persepolis, near Shiraz, Iran

Darius I,   550 - 486 BC.

Darius I,   550 - 486 BC.

Good traveller

I met a true adventurer in Istanbul. Derek Barnett, an Australian gentleman, told me about his succinct views on being a "Good Traveler". Worth sharing with you. For many years he has travelled to some of the most interesting, extraordinary and remote places on the planet, making himself vulnerable to its idiosyncrasies and cultures. He insists on taking alternate paths to most tourists. In fact he says he is not a tourist but a traveller. He has developed a '3 Goods' philosophy. They are:

Good Planning

Good Luck

Good People

By Good Planning he suggests that you should have a good idea of where you are going, why you are going there, and what you expect or hope to experience. Without planning you will waste time, and possibly miss out on the true value of the location. It sounds obvious really but I am sure we are all liable to not do this well enough on some occasions. I certainly am.

By Good Luck he acknowledges that sometimes things happen beyond our control. This might range from the taxi driver who takes you the longer route to charge you more, to the bus driver who falls asleep at the wheel and crashes. Perhaps a military coup might start whilst you are there, or an earthquake, or a cancelled flight. These things are beyond a traveller's control and only by being lucky can you avoid them. Good luck.

Good People. This category he divides into two. Firstly, those good people who serve you well. The hotelier, the restaurateur, the tour guide and so on who deliver you excellent service, above and beyond just doing their job. Secondly, the good people who have absolutely nothing to gain from helping you. They just want to help. They give you directions and advice, offer you a cup of tea, or even a meal and a bed for the night. These are the people who make adventure travel such a joy. I sing their praises, and wholeheartedly agree with my fellow traveller.



Friends, mostly new.

Friends, mostly new.

I have enjoyed being on nudist / naturist beaches many times over the years. Some were officially designated, most were not. I have also been on campsites many times over the years. But I have never previously combined the two. 

Croatia has a long history of supporting naturism, so I booked 4 nights on one the most established, and certainly one of the largest campsites. It has 1500 plots and the website successfully lured me with tasteful photos of healthy looking young people. Imagine my disappointment after I checked in to discover that I was the youngest one there! Almost all of the other naturists were retired Germans, with a few from Austria, Holland and Portugal. I was not only the sole British visitor, but the only solo camper too.

As soon as I pulled up the Rocket they started fussing over me with the usual questions. How big is that engine? How many cylinders? Where have I been travelling? Where am I going? Am I alone? Only this time I was answering the questions in the nude.

It did not take long, an hour maybe, before I realised that they were showering me with admiration and love. Can they help me set up the tent? Would I like a cup of tea? Would I like to join them later for a beer? Their age, (their obesity), and our nudity, all quickly became irrelevant. Or perhaps it was relevant. I was not sure. 

When you are all naked, there is nowhere to hide. We are all reduced to the lowest common denominator. That encourages engagement with each other in a way I had never previously been aware. It was a wonderful feeling.

I joined a small group of friends for drinks. They knew each other well and had been coming to the same place for decades. I was the genuinely welcome stranger in their midst. They spoke almost no English, and I speak even less German. Nevertheless we managed to discuss a terrific range of topics moving from the pleasures of eating fresh grilled fish, to the mood swings of Jose Mourinho. If you focus on their eyes, the other ‘bits’ disappear.

In a further conversation I was impressed to learn that a few of them still came there even when the Balkan war was on. They listened to low flying bombers roar overhead every night from bases in Italy.

  • * * *

I have met an extraordinary number of new people on my journey so far, even after just two months in Europe. Of course I had every intention of putting myself forward to engage with everybody, not only to tell them my messages and discuss my passions, but to listen to them too. Some conversations have been, by necessity, too short to be of great value. Others have been delightful, leading to many new ‘followers’ on social media platforms and through my website. I have learnt so much from them.

Waiting for ferry embarkation has enabled a number of friendships to develop. A passionate Irishman and vintage motorcyclist comes to mind. So too an Arsenal supporter, an ecologist, and the strange incident of the lost camper van keys.

I have long since learnt that I don’t like eating alone, especially in a restaurant in the evening with a glass of wine in my hand. Many occasions have prompted conversations with adjacent diners. In Milan I met a honeymooning Texan couple, so full of enthusiasm for life. In Venice I met a fascinating couple from Ohio celebrating a significant wedding anniversary. In Malta I met powerfully addictive friends of friends. There have been young people almost everywhere with an adventure-seeking glaze in their eyes as I explain my journey. I do so love putting a big smile on their faces. I like to think that they rush to tell their friends about the conversation they just had, and end up inspiring them too. Some must have done as they are now following me on social media.

There is also the French lady, or was it two, I met in a restaurant on the most bizarre of evenings. I could write chapters about her but best kept private for now.

Il y a aussi la dame française, ou si c'était deux, j'ai rencontré dans un restaurant le plus bizarre des soirées. Je pourrais écrire des chapitres à propos d'elle, mais le mieux gardé privé pour l'instant.

Friends in Spain, Friends on Malta, a Greek reunion, a Montenegro border official, Rocket X owners, cancer sufferers and survivors, alcohol abuse victims, and so many more fascinating people have touched my life on this journey so far, and reminded me that people of the world have love to share too.


This is important to me. Part 3.

Part 3 of 3

Thank you for reading this far. Now let’s talk about the benefits of stopping smoking. There’s another action request coming up for you too.

When you stop smoking, this is what you can expect:

After 1 day, nicotine and carbon monoxide levels in your blood reduce by more than half, and oxygen levels return to normal.

After 2 days, carbon monoxide will be eliminated from your body. Your lungs start to clear out mucus and other smoking debris. There is no nicotine left in your body. Your ability to taste and smell starts to improve.

After 3 days, breathing becomes easier. Bronchial tubes begin to relax and energy levels increase.

After 2 to 12 weeks, your circulation improves. You’ll wake up feeling brighter each day.

After 3 to 9 months, coughs, wheezing and breathing problems improve as lung function increases.

As the years role by, the risk of heart disease, heart attack and lung cancer diminishes. You’re likely to live a longer, healthier and happier life. Your non-smoking friends will also appreciate that you and your clothes no longer smell like an ash tray. 

You’ll also save a huge amount of money!


More action please…… Here’s what I would like you to do.

Sue’s cancer - renal cell carcinoma - was largely controlled in the last 6 years of her life by some truly amazing drugs. Sutent, and later Axitinib very cleverly stopped the flow of blood to her tumours, preventing them from growing. We made the most of those years and lived life to the full, together and with friends and family. The development of these clever drugs was the direct result of funding to Cancer Research UK and other related causes. Quite probably all of you reading this will have donated to cancer charities over the years. Thank you. But I am now going to ask you to give more. Most especially I am asking those of you who are going to actively support my Pyramid Stop Smoking campaign. If, or rather when, you manage to stop, please donate. If you support a loved one’s efforts, and succeed, please donate together.


This is important to me. Part 2.

Part 2 of 3

Whether you joined me on my journey around the world for Triumph Motorcycles, Chelsea Football Club / the glorious game, the Ted Simon Foundation, The Royal Geographical Society, or because we are old friends, then I would like you to find a quiet corner, and read on.

Here’s my plea: PLEASE STOP SMOKING. If you don’t smoke (well done), please help someone you love to stop.

I can already hear you saying, you’ve tried before and it’s difficult. You’re an addict. You need nicotine to relax (ever wondered how non-smokers are so relaxed?). You don’t smoke much anyway - not enough to harm you. You only smoke socially (why bother if you don’t smoke the rest of the day?). You are young and invincible. You enjoy smoking; why should you give up something you like? You know someone who smoked all their life and they are still healthy at Ninety. (don’t forget all those you know who didn’t make it that far). 

I’ve heard all the excuses you’ve given. You might even believe them. But here’s some facts, not my opinion, but facts. 

Top 5 diseases caused by smoking:

1.    Lung cancer. More people die from lung cancer than any other type of cancer. Cigarette smoking causes 87% of lung cancer deaths.

2.    Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. It makes it hard to breathe, causing long term disability and early death. About 80% of cases are caused by cigarette smoking.

3.    Heart Disease. Smoking harms nearly every organ in your body, including your heart. Heart disease causes more deaths in the UK (and elsewhere) than any other disease.

4.    Stroke. Smoking affects your arteries and can trigger a stroke.

5.    Asthma. Smoking irritates air passages and can trigger severe asthma attacks.

Those are some of the direct causes. Add to that the fact that for every directly attributable death, then are twenty more people suffering from a smoking related disease.

Action please…… Here’s what I would like you to do.

Get motivated to try and stop smoking. If you knew Sue and loved her, then draw extra strength from her.

If you don’t smoke / already given up, think of someone you love, and help them succeed. It won't be easy.

When you are sure you have succeeded, here’s the really important part, tell me. With your permission, let’s shout about it. Let’s drive everyone crazy until we have succeeded in helping someone else to stop. And so on. Let’s call it Pyramid Stop Smoking. Each success leads to more successes. Don’t forget to tell me every time. 

I not only implore you to stop smoking, but have more to ask of you too. Please read Part 3 to follow.


Please stop smoking

Please stop smoking

This is very important to me.

Part 1 of 3 on the same subject.

This is very important to me.

I have been sitting on the fence for too long. It is time for me to jump off and plant both feet firmly on the ground.

The issue? Smoking. I am travelling around the world, trying to attract as much attention as possible in order to deliver two messages. One is asking people to ride a motorcycle as it can be so much fun. That’s a simple message, and simple to understand, although not everyone might agree that it can be fun. That’s OK. The PLEASE STOP SMOKING message is more difficult to understand. I need to explain the request, elaborate and articulate the message, handle objections, be patient and tolerant, and move on, although usually disappointed.

I am getting impatient. The longer this takes, the more angry I am becoming. I need to start shouting.

This journal post will be up for a while but I recognise that the first readers will be my close friends. 

Smokers, you know who you are, you know I love you very much, you know Sue loved you, and you, her. She’s dead. She smoked, she got cancer, she died. Is that simple enough?

What makes you think you might be one of the lucky ones? I’m begging you. I’m on my knees. I’m sobbing my heart out again writing this. You know I am. So, please please please try and stop. Don't just try because I am pleading you to, do it for Sue. Try again for Sue. Find the strength to succeed. Use your love for Sue to help you. Reach deep inside yourself when it gets difficult, and think of Sue. When you get that crave, think of Sue. We know she could be a naughty little girl, a little rebel at times, but just think how pleased she would be if her legacy helps you to live longer.

I need a break.

(a day later)

I considered deleting the above, but leaving it in, unedited, seems appropriate. It’s relevant. It’s how I feel.

Let me tell you more about Sue’s cancer; others can read this too. I am now happy that my new connections around the world, my new followers, can read about her. She had Metastatic Renal Cell Carcinoma. Grade 4 - that’s the most aggressive. The cause of Sue’s cancer was not determined. I have to make that clear, but here’s what is officially known.

Facts about the cause of Renal Cell Cancer:

*    Smokers are twice as likely to get renal cell cancer compared to non-smokers. *

*    Obesity - not Sue **

*    High blood pressure - not Sue **

*    Family history - not Sue’s **

*    Genetic conditions - not known to Sue **

*    Long term dialysis - not Sue **

That’s the end of the list. There’s a clue to my thought process. I trust it is obvious.

*   Cancer Research UK

** National Health Service (UK)

I not only implore you to stop smoking, but have more to ask of you too. Please read Parts 2 and 3 to follow.


Please Stop Smoking

Please Stop Smoking

Christopher Columbus in Barcelona

At the foot of La Ramblas in Barcelona, Spain, defining the limit of the port and the perimeter of the city, there is a rather splendid statue. 60 metres (197 feet) on top of a column stands Christopher Columbus. Proudly erected there by the people of Barcelona in 1888 he stands as tall as many a man on a column, pointing with his arm outstretched to sea. Nursery rhymes, history books, and many of my American friends have had me believe most of my adult life that he “discovered” America. If you are reading this, and still believe this to be the case, I am sorry to have to tell you that it simply is not true. 

Columbus did not discover, or even visit, the landmass we now call North America.

Whereas he was an accomplished sailor and navigator, and most certainly crossed the Atlantic from Europe, four times in fact, he only found some Caribbean islands, and turned south. He eventually landed in Venezuela. His legacy though is significant in that there has been a continuous flow of trans-Atlantic voyages since him. He enabled the patriation of America from Europe.

Although born in Genoa, Italy, Columbus was funded by the Spanish Monarchy, hence his journeys are commemorated in Spain. He was in fact sent to find a shorter route to the spice islands of the ‘East Indies’. He didn’t, but that’s another story.

History records that the viking explorer Leif Erikson crossed the Atlantic successfully in the 11th. Century, landing in Newfoundland, Canada. Centuries before that Chinese and Japanese explorers landed on the west coast of North America.

To find out why Columbus has been popularised as the “discoverer” of America we have to look no further back than 1776, in my view, when John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and others published the Declaration of Independence (from the British). At the time their contemporaries thought it would be useful to rally popular support behind a ‘hero’. They could not choose John Cabot, even though he definitely crossed from Britain to land on the North American continent in 1497. He too was Italian, from Venice, (Giovanni Caboto), but was funded and supported by Henry VII, the English King. The hero had to be non-English, so Columbus was chosen. A good choice of course as USA won and Britain lost!


Barcelona, Spain over Easter 2017 was a joy for a lone traveller, football fan, and people lover. I learnt to appreciate the joy in Gaudi’s architecture, the colossal atmosphere and majesty of the Nou Camp (Barcelona FC 3, Real Sociedad 2), the side streets and lanes of the centre of the city, and the laughter in Ciutadella Park.


Christopher Columbus Monument (Mirador de Colum). Barcelona.

Christopher Columbus Monument (Mirador de Colum). Barcelona.

Casa Batllo, by Gaudi. Barcelona.

Casa Batllo, by Gaudi. Barcelona.

Knock, knock. Who's there?

Knock knock. “Who’s there?” No one, its just an apparition. 

That’s what the villagers of Knock, County Mayo, Ireland had to say about what they saw. It is an apparition of Our Lady cried one of them as he ran back to tell some others. They came outside, saw the same apparition, and went to fetch more people. Within an hour a dozen of them had gathered and, looking towards the gable end of a building, witnessed the same thing. They all said it was Our Lady Mary. Beside her was a small alter with a lamb standing on it. Don’t all lambs love their alter? Above them were some angels with their wings outstretched forming a halo over the same scene. That’s what angels do all the time, don’t they. To the left were a couple of Saints, of course. Now I don’t wish to be sceptical, I’m not usually so, but I just don’t think this is credible. I’m going to get into trouble for this. It’s 1879, you are in western Ireland, a poor, remote area. It’s a wet August evening, 8pm, and you’ve been on the hooch all day. It doesn’t take much of a stretch of your imagination does it?

Some very important people were persuaded to go and investigate. They took testimonies from a wide age range of witnesses, but all Knock villagers, who saw the apparition. Eventually, the wise important people declared that the testimonies were accurate and credible. It was official. Our lady had appeared before them. I read some of the testimonies. They don’t mention hooch, but they don’t claim their sobriety either.

Well that was handy. Now their poor remote village started receiving visitors. And so it grew. People flocked there. Even Pope John Paul II visited. Now, would you believe it, there’s an airport, tarmac, lots of it, a shrine, a basilica, a museum, a hotel, conference rooms, some quite attractive little gardens, and a few statues. There’s also plenty of opportunities to have tea and cake in the village, and also buy empty Holy Water bottles if you wish.

I am sorry for feeling like this. No, really I am, sorry. I don’t wish to offend anybody who believes this sort of thing. I truly wish I did. I have observed many times, and fully recognise, that plenty of people around the world gain a huge amount of pleasure from their faith. I have watched Southern Baptists being baptised in the River Jordan, pilgrims crawling on their hands and knees as they come into the Cathedral Square in Santiago de Compostela to come a see a finger of James* , and many more. Each time I have wondered if I am missing something. I quickly conclude that I am not. I am quite content recognising that religion, anybody’s religion, offers hugely important moral guidance to us all. All the little details, like apparitions, just seem to complicate the basics, and separate one religion from another. Those differences of course have led to arguments, wars and death for over a thousand years. Protestants against Catholics in Belfast, Sunni against Shia in the Middle East, Christians against Muslims in the Crusades, and so on. I prefer to live with the rules that unite us, not separate us. Don’t kill, don’t steal, love your neighbour, look after others who cannot look after themselves, etc. Do you recognise your religion?

*  In the 9th.century, Catholic leaders decided that they wanted to bolster support in the north west region of the Iberian peninsula that is now Spain. Conveniently someone found a body buried there and said it was that of the apostle James. They obliged people to go on a pilgrimage to visit it, which they did, and so northern Spain was occupied for catholics, mostly from France. Much cheaper than raising an army. You can go and see his withered blackened digit in the Cathedral if you are so inclined. Irrespective of the finger I think the “pilgrimage” to Santiago is a wonderful thing to do. There are also many non-Christians en route seeking to find something else in their lives, and succeeding.


My early April 2017 tour of the Emerald Isle took in Cork, Dingle, Shea Head, the Cliffs of Moher, the Giant’s Causeway, Belfast, many other places you heard too much about during the “troubles” for all the wrong reasons, and Dublin. I met no-one who wasn't ridiculously friendly, no field that wasn’t green, and enjoyed the craic in a Dublin pub. Perfect start I would say. On to France.

Dingle Peninsular
Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland.

Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland.





It's probably fair to say that I have been dreaming of adventures around the world on a motorcycle for quite some time. It started with a holiday read: Investment Biker by Jim Rogers. It continued with Sam Manicom, a bit of Lois Pryce, even Guy Martin, and more. But it was Ted Simon who resonated most with me. I am going to try and develop a better understanding of people and places in the world, and share those thoughts with you. I may fail, but at least I will have tried. Thanks Ted.

Ted Simon's books