NEPAL

 Around 2:30 in the afternoon I crossed the Indian border into Nepal after leaving the city of Gorakhpur under a bright glowing full moon at 4am that morning and cycling up the NH29 to the border town of Bhairahawa. The land around the NH29 is a very flat plain where rice paddies and fields full of grains are grown, and as you near the border to Nepal the beginning of the biggest mountain range in the world slowly comes into view, which can be very daunting when arriving alone by bike with the intention of riding through them into the heart of the country. Seeing their outline through the hazy countryside air ran chills up my spine despite it being a 40 degree day. Seeing what lay ahead of me, knowing the work I had to do to rock it all the way to Kathmandu and realizing the uncertainty of the future made my heart beat with adrenalin and I couldn’t wait to explore this new country.

Crossing through the Indian side of the border can be confusing if you miss the tiny unmarked office on the side of the crowded, noisy, dusty, street, where you need to wait 10 minutes for a slow moving, potbellied, moustached Indian man to put an exit stamp in your passport before the armed guards will let you cross through. If you are crossing by car or bus you can expect to wait for hours in a traffic jam. I was happy to be able to roll quickly through on my bike weaving around big trucks and cars that have to share two lanes for all traffic going both ways. Crossing into the Nepalese side you have to find the immigration booth and buy your visa unless you already arranged one beforehand at a Nepalese embassy. The visa costs 40USD for one month and can be extended up to 3 months at immigration offices in Pokhara and Kathmandu. Unlike most immigration officers (especially the Brits) the man stamping my visa was friendly and smiling. He showed his concern as to whether I had eaten anything for lunch, if I wanted a tea or coffee, and if I had anywhere to stay that night. I declined on his hospitable lunch offer and told him I will just cycle until I get tired then hopefully find a good spot to sleep in the next big town. I decided to continue riding another 25-30km to the town of Butwal finishing the day off with 125km cycled. As I rolled down the highway I noticed people to be more cheerful then in India and there seemed to be a lot less garbage littering the ground and roads.

A tractor came riding up behind me with 3 guys about 17-22 years old riding in it wearing rock T’s and ripped jeans. As they rode past me I grabbed on to the back of the tractor with one hand and let them pull me along at 35km/hr. When they saw me they began to laugh and cheer me on as they took me riding for about 15km before they had to turn off in another direction. After that discovery, whenever I was lucky enough to have a tractor pass me going up those steep, narrow, mountain roads I held on dangerously for a well deserved break for a few km. Nobody ever seemed to mind or be worried about my safety. I liked this country.

Butwal lies at the very base of the Himalayas and at the north end of the city the road to Pokhara already begins ascending on a 10-15% elevation which doesn’t let up for at least 20km. The town has everything available that you need before you start cycling into the mountains and there are atm machines, internet cafes, and a bunch of cheep hotels to choose from. I rolled into town about 5pm exhausted, hot, and smelling like I just cycled 120km in 40 degree heat 3 days in a row, which is a very distinct and difficult smell to attain. I found a hotel charging 700 rupees a night (about 10 dollars) which was not cheap for Nepal and 5 dollars over my daily budget but it was a chilled out place with big clean rooms and a balcony over looking the city centre with a view of the mountains, and I was too tired to be bothered looking around town for the best prices, I was starting to feel ill and was content to just be able to eat, shower, and rest my exhausted body for the night before tackling the 200km north to Pokhara. Across the road from my hotel I sat on the side of the street people watching in this new country and eating 50cent plates of veg fried noodles from a street vendor I made friends with, then I went to my room and passed out for the night.

The next day began at 4am, I had to make a lot of noise in the hotel because the doors were locked and I had to wake someone up to let me out. It was still pitch dark when I began riding out of town, then the mountains began! The road was quite rough with lots of loose stones and potholes and steadily the elevation brought me into the misty clouds that began raining on me as the thunder boomed and echoed off the mountains and through the valleys. As the sun came up within half an hour of cycling I was completely soaked, after all it was now the rainy season, but despite the rain the temperature was still in the mid 30’s and dehydration still a big safety issue.

Between Butwal and Pokhara there are no big towns just small villages and remote landscapes. Lush tropical vegetation grows everywhere in the hills and valleys, huge groups of monkeys can be heard in the treetops and many ran in front of me as I was cycling bye. Every 500 meters or less you will pass a waterfall, some with deep swimming holes and some clean enough to drink. I filled my water bottle many times beside the road from fresh water flowing from the mountain side. The hills and valleys there are extremely clean compared to India and other neighbouring countries, not much trash can be found by roadsides or in rivers and the land is fresh and green, you almost expect to see elves and ferries jumping from treetops and running through the grassy hills. Although at lower elevations the temperature was in the mid 30’s the mountain tops are still bright white with snow and glaciers making a beautiful contrast against the lush green hills below.

I stopped in little villages where the folks were usually friendly and smiling and buy food and water. Prices in Nepal are a little more expensive then India but generally there are less people trying to rip you off as well so I guess it works out even. In the small villages I would typically pay around 200-300 rupee ($2.50 – 4) for simple but usually clean-ish lodging with a private bathroom. The roads in Nepal are small one lane roads twisting and turning along steep mountain cliffs but there is not much traffic except for on the road between Pokhara and Kathmandu so it is not extremely dangerous and when you stop for a break you might even have some peace and quiet to help you chill out, listen to the nature and waterfalls, and take in the beautiful mountain landscape around you. If you want to sleep outside somewhere there are many places possible for setting up a tent or hanging your hammock.

On my 4th day of cycling in Nepal, sick as a dog with a high fever and flue like symptoms (bad idea to be cycling at that point, don’t try it unless you have to) I arrived in Pokhara, a very touristy city but still very chilled out and a lot less busy, smoggy, and noisy then Kathmandu so it’s not a bad place to spend 4 or 5 days and use it as a base for doing some trekking into the nearby Annapurna mountains and conservation area. Pokhara is also next to Phewa lake where you can go for a swim, kayak or canoe, hike, or just chill out in one of the many cafes and bars along the shore.

Cycling the 350km road from Pokhara to Kathmandu is a tough stretch not for the weak at heart. It’s the busiest road in the country so it’s full of smoke pumping trucks and crazy car drivers so you need to be a little more cautious. Not only that, it’s also a pretty tough ride full of steep mountains to cycle over which along with the summer heat can drain your energy and fluids very quickly so be prepared and bring lots of high energy foods like peanut butter and cans of beans! The one thing that really caught my eye on that road and most roads in Nepal were the thousands of marijuana plants growing all over the place. I saw 10 foot tall dope plants growing on peoples front lawns and even bigger ones along the side of the road. Sometime I was cycling down the road with pot plants sticking out of my handlebars, smoking and eating mouthfuls of skunky Himalayan kush. I saw police raids on farms where cops where pulling up hundreds of marijuana plants and burning them or putting them in trucks but I didn’t see the point of it since there is no way they could possibly get rid of them all. It is hopeless for the cops to ever think they could win that battle, prohibition of marijuana is just ignorant for any government to impose, it doesn’t work and only serves to create more crimes and to put innocent people behind bars. Unlike tobacco, alcohol and pharmaceutical drugs which kill hundreds of thousands of people each year, marijuana is responsible for 0 deaths world wide in all of history.

 

The last 50km to Kathmandu is where the elevation gets completely insane, it’s a real pants-shitter. The road is at least at 20% elevation and is unrelenting until you get to the top of the mountain and start riding down into the Kathmandu valley. Even the trucks climbing it can only go about 5-10km/hr. Everyone I talked to told me not to try to cycle it and to just hitch a ride on a truck or get a bus (which only costs a couple dollars) but these were people that would probably also tell me that I couldn’t cycle from Holland to Nepal, so I chose pain over pleasure and I burned all my remaining energy (which was not much) and rocked through the clouds to the top and then down into the valley to smoggy Kathmandu where my eyes were burning red from all the air pollution. Kathmandu isn’t really a place you want to spend more then a few days, if that. It’s quite polluted, noisy and crowded, with lots of shopkeepers trying to haggle you for money, and tourists with expensive trekking boots and lonely planet guide books wondering around the maze of streets looking lost and dumbfounded.

 

I wanted to continue cycling into Tibet and China but around the same time I arrived in Nepal the Chinese government had closed the border for people crossing by land from Nepal to Tibet because of tensions there between the two countries. The only way to get through legally was to fly, I had no choice, and I was pissed off. With cycling interrupted, I decided to take a break for a while, save some more cash, and then try to somehow get back to where I left off and keep on rolling. Oh no the journey ain’t over yet! After some more of Asia there will still be North America to conquer, and maybe even South America….. After a little much needed rest and relaxation I will be rolling again soon, and hopefully Maarten as well.

shaun

 

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Indian summer

My last weeks in India were chilly +40 degrees C days that made it hard to do anything else but try to cool off and eat mountains of 25cent watermelons, so I wasn’t so sad to be leaving. Through Uttar Pradesh the cycling was energy draining because of the extreme heat but the landscape was quite flat so I was still able to cycle over 100km each day. Since cycling in the 40 degree afternoons was near suicidal, I would get outta bed at 3am each morning and be rolling on my bike before 4am so I could finish my +100km days before 12pm. I was looking forward to arriving in the mountains of Nepal where I imagined the air to be more fresh and cool. I’m glad I went to India and I’m glad I discovered the country by bicycle, but if you asked me if my experience was a good or bad one I would find your question difficult to answer. India can really be a mind boggling place that can take you several lifetimes to truly learn about and understand. It is such a big and diverse country that it’s impossible to generalize. Most of my experiences there were good and I thank God for, and for having given me the ability to travel and see first hand what the world is really like and meet all the good people that I have met, but also more then once in India I did experience or witness some unpleasantries which are commonly found in most countries throughout the world such as racial prejudice, sexual and verbal harassment of women, common lack of courtesy, and disregard from the environment, which although I want to I find it hard to forget about. But these are just small aspects of the great world we live in, it is caused by us and so can be changed by us.

Would I ever want to go back to India? I’m really not sure. With a population of over 1.2 billion, India is a country that is having very hard time coping with and adjusting to a massive population and continued population growth. It is estimated that India’s population will surpass China’s in the next 20 years or less, moving from the second to the first most populated country in the world, and doesn’t yet have the infrastructure or power generation to deal with the demands, and so is steadily destroying the environment and helping to create a larger gap between the rich and poor. I felt that by traveling there I wasn’t really alleviating the problems but only making them worse. In a country with very poor waste management it is much more difficult to be “Eco-friendly”. Sometimes I carried plastic and other trash from my lunch for over 100’km before I found a trash can to put it in (forget about recycling it)  only to later watch someone come and empty the can into a nearby riverbank or ditch.

If I think about India and I imagine it to be a model for the direction the whole world is heading it doesn’t look good for our future. One of the major problems in India that can have implications for the rest of the world is water scarcity. Right now millions of Indians lack access to clean drinking water, and the situation is only getting worse. In a list of 122 countries rated on the quality of potable drinking water, India ranked a lowly 120. According to estimates by the world bank, in India, diarrhea from contaminated water alone causes more than 1,600 deaths daily— that’s the same as if eight 200-person commercial aircrafts crashed to the ground every single day! India’s demand for water is growing at an alarming rate as the population grows. Their growing economy and growing demand for food stretch India’s supply of water even thinner. Climate change could reduce the supply of water coming from rainfall and glaciers feeding India’s many rivers are shrinking fast. As demand for water for farming outweighs supply more and more each year, India may face more problems of food shortages as well.

But India’s water crisis is mostly a man-made problem. India’s climate is not particularly dry, they have a long monsoon season and have a lot of rivers and groundwater. Extremely inhumane management, unclear laws, government corruption, privatization, and industrial and human waste have caused most of the problems and made what water is available practically useless due to the huge quantity of pollution. Because people have caused most of this crisis, by changing their actions and the way they think about water resources, they have the power to prevent water scarcity, and this means there is still hope. They must begin to make positive changes, start conserving water, stand against privatization, boycott bottled water, begin to harvest more rainwater, treat human, agricultural, and industrial waste, stop building dams and regulate how much water can be drawn out of the ground. This will be a big step towards a brighter future.

As for traveling India by bike, I think it’s good to experience once in your life…but only once. It is crazy. Traffic there is incredibly noisy and insane. Everyone is constantly honking their horns and the eardrums of a cyclist can easily explode into a bloody mess. Big trucks and buses regularly puff hot, black smoke in your eyes and down you lungs, and everyday you look death in the face as a big truck comes thundering towards you and oncoming traffic while passing other cars and trucks on blind corners. That’s normal. There really aren’t many traffic rules other then “all empty spaces must be filled” “always be blaring your horn” and “the biggest vehicle wins”, so cyclists always loose the battle. Although the constant realization of your own mortality can be a good thing, riding a bike in India can make you wonder if cycling really is all that healthy, but then you remember that if everyone was cycling you wouldn’t have the noise, the traffic, and the hot black smoke in your face.

But there were also days when cows and monkeys were the only traffic to dodge on quiet roads through the shining country side or along an endless, deserted white sandy beach, under shady palms, the warm wind on your back smelling sweet with the sent of flowers and fruit trees, rolling through curious, welcoming villages with children running alongside you smiling and waving. Moments when time stops as you catch the eyes of a kind stranger and you share an understanding. Map-less and guidebook-less in the hands of fate, not knowing exactly where the road will take you and who you will meet each day. These moments are when you remember what life is all about and why your doing what your doing. Adventure and freedom fills your soul as you sit and drink the refreshing juice from a coconut, listening and watching the strange world around you.

shaun

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Southern cycling

Deciding which direction to cycle through India, something was drawing me towards Kanyakumari and for some reason I felt I should go there and check it out, so after cycling about 1200km of the south west coast through Goa, karnataka, and Kerela(my favorite part of India) Kat, Bea aka the Blue Woonicorn, Dervla and I arrived in Tamil Nadu and Kanyakumari. Not a lot of people end up traveling there because it is a little bit out of the way being so far south…actually it is the most south point of India, the end of the sub-continent.

Kanyakumari is  small town in the state of Tamil Nadu. One reason I was drawn there was for the sea. It is the point of meeting for 3 bodies of water… the Arabian Sea, the Sea of Bengal, and the Indian Ocean, and I felt the need to be in the water of 3 seas at once. Unfortunately some of the magic of the place was lost for me since, like most places in the country, there were no trash cans to be found so there was a lot of garbage around the town and sea shore, mostly plastic waste, and of course I even saw people throwing their plastic bottles into the sea. Also, with the hordes of Indian tourists it was hard to find a spot for some peace and quiet, although eventually we found a good spot to chill. The visitors are  mostly from Kerela, who come to see the beautiful sun rise and sunsets (in April you can watch the sun set and moon rise at the same time), visit the  Kumari Amman temple dedicated to Parvati the virgin goddess and wife of Shiva. Also attracting people is the Vivkananda Rock Memorial   built in 1970, which is the statue of Tamil saint-poet Thiruvalluvar, who is the author of Thirukkural, a poem consisting of 133 chapters! In honor of this his statue was built 133 feet tall and is one of the largest memorials in Asia.

The town was a nice place to hang out for a day or two and the air was very refreshing compared to the humid air of most of the south west coast. the wind in Kanyakumari is always blowing strong and kept cool from the seas. This changed as soon the road headed north through the center of Tamil Nadu. The first 20-30km’s we were cycling through huge wind farms, bigger then I’ve seen in any other country, so the ride was pleasant because there was still a refreshing wind coming from over the top of the end of the Western Ghats mountain range, but soon after that the cool winds were gone and we were left cycling through a dry, dusty, hot landscape where the temperatures reached into the 40’s soon after 10am drying the sweat from your skin as soon as it comes out of your pores. One day we cycled over 100km in 43 degrees and were very lucky not to suffer from heat stroke and exhaustion.

If you are planning to hit India with your bike, I do recommend visiting the south. The food eaten with your hands off banana leaves  is cheap and amazing, the long deserted beaches or crowded touristy beaches are found everywhere, and the people in the south seem to go at a bit more slower pace, in my opinion they are more laid-back, friendly, and hospitable then in other parts of India.

Now, up north in the state of Uttar Pradesh, Nepal looms overhead and the journey continues further on down the road.

Shaun

 

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Bike Repair in India

India is full of bikes, almost everywhere you go you will probably find people riding bikes. But these bikes are all single speed, cheap, old bikes usually made in China. So if you have a bike with gears it can be very hard to get any of the spare parts you are looking for, except in major cities where you might be able to find a good bike shop. It is best to be prepared and bring all your own parts with you.

I have a lot of spare parts with me, but still unexpected things will always happen and parts can get damaged or broken. Then you must use your ingenuity to solve the problem. This happened to me on my first day cycling in India….the quick release bolt holding on my rear wheel had snapped off at the end and the nut holding it in place was gone. Not cool!

I was not feeling to good this day, I had not much sleep for a while and I was sick with the flu so I really didn’t need any more problems and I sure didn’t feel like roaming around a city looking for bike shops, but I had no choice. I got a cab to take me to a bike shop, then another and another but nobody there had seen quick release hubs before and told me I wont find any in India. Dam! I picked my tired aching brain for a solution…. I went to find a welder and asked if he could somehow weld a threaded piece of metal to the end of the busted bolt….he said maybe if I find him the material… ok, good enough answer for me. I then went around the city to a few different dirty old hardware shops and eventually found a small bolt that looked like it was the right size and had the right thread, I brought it  back to the welder dude who cut the top off it and welded it to the end of the quick release bolt and charged me 50 rupee. I went back to my bike and tried to fit the bolt through the hub but it was a bit too thick and need to be grinded down. Lucky enough there was group of about 15 Indian dude standing around watching (big surprise) and some of them were cool enough to help me out. I jumped on the back one one guys motor bike with the wheel and bolt in one hand and we went flying around the streets to a friend of his with a grinder and he fixed the bolt up for me free of charge. Alright….time for the next problem….I forgot to find a nut to replace the one that broke off the end and I had nothing to fasten the bolt on with, and by this time it was afternoon and hot as hell, I hadn’t eaten all day and I felt like shit so I wasn’t looking forward to going back through the city to just to find a nut. Fun times! But the bunch of dudes standing around watching me fix up the bikes where really cool and it didn’t take long before one of them came with some old nuts and washers which, lucky enough, fit fine and I had the wheel fastened on tight and we were rolling in the blazing Indian sun.

So if something on your bike breaks in India and you don’t have the spare parts to fix it, with all the welders and ingenious mechanics around, you will probably be lucky enough to find help making some home-made custom parts to get you bye until you find a good bike shop.

shaun

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Iran

Before I arrived in Iran I had many preconceived ideas about what Iran would be like. As many people are influenced by western media, i didn’t want my judgment to be altered by the lies, propaganda, and hate spread by most new agencies. To enjoy traveling and get the most out of it, it is best to keep an open mind and put trust in people you don’t know.
After the first day in Iran I already knew I would love the country. Within the first hour after crossing the border we had already encountered the amazing Iranian kindness and hospitality. Even at the crossroad to the first town we came to, Maku , there were people driving by telling us which way to go, waving at us and honking their car horns. A few minutes later a family pulled their car over to ask if we needed any help, recommended us a hotel and told us what price to expect. Cycling into the town I could feel everyone’s eyes on me, catching peoples stares through the glimmer of their windshields as they drove past , and see them gawking at me  from the sidewalks, not normally in an unfriendly manner but in a curious and welcoming way. After checking out a few places offering beds we settled on a cheap hotel kinda place  to crash for the night, where beds were being held up uneven with some old rusted and dented oil cans, but it fit my budget. You can find hotels in almost every town.
That night we walked around the town for a bit.  As we walked past people they would say hello and “welcome to my country”. Many people would ask us where we are from and how we like Iran, those questions would follow us several or more times a day throughout the months of traveling in Iran.
While walking 3 young dudes joined us, practicing their English and chatting us up. As we walked past a shop they asked what we wanted. We told them we were fine and refused repeatedly but still they bought us a bag of chips, then said goodbye. Continuing our walk a car pulled over beside us, a young women driving and a young guy in the passenger seat called us over, gave us some popcorn then drove away. Up the road a bit some guys working at a video game and computer shop invited us in the store for a tea. We hung out with them and their friends for an hour or two, although I wish our communication could have been better because we couldn’t speak a word of each others language and had resorted to using google translate, but it was a good time none the less.
This hospitality I met on my first day in Iran I learned is found throughout the country and has deep roots in the Persian culture.

A typical day for us cycling in Iran would normally consist of waking up under a bridge or on the ground under the sky just after sunrise. I would have a little breakfast, usually some fruit and some bread, then start cycling to get in as many hours as possible before dark. It was now getting dark around 5pm.
Where ever we could find a small shop we would load up on lunch and dinner, usually canned beans, breads, cheese, fruits, veg, and snacks. Anywhere we could find a water tap we would fill our bottles. All day long cars would honk at us and big, polluting, diesel trucks would honk their deafening horns right beside us as they passed by puffing black smoke in our faces. Many times a day cars would pull over in front of us to talk to us, usually wanting to take a picture with us, and offering us any help. When we cycled along the Caspian coast where citrus fruits grow in abundance, people would stop to give us bags of oranges and other fruit that grow there.

Usually we wouldn’t know where we would arrive by dark, only having rough guesses, and not knowing where we would sleep. We would just cycle until sunset then find a spot out in the countryside where we wouldn’t be seen and crash for the night.  Staying in big cities is easy too because you could use cs contacts to meet good friends and get to know a lot of people, but often we wouldn’t need to because  we would be invited into strangers homes for the night when they see us on the street. When I would walk around in big cities streets almost everyone I walk bye would at least say hello and if I ever stopped anywhere for a drink or food or whatever , 9 times outta 10 someone would sit and talk with me for a while. If your lucky you can find yourself at some underground parties and concerts.

 

Iran has an ancient culture that is thousands of years old and has one of the world’s oldest continuous major civilizations, with historical cities dating back to 4000 BC. Iran also has a very wide range of languages spoken and many different ethnic groups from  Persians (65%),to Azeris (16%), Kurds (10%,) Lurs (6%), Arabs (2%), Baloch (2%), Turkmens (1%,) Turkic tribal groups (1%), and non-Persian, non-Turkic groups (e.g. Armenians, Assyrians, and Georgians) 1%, and because of this multiculturalism, dispite Iran being an Islamic republic and not secular, you will still find different religious groups in Iran from Christians to Zoroastrians to Hindus to the largest Jewish community in the muslim world. Where we entered Iran the most common language spoken was Turkish so it was easy for us to settle into because we were just cycling through Turkey for the last 2 months.Then slowly we cycled into more Farsi speaking areas.

 

The geography of Iran is very diverse….from rugged, mountainous rims surrounding the interior, to the salt flats and deserts of the central plateau, to the humid tropical Persian Gulf coast in the south, to the lush green Caspian Sea coastal lowlands in the north.
Some of the highest mountains in Iran are over 4000m high, some of which we had to cycle along while passing over the Alborz mountain range on the dangerous and breathtaking highway from Chalus to Teharn. It is here where Maarten got attacked by a dude with a club and was given his new nickname….Spittin-Stam….but I’ll let him tell you the whole story.
Cycling over the Alborz mountains was probably one of the hardest and most dangerous parts of this bike trip so far. The road was very small with only one lane for each direction, and sharp hairpin turns where fast cars would overtake slower ones on blind corners leaving their fate in the hands of god. One side of the road is the rock walls of steep mountains and the other side is the edge of a cliff with usually at least a 500m drop. It took us about 2 1/2 days of cycling to reach the top of the pass where temperatures where below freezing and snow lay on the ground. For one whole day we were only cycling up an incline continuously and relentlessly, never once going downhill or cycling on a flat road. It was some extremely heavy cycling and I think Maarten’s chain snapped off at least twice during that ride. But it was beautiful.
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Cycling into Tehran was not as bad as I was expecting it to be. About 20 million people populate the city so I was expecting to encounter the worst traffic of the trip so far, even worse then Istanbul … but it was pretty straight forward and since we were entering by bike it allowed us to fly by all the cars stuck in traffic jams. The scary thing was seeing the pollution from the outside of the city. Looking towards Tehran you can see a dark brown cloud hovering above the city. This is a thick, choking layer of smog from all the cars, trucks, buses, planes, and factories. When we arrived, Tehran had low air quality warnings, and the center of the city was shut down with schools closed and warnings for the sick, elderly, and children to stay away from the city center because the air was not safe for breathing.
I hear people argue that climate change is more political then factual and that there is no harm in continuing our lifestyles burning all the fossil fuels we can dig out of the ground and creating C02 gas. But CO2 is not the biggest problem, a bigger problem is ground level ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and other particles. These gasses are toxic to humans, plants, and animals, and whether or not we believe climate change is real, it is a fact that by using all these fossil fuel burning machines instead of sustainable energy we are indeed destroying the planet.
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After our time spent in Tehran we headed south to the cities of Qom, Isfahan, Yazd, and Bandar Abbas, not to mention all the small towns in between. These cities have a rich history and are full of beautiful old palaces and mosques to visit.
Qom is one of the most religious cities in Iran and we arrived there during the holy time of Ashura. Ashura falls on the10th day of the lunar month of Muharram when according to Islamic tradition Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, was martyred in battle in 680A.D by the army of Caliph Yazid who attacked Hussein and followers in the desert near Karbala (now a city of Iraq). Hussein was killed in a battle that lasted 10 days  after he had refused to pledge allegiance to Yazid. Hussein was decapitated, his army destroyed, and his head was taken to Damascus where the seat of the dynasty of Yazid belonged.
Ashura is a day to mourn and remember the bravery, chivalry, kindness, honesty, and selflessness of Imam Hussein. Shi’as express this mourning by self-flagellation, crying, and listening to poems and sermons about the tragedy of how Hussein and his family were martyred. This is to connect them with Hussein’s suffering and martyrdom, and the sacrifices he made to keep Islam alive. It is a day to rally against injustice, inequality, and oppression. Now every year during Ashura millions of people gather at Karbala to commemorate Imam Hussein at his shrine.
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In Qom, like many other cities around the world during the time of Ashura, the streets are filled for days with crowds of people wearing black and mourning Hussein, gathering together to pray, meals (niazz) are donated to feed all people, and processions last into the night. For me it was unlike anything I had seen before. So many people gathered together but it was nothing like a festival where the general mood is of celebration, but rather a sad event full of intense grieving and crying to the tune of hypnotic beating drums and chants of “Ya Hussein” in the streets. One night our lovely hosts brought us to join people in a hall where a public procession was taking place in English and finally I could understand what people were talking about. There we took part in ceremonial chest beating and chanting, and a Mullah and other people gave sermons about Hussein’s personality, beliefs, and history, and retold the Battle of Karbala so we could relive the pain and sorrow felt by him and his family. After this we all sat on the floor to eat dinner and talk together.
I will never forget my time spent in Qom (about a week) or the kindness showed to us by the people we met there.
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After our time in Qom we continued south through the deserts to Yazd, then took a short hitchhike trip over to Isfahan because our visas didn’t allow us enough time to cycle there. I had a great time in both Yazd and Isfahan, these cities are very ancient and there are a lot of places to see, things to do , and people to meet there. Continuing from there we headed south all the way to the Persian Gulf to the city of Bandar Abbas where temperatures were warm again usually above 25 degrees.There our buddy from Tehran, Mahyar, came to meet up with us and we and some other friends went for a camping trip on a little nearby island called Hormuz where we watched flamingos graze on the beach, we swam, relaxed, and slept on the beach under the stars. The day we got back from the island was the last day left on our visas and we had to say a sorrowful goodbye to our friends and to the country that showed me more kindness and hospitality then any other place I’ve been to. I felt a bit nostalgic when I was leaving on the ferry to Dubai, but Iran left such an impression on me that I don’t doubt I will be back there again, hopefully sooner then later.
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I’m certainly glad I didn’t heed the words and concerns of people that told me it would be dangerous to travel in Iran and I should pick another place to pass through. These warnings of course all came from people that had never visited Iran and mostly have their information from the western media, which is full of hate and propaganda being spread by the U.S government who seems to be trying hard to build a case for yet another unjust war, with the goal once again being  laws taking ownership of the countries oil out of the hands of Iranians and into the hands of a few multinational energy cooperation’s, and a regime change to reclaim Iran as a country favorable to U.S military and cooperate interest including non-opposition to the Israeli government. Just like the rhetoric of the U.S before many of their wars, what you hear about Iran from the west is mostly based on lies with the purpose of getting the support needed to fight an unprovoked war. But don’t take this the wrong way… both sides of this cold war are spreading lies and hate. Iran does have a terrible government that is dangerous for its people, but the changes needed to be made must come from within Iran from the Iranian people, to be in favor of them, not the U.S. and multinational corporations.
Iran definitely has a great deal of problems, mostly with pollution, poverty, and a government that I hope will soon see the end of it’s days, but the spirit and hope of the Iranian people doesn’t seem to be affected by these things.
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I’ve been left with a great impression of the Iranian people, their kindness, hospitality, and culture. I wish for them to have a bright future and I’m counting the days until I return again to hang out with all the great friends I made there.
Until then……Khodahafez Iran , hello India.

Shaun

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a piece from Allison and Chad’s blog….cycling friends we met in Istanbul

 

Istanbul has a history of being a great crossroads. The ethnic blend of the Turkish people in general is reminiscent of our own country and in the urban center-of-it-all this becomes even more distilled and obvious. Of course, this idea of “east meets west” is heavily marketed and commercialised in a city overflowing with tourists and, following a sojourn through more authentic places, this quickly rubbed us the wrong way. We have learned from living in a tourist area that every such place has a more realistic side where day to day life rolls on and the beauty of banality lies in open display. One day, while eating baklava and watching the throngs of tourists march by, two folks came along and opened the door to such a culture in Istanbul . (Shaun and Maarten)
Because the city is formed on two peninsulas separated by the Bosphorus, it is only natural that so many travellers would make their way through on their way to somewhere. This includes bike tourists who, while relatively few in number, seem to congregate wherever beer and tires are sold. Hence, as we watched two fellow dirtbags looking over our bikes we were quickly able to deduce that  they were indeed members of our own far flung tribe. After a brief conversation we were off together for the other side of the straight to an unassuming neighborhood where we would share two days of storytelling, information exchange, and the good natured comeradery that comes from mutual understanding. There are a lot of ways to see the world, only a few of us are doing it this way. This makes our path feel unusual at times in that we get a unique view of the places we visit while presenting a unique sight for the folks we meet. There is also an air of freedom amongst cyclists that does not seem to pervade in the tourist crowd at large. Perhaps this is due to the self sufficiency or the feeling that we are somehow embodying the changes we wish to see in our world… Perhaps. But more so this feeling, this sense of adventure seems to be rooted in the very nature of our endeavor. When we commit to travelling this way, we are making a move that contraindicates obligations, embraces difficulties that conventional vacations are designed to steer around, and in doing so places us at the mercy of everyday people and everyday circumstances. Most of us assume that the banal, the mundane, and the industrial are filled with a timeless beauty that fully reveals itself at the pace of a bicycle. The few walkers we meet (and we do meet them, walking from, say, Paris to Jerusalem) would say that even this is much too fast.
Spending a few days with members of our own mental breed was revitalising. It is always nice to meet others who have cast aside traditionalisms for the sake of life on their terms. The time we shared was filled with laughs, discussions, and fresh ideas. The stuff that good diplomacy is made of; eating smoked muscles on the stairs, washing them down with cold beer, in the company of youth from a legion of nations. The stories of our elders tell us that these moments were so empowering. They still are. This life is timeless………

Hitchhikingscool

We had to wait some weeks to have everything in order for our İranian visas, so we decided to go hitchhiking to Georgia.

The hardest part was leaving Erzurum İ think…we were thumbing (actually petting the dog) on the road for four hours with no rides…only people stopping to tell us we cant hitchhike. We were standing beside  a school where we were entertainment for the kids. They began climbing the fence to come talk with us and help us stop cars. They went to get their English teacher because they thought it would be funny for us to speak to her. She invited us in the school and we walked with her. This made a huge riot among the children and 50 of them swarmed around  but the teacher got us safely in the staff lunch room where we met other teachers and were given a good lunch. Eventually we made it to Artvin…a beautiful mountain village….and spent the night there with some couchsurfers. 

The next morning we hitched out, first getting a ride from an engineer from İstanbul who was working on some dams in the area. He spoke some English so communication was not a problem. He dropped us off after a 30km ride and 5 min later he changed his mind and came back to give us a ride another 40km to Hopa. From there we flagged another car after waiting about half an hour. This guy was cool but didn`t speak like us so communication was lacking sophistication. He was happy to meet us though and called up his friend who spoke English so we could have a translator. He invited us to dinner but we apologized that we had to continue hıtchıng so he left us his number to call him if we come back this way. He took us as far a he could then even flagged down the next ride for us, a big transport truck! This next ride was short because we were now close to the border.

We entered Georgia! İf you don`t already know… Georgia lies between Eastern Europe and Western Asia, it is bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russia, to the south by Turkey and Armenia , and to the east by Azerbaijan.  Georgia is an ancient country with history dating back to the 12th century B.C and is populated by only about 4.5 million people. There are hundreds of languages in the world but for all of these there are only 14 alphabets, so its pretty cool that the 5 million Georgian speakers own one of these alphabets, mkhedruli, which has 33 letters and makes me totally dizzy. Georgia was attacked by the Red army in the 1920`s, fought with the soviets against the nazi`s in WW2, and remained under soviet control until they declared independence in 1991 after the collapse of the soviet union. But in 2008 war broke out again between Georgia and Russia over some Georgian territories under Russian occupation which Russia sees as İndependent countries. But despite this almost all Georgians İ talked to have nothing against Russian people, they only dislike their government and know that the people have little to do with it, they just want to live in peace. İm sure other countries could learn a thing or two from the Georgians.

So İ spent about 2 weeks in Georgia, most of that time in the capital Tbilisi where İ met a lot of great friends. First we stayed with George, an old friend of mine, and drank a lot of cheap beers and wine, and eat tons of great food. George is crazy and it ws great to meet up again. Then Maarten took a visit to Spain and İ moved in with some friends İ met in a park one afternoon. These folks took great care of me and though communication was sometimes pretty shitty İ felt like we were family. İ was almost convinced by them to stay living with at their place in Tbilisi, but my ass belongs to the road and my wheels have to keep rolling. İt was sad to leave but İ`m sure İ will be back in Georgia again in the future.

To Maarten`s surprise İ was still hanging around Tbilisi when he returned from Spain and we were able to hitch out together. Driving in Georgia is a pants shitting expirence. İf you follow the traffic rules other drivers will have no respect for you, rules are for people that don`t know how to drive. It seems the rule is the biggest  vehicle wins.  Having your hands in the 10-2 position is never an option, not even for bus drivers, because one hand is used only for lighting a smoke, changing the music, or honking the horn.  And most important….you never pass  the  care in front of you unless you see oncoming traffic less then 500m  away.                                                  

Our first ride took about one hour to catch, this after many people coming to us saying it wasn`t  possible to hitchhike, nobody will stop and we have to take a bus. But someone did stop…a Turkish trucker going our way pulled his rig over and we hopped in. Slowly our small Turkish vocabulary returned to our hungover brains. This guy gave us a ride only about 110km then had to stop for the night so we were left at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. We tried to hitch further but it was already pitch black and the drivers couldn’t see us until they were too close to stop, and the gas station was not very popular, so we decided to camp out around back. THEN….it was realized that my dumbass forgot my mandolin back in Tbilisi! S**T!!! İ couldn`t leave my baby behind so Maarten joined my on a 2 euro bus ride back to the big smoke….

Back to square one. We gave hitching outta Tbilisi another shot, it worked the first time so we knew it could be done though many more people again said we have to take a bus. A few hours passed bye along with the few thousand drivers that wouldn`t pick us up, blowing bye us  like stones flying from a slingshot on mars. One guy stopped and offered to take us to the bus station and pay for our ticket, but we stayed true to the way of the road. And finally an old guy with a few teeth and rickety old van stopped for us. He was rolling on about 300km our way and we bumped along the road with him…as you might imagine there was not too much conversation between us but we enjoyed the music on his cassette tapes. At one point the man stopped at a small road side market to talk with a farmer. Upon leaving we got stuck in deep loose gravel and had to push his van out in the poring rain. We rolled on into the night until it was the end of the line for ol farmer Joe, he dumped us out on the road in front of  a cop shop in case we needed a place to sleep out in the middle of nowhere.

We put our thumbs out in the cold night air and the first cars stopped…a lawyer in shiny fast car. He spoke Russian so Maarten used what he knows for conversation. The friendly dude brought us 40km to a town close to our destination, then İ guess he felt bad for us because he decided to go out of his way to bring us the extra 15 km to Batumi after buying us some drinks. We found a place to crash for the night and in the morning we crossed the border back into Turkey and put our thumbs out again. İt was a beautiful sunny day and beside the Black Sea a man pulled over his pıck-up truck to give us a lift into Hopa. From there we found the road heading east to Artvin, were refused a lift by a  trucker just pulling out and waited about 5 min for our next ride from a young couple, Englısh teachers, heading home to Artvin. 70km later, after passing by the trucker, we were dumped out on the road surrounded by giant mountains to be picked up again a few hours later by two toothless farmers in a dirty old truck. They forced me at gun point to play them a song, good thing İ went back for my mandolin! They flew us around the steep mountain roads with stunning views of  valleys. rivers, and snow-capped peaks, then left us on the side of a dusty mountain road. 40 min and 4 cars passed by the time a young geologist from Ankara picked us up in his new sporty pick-up. Conversation was understood and we rocked out to his good taste in music.

Night came early ( 5pm) when we were dropped off at the road to Erzurum where we waited 3 hours in the cold and dark mountains for our next lift. We were also joined by a young Turkish dude hitching to Erzurum so now we were three. Eventually a food delivery van stopped for us. Our new friend hopped in the back of the van with no windows and bounced around back there in the dark for an hour and a half. Maarten and İ sat up front crammed in next to the two delivery guys in their late 30`s. They fed us pears and shared continuous elementary conversation as they were very interested in our favorite football ( soccer ) players. Maarten was renamed Ricky Martin and forced to make numerous prank calls to the guys buddies. Finally after a lifetime of closely smelling the one dudes terrible b.o we arrived back home with our bikes in Erzurum.

Now…hitching is over for me…for a while anyway.

We are 30km from the İranian border today, in the town of Doğubayazit, shadowed by Mount Ararat. We spent an extra day here because İ lost the bolt for my front break cable and thought it better to find a bike shop to get a spare bolt, then to cycle in the mountains without breaks. Or maybe we are just lazy and want to bum around more. Either way…tomorrow we shall cross a new border!

shaun

Animals V.S Vegetables

Some of you already know that both Maarten and myself are vegetarians. We both have different reasons for this such as personal health, environmental issues, being against cruelty to animals, views against factory farming, and having a love for tasty vegetables. But since traveling in Turkey we have been eating some dead animals and it has been a real moral issue for us to deal with. Yes it is our choice but in a way it is not quite our choice. I guess the reason, though I hate to admit it, is because we are speciesist… we prioritize our human relations over the lives of other earthlings, earthlings that have just as much right to life as we do. If we recognize one form of oppression then we should recognize the rest.

You see, in Turkey, especially in the small villages, it is not very common to be vegetarian. We found that some people don’t understand what the hell we are talking about. If you say you don’t eat meat they bring you chicken instead. In turkey people are very hospitable and almost every day we have been invited to someones house to eat or drink tea. It is very annoying each time this happens to first explain what we eat and don’t eat. Sometimes we don’t even get the chance to and food is brought to us by surprise. It is amazing kindness, and for me to go and refuse this kindness and say “sorry I don’t want to eat your food” when they can clearly see that im very hungry and exhausted, might give a very bad impression. Some people may even think that we don’t want to eat their food because we don’t trust them. This can be a problem. So both of us have come to the decision to prioritize our human relations over the lives of other innocent beings, and eat some dead animals while in Turkey and Iran only.

But one thing that does make me feel better about it is that most of the meat we will eat is home grown and not taken for granted, never wasted. Most of it is not produced on a factory farm where a systematic effort to produce the highest output at the lowest cost using huge amounts of antibiotics, growth hormones and pesticides to kill of diseases (such as mad cow, and foot and mouth) that are caused by the disgustingly over crowded living conditions, then inhumanly murdered without love or respect. Physical restraints are even used to stop the animals from moving.

Farmers, as well as animals have suffered greatly from factory farming….the number of farms has decreased while the number of animals farmed and consumed each year has greatly increased, and obviously their ownership is more concentrated, making it difficult for small farmers… In the U.S. four companies produce 81 percent of cows and other livestock. These numbers are similar in other countries as well. Did you know that world wide, suicide is higher among farmers then any other profession? Do you think that has anything to do with the World Trade Organization and big agribusiness? This problem of cooperate farming and land ownership is also for vegetable farmers too, but I could be writing for a long time if I get too into  it now.

I have been vegetarian for a while now and one question meat eaters always ask me is “where do I get protein from ?” I think it is a funny question really, considering almost all plants contain protein. But I suppose what they mean is where do I get essential amino acids from, since your body cant make these on its own. But the essential amino acids can also be obtained not only by eating dead animals but also from eating a variety of plant sources that provide all eight essential amino acids (e.g. brown rice and beans, or hummus and whole wheat pita. Protein in vegetarian diets is only slightly lower than in dead animal diets and can meet daily requirements for any person, including athletes, bodybuilders, and yes…even cyclists!

Ok , but what about iron? Surely iron deficiency anemia must be much more common in vegetarians then in animal eaters. Well actually that’s not true at all, anemia is rare no matter what your diet is. Iron deficiency is no more common in vegetarians than it is in dead animal eaters.  Vegetarian diets usually have similar levels of iron to animal eaters, but this has lower absorption than iron from animal sources. Vegetarian foods rich in iron include black beans, cashews, hempseed, kidney beans, lentils, oatmeal, raisins, black-eyed peas, soybeans, many breakfast cereals, sunflower seeds, chickpeas, tomato juice, tempeh, molasses, thyme, and whole-wheat breads. And man, do we ever eat a lot of this stuff, especially the beans!! My mouth is already starting to water.

So as you can see it is not unhealthy to give up eating dead animal, quite the opposite really, but the meat industry has a lot of money and a tight grip on the media for feeding you its propaganda. Did you know that properly planning and eating a vegetarian diet can help with prevention and treatment of certain diseases? Did you know that heart disease is 30% lower for vegetarians then dead animal eaters? Because vegetarian diets have lower levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal protein, that are causes of  heart disease and higher levels of carbohydrates, fiber, magnesium, potassium, foliate, and antioxidants such as vitamins C and E.  I read that vegetarians  have lower body fat, lower levels of cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and less risk of heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, renal disease, osteoporosis, cancers, dementias such as Alzheimer’s Disease and other disorders, and it is not hard for me  to believe.

I have heard arguments against vegetarianism like  ‘humans are natural omnivores’. But this has been proven to be false. Humans lack the proper canine teeth to rip and tear flesh, our digestive track is much to small properly digest meat, and our bodies alone are not capable of killing animals and ripping their limbs and bone apart. Appetites of  carnivores and omnivores are turned on by the site and smell of blood and guts, what about you? Do you salivate at the site and smell of blood and dead animals or does it make you sick? I think if most people are eating a burger then see a lot of blood they will forget about eating all together. Most people would rather ignore where that burger came from, especially while they are eating it. Do you think you could eat lunch while sitting in a slaughter house with the stench of death and sounds of torture, watching cows and pigs being killed, blood gushing on the floor, and having their guts ripped out? A carnivore certainly could. We were built to eat plants and fruit.

I have heard other so called “arguments” from people in favor of eating dead animals such as ‘I do what I like, I love the taste of meat and I couldn’t imagine not eating it again…it’s so delicious…and it wont change anything if is stop eating it anyway’. For those people i just have to say…’please listen to what your saying, and stop being such a f***ing idiot’.

Do you need any other reasons?

Ok, here are some more….What about the environmental effects of meat production? Did you know that the livestock industry is one of the largest contributors to environmental degradation worldwide, and todays practices of raising animals for food contributes on a massive scale to air and water pollution, land degradation, climate change, and loss of biodiversity? Did you know that the World Bank estimated that the meat industry contributes 51% of all greenhouse gas emissions? Did you know that animals fed grain need more water than grain crops need to grow? What does this mean, well it means that “producing” animals for food is much less efficient than the harvesting of grains, vegetables, seeds and fruits for our food. When you are about to bite into that juicy burger just remember that the production and consumption of meat and other animal products is directly associated with the clearing of rainforests (causing the loss of some unique plant and animal species in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America, some of which could contain cures for many diseases ), resource depletion, air and water pollution (from animal shit, pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics), land and economic inefficiency, species extinction, and other environmental harms. This can not be denied!

Did you know that while wars are being fought over land ownership, livestock takes up 30 percent of the land on the planet? That is a lot of land!

At the moment you may not care because maybe you haven’t yet seen that the world is in a water shortage crises. It is already very serious but i know it is only going to get worse, in ten years many more people will be dieing because of this. But did you know that despite this death threat to humanity half of all the water consumed in North America is consumed by livestock! How do you feel about that while you eat your juicy piece of animal and you know people in the world are dieing because they have nothing do drink and no way to water their crops? Soon water will be worth more to people then oil and wars will be fought over it.

Unfortunately it is up to us to learn and tell other people this information on our own. The government gets huge amounts of money from the meat industry so they will never want to tell us this information or teach it in schools so that the future is better for everyone, unless they are forced to. Instead they will tell you that dead animals are good for you and should be a part of every meal you eat. I know that’s what I learned in school.

Maybe the way humans treat other Earthlings has a direct relation to the way humans treat other humans?

Some people I talk to about being vegetarian say that all vegetarians think they can change the world (even though every decent person should want to and try to change this shitty mess, meat eaters included. When we see a problem in the world the worst thing we can say is ‘there is nothing we can do about it, that’s just the way it is’) but it is more about changing yourself, being healthy, and doing something good for the earth which gave you life. Anyway, you can’t deny that many small changes add up. I’m not thinking that I can convince everyone to stop eating dead animals, though it would be nice if I could. And I know that in some places in the world it is necessary for the people to eat some meat in order to survive, like in the Arctic and Mongolia for example. I know people will do what they want and what they think is best for themselves, but with more information maybe a spark of change will fire in some people and they will give it a shot, they may just notice that they have more energy and feel better about themselves and tell others about it. Even people choosing not to eat meat one day of the week will make a difference…meatless mondays?

These are only some of the arguments for vegetarianism… there are many more but I don’t feel like writing a whole book right now.

Man, reading over this I don’t know what happened…. I was supposed to write about an excuse for us eating some dead animals during this trip. Oops

shaun

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Cycling brother in Distress!!!

One of our cycling partners in spirit, Charlie, has had a bicycle accident in
Alexandria, Egypt, while on his round the world tour. He has broken his
hip, and is having surgery. The surgery should all go fine,
and he will be on the road to recovery very soon… but there’s another 3
months of resting downtime for him…

Im sure we can all imagine how it must feel to be alone in a strange
hospital, unable to get around – and you all know how hard it will be for
him to have to stay off the bike for so long…

AND there’s nothing like a letter or package or card to make Charlie smile
– so if anyone feels like sending snail mail, I know he would appreciate
it more than anything in the world! Even support from people he has never met yet! Please do!

An address for him in Alexandria:

Shehab Khashaba
1 Mahmoud ElAttar St.
flat#101, Doctors building
Smouha,Alexandria
Egypt

This is Charlie´s website..please check it out!!! http://bicycle4earth.org/

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Leaving the west behind!

Even though we have only made it to İstanbul technically we are now on the Asian continent, and the more we head east the more hospitality we encounter. Already ın Turkey İ have been amazed at how people treat guests and foreigners and İ know we wıll be seeing a lot more of this. İ´m not sure how long it will take or if İ will get tired of having almost everyone we pass wave and yell ‘hello friend’, but İ am sure that this is the genuine nature of the Turkish people.

Our first full day in Turkey we spent cycling our asses off against strong headwinds and over countless long, stretched out hills. The winds were so strong that instead of cycling down the hills in our highest gears, we were only using one or two gears higher then the ones used to climb up. Because of this we only covered about 85-90km with the amount of effort that normally would take us 120-140km. So by the middle of the day we were already dam tired and cursing this wind that had been battling us head on for 4 or 5 days without resistance. İn the mid afternoon we were too exhausted to continue without passing out for  an hour or two, which we did in the dirt on a small hill beside the busy highway while tiny biting ants and annoying buzzing flies tried to wake us from the sanctuary of sleep.

By the end of the days our legs were like spaghetti as the sun was going down. We were getting close to the massive city Istanbul (population around 17 000 000 ) so it was not easy finding a hidden place to camp out for the night. Luckily we came to a coastal town and made our way down to the wide, sandy beach where we though we would have a peaceful sleep listening to the waves gently crash on the shore….but we were wrong.  The first thing to disturb our slumber were the armies of kamikaze mosquitoes that had us ducking for cover, heads tucked in sleeping bags. Then after a few more hours of sleep İ heard the voices of some dudes beside us, rolling over İ poked my sleepy head out of my sleepingbag to see 5 cops with machine guns staring down at me, so İ decided it was a good time to wake up again and wake Maarten who was still sleeping like Goldie Locks. The cops tried talking to us and we tried talking to them but there was a major language barrier confusing things. Fortunately some locals that lived on the beach noticed the situation and within seconds there was a crowd of people standing around the two of us who were still laying in our sleeping bags like a couple of squirming worms, and one of them, a soft spoken women, could speak English. With her help the situation was soon clear….the cops only wanted to warn us that our bikes and bags weren´t safe there and we assured everyone that we were comfortable with that and if things were stolen we would not cause trouble about it. They left us there to sleep in the sand. İ was a bit surprised that the cops didn´t give us a fine or even make us get up and leave like they would in many other countries including theır neighbours to the west.

Soon we were sound asleep again only to be woken a few hours later by the next invader of our peace…an extremely annoying dog. This little white scruffy bastard stood about 20 feet ( 6 meters) away from us, staring at us with beady little eyes and continually barked at us with an irritating high pitched sound for at least 4 or 5 hours without stopping. Seriously, İ´m not joking, İ actually started to think it was a robot, İ never met a dog that could be so persistently retarded without stopping for a breath.                                                                                                                                                                  Needless to say we slept well that night.

The second day in Turkey is when İ started noticing how amazing cycling in this country was going to be, all because of the people. In the early morning as we were brushing the sand off and packing our things, an old man slowly walked over to us with small steps. He was curious in our bikes and paid attention to the way we loaded our gear on them. As we were going to leave the beach the way we came on to it he stopped us and showed us a shorter way to get back to the main road. He walked behind us and when we stopped to check our map he invited us over for tea at his house that we were standing beside. Gladly we joined him for a cup, Maarten had already mentioned to me that before cycling he wanted to stop ın a cafe for tea so this was just perfect. We sat in the man´s front yard sipping each 4 cups of  tasty Turkish tea (if you haven´t had it you don´t know what your missing) while we showed him our map of Turkey and how far we were cycling. Upon leaving he wished us good luck and we thanked him for his kindness, shook his hand and hit the road. This was all without being able to speak each others language.

Further down the road still cycling against strong relentless headwinds, the traffic got much too heavy to be enjoyable so we left the main road to zigzag along through maze of coastal villages. This method was much slower but a hellofa lot safer and more relaxed. İn one of these villages we passes by a little bike repair shack that was run by a man with his two young son´s and his friend helping. When they saw us cruising by the immediately called us over to talk with them. They offered us a seat on the couch and chairs they had outside and something to drink. The man was the only one who could speak English and so became translator as we spoke to him about our trip and showed them pictures of our family which they were very interested in. These guys were so hospitable it excited me to see the rest of the country. The man`s friend went to the shop to buy food in order to prepare for us a delicious Turkish meal, and we all sat around and ate out of one pot using bread to scoop up the saucy food. He told us that family should eat together like this. After we ate they brought out tea and we talked a while longer late into the afternoon until  we felt it was getting late and we really had to take off. İf we didn´t leave İ´m sure they would have offered us to spend the night.

Getting closer to the city the traffic was heavy with a thick choking smog which began to irritate my eyes. As İ´m sure everyone already know well that smog is a serious problem in most cities around the world and continues to harm human health while we continue to do nothing about it and continue to drive fossil fuel-burning engines. But why would we stop driving our polluting cars and trucks? İ mean, doesn´t everyone just love sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide inflaming their breathing passages, decreasing their lungs’ working capacity, causing shortness of breath, pain when inhaling deeply, wheezing, and coughing? Do we really care about smog being especially harmful for senior citizens, children, and people with heart and lung conditions?

Anyway…the traffic was almost suicidal by the time we were 20km from the center of İstanbul so we decided to turn off the motorway and get lost in the suburban jungle around the city. Lost we did find ourselves but it was all according to the inevitability of the universe and the chain of actions setting us up to be in the right place at the right time. As we slowly cycled backed to the general direction of the motorway, a black BMW with tinted windows cut us off and stopped in front of us. 3 doors opened and simultaneously 3 men with black suits and black sunglasses stepped out and stopped us, as if in a mafia movie. İ was picturing them pulling out guns but thought `who would rob a couple of dirty bike bums?´. We were confused at first, again because of the language barrier, but it turned out that the man who stayed seated in the car was not quite a mob boss, he was the mayor, and we wanted us to follow hıs car to a near bye mosque.

We entered İstanbul during the end of Ramadan, the 9th month of the Islamıc calendar. It is the Islamıc month of fasting, in which practicing Muslims refrain from eating, drinking and sex from dawn until dusk. Ramadan is a time of reflecting, believing and worshiping God. Muslims are expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam during this time. Purity of both thoughts and actions is important. Fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose is to cleanse the inner soul and free it from harm. It also teaches Muslims to practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate, encourage actions of generosity and charity, which we were met with on our arrival at the mosque. İt was explained to us that the mayor wished for us to stay for a an iftar, or evening meal, which everyone ate together in the corridor of this huge, beautifully architectured mosque. Nobody could speak English but one of the men in charge of the activities at the mosque could speak German as does Maarten. Conversation with the Mayor went from him speaking in Turkish to the man in charge, who spoke to Maarten in German, who spoke to me in English. On the stairs in front of the mosque where people crowded around us to see who the strangers were, we had photos taken with the mayor and other people by some press and also with our camera. The Mayor seemed impressed with our goal and with our raising money for a school and İ was grinning like an idiot from ear to ear. The mayor left for other important meetings, living the busy life that comes with such a position, and we were escorted by the man in charge and given a grand tour and history of the place. They wanted our bikes to be safe so we carried them up into the corridor where everyone was seated for the meal. There was about 2000 people there and every person at once had their eyes on these strange foreigners bringing in their strange bikes causing so much attention. I felt terribly under dressed for this occasion having not showered in 5 days and having holes in the ass of my filthy shorts, İ apologized for this but was assured that it was not a problem. We were seated at a head table, me still not being able to help grinning like a fool, and after the evening prayer enjoyed a delicious 3 course meal. Everyone here, all 2000 people eat for free and the food is all donated. That is something you don´t often see in the west.

After the dinner a police escort was arranged to bring us and our bike in a truck dropping us of where we were staying, 15km away in the center of Istanbul. The drivers were very cool and wanted to have our phone numbers and email addresses so they could visit us when we returned home to Canada and Holland.

These are my first impressions of Turkey.

Shaun.