Spending winter in Cyprus

Deciding to spend the winter in Cyprus was a forced decision for the group. The oncoming cold, the difficulties of having to spend many nights sleeping rough, combined with the nasty surprise of the unfulfilled promise of a winter-long shelter on the Turkish coast, convinced our pedal caravan to get on a ship to Cyprus, where the weather promised greater leniency. On landing in Famagusta, in fact, the scenario changed completely, and everyone was able to finally relax a little.

FAMAGUSTA – «In Cyprus, we were quite overwhelmed by the beautiful climate at Famagusta – continues Piero – where we were able to enjoy workouts in swim wear on the beach as well as getting an excellent reception from the locals. We started to put on shows in the pubs with a very good response from the audience».

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Practicing (and relaxing) on the beach in Famagusta

«The only regret was represented by the parting with Scuccia, our stray dog. After having been in quarantine we left him with some of our friends there. He was also left behind because he had started to become aggressive during street performances when he took to protecting the space where we put down our hat as if it were his territory. It was upsetting to have to tie him up during the shows, so we reluctantly entrusted him to people who, we knew, would take good care of him . The period in Famagusta went smoothly and without any problems. We often played in the clubs,where they allowed us to ‘make hat’ and they also gave us food».

A picture of Scuccia, the Cyclown Dog

«At that time the group consisted of nine people. Shanti, a clarinet player, and juggler, from San Francisco: Channing, a complete lunatic from Oklahoma, one of the first components of Cyclown Circus, he was very good with the unicycle and the accordion, Marylise a Canadian from Quebec, a true phenomenon on the violin and an excellent singer; Simone, from Rome, good at juggling and on guitar, Johnny, from New Orleans, aged 42 at the time, a strong bass player and with a great circus spirit, he enriched each number with some new sound; Raphael, an American who lived in New Orleans, violinist, guitarist, he also played trumpet and clarinet, he bought a banjo in China and after a while he could play it too; Rocio, a talented Argentinian clown who had already been on the road for nine years, having left before the Argentine crash and not gone home; David, an earnest and self-effacing German who had joined in Istanbul and who played the guitar, he had little of the circus spirit and returned to Europe after Cyprus. And of course there was me.».

The Cyclown Circus

TOWARDS NICOSIA, THE Cyprus ISSUE – «We moved from Famagusta to Nicosia. This was a really nice trip, with beautiful streets and a mild, let’s say, autumnal climate. At one point on the road we saw a huge layer of cement on one side of the mountain and the Turkish Cypriot flag was depicted on it. It had been made so big to make it visible to the Greeks who are on the other side of the island. It was our first encounter with the intricate Cyprus Question.».

The concrete flag

«Suffice it as an example that even water, with springs that are in the Greek side but not in the Turkish one, is sold as if it were fuel from the pumps – just like in the photo below – to realize the difficulties of coexistence that still persist there in people’s lives today, “Su” in Cypriot language means water».

Oil? No, water!

We end this first adventure about Piero and the Cyclown Circus with a documentary by Dimitris Sfyris, where you can get to see them in action. Enjoy!

Goodbye Turkey, it’s time to spend the winter in Cyprus

When we last left the group, our cyclist friends had split into smaller groups. Piero was the first one to arrive in the town of Mersin, only to realize that the promised shelter was actually a house of cards. Falling apart.

 

Camping out in Turkey

Camping out in Turkey

Mersin

“We were the first to arrive in Mersin, and we immediately called the number of the guy who had offered us hospitality. He started talking very vaguely from the first moment. Anyway we managed to get an appointment, so we could see things more clearly. When the guy saw that there were just four of us he exclaimed: “Thank goodness. My parents are at home, they didn’t leave and now I cannot accommodate everyone. ”

Our world fell on top of us. We were quite tired, among other things. He led us to his house. We had to leave the bikes in the yard and already this kind of scared us. We entered the apartment, and were met by the stare of an old-fashioned Muslim-style father, and a mother who was evidently very embarrassed. We took a shower, more or less. We could not wash our clothes. We felt completely out of place. We slept in the living room and the next day the guy told us that we had to get out of the house. We left after breakfast and tried to get some news of the others. We spent a few days waiting for them to arrive in this vast, new city,  a city built round its harbor.”

“We did shows, and after the first one we were invited to perform in a rather ambiguous club. There we just played some music, no one seemed to want to help us, and in the meantime night was falling. I don’t remember where we slept that night, but I remember the two consecutive rainy days when we had to sleep under bridges. That’s when I really had a taste of a bum’s life. Everything was very dirty. The city chock full of kids sniffing glue from paper bags. They looked like zombies moving in herds, with these bags. Totally harmless, because of the drug. They were rather annoying, but unable to steal from us. A truly sad scene, which we tried to downplay by teasing them.”

A show in Turkey

A show in Turkey

“The others took forever to arrive, but at least the rain was over. We slept for a night or two in a bar under construction, on the waterfront. Nice, finally. Then we get an email from the other group, they were 30 km from us, in the cottage of a family that had adopted them as part of their own family. They just couldn’t leave, that’s how good they were. And we were sleeping under bridges…”.

On the way to Famagusta

On the way to Famagusta

On the way to Famagusta

“Finally, we were reunited with the rest of the group. And we tried to figure out how to get to Cyprus, where we had been told that winter is not so cold. “Why not,” we said. We left the same day and we arrived in Famagusta. The island of Cyprus went through a deathly war 40 years ago, when the Greeks were attacked by the Turks. We often spoke about it while on the island. We had to leave Scuccia, the stray dog who had traveled with the circus since Bosnia, in quarantine, and that broke our hearts. We did a first show there, then we got on our bikes in the warm weather and enjoyed a nice swim in the sea after the cold we had suffered in Cappadocia a week earlier. “

Cycling through Cappadocia, fleeing from the cold

“The Turkish people are very hospitable of course, but also quite effusive, so sometimes we felt we needed to stay away from populated areas just to get a bit of peace, be able to practice a bit of juggling, or just to work out. Otherwise, we were always being observed, it wasn’t easy. From Ankara onwards there was also a TV station that followed our trip, so we were often expected in a village square, sometimes even with the chairs all arranged! It was very nice. We soon entered into a sort of routine: In the morning we cycled for about 60/80/90 km, then in the afternoon we did the show, and before night it was necessary to find a place to sleep and then have dinner, keep your diary, do some stretching or whatever in front of a fire or in some house. The roads in general were quite challenging, Turkish traffic is not easy. But having said that, the streets are not packed with cars, and many areas are quite deserted.”

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A break in Eskiseir

“I remember this new city, just like Pescara (Piero’s city of origin), a place with no history… I don’t remember how we ended up there, but it was terrible, with lots of kids who circled around us handling our things. It was quite stressful. We sheltered in a small house which was being built outside of town, and some of us went back and forth from the town with two “regular” bikes (the others were Tall Bikes) to carry out daily activities. We didn’t think it was appropriate to make any shows. You could smell a sort of negative euphoria in that place. But that was an isolated case, and in general I have fond memories of those five months in Turkey. After a while I started understanding quite well what I was told, and I picked up a little Turkish too. ‘

Cappadocia

One of the variables to consider when traveling and being so exposed to the elements is the arrival of winter and the cold. So the group soon had to find suitable accommodation to weather the approaching winter months.” We found accommodation for the winter in Mersin, a city on the Mediterranean shores, right at the tip of the tourist area in the south. Some guy whom we had met offered to accommodate us in his family apartment.” To reach Mersin the group had to cross Cappadocia, where, for a few days, they even had to shelter in a cave.

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“Sleeping in Cappadocia was beautiful, but in general it was not easy. Those days were a sort of retreat, to train and try out new things. We did shows in a neighboring village, full of European, Americans, Chinese, and Japanese tourists… But we soon started to feel the cold. “M4031M-4205
“We had to flee with snow pursuing us, looking for a train to take us as far away as possible. One day we covered 80 Km almost all downhill. We pedaled fast, the threatening snow right behind us. One of us got a flat tire and that forced us to stop and we ended up with snow falling on our heads, without being in the least prepared for it. It was hard. ”

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“We finally got to the town from which we could take a train. It had a tiny little station where we started to cook with a camping stove. Then a railroad worker approached and we asked him about the train, because there was only one way to arrive to Mersin, with a mountain pass at 1400 meters in altitude. But he told us there were no trains, and he also warned us that the next day we would have to move out of the station. The next day, divided into groups of two to four people, self-sufficient and able to do shows, we hitchhiked. My group was picked up in an empty truck and the driver, who was mad and drove like a madman, was actually directed to Mersin. He drank a lot and also offered us lunch. “

The journey begins: from Italy to Turkey to meet the Cyclown Circus

Having introduced the general itinerary of the trip and revived the spirit which animated it, let’s now rewind and go back to when the decision to embark on such a trip was actually made. A path full of questions, with happy and less happy moments, which, when seen as a whole, reveals a life-changing experience, one that alters the very perception of all that surrounds you once you get back home.

Eastbound

a typical Turkish landscape

a typical Turkish landscape

The departure date was set for a day in June 2005.”It took something like 6 months of preparation – says Piero – in order to figure out what to bring along, and to tie up the loose ends of what I was doing at the time. Six months to leave behind nine years in Rome. I made a bike (as we said a Tall Bike) tailored to my needs, and also made one for Rocio and Simone, the two people who were leaving Italy with me.We headed south to south-east, our first destination Brindisi.The idea was to reach Salento, to meet some friends and do a couple of shows there. “This turned out to be a sort of rehearsal of what was to come in the months and years to follow, a kind of daily routine. “We did the first 30-40 kilometers by train, to get out of the city, then we cycled along via Appia towards Naples. From Naples we reached Salerno, then we crossed the Apennines, which was hard, and we headed for Bari. We spent the first three months doing shows in Salento, and cycling around to visit friends. We did some juggling and various performances, and we camped outside the towns and villages, outdoors among the olive groves, without any particular problems.” Then Piero and Rocio headed towards Brindisi, where they would meet Simone. In September, we were off to Turkey, destination Izmir, formerly known as Smyrna.

Towards Istanbul

heavy traffic

heavy traffic

“We knew some of our friends were already in Turkey, and were waiting for us in Istanbul.”They were the Cyclown Circus (http://www.cyclown.org/), a group of itinerant circus performers on two wheels from all over the world, who arrived in Istanbul travelling from Bulgaria. “From Izmir to Istanbul we took both train and bike routes, without encountering great difficulties, even when loading the bikes on trains. A total of 4 or 5 traveling days. We slept in the countryside and the goal was to reach the group as soon as possible. It was late September when we met, and we slept as guests in a small house, a total of 14 people.”

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Turkish hospitality for Piero and the Cyclown Circus

“We spent many days doing shows in Istanbul, along with the Cyclown Circus who were moslty musicians. Initially mixing our juggling art and their music wasn’t easy. In addition my English was very poor, and that was something of a problem. The theft I mentioned when discussing the safety issues of such a trip happened in the house where this group of 14 people was staying. During the night we had some intruders who used sleeping spray on us all. They then stole whatever they thought was of value. Gone were the handbags, which contained all documents, some phones (I did not possess one) and that was pretty much it. We were forced to redo our documents, and in some way we really were starting from scratch. Deep down I was kind of intrigued by this whole thing. Unfortunately, today I can no longer find that passport. ”

After the Istanbul interlude the group moved towards Ankara, and there – as pointed out by Piero – ” the real journey began”. The formula of the storyteller stopping, giving a show, asking for hospitality and food, started taking shape.

The cycling storyteller: different languages, food and cultures

What can happen when you are traveling over a long period of time on a strange means of transportation and through the largest strip of land on Earth?

Languages:

When you travel by such bicycles “- Piero continues with the story “you’re forced to learn something of the local language, as very few people speak English.Even the brain adapts and speeds up the learning process. I carried a paper notebook with me, which I gradually updated at every border, so each time i could translate at least the basic words. And if anyone spoke English I kept him there for three quarters of an hour to learn as much as possible on the language of the place“.

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Laos. Relax after the show

Food:

How do you manage with food on a trip like this? – We ask him. He says, “You get used to the food, because flavors change gradually each time you cross boundaries. To refuse the food you are offered is a great offense, according to the hospitality rules of these places, so much that the only problems occurred when we had to find a way to harmonize the choices of a vegan guy from London, who had been part of our group for a while, with the sense of hospitality of a friendly Laotian offering him some of his meet. That was all he had… In those years I have eaten snakes, marmots, and of course dogs and cats – with a preference for the first. I did not dare try monkey brains. I’ve eaten fried insects, a lot of sheep and vegetables of all kinds“.

Fear:

It seems inevitable, at least for many of us, to think about security issues when traveling around the world in such a way. But we had something to learn also in this respect : “There was never fear, because we moved without many valuables, we just paid much attention to our passports, which I actually managed to have stolen. A critical point speaking of safety was Georgia, where at about eight o’clock in the evening there was nothing and no one around, and you were often at risk of being attacked by some drunk. For more than two-thirds of the trip, however, I met incredibly friendly people, often in places where a white man had never been seen before“.

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Cyprus, looking at the mountain flag

Going home:

After all that time traveling I was afraid of not being able to relate with people, once back. I was profoundly changed. Just think that for about a year and a half I had lived with the same bottle of 1 liter and a half for my water.In plastic! Because that was my water bottle and I didn’t ask for anything better.And consider that even today, as it is done in two-thirds of the world, I do not use toilet paper, but only water.Just to give you a couple of examples“.

Examples of a kind of tourism totally different from what we are accustomed to. A “tourism on the contrary“, as defined by the same Piero, who explains the concept, and introduces the next post, where we start getting into the details of this cathartic journey between Europe and Asia: “While the classic tourist comes and takes what the resort offers, going away with his little packet full of souvenirs, the bicycle and the circus meant that we were the first who had to give, always, in every place, reversing what is perhaps the saddest of the rules of modern tourism.

We were storytellers. If we asked, we always asked after our show. And often our audience was able to grasp the poetry at the very core of our journey, while here we are too spoiled to realize how many beautiful things we have around“.

“The people understant poetry”, sang the italian group Mercanti di Liquore, without forgetting to add “provided that there is any.”

The cycling storyteller: preparation and itinerary

As true lovers of amazing travel stories, we at Personal Travels know the difference between a normal tourist, intended as one of those who do not stray from known paths and go around with their latest digital camera, and a real traveler, one who plans his/her departure, knowing what he/she ìs leaving behind, without the obsession of a fixed route and timing constraints. A choice that may not suit everyone, but that can surely fascinate most people. And speaking of travelers, we were awestruck by the story of the journey of Piero, better known as “Zio Bici” (Uncle Bike): a tour on two wheels – operated by pedals and not by a motor engine – that brought him from Italy to Indonesia, from Europe to Asia, over a period of about 5 years – 2005 to 2010 – alternating times with a motley crew of people who shared a passion for bikes and street circus, and long periods of solo traveling. And together with him we want to try to tell this story.

Zio Bici

Piero aka Zio Bici in one of his balancing tricks.

Preparation

The preparation of the trip lasted 6 months“- he tells us – “I was about to leave everything, without knowing where I was going and not a worry about the time needed. Leaving Rome, a house, a good job. I’ve given away a few things and put aside some other things that seemed important to me. I packed my life in a couple of bags and left“. It is easy to imagine how many difficulties need to be faced, from logistical ones to more practical ones, from the choice of a suitable means of transportation to that of what “baggage” to bring along, to the problems associated with different languages and customs that they were going to meet, or with safety in general.

We started as a small traveling circus on Tall Bikes (customized bicycles developed in height). I had built my bike for the occasion after the experience of a previous three-month trip, where I had prepared a bike on two levels with cargo bays.A key variable is to know well the places that you are going to, so choose the best asset and avoid getting lost in impossible maintenance tasks“.

Piero's Tall Bike

Piero’s Tall Bike

Route

In my itinerary, I tried to follow the heat as much as possible“- Piero goes on – “I started travelling East-bound in June, and I left Istanbul in October. In December, I was in Cyprus, perfect in winter. After winter, in mid-March, we headed back North, traveling through Russia and Mongolia in August, Beijing at the end of October, and then we headed South. To Laos. We kept on running away from the cold and the snow“. This is the sequence of countries crossed during the trip: Turkey, then Cyprus, Turkey again, then Georgia, Russia and Mongolia. Then China, Laos and Thailand where we went back and forth many times, and finally Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. “The only milestones of our travels were visas ” Piero tells us with a smile explaining how time flowed in a very different way during this experience.

One step at a time, week after week, and country after country, we will revive the story of Piero, to find out how he managed to put all his certainties of a wealthy western man at stake to find himself catapulted into such different realities, where what seems to be vital here, can become just a quirk or a tiny detail at other latitudes. Two wheels and the iron will to spin them around the world, with the juggling gear in a pocket of the bag, a little more than a hundred euro in his pocket, just to meet the first basic needs, and the longing and desire to share something with all (or most of) the people met on the street. Few but important ingredients for a memorable trip.

Ready to climb on the barrel of your virtual bike to cycle along with Piero?