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“.

1.laos

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“.

1.cipro

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?