THE LONE RIDER

A SOLO CYCLE JOURNEY AROUND EUROPE....... POSSIBLY THE WORLD!!

ADVENTURES

OF

Current location: UK (home)

Total miles: 16,547 (26,475km)

 

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By thelonerider, Feb 19 2016 12:08PM

Hello again! It’s been a long wait for Part 2 of this blog but I finally got round to writing it. I said it was going to be a while but not even I anticipated taking this long. It’s just over one year since I landed in Mumbai to begin the journey across India. I can’t believe it! How time fly’s.


I’m sure from my first blog you gained a good sense of what India is like. This blog will talk about the food, some more crazy experiences, the positives and the negatives.


Okay, no more waiting, here’s what happened for the rest of the time in India.


It’s safe to say that India sends your senses wild. The mixture of smells that linger in the air is as varied as the range of spices available for cooking. At any one time you might be engulfed by the smell of stale urine emanating from the road side. On a hot afternoon it is so strong that not only does it make your eyes water, but the hairs within your nose seem to fizzle from the intensity. Mix that with the smell of car fumes, dal fry cooking somewhere nearby and of course a little hint of cow dung (depending on where you are) and it really tests every single smell receptor in your nose! It’s no wonder so many people have surgical masks or scarves covering their mouth and nose when out on the roads. Sam and I had the very unpleasant experience of riding past a large sewage works when travelling up the heavily polluted industrial belt of west India. As the smell hit us we both recoiled and almost lost control of our bikes! There was no option but to keep going forward, choosing different ways to cope with the stench whilst praying for a strong breeze to blow the smell away. Sam chose to breathe through her mouth, tasting all those delightful particles in the air whereas I chose to cover my nose and mouth with my buff. Neither option was enough to protect us from possibly the worst smell on earth. Both of us were retching in between bouts of laughing and shouting “oh my god!” We suffered in this state for about 10 minutes, the smell never faded like smells usually do when you start to get used to them. It was a tough 10 minutes. I don’t know why I’m telling you that story and I hope you weren’t eating at the time, but it was just one of those experiences that you feel you have to share. Talking of eating, I think it’s about time to tell you about the food.


The food


Masala, masala, masala! It’s in almost everything. Not only is it in most dishes but you can even buy masala crisps or have masala in your tea!! I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in shampoo or even cleaning products!


Before going to India I would eat curry on a regular basis, making at least one or two per week. But, since travelling in India and eating some form of curry every day, sometimes for breakfast, lunch and dinner I haven’t been near a curry, let alone eaten one. The smell of cumin or masala transports me straight back to a roadside restaurant (hotel) and my tally tray full of jeera aloo, biriyani, dal and other dishes suitable for cyclists travelling 50 to 80 miles in hot weather. The flavours were very bland and nothing like the curries back home. “I thought you were supposed to get the best curry in the world here!” I said to Sam as we each took a roti from the stack and dipped it in the slop…sorry, sauce. The curries were nothing like the ones back home, especially from the restaurants on Brick Lane in London or up North. They lacked the delicate balance of flavours that passionate chefs mix into their creations. In two months I only had four curries that made me go ‘mmm, oh my god that’s good’ and they came from more expensive restaurants. The rest of our meals were just, well, average. It’s a shame because I was really looking forward to the food there.


When most people think about eating in India they think about the potential of being struck down with Delhi belly. Although we avoided eating from buffets and used a straw when drinking it was inevitable that we would get some form of Delhi belly during our time there. I had three occasions where I felt ill but it wasn’t anything too severe. Sam, however, was struck down with a horrible stomach bug when we were in Agra. She suffered crippling stomach cramps, a dramatic loss of weight and was bed bound for 5 days before regaining her strength. It wasn’t a great time for her as she hates being ill but we were both relieved when her body started to recover and the illness didn’t get any worse. Neither of us wanted a trip to the hospital whilst travelling over there.


If you are reading this and you plan to cycle in India then I will give you a small piece of advice. When cycling, stick to the dishes I have mentioned above. Avoid spicy dishes as this will irritate your stomach when riding and definitely, definitely avoid eating Dal fry, especially in the morning. This lentil based dish, packed full of protein and fibre could lead to a rather embarrassing road side dash into the bushes (if there are some) for a number…..well, I think you know which number I’m talking about. This wouldn’t be too bad in a country with a small population where you can be discreet, but this is India and here you WILL be spotted and you WILL draw a crowd. You might catch sight of a local having a moment to themselves at the roadside but they won’t draw a crowd like a Westerner can.


Luckily a situation like the one described above never happened to Sam or myself, however I came the closest after eating some Dal fry in the morning. Thankfully, after ten thousand miles in the saddle my almost steel like butt cheeks were pretty strong and I managed to control/prevent what my body was trying to do.


All in all the food didn’t wow me as much as other things in India and since leaving the country almost 10 months ago, I haven’t eaten curry since.


The roads


The roads in India are insanely busy in the cities, crumbling in the villages, smooth on the toll roads and full of hazards such as cow chicanes, cars going the wrong way down the road, drivers not using their mirrors and overloaded trucks making sharp turns. But it can be great fun riding there!!


Before venturing off into the world on my bike I thought places like London or Birmingham were busy, congested and full of hazards, or that the French (as much as I love them) were the worst drivers in the world. Ha!! They have nothing on India. Nothing! The driving standards in India are like everything else in this country. NUTS!!!


We were often blown away by the sheer volume of motorbikes, tuk-tuks, cars and trucks navigating the chaotic streets in the Indian cities. The rules of the road that we are taught to adhere to in Britain are non-existent in this part of the world. A three lane road will have almost a dozen vehicles straddling it as you wait for the lights to turn from red to green, or for the brave traffic officer with his trusty whistle to tell you it’s okay to proceed. Before the lights even turn to green or the whistle is blown, the vehicles are off. The poor man standing in the middle with his whistle, is like a hapless scarecrow in a corn field powerless to stop a plague of locusts devouring the crops on either side of him.


We both experienced the dangers and highlights of chaotic roads in the city of Ahmedabad. On our way into the centre the traffic went from busy to claustrophobic as it was rush hour….hang on, I think every hour is rush hour in these places. Anyway, one of the highlights of this place was when we were sitting at traffic lights. The traffic man was fascinated by us so he had to come over and ask “From which country?” and “Do you like cricket?” Whilst answering his questions I also pointed to the road, gesturing that he might want to concentrate on directing traffic. The vehicles around us were beeping their horns and I couldn’t help but encourage the cacophony, putting my hand around my ear as if to say ‘I can’t hear you.’ I waved my hand up and down to get them to beep louder. They responded with extra-long beeps accompanied by huge smiles. Brilliant! When it was time to go Sam and I joined the nose to tail driving, finding gaps where there were no gaps, looking into tuk-tuks and smiling at the many faces that peered out and generally just adding to the madness. At one point I braked late and inadvertently caused a little coming together of two motorbikes behind me. In true Indian style both riders looked at each other, looked at their bikes to assess the damage, looked back at each other, wagged their heads and carried on. Excellent!! As we continued along the road things got a little too close for comfort for Sam. She was between two tuk-tuks as we went over a bridge. The gaps between her and the vehicles were closing quickly as we went down the other side. I watched as Sam, with nowhere to go, tried to avoid being hit. Her efforts did not pay off. Her upper body tightened as she prepared herself for impact. ‘S###, s###, s###’ I thought as I watched her become sandwiched between the two vehicles. I was powerless to do anything except be prepared to jump off my bike and help when she hit the ground. The impact from the left sent her into a wobble. She tried desperately to stay upright but with all the weight on the back of the bike she struggled to control it. Luckily she managed to get her foot out of the pedal and onto the ground as the bike jolted to the right. She climbed off, no doubt relieved to be still standing and not laying in a heap on the ground, and heaved her bike back into an upright position. She assured me that she was okay and we carried on down the hill, taking it steady until we reached a hotel.


The next morning we once again did battle with the busy city centre traffic. After fuelling up with some samosas we took to the streets and started navigating our way out of this congested city. Our spirits were high and I was up for some fun with the traffic. I began having a little race with a school bus, slip streaming it and then overtaking when the opportunity arose, much to the amusement of the kids on board. Sam and I both enjoyed weaving through the morning traffic at speed. So much so that at one point, when I was recovering from a sprint, Sam came whizzing past with a competitive look in her eyes. “Can’t stop! I’m in a race!” she called out as she flashed past me. ‘God I love this woman.’ I thought as I watched her race a tuk-tuk and nearly take out a pedestrian as she looked for a clear path.


Once I’d recovered from my sprint it was time to race again. There was a tuk-tuk alongside me full of people. It’s amazing how many people you can squeeze into these little vehicles. The driver was smiling and waving at me, the crazy white guy on a bike providing some entertainment to his passengers morning commute. I dropped behind to get a little tow, smiling and saying good morning to those that were sitting on the back. As I came alongside again the driver watched me more than the road. His face changed from amused to confused as I took hold of the tuk-tuk with my right hand. I pushed it backwards, giving myself a sling shot into the lead. “Hahaha” I laughed. I couldn’t believe what I was doing. I felt invincible!! As I went into the lead I looked back to see their faces. Their smiles beamed from ear to ear. This was probably one of the most entertaining rides to work they’d ever had. It was also one of my best mornings on the bike.


After racing for another few miles, having a few near misses, we decided to chill out and just ride at a normal pace. The traffic was still busy but not as congested as in the centre. As we cruised along I became concerned by a tuk-tuk joining the main road from the dirt road running parallel to it. Like all drivers he didn’t check his mirrors or even glance over his shoulder. Indian drivers don’t seem to think that anything exists behind them, they simply look forwards. From the speed at which he was going and the angle at which he entered the road I knew instantly that he was going to cut me up. I looked for somewhere to go but there wasn’t an inch of road on which I could avoid what was about to happen. I was going to be hit. I started shouting but my voice was not heard. Then, as if in slow motion, he hit my left side. I started falling to the right but I was surprised and relieved to have my fall broken by a mini-van; which appeared from nowhere like a hand to push me back up. I bounced off it, momentarily being carried forwards before going back over to the left. Sam was behind me and she thought I was going to be able to stay up, but after hitting the tuk-tuk again I lost control of my front wheel and started heading for the tarmac. The only thought that went through my head at that moment was ‘GET UP! No matter what’s broken, just stand up!’ I slammed into the ground, my bike twisting, a pannier flying off and the hot tarmac rubbing abrasively against my skin. UMPH!! Within seconds of hitting the ground I was standing up right, dozens of motorbikes surrounding me, their riders and passengers staring at the hot, sweaty and rather shocked Westerner standing in front of them. I looked at my bike on the floor, laying there in a heap like a stag that’s been grounded by a hunters bullet. A few seconds ago it was strong and free and now it looked helpless and weak. As the hot air started to cling to my skin I felt my anger growing. I quickly assessed the minor damage to me and the bike before turning my attention to the crowd, looking at their faces and searching for the one that did this. Amongst the hundreds of eyes I found a rather sheepish looking pair peering out from the yellow and green tuk-tuk. As a young man walked up to me to ask if I was okay I felt the blood inside my veins hit boiling point. I marched towards the tuk-tuk with an uncontrollable level of rage coursing through my body. Sam was standing next to it pleased that I was okay but fearing that I was about to pull the guy out of the vehicle and rip him to pieces, such was the look in my eyes. For the next minute or so I vented a tirade of criticism towards this man who sat inside his little cab looking bemused. I tapped the mirror on the side of his tuk-tuk, shouting “You might want to use it now and again. It’s there for a reason!” The crowd around us had grown ten-fold as the flow of traffic was now blocked. A couple of traffic officers, blowing their whistles like a referee at the end of a football match, tried to get some control over the situation, as did Sam who stood assertively in between me and the tuk-tuk telling me to “Walk away. WALK AWAY!!” I kept shouting at the guy, who sat wagging his head and clasping his hands together, for a few more seconds until the young man who’d asked if I was okay came up to me with one of my front panniers in his hand, again asking if I was okay. I turned my attention to my bike and to getting it off the road. As I lifted it up I could see that the handle bars were twisted but luckily there was no serious damage. I wheeled it off the road and towards a wall a few metres away. Horns were beeping all around us as drivers further down the road, unaware of the exciting scene taking place ahead, got frustrated at the traffic standing still. As I put my bike against the wall I could hear Sam’s voice above all the beeping forcefully telling the tuk-tuk driver to go away. Sweat poured off me as I fumbled around in my pannier for my multi-tool. I could feel a crowd growing behind me, their stares burning the back of my neck more than the hot Indian sun. I looked around for Sam who was now coming towards me, as were the officers and their whistles. The crowd around me was some 60 or 70 people strong, maybe more. As I tried to fix my bike and control the sweat running off my forehead a man from the crowd walked up to me. And then, even in this situation where I’ve had a crash, I’m hot, angry and trying to fix my bike the man who walked up to me asks, in true Indian style...wait for it….“From which country?” ARGH!!! ‘Why? Why? Why are you asking me that now?’ I thought as I kept my head down. “Country?” he asked again. “ENGLAND!!! Now go away!!” I shouted. “Ah! England” he mumbled as he turned and walked back to the crowd. “England. England” rippled softly through the crowd as those within it could now feel better that they knew where I was from. They were soon being dispersed by the officers and just a few remained to watch me sort my things out. After a few more minutes Sam and I were back on the road and heading away from the city that had, within twelve hours, seen us both experience a crash.


The worst bits about India


I don’t want this section to be too negative but I think it’s important to highlight some of the downsides to our time in India. I will follow this section with the upsides so don’t worry it won’t be all doom and gloom.


My biggest frustration in India, like a lot of Westerners, was the lack of personal space and being stared at ALL the time. I don’t need four or even forty people watching me eat a meal. I can understand the curiosity, especially as most Westerners are not riding a bike through towns off the tourist trails, but once you’ve stared at someone for a minute then surely it’s time to look elsewhere or get on with something. Right? Nope! Not in India. People love to watch you….or film you! Sam and I once found a quiet place to have lunch under the shade of a tree; which was a rare find. After lunch we tried to have a nap but we were disturbed by a guy who had spotted us from the roadside, pulled over and decided to walk down the banking towards us. I could sense someone coming so I half opened my eyes. The man stood in front of us just watching. I asked him to go away but he just continued to stare. All we wanted was some peace and quiet but that just isn’t possible most of the time. I asked him again and again to go away but he didn’t get the message so I started shouting. Shouting at people isn’t something I like to do but in this situation, and many others, it seemed to be the only way we could get someone to leave us alone. I know when reading this you might be thinking “People are just interested and trying to be nice”, but when you experience these situations more than a dozen times a day, you just get fed up with it. Asking politely doesn’t get the message across so we felt the need to raise our voices.


Life felt very claustrophobic over there. I like freedom, hence cycling around the world, and the ability to walk down a street without fear of being hit by a tuk-tuk, motorbike or truck. I don’t feel comfortable or relaxed when people are hovering around me or trying to sell me stuff that I don’t need; which is why I usually stay away from tourist traps. India for me would have been best served as a small portion. Two months was way too long, I think two or three weeks would have been enough for me, but it’s a big country and two of us were travelling there so it wasn’t all on my time.


I didn’t like the way the men would direct their answers to Sam’s question at me. It was as if she didn’t exist. This attitude towards women is changing but it’s not going to change overnight so, sorry girls, you might get overlooked a lot of the time.


Getting things done can be a slow experience. There is a lot of faff and usually more than one person assigned to do a job. If someone tells you to wait one minute then it means ten. Indians are not in a rush; which I guess is a good thing when you compare it to the “I haven’t got time” Westerners, however, when you just need someone to look for something and they faff about for half an hour before telling you to come back tomorrow, it can be pretty annoying. I had this experience when waiting for my new wheel to arrive in Jodhpur. It took three trips to the DHL sorting office to get them to sort out my delivery. On the third visit they told me that the driver didn’t know where the hostel was, even though it was on ‘Airport road’, a very busy road. I barked ‘This is DHL! Surely you can use a map!! Or, if the driver is that lost then do what every Indian does, ask someone!!’ I didn’t want to keep paying for a taxi to get there, especially as the third taxi had major brake issues i.e. they didn’t work, and a damaged axle. ‘Jesus!’ I thought as I watched the driver indicate with his right hand whilst his left hand gently pulled the handbrake up so that he could slow the car. I may have survived hundreds of miles cycling on the crazy Indian roads but this journey of less than eight miles was one of the scariest.


Being seen as a walking cash machine and an idiot can get pretty frustrating. Although you can haggle the price in India; which is fun, it can get a little tedious when everyone wants to rip you off. Don’t worry though, you can usually pay a third or even a quarter of the original asking price, especially with the tuk-tuks. Don’t be afraid to walk away when the first guy tells you its 150 rupees and you can either get him down to 50 or just go to another taxi.


Poor table manners. Being British I have grown up in a country where polite table manners are forced on you by parents and grandparents when I was young. Manners such as not belching at the table and eating with your mouth closed are two of the most important. However, these manners do not exist in India. People openly belch and think nothing of it, plus chewing with your mouth closed is not common practice. The ‘pat, pat, pat’ sound made by chewing with your mouth open didn’t annoy me too much at first but it is one of Sam’s biggest pet hates. As is the sound of someone hacking up a massive greenie then gobbing it on the street. The dawn chorus in India is a mix of bird song, beeping and hacking. Ahhh bliss. Not!


Litter and the lack of respect for a beautiful country is easily one of the biggest negatives for me. So much plastic litters the roadsides and huge piles of rubbish welcome you into some towns. I know that we are not perfect in UK, we put our rubbish into one humongous pile and bury it, but I would hope that the majority us in the Britain would put our litter in a bin. I once asked the manager of a restaurant if he could put our empty bottles in a bin. He nodded then just threw them on the ground outside his restaurant. I scowled at him and asked ‘Why do you do this to such a beautiful country. Put it in a bin!’ He just smiled and didn’t seem to care so I picked them up and took them with us. On a more positive note about this issue I was very surprised by the effort they are making in Calcutta. This city was notorious for being a mountain of waste, sewage and general filth when I read up about it, but it isn’t like that at all. The roadside litter has been bagged up for recycling and they have bins. BINS??? I was shocked to see these in the city and even more shocked to see them being used. It seems like this major city is really trying to clean up its image. They even have ‘Green Police’ who our fighting grime, not crime. Excellent!!


The best bits about India


Above all the things that frustrated me and made me want to get out of that country were the thousands of things that made me smile, laugh, gaze in wonder and feel humbled. If you took a sample pot of paint with every colour made by Dulux, sprayed them all on a wall, I don’t think it would be anywhere near as colourful as India. From the Sari’s to the hot pink Pagris (turbans) worn by the men of Rajasthan, India is the most colourful place I’ve visited. They love bright colours as much as they love making noise and nothing expresses this love as much as Holi festival. It was a true pleasure to experience this festival of colour in the country it originates from. We were in Jodhpur at the time and you could feel the excitement towards this festival building days before the actual event. Not only is it a chance to throw paint over your friends, family and strangers it is also a time for communities to come together. We witnessed fires being lit in the street by the women of the community the night before Holi. They would then circle the fire singing and dancing before lighting a torch that would be carried to their neighbours who would then light their fire.


The next day the city went crazy and paint powder covered the faces and body of almost every citizen. People fired paint from water pistols, chased each other with handfuls of powder or just threw it in the air to celebrate this day. It was great fun!


As well as Holi in Jodhpur we had the chance to experience an Indian wedding that took place at our hotel. We had watched the staff setting up the garden for a couple of days before the event. We didn’t know what to expect, other than a lot of people and a lot of noise coming from the garden. During wedding season you will hear weddings happening every day. The music is turned up to volumes that would blow your eardrums if you stood next to the six foot high speakers. On the night of the wedding we had decided to go for a drink in a luxury hotel about a mile away. As we walked back we couldn’t have imagined that our evening was going to turn out the way it did. When we got close to our hotel we could see a guy on horseback surrounded by men dancing to the beat of the drums. We decided to take a closer look as we knew it was the wedding party for the event at our hotel. As we were taking pictures and watching from the central reservation one guy asked where we were from. He was the brother of the groom who was mounted on the horse wearing an ivory coloured suit decorated with jewels and accessorised with a small sword. Before we knew it we were dancing in the street. The drummers beat became more frantic as I had a dance off with a few of the guys. My Indian moves were in full flow, as was my impression of a sprinkler; which they loved. Who wouldn’t? The brother of the groom invited us to join them as we arrived at the hotel. How could we say no? We walked along a path that was carpeted with flower petals, through the tunnel that had nearly every fairy light in the world lighting it up and into the garden with at least 250 people in it. Giant pots of curry bubbled away on one side. The music was turned up full. The women wore brightly coloured Sari’s adorned with sequins and the men wore their best suits and colourful Safas (Jodhpur turbans). We stared in wonder at this fairy tale event with its red and white ribbons wrapped around every pole, flower petals covering the ground and the warm welcome coming our way. We felt like guests of honour as members of the immediate family told us about the wedding traditions in between having photo’s with us. We watched as the bride and groom were introduced and the long ceremony took place. At one point the bride and groom were mounted on a raised platform with a revolving stage. Confetti fired from small cannons rained down on them as they turned. After being shown off to the crowd they were then presented on the main stage for guests, including Sam and I, to have a photo with them before going through other rituals. The weddings may be a long process full of rituals and traditions but if you get a chance to go to one then don’t hesitate, GO!! They are great fun and you will be welcomed in like family.


I will never forget the smiles in India or the high pitched hello’s that came from children in the villages. We may not have seen these little people but we certainly heard them. They would shout with all their might until we turned and waved. One hello would quickly turn into a dozen hellos as their siblings and friends joined in the excitement, running to the road to wave at us. These moments never failed to make us smile.


As well as the above moments making us smile so too did the cheers that came from the guys sitting on top of the coaches or trucks. Yes, you read that right, sitting on top of the coach. Up to 30 people might be sat on the roof of a coach travelling at 40 – 50mph. Can you imagine if you saw that in Britain? They would all wave and cheer as they went past, seemingly unaware of the danger they faced by sitting on the roof. Some would even stand up and start dancing. Crazy!!


In this country scenes like the one above will shock and baffle you, others will just make you cry with laughter. These moments are so comical that I’m sure people think you’re making it up because it just can’t be true, such as the one that for me stands out above all others. As I reflect on it now I still can’t believe I saw something so ridiculous. I have to share it! We were riding along a highway one afternoon and a coach was coming towards us on the other side of the road. At a glance I could see something looked a little different. As it got closer my eyes widened, my smile lit up my face and I burst out laughing. The driver, co-driver and tour guide were sitting in front of the passengers as they normally do. Behind them was a glass screen and a door separating them from the passengers, similar to that which you would see on a prison coach. In front of them was….well….nothing! The coach was missing a wind screen!! The driver, co-driver and tour guide all sat there, sun glasses pressed against their eyes, being blasted in the face by bugs and a 50mph wind that carved a permanent grin on their faces. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing!! I had never in my life seen a coach driving along without a windscreen. I was in utter shock! If that wasn’t funny enough then seeing that it still had a windscreen wiper sent me over the edge. I cried with laughter for the next few minutes as we pedalled along in disbelief.


A journey through northern India wouldn’t be complete without a trip to see the Taj Mahal. As much as I don’t like doing the obvious tourist thing to do, I would say to everyone that you have to experience the charm, beauty and peace that the Taj Mahal gives you. When I first laid eyes on it, it really made me appreciate how far around the world I had gone. I was looking at one of the most iconic buildings in the world and it was beautiful. I felt a great sense of achievement at that point and so lucky to have the opportunity to do something like this.


Finally, the best bit about travelling across India had to be falling in love with Sam. Travelling with her in this crazy country was a true pleasure. When she walked out from behind the arrival doors at Mumbai airport, pushing her trolley with her hastily packed bike box on it, I knew she was the right woman for me. Having never been a cyclist she had quit her job in London, got on a bike and cycled solo to Morocco. What an incredible woman!! Although spending almost every second of every day with each other wasn’t always easy, we both grew a huge amount of respect and love for each other. I wouldn’t have wanted to travel India with anyone else. Sam is a truly amazing person with a spirit and strength that inspires you. She really is one of the greatest people I have met and it was an honour to share the Indian adventure with her.


So, that’s the brief story of India. I have tried to summarise it as much as possible but there is just so much to talk about from my two months there. Whilst writing the second part of this blog I have decided that I might as well write a small book about cycling across India. It really is a different world over there and so much happened that it’s hard to condense it. I’m sure writing a book about it will be easy, so watch this space!

From India we crossed into Nepal. The next blog; which I promise won’t take as long to write as this one, will be about this beautiful country.



By thelonerider, May 28 2015 11:42PM

Wow. India. What an experience…and not always a good one! This is the craziest place I have ever been to. There is so much to write about from my journey in India so this blog might be a little different to the others in that it won’t be a day by day, or even week to week account, but more of an attempt to explain what life is like in what feels like the nosiest place on Earth.


As you know from previous blogs I wasn’t travelling alone, I was in the company of Sam who had cycled from London to Morocco before spending some time in Africa and Sri Lanka. Prior to meeting Sam at Mumbai airport I was slightly nervous yet excited about travelling with someone. Nervous because I didn’t know if we would be able to travel together. Would our speeds be very different? Would we want to see the same things? Would we be able to spend that much time together having not known each other that long? We are both easy going people so I was confident we would just find a way to work together. I was excited because it would be nice to have some company, great to have someone you know with you in a very foreign land and someone to talk to and laugh with.


So, India. Where shall I begin? Before arriving here people had said that I would be in for the biggest culture shock of my life. I had read quite a few blogs about other people’s experiences as well as trying to see videos of people cycling there. Most people had only been to cities and the big tourist areas so I was keen to see what rural India was like. Would it be as exotic and incredible as I had imagined or would it just be dirty, polluted and just as over populated as the cities?


Because of its size, diversity and sheer number of people it has the capacity to be anything. You never know what the day is going to bring, what crazy things you’re going to see or who you are going to meet. This is the same no matter where you go in the world, however, in India it’s just a hell of a lot more. Silence is very hard to find, even when you’re in a hotel room well away from the main road you can still hear someone beeping their horn. What is with the beeping?? I often wondered what India must have been like before the invention of the car horn. Indians love making noise, just stay near a temple and you will be deafened by the banging of drums and ringing of bells. It’s like you’re in a room full of five year olds with ADHD and they’ve all been given an instrument to play. I can’t tell you how many times we shouted ‘shut up!!’ from wherever we were staying. It could be 4 a.m. on a Tuesday morning and all you hear is someone banging an F’ing drum. ‘What are you doing??’ I would curse.


This country can be described in many ways. It’s deafening, exciting, busy, fun, frustrating, hectic, charming, chaotic, welcoming, colourful, intimidating, shocking, comical, trying, bonkers, bewildering, amazing, nonchalant, sloppy and so many more. It’s a place full of life, from the bizarre to the simple. It makes you ask questions all the time. ‘Why are people living like this? What is the government doing to change this? Can it change or is it just a mess? Why are people sitting on the roof of a bus travelling at 60mph? Is that truck able to carry that much? Why are you staring at me, I’m just drinking some water. What is that smell? Why do I feel this bad? Where can I go that’s quiet?’ So many questions run through your head each day. Things anger you and you want to help change them but you know it’s the government that has to do more. The Indian government has a reputation for pocketing most of the money that it earns from taxes instead of improving the situation. It’s not possible to fix it all over night but I think Prime Minister Modi is definitely trying to turn things around. I believe one of the big things to change would be the countries cultural attitude towards women. When a family has a boy they have a big celebration and the boy will be fed before the females in the household. Having a girl is not as special to a lot of families. The boy will be waited on hand and foot and mothered far too much, meaning that grown men still act childlike, unable to and unwilling to look after themselves. It was nice to meet parents who only had girls. We met one girl in Jodhpur who was studying to be an engineer. Her English was very good and her father watched with incredible pride as his daughter conversed fluently with us and told us about her goals and ambitions. She was a strong willed and confident individual who I’m sure will have a very successful career. Women in India can be viewed as the weaker sex and seen as nothing more than a housekeeper and child bearer, but there is a determination and strength inside a lot of women who are driving forward with change. Their voices are starting to be heard and they are being given the same chances as the boys. The women in the cities are very different to those in the villages. You can see that things are moving forward rapidly in the cities, especially big University towns like Vadodara where young women walk with their heads held high and their feet going forward in the direction they want them to go in. In the villages you see something very different. You don’t really see women driving or having much freedom. As well as having to look after the children and maintain the house they are also doing back breaking work in the fields, bent over for hours upon end using hand tools to cut crops in temperatures above 30 degrees. One of the long lasting images I will have of India will be the brightly coloured Saris blowing in the wind against a back drop of lush green fields or wheat farms. Pink, orange, green or purple strikes you from a distance and then the women would stand up, smile and wave at us as we rode past. This is one the beautiful things about travelling by bike. The intimate moments you share with the people, something that you don’t get when whizzing down the road in a coach watching a movie or having a nap. Another image I love and wish I had captured on camera was two women, both wearing dark green Saris and carrying polished steel pots on their heads, walking across a field towards their village as the sun set behind them. The colours were incredible with the red light of the sun often breaking through the flowing veil and reflecting off the gold sequins. Time slowed down as I watched this simple, yet beautiful moment one evening.


To me India was very claustrophobic, at times I felt trapped because I couldn’t walk down a street without being pestered, stared at or almost knocked down by a passing tuk tuk, motorbike or bus. I found it very hard to relax when walking around towns or cities and this led to the feeling of just wanting to get the hell out of there. During my travels and throughout my life I have always enjoyed exploring new places on foot because the experience is more rewarding. You are on the same level as the people that live there and you experience things at a slow pace. But in India I really didn’t feel I could do that, especially in tourist areas and especially because I was walking around with a woman. If you are a female travelling in India, whether alone, with friends or with a partner you will attract a lot of attention. It can be very uncomfortable and sometimes quite threatening. Sam is a very tolerant and strong willed person, determined to walk down the streets as if it were a street in England but even she cracked after a while. The simple act of walking a few hundred meters to a shop can be a horrible experience. Guys would tap their mates, point at Sam then just stare. When buying fruit at a little stall men would appear from all sorts of directions and approach the stall with no intention of buying fruit, they just wanted to be close to this western woman and stare at her. Some guys would quickly switch their phone to video mode and start filming, others would ask for pictures or just take them. I don’t imagine every man in India is like this but, there are so many men that it feels like every man is like this. I found it difficult to witness, incredibly frustrating and so disrespectful. I can’t tolerate guys like that whether they’re in India or any other country. We had many encounters with idiots whilst riding. The sound of a moped slowing down would signal an approaching pervert. We found there to be three types of mopeds in India. Number 1. The standard Moped. The rider would just go past without as much as a look, or would shoot you a smile and give a thumbs up. These ones are fine and pleasant. Number 2. The Slowped. The rider would come alongside slowly and ask the usual questions. “From which country? What is your good name? Where you are going? These guys are okay, you do get so bored of answering the same questions and sometimes answer the questions before the guy has even asked them. Some riders would hover for a bit and maybe get too close but after a while they would just bugger off, giving you a smile and a head waggle as they accelerate down the road. Number 3. The most annoying of all the Peds is the Perveped. The guys were not interested in me they were of course having a good old perve at Sam. The engine revs would drop as the rider slowed down. Sam would slow right down, almost stopping so that the rider could not balance on his bike and would have to speed up. Some would hover in front, angling they’re mirrors for a better look. I would try and block they’re view by putting myself between them and Sam. Others would be filming and some would hover alongside and this could last for up to 10 minutes. These guys were so annoying and we encountered a few each day. I’m not usually a violent person but my anger levels went through the roof with these guys. I hated them!! I’m angry now as I think back to some of the idiots we had to deal with. Argh!!


Just for the record the above paragraphs may be quite opinionated, I obviously cannot say that every household, person or attitude is like this as I only witnessed a fraction of this country, however, I wanted express my views about some of the things that angered or frustrated me.


Anyway, enough with the anger and frustration let’s move on and I’ll tell you about some of the fun times in India. I think the best way to write this blog is to break it down into different categories. I will talk about my first impressions, the people, accommodation, food, roads, fun times, scary times and finally the positives and negatives. If you would like to read about Sam’s experience then you can check out her blog…if she’s updated it yet, she’s worse than me. Go to www.samontwowheels.com for her perspective of life on a bike.


My first impressions


As the plane landed in Mumbai I got my first taste of Indian chaos as we taxied towards our designated parking area; which was of course occupied. After waiting for Sam to arrive and booking a taxi to our hotel it was time to venture into India. I was excited to see the little black and yellow tuk tuks and taxis. Our taxi didn’t have the capacity to hold two bikes and loads of gear so my bike was placed on the roof and held there by a length of frayed rope. ‘Jesus Christ’ I thought as I watched the four men attach it to the roof. I didn’t have much faith in this piece of rope so I spent the entire taxi ride with my arm out of the window holding the rope tightly. The last thing I wanted to see was my bike flying off the roof and into the chaotic Mumbai traffic as the driver hits the brakes. The smell of the city wasn’t as overpowering as I thought it would be but the choking pollution was. I had never experienced pollution like it. It’s so strong that it burns your eyes. ‘Can’t wait to ride in this.’ I thought.


The traffic was insane, as was the way people drove. Indians can find a gap where you wouldn’t imagine there to be space for a pebble let alone a car, motorbike or tuk tuk. It’s quite fun to watch and it feels like a video game, especially when you take a trip in a tuk tuk at night. I found it hilarious and wanted to have a play. It doesn’t matter if you bump someone, just look at the other driver, inspect the damage and if it’s not too serious then just wag your head and carry on. Perfect!


I was expecting to see the roads full of cows but I only spotted one down a side street. People were everywhere and the sheer amount of litter was quite shocking, as was the jet of red spit that came out of one guy’s mouth. ‘Wow that’s a bad case of gingivitis.’ I thought as I watched him swill some water in his mouth and again spit out a jet of red. I would later learn that this guy didn’t need to buy some Corsodyl and visit the dentist, he had been chewing a tobacco like product with creates a red juice and you see red spit residue everywhere. Even your tuk tuk driver will be gobbing this red spit as he drives. Nice!!


My first impressions were not as shocking as I’d thought they would be. Yes it was certainly very different to home and all the other countries I’d been to but it was acceptable, it was India. We arrived at the hotel with my bike still attached to the roof. Phew!! Sam had mentioned in the airport that we weren’t going to the hotel I’d thought we were going to, she had arranged a little treat and as someone who likes a bit of luxury she had booked two nights in the Taj Palace Hotel. Now, for those of you who know your 5* luxury hotels you will know this is one of the finest hotels in India. I on the other hand, being a tight fisted Yorkshireman, had no clue how famous this hotel was and when Sam mentioned the name in the airport my face didn’t light up with excitement, instead I just looked nonchalant and clueless. I can now say that I understand why this hotel has such a good reputation. It is incredible and full of history. It was luxury way beyond what I had been expecting and a very, very generous treat from Sam. We had an awesome couple of days there catching up, sitting by the pool, devouring the delicious breakfast and enjoying some great cocktails. Good times!


The people


Indians are very friendly and welcoming. They have a great sense of humour and are full of energy. It can be quite overwhelming when you ask for help and about 20 people can surround you in seconds. Most are actually wanting to help you but others are just curious and have nothing better to do so just watch. The huge, bright and genuine Indian smile is one which lights up the day, whether it is from a child or an adult it is always a smile that beams from ear to ear. People are always curious to find out where you are from and where you are going. Sam and I must have answered those questions at least half a million times each. We stayed with some hosts in Mumbai and I couldn’t have picked better people to stay with if I’d tried. Ravi and Kiran were great hosts. They love to travel and love going to Europe. They treated us to a Saturday night out in Mumbai which meant eating good food and a seriously spicy chutney that blew your head off, drinking a few beers and dancing like nutters to some Indian music. If you want to look like a true Bollywood dancer then try these simple moves. Put your laptop or tablet down and stand up. Place your left hand on your hip, raise your right arm in the air and pretend you are about to unscrew a light bulb with your right hand. Don’t move yet, you need to do something with your left foot. Raise your heel and imagine you are about to put out a cigarette with the ball of your foot. You may look like a bit of a pleb right now, especially if you’re doing this in public but don’t worry it’s about to become fun. When you’re ready just start putting the cigarette out with your foot and unscrewing the light bulb at the same time. Add a little hip wiggle and there you have it, Bollywood dancing. If you are doing this right then I guarantee you will be smiling, especially as your confidence grows and you switch hands. Easy right? You don’t even need music to make this fun.


Indians don’t really have a sense of personal space and have no problem standing so close to you that they may as well be giving you a hug. When someone asked me where I was from I had to try and move him away as I answered, not in a forceful way but just a gentle push backwards. It didn’t always work and one man didn’t really get the idea that I was trying to just move him out of my face. As I guided him to his left his feet stayed firmly on the floor whilst his upper body bent from the hip. He continued to ask me questions as his body slowly made its way to a 90 degree angle. Eventually his right foot started to lift off the ground and although he recoiled to an upright position he still didn’t seem to understand that I was trying to move him. Once I had answered the usual questions he was then content and made his way back to his tuk tuk and explained to his mate we were from England and we were going to Nepal.


The head wagging. Hmmm. I still don’t understand this. It can mean yes, no, maybe, okay, I’m not sure, I don’t understand but I’m happy to try and help or, just a simple hello. Some people’s necks are so flexible that their ear almost touches their shoulder. After a while I did catch myself doing the simple tilt to the right to acknowledge someone. I didn’t get to the extent where I managed a full waggle but Sam and I did have fun doing it to each other whilst riding. I would look back over my shoulder to make sure I wasn’t too far away and Sam would just wag her head. Fun times!!


The kids in the rural parts of India always made us smile. As we entered a village you would hear the squeaky voice of a child calling out at the top of their voice “Hi. Bye. Hi. Bye.” Sometimes you wouldn’t be able to see them but this little voice would come from a field or a house nearby. The kids on the school buses would go crazy as they went past us. I had a few races with the tuk tuks full of kids. They loved it. This crazy white guy on a bike covered with stuff was slip streaming their school bus then overtaking them. Some boys on their rickety old bikes would try and have a race against us. I relished the challenge, even after riding 80 miles there was no way a kid on a single speed bike was going to beat me. They loved having a race and I enjoyed making them smile and work as hard as they could. I’d know when a race was on because the gap between each squeak of their pedals got shorter and shorter. When you go past someone you hear SQUEAK……….SQUEAK………SQUEAK as they bumble along minding their own business, however, once you go past it turns into SQUAEK…..SQUEAK….SQUEAK….SQUEAK until eventually it’s SQUEAK,SQUEAK,SQUEAK,SQUEAK etc as they try desperately to keep up with you. It’s all harmless fun and breaks up the monotony of riding sometimes.


Accommodation


We have all heard the horror stories about budget accommodation in India and I would say that 90% of what you read about is true. We chose not to camp in India. There didn’t seem to be much point as we would be splitting the cost of a room which could be as low as £3 each for the night. It wasn’t always that cheap but one of the best things about India is the fact that you can barter. Sam is a master at this, a true negotiator and someone who is definitely not afraid to walk away if the price isn’t right. She once came out of a hotel looking pretty miffed because the manager wouldn’t drop the price from 550 rupees (£5.50) to 500 rupees (£5). It was the only hotel open and we were pretty tired but she was determined to walk away. I had to say that it’s only 50p but with a true business head on her shoulders she was not happy. She would have happily spent an hour trying to get the price down by just wearing the manager out. It’s impressive to watch. I loved watching her go in there and haggle. She should be on Dragons Den.


The lazy attitude towards cleaning is what lets most hotels down. If the men believe that cleaning is a job for the women then when you employ only men you will never run a good establishment. Seriously, it doesn’t take much to clean a room and wash some sheets. We never had any issues with bed bugs but looking at the pillows can shock you. How long do you think it takes for a pillow to turn black? How many litres of sweat have been absorbed into the stuffing to turn it from white to black? Sam didn’t dare look at them. If you pretend it’s clean then you will sleep better. Obviously we didn’t have that problem in the Taj Palace but when you lay your head on a pillow like that I don’t think you ever fully relax into it.


You can find some great places in the rural parts. They are often called resorts and we found one that was unbelievable for the price we paid. We got the price from £45 for the night to £15 for a little bungalow in a beautiful part of the Indian countryside. The only thing that let it down was the crap food at the empty restaurant. Oh well.


We did stay in a couple of places where you had to just tell yourself ‘It’s just for one night. It’s just one night. Be brave.’ One of those places was a random little hotel in a small town called Pali. We had arrived in the town quite late as I was nursing a broken rear wheel and couldn’t ride too quickly. After being turned away from two hotels because they were full, then refusing to pay the ridiculous price quoted to us at another place (not even Sam could get them to budge on that price) we took up the offer to see a hotel run by the father of the teenage boy who had approached us. I was sceptical at first but then we just followed. He was a nice kid, spoke good English and wanted to move to Europe to work in hotel management. He showed us the rooms which were all pretty basic then we…sorry, then Sam haggled the price down and we got a good deal. ‘So what?’ I hear you say. ‘Stop making me out to be like Alan Sugar.’ I hear Sam saying whilst reading this. Haha. Anyway, getting back to the young lad in the hotel. Well, he had taken a bit of a shine to Sam, following her everywhere and even asking if she thought he was good looking. Awkward! He then sat in the room with us and started asking about life in England and telling us about life in India. This was all fine until he changed the subject from hotels and sports to talking about rape. EH?? He told us how lots of women are raped in India and asked if many women are raped in England. We tried to answer his questions then change the subject but he kept talking about it. After engaging in this conversation for a bit longer we finally steered him off that subject and politely ushered him out of the room so we could shower and get changed. This hotel, like most hotels was full of men so after ushering him out of the room I turned to Sam and said ‘Think I’ll sleep with my knife by the bed tonight and put the chair against the door. What do you think?’ To which she replied without any hesitation ‘Yes. Do.’ Neither of us slept well that night but thankfully nothing happened and we left early the next morning. We decided to skip breakfast because we had spotted a couple of mice in the kitchen when having dinner the night before.


A final note about accommodation is to give anyone a heads up about the word ‘Hotel’ in India. Hotel does not necessarily mean a place with a bed, no, no, it often means a restaurant. Weird right? I thought the word hotel was universal for a place with beds. I asked a few people why they called their place a hotel when it isn’t and needless to say I just got a smile and a head waggle. It answers every question. You should try this technique sometime. If you don’t know the answer to a question and you feel a little awkward then just smile and wag your head.


Well, I think that’s enough for part one. Part two will include a lot of the fun times, crashes, a wedding, the positives and the negatives. I don’t know when I’ll get around to writing part 2 or about my adventures in Nepal and South East Asia as I am about to start a bit of a race to get home before my money runs out. I will be riding 100 to 150 miles per day depending on the terrain and weather. I can’t really see myself sitting down to my laptop at the end of each day, so apologies to my dad who always asks about my blog updates but I’m going to be a little busy over the next two months and pretty exhausted. However I will try and keep my map updated plus add some pictures. Speak soon.


By thelonerider, Apr 21 2015 11:49AM

I spent about two months in the U.A.E and Oman throughout December and January. It was my first time in the middle-east and for the most part of it I was just killing time. ‘Alright for some!’ I hear you say, but as someone who prefers to be active and kept busy by something I did get quite frustrated with the lack of travelling. ‘Why weren’t you travelling?’ you ask. Well, I’d planned to travel to India with a friend and cycle with her up to Nepal. She wasn’t going to available until February so after escaping the Turkish winter in early December I had a long time to wait in these rather small countries. Although I did spend most of the time there just twiddling my thumbs I did manage to do some cycling and have some adventure.

So, my middle-east adventure began, as you know, in the metropolis called Dubai. I arrived early in the morning and went straight from the airport to drop my stuff off with Mike, a friend of mine who lives and works there. It was great to see a familiar face…when I finally found his office. The sun was shining, the weather was good and I felt I had definitely made the right choice in leaving Turkey and not doing battle with the severe winter. I made my way from his office to downtown Dubai, a mass of skyscrapers, polished sidewalks, big 4x4’s, supercars, palm trees and of course the world’s tallest building. The Burj Khalif was an impressive sight towering above me as I ate my lunch. ‘I’m in Dubai. Wow!!’ I thought as I watched the lunchtime fountain show.


Some people describe Dubai as a characterless city with no history. A place that just feels fake, has too many glass skyscrapers and is far too expensive. I can understand that opinion. It’s a very new city and I couldn’t help but compare it to cities like Sarajevo and Budapest, places shaped over centuries. Yes it may not be very old, well it is but not in the way that we know it now, but it is one hell of a place. It buzzes with a hum of wealth, ambition, creativity, greed and pure capitalism. It feels like anything can be achieved there…and it can, after all they did build an island shaped like a palm tree. Who does that?? It’s not the type of place for the low budget traveller (don’t expect to find a hostel) or someone looking to do museum tours but I guarantee if you go there you will be swept up on the frenetic, adrenaline fuelled energy of this place. It’s safe, spotless and people have a very relaxed aura about them. Mike lives close to the Palm Island and marina with a beach about two minutes’ walk away. During my week there I spent most afternoons lying on the beach, something that I don’t normally enjoy doing but having just cycled around a continent I thought I deserved a little holiday. Tough life eh?


It was great to spend some time with a friend and be a part of life in Dubai. It hurt my budget a little but I guess that’s the price you pay for going to an expensive city. It’s a place I definitely want to go back to when I have a bigger budget.


From Dubai I wanted to ride to Abu Dhabi, home of the Yas Marina F1 circuit where Lewis Hamilton had won the F1 championship just a couple of weeks before I got there, the question was ‘How am I going to get there??’ The U.A.E is not designed for cyclists and almost all roads are three or five lane highways full of land cruisers and other 4x4s thundering along bumper to bumper, making aggressive lane changes and whose drivers seem to be on their mobile phones 90% of the time. I had cycled on the roads a couple of times in Dubai before I made the big trip and I must admit dodging traffic whilst crossing three lanes can actually be pretty fun…if you’re a nutter like myself. The worst part of being on roads like this is when you have to cross slip roads. Drivers in the middle-east tend to exit the highway at the last possible second, sweeping across busy lanes as if the cars…and a stupid cyclist don’t even exist.


My route to Abu Dhabi was a little awkward as I tried to avoid the main highway. To avoid this I went on what would become my favourite road, the truck road. It’s actually called truck road and that’s exactly what it is. After using some big roads and part of a cycle path that goes through the dunes it was finally time to mix it up with the trucks, however when I reached the junction where I thought I could join it wasn’t actually a junction. The road I was on went under the truck road and I couldn’t see a turning anywhere else. ‘Hmm? What to do?’ I thought as I felt the heat of the sun on my neck. As I gulped some water I noticed a guy in a 4x4 coming off the truck road and just making his way down the banking. ‘Ahhh, okay. An unofficial entrance and exit. Perfect’ I said as I made my way under the under pass towards the rather sandy man made slip road. I couldn’t ride up it so I had to drag my bike up the banking, much to amusement of a passing 4x4 on the road behind me. With the sweat dripping off me I made my way onto the busy, loud and rather daunting road. ‘It’s not going to be pretty but it will get me to where I need to go.


As I pedalled along the road the truck drivers would honk their horns and give me a big wave accompanied by an even bigger smile. It meant a lot to get this reaction as it gave me a sense that if I needed help then these guys would help me. They might not be able to speak English but if I needed to hitchhike then I’m pretty sure none would have turned me down.


After spending a few hours on this road I needed to get some water but I hadn’t seen a shop or town anywhere. I kept pedalling with the hope that a petrol station would appear soon, even though I had seen most trucks being topped up in a layby by guys with their own fuel trucks. Dodgy? Maybe. My water was not really quenching my thirst as it was like drinking tea. All I wanted was an ice-cold water or coke but still there was nothing on the horizon, until, after a few more miles and some close calls with trucks at roundabouts I saw a sign for a petrol station some three miles away. ‘YES!!’ I exclaimed as I accelerated towards this oasis in the desert.


Pulling into the station turned almost every head. I think it’s safe to say I’m probably the only touring cyclist…or cyclist that has ever pulled into that station. When I went inside, the jaw of the young guy behind the counter just dropped. As I opened the fridge to get some water I could see him out of the corner of my eye just absolutely gob smacked, still holding someone’s change in his hand. I turned to him, smiled and said ‘are you okay?’ I was tempted to push his jaw back up. After he realised I wasn’t an alien, I was just a guy on a bike riding on the truck road in the afternoon sun, he recovered and continued with his work. His reaction was one of the funniest I have had on my travels. Truly gob smacked!


Back on the road again I still had a long way to go to Abu Dhabi and I wasn’t sure I would be allowed on the next road as it was coming up as a highway on my map. ‘Oh well, give it a try. If the police stop you then just play dumb.’ I thought as I got closer to it. The trucks were not allowed on it but I didn’t see a sign saying no cyclists as I made my way off the truck road and onto a rather tame and quiet three lane road. ‘This is nothing compared to this morning.’ I mumbled as I scanned the world around me. There isn’t much to see when travelling along these roads, just sand, the odd camel and a few properties with lush green gardens. The road surface is however very nice. It’s new, smooth and my bike…plus my derriere loved being on it. The construction workers now took over from the truckers when it came to big smiles and waves. Most have their faces covered to protect them from the sun but I could still sense they were smiling as they waved at the passing cyclist. I don’t envy those guys working outside all day, it can’t be easy. It may not have been the summer but it was still about 29C. I was feeling the heat in my shorts and cycling top so I hate to think what it’s like for those guys in overalls.


I had a break after 90 miles, tucking into a hot and rather stale salami sandwich. It may have filled a hole but it certainly wasn’t appetising. It was enough to keep me going for the next 30 or 40 miles until I reached my hosts house. ‘Come on. Up you get.’ I said as I peeled myself off the Armco barrier that had been providing me with some support and shade for the past few minutes. My legs ached, especially around my knees as I lifted myself up and got back on the bike. ‘Keep going. When you see the airport then you’re almost there.’


Riding into Abu Dhabi was pretty insane. The only road available was a highway which at times was six lanes wide. As I pedalled up the three lane slip road to join the six lane road I yelled ‘f##k me this is ridiculous!! Nine lanes??!! Haha what are you doing??’ I tucked myself into the hard shoulder and just pedalled as fast as I could for the last twenty miles, stopping briefly to take pictures or check the map. The sun was setting fast and I wanted to be off the road before it got dark. Luckily I had enough energy in the tank to power myself along and make it to my hosts’ apartment tower just before dark. After 127 miles in the desert heat I was truly exhausted and rather sun burnt but pleased to have made it and looking forward to meeting my hosts.


My hosts in Abu Dhabi couldn’t have been better. Stefano, Ingrid and their kids welcomed me into their home and instantly made me feel relaxed and part of the family. The Italian influence in this house meant that the food and the coffee was FANTASTICO!! Ingrid made a Tiramisu that made me go weak at the knees. Their apartment was on the 61st floor so it had great views out to sea and towards downtown. I spent over a week at their place which meant I could relax, enjoy swimming in the 50m pool downstairs and sort out my ‘admin’. I really enjoyed spending time with this great family and truly appreciate the length of time they allowed me to stay with them. I hope to see them again in the future when I return to the U.A.E.


From Abu Dhabi I made my way to Oman via Al Ain. I had another long ride through the desert to get to Al Ain. It was once again a mixture of highways, truck roads and desert heat. The ride was about 120 miles so by the time I reached Al Ain I was pretty knackered but once again I had great hosts, Melissa and Manhar, who welcomed me into their home even though it was only a couple of days before Christmas. Al Ain is not like the other U.A.E cities. It doesn’t have any skyscrapers, it’s more traditional and you really feel like you’re in the desert. You still see the odd supercar mixing it with the numerous 4x4’s but the pace of life doesn’t feel as hectic as somewhere like Dubai. It also has the U.A.E’s only mountain, Jabel Hafleet, which I definitely had to climb. After leaving Melissa and Manhar’s I made my way to the mountain for an early morning climb before going to Oman. About 5 minutes into my ride my back wheel felt strange. I looked down and saw that I had a puncture, my second in Al Ain. In this part of the world there are some nasty little thorns on the road that even puncture proof tyres can’t survive against. I pulled over, took everything off my bike and set to work on the tyre. The morning heat was intense and the sweat was pouring off me as I fiddled with the inner tube, glue and patch.


It wasn’t long before I was off again and after a few more miles I was at the foot of the mountain, a mountain, which, surrounded by flat desert feels like it has been put there by man for thrill seeking purposes. The road, like all roads in the middle-east was smooth and has been designed like a race track with sweeping corners, hairpin bends and small straights. Great!! As I began to climb I felt the heat of the desert burning my skin, then the cool breeze coming down from the mountain would cool the sweat dripping down my cheeks. As cars went past the people in them looked at me with amazement, smiling and gawping at the crazy guy on a fully loaded bike climbing up to the top of a mountain that doesn’t go anywhere when you reach the summit. That’s right people, I was simply climbing this for fun. On reaching the top I would have some food then come back down. Nuts right? About half way up I could sense another cyclist behind me. I looked over my shoulder to see a rider on a light weight race bike sitting comfortably in his saddle and slowly gaining on me. Naturally I had a burst of energy and tried to up my pace. My efforts, although courageous, were pretty futile and it wasn’t long before the rider was alongside me. Instead of just blitzing past me he started chatting to me. He was a really nice guy and we pedalled all the way to the top together. His name was Eric who was originally from the Philippines but had been living and working in the U.A.E for quite a few years. He rides up the mountain every week and couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw me and what I was carrying. Impressed by my journey and wanting to hear more about my adventures he invited me to stay at his place that night. It’s truly amazing travelling in this way because you never know who you are going to meet and the kindness of strangers blows you away. I accepted his offer and it was great to spend Christmas Eve with Eric and his friends, relaxing and eating good food.


On Christmas day, after eating an awesome breakfast, I made my way to Oman. The border guards didn’t really know what to make of me as I approached. ‘Where are you going?’ asked the guard. ‘Oman.’ I replied. ‘Where have you come from?’ he asked. ‘The Emirates.’ I said with a slightly sarcastic tone. I explained my story to him and a few other guards whilst filling out my visa form. Their faces lit up when hearing some of my stories. ‘Welcome to Oman.’ said one guard with a big smile on his face.


The Omanis are wonderful people. Their hospitality and generosity towards strangers is genuine and very humbling. You can literally camp anywhere in this country, with exception of government property of course, and my plan when I got there was to spend about ten days making my way to the capital, Muscat. I was in no rush because I had so much time on my hands before going to India.


After entering from the U.A.E I rode through what felt like no-man’s land, an area of desert with no signs of civilisation. I travelled on this stretch of road for about 40km averaging about 18mph thanks to a helpful tail wind. Sand was swirling in the air, whipping across the road and getting into my eyes, ears and mouth. The afternoon heat was not too intense and although I thought a lot about my family and the good food they would be having for lunch, I was pleased to be where I was an not in the cold, wet British Isles. I carried on beyond no-man’s land for about another 30km before setting up camp in the sand and away from the road. Dragging my bike through the sand was not easy so by the time I found a good spot out of the wind I was truly knackered. ‘Desert Dollive’ I thought as I set my tent up. The sky that night was incredible. The moon shone bright enough so that I didn’t need to use a torch when cooking. What it didn’t light up though was the pesky ants that kept trying to crawl up my leg. These ants were not small either, each one was about 2cm long with a fierce looking jaw. Trying to eat my food was difficult because I kept having to watch out for these buggers. What is it with nature? Why is there always something wanting to bite you?? The great outdoors can be a bloody nuisance at times!


Over the next few days I travelled at a very leisurely pace, waking at 8, setting off at 10 and riding for a couple of hours before having a long lunch break in the shade. Each night I tried to have camp set up by 4 so I could chill out before darkness fell. Camping, although easy, was not very comfortable. The ground in this mountainous part of Oman is just rock. Because of the lack of rain the ground has no vegetation and it feels like you’re camping on the moon. There isn’t much life here apart from the usual flies and of course the creature that looks so at home in this rocky world, the scorpion. One morning after going out for a pee I came back to my tent to find one of these creatures waiting for me. Although I was fascinated by it, having never seen one before, I did go into operation ‘get this thing out of my tent’ mode. I grabbed a rolled up bag and flicked the arachnid towards the gap between my tent and the ground. Feeling threatened it went into it defence posture, bending its front legs, straightening its back ones, curling its tail and aiming its threatening looking sting in the direction of my foot. Before it had time to do anything I flicked it again, this time getting it out of my tent. It quickly disappeared but let’s just say that when setting down my tent that morning, and every other morning I was always conscious of these impressive yet dangerous creatures lurking nearby.


After spending four nights in the same camp spot about 70km away from Muscat I finally made my way to the capital. I didn’t know where I would be staying because I hadn’t had wi-fi since leaving Al Ain so didn’t know if any host would be available. I had to go to Muscat to get my visa for India and the process would take over a week. On my way to the city I cycled along the coast. It wasn’t as impressive as I had hoped but it was nice to be riding alongside the ocean. Just past the airport another cyclist out for a Sunday ride came alongside. Sean had lived in Muscat for 13 years and he rode with me into the city centre, buying me a coffee and showing me where the embassy was. It was great to meet him and we met up again for a bike ride just before I left for India.


Cycling in Oman is like cycling in the U.A.E in that you are often on a freeway, which after a while just gets a little tedious. Muscat as a city was not that impressive or memorable but I was lucky to find a great host there. John, who had arrived in Muscat not long before I did, welcomed me into his flat and let me stay for practically the whole of January. He had lots of experience of touring cycling having cycled around the world and had lots of great stories about his epic adventure. It was good to hang out with him and his colleagues and just do normal things. Whilst staying with him I was struggling with the amount of free time I had. With nothing to occupy me and the fact that I was running out of money meant that I felt very frustrated, trapped and bored. Having had to skip Turkey and Iran I felt like my trip was rubbish and I had somehow failed. I just wanted to get moving and feel like I was actually making progress on this trip, I didn’t want to just sit there twiddling my thumbs and watching the money in my account get lower and lower. That is a recipe for beating myself up about everything. Not fun!


When I finally got my passport and visa back from the Indian embassy I did go for a little adventure down the coast to see the turtles on the east coast. The journey there took a few days, I met some great people on the way there, and I was rewarded with a sighting of two turtles coming up the beach to lay their eggs. It was an exciting experience, made even more exciting by the fact that I wasn’t supposed to be on the beach on my own. The hotel at the research and conservation centre runs guided tours down to the beach at about 9p.m each night. The cost of the hotel and the tour was way above my budget so I decided to camp in the yard of an abandoned house about 600m from the hotel. The wind was incredibly strong that evening and the ground too hard for my tent pegs so I decided to just sleep out under the stars, making my bed in a sheltered area in front of the old house. As darkness fell I walked down to the beach, trying not to be seen. As I stepped onto the beach I saw what looked like a boulder moving slowly through the sand. I shone my torch in the direction of the object; which turned out to be a turtle. ‘Wow! Look at that!’ I thought as I dimmed my torch and aimed it just behind the turtle, trying not to disturb her. There was another turtle to my left which got slightly spooked by my light. ‘S##t!! Don’t scare the poor thing’ I thought as I turned my torch away from her. Feeling like I had spent enough time there I started making my way up the beach. My torch was aimed at the ground and all of a sudden something moved into the light and two eyes lit up. It was a baby turtle making a dash for the ocean. Luckily I spotted it as I was very close to standing on it, which would not have been good.


After my night under the stars I started to make my way back to Muscat. The wind from the day before was not letting up and the next two days were tough riding conditions. My average speed was a measly 10mph and I couldn’t hear myself think above the sound of the wind. Setting my tent up was a bit of a faff and I had to anchor it with nearby rocks. Although frustrating at the time I do look back on it now and see it as a fun little adventure.


Back in Muscat I spent my days looking at maps of India, worrying about my funds (nothing new), reading and keeping my blog up to date of course (I am pretty rubbish at the latter I know). John hosted more cyclists and it was fun sharing stories and listening to peoples adventures and future plans. The touring cycling community is a great hub of interesting people with fascinating stories.


So, as you know from Oman it was time to head to the sub-continent. I was pretty nervous…that’s an understatement if ever there was one, but looking forward to seeing Sam and travelling with her. I met some great people whilst in Oman and cannot thank them enough for their kindness, generosity and support.


The next blog; which may appear on this page sometime this year, will be about the insane adventure in India.


By thelonerider, Feb 26 2015 01:44PM

“Welcome to Turkey” said a man wearing a chequered suit as I waited at the final border gate just before crossing into Turkey. “Where are you from and where are you going?” he asked with a big smile on his face. I told him my story and his eyes lit up with the idea of doing all that on a bicycle. He chuckled and said “You are very brave. Very brave. Are you married?” To which I laughed. We chatted for a few more minutes before shaking hands and saying farewell. “Turkey is very nice country and good people. Have a good journey.” He said as he made his way into an office. ‘That’s a good start’ I thought as I handed the guard my passport. He smiled, which is unusual for border guards, and also said “welcome to Turkey.” ‘I like this country a lot already’ I thought as I rolled into it. After the usual border selfie, it was time to see what Turkey was like.


The rain that had started the night before had stopped whilst I was crossing the border but it started again about 20 minutes after I crossed into Turkey. It was light at first but soon got heavier. ‘Urgh!’ I muttered as I put my head down.


The road was quite busy and the rolling hills meant my pace wasn’t very high. Sadly the view over the fields and to distant hills looked pretty grim and it didn’t look like the rain was going to stop any time soon. The wind was picking up strength and blowing in every direction except from behind. I was getting blasted in the face with a strong headwind that made my speed drop dramatically, then, without warning it would change direction and hit me from the side, blowing me either into the road or close to the edge. I had a scary moment when a strong cross wind hit me from the right at just the wrong time. I was weaving around a hole in the hard shoulder as the wind hit, blowing me into the road and very close to a passing truck. ‘F### me that was close!’ I shouted as I gripped the handle bars and steered myself back into the safety of the hard shoulder.


After doing battle in the rain for just over an hour I decided to take a break because there was just too much rain coming down and visibility was poor. I pulled into a hotel car park and took shelter in an outdoor bbq area. The hotel looked empty and the restaurant was dark with no signs of life. I sat there thinking that I will wait for an hour to see if the rain eases a little before carrying on, but after about five minutes I heard a voice coming from behind me and the sound of a window opening. I turned to see who it was and there was a man standing at one of the restaurant windows. He put his left hand in the air as if he was holding a cup and with his right hand he made a stirring action. “Chai, chai?” he asked. “Oh yeah” I said as I jumped up from the slightly wet wooden seat. The man pointed towards the door and beckoned me to come in. I grabbed my things and made a dash towards the warm, dry and empty restaurant. He shook my hand and ushered me to a seat near the kitchen. As I peeled off my wet jacket he disappeared off into the kitchen, appearing about a minute later with two small glasses of chai. I watched to see how many sugar lumps he added to his tea. I don’t usually have sugar in tea but I didn’t want to be rude so I added a couple of lumps and boy was it sweet. We spoke very few words, instead I used a lot of hand gestures and some very basic Turkish to explain who I was and what I was doing. Once my glass was empty he jumped up and went to get me another one. When he returned I chose to have my tea without sugar this time whereas he added two lumps. He was a bit surprised that I didn’t take sugar and when he looked at me I smiled, pointed to the sugar lumps then to my teeth and pretended to pull one out. He laughed, added an extra sugar then gave me a big smile before reclining back in his chair to light a cigarette. For the next few minutes as the rain went tap, tap, tap on the roof and he slowly smoked his cigarette we both just sat there in silence looking over the restaurant and to the world outside. Although we didn’t speak it never felt awkward. When you receive this type of kindness from a complete stranger I don’t think words need to fill the time between the two of you.

After extinguishing his cigarette he asked if I wanted another one but I had to decline as I was already buzzing off the first two. He then asked if I wanted some food but I shook my head graciously whist indicating that I had food in my bag. By this point a few members of staff had started to appear from the kitchen. One guy came out with a plate full of piping hot stew and potatoes and a basket full or thick, crusty, delicious looking bread. As I watched the steam rising from the plate and the man dipping a chunk of his bread into the stew I thought about what I potentially had for lunch, which was nothing more than a few slices of salami and some crap bread. Boring!! I couldn’t help staring at the good, hearty food that was being enjoyed by the man opposite. My stomach, as if being shown this image, would twist and grumble each time I watched him enjoy another mouthful.


As another hour slipped by the rain still lashed against the windows and battered the roof. I hadn’t yet ventured outside to get my exciting ingredients to make my sandwich, I simply sat there watching a strange film on the large TV attached to the wall next to the kitchen. It looked like a film from the 60’s or 70’s with a horrible grainy image and some shocking costumes and make-up being worn by the cast. The over the top music and terrible acting was just adding to the melodrama. The members of staff were fully engrossed in this action/romance afternoon movie whereas I couldn’t help but cringe at every scene. I didn’t have to watch it for long though because the kind man who had invited me in had been busy in the kitchen preparing some lunch for me. He appeared with a plate full of hand cut chips, cheese, salad, olives and bread. I hadn’t asked for the food but I don’t think he was willing to let me sit there and not eat lunch. ‘Wow’ I thought as I thanked him a dozen times before tucking in to one of the best meals I’ve had on my travels, a meal made better because it was offered out of true kindness and hospitality for a stranger.


As the clock struck 3 I reluctantly rose from my chair to put my waterproof jacket and trousers back on. My body had been enjoying the warmth but it was time to go back into the crappy weather and find somewhere to camp for the night. I explained to the man who had been so kind to me that I was leaving as I needed to camp. His face screwed up with an obvious ‘rather you than me’ look at the idea of having to camp in this kind of weather. I smiled and shrugged my shoulders in an attempt to be carefree and reflect that this is all part of the adventure, however, inside I was thinking ‘please offer me a place to crash for the night, please!’ Sadly that didn’t happen but not to worry, he had already done so much for me and he is a man that I won’t forget.


Riding in the rain again was horrible. I cruised along the road trying to keep my head and my spirit up as the rain hit me from all directions. After just over an hour I passed a small patch of woodland about 1km from a town. I pulled off the road and dragged my bike through some brambles and mud before finding a suitable spot near an oak tree. I had tried to find somewhere that was sheltered from the wind but it proved to be impossible to escape the swirling wind that was coming from all directions. I set up my tent quickly and made sure it was going to survive against the wind by securing it with all the guy ropes. Once inside the tent I peeled my wet clothes off and embraced the feeling of putting on warm, dry clothes that may or may not have been clean but they felt a hell of a lot better than my wet ones. It’s moments like that when you learn to appreciate such small things that lift your spirit and make you feel normal. I made a quick dinner then tucked myself into my sleeping bag and watched a couple of movies before trying to sleep. The rain continued to come down all night and the strong wind caused the tent to bend, flex and ripple in all directions. I didn’t get much sleep that night but I was pleased when the rain finally stopped at about 6 a.m. ‘Finally!’ I said as I tried to get a few more precious moments of sleep.


The weather didn’t change much for the next few days as I pedalled closer and closer to Istanbul. I enjoyed seeing every sign that told me I was another 10 or 20km closer to achieving my goal. The grey skies, cold temperatures and rain showers were not going to stop me from getting there. At times, when the rain or wind was being particularly horrible I would yell at the top of my voice things like ‘Come on Turkey!!! You can throw everything at me but you will not stop me from getting to Istanbul!!’ and ‘Is that it?? Is that all you’ve got?!! Come on!!’ With every shout I felt a boost of energy, the adrenaline was flowing through my veins and lifting my drive to keep going. Every time a truck went past I would embrace the few seconds of warm air that they carried with them. It carried a feeling like being wrapped in a duvet and snuggled up in a comfy bed, protected from the outside world and all its horrors. But as soon as the truck had passed I would come crashing back to reality, thrust out of my escapism like the water being sprayed from the trucks huge wheels and into my face. The conditions may have been miserable, my body may have been cold but my heart was beating with a sense of achievement and pride so great that there was no way I could stop now, I was almost there.


The night before I reached Istanbul I had decided not to camp but to try my luck at a petrol station. I had heard from other cyclists that you could sleep at petrol stations and they wouldn’t have a problem with it. I still had 50 miles to go to Istanbul as I pulled into a station. The sun had gone down and having already cycled 80 miles I thought it was a good time to stop. I went into the station and tried to ask the man behind the counter if the station was open 24 hours. Words were no good in this situation as there was a huge language barrier so, being a natural performer I had to try and act out what I was trying to say. I pointed to the doors and performed the action of being open then wrote on a piece of paper 24hr. The blank look on the attendants face meant that my Oscar winning performance was obviously not conveying the message. I pointed to my bike, acted out being very tired and needing to rest for the night. I pointed to a table and chairs in the corner and tried to ask about being able to sleep there for the night. Once again the message wasn’t coming across. Clearly those years I spent at acting school had not prepared me for mime. As I pointed again at the doors and the piece of paper with 24hr written on it something twigged in the man’s head, his eyes lit up and he made his way from behind the counter and towards the office. I thought ‘Yes! He’s going to let me sleep in the office. Thank god.’ However my moment of relief was short lived as he went past the office and towards a shelf where he picked up a small box. He brought the box over to me and pointed to the front of it. It was a box for a 24v light bulb! I laughed and tried to explain that I didn’t need a bulb. It was a priceless moment but my heart sank a little bit as I thought about how else I could get my message across. It was then that he pulled out his smart phone. ‘Ah yes’ I cried ‘Google translate. Perfect.’ But instead of using this brilliant app he began to dial a number. After a few seconds of speaking to someone on the other end of the phone he handed it to me. ‘Hello’ I said. ‘Hello’ replied the voice. ‘Can I help you?’ asked the woman in perfect English. ‘Oh thank god’ I thought before explaining my situation to her. She was the daughter of the owner (the man who had witnessed my terrible performance) and spoke perfect English due to the fact that she had lived in the UK for a few years and her husband was English. I had struck gold at this station. I handed the phone back to her father so she could explain my situation to him. He nodded and handed the phone back to me. ‘He has no problem with you staying the night. He says you can sleep in the outside office where the night attendant sits.’ I thanked her for helping and also asked her to thank her father for me. It was a relief to know that I didn’t have to carry on and look for somewhere to camp. I made a home for myself in the corner of the shop and watched a movie until it was time for the owner to lock up the shop and move me into the night attendants’ office. As I walked into the office he gave me a rather stern look, maybe because I was about to crash in his space for the night. The office was tiny but it was warm, dry and had enough space for me to curl up in the corner. Our limited vocabulary in each-others language meant that no words other than hello, thank you and chai would be spoken. After some chai I curled up in the corner whilst the attendant watched one of those horrible films on a tiny TV with its grainy, flickering picture. As I drifted off into to the land of nod I tried to imagine what Istanbul was going to be like and wished for a nice easy and uneventful ride into the city.


I got on the road the next day as soon as the sun was up. I wanted to be in the city by midday so that I could find a good place to stay and have a relaxed afternoon. As I got closer to the city the volume of traffic began to increase. I had been told by another cyclist that I should give myself at least half a day to get into this colossal city. The sky was grey and it looked like it might rain again. ‘Please don’t rain’ I prayed as I sped through a small town about 20km away from the centre. The road I was on was definitely not a road for the faint hearted. With four lanes of traffic and barely enough room for me at the side of the road it was at times pretty dangerous. Not to worry though because I like that kind of thing and I was more than happy to race a few cars down a hill and power through a tunnel. The noise of the traffic and the near misses from cars entering or exiting via slip roads did mean that after a while I just had to come off because it wasn’t pleasant. I made my way round the back of the airport, watching in awe at the planes coming into to land. I was so close to the runway that at one point a plane went over me, no more than 200ft above my head. I let out a huge ‘woohoo’ as it roared past.


‘Almost there Dollive. Hehehe!’ I said as I joined the road I needed to take me to the centre. I was happily pedalling along and thinking about lunch before I had to stop at a police road block and follow a diversion. ‘No, no, no’ I thought as I made my way down the slip road and into the traffic jam below. I looked at my map, trying to find an alternate route but it just looked like a maze of streets and potentially hours of navigating. Not wanting to do this I decided to follow a few cars that were making their way in the direction I wanted to go via a smaller road. I followed for a few minutes until we hit another police road block. ‘What’s happened?’ I mused as I tried to make sense of the scene in front of me. I could see cars trying to turn around, police trying to manage the situation and metal barriers along the side of the road. It was then, when a flash of orange followed swiftly by a few more flashes of orange and fluorescent green and pink passed through the gaps in the crowd that I decided to investigate further. As I got within a few metres of the barriers I realised what was going on. The flash of orange was coming from runners taking part in the Istanbul marathon. Looking down the road I could see hundreds of people dragging themselves along after nearly 5 hours of running. I burst out laughing at the fact that I had travelled all this way, yet happened to choose the one day in the year when the only road I needed to complete my journey was being occupied by several thousand sweaty, smelly, exhausted looking people who were also trying to achieve their own personal goals. I looked at the police officer and gestured going on the road. He nodded and waved me on my way. ‘If you can’t beat them, join them’ I thought as I made my way into the crowd. Now, if this was the London, Paris, New York or Boston marathon I doubt I would have been allowed to do this, however, in Istanbul it didn’t seem to matter. I spent the next few miles weaving between the zombie like runners, slip streaming the ambulance and seriously considering going all the way to the finish line. At one point a voice from the side shouted ‘That’s cheating!’ as she caught sight of me. ‘I’ve travelled over 12,000km to get here.’ I replied. ‘Oh okay’ she said ‘well done.’ I smiled and continued to navigate through the runners. After only a few more miles I was there, in the centre of one of the greatest cities in the world, a city that has been the hub of trade between Europe and Asia for thousands of years. I couldn’t wait to explore what this city had to offer but first I checked into a hostel and went out to grab a few beers to celebrate my achievement. ‘You did it Dollive. You cycled around Europe. Good effort.’ I said as I opened that first beer.


Istanbul was a great city to spend a week in…even if it did rain almost every day! Straight away you can see how the history of trade running through the city from east to west has shaped this melting pot of cultures. The cobbled streets, steep hills, busy waterways and bustling markets make this place a living, pulsating city. As you walk across one of the many bridges or through the tiny back streets your nose is overloaded with hundreds of smells from kebabs to spices, to perfumes and of course some strong Turkish coffee being sipped slowly by the old and young sitting on tiny wooden stools. As well as being very modern and feeling like an exclusive place to live it isn’t long before you are reminded that not everyone has a lot. Men pulling carts with huge sacks full of plastic or paper to be sold for a few Lira are as much a part of the traffic on the road as the trams and taxis whisking people around this 15 million strong super city. Before arriving there I had expected the streets to be dirty, full of litter and with very little room to move, however, I was pleasantly surprised when walking around felt easy because of wide footpaths and clean boulevards. I don’t think you can fully appreciate or explore what this city has to offer in just one week, there is so much to see and so many suburbs to wander around that it would probably take years to really get to know it. That’s what makes it exciting, it’s definitely a place to come back to time and time again.


Whilst in Istanbul I had to make a decision about the next part of my journey. My application for an Iranian visa had been denied so my route down to middle-east was going to be a bit tricky by land. I really wanted to see the rest of Turkey because it is such an incredible country, however, the winter is very severe and I didn’t really have the right gear for winter. I could probably handle temperatures just below zero but with winter temperatures dropping as low as minus 20 or 30 I’m pretty sure this would have made for a horrible few weeks, especially when I would spend most of my time riding up mountains. I know my journey is about having an adventure but I would rather enjoy the country that I’m in and not have to suffer horrible weather just so I can pass some sort of imaginary certificate of achievement for being a hard core adventurer. I prefer sunshine, blue skies, cycling in dry weather and camping in warmer temperatures, so, I decided to book a flight from Ankara to Dubai. I have a friend in Dubai whom I hadn’t seen for a while so it was a great opportunity to see a familiar face, and explore a city that I’d heard so much about.


The route from Istanbul to Ankara wasn’t very special and neither was Ankara itself. It is nothing like Istanbul. It feels like it’s missing a lot of history, culture and life, it’s just there as a place for embassies and government buildings, a bit like Canberra in Australia. If you have a chance to travel to Turkey then don’t worry about visiting Ankara, you won’t be missing out on anything.

As my flight took off from Turkey I said goodbye to the winter and looked forward to warmer weather. With my face pressed against the window I felt sad as I watched the route I’d planned to cycle pass slowly beneath me as I sped along at 500 mph, a speed way above what I would have been achieving. As we flew over Iran I thought about all the touring cyclists who were either asleep in their tents or being entertained and treated to a mountain of food by the incredibly hospitable Iranians that I’d heard and read so much about. ‘One day Dollive. One day you will go there, just not on this trip’ I said to myself as I turned back to my inflight movie and ice cold whiskey.

I plan to go back to Turkey one spring and ride across it and hopefully into Iran as it feels like I have unfinished business there. Whenever I meet other cyclists I am always asked whether I went to Iran. When I say no I always feel like I’ve missed out on something, like if you don’t go to Iran then you have somehow not achieved something and that the rest of your travels prior to that moment are irrelevant, but there isn’t much one can do when you don’t get a visa. Plus, it’s not going anywhere so that’s why I plan to complete that part of my route sometime in the future.


With cold, wet weather behind me it was time to see what the oil rich middle-east was all about. My next blog will be about the two months I spent there, the great people I met and the little adventures I had. I didn’t cycle much but a lot still happened. I will hopefully post this blog soon as I know some of my regular readers are wondering why I haven’t updated this blog for a while…..it’s because I’m having fun…oh, and a lack of wi-fi!!


By thelonerider, Jan 14 2015 05:56PM

Hello again readers…all 10 of you. I don’t actually know how many people read this blog but I’m sure the number has decreased due to the long gaps between updates. However, for those of you who are still checking in on me – mum and Lynne a.k.a my hard-core fans, I will finally tell you what happened on route to Turkey and I promise I won’t waffle on as much as I did in Part 1 because not a lot actually happened.


Leaving Athens was pretty easy, the road didn’t feel as congested as the road I used to get into the city. It was still busy but I had more room at the side of the road and less potholes to avoid. This part of the city, the road to Marathon, was a lot better than the area I had first encountered. It was greener, cleaner and a lot calmer. It was still lacking one thing though and that was Athenian goddesses!! Not one! Boo hoo!! You have probably gathered from this Greek blog that I was slightly obsessed about finding one of these Goddesses. Sad eh?! Maybe they only live on the islands. Who knows?


Anyway, as I was saying, leaving Athens was easy and I was making my way to the island of Evia, an island frequented by more Greeks than tourists. The weather that day was pretty cold and grey with a forecast of rain in the afternoon. Knowing that the day is going to be pretty grim always makes leaving the sanctuary of a hostel harder but you just have to get on with it. As I pedalled along I was constantly checking my tyres to see if they were flat. They were brand new but something didn’t feel right with them, it felt like I was riding on sponges or along melted tarmac. I thought to myself ‘Will there ever be a day when I ride this bike and everything just works and feels good??’


By the afternoon the weather, like the forecast had said, turned from a dry but grey day to a horrible, wet and windy day. My mood dropped as I pedalled along with my head down watching the water spray up from my front tyre and cover my legs in grey, tarmac coloured water. As I made my way through an industrial area I had the pleasure of being sprayed in the face by every passing truck so that my face looked just like my legs, filthy! Oh well, at least my brakes were working in the wet which was a relief. As I trundled along I looked around for a place to camp in case I got too fed up of riding in this weather. It was still early afternoon but the weather looked like it would get worse before it got better so it was time to start looking. I passed quite a few abandoned buildings, something you see a lot in Greece, which had the potential to be a home for the night. One building was an old factory with most of the windows missing, a few partly demolished walls and some rusty old machines which had seen better days. I took the opportunity to have a little look inside but as I made my way across the threshold it was clear that other people had also taken refuge here. Just like the building I had looked in near the Montenegro border the overpowering smell of urine filled the air. ‘Why don’t people pee outside? If you’re sleeping in here then don’t pee everywhere.’ I thought as I retreated to fresher air and having satisfied my curiosity I decided that my tent would be a far better option for the night. With that in mind I continued riding in the wet for another 20 miles until I was on the island. You have two choices when crossing onto Evia…well one if you’re on a bike and two if you use motorised transport. You can go over the suspension bridge or take the coast road like I did. It isn’t a long stretch of road but on a sunny day it would be very picturesque as you ride within metres of the water’s edge, the sky blue water adding to the great view of the island. ‘Tis a shame that the weather is so grim otherwise that would look pretty special’ I concluded as I entered the first town. I couldn’t see a good place to camp as I made my way to Lidl to get some supplies, however, as I stood eating some of my supplies I did consider just roughing it for the night and sleeping behind Lidl in the sheltered trolley area, but that thought soon disappeared as I looked behind the store and found there to be an olive grove which would be the perfect place to camp for the night.


Being a large island, Evia has lots to explore. I travelled through the middle of it and through the small mountains. The towns are not like the ones you see on the postcards for Santorini, with their white washed houses with a blue dome roof, but they are better than the towns I went through on the mainland. The pace of life feels even more relaxed, especially in the towns along the coast. My favourite places were the small fishing villages. For me they were the true Greece, the Greece that I had imagined seeing before I left the UK. I went into one village early one morning to pick up some supplies. As I sat eating breakfast I watched a few fishermen readying their boats and an old man leaning on the railing outside his small terraced house. He was eating sunflower seeds and feeding the pigeons whilst chatting to a friend and probably putting the world to rights. His friend was sitting on a red stool with his back resting against the wall, looking very relaxed as he gazed out to sea. I said hello and received a nod in return. Both men looked at my bike and exchanged a few words about this strange looking man eating cereal next to his heavily laden bike. The rest of the village was filled with people going to the bakery, cafés and to work. I received a number of curious looks as I navigated my way through the small, winding streets and up the hill to start my ride back to the main land. These villages are the kind of places I think you could spend a lot of time in because time seems to stand still in them. Although life can be full of worries about money, work etc. in these villages it feels like you have time to think about life whilst you sit by the water’s edge breathing in the sea air and watching the water lap against the shore.


Evia was a pleasant island to spend a few days on. I was there after the summer season so it was very quiet and most tourist places had closed their doors for the winter. I can only imagine that in the summer it, like most of the islands in Greece, gets very busy, however, like I said earlier this island is where the Greeks go so if you want a true Greek experience then you should pay it a visit. As well as having plenty of places to stay along the coast it also has a lot of houses/villas available to rent up in the mountains. Up there you can tuck yourself away and just enjoy the peace, the spectacular views out to sea and a very impressive night sky.

Camping in olive groves became the norm along this part of my journey, they are almost everywhere. It was late October and the harvest was just beginning so I would always see the nets being laid out around the base of the tree, ladders leaning against the trunk and hear the sound of branches being sawn off. Choosing the right olive grove and evading being caught by the farmer was paramount. I would look to see if the farmers had started harvesting yet by checking the ground for fallen olives. If it was clear then I would pick that grove because with the Greeks starting work at 7 a.m. I didn’t want to get up at 6 a.m. to make sure I had time to pack up without being seen. I had a funny moment in one olive grove near the city of Larissa. It was a Saturday evening and I chose to camp in one that had at least 300 trees in it. The ground was too rocky in the first part of the grove so I went a little further in to find better ground. After setting up my tent I could hear people working about 250 metres away. ‘No worries’ I thought ‘I have enough cover and they will be gone in an hour.’ Sure enough as the sun set the farmers made their way home and I had the place to myself. It was a full moon that night which made the mountains behind my tent shine like walls of silver. As I tucked myself in for the night I thought ‘It’s Sunday tomorrow so I’m sure the farmers won’t start work at 7. I’ll set my alarm for 7 and get on the road at about 9.’ But, sure enough, at 7 a.m. I heard the sound of a vehicle coming my way. ‘B#####ks’ I mumbled as I wrestled my way out of my cocoon like sleeping bag. I slowly unzipped the tent and popped my head out for a closer look. I could see a pick-up truck just behind a small wall about 20 metres away from me. ‘Really?? It’s a Sunday. Come on!’ I thought as I listened to the farmers setting up their nets and ladders against a tree about 10 metres from the pick-up. ‘Why do you have to work on a tree so close to me when there are hundreds to choose from.’ I muttered as I started packing up my stuff in stealth mode. I kept checking to see if they had spotted me. I’m sure they had but probably didn’t care, I was just worrying way too much. I was reacting as if the consequences for being found wild camping were so severe that I would be hauled in front of a judge and sentenced to death. Talk about over reacting! One guy was even standing by the pick-up with his back to me as I slowly folded the tent poles with the skill of a ninja, my eyes focused in his direction whilst my hands worked without guidance. He must have seen me. The rest of my pack up became like a game, trying to see how quietly I could do everything. With every sound I would pause and check to see if the farmers had heard. Packing up a tent and four panniers without making a sound isn’t easy, especially when you have a ground sheet that makes more noise than a jet fighter…or at least it felt like that as I made every fold with the skill of an origami master. After about half an hour I was ready to go but my escape would not be swift. At times like this you would hope your mind can control the body and its regular, natural functions. Does the body do this on purpose to test us? Why, just when you want to leave somewhere, does the body go “Hang on mate! If we’re leaving then there is something we need to do before you climb onto that bike. It’s that time of day and you know me, I like to keep things regular, regardless of whether it could cause you embarrassment or not. Now, put your bike against that tree and drop’em, I can’t hold this any longer!!” I had no choice but to answer the call to nature but thankfully I did not get spotted by the farmer because I’m sure this, and not camping in his grove, would have caused me a few problems, not to mention being rather embarrassing. Life on the road eh? Episodes like this are all part and parcel of it.


If you are someone who loves the outdoors and the sea then my route that day took me through an area that you would call heaven. Larissa to Katerini takes you through some stunning scenery which includes the famous Mount Olympus. For those who like hiking then the mountains around Olympus provide the perfect place to test yourself against some giants. For those who like sailing, relaxing on a beach etc then the Aegean is your playground and if you like both then, like I said, this place is heaven. At one point I was riding along looking down at the Aegean on my right and looking up at Olympus on my left. There was a house with balconies on both sides so that the occupants can watch the sun rise over the sea and set behind the mountains. ‘What a place to live!’ I thought as I pedalled along with a big smile on my face.

In this part of Greece, the road to Thessaloniki, the olive groves began to disappear and in their place were cotton fields and orchards. The cotton was being harvested so the roads were covered in it, after it had blown off the back of the trucks. When the wind blew strong it whipped the cotton into the air and for a few seconds it looked like snow falling. My last night before Thessaloniki I managed to find a great spot in an apple orchard. The apples had all been picked so there was no fear of the farmer coming along at 7 a.m. This was my sixth night of camping in a row and I was looking forward to checking into a hostel for a few nights when I reached the city.


I had heard that Thessaloniki was better than Athens and I would definitely agree with that. It was far less congested, a lot cleaner and had a more relaxed atmosphere. It still has graffiti everywhere but that is just what you have to accept in Greece. The old town sits up on the steep hills that make their way up to the castle. The hostel I checked into was up one of these hills. Being in the old town meant the road up to it was cobbled. Cobbles are hard to ride on when the road is flat let alone up hill and so it took some effort to heave my way up the bumpy road. I arrived in true touring cyclist style i.e. dripping with sweat and smelling pretty bad after camping for nearly a week.


I stayed in Thessaloniki for a week, not because of the city itself but because of the people in the hostel. It was nice to enjoy the company of some pretty cool Aussies, having a few beers and sampling some of the local raki in a nearby tavern. If you haven’t been to Greece then the taverns are one of the best parts about this country. If you turn up at 8 or 9 p.m. then you will probably be the only ones in there because the Greeks don’t really go out until about 10 or 11. Once out they love to have a good old drink, chat and enjoy live music. The raki flows like water in these taverns and tastes great!! Just be careful though, because if it’s a home brew then one small bottle will knock you on your back. Thankfully that didn’t happen to me and neither did discovering one of those illusive Greek goddesses. Such a shame.

On the day that I left Thessaloniki it was time to make the final push to Istanbul. I was less than 500 miles away and after travelling over 7000 miles this distance felt like a stone’s throw away. Nothing was going to stop me from reaching that city, not the weather, not my bike and definitely not my doubts. ‘It’s game on!!’ I said as I rolled down the hill away from the hostel. I was soon out of the city and having had quite a few days off I was loving the feeling of being back on my bike. I was tearing along the tarmac and I went whizzing past a couple of other cyclists who were just doing some stuff with their bags at the side of the road. I waved and said hello and they yelled out ‘Where are you from?’ ‘England’ I replied. ‘Where are you going?’ they asked. ‘Istanbul’ I shouted. I gave them a wave, put my head down and got back into my 20+ mph rhythm. The wind was with me that day and although I had only planned to ride about 60 miles I just kept going. I found a great place to camp along the coast after riding 90 miles. I made a quick stop at a local house to get my water bottles filled up then made my way into an olive grove for the night.


I got up early the next morning to avoid being seen and I’m glad I did. The olive grove was at the bottom of a small hill just off the main road that ran right next to the coast. After packing up my stuff in the dark I made my way up the hill so that I could watch the sun coming up as I ate my breakfast. Those are the moments that I will cherish from my travels. I don’t know what it is about watching the sun rise or set but it just feels so special, so dream-like and so peaceful.

For the next few days I made my way along the coast until I was within a few miles of the Turkish border. I met a really nice French couple one morning who cycled with me for about 30 miles. They had decided to take a year off from work to cycle around Europe and South-East Asia before taking a trip on the trans-Siberian railway. They too were heading to Istanbul where they could catch their flight to Bangkok but, unlike me they were taking their time. I was on a mission!!


It wasn’t long before I reached the last town before Turkey. I set up camp for the night in some random field about 5 miles from Turkey. As the rain started to fall I tucked myself into my tent and said a final goodnight to Greece.


Greece was a great country to travel through, not because of the roads (they were horrible) but because of its beautiful landscape and the great people. The Greeks always give you a warm welcome as does the weather for most of the year. It’s a great country and I really hope it can pull itself out of its financial crisis.


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