Thoughts from the Middle East

Thoughts from the Middle East

A year ago I decided to throw my life a bit upside down. Without much international cycle experience and together with some random purchased gear and a bike, I left Rotterdam on February 2, 2015 to attempt to cycle to Singapore in Asia. After more than four months I arrived in Tehran, the capital of Iran. I’m halfway to my final goal. What happened the last time on the road? How do I feel? Am I really living some kind of dream, or does it only seem so..

I left without much preparation. I started on a second hand bike, without a single visa, without a specific route plan and without the slightest knowledge of the countries that I would cross. The only thing I had was the confidence, that in any way, eventually everything would be okay.

I would solve the problems when they occur.

In this blog I look back, far back. I’ll take you into my personal experiences that have made my life and this adventure into what it is today.

I’m not the only one who dreams about some kind of travel idea. In fact, everyone I have spoken until now told me in a certain way to have the desire to discover the world. I chose to not let this go past me. I left alone, because I really wanted to do this on my own. Even that I love her, I left my girlfriend in the Netherlands. I wanted to learn about myself, to see something of the world, on my own, to have a challenge and just not worry for some time about my future occupation.

I never really knew what I wanted.

When I was young, we visited the Dutch airport once in a while to see the big airplanes going up and down. At that time I knew that when I grow up I would become a pilot. Preferably a fighter pilot. In that years I was that annoying kid that folded all the license plates from the cars in the street to a point. In my time in high school I never really became much wiser. I went from middle education to higher education back to middle education. I owned the talents to learn something but was too lazy and stubborn to put some effort in achieving some school results. Thanks to Zeeger, a classmate of mine, who had written the complete final profile assignment, I graduated. I knew it, I was an outdoors person. Desks and computers were not made for me. I would go work in the construction of  buildings. And heck, why not, I was getting a nice salary and worked outside all day. 

After I retrieved my twentieth birthday I seriously started to wonder what I was doing. Did I wanted to work my whole life cramming every day hundreds of stones into a wall?

I decided that this was not going to happen.

On my twenty-first age I tried to do an entrance exam at the University of Applied Sciences in Rotterdam. I wrote a letter to the director of the company saying that I was dissatisfied, because after five years I didn’t get any promotion. I immediately stopped my job as a bricklayer. With no idea either I could finish that entrance exam. For six months I prepared to be admitted and try to get a bachelor degree in Business Economics in the next few years. After more than four years later, I graduated as an honor student. A nice degree in my pocket. And yes, what next?

An internship during my studies at a financial bank brought me to an important insight. A capitalist career was not what I wanted. Giving beautiful sales pitches, without myself believing in what I was trying to sell. No, thank you, I prefer to let others do that. Where was the mentality that we really tried to help each other? Is there such as a capitalism with a healthy growth and without too much greed?

Questions I still do not know how to answer.

I felt more at home at the arts and culture sector in Rotterdam. After more then two years working there I decided to stop my job for the second time in my life. At this time not because I did not like the job. I wanted to travel. For a long time. I never really felt free in my life. I wanted to experience what it was like to be alone, without influences of a society, daily obligations and other issues, to discover something.

I decided to attempt to cycle from Rotterdam to Singapore.

In a quest for a bike, I kind of disliked the commercial touring bike industry. If you go to Singapore you can not use a bicycle with 28 millimeter tires. After Istanbul it is hard to find reasonable bicycle parts. The roads are getting worse from there. Have you met with the new strong shifting system? Cost you only 1,500 euros extra, but you can easily without problems cycle the world with it. You know, the best you can do is to buy a bike of 4,000 euro, as big as an elephant, with tires of 50 centimeters, never will happen anything.

I don’t understand why.

Travel (by bike) is in my opinion about special meetings with local people. Learning cultures, ways of life. Experience how people seek happiness in different living conditions. It turns out, the less you have, the more you need from others and the less you shut yourself down from other people. Perhaps that is one reason why the capitalist cultures are more closed comparing to the cultures in the Middle East. We do not really need each other. I experience it now in Iran, it’s just different. I’m not saying necessarily better but it feels that the Persian culture is more friendly, welcoming and above all more generous. People here show me how you can give away, just to make others happy. Help each other, without expecting anything in return. I lost it a bit in the Netherlands.

One of the few gizmos was a Garmin navigation system for adventurers and was installed on my bike until the south of Armenia. A trip with my bike halfway out of the car of some Armenians who had drink too much vodka, was a bad idea. In bragging that I was going to slaughter a sheep (I also had been drinking vodka), my navigation disappeared somewhere in the horizon. I hope the lucky finder knows what he can do with that device. Since then I regularly ask directions to local people. They ask me questions, help me with food and drinks, sometimes even shelter.

I’m glad I got rid of that monstrosity.

All visas I arrange myself. I am not so good at it. In Trabzon it took so long that I just camped inland, in the mountains to cover some time. Meanwhile I’m already two weeks in Tehran because things did not work out as planned. While my passport was at the Chinese Embassy my Iranian visa run out of time. I found out that my Uzbekistan travel dates were scheduled too early because the Dutch embassy did take a lot of time for a letter of no objection for traveling in China. You can not change the dates of a visa obtained from Uzbekistan and I had to start the whole process again.

The risks you run when you are stubborn and want to do everything yourself.

I’ve not encountered any homesickness. Of course, I long to see my girlfriend Lisa. Traveling alone with a relationship is difficult and I do not recommend it. I believe that it is possible. Conversations I have are sometimes emotional. I have another life and she has the same without me. We miss each other every day, but I believe in this relationship. I believe that it is worthwhile to be a time away from each other and appreciate each other later in a different way.

I’m much alone. Do I really feel alone? I don’t know. Some moments were tough because I was tired. Many lows I’ve encountered but also quickly followed by highlights. I am in constant dialogue with myself. I try to be lasting positive. When I’m camping, I try to find a little peace again. 

In this way day after day is passing by. 

The trip is intensive. I had to learn to be less tense. Less preoccupied with money. Less captivated by how many kilometers I cycled every day. Rest when I’m tired. Eat when I’m hungry. Sleep when the night is falling. Move on when I feel uncomfortable somewhere. Keep my life simple and not be obsessed with things that don’t matter at all.

This is not a top performance. I’m no hero. I feel like a child. Exploring. Life just feels good this way.

I am based in Tehran for a while. I like it here and have good company. Persian people let me feel at home. I found a fellow Dutch person traveling to Central Asia on bicycle. He is riding on clogs, can’t believe it. I will join him for a while.