DESPERATE to find any spot to pitch a tent, I happened upon a quiet road up to a power station.
Seeing a patch of soil in between some maize and a bed of lettuce, I decided to make camp. It was almost perfect from a security point of view, as the only people who would see me were those going in and out of the Chinese power station (I had camped 10m from the entrance).
Besides, it was almost dark so I assumed all the workers would have gone home at that stage. On that issue, I was almost right.
An hour later and, after settling into another chapter of War and Peace, I heard two scooters approaching the power station entrance. ‘Hopefully they’ll just ignore me,’ I thought, and picked up the Kindle to continue reading. Next thing, I heard a pair of voices breaking the strains of the crickets’ nightsong and a light was thrown in my direction. I could see the light getting brighter as heavy footsteps crunched over the soil, gaining on the tent.
The tension built in my mind. Would they be thieves out to mug me, or the police getting me for illegal camping? Or just two night-shift workers interested in who or what was in that tent? Thankfully, it turned out to be the latter, as I heard a loud ‘Ni Hao (hello)’ followed by other inaudible Chinese words. I zipped down the tent and peered out ino the beam of a rather powerful flashlight.
Replying in kind and squinting up through the beam, I could make out their friendly smiles. The man holding the flashlight was in his 50s and his compadre a young heavy, spectacled man in his 20s.
As usual, many hand signals came in handy as they had no English and my Chinese wasn’t … well, great. From them, I gathered that they were working at the power station, but clearly they didn’t have too much to do – they spent the following hour at my tent. I handed them a letter a Chinese friend had written for me which explained who I was, what I was doing, and if they could help me in finding a place to eat or sleep.
After spending many minutes engaged in reading and re-reading the letter, they made much talk between themselves in Chinese about me and the letter, when one of them pointed at me, rubbing his belly. Identifying some food on the go, I gave a big smile, I nodded my head and gave him the thumbs up.
Picking four or five lettuce leaves on his way, the first Chinese man returned from the power station kitchen with a large steaming bowl of noodles and placed it on the ground, handing me a pair of chopsticks in the process. Famished as I was, I was about to dig in when I realised that all eyes were upon me, probably more in fascination at me attempting to use the chopsticks than anything else!
Seeing the awkwardness of the situation that was about to unfold as I began my battle with the noodles, I wisely sought out my photo album of all things Irish and of home. Distracting them fully, I slurped down the last noodle as the pair were about to begin their third viewing of the 40-photo album. Thanking them very much for the noodles, we engaged in further miming until it was time for them to go. I ‘Xie Xied’ them both, we waved our goodbyes and back into the tent I crawled, for another night’s rest, secure in the knowledge that I’d be as safe as a house right there outside that power station. As you can see, life on the saddle of a bicycle is rarely far from boring.
It has been nine months since I pedalled those first few miles towards home.
Starting in August of last year I headed east, buying a one-way ticket to New Zealand. Since then, I’ve been journeying home via Australia, China, Thailand, Pakistan and several other countries to where I am presently – Uzbekistan. There’s still a long way to go but the plan over the next few months is to pass through more of the Middle East, Europe and in September, God willing, arrive back to West Cork and the farm in Drimoleague.
It’s a moment I honestly can’t wait for.
As interesting as travel can be, there is no substitute for that place that you can call home, where the grass is green, the air fresh and where there are friends, family and familiar faces that you can chat and laugh with again. That’s not to say that I miss the rain back home (has it rained yet this week?!)
Although, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are fewer, or rather no better, balanced climates around than Ireland.
Many people have asked why I’m doing this and why I would give up a year to cycle day after day in countries whose language I do not speak and where my rear end is generally uncomfortable (to put it mildly!).
I guess I’ve found that cycling gives me the opportunities to experience countries and their people – things other tourists wouldn’t find. With a bicycle, you get outside the monotony of cities and get to experience rural areas which are often by-passed. Here on a bike, you experience kindness and generosity in ways that would scarcely be possible otherwise.
The other day, as I was passing through farming country in central Uzbekistan, a friendly local waved me down and, without a word of English being said, I was invited to stay the night with them. And that was only after a tour of the farm, orchards, tractors, cows and then topped off with two bowls of delicious Osh, the local soup here. I was extremely grateful for a roof over my head and a nice spot next to an embering stove in an otherwise sparse kitchen.
That is, when compared to the previous night, which was spent underneath an apricot tree while a fierce thunderstorm raged overhead. It reminded me that a firm roof over your head is a lot to be thankful for.
Apart from the adventures and unusual situations I’ve found myself in on the bike, I wanted to do something challenging and even worthwhile. I got in contact with the Christian charity Compassion, set up a fundraising page and now I have the objective of raising €5,000 for the children’s work they do in Bolivia, providing the means for children to escape poverty.
I have reached over half of my target so far and if you would like to contribute you can do so on my blog at www.therebelcyclist.weebly.com. I’ve taken a strong Cork theme on my travels and my progress can be followed here. If you’re interested in undertaking your own cycling adventure, or have any questions regarding my trip, do get in touch, I would love to hear from you.