Bike Ben's Blog

Serbia

Until next time…

Photos from the exhibition in Phnom Penh.

Click on arrow on the right to see the next photo.

Click on arrow on the right to see the next photo.

Two months to the day since I rolled those last kilometers into Phnom Penh, I have had quite some time to digest the incredible experiences of my epic cycling adventure. It’s hard to put such a journey into words as each and every day was so different from the previous one, the terrain, the weather, the people, often the food. It’s hard to summarise such a journey, in fact, I don’t think I need to! I think what will stay with me the longest is just how incredibly similar we humans are, everywhere, what we don’t know about each other we are scared of, this is the cause of so much misunderstanding. Traveling gives us the perfect opportunity to know what we don’t have to be scared of. I’m often asked how it felt to arrive, to reach  my goal. As I cycled those narrow and busy roads through the buffalo lined, rice paddies and on to my destination I guess I felt mostly sadness that the adventure was over, no massive sense of achievement, just the end of the road….till next time at least.
I hope that you have been able to share at least a portion of the joy that this trip has brought me, certainly the comments I have received from so many have helped keep me going. I have loved hearing from you all! Let the next next adventures begin….


Thanks to your generous donations, around NZ$10,000 was raised. It’s not too late to DONATE to The Cambodia Trust

Supporting A Great Cause: The Cambodia Trust

Click on arrow on the right to see the next photo. All photos care of Cambodia Trust, all rights reserved.

It has been my intention to support a charity with this trip since the beginning, it has taken me this long, and extensive help from my friend in Phenom Penh to find the Cambodia Trust. This organisation fits my philosophies and motivations perfectly and I look forward to seeing how I can be involved with some of their projects into the future. Their work is encouraging because they not only give but also train locals which empowers them to continue their amazing work well into the future, with or without the support of the organisation. Their work coincides perfectly with my own in the medical field and my long-term interest in prosthetics and support for the disabled.

My trip has so far taken me from Budapest along the Danube to Serbia and on to Bulgaria. I then pedaled east through Greece to Turkey and on to Iran. I then took a short flight over Pakistan to India where I have just completed 2 months of tough cycling in the high Himalayas. I’m now 10 kg lighter and fit as a trout. Ready to move on to central China and then on to Vietnam, Laos and finally Cambodia. I have so far covered 6,000 km and plan to cycle 4,000 more before reaching Phenom Pen.

My trip will cover a total of at least 10,000 km through 11 countries and at least 100,000 m of mountain climbing. I have passed through areas speaking 15 languages and 8 religions. I will take more than 10,000 photographs and shake hands with an estimated 2000 people. I will drink more than 500 litres of water and just 6 inner tubes. My pedals will rotate more than 10 million times and I will replace my brake pads at least 3 times. Burning about 5,000 calories each day, I will churn through a whopping 1,250,000 calories during the 7 months on the road.

So, with all that in mind, please read more about Cambodia Trust and donate what you can, however big or small your donation is.

Thank you so much for your generous support!

Bike Ben

DONATE HERE

A busy schedule

Click on arrow on the right to see the next photo.

This is why I love travelling by bicycle I tell her as we walk quickly out of the school door. I look back to see students peering at me through the half opened door. I have now met two English teachers and spoken to a class of high school students about New Zealand. Now we must got and get my bike which is being looked after at a bakery across the town so that I can have my photo taken with the graduating students from the high school. The reporter tells us to hurry as he has other things to do, this is a funny situation, the reporter who wants to interview me is tell me to hurry cause he has other things to do? I have to laugh at the sudden attention I am receiving. After asking a few superficial questions and taking a picture of me with the students and my bike, he is happy and leaves.

The graduation party is now in full swing, a hundred or so school leavers mostly dressed in white, sip at beer and wine in the middle of the school yard while their fellow students sign their t-shirts and other body parts with colourful markers. The DJ mixes the worst of modern pop music as girls dance on the benches. The few guys there are too cool for that and just sip their beers quietly in the shade. Just meters away from the blaring loudspeakers, a priest welcomes worshippers into his church to celebrate St. Nicola’s day, seemingly oblivious to the ruckus in the background.

Finally it’s time to leave the teenagers to it and head south, I have arranged to meet some of the people I met in Novi Sad near a lake for the night. I arrive late evening to find 5 or 6 of them there, soon after 10 or 25 more arrive and the party is in full swing. They are the Serbian Travellers Club who meet once in a while to share stories and experiences about what they love to do. I say my farewells and hit the road towards Bulgaria, I cross two mountain passes and finally arrive in Pirot, just 30 km from the Bulgarian border.

The main street is busy with pedestrians and noisy cars, I notice a bike shop where I stop in to ask about a place to stay, through broken teeth and with a a strong smell of alcohol on his breath, he tells me I can stay at his place if I buy him some beers. I move on telling him that I will come back if I don’t find anything. A hill overlooks the city, a perfect place to stay it seems. Nearing the top I see an old man and stop to ask if he has somewhere for my tent, in German he agrees on a patch of dirt near the road, perfect! Half way through our first glass of rakeja, his son and grand son arrive home. In quite broken but fully understandable English he invites me to join him into town for a drink. We end up having the usual discussion about life in his town before I fall asleep. By this stage a bed has been made for me in their house, I tuck myself in and sleep instantly.

I’m greeted with fried eggs, sausage, cheese and bread with strong coffee for breakfast before heading for the main highway for Sofia. Traffic is light and I make quick progress towards the border. All of a sudden, my bike and me are lifted and thrown, landing half upright in the middle of the road,  my glasses have flown off my head and now lie in the middle of the other lane. I act quickly, moving my bike off the road and getting my glasses. I then assess the damage, a scrape and cut on my right ankle and a bruise on my right hand. The pedal on the bike is badly damaged and does not turn freely anymore. In trying to keep as far right as possible, I have hit the curb with the pedal which has lifted the bike of the ground. I test riding, the pedal no longer runs straight but it is ok. I continue with some relief that no cars were coming. I arrive in Sofia without too much trouble as the rain sets in.

Det lösa sig

Click on the arrow on the right to see the next photo.

“Hello, my name is Sara, it’s nice to meet you!”
A sense of relief comes over me, things are picking up. Entering Serbia 4 days before seems like such a dream now. On the second day my ankle began to swell and cause quite some pain, this led to a short 3rd day, sleeping over in Sombor with my first CouchSurfer for the trip. The conversation flowed freely into the night as I learned first hand about the ups and downs of life in Serbia.
The impressions I received during that evening where embellished by my second CouchSurfer in Novi Sad, who is, by coincidence, a fellow kiwi studying in Serbia. The evening is spent being entertained by comical Serbs and an eclectic mix of nationalities at a nice pub despite combat theme.
I continue, requiring directions, I stop to ask. I’m greeted by an inquisitive eye which has already giving my bike the once over. Without a common language we proceed into his house to look at his bike, there are 3 rooms full! 15 in total I’m told, it looks like more.We are joined by the broken English speaking daughter and I’m given drinks and snacks. Soon the broken (but a little better) English boyfriend arrives and out comes the infamous rakeja bottle, no less than 12 years old. We cheers to life and cycling and I reluctantly pass up the offer to spend the night. They are worried that I will have problems in Belgrade because the US vice president is visiting along with 500 (yes, 500) body guards and an 8 tonne armoured car.
Belgrade is filled with police, every 100 m there are three or four loitering like school boys. It’s amazing what chaos one person can create.
The evening is spent with people I met on my previous visit to Serbia and my CouchSurfer At a small jazz club we discuss how education can be used to change the world until I start to fall asleep (surprise surprise).
I stop to ask a uniformed officer directions, he points ahead and waves me on with a big smile, after lots of starting and stopping I reach the edge of town and begin to wind south through woody hills.
I notice people are not quite as friendly, many don’t respond to my greetings. It feels a little strange but I continue, as evening sets in I begin to search for a place to camp. A small village appears, it seems perfect. I ask the first people I see, without any common language I’m told that it’s impossible, I must go back to the city. OK, I think. I then see a young women planting the garden with her grandmother, she calls for her brother who speaks very good English point to the grass where I can camp. Perfect!
I begin to pitch my tent, the women then comes to me and says “I’m sorry, you can’t camp here, you must leave”. I’m confused, I start to pack again, she sees my confusion and explains that they are from Croatia and it’s not their land, the people from the village are very closed and do no accept foreigners. Cycling back towards town, I feel quite strange, disappointed I guess.
I try a few houses and am either met with nothing, or a no. I really start to think of alternatives, this has never happened before. An old man is chopping wood, I stop to ask. He starts off in German saying that I should come in, and to wait inside the gate. I feel some relief. His grand daughter then appears with a huge smile and says: “Hello, my name is Sara, it’s nice to meet you!”
After asking if I have a passport her grandfather agrees, I again begin to pitch my tent. Sara then suggests that I stay at her parents place instead as she speaks English, so everything in the bags again and I’m on the road again, following her and her father in their car. I’m shown an ideal camping spot under a huge laden cherry tree. Food and a hot shower are then provided, life really does work out.
I tell of what happened in the village, Sara laughs and says that the guy in the village is her friend and will come, which he does. He apologises for his grandmother who he says is just afraid after living through so much. He actually came looking for me after I left to make sure I had found my way.
We head off into town to meet some of their friends and to discuss growing up in a small town in central Serbia, what dreams they have for the future and everything else that is real for them.
I retire to my tent with a smile on my face, a graduation party to look forward to in the morning. It’s been a few years since I was a high school student.

Viszontlátásra

Click on the arrow on the right to see the next photo.

A strong feeling of nostalgia welled up inside me as I peddled over “the white bridge” after having said my final goodbyes to Kalman and Kata. My mind wound back about 3 years to this very same moment as I left Budapest to discover Central Europe, also by bicycle. Since then a lot of water has past under that bridge, Budapest now feels like a second (or third) home after the wonderful half year I spent there. My mind is in another place, filled with past event, as I’m passed by a solitary cyclist, not long after we both stop wondering if we should go left or right, she asks where I’m going. We proceed together for 20 mins before saying our goodbyes. I realise that this short interaction was just what I needed to bring my thoughts back to the epic journey ahead.

I cross the Danube again, finally leaving Budapest’s city limit. I’m free and I’m finally on the road… Life is good!