It’s not the roads that make an adventure. It’s the people you meet
Motorbike adventure friendships are some of the greatest you’ll ever make. After finding himself honoured with an invite to a Christmas dinner in Muslim Iran, Dutchie now knows that, while the trails might sometimes not be the friendliest, the people will give you some of the best times on the road.
Twisting roads. Green forests. Winding dirt trails. Intimidating mountains… The elements that make a rider’s adventure.
Being slaves to road and vista foremost it’s easy to think these things are probably all we need.
Over now 1,000’s of miles I’ve actually discovered it’s the interactions with common people and acts of random kindness that encourage a visceral experience to blossom into something much more valuable and closer to the heart.
People really do make the journey
When at home poring over a map of the world, one can mark mountain roads here and river crossings there. You try and plan for all the things that can go wrong (well, not really in my case).
Generally speaking, what one doesn’t do, is plan for the unexpected things that go immeasurably right, the things that really add value to that sack we call life.
From the saddle of my Triumph I’ve found it’s the people stories from each country I visit that are as memorable, if not more so, than the actual roads themselves.
Morocco. So close to Europe, yet so different
Andalusian winds blow Saharan sand over to Spain over cups of mint tea from the northwestern tip of Africa. Berbers and Tuaregs in colours of blue, white and gold cross the Sahara barefoot with their grunting camel trains in tow.
Narrow, twisting streets inside Moroccan medinas hold all kinds of secrets – from wisened tanneries to ancient Madrasas. The many coloured Atlas Mountains stretch east to west all the way into Tunisia, host to decaying forts of the Moors.
A ride out into the Ait Mansour gorge in southern Morocco got me off asphalt fairly quickly and onto some old mining roads.
I completed my loop soon enough and ended up heading north, over a choppy road which was half river bed to become a torn up asphalt road covered in potholes. Soon enough I pulled up to admire the view just outside a small town called Taloust.
As I sat with on my uncomfortable rocky perch, a bloke in a wheelchair waved at me. I looked over and two other blokes were running over to me.
Within seconds, they shouted hello across the high rocks in French and Arabic. Shaking hands I was quickly invited for mint tea on the mountaintop, where they had carried up their wheelchair bound friend.
Introducing themselves, the young gentlemen poured me tea and switched from French to English. Fresh sweet pastries were taken from paper bags and they pushed a huge pile towards me.
I, of course, indulged in the sugary goodness, all the while spitting crumbs everywhere while we talked. We spent the next two hours on the mountaintop, discussing basketball, football and of course, Australia.
This occurred more times than I have digits over the course of my ride in Morocco, from breaking bread with local shepherds to drinking scotch with a company executive in Saidia. This story may not seem like some wonderful grand gesture, but if that’s what you’re looking for you’ve missed the point. The little things are really what resonate within and complete a ride.
Read and see more of Morocco – http://atthehandlebars.com/sahara/
Turkey. Not the welcome I was expecting
The door to Asia from the west. Impressive mosques with towering minarets cover cities with the call to prayer five times a day.
Ancient Greek ruins lie all over the west of Turkey, setting a trail through to the calcified pools of Pamukkale and the world renowned rocky fields of Kapadokya. Further east brings the Kurds, a hardy, steadfast people, who are just as kind hearted as they are tough.
Still back in Rotterdam, after a few too many beers at an art factory, the first time I heard of the dramas in Turkey were of the Coup de Etat.
Things had seemingly begun to ‘kick off’, with occasional bombings amongst innocent people… consciously, I began to think of turning north for Russia.
I entered Turkey anyway. When I arrived, despite the overall feelings about Erdogan, people appeared to quite friendly.
So friendly in fact, that I was hosted by locals practically everywhere I went. In fact, in Istanbul I found myself in a top-level apartment where everyday Zeynep or her sisters would cook breakfast and dinner, unasked if they had the time.
The kindness of the Turks didn’t stop there, however. Again and again, I slept in different people’s homes, all the way to Iran.
Pamukkale, Adana, Samsun, Urfa, Diyarbakir, Van… I had never seen such hospitality, not even in Morocco. I was practically babysat by locals in the east. Even paying for things became an issue – because everyone else was paying the bills for me!
Read and see more of Turkey – http://atthehandlebars.com/crossing-eastern-turkey/
Iran. The great unknown.
The Iranian west brings Jurassic shaped mountains of the Zagros before long dry rocky plains move into the seemingly huge smokiness of Tehran, sitting at the foot of the Albert mountain range.
Central Iran brings old silk road cities such as Yazd, and gorgeous mosques coloured in traditional blue, teal and gold patterns. Deserts stretch east into notorious Balochistan, where weather ravaged caravanserais lie.
During my total of 6 weeks spent in Iran, I learnt a lot. How to place faith in people for one… after such a long period of fierce independence, Iran rekindled the fire of finding the best in people.
Complete strangers would offer me tea at every turn, invite me to their homes for lunch or dinner. I was shocked that complete strangers could be so friendly and so warm consistently.
One experience and one man, known as “the godfather” really changed a piece of me, I guess, due to his and his family’s generosity.
Being a majority Islamic country, not too many people would tend to celebrate a Christmas as one could imagine. This man, who only knew me because I had limped in on a broken motorcycle, invited me to his home for Christmas dinner.
When I walked in through the door I was passionately welcomed by twenty people – family and friends alike (and two Austrians, Dave and Ev, hi guys!).
There was a Christmas tree in the corner, wrapped in tinsel, presents under the tree and even a real live Santa Claus walking around. This was their first Christmas and they had completely owned it. I was gobsmacked.
Any fading ideas I harboured about the world were washed away very quickly by the generosity of the people of Iran. Who would have guessed the ride home would begin to change into something bigger than riding a motorcycle…. never at any time did I ever feel unsafe and more genuinely loved than in Iran and Pakistan.
Read and see more of Iran – http://atthehandlebars.com/iran-crossing-the-bridge-of-kindness/
The ever-changing deserts in Balochistan stretch for 650km towards Quetta. Gradually, the landscape changes from rocky canyons to green fields in Sindh, where small rivers keep wading water buffalo cool during the hot weather.
Karachi, the city of 25 million on the Arabian sea is an unnerving clash of culture in the east – loud, proud and in your face.
Lahore, inside Punjab, is a curious mix of smells and spices, notorious for its quality and range of cuisine. The sticky heat of Punjab wears away as the uninspiring grand trunk road takes you into cooler Islamabad, the tiny, organised capital of Pakistan, and essentially for most, the gate to the Karakoram highway.
An indescribable beauty that is incomparable to anywhere else in the world lies waiting in Gilgit-Baltistan amongst four of the biggest mountain ranges of the world – Pamir, Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Himalaya.
So there it was, notorious Balochistan, staring me the face like a hot pizza oven. That big, roaring beast was supposed to snap me up between it jaws.
Known mostly for its location in the “golden triangle” of drug smuggling, terrorists, internal conflict and heavy military presence. Well, at least that was all I could glean from a newspaper and the occasional bit of media coverage.
Somewhere out in that long scorching desert, was another drug train headed for Iran from Afghanistan. Fully-manned Toyota Hiluxes carrying heavily armed troops roared off into the hot sand, huge machine guns mounted on the frames on top of cabs.
Police were armed with anything from AK47s to M16s. Was this what Pakistan was going to be like for the remainder of my transit through?
There we were in Becham city, where the owner kept giving us samples of cakes and cookies. Here, try this one, try that one… we ended up choosing a pair of cream cakes to munch on for dessert.
Reaching over to pay, the man refused. The more we pressed the more he refused. “You are a guest in my country, please take it!”. It didn’t end there of course.
Leaving Becham City at a lazy 10 A.M., it didn’t take long for Matty (a mate of mine from Brisbane, Australia) to gain a flat tyre, twice in as many days.
With a flat and no tyre patches left we looked for a mechanic with patches available. Soon enough we found a joint and pulled up, looking for the bloke who ran the place.
Before we realised what was happening, a bloke had appeared and without a word began working on Matty’s flat tube within minutes. A brief patch, test and refit later, the tube was in, as was Matty’s tyre.
We hadn’t even had a chance to thank him before he did the runner, and Matty left handing money to thin air. We were terrorised by absolute kindness.
Read more and see more of Pakistan – http://atthehandlebars.com/pakistan/
Leave prejudice at the border
With today’s media preaching doom and gloom wherever we look, I can see why people form opinions on places they have never been and on people they have never met. The amount of vomit that gets pumped out and regurgitated has reached astronomical levels. You could fuel rocket ships on it all.
However for me, and I hope for some others, all this raving madness about how horrible the world is has been proven wrong again and again, by many people I have been fortunate enough to meet on my bike, on the way back home to Australia. I’ve slept in mosques, farmhouses, in use prisons and “war zones”. Just a tiny number of places far out of my comfort zones.
I have been assaulted many times – by love, warmth and kindness from complete strangers.
Never once did I ever feel concern for my safety (except for that time I was riding downhill on muddy slush and thick white mist out the back of Georgia). I struggle vainly to remember when I last paid for a meal twice in a row.
Of course, that is not to say there haven’t been times where people have tried to screw me over. They have and they did, a few times in fact and it’ll probably happen a few more times too. But if you are going to let a few negative experiences take control of your freedom, you may as well pack it in and head back to the comfort of your bum groove and beer.
This list of stories is endless and I could yap on forever, but I hope by this point, if you’ve made it this far down the page, you get the point.
People are good and are an important part of the ride. It’s time to wander out the front door and find that out yourself.
Get yourself sorted:
Get the deeper stories behind Dutchie’s travels at his blog, atthehandlebars.com
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