The thought of Karen leaving became more real once we crossed the border into Thailand. Staying present in the moment became more difficult however much we tried, it was like someting had switched in our minds: we were going to Bangkok and Karen would fly back to the UK.
We didn’t know what to expect from Thailand but were struck by the marked difference with Laos. As soon as we crossed the border we found ourselves riding in smooth roads, 7/11 supermarkets everywhere, more cars in one day that we had seen in the whole time in the neighbouring country and …fat people. We had entered a more developed, westernised country. It is not surprising that Europeans love Thailand, it is easy and comfortable country, there are familiar things everywhere and at the same time it is different enough to be exotic.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej had died a couple of months before we entered the country. At the time of his death, he was the longest living reigning monarch in the world, he had been king for 70 years and 126 days. The reaction of the Thai people was moving, everywhere we went people dressed in black, supermarkets emptied at 7pm when workers and customers went out to pray by the altars set up at the entrance to honour the dead king. In Bangkok they moved the location of the bus station to be near the palace making it easier for travellers to pay their respects to the king and food and drink was distributed free for everyone.
We wanted to make sure that Thailand wasn’t just a ride to get to Bangkok and went to visit Khao Yai National Park where we hoped to see elephants and other wild life. Excited we climbed and climbed amongst beautiful vegetation. Since the Pamir, green has become synonimous with life and I find myself thinking how I can transform my London garden to make it a constant reminder of my travels, which plant will withstand the London climate or which one I could use as an alternative. Each time I think about coming home I find myself worrying about what it will be like crossing the border, how Brexit is going to impact on my life. Brexit has become a stormy cloud on this, otherwise, magical journey; questions surface as I cycle along – should I go back home now whilst I still can? should I take the citizenship exam? will they give me problems at the border when I try to get back in? Stubbornly I choose se to ignore the whole thing, I refuse to give up on my dream. My garden and Brexit were filling my mind as we climbed amongst the majestic trees of the jungle.
Our stay in the park wasn’t quite what we had expected, it was a Bank Holiday weekend and thousands of Thai people flooded to the park to spend it outdoors. They came with their barbeques, their cold boxes, their music. Soon our little tents were dwarfed amongst their huge ones and the air was filled with food smells, the sound of children running around, adults laughing and a general festival atmosphere. Of course we didn’t see animals with all that noise but seeing the light of dawn filling the day with colour, listening to the shrieks of the monkeys in the trees, soaking up the atmosphere made our two days there very special.
And then the day came when it was time for Karen to leave, it was emotional . We had shared two months full of laughter and adventures throught which we got to know one another and our friendship grew. We said goodby with the promise to have anoter stretch together in the future. I saw the back of her taxi disapear in the crowded streets of Bangkok and experienced a sense of loss.
It was time to be on my own again but not for long, I would cycle south to Koh Samui to meet with my friend the adventurous Jenniffer Murray who had invited me to spend Xmas with her family. I first met Jeffa when I took part in the Atacama Desert Crossing and felt instantly in love with her indomitable spirit, her zest for life and adventure, her love of challenges, her can do attitude. Something about her chimed powefully within me and bridged our ideological differences.
To cycle to Surat Thani I chose small roads that took me to small beach villages through coconut and palm plantations. The crossing in the slow night ferry from Surat Thani to Koh Samui was perfect. I bought the ticket from a surly man parked by the boat with a parasol and sat to watch the boat being loaded with all sort of goods, scooters coming with packages big and small. When it got close to the 11pm departure time I took Foxtrot on board and settled myself in the wood panelled top section of the ferry where simple mattreses and pillows were provided. Snuggled in my sleeping bag I soon went to sleep with the rocking of the boat and only woke up when we were landing in the island just after dawn.
It was wonderful to see Jeffa again and be welcomed into the heart of her family where I stayed not only for Xmas but also for New Year. I was overwhelmed by their generosity, I had a stocking amongst theirs and presents wrapped under the tropical plants disguised as Xmas trees; I had a turkey dinner and thanks to Siena, her grand daughter I was able to have the 12 grapes of new year; I walked in the beach with Jeffa in the early morning whilst everyone else in the house was still sleeping and I learned magic tricks from Simon, Jeffa’s husband. I was showered with warmth and friendship and by the time I left I felt fully rested.
And there was more love to come. My daughter Amaya and her boyfriend John were coming to Bangkok to spend some days with me. In Bangkok I found a great hostel/bike shop run by Thai cycle tourers, Spinning Bear. Whilst I waited for them with anticipation and found yet another little family. In the hostel I met with Lontxo Rojo who has been cycling for nearly 20 years all over the world, the life on the road etched in his face, years of self suficiency shaping his character and lots of stories to tell. He is heading back to the Basque country with the intention to stay – how do you get used to the walls of a house after so many years of the big outdoors? I have been away for a fraction of his time and sometimes wonder what it will be like for me and can’t quite picture it.
And the day arrived when I met Amaya and John and time flew by. We went to the small island of Koh Kood and spent some precious time together that felt too short. After months of anticipation the days went in a heart beat and yet each of them went by at a slow pace – slow breakfasts, walks to waterfalls, sitting in the sun,catching up on news from home, snorkelling… How can time be running so fast and slow at the same time? It had been a year since I had seen them in Istambul but when I saw their smiling faces at the airport it felt that had been only yesterday. As I cycle along I experience this seemingly contradiction often and ponder about this poorly understood time-space dimension.
It was heart wrenching to say goodby to them but their visit and being showered with love was the priceless gift they left with me. I didn’t take this for granted and I knew I was one of the luckiest women on earth.
When I crossed the border into Serbia I got really excited and I found myself grinning and saying aloud: I AM IN SERBIA!!!
It’s difficult to explain but I get an overwhelming physical sensation that comes with the realisation that I AM in a place that once belonged in books or in geography lessons at school; a place that I never thought I would actually get to see. The Danube, Vienna, the Carpathians, the Iron Curtain…
Spending time in Serbia and some of the other countries of the old Eastern Block has also made me aware of all the stereotypes I have acquired during my education in Franco’s Spain and also the pictures painted in the media. I am not sure what I thought they would be like but I am delighted to see my stereotypes crumble. Very liberating.
What I experienced in Serbia is a country full of kind, hospitable people. On day one I camped by a river close to the Hungarian border and was ‘visited’ by the Serbian River Police who must’ve been tipped I was there (I’m still not very good at this wild camping business). I was expecting having to move and being admonished, only to be told it was absolutely OK to stay there and asked whether I was warm enough. The Warmshowers hosts I’ve stayed with have been great and I learnt a great deal about the history of the country and in Novi Sad from Aleksandar who also helped me prepare a route all the way to Plovdiv where I’m meeting my friend Carol.
In Belgrade I stayed in one of the old neighbourhoods in one of a big cluster of concrete blocks built around 60 years ago. It’s really tricky to find the actual flat you are going to because the name of the street is the same for the whole cluster and the numbers of the blocks seem not to be in any particular sequence. I spent a really nice couple of days in Belgrade and had the first haircut of my trip, a big event by my book! I also cooked the first Spanish omelette of the trip to Zizi, my lovely host. On hers and previous advice, I have now joined Couchsurfing to increase my chances of finding accommodation along the way.
In Serbia I met the Danube again which is huge now and it was like meeting an old friend. I cycled past small villages, visited interesting archaeological sites and went deep into the Serbian countryside where I saw amazing coal works, visited wonderful small churches, beautiful wooded hills and I encountered again the big heart and generosity of the Serbian people in the form of gifts of hand picked pears and grapes.
In Serbia too, I met my first unpaved roads, quite hard going with a loaded bike with road tyres, faced whole days of headwind and had the joy of cycling in pouring rain .
I can’t believe I’ve already cycled that distance since I left London on the 8 of July. It’s amazing how much distance you can cover on a bike without realising it.
A few of you have asked me about the kit so this post focuses on that. You may need to refer to the gear section of the site for details. I’ll write another Post about my time in Serbia soon.
Let’s start with the bike. Paul from Harry Perry Cycles in Woolwich did an absolutely am job. The bike is just perfect and I love it. The one thing I would add to it is a dynamo hub to be able to charge my devices on the go. At the beginning of the trip, in part, I spent a fair bit of time in campsite toilets next to power socket!
I’ve only have had a problem with the bike was: the freewheel went just before Vienna. The consensus of the mechanics that repaired it was that the component was faulty in the first place. Unfortunately I left the faulty piece with them so no chance to call in the guarantee. I had a job finding a replacement so I’m having some spares sent from England.
The racks and panniers are fantastic as you would expect from such reputable brands as Tubus and Ortlieb and the Click Stand is bearing well but the rubber foot I got to go with it didn’t last long, I’m just wondering whether walking poles rubber ends would do a better job.
The tent is good too, really easy to put up and roomy inside. I’m glad I bought the footprint for extra protection. I’m also glad I brought two mattresses, the Z-lite gives me extra insulation whilst the inflatable Thermarest hives me comfort. It would have been better to have a full length one instead of 3/4 but I wanted to make use of as much of the gear I already had.
I’m delighted with the MSR Dragonfly and the rest of the cooking equipment. Bringing a good small sharp knife in addition to the penknife was a good decision and I’m reluctant to let go of the things I haven’t used yet like the sweetish fire steel and the kitchen sink.
I spent hours making a tarp which went home in the first parcel did the heavy lock – now I just use a thick wire with a small u lock.
As for the electronic gadgets, the Samsung tablet is great, I would be lost without it. My iPhone doubles up as my GPS and the camera is great and alt I’m not using the filters much, I decided to keep them for now as I’m determined to learn a bit more about photography.
The amount of clothes felt just right in the summer although if I’d been ruthless I could have done with one less t-shirt and long trousers. My friend Carol has brought me the winter stuff. I hate being cold, it makes me feel really low and I may have too much, see how it goes.
I that pretty much it. If anyone wants to know anything specific about anything just ask.
Have you ever had a dream? Something that you always wanted to do? Or do you enjoy reading about places, the world, cycling and more? I did.
Initially Blanca on a Bike was going to be mainly a way to keep in touch with family and friends. A way to be able to share with them my bicycle journey. A place to publish photos so that they could see the places I will visit and the people I will meet.
I was also hoping to get something back from it. It is so amazing to hear from people when you are away. It is particularly motivating when you are having a bit of a hard time. I wanted the blog to be a central place where I could get messages and comments from everyone.
And then, like so many of the things I get involved in, it grew. I began to read other people’s blogs and got a lot out of it. This made me want to give something back and develop a resource for others. Comments and suggestions to make the blog better are more than welcome.
There are several sections on the site that will get regularly updated
The blog – travel log will tell the story of my trip and those that subscribe get a notification when a new post is up
The country file section which I started during my
Africa trip and provides information that I hope would be useful to others planning to visit this wonderful continent
To start with during my first trip I started The Photos section which wanted to tell the story but in a different way. This section died of natural death after a while. I underestimated the difficulty of working with images having a small tablet as my only tool. I included many more photos in the blog posts instead.
If you would like to follow this blog – please sing up and you will receive a notification every time I update the content and of course if you have any suggestions on how to make it better and more useful please let me know.
If you would like to publish sections of this blog or photos please get in touch with me before you do so.