Location: Weymouth, UK
Weve been home now for about two weeks. Our stinking kit is washed and packed away, our photos are being processed, weve resumed the normalities of life
its almost as if we never went anywhere. But of course the big difference is how we feel inside. This time last year the step of jacking in our work, home and cushy life was daunting. We never felt that our trip was not feasible, but making the decision to do it wasnt easy. Not only would it be the trip of a lifetime, but also our honeymoon the start of our new life!
If youve been following us throughout the trip youll know what a brilliant time weve had. The whole world has opened up before us
beautiful landscapes, wonderful people, different cultures, strange beers, wild animals, great music, new friendships. Weve learned a lot of stuff about life, the universe and everything. But of course the nitty gritty has been the cycling! You may not know it but weve been fairly obsessed with recording various cycling statistics along the way
.did you know
We visited 4 continents;
And 8 countries;
We cycled 3650 miles (5840km);
And spent 360 hours in the saddle;
Our longest distance in a day was 82.70 miles (132km);
So the only thing left to say is a great big thank you to the many people who cheered us on along the way. The world is jam packed full of really nice people.
Location: St Malo, France
We finally arrived in St Malo, on Brittanys north coast. This pretty and historic fortified town and port sees many a cross channel ferry come and go, and it is from here that we are heading back home to England. The final leg of our journey, cycling from Madrid has been something of a mission. We didnt expect to be cycling home in the winter the cold weather was a shock! But we put our heads down and cycled hard and fast, covering a huge distance and having lots of fun along the way
We landed in Madrid and spent a few days relaxing and soaking in the culture. We took a room in a traditional local pensione, with a balcony looking out over the narrow, cobbled streets. Madrid is so beautiful with its grand architecture. It was nice to wander the streets, stopping to admire the buildings or pass time over a coffee. We visited the Reina Sofia, a famous art gallery holding Spains modern art collection where we nodded appreciatively at various works of Dali and also Picassos Guernica. To be honest these fine works of modern art were wasted on us as the deep, dark images looked to be nothing more than a splodgy collection of school art prize offerings. But other people looked suitably impressed and nodded with serious looks on their faces so we did the same. I think our ignorance was in part due to the fact that we had just enjoyed a long lunch at a small restaurant where the menu del dia involved platefuls of paella and the wine flowed freely. Daytime drinking is always a bad idea. But that is the essence of Madrid eat, drink and nod at the paintings.
Our cycle tour began with several hard days heading north from Madrid. The road took us over a big range of mountains and past many tiny, old villages. We were taken by surprise with the weather
it was freezing!! The cold snap that was engulfing Europe brought its challenges. Our water bottles froze solid, we had to contend with blizzards, were cycling above the snow line in the mountains and often had painfully cold hands and feet. To top it off we were cycling into a bitter, strong headwind. Progress was very slow at times, but mostly it was still enjoyable. This rural, rugged area is very pretty and each night we found ourselves in a lovely little old village with cobbled streets and an ancient church to admire. We found warm and comfortable accommodation in small guesthouses and life on the road was really very nice! Some days later we arrived in Burgos, an historic Castilian city which boasts an impressive gothic cathedral. Burgos is on the route of the Camino de Santiago and so has always thrived as something of a way point. With its magnificent architecture, tree lined avenues, labyrinth of streets and connection to the infamous El Cid, it is a wonderful place to visit.
From Burgos we took a short train journey through the mountains and on to the coast as far as San Sebastian. This enabled us to miss out the heavily industrialised area of Bilbao. Wed found the cycling becoming increasingly busy with lorries and general industrialisation. The poor cyclist has been forgotten and we often had to cycle on roads that state No Cycling simply because there was no alternative. One difficulty with cycling in Spain is that the motorway tolls are so expensive that heavy traffic still use the normal roads. Anyway, it was a wonderful train ride through the snowy mountains and onwards to San Sebastian. San Sebastian is yet another gorgeous town with its old quarter of narrow streets and lively tapas bars. We spent a couple of nights here, enjoying the lively atmosphere which continues well through the night, with accordion music spilling out from every bar and hordes of people feasting on traditional Basque cuisine.
We continues cycling, crossing the foothills of the Pyrenees and on into France. After a picnic stop in the resort of Biarritz we continued up the coast stopping in a village for the night. Our route went on to take in the Atlantic coast of France, then up to La Rochelle, across the Vendee and then through Brittany. We took in the famous surf spots along the way such as Lacanau Ocean, Mimizan and Capbreton. Cycling in France really was a breeze. France was invented for cycle touring it has pristinely surfaced roads, wide cycle paths, courteous drivers, suitably spaced villages and of course the delicious cuisine. Wed begin each day with some nice bread or brioche and coffee, cycle loads of fast miles, have a lunchtime picnic of baguettes, country pate and fromage, cycle more fast miles, then find a friendly little guesthouse and pass the evening with a bottle of 1 euro wine and more delicious food. Life doesnt get much better.
We finally arrived in St Malo, Brittany, where our cycle tour came to an end. Wed had a gastronomically good time in Europe and of course we felt sad to be at the end of our huge adventure. We spent a few days in St Malo, walking the walls of the town, dining out on more great food and polishing off more plonk. It was a wonderful to our amazing trip. And so the time came to take the ferry home to Weymouth. Just a few hours later wed be greeted by harbour lights of home.
Our first taste of Asia was being bundled into the back of a van like a pair of hostages, and driven at breakneck speed, swerving among the busy traffic down Bangkok's freeway. When the driver pulled into an alleyway we thought it was time to write the ransom note, but in fact we'd arrived at our hotel. A smiling porter whisked us, our bags and bikes inside into a smart and peaceful hotel. Bangkok is a funny place - chaotic, noisy, dirty, smelly. Yet from time to time you can excape into a serene corner and let it all go by.
We came to Bangkok to join up with a cycling tour of Cambodia. So far we have been cycling independently but to get into the heart of Cambodia we needed some help! We joined up with a cycle company called Spiceroads, along with seven other cyclists from the UK and USA. We were doing a supported tour, so no heavy panniers to carry!
First we had to get to and cross the Thai/Cambodia border. We went by van for a few hours, leaving sprawling Bangkok behind and passing through smaller Thai towns. We stopped a few miles short of the border and after a delicious lunch of typical Thai food we saddled up and set off for Cambodia. It was wonderful to be riding again! As we approached the border we found ourselves in an entertaining throng of chaos. There were people, animals, carts, motor scooters and children everywhere, going in all directions. It was hot and dusty and we felt like extra's in a Michael palin documentary.
A few hundred metres away, rising up out of a pile of rubble stood an ornately carved portico inscribed with the words "Kingdom of Cambodia" . Visa's in hand, we crossed the border.
It was quickly obvious that Cambodia is much, much more poor than Thailand. Concrete buildings have been reduced to a pile of rubble, litter everywhere, the roads were little more than a dirt track. Motorbikes pulled trailers piled high with people and their belongings, ox carts trundled along in the dust. The cycling was actually terrible - we bumped and jolted our way along the potholed road, weaving around the oxes, trucks and motorbikes. Rules of the road here are simple - if you have a horn beep continuously, otherwise get out of the way! It would have been wholly unpleasant if it wasn't for for amazing experience of just being here, and the wonderful Cambodian people. Throughout our trip we became used to the dust and the poor roads. But everyday we have been taken aback by local peoples warmth and friendliness. Everywhere we went we were greetd by big smiles. Kids ran out to the roadside waving and laughing and saying hello. We felt so welcome.
In our two weeks of cycling in Cambodia we went to Battambang, Siam reap and the Angkor temples, Phnom Penh, then down to the coast exploring the Bokor area, Sihanoukville then up to Koh Kong. In all we covered about 650 km. It's mostly flat so although its been hot and dusty the riding has been quite relaxed. But as a cultural experience Cambodia has been incredible. We've met so many kind and humble people, seen terrible poverty, eaten some wonderful food, had lots of giggles with local kids, learned much from our Cambodian guide, Smey, and been silsnced by the sad accounts of Cambodia's history.
I think what is so powerful is that the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime happened in our lifetime. While we were little kiddies born into a safe and "civilised" society, kids in Cambodia were being born into the brutal KR regime when millions suffered the genocide. If you've seen the film "The Killing Fields" you'll know something of this hoffific era. We visited several KR sites such as S21, the prison in Phnom Penh where many people were held, tortured and executed, also some of the Killing Fields - sites of mass graves where human remains still lie in the dust. It was very upsetting. And while Cambodia is now a safe and wonderful place it is still hurting from all this, both emotionally and economically. The events are still recent enough to affect much of the population through lost family members.
But despite all this sadness there is so much happiness here too. Especially from the children. Everyday we met many kids who were intrigued to see Barangs (Europeans) on bicycles. Their shyness never lasted too long and we usually ended up in a fit of giggles, taking photos of each other and practising each others language. Alex, from California, had a great knack of teaching kids to "high-five" - simple and silly!
Cycling through the countryside we passed through many small communities and rice paddies. The people in rural areas live in simple straw hut type homes built on stilts, keeping a few animals and often having a bicycle and maybe a motorscooter. Roadside stands sell scooter fuel in old cola bottles and sometimes a squealing pig strapped to the back of a motorbike would drive past us. The motorscooter is an incredible form of transport. Did you realise it is possible to fit 5 people on one? Or two pigs? Or at least 20 ducks? Amazing! Sometimes they would ride beside us, striking up conversation.
One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to the Angkor Wat temple complex near Siam Reap. Angkor Wat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the most important historic temple sites in SE Asia. We spent two days exploring by bike. The temples were built approximatley in the 12th century and have served both the Hindu and Buddhist religion. They are ornately carved, with a square layout and inner towers. Stone carved galleries depict the Hindu epics, showing people how to lead good, kind lives. It was an extraordinary place. The temples were lost in the jungle for centuries, only being rediscovered by the French in the 19th century. Much renovation has gone on to care for the sites, but in places the jungle has become entwined in the temple walls. If it sounds like a scene out of Tomb Raider you're not wrong! The jungle temples are well known film sets.
To get to Phnom Penh from Siam Reap we had to take a long boat ride down the Tonle Sap. This first involved catching a small traditional wooden boat from a floating fishing village, in order to transfer to a bigger modern boat downriver. We arrived at the fishing village at sunrise. It was a muddy, fishy, stinking riot! We were led up a precarious gangplank and onto an old boat. Al around us small fishing boats were coming home from their nightfishing trip, loaded up with fish. The river was dirty with fishy stink, mud and sewage. We tried not the think about the amount of fish are eating on this trip!! It took ages to crawl through the mass of little boats and even once we were clear of them we didn't seem to make much progress. The engine batteries sparked violently and the engine sounded like it was on its last legs. Eventually we came to a floating pontoon and transferred to a modern boat. It had been one of those "experiences" good to look back on but a bit rough at the time!
Later on in our trip a few of us also took an excursion one evening out into rural Cambodia's rice paddies. From the small town of Takeo we took a small speedboat up the canal that links the rice paddies. Along the canal side we saw many huts of the rice farmers, people fishing, kids swimming, ladies plucking chickens etc...it was great fun and a real insight into rural life. Eventually we came to a small community where we couldn't get any further due to low water levels - we'd have to transfer onto motorbikes. Smey rounded up a few local lads on their bikes and we hoppped on the back. Then we all took off up the dirt road, heading towards to the Vietnam border. No, this wasn't a kidnapping! They took us to see the remains of another ancient temple. When we arrived a local villager took us for a walk around the temple and told us about it. But the real fun was the collection of children that came with us, who were little rascals and we had a silly time. One little girl clutched a dead, dried fish like it was her pet!
We ended our cycling at the beach and had a couple of relaxing days before a long boat ride up the coast to Koh Kong and a final short trip back across the Thai border. It had been a really wonderful trip, so many experiences it's hard to put it all into words. We were lucky to have such a great Cambodian guide, Smey, who was funny, smart and helpful and along with our two Cambodian drivers ensured we had an enjoyable time. Our Canadian Spiceroads guide Jen was always bubbly and enthusiastic!
We shared our trip with a bunch of old geezers, average age 200, and they were all great company. Cheers guys! Keep on biking!