I am writing this from Air BnB number two in Italy. Currently we are enjoying week two of rest, soaking up the benefits of being indoors, cooking sumptuous food and charging our batteries in a comfortable bed. I have so much to write about but first some tales of the interesting characters we have come across over the past month.
Eduardo – a cycle tour through Iraq.
We met Eduardo through Warmshowers, a website that is a bit like couchsurfing but for cycle tourers. We stayed with him and his parents for two nights in the foothills of the Italian alps- of course his house was located up a mosquito infested 150m of 20% gradient ascent at the end of a hard day. We earnt our time with him! Our meeting with Eduardo and his family will always stay with us; it is not often you get to meet a person so extraordinary.
Eduardo had just returned from a solo cycle tour from Mongolia back to his home town in Italy. He was therefore very understanding of our filth, hunger, exhaustion and Liam’s need for beer. He was hosting cycle tourers at his parents home, keen to pay back his hospitality debt, we were the lucky benefactors of the kindness he had received on his travels.
Whilst staying with him, in addition to being fed, housed and showered, he treated us to a personal delivery of a presentation about his trip that he usually delivers in public. Liam and I were blown away by his adventure; Eduardo had not shied away from difficulties but instead was motivated by the opposite. He had deliberately chosen a route which would test his ability to survive and change his view of the world forever. He cycled through the recent war zones of Iraq and Syria. He braved physically challenging countries such as Mongolia, facing risks of becoming lost, starving or being dehydrated, completely alone. Despite nearly being killed and obviously traumatised in a hit and run road accident in Iran which destroyed his bike and most of his possessions, he found the mental strength to continue his cycle tour.
Eduardo’s stories were brought to life by a carefully selected array of visually impressive, rich and moving photographs. Portraits of the diverse range of people he encountered, snapshots of terrifying but beautiful barren landscapes framed to reveal his emotions, and snapshots of war, suffering and the challenge of existence. The journey had changed Eduardo’s life forever, his business degree left in the ashes as he prepared for a new career working in active war zones.
Eduardo was kind, humble, a talented photographer, offered intelligent, insightful conversation, and helped us clean our bikes. We won’t forget him.
A man in the “secret” beauty spot
After leaving Eduardo’s we cycled back to Switzerland towards our next mountain pass. We had, we thought, the bright idea to go and camp for night at a secret waterfall we had found during Shankra music festival back in July. The incredible valley of Bellinzona and Lostallo before the San Bernadino pass in Switzerland is home to plentiful spectacular waterfalls; we had enjoyed this particular one on the festival ground. However, during the festival, the beauty spot was was very busy with bathing festival goers, tripping swimmers and the loud rumble of Psytrance music. We bookmarked the stunning waterfall for a quieter visit post festival.
A month later we were back in the valley; not a trace of the festival remained. Eager for a rest, a long awaited decontamination swim in the waterfall, and some tranquility, we cycled up to the “secret spot” after a hard couple of days on the bikes. Immediately, we realised our mistake. Of course we were not the only people to “discover” this secret beauty spot during Shankra festival. As we pushed our objecting bikes up the last bit of slippery steep gravel, the pleasant cascade of water tumbling into the crystal clear mountain pool was not the only sight to behold. Our eyes locked onto a camper van draped in psychedelic looking throws, and a man with dreadlocks, playing with a kitten, enjoying an afternoon smoke amongst a bench carefully and artistically constructed from driftwood. His Shankra wristband confirmed our suspicions.
Now, sharing the spot would not have been an issue. We quite like having company. However, this man revealed his intention to set up a sound system and DJ Psytrance music later on in the evening. The man, incorrectly deducing from our having attended a Psytrance festival that Liam and I actually like Psytrance, assumed not only that we wouldn’t mind this, but actively enjoy it. We watched in despair as the man crafted a DJ booth from the driftwood before assembling incense sticks, crystals and other miscellaneous chi inspiring objects. Then came the diesel generator and an enormous sound system. Followed by the trip to the petrol station to buy fuel for the generator. The man was obviously set in for the night. So it came to pass that we were kept up until midnight at the tranquil secret beauty spot listening to terrible Psytrance music. We had to laugh, even though I felt like crying when he kept turning the volume up despite their being no audience!
Chris and Keith
Our second warm showers host of this part of our trip was Chris, his home was also nestling up a 100m climb but this time the gradient was manageable! Chris was not at home when we arrived, but, typical of Switzerland, he had left his house open for us with an invitation to treat it as our own. Which we quickly did. Chris’s house was absolutely beautiful, and he treated us to food so organic and so local that one minute we could hear the bell of the cow in the next door neighbours garden, and the next minute we were drinking coffee with the still warm milk that had been freshly squeezed for us!
We stayed two days with Chris despite initially only asking to stay for one. He had cycled around Patagonia with his then girlfriend, now wife, and also understood our need for rest. Whilst there, we also met his English friend Keith, who Chris had met during his cycle trip. Keith had completed a solo cycle trip and then taken up a job offer from Chris. We discovered with joy that Keith hailed from our part of England, Filey, and had lived just 50 miles away! We shared some amazing adventure stories and talked of home, the North and Yorkshire.
Liam and I had by this point ruminated on the excessive weight of the luggage on our bikes. Amazingly, Keith explained that his parents were visiting and due to drive back to Filey in a couple of days, and do we need anything taking back? Needing no encouragement, Liam and I quickly offloaded our slackline, plenty of unneeded clothes and unnecessary bike parts onto Keith’s unsuspecting parents. We thanked them, and look forward to driving to Filey in December to collect our abandoned belongings, last seen in a sleepy Swiss village.
Shelter in the chalet
We left Chris’s comfortable home to cycle in the rain up the Albula Pass to head back towards Italy. This concludes my tale of amazing people, for now. That evening, the weather came in pretty bad, with ominous swirling white mists foreboding heavy downpours. The construction of another railway line up the mountain had temporarily decimated most of the picnic sites that we would ordinarily have bivvied in, turning them instead into muddy rest spots for dumper trucks or housing portaloos for construction workers. We had nowhere to sleep or shelter.
Cycling up the mountain, I spotted a beautiful chalet with a large back garden, and decided to ask if we could pitch our tent in the garden. I knocked on the door but no one answered, but motivated by the ominous skies and the smell of a wood fire, two elderly ladies eventually appeared at the window. Despite speaking little English, we established it would fine for us to pitch our tent in their garden! We were saved.
Later on the ladies even gestured that we could shelter in the basement of their chalet. Then, they brought us an enormous pot of tea and two slices of cake. The next day, we rolled out of our tent, having stayed dry and warm despite an overnight onslaught of ear splitting thunder, lightening and rain. I had slept for an incredible ten hours!
The kindness of strangers continues to amaze me.