3 month later: a blog entry full of photos and memories
We have been back in Europe now for 3 months. I am at Erik’s place in Amsterdam and we are talking about our trip. How is it to be back home again, what do we feel and what are our souvenirs about the trip. While drinking some beers yesterday we tried to remember day by day, the roads, the people, the places we ate and slept.
Since a few days I have felt quite nostalgic about our trip. I am checking Facebook again to see posts of other people travelling in that area, and I regularly look at the pictures of our adventure. Suddenly I remember that 2,5 months ago, I had written a blog that I never posted. Here it is:
At the moment I write this blog I am in the Thalys train, travelling from Paris to Amsterdam to attend Erik’s surprise birthday party. I just talked to him on the phone and he doesn’t suspect a thing apparently.
On the day of his real 50th birthday we were in Kyrgyzstan, in a yurt camp next to a lake on a height of 3000 meters surrounded by cattle, horses and friendly people with Asian faces. It seems ages ago.
I have been back in Paris now for more than 2 weeks and every day I talk to someone for the first time since I returned from our trip. They all ask the same questions: how was your trip and how is it to be back home? I would probably ask the same questions.
Erik and I already thought about how to answer these questions, we knew were coming, when we were still over there. Erik said: the first time we will talk the whole evening about everything, the second time an hour or so, and it will get less and less until it will be summoned up in only 2 sentences. And that will be the real essence of the trip. And it happened exactly like this. Most people are genuinely interested when they ask the question, but what can you say, if it is a work-related call? You cannot talk for hours about the trip. You only have time to mention two things. For me they are the landscapes and the people. The landscapes were amazing, changing all the time from country to country, from empty deserts to amazing mountain ranges. We were on different planets and it is hard to explain. Even the pictures don’t really capture what it does to you to be there yourself.
And the people… You meet so many different people, the locals, who are all waving hello, coming to you to look at the bike, to ask you where you’re from, and to tell their whole life stories in some local dialect that we obviously cannot understand. But what does it matter? They are all so nice, so interested in us, so welcoming. They ask you what country was the best (obviously they want to hear it is theirs), they invite you to have tea, to have lunch, to sleep at their house even and they wish you good travels when you leave again.
Before we left, some friends asked if we weren’t afraid of insecurity, dangerous places or the current Russian situation, but in the end, we are all just normal people, interested in the other and proud of who we are and of our country. Which country did I like best? I really cannot say. Each country had its own special things. A lake, a mountain pass, a beautiful city, an encounter, a fantastic evening, a beautiful sunset, a great dinner, a tough but beautiful track, or a perfect road with smooth tarmac. There are many places where I would like to come back to, visit again, more in depth, having more time.
When I reflect on the trip there are so many images that come before my eyes, it is impossible to describe. It is the whole feeling of an adventure. Being away from home for so long and so far, the tough moments, not knowing what you will find around the corner or where you will sleep that night. Unexpected meetings with other overlanders and hearing their stories. How long are they away for, from where to where, why, how…? We are all so different and yet all the same. Whether it is with a motorbike, a four-wheel drive or a bicycle. We all want to experience something special, and we all did.
It is difficult to know where and how to stop and adventure like that. Do you ride back home, do you stop at the ultimate highlight, or at the farthest point? Whatever you decide, the last days will always be the last days. You realise that the adventure will soon be over. I actually started to look forward going home again and back to work, while riding through Far East Russia (yes, that is a real region, on the other side of Siberia!). I had expected that somewhere along the trip I would think about my life, about what I want to do with the next part, professionally, privately, in general. And I kind of expected to come home with a clear idea. This is what I want to do now: “I want to travel the rest of my life”, or “I have this great idea for my company”, or “I will emigrate to Kazachstan and open a bar”. I don’t care what, anything!
But none of those ideas came. I did not even reflect. I did not think of my work or my life in general. I was just in the trip. Concentrating on the road, looking at the scenery, talking to the people. And then, when I was riding through the furthest parts of Russia, I suddenly thought about home again and going back to the office. And I liked the prospect of it. Luckily!
Vladivostok was actually the end of our adventure. That is where we dismounted our steel horses and signed the export papers for the transport to Europe. We could have flown home from there, but the ending would have been too abrupt for me I guess. So, I am very happy that we added a short city trip to Tokyo at the end. For me it was the perfect thing to do to prepare the return to normal life.
We had a nice hotel in Minato, close to the Tokyo Tower and next to Shiba Park, a very old part of the city. We had a small list of things we wanted to see and discover, and we had arranged for some local people to guide us around as well. Erik and I walked around famous areas like Shinjuku and Shibuya, ate in the Golden Gai, visited the Tsukiji fish market, discovered Electric City in Akihabara and a market in Okachimachi and had ramen in our favourite ramen place near the hotel.
After 3 months of being together 24/7 we both needed some me-time, so we also did some sightseeing each on our own.
I like Tokyo. It was not so crazy as I had expected. I thought I would be falling from one extreme surprise into another, but it was actually quite OK. I like big cities. And this is a big one. Huge. There are many people. Endless crowds. But everything is so well organised. People stand in line, even in the metro waiting for the next train. Everything is written in Japanese and in English. It is very easy to get around. I think I could definitely live here for a few years. But I am sure I would never integrate. The culture is so extremely different. The Japanese are very polite and very friendly, but we would never completely understand their way of thinking. It was very interesting talking to some of them.
After 5 days of getting used to a big modern city again, we took the plane to Paris and Amsterdam. Thanks to our points we were able to fly back in Business Class, which is a real luxury on such a long flight after having spent 3 months on the saddle of your motorbike. I can assure you! We had champagne, gin & tonics, good red wine and 2 meals of better quality than some of the grub we ate in Central Asia. This, together with a few movies and a few naps, made that the trip back was done in the blink of an eye.
Back in Paris I had a few days to get rid of the jetlag and to get used to my own bed again, before going back to the office.
Now, being back in the office, I am already thinking about next year. Will I go on another trip? Europe? Somewhere else, long or short? So many places to go, so many options. And that is why I also want to thank my team at Manta for having made it possible for me to leave the office for such a long time. Especially Ichraf, Paul D and Carolien, who really did an amazing job. I have the feeling now that I can go on more adventures…..!
And I join Erik in thanking all the people who made this trip possible, from off road trainers Bert, Werner, Albert, saddle specialist Remco and Olivier who prepared and repaired our bikes, to all the people we met along the way and who made this such a special adventure. To all our friends, thanks for supporting our stories and reading this blog and commenting so positively, special thanks to Brigitte and last but not least to my buddy Erik of course: there are not many people with whom I can spend so much time together on a journey like this.
This is my last written blog entry about our trip. In the coming months I will try to edit and post some more videos of the countries east of the Caspian Sea, where the adventure has really taken place. Unfortunately, we did not have time during the trip to do this. We were too busy having an amazing time.