The Road Less Travelled By Karen Laurie
Mumbai, Nov. 21. MUMBAI, NOV 19, 2016: Spanish born Ernest Roig Campi (28), left for Germany to become a nurse; little did he know, he was embarking on a journey of a lifetime. There - at university - he befriended, Jacob Steinkuhl (25), a German whose adventurous streak rubbed off and together they decided to 'pedal for humanity.' On completing their degree, they worked double shift as nurses, to gather money for their expedition. Then the two men, armed with their bikes, took the road less travelled. Cycling from Cologne in Germany, then heading south and entering Austria through the Alps, they covered Slovenia, Croatia -the road along the coast, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey - along the Black sea, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, all the way to Turkmenistan on their bicycles, till they were stopped in their tracks. A visa rejection meant abandoning their plans to head towards China and rerouting to Mumbai, in a bid to reach their destination in Vietnam.
From braving dangerous terrains to enjoying scenic views, confronting minus temperatures to the assaults of the scorching heat, from camping in the wild to receiving wild pigs as visitors, for Campi and Steinkuhl, the trip is more than just adventure. ''When we decided to do the trip, we decided to combine it with a good purpose,'' Campi said, who felt inspired by Steinkuhl's experiences in East Timor as a Volunteer with the Salesians, helping less-fortunate children.
''I saw that to send young people for one year to places without internet, to be in another place where you have time to think what to do further, and you look at his (Steinkuhl) case where he wanted to become a pilot and now wants to become a doctor. I thought that it was very interesting and I wanted to know more about this organisation, about Don Bosco,'' Campi said.
So the duo got in touch with Don Bosco Bonn, an organisation supporting disadvantaged children internationally. They offered to make charity videos of the Salesian projects along the paths they would cross. Visits were arranged so they could witness first-hand the help that Salesians render to the poor.
''We said we want to do this adventure, we want to get to know ourselves better, see where our borders are, get to know our friendship, get to know other cultures, other people, showing the world that there are lot of good humans in the world and to combine this with raising money for Don Bosco,'' Steinkuhl said.
The cycling enthusiasts have zeroed in on three Don Bosco projects for their documentary. In Turkey, they interviewed Iraqi refugees staying at the Istanbul project. In Kathmandu, they will profile the work of the Salesians with the people still struggling to cope with the year-old devastation of the Nepal earthquake. Here, they will also help as volunteers. Their final pit stop will be Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, to document the Salesian-run school for underprivileged children and youth.
They will then publicize it through interviews with the world media and regular updates on their website and social media accounts. ''We always have a camera with us, documenting and video shooting and my brother is a professional editor and he will put the movies together. All the money that people donate goes to Don Bosco Bonn directly and they are going to divide it to who is in need of the money,'' Steinkuhl said.
Impressed with the work of the Salesians in India, the travellers have decided to feature their work too. From Mumbai, they will make their way to Nepal via Indore and Agra. After their Nepal sojourn, they will pedal back to India exploring the north-east, entering at Darjeeling and exiting to Myanmar. Cycling through Thailand and Cambodia, they will reach their destination at Vietnam.
Their journey spanning nearly 15000 kilometres and 19 countries began in April 2016 and is expected to culminate by May 2017. Meanwhile they are lapping up the adventure coming their way, ''I've had a lot of problems with my bike, with broken pedals, gear, flat tire, the light, the spokes, we repair what we can and rest get help from mechanics around the world. We know a lot more about bikes now,'' Campi laughs.
''The mountainous terrains have been a difficult part of journey, challenging for us psychologically and physically as well, very bad weather and front wind where we couldn't cycle further. But if you keep strong in your head, your body is going to push. Specially Armenia and a little part of Turkey where it was very hot and very challenging with 80% of the time climbing up and 20% of the time climbing down,'' Campi said.
''For me the hardest part of the trip is all this visa stuff. What I didn't expect from the trip is that we would get so many visa rejections. I am a European and with our visas we have no problem normally and now suddenly we had to wait for two weeks in Tehran for our Indian visa,'' Steinkuhl said.
The best part of their trip though was the warmth with which they were received wherever they went. People invited them to their homes to stay the night, offered their gardens to pitch their tents, shared food and drink, love and laughter.
''We had a lot of prejudices before the trip that this country will be like this and this people will be like this, landscape will be like this and we were always surprised. It was totally different! And we see our relatives and friends, they thought like us. This trip will help us change people's minds about these things as well and show how countries like Albania, Turkey and Iran are so open minded and human people,'' Steinkuhl said.
Their 'craziness' as they call it continues, as they head out each morning looking for adventure, binging on cheap street food for lunch, cooking on their portable cooker for dinner, looking for a safe campsite as the night falls, trying not to make too much noise and use light, in order avoid wild beasts and intrusive visitors. All along, pressing at their goal to make Don Bosco known throughout the world.
So what next after this trip? Campi intends to return to Germany and do an ICU specialization in nursing and Steinkuhl wants to become a doctor. Their journey of discovery continues...