“Great perils have this beauty, that they bring to light the fraternity of strangers.”
Other than close encounters with angry dogs, truck drivers, dire loneliness and dysentery my last seven months cycling up The Mekong river in South East Asia (writes Tom on the Bicycle Travel Network) could hardly be described as perilous. I took my time; I ate well; and when danger did begin batting her eyelids I ignored her.
But there is something about travel, especially by bicycle, that leaves the rider in a permanent state of mild peril. You never know where you are going to sleep from one night to the next; your front tyre could burst on that 40km downhill run and the last taco or noodle soup could quiet easily have you waddling uncomfortably for the nearest hospital.
Reading the fascinating interviews from our inaugural scholarship winners on the BTN website this month it appears that one of the pulls of taking on a big bike ride is the vulnerability and total exposure travel by bicycle provides for the rider. And yet this vulnerability is also quoted as a primary fear. Perhaps this susceptibility to physical or emotional attack or harm is what makes travel so invigorating and so rewarding?
Removing ourselves from our normal comfort zones of good friends, family and familiarity we are forced to rely not only on ourselves but also strangers and it is often the strangers I meet that make travel the experience it is. Waterfalls, sunsets, beaches and temples are all very well but what makes travel so intriguing to me is the people. Even without the luxury of language, people and faces tell us about the culture we are in, a new way of life and perhaps most importantly allow us to learn so much about ourselves from what we see in others.
For this reason in the last few days I have put together a collection of faces from my trip cycling up the Mekong river in South East Asia. From the sweaty heat of the Mekong delta in Southern Vietnam to the northern mountains of Laos and China, these are the people I met, ate with, shared a quick smile or a glance with, these are the faces that made my Mekong journey special.?