Thursday, July 19, 2012


My very good friend Rudy Duong, who happens to be one of the old school Lisses guys from back in the day has just launched his own brand of Parkour clothing, after 4 years of hard work to make it happen (an obstacle course in it's own right !).
His dedication to staying true to the original Parkour spirit and values no matter the amount of efforts it involves is, i think, of great contrast to a lot of the crap you see commonly today.
If you want to read more, you can check out his website here:
(though mostly in french, there's some videos for the uninitiated ;) )

Good luck Rudy !

Saturday, August 6, 2011

India 2011

From January to April, i travelled to India with my friend Andy.
We were lucky enough to get sponsored by Royal Enfield, who lent us for free 2 beautiful motorbikes. Andy stayed only for the first month before heading back to cold old London to work.

The following is an article i wrote for Royal Enfield about that first month with Andy.

Photos HERE

It's late January and it's already very warm under the sun but the wind in our face makes it comfortable as we reach our cruising speed. With a series of zig zags, Andy overtakes a couple of characteristically coloured Tata trucks who seem to think the road is theirs. The deep roar of his engine shadows the sizzling hum of the trucks. I follow in his wake, honking to make sure they realise there's two of us (they could check in their mirrors if only they had some). We quickly leave them behind: on our Classics 500, we are often the ones doing the overtaking.
We've just started our journey, and with a long 1300km ahead towards Hampi and then Mumbai, and with just 3 weeks to do it, there's no time to waste.

I reflect on how lucky we are to be doing this. Since we had landed in Chennai, just 10 days earlier, Susheel and his family had done so much for us, hosting us and introducing us to their way of life. How unlikely was all this to happen ? If Susheel hadn't been a member of the local Parkour community, Andy wouldn't have contacted him before our trip to tell him about our plan to tour India on motorcycles, taking photos of the trip and of me doing Parkour. Therefore we would have never been introduced to Susheel's cousin, Sid, and none of this would have been possible...

A dog runs across the road right in front of me, drawing me back to reality as I slam my brakes. It was a close one. There'll be more. In India, unexpected events are to be expected constantly.
The roads are busy and dangerous compared to the disciplined driving we're used to on the calm lanes of our countries. We're accustomed to rules and procedures, but Indian roads work in a more organic way. One will overetake wherever and whenever they please, or drive on the opposite lane even if you're on it, and even cut you off without looking, forcing you to either pull off a driving stunt, or crash into them.
Sure they have rules too, but who follows them ? One is absolutely free on the road, for best and for worst!

Andy's stomach is getting better but the ride is still rough on him. His "Delhi belly" condition had forced us to stay longer than planned in Chennai, but at least it had given us the opportunity to get to know the bikes. Also, we had been introduced to Sachin, Ravi, and Praveen -all working for Enfield- whom we had been put in touch with by Sid, Susheel's cousin and CEO of the company.
We had emailed them prior to the trip to let them know of our plans to buy motorbikes, and to find out if they could be of assistance in some way, but we were far from expecting the response we received (which I'm barely summarising here): "Ok, we can get you a couple of Classics 500 for the duration of your trip, nothing to pay apart from the petrol you use, they'll be ready for you when you arrive." !

The sun is on its way down as we reach Hampi, after a couple days' ride. The evening light soothes our tired minds and highlights an already spectacular sight. We find ourselves riding among ancient temples, surrounded by palm trees, rice paddies, and boulders as far as the eye can see. But it's not yet time to relax: a large river splits the Unesco protected sight into two, and the only bridge linking them has been taken away by the monsoon floods. We must search for another way across. It's on that other side that we will find the interesting boulders that we've come for. Indeed, Hampi is a world-renowned climbing destination!
It takes some effort to find a raft that will take our massive 500s, and even more to actually make the crossing: precariously balancing our bikes on the very edges of the overcrowded raft as it tosses around amid the current. Neither of us would find it very funny to have to go fishing for our 200kg motorcycles, and even less to make that awkward phone call to notify the Enfield people...

Hampi is a paradise! In total, we spend 2 weeks climbing, riding, chilling, making people jealous with our motorbikes, and getting an occasional food poisoning. It is a very touristic place, so it's not here that we'll get our "real India" experience, but it is really cool nevertheless! After some days, people in town start speaking about the Parkour guy who jumps from a boulder to another and I even end up teaching a class, at the request of some of the foreigners there. The boulders seem to have been put there for the sole purpose of being climbed and jumped. I seize the opportunity to challenge myself in the way that I like best: by facing obstacles that are as mental as they are physical. And when I'm not leaping over vertiginous drops onto narrow and uneven landing surfaces, I slash my fingertips on the tricky climbing routes, or jog through the paddies and up the sinuous stairs to the perched monkey temple. There, I can admire the panoramic landscape and the monkeys playing and scaling with effortless ease along the steepest surfaces (when they're not busy steeling food and cameras from tourists).

When finally we decide that we're ready to ride off towards Mumbai, we realise that we're seriously running out of time. Andy's flight back to London is just a handful of days away, and to add to the situation, his damaged chain sprocket threatens to let the chain loose and cause an accident. Luckily, the Enfield service points are never far, and always efficient. Within an hour the problem is fixed and we can proceed with our journey, relieved.
The following day turns out to be intense. Starting at sunrise, we ride all through the day with few stops and decide after sunset to stop for the night. We could camp, but in India, with so many people absolutely everywhere, this proves to be a difficult thing to do.
We fail also to find anything else than luxury hotels to spend the night in, no matter how hard we try.
Both Andy and I are on tight budgets, and luxury is out of the question anyway, as I strongly believe it impedes the spirit of adventure. The way I see it, adventures should be messy, uncomfortable, and unpredictable. If not, they become mere trips. And at the handle-bars of our kick-ass Enfields, it's adventure that we're after...
Finally, resigned, Andy asks out loud what we had both been thinking about for a while:

"Should we ride all the way to Mumbai tonight ?"

It's already past 10pm. We're exhausted after this already long day of being careful not to die on the road, dodging dogs and monkeys, potholes and bumps, and even people with little care for their own life.
As dangerous as Indian roads may be in the day, they are much worse at night. For instance, buses will still overtake each other as you come from the opposite direction, but this time they'll blind you with their powerful headlights when they force you out to the side of the road, while you hope that there is a side of the road...

We shake hands, wishing each other luck, and we hit the road.
When we finally arrive in Mumbai, it's late into the night, the streets are at rest and we wish we could be the same. Risckshaws are parked and their drivers sound asleep on their back seats, a few lit petrol stations here and there still show some signs of activity.
It all feels surreal; here we are in one of the biggest cities in the world, and it feels emptier than the smallest town we've seen in India.
We wander around, making wrong turn after wrong turn as we struggle to locate Andy's friend who'll be hosting us there. I don't know whether to laugh or lose patience, so I take turns doing both. At last we find our way.
Greetings with Andy's friend, small chat, quick shower (on my own), lights off and I fall asleep before my head touches the pillow.

A couple days later, Andy was flying back home, leaving me for another 2 months -without a clear plan in mind- to further discover the wonders of India.
I could tell you about the ethereal brightness of the salt desert, or the teaching by the Dalai Lama that I attended amidst the majestic Himalayan range, or even the mysterious chain of events that shaped my path before me... But if I did that, then I would have to mention the wonderful random encounters, the peaceful meditation on long stretches of road, and the incredible rumble that my whole India experience caused within me. And surely a single article would hardly be enough to fit even half of it.

India works in mysterious ways; it takes you by surprise on every level. I hated it often, loved it sometimes, but without the shadow of a doubt I feel glad to have gone through it. And I wouldn't have wanted to experience it in any other way than with my good buddy Andy, a Royal Enfield, and the road ahead.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

A bag and a plan : a few tips on travelling

Since i've been doing my trips, i've had quite a few people asking me for tips on how to pack and how to travel. I thought it'd be a good idea to post something to share with everyone.
Travel is an art that could never be described in a one-fits-all guide to it. Furthermore, my experience can never compete with those of real adventurers and explorers so, had i decided to do so, i would be incapable of covering all of the finer points.
Therefore, the aim of this article is to provide general yet straight-to-the-point tips and pointers on "adventurous" travelling. I won't write about casual tourism stuff (though some principles still apply) as it is a completely different mindset which would require a separate article.

I hope you'll find this of use, here we go.


What not to pack:
Don't pack anything you won't use... It may sound obvious, but think about it: the tent you're bringing, does it need that many pegs ? Your emergency pouch, do you need that many bandages ? Do you know the precise use of every object in the pouch ? Why so many pairs of socks, are you afraid there's no socks on the other side of the world ? Back to the tent, will you actually really need a tent ?
Sometimes we focus so much on the objects that we forget the containers, do you actually need a pouch for your emergency kit ? Why not just pack that stuff in a light (yet waterproof) plastic bag ?
Also, are you travelling alone ? No ? Then why not share that toothpaste with the others instead of everyone all carrying the same item ?
A lot of people carry liquid containers around, but i think ordinary water bottles are ideal: transparent, feather-light, disposable, cheap, and you can get them absolutely anywhere in various sizes.

Before packing anything, ask yourself how often (if at all) you'll be using that object, and therefore if it's necessary for you to pack it. Over the years, as my travel experience grew, my bag shrunk both in size and in weight. I've cut off (such as the handle of my toothbrush) or got rid (such as my stove and tent) of all the unnecessary things that used to fill up my bag for no reason.

Basically, you can be as minimalistic as you want to be. I've read the account of 2 Frenchmen who had crossed the Himalayas from one end to the other, entirely on foot over a period of 6 months. They carried all their possessions in nothing more than tiny backpacks, and they went so far in their obsession for minimalism that they had even stripped down their pens only to keep the ink cartridge and the point.
In general, the lighter you are, the happier you'll be, and the more mobility you'll have. Finding the right balance may take a bit of time, especially as it all depends on where you're going, at what season, for how long, and how much comfort you need to have.
If in doubt, keep the object that has more than one use and drop the one that's limited to only one use.

What to pack:
Again, it depends, but there's a few items that are useful pretty much anywhere, anytime.

_I'd recommend a Swiss Army knife with at least a blade (obviously), scissors, a can-opener and a flat screw-driver (the rest depends on your personal tastes and needs). Mine is red, which is easier to spot if i drop it somewhere.
_A good quality head-torch is VERY handy, be sure to pack it where you can access it easily, how paradoxical would it be to have to go through all your stuff in the dark looking for your torch.
_A small dry-bag can be useful so you're sure that some important items (passport, camera) will stay dry even if your bag was to fall in a river. Dry-bags can also be used as pillows, they make good emergency water containers or even improvised showers (if they're fitted with an air release valve). Clip on a strap and you have a handy little secondary bag for short excursions.
_A nice thick roll mat is a wise choice too, it becomes essential if you're going to sleep on the ground (i learned the hard way in Tibet) as it's very cold, even in warm weather. My roll mat felt like it was taking up too much space, so i cut a third of it off and never regretted.

Travel tips

Before the trip:
Some people like to prepare every single detail of their trip, others (such as me) like to improvise a lot and go with the flow. In every case, a minimum of research is required.
Know the visa procedures, some countries allow for land-boarder crossing, others don't or only in certain conditions. Some crossing points might be closed at certain times of the year (winter time or in the case of wars).
Don't forget to check what electricity plugs you'll find and if you'll need a converter (unless you're not carrying any electronic equipment, obviously).
I know it's tempting and reassuring to buy new cool stuff before a big trip, but try not to look too modern like a tourist, the less you draw attention, the better off you'll be, even more so if like me you like to explore "dodgy" places from time to time.
So avoid the eye-catching heavy-duty camera bag, or even worse, walking around all day with your high-tech camera around your neck. You'll get more enjoyable, natural and memorable contacts with the locals and you won't have the word "target" flashing on your forehead. Keep that in mind when you'll decide what to pack and what to pack it in.

Travelling can seem stressful, even more so before you're actually out there, it's sometimes a big step towards the unknown which may lead us to pack too much or inappropriately. Just remember to stay simple, you're going to some other country, not some other planet ! Whenever i start feeling anxious before a trip, i try to think of the similarities that all human beings share: we eat, we sleep, we laugh, we cry...
There's a universal basis that we can all relate to, we all seek warmth when we're cold, shelter when we're wet, food when we're hungry... This universal basis brings human beings together through a means of communication that transcends languages, lifestyles, beliefs. Back in China, after a cold rainy day of cycling along the Mekong river, i remember having a long "conversation" with 2 girls that didn't speak a word of English, in their house, as i was eating a bowl of noodles that they had cooked for me. Through only gestures, smiles and sounds we expressed so much that words became unnecessary.
Everything always works out eventually, just get out there and you'll find your marks sooner than you think.

One useful tip for you : Make a list of every single item you plan to take, so you know you won't forget anything, and you can use it as a guideline for future trips. It also makes it easier to see at a glance what you're packing, and therefore operate changes.
My list is divided in categories such as "sleeping gear", "medical", "clothing", etc.

During the trip:
I tend to travel with very few clothes, as they take up a lot of space. I wash them either in the shower with regular soap, or from time to time in a laundry-mat. I mainly use clothing that dries quickly (synthetic) for practical reasons.
Travelling with cheap clothing is a good idea, it means you can easily give or swap the stuff you won't need after a certain point (for example if you reach an area with different climate). Also, it'll mean you won't stand out too much in a crowd of often poorer people. I tend to buy part of my clothing on location, it's often cheaper and more convenient.

I have a couple hiding places for my money, though i tend to use ATMs so i don't have to carry a lot of cash on me. Be creative when it comes to hiding money, you can take some innocent-looking object and turn it into a cool stash. This came in handy for me when i lost my wallet in Turkey, i was glad i could count on my stashed cash. Never keep all your cash and documents in one unique place (whether on you or in your bag).

FAQ (Note: Once more, this is my style of travelling, which may or may not correspond to your own. Feel free to experiment and come up with your own way).

_ Do you use a tent ?

Whether when cycling in Tibet in winter, hitchhiking through Europe or riding my motorbike in the desert of Morocco, i've never found any use for a tent. There's plenty of abandoned houses / buildings / sheds / natural shelters, or even hospitable people around, and tents take time to pitch and pack which isn't ideal in rough conditions (wind / cold / storm). Last but certainly not least, they're heavy and take lots of room.
My alternative is the waterproof bivy bag, which acts as an improvised shelter as well as a second insulation layer after the sleeping bag.
The only case i would consider bringing a tent is if my trip was exclusively in a natural setting, far from any human life.

_ What about a travel stove ?
No need for that either, it's easy enough to get warm food everywhere, and if not, cold food does the trick. Having a lighter to start a fire though is quite a good idea, fires will heat your food and your body, and they have a strange friendly aura which is nice if you're on your own.

_Do you have an emergency kit and if yes, what's in it ?
I do have a tiny one. It's a transparent ziploc bag containing a little bottle of iodine (look it up, that stuff is an antiseptic and will purify nasty water as well. It's also extremely cheap), some paracetamol, some anti-inflammatory, and some antidiarrhoeal medication.
Also, i like to have some wound closing bandages, useful in case of open wounds.
No large quantities needed, keep it light and small, get rid of the boxes that you don't need.

_Do you carry a towel ?
Nope, i use a small but highly absorbing cloth. You can find travel towels that look very similar but are more expensive. If you want to travel really light, just dry yourself with a shirt, no towel needed.

_Anything in particular i should think of packing ?
I carry around some ID photos, for border crossings and other administrative needs which often require some. I also have a razor blade (not the full razor) just in case i need to lose the travel beard and look charming :)
I recommend a little mending kit like the ones you find in hotels, for quick repairs of torn garments.
You've probably thought of this already but a little notepad and a couple of pens come in handy, to write down thoughts, addresses, useful information, etc.

_I've never done a big trip on my own, i really want to but i don't know what to start with...

The beauty of travels is that you can make up your own adventure ! When i did my cycling trip across Asia, i initially couldn't decide where to go. I read about the Mekong river which has its source in Tibet and reaches the ocean in the South of Vietnam, and i thought it could be a cool adventure to follow it, with all the countries and changing landscapes that it could offer.
Just do some research about places, sometimes an article or a photo is all it takes to give you a plan. You might want to start with something small and then move on to bigger things once you're ready: my first cycling trip was 250km long, then i did 500km, then 1000, and finally the 5000 in Asia.

_I'd like to have some travel adventures but i don't have money or time to do it, any ideas ?
Yes ! You don't need either one to have great adventures. I've recently done a week-long trip to the Dolomites (see previous article) which was the best adventure i've had in a long time. It's not the cost, length or distance that makes a great adventure, you might have more fun / excitement / challenges over a weekend in your own country than you'll have over 3 months on the other side of the world.
I you want to make an adventure happen, it will.

I'm going to stop here for now, i realise this article is getting quite big and i've covered most of the important points, i think... I might add / modify things in the future, feel free to comment or ask stuff and i might adapt the article to it to make it as useful as possible to everyone.
I hope you've found it of some help, thanks for reading and happy travels !

Friday, October 8, 2010

Still alive !

Well well well, i thought i'd throw in a little update, after all this time...

I went to the South of France on motorbike with a friend, and then alone to Spain and Morocco, awesome times overall, even the bad ones such as breaking down in the desert or being chased by people in the mountains... The natural hospitality of arabian people is inspiring, just as i had thought it would be and this encourages me even more to (finally) head towards the Middle-East.

In the meantime, i recently got back from an incredible short trip to the italian Dolomites (along with the same friend), where paths take you up and down high perched ladders, and along sheer cliff faces. Climbing gear is of course highly recommended but hey, that wouldn't be any fun now would it ? It's so much more enjoyable to feel "exposed" and vulnerable, rather than overprotected like it's too often the case nowadays... Maybe it's a lesson from Parkour: if a fit body, self-control, and confidence are all you need to overcome a challenge, why use more ?
I just can't wait to get back out there to live out some more my passion/fear for heights !

Not sure what to do now, depends on money (haven't got a lot of that, you know the shit), more travels are definitely ahead, but to where, when and how ? No one knows for the moment...

I hope you enjoy the photos !

Monday, March 1, 2010

Learning to learn

Learning to learn, what does this mean? When a new discipline or activity catches our attention, to the point that we decide to devote a tremendous amount of our time and energy to it, instead of focusing entirely on the content do we actually question ourselves enough, if at all, about learning (i.e. the process of absorbing and making ours new skills and knowledge)? What if learning was not just a question of time and effort, but a matter of clarity and vision as well? What if learning was a skill in itself? Wouldn’t there then be a way to optimise every ounce of effort we put in the aquirement of a new technique, and therefore acheive results faster without extra effort?

In any discipline or activity, there are always those who train hard for years only to acquire mediocre results, and those who seem to fly over every difficulties in their way, is it human nature, or just a different kind of perception that one could unlock ?

This is an attempt to explore these questions...

Being in the moment: the right here right now equilibrium.

The philosopher Blaise Pascal once wrote : “May one examine their own thoughts, and they will find them all focused on the past or the future. We almost never think in the present, and when we do, it is only to shed light on what to do with the future”.

We live in the present, it is our only field of action, and it is only then that we can interconnect entirely body, mind, and environment to create a sense of pure awareness; but how often do we actually do this? What Pascal wrote has never been so true: most of us have grown up and are still immersed in a world of distractions: television, cell phones, advertising, work, social activities, internet, games... the list is endless.
From birth we become accustomed to the habit of being constantly distracted, it is for most of us a normal thing that we accept and agree with entirely, our rare moments of boredom are those that we find awkward and that we will strive to fill with more mind-absorbing activities.
How is this related to learning? I had a student who was a very slow learner and had grown to accept it as part of his nature: he would make the same mistakes many times before understanding the lesson, and he would sometimes learn only to drop back into those old mistakes again. I didn’t really know how to help him until I realised something essential: that even when training his mind was constantly drifting away in thought, absorbed in the past or future, inconspicuously slipping out of the “right here right now equilibrium”.

I understood that one’s learning is clearly improved by being in constant connection with one’s present sensations.

Sensations are feedback, they tell us if what we do is right or not, they show us what we should improve on and how to do it at the condition that we pay attention to them. Repetition alone is pointless if there isn’t constant attention to what is being done, just as it is being done. Learn in real-time, be awake and aware, feel and analyse what you are doing. Trying again doesn’t mean doing again; every attempt is a new opportunity to do better, based on the knowledge and experience of past tries.

So avoid any type of distraction when you are training, let your entire self be directed towards what you are doing and all your energy, all your qualities, all that you are made of will cease to be dispersed and wasted but, instead, will work for you towards one clear goal that you have chosen, like a whole army marching in unison towards one unique target.

I took the time to explain these things to the student, letting them slowly soak in over time, and he has since then made tremendous progress and is now one of the quickest learners I have ever taught to!

Constructive criticism: the positive vision

Collecting feedback and endlessly integrating it in what you do is a major element of learning to learn, but doing so with absolute positiveness is the key principle that will create the alchemy. When we try and fail, we try harder, but if we fail again, most of us will tend to get upset or irritated, and our emotions conquer us and corrupt the positive learning mindset we were in. It is then very easy to slip into negative criticism and to start asking ouselves the wrong questions, such as “why am I so bad at this?”, or even “why can’t I ever get things right?”

The mind, in these cases, is bluntly stupid in the way it works, as it searches for a direct answer to these questions; for instance: “you’re bad at this because it’s not your thing”, or “you can never get things right because you’re not meant to be talented at this”. The answers it gives us are often conveyed on a subconscious level, and thus we unknowingly hypnotise ourselves into failure.

Therefore, one must ask themselves the right questions if one wishes to find the right answers: “How can I improve on this?”, “How can I avoid doing these mistakes?”, “What is holding me back from complete mastery?”

Condition your mind for positivity and you will get positive results. A positive vision is one that can picture a clear objective and a list of ways to reach it, regardless of what stands in the way. And any resistance in your progress, instead of being a source of frustration, will become a call for a new accomplishment, a treat of self-exploration. You won’t need to ignore your frustration, it won’t be there anymore, transformed into a new exciting feeling of challenge!

Training, as intense as it may get, is never but a game so don’t take it too seriously, even if you’re at it every day for hours, be relaxed about it, inner tension will cause outer stiffness, let it flow inside and it will flow outside. Lightness is key.

Discovering rather than manufacturing: the blossoming flower concept

“When I and my students think of strokes as being discovered rather than manufactured, they seem to learn the game much faster and without frustration.” Timothy Gallwey, The Inner Game of Tennis

I will humbly paraphrase this great book here.

As explained earlier, a major part of the process of learning is directly linked to how we visualise things. Manufacturing skills would imply that there is you + all that you’ve learned. Like costumes worn over each other, your skills are not connected to who you are, they are merely added to you in a very impersonal way. Progress, in this mindset, appears as having no end and worse, as being perishable...

Now, let’s talk about flowers... flowers don’t grow, they blossom: from the instant they exist as a tiny seed, they are already the future flower that they will turn into, just like a new-born baby is already in essence the future adult it will become.

They constantly express themselves as flowers and day by day, instant by instant, they become a little bit more their blossomed selves, what they were right from the start is now fully expressed and they are purely themselves.

If you visualise all your skills as being within you right from the start, on standby, waiting to be discovered and released, you will get rid of a lot of the pressure that athletes face with intense training because it means that you are simply learning to express yourself, zeroing in ever more on your true self. One could almost call it a process of enlightenment. In this case, nothing is really learnt, everything is simply revealed and therefore it is an undisociable part of you.

Progress is not an addition of bits of knowledge and skill like Lego pieces stacked on top of each other, it is only the elimination of what is keeping you from expressing your true self.

Conclusion: expanding the horizon

Throughout this article, I’ve never once mentioned parkour: the reason is that “learning to learn”, once acquired, is a skill that transcends any activity it may be applied to. One who understands it may use it in any field equally.

As a matter of fact, in order to explore a single discipline one is required to branch off continuously into other fields, as no knowledge is ever completely isolated.

A samurai once wrote about his art: “The practice cannot be confined to swordsmanship, if one limits it to that, they will not even know swordsmanship“. The same warrior added: “I have applied the lessons of my art to every other discipline I have encountered, therefore in any discipline I am my own master”. The road that leads to the mastery of one discipline will lead to the mastery of others; following one is close to following them all because, more than just the discipline, it is ourselves that we learn to explore and know through our practice. The discipline itself is never the end, but the means to a more noble, meaningful and everlasting end: our blossomed self.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

What's up ?

Well, it’s been a while since i posted anything, so what happened ? A lot and nothing ! The second leg of the Eurasia trip was a lot shorter than expected, I flew back to Turkey with a new passport, bought yet another shitty bicycle in Istanbul and set off towards Ankara, the capital. I needed at least that to bring back to mind my Tibetan experience, and the conclusions I had drawn for future trips : “you like challenges and travels, but you hate cycling, so stop travelling the world on shitty bicycles !”.

I kept on remembering the cool 2cv trip to Italy I had done with Blane and Kiell and, as I was being dangerously overtaken by numbers of noisy vehicles on the busy Istanbul – Ankara road, I decided I was done with my “challenge through cycling” era, that I had reassured myself enough to be satisfied about it (isn’t self-reassurance the most common reason for challenges ?) and that I was ready for a more comfortable means of transportation, the motorcycle, in order to explore different aspects of travelling. Yes, in a way, it’s not as honourable as the bicycle, but if it allows me to go to places I wouldn’t have visited otherwise, and to spend more time training and experiencing rather than just peddling all day, then without a doubt it’s a step forward that I’m eager to make (and motorcycles are really cool too !)…

So I still covered the 500km to Ankara (had my share of interesting experiences, as usual) and spent some lovely days there before returning to London to teach with Parkour Generations, back to square one. After 5 months of learning the piano (under the supervision of my good friend Tracey), training magic (under the supervision of my good friend the mirror ), having my hair cut short in exchange for a really neat headcam, and also teaching a bit of Parkour, I came back to France (made a stop in Mexico for an event, on the way, kind of…), and bought my motorcycle : a little second-hand Yamaha 125cc, perfect for big travels, as my searches indicated.

So what’s the new goal ? To have no goal, for as long as it feels right… All I know is that I’ll be heading South very soon, and perhaps East as well later on, I still have some travel-visions on hold for Iran and Pakistan and it’s been waiting for too long…

Not sure how much I’ll be writing about my progress, if at all, but I’ll soon have a new article up for reading as well as a written interview (maybe) I did for a mag a little while ago.

In the meantime, bon vent to all and happy doing-what-ever-you-like-to-do :)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Eurasia 2009, Part 1

France : 16 to 18th of February

Around 4pm, my mother drops me off at a petrol station along the highway that goes through Tours. I want to go all the way to Asia using all kinds of modes of transportation. I leave with 7kg on my back for the first leg of the trip.
I know i have a 1 out of 10 chance of being picked up by someone if i ask him/her directly, instead of waiting on the side of the road with a sign. My technique is now greatly perfected from all the trial and error : i come up to the person with a map in my hand, letting them think i'm going to ask them for directions and, with a somewhat pityful look in my eye, i say : "Excuse me, but if it's in your direction, would you be kind enough to take me closer to ... (i name a nearby big town)". If they refuse, i still smile and thank them for their time (sometimes they change their mind afterwards).
However, i don't get very far on this first half-day of hitchhiking and i sleep behind a pile of wood near a petrol station.

My second day is much more productive and actually brings me right behind the Italian border, in the Alps. A cold night, but nothing compared to the -20 of the Himalayas. The next morning, i arrive in Milan.

Italy : 18th of February to 14th of March

I stroll around in this city that i already know quite well and enjoy a hot chocolate and delicious ice cream. I then head to my aunt's who lives just north of Milan in Seregno. I enjoy life here, so i spend 3 weeks in Milan, training with Italian traceurs and meeting up at an event with some of the Parkour Generations guys. I enjoy speaking in Italian with random beautiful girls.
At first i want to continue with the hitchhiking, but as i set off, i realise i don't want that anymore, i feel very lost and i can't figure out what i want in my life precisely... I don't want to hitchhike nor to go home, so i think about other possibilities, from cycling to asia to taking a plane for Mongolia, all sorts of ideas rush through my confused mind... In this climate of doubt, i take a train to Trani in the south of Italy and hook up with more traceurs.
I marvel at the generosity of Traceurs all over the world and i know that wherever i go, i will find someone to welcome me. The Parkour community is beautiful !
My italian friends drop me off in front of the ferry that will take me to Igoumenitsa in Greece.

Greece, 15th of March to 2nd of April :

The crossing from Italy to Greece takes 13 hours, and i bought the cheapest possible ticket, so i don't have a cabin and sleeping inside the ferry is impossible because of the lights and noise. So i go out on the deck and find the highest point of the ship to set camp. It's very windy but i'm all tucked in my sleeping bag, under the stars that i try to identify.
In the morning, i stroll around the ferry until i find a nice greek guy who accepts to take me with him in his car towards Athens. He drops me off at the Meteora, a unique and spectacular rock formation on top of which a few monasteries boldly stand. I feel so excited by the place that i spend hours hiking, climbing, exploring, losing myself in the cliffs and caves of the site. When the night comes, i camp at the top of one of the rock formations, not far from a "no camping" sign. The stars are again beautiful, so i lay down my shortened sleeping mat, tuck myself in my sleeping bag and spend an eternity looking up at my heavenly guardians, wondering how humanity can have lost this beautiful habit of sleeping outdoors...
I wake up to a breathtaking panorama, overlooking the nearby cliffs and perched monasteries. After a few more happy hours of exploration, i have a refreshing "shower" in a little stream before getting back in hitchiking mode.

At some point a nice guy picks me up on what is supposed to be a short trip : he is going to the city of Larissa, only 60 km from where he found me. However, i discover very quickly the natural sense of hospitality of greek people, as he invites me to have dinner at his mother's and later on offers to host me for the night. I have a great evening in the company of him and his friends !
I finally arrive in Athens where i am greeted by Aggelos, a greek traceur. Him and his family are so welcoming that i stay ages at their home ! I train with him and his friends and they take me to the famous Acropolis. The site is closed but i want to visit anyway, so i sneak in past the guards and stroll among the temples. As i come out, i realise that someone has posted dogs inside the site and one of them sees me precisely when i see it. It runs after me and i have to use Parkour among the ruins to dodge it. Using it's aggressive stupidity to my advantage, i lure it into a dead end as i climb down a wall on the other side. I make it out unharmed.

I have something in mind, i want to kayak towards the greek islands, so i buy a kayak and set off, only to discover, as soon as i have taken place inside the kayak, that again i have no clue of what i really want to do... In fact, i feel even worse than i had in Italy, and one thing is sure, i don't have enough kayaking experience to set off on such an adventure. I could spend some time building up that experience, but i don't have the energy to do it. I feel bad for a while, as i sit on the shore, telling myself that i am being weak, until it strikes me : this isn't about being weak or strong, it's just about motivation, and i don't have it. I have enough experience to know that i am capable of overcoming difficulties if i really set my mind to it, but in this situation, i just don't want to kayak like this. So why am i there, sitting alone on this beach with a brand new kayak ? I am learning the hard way that a mind is powerful only when it's in peace with its objectives, and mine isn't. There is a time for everything, and one must be in agreement with his own self if he wants to be succesful. But i still can't figure out what my objectives are, why i am even travelling, i feel like a locomotive with no fuel to burn, and no tracks to ride on...

Things are not better on my way to the North East of Greece, by train this time. I am even considering heading back home to give myself some time to think. I decide that once in Istanbul, i will make a choice. So i hitchhike once more and, as i arrive in Turkey, as if i had stepped in a powerful energy field, everything changes in my mind, my motivation comes back and i know i don't want to stop here. Is it the "asian vibe" there that arouses my adventurous mind ? Or the simpleness of the local countryside life that appeals to the "Tom Sawyer" inside me ? Maybe it's a bit of both, and something else i can't identify. Nevertheless, i feel back on tracks and ready to explore the world !

Turkey, 2nd to 8th April :

I'm dropped off in the night close to Istanbul, but i must walk over 2 hours to reach the nearest metro station that takes me to the center.
The next day, like a complete beginner, i loose my passport and credit card... Did they fall out of my pocket, or were they taken ? It's not very clear, but anyway it's my fault, i should have been more careful. I hate myself for a little while as this means that i am going to have to go back home to get new ones, but having faced other delicate situations in the past, i put a stop to my unconstructive self-insulting reflexe and calmly reorganise my plans for the following days, and promise myself i will be back in Istanbul as soon as possible to continue the trip.
I strongly believe that there is always something positive to see, even in negative situations, it's just a question of perception.
I go to the french consulate to ask what the procedure is, and as i expect, they tell me i need a declaration of loss from the police. However, as i quickly understand, the turkish police force is not the most hard-working in the world, and they simply refuse to take 5 minutes to write the document, saying they need a proof from the french consulate, that i am a french citizen. So i go back to the consulate only to be told that they can only give me such a document if they have the damn police declaration, so what am i supposed to do ??

The guy at the consulate tells me that if i can find someone to help translate, perhaps the police will be more helpful, so i leave the place not really knowing where i can find someone like this who would be willing to take some time to help me.
As i step out of the consulate, i randomly turn my head to the left and see a smile, like a flash in my eye. I turn again, and it's still there. It belongs to a very nice and friendly turkish girl (Ozum is her name) who speaks perfect english and very kindly agrees to help out. Together we go to the police station but they still refuse to help, asking again for a proof of my nationality. The guy at the consulate is astonished to see me in such charming company only minutes after he advised me to find a translator.

I'm tired and Ozum has to meet up with friends, so she invites me to join them all and we have a great evening. One of them, Serkan, invites me to stay at his home for as long as i need, i feel moved by this spontaneus mark of generosity towards the total stranger that i am. I want to pay some drinks to everyone, but i only have a little bit of cash left and i must keep it for my own expenses, i speak to Ozum about it but she tells me to forget the european politeness, we're in Turkey...
I spend the following days struggling with bureaucracy nonsense to the point that i consider passing the borders illegally back to France. A visit to the consulate gives me a flash of hope : someone there tells me they found a passport belonging to a "Thomas something" ! Ideas rush through my mind, if i get my passport back i can get on with the trip, with almost no money, sure, but that's quite exciting ! Turns out it's another Thomas, nevermind, on with the paper work...
Takes a few more days but the situation finally clears up. Meanwhile i meet up and stay at Selmin's place, whom i met through the Couchsurfing website. I have a great time in her company and she offers to host me again when i'll come back.
I spend my last night at the airport in order to catch my 5:30AM flight back to France. Part 1 of the trip is finished, part 2 is just around the corner...

More photos HERE.