Hi there, so I am a total technophobe, and only marginally more apt on the internet than my mother! I am new to the world of blogging and have little idea of how to start, but I feel there is no time like the present, to fill you in on a major trip I am embarking upon in the early hours of tomorrow morning. It involves art, my much-loved Vespa, Grettle, some fearless travelling, and an ambition to record the whole adventure in words and pictures.
To give you a flavour of what I’ve done before, and what I shall be undertaking this year, I’ve included a few notes about myself and the journey.
I will be driving my Vespa (otherwise known as Grettle), from the Jurassic Coast in Dorset to Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia.
As an artist, that thrives on the colours, contrasts, change, flux, and the fleeting moments of life, my aim is to record the entire journey with drawings, paintings, and sculpture. I will be exhibiting these in a solo exhibition on my return entitled Grettle and the Globe, where people can walk around the gallery and follow my journey from start to finish. I will be funding my travels through painting and teaching as I work my way East.
Tomorrow morning, I will leave my home in deepest darkest Dorset, and begin the drive through Europe to Turkey. I will travel through Georgia to Azerbaijan, where I will board a cargo ship to cross the Caspian Sea. Through the dusty barren deserts of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, up to the mountains tops of Tajikistan, through the Wakhan Corridor bordering Afghanistan, and over the Pamir Highway into Kyrgyzstan. From here, I plan to cross the Karakorum Highway, otherwise known (regrettably) as ‘The Death Road’, from China, through Pakistan, and into India. I plan to drive through Burma to Laos, scoot through South East Asia to Singapore, and finally ferry hop the channel to Indonesia.
Having purchased Grettle last year, I celebrated with a road trip which escalated into an adventure across a sizeable chunk of Europe; from England to France, through Belgium into Holland, across Germany to Poland. I then travelled south through the Czech Republic into Austria, over the Alps to Italy, through Slovenia, and finally reached the small island of Vis in southern Croatia. It was here that I was questioned by a fellow art student of my whereabouts and subsequently informed that it was at that moment, my shift at the Art school café. Lounging on the beach, sipping on a cold beer and sketching unaware victims, I was somewhat surprised by this unwelcome news and decided to return to the UK as soon as possible. I took a route back through Slovenia to Italy, over the Swiss Alps in to France, and returned to England for the start of my final year at Newcastle University (a little late in the day it has to be said!). I set off on my own for two months, sleeping rough inside a beach shelter. I stayed with friends where possible, and during my time in the Alps, where coldness took its toll, I stayed with strangers and families that I met along the way. After a somewhat eventful voyage, to say the least, I returned home having escaped a terrifying police chase not far from Calais, and began to write an account of the adventure.
The story of my travels so far is titled 'Chance Encounters'. I have included two short extracts from the account:
Aged 19, in India, with my friend Olivia…..
Neither of us held a driver's license and it took the best part of a day to find two men with two scooters who'd agree - most apprehensively, and after much persuasion - to rent us each a bike at a rate of two pounds per day, on the condition that we left them our passports as a deposit. The first was a bright red, rather flashy Honda, with most pieces still intact and looking almost roadworthy. The other, however, left much to be desired; an ancient-looking black scooter, with one wing mirror and a top speed of about forty miles per hour. Olivia and I sat down in a little café next door and tossed salt and pepper shakers to decide who would have which bike. Delighted, I chose salt, meaning the flashy red Honda would be mine. I named the bike, as has now become tradition, after a character in the film ‘The Sound of Music’, in this case, the old governess Fraulein Helga. Olivia’s face fell as she was faced with the glorified bicycle, which she appropriately named as Trevor. The four of us set off for six weeks around the south of India, from Goa, to the city of Trivandrum, which lies on the southern tip of India, covering a distance of around one thousand three hundred miles, once we had turned full circle, and returned the bikes, or what was left of them, to two very relieved men on the beaches of Goa. Perhaps something unique about driving a scooter around an Asian country, is the blissful feeling of the wind through one’s hair, t-shirts and sarongs whipping around in the hot breeze, and the challenge of winding ones way in and out of oncoming cars, carts, cows, people; there was really very little that one did not come across heading one way or another on the higgledy-piggledy dirt tracks of India. We tended to shout place names to the local chaps as we drove past, rarely pronouncing the names correctly, so we soon shortened this to a simple ‘SOUTH!?’. Indians, never wishing to disappoint, would always send you in one direction or the other, even if neither was correct. Getting unutterably lost time after time, we found ourselves in places where trains and buses would never have stopped. This became one of the greatest joys of travelling solo by bike; it was an unforgettable adventure, my first experience on the open road, and one that escalated into an eight month trip around Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, with one flight home postponed after another, until I finally had to wend my way home for the start of University. Every summer since, I have found myself back in these parts of the world for three or four months at a time, sometimes travelling alone, sometimes with Olivia, but always by bike. Since Fraulein Helgar, I have been lucky enough to own a Baroness Schraeder, who I drove through Laos the following year, alongside Olivia on Frau Schmidt (the housekeeper), a Sister Margaretta, who accompanied me through the north western Himalayas of India, and now Grettle. And it is Grettle's story that I would like to expand upon, for it is down to her that last summer, a wholly different adventure began; one which took me through some of the most stunning passes and spectacular sights, lying practically on my door step.
The rain began again whilst on the final leg of my journey, and the last hour or two of driving became nothing short of a nightmare. One of the arms of my Harry Potter glasses had broken off while I was removing my helmet at a gas station, and in attempting to balance them across the bridge of my nose, I poked straight through one side of them, dislodging the glass completely. The remainder of the drive was spent with one hand on Grettle, the other holding my glasses in place, with one eye shut and squinting through the remaining piece of glass with the other. A helmet with a visor would have been invaluable in such weather, but unfortunately the old visor that had been attached to mum's half century old helmet was so scratched and battered that it would have been more dangerous to attempt to wear it than not. At long last, out of the darkness, shining like a gem through the thick fog and rain was a signpost reading, 'Welcome to Salzburg'. I whooped for joy and giving Grettle a pat on her headlamp, welcomed her home! Salzburg stood like a fairy-tale city lit up beneath the towering backdrop of the Alps, filled with spires and green domes and cathedrals and castles, which lay in a deep gorge cut out of high crumbling red rock walls. The city was divided by a beautiful river running through its center, over which two arched bridges connected its green banks. Lined with lights and market stalls and musicians, the cobbled streets spiraled and zigzagged, winding and unfolding up and down in accompaniment with the chorus of competing crescendos that lifted the city with a resounding ring and filled it with life.
THE GROSSGLOCKNER PASS
Despite the grey and cloudy sky, I set off at crack of dawn with Grettle the following morning, and sped off towards the Dolomite Mountains bordering Italy. The scenery surrounding us became more spectacular by the second as we climbed higher into the clouds, and after a few hours I reached a barrier where I was asked for twenty Euros to continue. Thankfully I had this in my pocket, and I gave it to the man in the ticket box, who issued me with leaflets and some sort of sticker, neither of which I thought to look at, assuming it must be some kind of border bumph and fee, and stuffing them into my pocket, I drove on through the barriers. There was a café to the right where a mass of tough-looking men, fully clad in leathers and equipped with huge motorbikes, grouped before a stream in front of a fabulous view of high peaks, sliced up by the fine silvery snakelike line of a waterfall. I began to wonder what they were all doing there. They looked as if they had just returned home from a rather rowdy football match, all chatting excitedly, flushed in the face, drinking coffee and comparing snapshots. If I had taken a second to glimpse at the leaflets I was given, I would have realized that the waterfall was Krimml Falls, and the barriers marked the beginning of the Grossglockner Pass; one of the most spectacular alpine passes that leads from Austria to Italy, winding its way through the center of a vast national park, filled with red moss, glaciers, nature trails and a multitude of wildlife. As it was, I remained blissfully unaware of this until I was practically in the thick of it. When I had studied my map in Salzburg, I had picked out a small wiggly road at random, and had little idea of how these wiggles would transform when put into life-size perspective. The reality of what was to come began to dawn on me when I saw a red and yellow signpost a little further up the road. At the top, it read 'Alpine Pass!' and below this was a picture of a motorbike, the rider of which appeared to be driving headlong into a sharp red triangle with a lightning bolt in its center. Underneath this was a caption reading 'Runter vom gas!' (Kill your speed). Despite the slightly disturbing nature of the picture, the signpost amused me; it reminded me of those one finds whilst driving around the dangerously crumbling roads of the Indian Himalayas, where warnings such as 'Big curve ahead, check your nerve!' and 'Don’t be silly in the hilly' are written. Left wondering what exactly my fate would be, and brimming with a strange sense of excitement, I got off Grettle to take a photograph before continuing along this winding path. The road became progressively steeper and the bends so snakelike that as I rose higher into the clouds, I was almost doubling back on myself around every turn. Like a coiled serpent, the road twisted and turned until its head rose above its writhing body, piercing the sky through the thick layer of cloud, to reveal 'Bikers Point' which rose above this blanket of cloud and marked the highest point in the pass. We snaked our way towards this point until the clouds that had been hovering threateningly above my head, now lay like a feather bed beneath me, cupped by the deep valleys like a mug of steaming cappuccino keeping the dense froth from seeping over its rim. Unable to see anything other than a blinding white where the edges of the road fell away, one was almost lulled into a false sense of security; as though falling off this winding path would result in a dreamy laze in this blanket of heavenly fluff. Keen to avoid experiencing first-hand the reality of what it would actually feel like to fall into this heavenly fluff, I drove slowly around the serpent bends, willing Grettle forwards as we slowed to a speed only marginally faster than snail’s pace. With baby wheels I knew she couldn't handle the hair-pin bends that the larger bikes tackled on severe slants – their riders skimming the road with one knee, and revving their engines as they hurtled past us. Having said this, Grettle’s moment of glory came during a thrilling five-mile an hour overtake of the only other Vespa we came across tackling the alpine path. I felt immediately fond of the old man who was riding it; he wore a yellow poncho, wellington boots, and a helmet that bounced up and down in time with his efforts to tackle the slope, and looked almost more ancient than my own. Finding a friend at long last, we nodded and smiled at one another as Grettle overtook for the first time that day, at what felt like the speed of light.
************************************************************** So...now you know a little about Grettle and myself…wish us luck and let the adventure commence!