Sunday, 27 February 2011

A Sweeping Revolution

I couldn't believe what I was watching! Unarmed civilians had brought down the hard line government of Egypt after just a few weeks of peaceful protests. Amid the wild revelry and the women, trilling their ululations in celebration of their victory, the television camera then focused on an unforgettable image of a women protester, sweeping up the rubble and debris left behind in a Cairo street. When an incredulous reporter asked her why, she answered proudly,'we clear up ourselves, this is our country; these are our streets now!' And with that dignified statement, the ordinary citizens of Cairo had brushed away thirty years of autocratic rule in Egypt.

But the speed, relative ease and success of both the Tunisian and Egyptian protests has set an example of what can be achieved and has encouraged others in the Arab world, toward a precarious opportunity for a more free and democratic lifestyle, with popular uprisings taking place in Yemen,Iran and now Libya, but sadly this time with hundreds of innocent lives lost. These despotic leaders may not be so easy to overthrow. Either way, changes are taking place on a daily basis in this already unstable part of the world, so I will have to keep my eye on changing events as they occur, as I intend to cross parts of the Middle East during my forthcoming trip.

My plan is to make (non-cycling) 'holiday' detours to Egypt, Syria and Jordan and then travel back up to Iran. But due to the sheer expanse of Iran and with the Foreign Office advising against travel in the east of the country (due to historical events rather than recent uprisings) I will probably take a bus along the popular and well used tourist route from Tehran to Isfahan and then on to Shiraz, returning to Tehran or Turkey and then flying to Karachi in Pakistan to resume my cycling. That way I get to explore Iran, one of the most artistic and historically interesting countries, in a more comfortable time scale. But what develops in the Middle East is beyond my control. All we can hope for is an end to the violence by their brutal leaders and for the region to become a more stable part of the world. What I have to worry about, is getting myself around the globe and to look after my health as best I can.

This month my arm was punctured with the second of my three rabies injections and I still have two Japanese Encephalitis and one more Hepatitis B jab to suffer. Stray dogs are a problem for a cyclist abroad, so these rabies jabs are important because as we all know, only mad English cyclists and dogs go out in the midday sun!

Biting mosquitoes can also be a real menace, especially to a cyclist who is exposed to the elements for most of the day. What's hard to swallow is that I'm not actually cycling through any malarial infected countries; I'm only travelling close to the frontiers of countries where malaria may occur, but because mosquitoes don't recognise boundaries, I've had to add to my mobile pharmacy by stocking up with the recommended dosage of tablets. But I need three different brands of tablet for the three countries that I will need protection from and the programme is complicated beyond belief. Instructions tell me that I have to start taking the first brand four weeks before entering my first malarial country and starting off with two tablets for the first two days then going onto taking one a day of the first brand then taking two a day, two days before my second country and again going onto one a day of the second brand but remembering that I have to keep taking one a day of the first tablets, four weeks after leaving that first country but still carrying on with one tablet a day of the second brand which overlaps with the first dosage in the first country. I don't even want to think about the third brand I will have to factor in, yet! I am just grateful that it's all been written down!

But this past month has seen me crossing the border into the definitely non malarial county of Oxfordshire, where I was running a week's photography course at the Women's Institutes's educational centre, Denman College, just outside Oxford. After the calamities that dampened my mood last month, spending a week there raised my spirits once again. I always enjoy teaching at Denman and on my return, I will be adding an extra course - travel photography - a theme I shall have more than enough experience of by then!

But before that I have a journey to complete. And with only eight weeks to go before departure, I am just about ready for the off. One important task I had to get done though was to get my bike serviced. I changed my mind about taking it up to Preston where the bike was made. I decided that it was too far and too expensive a journey, so I took the bike into the engagingly named, Mud Docks Cycleworks in Bristol, where the staff were very helpful and were easily able to replace the original components. My thanks go to Steve the workshop manager, who on hearing of my travels, kindly waived the cost of the labour and only charged me for the parts.

No doubt this will be one of many acts of kindness on my journey and I hope the recent uprisings in the Middle East will settle to a positive outcome, so that all peoples of that region can live in a more peaceful and equal society. But amidst the turmoil, I am sure that the only revolutions that will affect me during this trip, will be the turning of my bicycle wheels.


(All postings on are the copyright of Deborah Anne Brady)

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

"After the rain, comes fair weather" (Aesop)

Financing my round-the-world trip has had to be based around a finely measured and calculated agenda, as well as forecasting a weekly budget and factoring in contingency money for any possible emergencies, as well as for those hidden extras that inevitably creep up on us. It should get me around the globe but I still have to be careful. I will have to rely on cheap accommodation and constantly watch my pennies throughout the trip.

I knew it would take the best part of a year to plan and research the journey, but I also worried that the longer I spent in the UK before travelling, the more it would eat into my savings. I had planned to leave in May this year because I didn't want to cross Europe in winter. But the length of time before departure meant that I would inevitably be open to the possibility of things going wrong.

And everything was going so well. The planning and research for the trip was on schedule and as we turned the corner into the New Year, things were ticking along nicely. I have been managing to live, modestly, off the fees from my talks and photographic courses, along with the kindness and hospitality from my friends and family. In fact I can't believe how fortunate I've been. But life has a nasty habit of breaking a spoke in the wheels of our dreams. With only four months to go and everything going to plan, fortune abandoned me. The cost of travel essentials, such as my inoculations, travel insurance and all the expenditure that goes with planning such a trip, has left me keeping a very strict and wary eye on my ever decreasing bank account. Things were ok, but I was starting to feel a little uneasy:my finances were beginning to get a little stretched.

Then, one of my worst nightmares happened!My trusted and faithful workhorse, my car,which hasn't let me down once in the past ten years, had to be garaged, twice, in the space of ten days, culminating in two rather hefty garage bills. I am planning to take it off the road at the end of March but the car is essential for my work and as I wind up my talks and courses in these remaining months, it's important to keep the car going. It seemed this extra expenditure, at this particular point in time, was a cruel twist. I couldn't believe the timing of it! To make matters worse, I had just booked and paid for the first of my 'holidays'; a few days in Paris, where one of my friends is planning to come out and join me. I wasn't best pleased. The garage bill, along with a few other hidden extras that I hadn't anticipated, had bitten a bit too deeply into the finances and my spirits were low; so low, I seriously considered cancelling the whole trip. I'm not usually one for giving up and I nearly always go all out for something I've set my mind to, but this did make me feel that the wheels were coming off the bike.

But in life, as Emerson once wrote, 'difficulties exist to be surmounted'. After my initial dejection, came calm reason. Instead of getting depressed about it, I just had to change my thinking. I changed my perspective and instead of cancelling the trip, I convinced myself it wasn't that bad. It was just a case of adjusting and realigning my plans. I worked out that I could still afford to get around the world but I would have to cut a bit here and nip a bit there. I may even have to cut a few days off those 'holidays' I had planned and possibly leave out one or two of the countries I was hoping to cycle through. But with the reduced finances I wasn't feeling so at ease with the trip as I was before and the worries and the 'what ifs'
were beginning to set in.

So, to lift my spirits, I went cycling. It was one of those rare, blue-sky winter days. After only a few miles in that soporific, afternoon golden sunshine, that treads on the heel of a bright, winters day - where you breathe the heady, crisp, hoary air, and the weak sun warms your back, and while the only sounds are the humming rhythmic motion of wheels on tarmac that lulls you into that hypnotic, stress busting lightness of mind, that only cycling can do - my spirits were beginning to lift again; my reverie suddenly shattered by the realisation that I couldn't stop! The rear brake cable had snapped!I managed to get back without incident but rather than get it repaired there and then, I thought it better to wait until the beginning of March, when the bike is due for a full service and everything can be done at once by the same mechanics. Meantime, I have borrowed an old Raleigh mountain bike, which will do fine for the interim month.

Apart from these minor calamities, preparation wise, it has been a quiet month. But that has given me the chance to catch up with my reading. My journey will follow ancient routes; the theme being the art and artists(ancient and modern)of the countries that I am travelling through and I've found time to re-read some of my favourite ancient poets.

One of those is the Roman poet, Quintus Horatius Flaccus, more familiarly known as Horace. I really like Horace with his lyrical style and positive thinking. And he loved his wine! There's a person after my own heart! In nearly every one of his Odes, he is forever lauding Bacchus -(the Roman adopted name for the original Greek Dionysus - God of the grape harvest, wine making and wine) -The God of Wine. Forever the optimist, his answer to the pits and troughs of life was to tell us, not only to relax but also to enjoy the moment and not to trouble our minds with things we can't control, but also to indulge in the odd tipple or two! As he writes in his Ode, 'Enjoy the Hour', "why, with planning for the future, weary thy soul?
Why not rather quaff the wine, while yet we may, reclining under this lofty plane or pine, in careless ease....Bacchus dispels carking cares'.
(Horace: Ode X1)

He even titled one of his Odes, "In Praise of Wine". And in another,.."take delight on holidays in some choice vintage Falernian wine".

Cheers! Horace, I shall do just that!

(all postings on are copyright of Deborah Anne Brady)