Around The World In 800 Days
(A Spontaneous Circumnavigation Of The Globe)

United Kingdom
From my home town of Harwich, on the east coast of England, I decided to visit Amsterdam for a few days. The ferries sailed to the Netherlands on a twice daily basis from this little port town. Just over two years later I returned to England from the opposite direction, which just goes to prove that if you take a wrong turning you'll eventually get back to the beginning again.

Netherlands
With only a backpack and a smile I crossed the North Sea from the my home town of Harwich and landed at Hoek van Holland, near to the major Dutch port of Rotterdam. I was off to the city of Amsterdam for a long weekend, and then back across the North Sea again, and home. The rain was pouring down to wave me off on what was to be an unexpected journey of a lifetime, which would take me through four different continents and many different countries.
As a practised hitch-hiker it wasn’t long before I'd made my way through Den Hague and up the coast to Amsterdam. I'd been to Amsterdam many times before and soon found my way to a cheap budget hotel on the edge of Amsterdam's famous red light district. With 40 backpackers crammed into 20 bunks in one room, it wasn't the most celubrious of accomodation, but it was cheap and to a backpacker of limited resources that's what counted.
After my planned weekend in Amsterdam I started walking towards the edge of the city, with the intention of hitching a ride back to Rotterdam and then Hoek Van Holland again. Taking a short-cut through the red light district, I ended up on the north-eastern edge of the city instead of the south-west. Unperturbed by this I decided to go where the wind took me and was soon in the city of Utrecht further to the west.
Hitch-hiking can be a very dangerous mode of travel to the unwary. In all the years and miles I’ve been hitching only once have I ever had a problem of the sexual kind. In The Netherlands all the roads are interlinked and you’re never far from civilisation, so it was not as dangerous as some countries. My sexual harassment came from a very unexpected direction. I’d accepted a ride from a young female driver, only to discover that she was a lesbian on the pull and also either on drugs or psychiatrically challenged. Needless to say I exited the car at the earliest moment and continued hitch-hiking again out of the area. By this time I was close to the German border at Arnhem and I'd never been to Germany before.

Germany
Crossing the border into Germany hadn’t been as simple as I'd expected. After accepting a ride from two Arabic men on the Dutch side of the border, we approached the border control post. The German customs officers had no problem with my passport and one of the Arabic men was also in the clear. The second man was an asylum seeker and had political asylum papers for The Netherlands. The asylum papers didn't permit him to cross the border and the pair had to turn around and head back to The Netherlands again. I was therefore hitch-hiking once again at the German border post, while chatting to a very pleasant German border guard.
Hitch-hiking at a border post was not one of the best ways to achieve success. People who would otherwise have stopped were reluctant to even slow down around uniformed officials. Eventually I had to bid the friendly guard goodbye and after walking only 100 metres to the service area obtained a ride almost immediately. My ride heading for the city of Hannover was a young lad who’d just returned from collecting organic supplies in Amsterdam. He apparently had his supply secreted in amongst his breakfast cereal.
After many different rides across Germany, I finally arrived at the border with Poland. My last ride was with a truck driver and landed me at the German border town of Bad Muskau on the River Oder. The difference between the old West Germany and East Germany was amazing. Communism had effectively destroyed individuality in the eastern half of the country. All the building looked like block-huts and poverty was evident all around.
After a short stay at the German border town, in order to send postcards to surprised friends and family back in England, I was soon off in search of the Polish border and to embark on an extended excursion eastwards.

Poland
Crossing the foot-bridge into the Polish border village of Leknika, I discovered a thriving market town which catered to the richer Germans across the river as well as the local population. I offered my passport to the Polish border guard at the far side of the footbridge and was waved on with only a cursory glance. Only after I went to put my passport back into my bag did I realised that it was actually my address book. I’d successfully crossed an international border with only a smile and a list of telephone numbers. I'm sure if I'd been traversing the bridge in the opposite direction the outcome wouldn't have been the same.
After a short tour of the little border village and the discovery of a money changing booth, I caught the local bus towards Zary and then a second bus towards Wroclaw (Breslau). My first view of Poland from the bus window included observing two policemen dragging a body out of a ditch, quite an introduction to a new country. My first impressions of Eastern Europe though were of a friendly people who were just managing to scrape by in any way they could.
I was travelling alone with no fixed goal and as such was in no hurry to get anywhere. Without speaking a single word of Polish I still managed to chat with the local women on the bus for the entire journey. It's amazing how much you can communicate in sign language if you try hard enough. That night was spent in the Wrocklaw Youth Hostel on the edge of the town.
At Wroclaw train station the following day I met my first companion on what was to become a circle of the globe. A young South African lad was heading in the same direction and we teamed up together for our stay in Poland. Through Poznan and Wroclawek on the train, we then caught a bus into Warsaw. Buses were not destined to be my lucky mode of transportation though and this one promptly had a puncture half way to Warsaw. We were however popular with the other passengers during the journey as the driver was playing English songs on the radio, which were dubbed into Polish. We were singing along to Beatles songs in English to everybody's amusement.
Warsaw was our jumping off point for visiting Russia. As I’d travelled this far already, a few hundred more miles wouldn't make any difference. Getting a visa to enter the country was another matter though. We thought red tape in the west was bad but in the Russian Embassy it took over an hour to get our first and family names entered correctly. As far as we were concerned it didn’t really matter but to a relic of the communist age, it was more than his job was worth to enter them in the wrong boxes on his form.
With a week to spare while our Russian visas were processed, we boarded a train to the Baltic port of Gdansk. (It was the next train to leave from Warsaw that day). We must have coincided with some kind of Polish rush-hour because a sardine would have had more room to stand than us. People still trying to walk up and down the train towards the buffet car made matters even worse. Using the toilet on the other hand was a virtual impossibility, the cubical was crammed full of luggage.
During our brief stay in Gdansk we were to see a miniature version of the solidarity troubles of many years previous. An old man indicated to us that there was going to be trouble in the town square at midday. Any normal person would have stayed away from the area but being a little bit crazy, we made a bee line in that general direction. Anarchists suddenly came marching into the square and riot police were following close behind. All the international tourists in the city quickly made themselves scarce with the exception of us. The polish people were disgruntled with their new government and were demanding a change once again.
After thirty minutes of political rhetoric the riot police decide enough was enough and after noticing the build up of law enforcement officials in a side street we started edging our way towards the exits of the square. It was to be a good judgement call as the police stormed the square just as we turned to corner to leave. To fill the remainder of the day we visited the Gdansk Shipyards of Solidarity fame.
A trip to the Baltic Sea coast wouldn't have been complete without a day on the beach. Joining the hundreds of Poles who'd had exactly the same idea, Saturday was definitely a sun and sand day, we spent the next day at the Baltic resort of Sopot. Ice cream in the town and warm white sand on the water's edge was rejuvenating to say the least. If it wasn't for the Polish Navy being in town I could easily have believed I was back in my east coast English town.
It was only a few days of light relief though before we had to return to Warsaw and hopefully collect our Russian visas. With a mild case of Baltic sunburn we were soon returning to Gdansk and the train back towards Warsaw. Surprisingly, this time we had a seat and the passageways were clear of passangers playing a serious game of sardines. It was obviously just bad timing when we went north because going southwards was a far more comfortable journey than the last one.
On the way towards Gdansk there'd been three of us, an Englishman we'd met in Warsaw, the South African lad and myself. On the way back we'd lost the Englishman, who'd met a Polish girl, and despite neither of them being able to speak the other language they'd started a romace which was to end in marraige a few years later. In return we'd acquired a new travelling partner, an Australian teacher we'd met in Gdansk who was working in a suburb on the outskirts of Warsaw. We therefore stopped for the night in the suburban town and visited a Polish Beatles lookalike concert.
Surprisingly on return to Warsaw we found our Russian visas were in fact ready. The slowly turning cogs of Russian bureacuracy had finally produced a piece of paper entitling us to vist St Petersburg and Moscow for a period of two weeks. Needless to say we were on the next train heading north east towards the winter city.

Belarus
With a two week visa to visit only the cities of St Petersburg and Moscow, we left Poland by train via Belarus towards Lithuania and Latvia. In fact the only part of Belarus I actually saw during this world tour was the western corner near the Polish & Lithuanian border. Just across the Belorussian border we stopped for a few hours in order to change the wheels on the carraiges, apparently the Russian rails were wider apart than the rest of Europe and rather than move all the passengers to a different train, they just hoisted our carraige into the air while the wheels were changed. Stopping only to load and unload passengers at the city of Hrodno we were soon on our way again towards the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius.

Lithuania
We trundled across the eastern edge of Lithunaia, through the capital of Vilnius and continued northward towards Latvia. With only a short stop in Vilnius, to once again load and unload passengers, there was no time to visit the city.

Latvia
Before too long we'd crossed the Latvian border and had pulled into the station of Daugavpils. After only a short stop we once again continued onward towards St Petersburg and before long we'd crossed the Russian, By this time it was getting very late so we retired to bed. Our expected arrival in St Petersburg was in the early hours around dawn, so to be fresh we slept well as the train clickety clicked along the track..

Russian Federation (Europe)
In the northern city of St Petersburg, close to the border with Finland, we discovered a beautiful city of amazing architecture. Of all the cities in the world I’ve visited, Saint Petersburg gets the first place rosette for most beautiful.
Unfortunatly we were on a very limited time schedule with the restricted access we'd been granted for free travel in the Russian Federation and regretably we'd only allocated ourselves two days to view this jewel in the Russian crown. It wasn't enough to do it justice and one day I only hope I can return to savour its beauty once more.
After an overnight journey by train we finally arrived in the capital city of the Russian Federation. Moscow by comparison was dark, dingy and a marked reduction on the beauty of St Petersburg. At the train station people were lined up along every spare foot of wall, each having only one sausage or loaf of bread to sell. It was the age of free enterprise but nobody could afford any stock and the few roubles they made at the station was all they could hope for. The kiosks scattered around the city sold anything from matches to handguns. Yes, you could actually buy an automatic pistol from a street trader in the city centre. Chatting with the cleaning staff at our hotel, I realised that the workers in this new Russia were less than pleased by recent political developments.
Less than a fortnight after observing the riots in Gdansk we found that the Russian people were also marching into Red Square in protest at their government. Only a week or so earlier a riot policeman had been killed in the previous riots on May-day. All foreign embassies were waring their nationals to stay away from the area, but true to form we were once again to be found in the thick of the action. With sensible tourists having already left Red Square, we moved closer towards it.
Helped up onto an office ledge by a kindly Russian, I had a panoramic view of the demonstration from thirty feet in the air. As hundreds of thousands of communist demonstrators flooded into the square, the riot police moved into position. Unlike the previous encounter though this demonstration luckily passed off fairly peacefully and nobody on either side had been hurt.
Our visas had only been issued for a visit to St Petersburg and Moscow. So far we’d been heading east and it looked like we’d have to head back to Poland again. While at the main station obtaining food supplies from the lines of would-be merchants, we happen upon an idea though. There was a weekly train that headed east through Siberia towards Mongolia and China. It was a seven day journey and it left the following day. With five days left on our Russian visas and an equal time to the Mongolian border, we purchased tickets and obtained a special visa from the Mongolian embassy in Moscow. The next day we boarded a train heading towards Siberia with a visa for no further than Moscow. Whether we ended up in a Siberian goolag was left to the luck of the gods.

Russian Federation (Siberia)
Five days on a train at first glance seems a long time but time flies when you’re having fun. A group of us, all foreigners, teamed up together for the journey across a wild and bleak continent. One Frenchman, an American, a Dutchman, the South African lad I'd previously been travelling with and myself formed the bulk of the international contingent on a predominantly Chinese train heading east towards Beijing. Across the breadth of Russia we travelled on a train which only stopped for supplies, towards the ancient empire of the Mongol hoards.
As we stopped at Siberian stations for only a few minutes, the local population were ready to sell their wares to a twice weekly mobile marketplace. Sausages of dubious cooked meats, whole roasted chickens and bread of sorts was on offer.
The Trans-Siberian train has its very own restaurant car which catered to the needs of passangers, but we were on a budget and the prices were designed for the tourists and first class passangers. To us peasants in the third class sardine compartments it was a case of bartering for bread, sausages and cooked chickens during the infrequent rest stops. What kind of meat was in the sausages I never managed to discover but they were tasty all the same.
The largest and most polluted fresh water lake in the world, Lake Baikal, was the landmark for our journey south towards Outer Mongolia. We'd travelled two thirds of the way across the largest country in the world and wouldn't stop again until we hit the Mongolian border. My week in Amsterdam had so far landed me one third of the way around the world but I was committed to moving forward now.
We were now close to the border with Mongolia and we only had visas for St Petersburg and Moscow. They were written in Russian so we didn’t know the exact wording. Would we have problems at the border and be arrest for breach of visa regulations. We were in a country where people disappear for trivial matters just like this. We'd travelled thousands of miles outside of our visa limits and were attempting to exit the country on the opposite side of the globe. It was a two hour wait while the Russian authorities processed everybody’s passports which had been collected and we’d been ordered not to leave our train compartments during this time.
Four Russian soldiers positioned themselves in the doorway to our compartment, our passports in their hands. This was the time of truth, were we to be arrested or allowed to pass. The thought of a Siberian detention camp wasn’t the most appealing of scenarios but we’d taken a chance and would have to live with the consequences. With no more than a glance in our direction our passports were returned and the soldiers left the train, our visas obviously didn’t specify where we had to leave the country and we were free to leave. It was with a great sigh of relief that the train finally chugged the final mile towards the Mongolian side of the border.

Mongolia
Whereas the Russian soldiers had only collected our passports and returned them, the Mongolian soldiers were a different kettle of fish as we crossed the border. Intimidation was the name of the game and Mongolian officers stood towering over us, signing the desire for cigarettes or alcohol. Not being a smoker and only an occasional drinker, the only bribe I could offer was a bottle of Pepsi. Luckily this was sufficient and they left to intimidate another compartment.
This first impression was an altogether inaccurate example of the Mongolian population. We actually found most of them to be extremely pleasant and helpful. At Ulan-Bator station we encountered the usual hotel touts and money changers, in the end we opted to stay with a student and his family in an apartment block a short distance away.
For a few American Dollars this family open their home to us and acted as guides during our stay in Ulan-Bator.
The American member of our quintet had stayed on the train to Beijing. He hadn’t planned on stopping in Mongolia and only had a transit visa. The Dutchman had booked a tour that included a three day stop in Ulan-Bator so we investigated the city together and bid him farewell on the third day.
Three of us were now left in Mongolia and we all had a one week visa. A Frenchman, a South African and an Englishwoman (myself). The trouble with visiting Mongolia was the vastness of the country and minimal public transport system. With our local friend we visited the bus station and found out that afternoon a bus was leaving for Hujirt, a town to the west of Ulan-Bator and it would be returning the following day. A transport service interlinking the outlying towns didn’t exist. Buses ran like the spokes of a bicycle wheel to a distance of one day's drive but the rim of the wheel was missing. It was a way of transporting produce to market and returning with purchases from the city, not a tourist service.
The term bus was to be used in its loosest possible connotation. In reality we travelled in a beat up old truck, with a row of seats around the edge of a metal box on its bed. A couple of holes had been cut into the sides of the box and the solid iron door to the rear was closed to prevent the trail dust blowing in. Mongolia had no roads as such outside of Ulan-Bator, only dirt trails that meandered across the wilderness. On more than one occasion we all disembarked to help push the truck up the bank of a dry river bed.
Hujirt was a small rural town where the local farmers traded in the village stores. Our bus (truck) was the only vehicle in town with the exception of a couple of motorcycles. Women in Mongolia obviously didn’t ride these because when I indicated in sign language that I too had riden one in England, the local lads looked at me in disbelief and chatted amongst themselves. It wasn’t long before I was offered one of the Russian built motorcycles to try, with an indication to circle the village square with it. With no front brake, a rear brake bent four inches higher that it should have been and handlebars that were nowhere near in alignment, I successfully completed my designated circle and thanked the owner for his hospitality. It was then that I noticed money and goods changing hands. I had been the centre of a bet and the motorcycle owner had made a good profit for his risk.
Overnight my travelling companions had become divided, the Frenchman had decided to overstay his visa and continue travelling through Mongolia, while the South African lad was more wary and decide to head back to Ulan-Bator ready for the train to Beijing. I had a decision to make. Who should I stay with, the wild or the wary? As you've probably already guessed, I opted for the wilder side of life, It’s in my nature I suppose. The next morning we bade farewell to our South African friend and set off with our backpacks on a sixty mile hike to the end of the next spoke in the public transport system. Karakorum was our destination, the capital city of Mongolia during the reign of Ghengis Khan.
As previously mentioned, there weren’t really any roads in Mongolia, consequently there weren’t any signposts either. Our limited information indicated the approximate direction of Karakorum and the knowledge that there was a village at about the halfway point. We started following the appropriate track but were soon met with tracks heading off all over the place. When a track became too rutted to use, the trucks just took a detour, so the landscape between villages became a latticework of brown tracks. Only the occasional passing farmer was around to ensure we were still on course and many times we sat at the roadside relaxing and sharing a drink with the local travellers.
By late afternoon we’d reached the mid-point village, a Buddhist training monastery for young monks. We’d learnt enough Mongolian at this point to ask if there was a shop where we could buy food. There was no such thing and luckily we still had some biscuits from the previous town.
Our intention was to walk the whole distance in one day but the hospitality of the Mongolians had been such that it had taken us half the morning to say goodbye in Hujirt and the frequent stops to socialise with local farmers had equally eaten into our time schedule. The Mongolian pace of life was considerably slower than that in the west and just sitting on the trail for an hour wasn’t an uncommon result.
With no shop to purchase food, we asked if there was any water source nearby. The local children who'd gathered around us eagerly guided us to a covered well and extracted a bucketful of brown liquid. Our next consideration was that of shelter and not wishing to offend anyone in the village, we asked a monk for permission to pitch our tent on the grass in front of the monestary. There was no problem with this and in no time my little tent had been erected.
Mongolian people are traditionally nomadic and their homes are movable. It takes quite a few people and a few hours to move a yurt. We’d totally amazed all the men and children alike with my ‘erect in 10 seconds’ tent. For the next few hours we were visited constantly by the adults who shook the tent to test its rigidity, before they were content that it was actually sturdy enough for us to sleep in.
With at least twenty children around us at any given time, we'd been accepted by the village. One of the mothers had obviously remembered our previous request for a shop and two bowls of soup along with a pot of tea was gratefully received. This wasn’t our first taste of Mongolian tea and we were a little shocked to find salt in it. It takes a little time to acclimatise to different foods and salted tea became quite pleasant after a while. It was definitely very welcome in place of the brown watery liquid we now had in our water bottles.
The following morning we bade farewell to our hosts and continued onward towards Karakorum and the monastery there. After befriending the locals once again, we were granted entry by the monks to their place of worship. My permission to enter was a surprise to both of us, as only men are usually allowed into the prayer-room. I was grateful for the insight into a beautiful religion and a wonderful people. Mongolia for me had so far been the best place in the world and to this day I still believe it to be so.
It was over a week before the next bus arrived and we had a wonderful time in the Mongolian community. A local family had invited us round for a meal and Fabrice, the Frenchman I was travelling with, was offered Russian vodka. I had politely made the excuse that English women don’t drink vodka but Fabrice was required to prove his manhood. A rather the worse for wear Frenchman staggered back to our hotel well after dark that night.
Clocks and watches were a complete waste of time in the Mongolian wilderness, it was either daytime or nightime, anything else was irrelevant. Buses ran when they felt like it and the farmers came back as it was getting dark. Only in our western society does the measurement of time mean so much to us.
The other activities that occupied our time were based around walking around the countryside and we even went to the cinema one evening. The movie, of local origin, was in brown & white and even though the only dialogue we understood was ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’ and ‘thank-you’, we managed to follow the plot pictorially. We were getting into the local culture but it would only be a few days before our bus arrived to take us back to Ulan-Bator again.
We were impressed by the bus that finally arrive in the town, it actually looked like any normal bus and we managed to get a seat on the luggage. It was a case of first come first served for the available seats and we were far from practised at this method of queuing. On the journey out from Ulan-Bator the luggage had been cloth, flour and items like cookware, on the way into market, the predominant cargo was sheep carcasses in sackcloth, which were stacked along the central isle of the bus. This was to be my chair for the next 150 miles of dirt track into Ulan-Bator.
My usual luck with buses prevailed and we broke-down at least ten times on the road. A journey that should have taken 5-6 hours took considerably longer. After setting out at about 10am, we finally crawled into Ulan-Bator at 2am. During the many times the engine from the bus had been hauled out onto the road and dismantled, the passengers had shown no indication of surprise. When we ran out of benzene (petrol, gasoline) twice and had to wait for a passing truck to sell us some, again it appeared to be routine. When the petrol station was empty, we just managed to crawl to the edge of Ulan-Bator and another one. The radiator leaked like a sieve, so we stopped at every river to fill it up, and also to sluice the sheep's blood down the center aisle and out of the door. All in all it was an adventure all in itself
Back in Ulan-Bator and we were now looking for a new place to visit. The Gobi desert looked inviting and the next day a bus was heading to Mandalgovi, needless to say we were on it. It was a real bus this time, and no breakdowns. Things were certainly looking up for us at last, or so we thought.
The desert to me was symbolised by lots of sun and sand but very little rain. Only hours after arriving in Mandalgovi the heavens open up and it was raining cats and dogs. Once again the hospitality of the Mongolians overwhelmed us and the bus crew that we’d travelled up with dragged us to a music festival in the town’s only hall. Listening to the Mongolian style of singing that used a very vibrating sound originating in the throat, we were engrossed in the atmosphere of this place. The bus crew were staying at the same hotel before they travelled back the next day. We had decided to stay for the week. As usual there was only a weekly bus service.
The occasional sand storm was also to be expected at some time. This we encountered on our third day in the town and had to remain in our hotel room all day.
Befriended by the local children once again, we spent most of our time on the sand dunes, listening to them singing and admiring the scenery around us. Despite being an industrial town (it had a small factory) the area was beautiful, especially if you walked across a few dunes and away from the town.
It was on the fifth day we encountered our first major problem. At 10pm we were visited by the local police. It appeared that we had inadvertently stumbled into a military town which required special police permission to visit. Apparently the largest radar base in the Gobi desert was situated just over the next sand dune to where we’d been walking everyday and the possibility of us being spies had crossed the minds of the local law enforcement officials.
If this had been our only problem we might have just received a warning. Unfortunately our visas were now nearly two months overdue. A fine of US$75 each was eventually bartered down to US$5 and we were ordered to leave Mongolia as soon as possible. The cost of deporting us was obviously too expensive and it was easier just to tell us to leave. We had a police guard on our door for the next two nights and were escorted to the bus station on the seventh day.
Back in Ulan-Bator I decided to make amends and rectify my visa problem, Fabrice on the other hand elected to continue chancing it with an expired visa. The British embassy were their usual pathetic selves and as much use as a bath without water, I therefore ended up dealing with the situation myself. After a long discusion and a US$20 fine, the Mongolian foreign office gave me a new visa for 5 day, sufficient time to catch the next train to Beijing.
The difficulty with leaving Mongolia was that the next two trains were fully booked and they only left every Saturday. The foreign office reluctantly extended my visa to twenty five days and we were off into the countryside once again.
During our latest time in Ulan-Bator we’d chatted with a local lad who spoke fairly good English. He’d lived in Amsterdam for a year before being deported as an illegal immigrant. His biggest dilemma was the one hundred guilder note he had in his pocket. Although this was the equivalent of six months salary locally, he’d been back a year and couldn’t change it anywhere.
Originally we thought this had been because he was a local and as such he wasn’t supposed to have this amount of foreign currency, but at the bureau de change in the five star hotel, even I had problems. Apparently the Dutch guilder wasn’t one of the recognised currencies and couldn’t be changed anywhere in Mongolia.
The only alternative was for me to take the guilders myself and replace them with US dollars. The appreciation from this family for turning worthless paper into six months salary was overwhelming. In my mind I hadn't done anything special, I still had 100 guilders and would be able to exchange them in Beijing.
We were welcomed into the family as if we’d always been part of it. Our previous request for information about staying in the countryside was remembered and soon we were hiking across the Mongolian steppe on our way to visit their relatives.
After a train and bus journey, we hiked at least thirty miles before we encountered a lone yurt in a magnificent valley. This was to be our home for the next two weeks and my taste of farming Mongolian style. Instantly accepted as if we were one of the family, we rounded up the sheep, goats and cattle as they grazed on the hillside, milked the same animals and assisted hauling water two miles from the nearest stream.
These two weeks of traditional Mongolian living were the best time in my life. No clocks, no schedules and no stress, only a laid back approach to life and a subsistence lifestyle. We ate what we farmed or traded and it was traditionally stew to eat. In Mongolia nothing was wasted and what wasn’t eaten one day was used the next. We even scraped the meat off the goat’s head after roasting it in the fire.
The hospitality we recieved was nothing short of remarkable. The Mongolian people have a very laid back approach to life and frequently on our treks with locals across the steppe, we sat drinking tea around a yurt fire.
With the extra manpower available, our family decided they would make their traditional yearly move at that time. In five hours the yurt had been dismantled and rebuilt in the next valley.
I think I’ve probably said enough about Mongolia for now. I’ll leave the country on this idyllic note and move on again. Mongolia was for me the best place in the world and as I waved Fabrice good-bye at Ulan-Bator station, I swore that one day I’d return. Fabrice stayed there and intended to leave without a visa in a month or two’s time. Although we arranged to meet up again further down the road, I never did manage to contact him and hope that he got out of the country in the end.

China
Two more days on a train and I was in China. Taking the local buses and walking a short distance, we visited the great wall. Not the rebuilt section crammed full of tourist shops, but the original wall that was built at the time of the Mongol hoards.
I’d met a Belgian lad on the way from Mongolia and together we toured the ancient city. China compared to Mongolia in a very bad light. I had come from the peaceful tranquillity of a relaxed culture into a city teaming with bicycles and marketplaces that literally swept you along with the crowd. It was a severe culture shock and one that I didn’t receive very well. I craved the Mongolian way of life again but that was behind me for the moment and I’d moved on to another country.
Eating in Beijing was an adventure all in itself. The street restaurants that abounded around the cheap hotel we were staying in offered various dishes of undisclosed ingredients. To this day I still have no idea what kind of meat was in the stews that I ate but the apparent lack of wild ferule, canine and rodent population in such a littered environment would tend to indicate the possible source ingredients.
Beijing was a city of extremes. On the one side were the crowded poverty sticken back alleyways and on the other the magnificent Forbidden City and Beijing Opera. After the customary visit to the tourist spots of Beijing, I was on the train toward Xian and the terracotta army.
As China was a communist country the trains didn’t have a first and second class system like in the west. All Chinese people were treated equal and class didn’t officially exist. Instead you had hard seat, hard bunk, soft seat and soft bunk. The prices increased according to the different levels of comfort but it wasn't a class based system. Anybody could ride in the soft bunk cabins, if they could afford to that is. I’d elected for a moderate degree of comfort. Instead of spending the journey sitting in a river of spittle (Chinese men have a habit of spitting anywhere) I'd taken the second level and obtained a hard bunk.
A hard bunk was just that, a wooden board that folded down from the wall and was held up with a diagonal chain. These were situated in tiers of three on each wall and as an extra courtesy, a bamboo mat was placed on the solid board. I was lucky, I’d claimed a middle bunk. The top ones were so high you needed a mountaineering certificate to climb into them and the lower ones were used by everybody as a stepping stone to the higher levels. The middle bunks were most definitely the better option.
With Xian and the terracotta army left behind me, I was heading across this massive country in the direction of Hong Kong. I would visit China again some day but for now I needed to earn some money and Hong Kong was the place to do just that.

Hong Kong & Macau
Crossing the border into the colony hadn’t been any problem, getting to Kowloon or Hong Kong Island was another matter. At the ticket office only Hong Kong Dollars could be used to purchase a ticket, we had Chinese RMB and FEC. The nearest change facility was in Kowloon and we had to get a train their.
We had a classic catch 22 situation with a twist. Not only could we not change money or buy a ticket, an attempt to walk the thirty miles into the city was thwarted by a police officer on the door. The border post was situated in a restricted area and nobody was allowed outside. We were now stuck in a railway station, needing Hong Kong dollars to buy a ticket and no facility for obtaining them. Eventually after a lot of shouting, the manager arrived and explained that this was a common problem and it was customary to issue a free ticket to Kowloon for travellers arriving overland. Telling his ticket and information staff about this might have been a good idea.
Hong Kong was teaming with cheap backpacker hostels and it wasn’t long before we’d found one situated in the red light district of Tsim Sha Tsui close to the Kowloon harbourfront. With sixteen people crammed into one hostel room that a western family would regard as a double bedroom, there wasn’t enough room left to swing a cat. Finding a cat would have been fairly difficult in itself as in China cats are not domesticated like they are in the west. The saying goes, ‘There’s more than one way to skin a cat’, the Chinese would argue against this, ‘Not if you wanted to do it properly’, they’d say.
Just across the other side of the estuary from the British colony of Hong Kong was the Portuguese equivalent of Macao. Famed for its casinos and racetrack, no trip to Hong Kong would have been complete without visiting this city. A day trip on a hydrofoil from Hong Kong was enough. Leaving in the early morning, the journey only took an hour and the last ferry back was about 11pm. We’d had a flutter on the roulette table and a few coins in the fruit machines. After a riverside meal and a visit to the ruins of a church there wasn’t much else left to do.
Hong Kong to me was a place to earn enough money to move on again. I’d travelled halfway around the world and I’d originally only gone to Amsterdam for the week. As cities go, it was a lively place to be and had a character of its own. I’m a rural person at heart though and consequently never really felt at home here. Two jobs and a year later and I was ready to be on the move again.
My original intention was to travel overland through Vietnam and on down through south-east Asia. Unfortunately the land border from China to Vietnam was closed at that time, as was any other link into south-east Asia. For the first time since England I had no choice but to fly out of Hong Kong and took the cheapest flight out.

Thailand
After landing in Bangkok, the first surprise I got was the driving skills of the taxi drivers. What would normally have been an hour long journey took as little as thirty minutes for this lunatic behind the wheel. At speeds ranging from fifty to one hundred miles an hour, we weaved in and out of the heavy traffic on the road into the city. Rarely did we go slower than fifty and over half the time we were driving down the central reservation and the hard shoulder. Bangkok was a noisy city, the car's horn the most important item after the accelerator pedal. Shaking like a leaf and as white as a sheet, I finally climbed out of this potential coffin on wheels and booked into a backpacker hostel for the night.
One of the most famous red light districts in the world was located in Bangkok. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t go to cities just to visit these areas but they do exist. Pat Pong Rd was the original location but it had overflowed and taken in the next street by this time. Taking a leaf out of Hollywood’s book, this second street was named Pat Pong 2 Rd. Obviously a lack of originality was infectious. With bright neon lights advertising any kind of service you could imagine, the little ‘Took Took’ three wheeled taxis scurried in and out of the area dropping of potential customers.
The waterways of Bangkok were abundant with long-tailed boats. Similar to a Venetian gondola in appearance, the Thai skippers had fixed a motorcycle engine to the stern of the craft and attached a long propeller. The effect was one of a long thin speedboat that skimmed the waves and made more noise than a jet airliner taking off. The boat skippers drove on the water exactly the same way the taxi drivers did on the roads. Again it was a ‘white knuckle’ ride if you cared to partake of one.
When we got out of the Capital city we saw waterways with a difference. With most of the country thick with jungle it wasn't surprising that water transport was abundant in the countryside. Even floating markets popped up all over the place and a variety of produce was available. I must admit that I partook of the glorious freshly fried bananas on offer. Fruit, veg, meats and other non-edible goods were all available. A full departement store selection was exchanging hands on the waterways.

Indonesia
With Thailand behind me, I was now travelling south through the Indonesian island of Sumatra and getting closer to the equator by the mile. Travelling by local bus, the luggage was packed six feet high on the roof and the windows were wide open. The tourist buses were fully enclosed with air-conditioning. For a few minutes I imagined what it would be like to travel in such comfort but then being enclosed in a sterile box didn’t allow you to get the feel of a country. You didn't get to interact with the mosquito population either.
At the Sumatra town of Bukittinggi, I hired a small motor cycle for the day and explored the local countryside. There was no better way to see a large distance and still get the feel of the country. My travels took me back north again and to the town of Bonjol situated on the equator itself. I can now say that I’ve crossed the equator many times, as I ran back and forth to set up the timer on my camera.
Continuing southwards through Indonesia, I was soon on the ferry across to the island of Java and into the capital city of Jakarta. Coming down the southern tip of Sumatra, the heavy rains had flooded the stilted houses that lined the road and we were forced to detour many times. The weather was extremely bad but even worse disaster was to come for these residents. I don’t usually leave a disaster in my wake but only two days after I left southern Sumatra, the worst earthquake for centuries hit and the area was devastated. I was in Java at the time and already heading eastward.
A short ferry journey across to the island of Bali and I was flying out of Denpasar towards the continent of Australia. Even though I’d been forced to use aeroplanes, at this point I was attempting to keep the airborne hops as short as possible.

Australia
Australia’s northernmost city of Darwin was my starting point for the exploration of this vast continent. I had flown into Australia from Indonesia and looked at various options for touring the countryside. I knew from the outset that planned tours were out of the question. I'd never been on a package tour in my life and much prefered the thought of independant travel. It was just a matter of figuring out how to cover a country as large as Europe on a shoestring.
A local hostel owner put me in contact with a disreputable second hand car dealer and with the purchase of an old beat up car, I was ready to experience the tranquility of the Australian outback.
Before heading south towards the vast deserts, I took a drive out into the wetlands of Kakadu. The abundance of life in this tropical part of Australia was amazing and the crocodiles were pretty prevalent also. It was the start of the wet season so most of the roads were closed. I took what little joy I could from the natural beauty and headed south towards Tennent’s Creek and Alice Springs.
The sheer size of the Australian outback can take an unwary traveller by surprise. I had travelled across America already and across Siberia by train only recently.
I was aware of the distances involved, all I had to get used to was the emptiness. Even in the American deserts you saw townships and petrol stations every 10-50 miles or so. In Australia these are spaced 200-300 miles apart if you were lucky. I was prepared, I had two extra canisters of petrol and one of water, not to mention food supplies. If the old banger of a car I’d bought broke down, I could at least survive for the few days it might take for another passing car to happen upon me.
In no time at all I had company, an English couple were looking for a ride from the Tennent’s Creek hostel I stayed at. They’d been waiting around for four days and I was the first person going southward. We headed south together towards Alice springs which was the next town on the Stuart Highway. As luck would have it, the car I’d bought didn’t give us much trouble apart from a burst tyre at the halfway point. The tyre had been a retread and the tread just peeled off with the heat. Luckily I had two spares and we were soon mobile again.
Talking about the heat. The Australian outback was by far the hottest place I’ve ever been to. Being a fair skinned red-head, until this point in time I’d never tanned, I’d only burnt. For the first time in my life I had a suntan and my skin has kept that ability to this day. The other thing about the heat was that in the hottest place in the world, the car’s air-conditioning decided to quit working. Once again I was travelling while experiencing the natural elements in their most intense form.
From Alice Springs, I had a different companion. An American girl from New York had accepted a ride and together we continued southward towards Erldunda and the road to Uluru (Ayres Rock). Our intention was to arrive at Uluru by nightfall but we were delayed on the road after happening upon the scene of an accident. We ended up staying at the Erldunda roadhouse for the night and continuing on to Uluru the next day.
Our second attempt to traverse the road to Uluru was considerably more successful and we rolled up to the monolith just after midday. To my mind deserts are supposed to be dry places and central Australia had just had a three year drought. Why was it that when I arrived at Uluru the storm clouds were out and the rain was pouring down. I seem to have this effect on dry places but it did give us a rare sight of waterfalls cascading down the fissures of the rock. You only got waterfalls on Uluru if it was actually raining and when the rain eased off after a few hours, they just as suddenly disappeared again.
We were extremely lucky during our three days at Uluru. The first day we had the rare experience of seeing the waterfalls, the second it was overcast and the third was blazing sunshine. By the time we left the area the monolith was once again glowing in its famous variety of colours.
South again down the Stuart Highway, through the opal mining town of Coober Pedy and onward towards the lush green fields of Southern Australia. I had successfully crossed the Australian continent and rolling into Port Augusta, I could see the southern coast of Spencer Gulf. The longest and most difficult part of my Australian journey was over.
With money becoming tight, I made a bee-line for Sydney. This was where I intended to sell the car I’d bought in Darwin and use the money to finance my continued travels across the south pacific. Unfortunately my luck held out only as far as Sydney itself and as I drove into the city centre, the car started to develop a metallic clunking sound. Something serious had gone wrong with the engine and the car’s value had instantly dropped to zero.
So far I’d managed to finance my way around half the globe by working before I left England and topping that money up in Hong Kong. I had a flight ticket as far a Los Angeles via New Zealand but my spending money for food etc. had reached crisis point. I had to reluctantly call upon my savings back in England, which would be waiting for me in Auckland.

New Zealand
With a little extra money in my pocket, I was on the road out of Auckland and hitch-hiking again in a southerly direction. Rotorua was my first destination and the volcanic landscape that made up the centre of New Zealand’s north island.
The first thing that hit me as I entered Rotorua was the smell. The medicinal effect of bubbling mud pools and sulphur smelling steam must have been a clever advertising ploy by a desperate landowner. It was the only way that I can understand what would draw so many people to an area that so clearly warned you to stay away.
Bubbling sulphur pools in nature’s vocabulary would tend to say, “Keep the hell away from here. I’ve got a great big volcano just around the corner and it could go off at any moment”. To man it translated into, “This is a very smelly piece of land. How can I con somebody into buying it? I know, we’ll tell them the mud is good for them”, and surprisingly it worked.
For the next few weeks I hitch-hiked through Wellington and after a four hour ferry crossing, down the east coast of the south island to Dunedin. After a visit to the albatrosses and penguins, I was curving north again up the west coast.
“You can’t hitch-hike over the Haast pass”, I was told by many people, “So little traffic goes there, it will be impossible. You’ll need to buy a bus ticket”. In the first two hours I had found a lift over the pass and later that day I arrived at Franz Joseph Glacier.
The coolness of the ice of the glacier was an amazing feeling. With the sun beating down and sweat pouring off me, the air was electric with cool icy charges. One solid chunk of ice that wouldn’t melt despite the blazing sunshine. I admired the strength and determination of these aspects of nature. In fact the spot where I stood all those years ago is now under thousands of tons of ice. The glacier has not only refused to retreat, it has advanced forward and claimed even more land for itself.
Once again I had to bid the awesome power of nature farewell and rely on my trusty thumb to carry me northwards and eventually out of New Zealand. I had originally intended to island hop across the pacific ocean but finances didn’t allow for such an extravagance and I was soon on a flight to Los Angeles. The pacific exploration would have to wait until another day.

Pacific Islands
Island hopping across the Pacific Ocean was my original intent but unfortunately financial pressures necessitated a quick zip across the ocean to the United States of America where my bank account could be replenished. I did however get to stop for a short while in the Cook Islands and the US State of Hawaii.

United States of America
It was ten o’clock at night and I’d just landed at LAX airport. My destination was either Arkansas, where I had friends, or Florida, where I had family. In either location I could find some form of work to rebuild my finances. I would have to work somehow because I certainly didn’t have sufficient cash to carry me across the Atlantic. My air ticket ran out in Los Angeles and I was on my own. I wasn’t inclined to hitch-hike across the U.S.A. (even I wasn't that crazy), so the only other option open to me was a Greyhound bus and I headed towards the Greyhound station shuttle.
I could think of a thousand and one other places I’d rather have been that the downtown bus terminal in Los Angeles at 11pm on a Saturday night. Any one of these would have been considerably safer. While waiting for the Dallas bus, which was running two hours late, I sat chatting to a marine who was heading back to his unit. His company was a lot more preferable to that of the many lecherous drunks who staggered around the terminal.
Eventually though my bus arrived and bidding my companion goodbye, I headed eastbound towards Texas and the city of Dallas. There I changed greyhound buses for aNashville bus which was calling at Little Rock, Arkansas on the way. I'd made mydecision, I would visit my old friends in this small city of the deep south. It brought back memories of my life there many years before as the bus passed through familiar countryside on its way into the city.
Back for the second time in Little Rock but not for very long, I soon found employment driving rental trucks around the country. I would like to thank those Americans who rent truck one-way and pay the extra premium for dropping them off at a different depot. That premium paid my wages, as I was the one who had to put it back where it came from. Your dollars helped finance my continued travels around the world.
For six months I collected and delivered rental trucks all over the US and during that time I also visited both Mexico and Canada when I was in the vicinity. After six months I had saved sufficient money to visit my family in Florida before flying back across the Atlantic to London.
After flying out of Newark airport my circle of the world had been completed and I was back home once again. It would have been easier and quicker to have headed west from Amsterdam, then I’d have been back home in seven hours instead of three year, but it wouldn’t have been as much fun. I know I must be a gypsy at heart and don’t expect that I’ll ever really settle down in one place. Only time will tell if this is the case.

Canada
From the Untited States of America I was inclined to take an impromptu tour of the Canadian provinces of Ontario & Quebec, when I crossed over the longest friendly border in the world and entered the land of the mountie and the maple leaf.
Crossing the Rainbow Bridge at Niagara Falls, my only negative feeling about the beauty of this magnificent display of nature’s power was that of the crass commercialisation of the location. Instead of being located within a national park and declared an area of natural beauty, pleasure boats sailed around the base of the falls, helicopters flew over them and multi-coloured searchlights were played on them at night. For me this totally ruined the atmosphere of what could have been a truly electrifying experience.
From Niagara Falls my inclination was to head north towards the Hudson Bay but unfortunately time wasn’t with me and I had to make do with a whistle stop tour of only a small part of this wonderful country. Skirting the northern shore of Lake Ontario I passed through Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal before re-entering the United States into upper New York state.
This brief look at a huge country has only left me with a desire to return and explore the more remote part of the North American continent. One day I’ll realise that dream and you’ll be able to read of my travel in search of mounties. For now I’ll have to make do with my imagination.

Mexico
Many times during the six months I was delivering trucks across the continental United States, I was required to transfer old trucks to the Mexican border towns in Texas. When a rental truck has outlived it usefulness in the eyes of the American truck rental industry, the Mexicans could still see a considerable amount of life in the old vehicles. For myself it was like being back in the Australian outback.
It wasn’t uncommon for these trucks to be on the verge of collapsing by the time I was asked to deliver them to El Paso. With temperatures of 120 degrees in the shade and no air conditioning, the journey was usually less than comfortable. Even taking a siesta in the day and driving at night was out of the question because my bedroom was the truck itself. At the end of the day it was slightly more tolerable to drive in the scorching heat rather than sleep in an oven.
After dropping off a truck in Del Rio (Texas) I decided to take an excursion into Mexico. Driving up to the international border in my Dodge chase car I found the American side unguarded for vehicles leaving the country, they were far more interested in anybody heading the opposite way. After crossing the Rio Grande I approached the Mexican customs and expected a different reception. In my life I’ve crossed many international borders so I waited at the ‘stop line’ expecting the usual third degree. After a few minutes of sitting waiting I happened to glance towards the customs building and saw the border guards sitting around a table playing cards. One was gesticulating that I should just drive through and stop interrupting their important activities. I was into Mexico without a care in the world from the Mexican authorities.
The difference between Mexico and The United States was the first thing that hit me. Driving an American registered car was like attracting moths to a set of headlights. In seconds I was swamped with locals trying to sell me anything I could possibly want and more. The poverty of the border towns was something else and Americans were regarded as the carriers of the good ole US dollar. To these individuals, I was an American, a source of income, and nothing less. It was a far cry from the reception I received crossing from Germany into Poland. The American dream was too real for these people who craved the glitz and glamour of a Hollywood depicted life.
Moving further away from the US border the lifestyle became more relaxed and the feel of real Mexico became more evident. Hollywood dreams hadn't infected these citizens yet and they weren't trying to cross the Rio Grande at night. The locals tended their crops or traded in the small towns and villages. Country life was like anywhere else in the world and I felt at home once again.
I only had time for a whistle-stop tour of Mexico but I'll return again some day. Looping back again towards the good ole USA I ran the gauntlet of traders approaching the Eagle Pass border post. Driving an American car with a Union Jack on the bumper, talking with a British accent and holding a British passport was guaranteed to raise suspicion. After informing the border guard that I'd only spent one night in Mexico and having no exit stamp in my passport, (the exit post was unmanned), ensured that I was to be given special treatment. For nearly an hour the diligent border guards searched every nook and cranny of my car. Luckily they didn't want to do the same for my body.
Eventually, accepting that I wasn't an international drug trafficker or secret agent 008, I was released and allowed entry back into the United States. My brief glimpse of Mexican life had been an eye opener to say the least but I'll reserve judgement until I've seen the heart of the country rather than the border area with America.

United Kingdom (Closing The Circle)
Finally the circle was closed after landing at London's Heathrow Airport, riding the Underground to Liverpool St station and traking a train back to my home town of Harwich in Essex. A long weekend trip to Amsterdam has taken over two years to return from.

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