Update III (December 2016): Paddling the Amazon
Year later, I still did not reach Rio, because of my accident in the Caribbean Sea and so the plan still stands, now maybe even more ambitious than before! Paddling the Amazon!
Update II (February 2016): The Big Amazon Adventure
Update (August 2015): What’s next?
So I did made it in the end: In April, I crossed chinese border in Irkeshtam Pass and in June I arrived to the very end of East. For two months, I worked in Hefei, the capital of Anhui province and during that time it was becoming clear, that the money I earned will not be spent on the flight back. There still were some questions that needed to be answered and time had not come for me to settle down just yet, so when I had to leave China in the middle of August, I flew to Alaska to search for the spell of wilderness. During the fall 2015 I followed the West Coast down to San Francisco and in the winter, I should arrive in Cancun, Mexico. But as everybody could notice also during the preceding journey, the place where I’ll actually end up could be anything from Europe to Rio de Janiero. Stay tuned!
My name is Matěj Balga and at the end of the second month of my journey, in colorful, unpredictable November, I will be twenty-four. I was born in Hodonín, a sad shabby town in the lower corner of South Moravia which, by its grimy provincialism, is aspiring to become a template of south-moravian backwoods, although a few years ago it was regarded as an industrial center of the region.
At the end of my high school studies, after my mother’s death, I was experiencing a challenging period of life, and I was therefore (like now) looking for new meaning of life. I got to traveling as a way to a deeper understanding of the world and myself, and year after year from that, I would pack my bag every summer and live on the road:
In August 2009 I hitch-hiked for a month on the roads of Austria, Italy, San Marino, Switzerland and France for just 20 dollars.
Post-graduation summer of 2010 saw me furiously speeding eastward to the foot of the Caucasus ridge and back, freer than ever before, as I discovered the beauty of traveling by bicycle.
In addition to the endless wealth of experiences, the travels also provide my restless soul a much needed solitude and seclusion in which I find answers to the pressing questions of being. In the summer of 2010, while waiting for the boat to Odessa on the shores of the Black Sea in the picturesque Adjaria, I realized that in addition to water, food and a place to crash for a night, one can not live without love. I wrote in my diary that
…I wanna find a nice, modest girl, who will warm up the other half of my sleeping mat…
And in the spring of 2011, I really found her. Although none of our journeys was not (yet) as ambitious as the one to Georgia, hitchhiking together to Croatia, Norway, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey and finally our great tandem expedition were exactly what I had hoped for on that sea shore.
In February 2014, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which completely paralyzed me for some time. Although my Miss Catherine has tried in every way to help, as have many men before me, I preferred pulling into the dark space of my self-pity and slowly resigned.
During the nine-day starvation that I underwent in the beginning of summer, I had concentrated enough mental strength to decide to be healthy again. Yes, I decided. Everything is just a word and a thought.
I will begin my journey in Hodonín and alongside the river Morava, I will continue to Bratislava. Through Hungary and Slovenia, I will cross to Italy where the christian part of the journey will be finished.
For November and December I plan to stay in Sicily, doing some seasonal work before I cross to Durres in Albania. Staying overnight at Mt. Olympus, I will begin a mythological leg through Dardanelles, Troy, Pergamon and Ephesus into the hearth of Turkey as I plan to get my Uzbek visa in Ankara. Through rocks of Cappadocia I will reach the mythical Kolchida in Adjaria, where I will get my Iran visa.
Riding at the foot of Mt. Ararat in Armenia I will slip to Persia. South edge of the Elborz mountain range will guide me through Tehran and Mashad where I will get the remaining visa: Chinese and Turkmen.
Sometime in March I should be crossing the lowlands of Kara-kum desert, rescued then by Uzbek oasis of Bukhara and Samarkand. More to the East, the road will start to climb towards the Irkeshtam pass, the gateway to China. On the other side of the border, in Kashgar I will leave the Silk Road and try to get to Lhasa, where I will leave the muslim world and start to study Buddhism.
Through Great Panda Natural Reserve in Sechuan province, near Chengdu I will continue towards the end of the ancient Silk Road in Xi’an. Before Beijing I will make my final turn to holy taoist mountain Tai Shan, which will signalize the end of my tao (journey). Or at least this is as far as my plans go.
On a bike.
It is undeniably the best way of transport – it is fast enough to get one somewhere, and slow enough to savor everything surrounding landscape offers. Unlike traveling in various motorized metal boxes you are not depleted of direct contact with people and crossing borders with a bike is also much less stressful.
I would like to fit into hundred-dollars-per-month-budget. Particularly in Asia, this should not be a problem. After all, I have about a thousand dollars for the whole year, of which I must pay for food and visas, so there is no other way to do it.
I do not want to be a trained monkey that travels the world marked with someone else’s brands and signs. I believe that the ideals and ideas which I have set out with are too noble to be defiled by the world of commerce and degraded to just another tool of propagation.
Let me paraphrase Hamlet and say that my universe, out of all its joints just went crazy. But probably not even in the bad sense – rather just that there is something enormous in front of me and I crawl out of the Platonic cave, blinking into the blinding light, and although I see nothing, I know it will be huge.
My year’s blundering over the rocks dropped me into the rapids after all, and took away all certainty that I carried on my back and spitted me out somewhat lightened (but alive!) on the other side of my Rubicon, shivering in cold, but determined to set out to meet new horizons.
Without any more signs or metaphors, what it means in my case is that behind me, on a wall which will call me master for just a few more days, there hangs a giant map with a ton of notes, the shelves are empty already, except for one, cambered under the weight of books about distant lands and there’s a sleeping bag on my lonely bed which misses the blankets already.
Miss Catherine was the last thing that kept my poor restless soul oscillating between two opposite poles of my being, but she’s gone now and that wild part of me have catapulted my head back on the road with a chattering sound of a bow whose string had been drawn back for years. That’s why I postponed my studies, cancelled my phone plan, checked out from social and health insurance system and all the clothes that I won’t need or I didn’t wear them in last two months, I’ve donated to goodwill. I’ve deleted myself from the system!
So I’ve bought myself a new bike (a used one, of course) and I’m going to search for romance and love and fore-mostly for myself on the Silk Road. It’s not really a trip to China, it’s not at all about seeing the sights, it is a philosophical journey to the core of my soul, a hermit’s holy pilgrimage, at the end of which there will be a man I’ve always wanted to be. And despite everything that has preceded it, it’s a journey I’ve always dreamed of.