Travel is a paradox, it both broadens the mind and narrows the perspective. While its wonderful to be swanning about the world on a bicycle at my leisure, I realise just how privileged I am to be in a position where such an activity is even remotely possible. I haven’t read a newspaper, watched television or listened to the radio in a long time more by choice than design. Instead, I have been busy creating my own self focussed world of the cycle tourist. The news feeds on Facebook provide me with a glimpse of the other world I left behind.
I was in San Francisco and not aware when citizens rioted in Oakland just across the bay after the death of the young African/American man named Freddie Gray under dubious circumstances when in police custody.
Whilst gallivanting around Germany, I wasn’t switched on to the massive protests against austerity and clashes with police at the G7 conference in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
It was while online that I became aware of the extraordinary measures refugees in the French Port of Calais were going to; hijacking trucks, in a desperate effort to get to the UK.
Like most tourists, I remain blissfully unaware of the real dynamics operating in the countries I travel through. Instead, making sweeping statements and generalisations that mostly conform to a predictable cultural stereotype. The reality of life for many in Europe isn’t easy. I’m reminded of the young Italian women waitress who confided to Therese, darkly, that while she and many others came to Germany for work, they weren’t respected or treated well. There was an odious suggestion of sexual exploitation.
The Roma, refugees and the others at the margins are denied citizenship , benefits or opportunities and pushed to the fringes of society in fear of police and those in authority.
As we travel on bicycles we see things: A Roma camp on the outskirts of a town, a group of African men climbing out of the back of a courier van in a small country town on a Sunday afternoon laughing and shaking the drivers hand and we see people living rough. In Campgrounds you come across the itinerant, as well as travellers. Sometimes the only thing people have of any value is their story, which has been polished and refined by the telling over time and presented almost like an elevator pitch in the hope of being believed or understood
We travel unhindered, free to come and go on a whim
It’s good for me to be in a country where I struggle to speak the language or understand the culture, as it offers me an opportunity to have my assumptions challenged.