…by not Cycling there.
On 21st July 2011, after months and years of gradual preparation, my buddy Doz and I set out in Berlin on our bicycles with the destination West Papua, Indonesia, in mind.
The first step in trying to preserve a global treasure is bringing awareness to its being threatened. Papua is one of the last untouched areas of our planet – however critically endangered. The winter before I left on this cycling trip I was in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of the island Borneo, where I produced “Cari Hutan - In Search of Forest”, an informative documentary and entertaining roadmovie about deforestation in Indonesia.Watch it and you’ll know most about my intentions behind cycling to Papua. I was shocked to see how so much of the forest on this island that used to be one of the most bio-diverse places on our planet has been destroyed.
On the other hand, I was also happy to see that the work of the countless NGO’s on Kalimantan has borne fruit. The huge amount of international attention on Sumatra and Borneo has lead to a point where companies and governments are at least pretending to seek a solution. The wide-spread opinion among environmentalists however: Too late. So this time, let’s bring the public international eye to Papua BEFORE the Palm Oil, Pulp&Paper and Mining industries do.
What better way is there to bring awareness and the international public eye, embodied by our cameras, to this Island (Papua) than by CYCLING there!? Hence, we intended to prove that, if this place is reachable by bicycle, this destruction is not happening far from your home at all! It is happening on this very planet. The one that we all share and that is worth taking care of and action for!
There is still a global demand for palm oil products (cosmetics, food, biofuels), timber and gold. While the deforestation on Borneo and Sumatra might eventually come to a slow down, as long as this demand continues to grow as it currently does, the destruction will move or even diversify to Papua. I want to inspire people, as each and everyone of us is a consumer on this planet, to have a thought about what this very demand does to our planet, where it comes from, realize that you are an essential part of that loop and start re-evaluating our role, actions and impacts as citizens of this world.
So, personally my goals in mind had been:
- Cycling to Papua, taking a big dump on some Palm Oil plantations or, if the rather unlikely opportunity is provided, on the Freeport Gold Mine.
- Inspiring you to take action and showing that doing so can be incredibly fun!
- Making you think: “If these hobos make it from Berlin to Papua by bike, I’ll make it from home to work at least…”
Closed borders, snowy mountains, no ships and a whole bunch of Plan B’s
Both of us made it to India. In New Delhi the two of us split. Doz had decided he’s had enough and flew home in February. I intended to pursue my route eastwards towards Papua, however I soon had to realize that it would be much more difficult than we had thought. There is no way of entering Burma, the only country that connects India and South East Asia, by land as a western Passport holder. The land border is closed, you have to fly in.
As I looked at the other countries bordering India, I realized that India in general is a trap for non-flyers. Pakistan only gives you Visas in your country of residence (i.e. Germany), all of Chinese territory bordering India is Tibet, which you need special (and costly) permits for, and simply the Himalayas in the North, ice-packed during winter, gave no way out. So no way out in the West, North and East. The only other option would be crossing the Indian Ocean.
I searched for sailing ships in the marinas of Soth India, for cargo ships in the ports of Mumbai and even applied for jobs on cruise ships as a dish washer all across the Indian subcontinent. Most of the captains of the sailing ships were nearly as frustrated as me, as they couldn’t set out to blue water, due to the increasing threat of pirates in the Indian Ocean around the Gulf of Aden. The Gulf of Aden is the eye of the needle for any sailor going from Asia to Europe or vice versa. That meant no more sailors from the Meditarenean Sea coming to Asia via India and no more ships coming from South East Asia passing by India to Europe. In other words, most marinas in India were either deserted or had ships docking for several years, waiting for the situation to change. While I was in Cochin an Italian oil tanker shot and sank an Indian fishing boat just 14 km off the Indian coast, suspecting it to be a pirate vessel. That’s how tense the situation was. One of the captains in the Cochin marina was about to get his sailing ship parceled in a container and shipped back to Australia on a freighter.
Many told me to go to Sri Lanka. If there are ships coming from South Africa or the Maldives, they will, if at all, pass through Gaulle, a port on the southern tip of Sri Lanka. Getting there, with the bicycle especially, bore yet another challenge for a non-flyer. Even India and Sri Lanka, separated by a mere few kilometres of sea, do not have a ferry line connecting them anymore.
Instead of staying one month in India, as planned, I stayed six. In March my quest for ships still remained unfruitful. By then the Himalayas had defrosted. I realized that for me the only way out of the Indian Subcontinent is the “Friendship Highway” from Kathmandu, Nepal, to Lhasa, Tibet. That would also mean, however, abandoning the bicycle. In Tibet, as a foreigner, you are only allowed to travel in guided groups. Entering Tibet on a ‘budget’ tour on a big group bus is expensive enough. Taking the bicycle with me would have either meant having to pay some licensed chinese guy to cycle all the way along with me or hire some private vehicle that can transport the bicycle. Plus I had wanted to be back in Berlin by May/June – we only got the Tibet permits in mid April, so cycling the entire distance would have been merely impossible. I had to accept that I would not make it to Papua within this year of traveling. That the bike-trip is over. I decided to take on the complicated Tibet-permit-hastle with the Chinese travel agencies and backpack back home.
I changed my mission to “Saving Papua by not cycling there”. Giving up completely and simply flying home would help Papua least. Papua is everywhere. The challenges don’t necessarily lie in Papua – but rather in the other direction even, in the West. I decided to try to bring as many backpackers from the Indian Subcontinent – seemingly unescapable without airplanes – back home to Europe by Land. Thus the “Eurasian Eco-Traveling Marathon” was born.
Watch the Films:
So far only the films of our bicycle journey from Berlin to New Delhi are finished. The footage of the rest of the year – cycling from New Delhi to Kathmandu, Bus and train through Tibet to Shanghai and Hong Kong, hitchhiking from Hong Kong through China, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Eastern Europe – is still in post-production. “Saving Papua by Not Cycling There – There Is Always a Plan Z” will be finished, knock on wood, around 2o13.
We are by far not the only people cycling this beautiful planet. Check out some of our traveling acquaintances: