I want to take this opportunity to thank those ladies and gentlemen, who spend their days thinking up our wonderful German tax laws (real high class workmanship!). Because without their dedicated, passionate work it probably never would have occurred to me to take the risk of ruining my bum on tours like this.
For several years I had been working for a tax consulting company. Originally I wanted to become a tax consultant myself, but year after year those tax laws became ever more insane and raised some serious doubts in me: "Do you REALLY want to brood over such paragraphs and regulations for the rest of your life?" It came in quite handy that I had some other dreams anyway at that time.
Many times I had spent my holidays cycle touring and camping. Being only a little boy I already devoured stories and films about voyages of discovery, later came the books and slide shows about long distance cycle tours, canoeing and living in a far-off cabin in the Canadian wilderness. And slowly that fascination had turned into an immense desire to do something like that myself.
But I had to overcome my own objections first. "Can you fund this?" "What are you going to do after coming back?" "Will you ever find a decent job again?" And so on, and so on. For some weeks I was struggling with myself, but in the end I just took the plunge: "Now or never – I don't care what comes afterwards. Otherwise I will get stuck where I am forever."
Half a year and lots of preparations later I set off in summer 1998. I had planned for a 9 months sabbatical and wanted to cycle from Siberia to Africa. But somewhere midways, I decided to turn left instead of right, ended up in New Zealand instead of Ethiopia and spent 1 ½ years on the road. And this was the time of my life!
I had that overwhelming feeling of boundless freedom: Free from the restraints and routines of every day life. I could listen to my inner clock, be totally spontaneous ("Do I want to go eastwards or westwards today – or do I stay another day?"), I could let myself drift if I wanted to and I was open for accidental occurrences to determine how I would continue my trip. I didn't know in the morning where I would be in the evening, each day I was looking forward to the things that I would experience. I was curious about all these foreign countries, their people, cultures, landscapes and only had to follow my nose to discover them.
And the bicycle is - at least to me - the ideal means of transport for that: independent of buses, trains and plains, using my own power I can get almost anywhere (there have even been sightings of cyclists at Mt. Everest and in the icy interior of Greenland...), I can travel at my own pace, stop when and where I want to, turn left or right and sooner or later I will end up in places where no tourist seems to have strayed before. Neither metal nor window pane separates me from the people, nature, wind and weather.
I am looking forward to living that simple vagabond life again, to being content with as little as a bike, a tent and what a few panniers can carry, to enjoying nature's beauty, as well as having to cope with bone shaking washboard tracks, insane metropolitan rush hour traffic and those seemingly endless hill-climbs that exhaust body and mind likewise. I will cherish these brief encounters with strangers at the roadside, a warming cup of tea on an icy day, the happiness of having "conquered" a high pass and enjoying the terrific view from there, being totally exhausted but content in the evening and happy to crawl into my sleeping bag. And - I am looking forward to seeing, experiencing and understanding things that I can not even imagine right now.
And Africa? ... has always been that dark, unknown, uncanny continent to me. But the more I read and heard about it, the more colourful and interesting it became. Of course I received all these warnings about diseases, venomous snakes and bandits - but mostly from people who have never been there themselves... ;-)
Richard Dowden once wrote in The Independant: "Most people who have a "passion for Africa" find it by living there, working with Africans, learning to dance and laugh and travel through its vast landscapes. It's an addiction, inexplicable to those who have never been there, ineradicable for those that have." As I am not an addict yet, I'm really curious...
I am very, very thankful for the fact that I can travel again in such a way. Unfortunately, not everybody can make his dream come true. Some do not have the opportunity, some lack the courage. But maybe some of our readers feel incited - and dare... Be it cycling the world, restoring an old farm to live a self supported life, opening a nice little guesthouse in southern France or whatever. Anyway, I would be happy if our website had such an effect :-)