31/03/2018

Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward is ‘nomadonanomad’.

Well, I will be soon.

‘Hello World’ indeed. That title has been given to my first blog post by WordPress, the company I have been told by many to be the easiest to use for establishing and building a website. And here I am. We will see if those recommendations  were accurate soon. For a tech ignoramus like me I have been very dubious about these claims, and have tiptoed into the dark world of ‘geek land’ with massive trepidation. But I will keep the ‘Hello World’ title because I intend to say “Hello World” to as much of it as possible.

My relationship with computers has always be a turbulent one and if I was worth lots of money I would surely have smashed a number of them by now. My financial position, i.e. not loaded, prevents me from trashing laptop after laptop. Instead, when they refuse to work properly,  I have to go for a walk, breathing deeply! The setting up of this website involved a number of ‘walks’, and lots of emails and live chat with the folks at customer support.

I think I’m a reasonably intelligent and articulate guy but I have no understanding of what I call ‘geek speak’ and I wish these geeks would learn to speak English and stop using acronyms all the time. Normal people don’t understand you! I am persevering though and I’m sure I will ‘get it’ eventually.

Anyway, here I am, up and running at long last and the blog can begin. I am sure my issues with computers and technology will feature at times in the future. Please enjoy.

So. Retirement beckons. Always been scared of the ‘R’ word. I’m not one to be able to sit and do nothing and I’ve seen many people, after a tough working  life, retire and die very soon after. Either that or they become old and grumpy before their time. Not keen on either prospect! However after years of wondering what on Earth I was going to do in retirement I have come up with a plan. Maybe it’s a cunning plan of Baldrickesque ineptitude? Who knows?I don’t have the answer to that one as I haven’t started out yet.

So what does this plan entail? A bicycle tour to as many countries that will have me until I fall off the perch. That’s ‘bicycle’, not ‘motorbike’, and the engine will be my legs, heart, lungs and as much determination as I can muster. I’m very much a novice cyclist, getting hold of my first bike since I was a teenager about 7 years ago at the age of………………let’s not go there shall we?   I’m not a kid anymore, ok?

I’ve never ridden a bike with panniers on either, and they are necessary to handle all the kit I need for this epic adventure/disaster. Tent, sleeping bag and mat, stove, cookware, cameras, laptop (if we are still friends) food and water. Not to mention all the other paraphernalia needed to survive in the places I hope to get to. Whoops, nearly forgot to mention clothes!

“Which places are these Wardy”? Well, if we don’t count Antarctica because it’s way too cold, I’ve set foot on every Continent on the planet with the exception of South America, so that’s where I’m heading. But not immediately.

After a lot of research regarding touring bicycles I have ordered a Thorn Nomad Mk2 in full expedition specification. (It’s tough and should outlast me) Hence the ‘nomadonanomad’ name for this site and the Youtube channel that will air as soon as I have enough film and, more importantly, editing skills to produce something watchable. Film and editing, I suspect, will be another branch of technology that will push me to the limits of my patience. We will see.

The bicycle is built in Bridgewater, Somerset in the Southwest of England by SJS Cycles and I will be collecting it sometime around the end of June/early July. After that I head to the US to complete the equipment list. I’m going there purely for reasons of finance as, for example, if something is 1,000 pounds in England, it’s 1,000 US dollars in the states and with exchange rates currently at $1.35 to the pound it’s no brainer if ever there was one!

Flight to Seattle, before heading to Portland where I shall buy my gear as Oregon is a tax free shopping state. Then I will have just under 3 months to cycle to the Mexican border before my US visa expires, and by this time I hope to have knocked my Spanish into shape. 2 years ago I registered with ‘Duolingo’ and after 6 weeks of 4/5 hours a day the site told me I was 48% fluent! Then they threw the past tense at me. What a nightmare! This came about just as I was setting off to do a TEFL Plus (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course, which could be a safety net in case I need to “unretire”, work, and top up the bank account. Spanish was put on hold.

All that’s happening later this year, but where am I now? I’m in Laos, and have been for 11 years. Yes, Laos. It’s in South East Asia, (not Nigeria, that’s Lagos) and it’s official name is The Lao People’s Democratic Republic. That gets shortened to Lao PDR and that becomes, ‘Laos, please do relax’ (apt) or ‘Lao people don’t rush’, (very true) or even cynically, ‘Laos, per diem required’!

As far as I’m concerned the ‘s’ in Laos is silent. ‘Louse’, as some pronounce it, is the singular of ‘lice’ which is not particularly appealing. Laos was a French colony and the name was given to the country by the French. ‘Gateau’ is French for cake and when it’s pluralised it becomes ‘gateaux’, but the ‘x’ is silent. It is not pronounced ‘gatooks’. N’est pas? However, I have just had a trip to Phonsavanh in the province of Xieng Khouang in the north-east, and the folks there all pronounce the ‘s’ as opposed to the silent version in Vientiane. That has just left me confused. Regional accents maybe? Who am I to say? It’s their country. Before Laos, the country was known as Lane Xang, literal translation, ‘The Kingdom of a Million Elephants’. Some even say ‘The Kingdom of a Million Elephants and the White Parasol’, although I forget where I heard that.

And this is where I started cycling. Vientiane, the capital city, is mostly as flat as the proverbial pancake and parking a car became, very quickly, a nightmare as the road infrastructure couldn’t keep pace with car sales. It just so happened I was offered an old bicycle and decided it would be good for my fitness, parking would no longer be a problem and, pure joy, it was free!

I very quickly fell in love with cycling, whizzing around town, racing anything I could race (I am competitive) and soon decided to upgrade to a new bicycle. Despite all this I still had no idea of the different types of bike available. I was very much of the ‘if it’s got two wheels, a saddle and handlebars it’s ok’. So I visited the local bike shop, told the owner my budget and he lined up 4 of them. I picked the blue one! Well they all looked the same or similar and I like blue so decision made. I still say, it’s 420 of the best dollars I’ve ever spent  given the amount of use, not to say fun, I’ve had out of that bike. By the way, it’s a ‘Specialized Hardrock’ for those of you who know your bikes. Picture at the top of page because I haven’t yet learned to insert here! Walk time……………….

Laos, for the most part is a great part of the world. Yes, there are frustrations as there are anywhere. ‘Laos time’ is the first thing a newbie tends to encounter. I very quickly learned that when meeting Lao friends, a bar with Wi-Fi is the best place. I am one of those irritatingly punctual people for whom 10 minutes early is ‘on time’, and consequently I would always have a long wait for my friends to show up. Beer Lao and the internet tend to make the wait easier. Foreigners are called ‘falang’ in Laos, and when told a time to meet I would always ask, ‘is that Lao time or falang time’? The answer was always, ‘Lao time of course’, accompanied by lots of laughter. Then they would be late!

When I first arrived and decided to stay I thought that my biggest problem would be the heat, or more pertinently my inability to deal with it. I spent the first 2 years hurrying from one air con to the next, sweating buckets. It’s amazing what the human body can adapt to and I am now a complete wimp when the temperature drops below 25 degrees Celsius (77F for you guys across the pond) and I start reaching for extra layers. I can only hope that if I follow the sun and take my time the readjustment will happen eventually?

So I will miss Laos, there are many, many more good things than bad but my situation was that my work was never going to be plentiful enough keep me fully occupied and I need something more to do to keep myself occupied. I started to become very bored. But Laos got me into cycling for which I will be eternally grateful, and I have no problems cycling in temperatures way over 30C (86F) even when the heat index says it ‘feels like’ 44/45C as it often does!

A great friend of mine, a guy called Mark, is running a charitable foundation called ‘Lone Buffalo’ in the aforementioned Xieng Khouang province. (10 hours in a bus but only 30 minutes in a plane!) Lone Buffalo is a school teaching, mainly English, but also film making, art, sport and it’s free for the youngsters who manage to get a place. (It’s small but growing. Induction week is a scrum!) I have seen, at first hand, the massive effort Mark puts in, and has done for 7 years now. So, while I am having an absolute breeze whizzing round the world (mindless optimism is great isn’t it?) I hope to raise awareness, and hopefully some money for what Mark is doing. I know for a fact he works tirelessly on the project in between earning a living as a tour guide. The word dedication easily springs to mind. I will do a more complete post on the project, (inc. links to their website) in the near future.

Back to the Mexican border. With my now, passable or better Latin American Spanish, (different to the Spanish in Spain, no lisping) I hope to work my way, eventually and probably in a couple of years, to Ushuaia which is the most southerly city in the world down on Tierra del Fuego, the ‘Island of Fire’. I had intended to follow, roughly, the Pacific coast (navigation note, keep the big blue wobbly thing to your right, thank you Baldrick) south, to get to Ushuaia, then head north following, again roughly, the Atlantic coast in the direction of Buenos Aries, the Argentine capital, Montevideo in Uruguay before venturing into Brazil and Paraguay. Only recently I realised that had to change all this as in the latter part of 2019 it is the Rugby World Cup, which for me is compulsive viewing and the route now is much more abstract. More of that later.

After the Americas I’m not sure if there’s a plan yet, but I do want to see a lot more of home, the UK, then Ireland, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. There is now a whole network of cycle routes, Eurovelos, criss crossing Europe and all are appealing for different reasons. After Eastern Europe I am keen to see Turkey, Georgia and Iran as all 3 have been highly recommended to me. Then the Central Asian Republics or “Stans” and it may be that I keep going East and end up visiting Laos and the rest of SE Asia again, who knows?

I have been to Australia before but never New Zealand and would love to visit, but I have 2 reservations. One is the expense, neither are anything other than very pricey and I am going to be on a tight budget, and secondly, both have mandatory, and vigorously enforced, cycle helmet laws. I am not a fan! Now kids should always wear a helmet, and anyone racing or off roading as well, but for an old guy on a heavy bike with a ton of luggage it’s so unnecessary! At the speed I will be going, if I were to collide, head-on, with a rabbit, the rabbit would probably think it had a flea in it’s ear! I am in the process of making a video of my take on the stupidity (my opinion) of mandatory cycle hemet laws for adults and folks not racing. Let us decide!

Now Spain is a bit different. They do have a compulsory cycle helmet law, but it’s hardly ever enforced (apparently) and they have a couple of unique exceptions. Firstly you can take your helmet off when riding uphill, (get hold of a dodgy spirit level would be my answer to that) or secondly, when it’s hot. That’s exactly what it says! Now, if I were stopped by Spanish ‘plod’, British English for police, I would argue that I had Eskimo ancestry, and even if it got down to 10 degrees C (50F) I would still be absolutely roasting! I’m wondering how this would come across in my Latin American/Gringo accent acquired in South America. Will I get away with it? Watch this space!

So, that’s it for the first blog post on ‘nomadonanomad’, I hope it won’t be the last and in time, when I learn how to, I will add relevant photos etc. Can’t wait to post the photo of the Thorn Nomad Mk2 with all the ‘accoutrements’ I will be adding to it. I promise it will look very different!. Watch this space!

If you are still reading, many thanks, your fortitude and stamina are admirable, and in the words of the late, great Dave Allen, Irish comedian, and one of my favourites, ‘may your God go with you’.

Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward.

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