Thursday, October 23, 2014

Sudan very deep in my heart


If you got here after having read all the stories about Sudan, it will not come as a surprise to read how I feel about this country and specifically about its people. Many of you who are up to date with the news might find it confusing though, after all pretty much the only things you hear about Sudan are bad at best. The Media in general, and especially that one from United States, don't hesitate to include Sudan within a big sack of murdering Muslim terrorists, to feed a campaign of hatred and fear in order to eventually help achieve the agenda of a few. Its conflicts are almost exclusively the only news that are spread, like the recent prosecution and condemnation of a Christian woman for having left Islam, or in the past the Darfur crisis. No, Sudan is definitely not perfect, it has it quota of problems and a long way ahead to correct them, as it happens with every country in the world.

From the capital of sand to the border

  A month in the capital of sand

From an aesthetics point of view, sincerely speaking, Khartoum is not the most attractive city in the world. In terms of architecture it is a city built half-way, in fact there is no single building that seems to be fully finished. The skyline reveals a mass of buildings with brick walls without finishes, unfinished concrete structures, walls without paint and rundown public buildings among hundreds of sharp minarets from the many mosques in town. The exceptions are, like it happens in many countries that are run by tyrants stuck in power, the monumental buildings of the military, the police, the government houses, embassy and a hotel here and there. In urban planning terms, the city is also definitely incomplete. Beyond the main paved arteries, it is all streets of sand and sidewalks are absent even right downtown.

Monday, September 22, 2014

For a few crumbs of gold

 Much more than the idyllic images of silhouettes of camel caravans walking at a slow pace along the undulating golden dunes at sunset, the Sahara is for many, the place to come to earn a living. In this vast ocean of sand, the abrasive heat, the harshness of the wind and the cruelty of the sun make it unthinkable that a place to work can be possibly found here. However, since the dawn of time, the Sahara has provided humanity with the metal it yearns for the most: gold. That golden glow that, from ancient Egypt to the China of the 21st century has blinded the world, leading millions of people to move in search of it wherever it may be found.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Sudanese

I perceived it from the very beginning in Wadi Halfa, while walking along its streets of sand in that very hot Saharan night. I looked around me and the hundreds of merchants that filled the whole place with life, coming and going in their immaculate gallabiyas, and they all seemed like brothers to me, acquaintances at least. Such a pleasant atmosphere, so familiar if you will, was hard to believe for a bordering town. It was only the beginning of two months of living every day with what probably is, (together with Tibetans of course!) the most wonderful people I have ever met.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sweating Sudan

We are on the queue to buy the tickets for the boat to Wadi Halfa, it's 46 C in the shade. While we wait, two nice Egyptian tour agents get on the queue behind us and exclaim effusively the usual: “Welcome to Alaska!” to engage in a conversation with us. The ask they usual things about the trip, the bicycle, the distances and I mention to him that during the last days before Aswan the heat began to be an issue. One of them bursts out in laughter and very tenderly asks me: “Do you really think that today is hot?....wait until you reach Sudan, there it will be hot, this is nothing” - and he takes a handkerchief to wipe the sweat off his forehead while I can feel my stomach shrinking.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A little bit of fame

A few months ago I was interviewed by Outdoor Exploration 户外探险 magazine, one of the biggest adventure magazines in China. The interview was finally published in their last edition and it deals with the first stage of this trip along 10 countries and 17.000 km across Asia. It also inquires about the reasons that lead me to choose the bicycle as means of transport to travel documenting the world. All photos have been taken by me. What it truly came as a surprise is that we would be in the front page and the interview would be the central article around which the whole edition revolves. A great and happy surprise! I am aware that maybe very few or none of the ones who visit this blog speak Chinese, but here are all the pages of the article. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Welcome to alaska??

Only when you reach the Nile after having spent weeks in the desert is when you are finally able to understand its historic and present day relevance. It is very easy to see that without it, the Egyptian civilization would've probably never had the opportunity to exist (at least not in such grandeur) and Egypt itself wouldn't be what it is today either. The Nile is responsible for the existence of a long strip of fertility right in the middle of the desert, that extends for thousands of kilometers and around which most of life in Egypt revolves. It is by no coincidence then that most of the population of the country settle within a reasonable distance to its shores. As a result of it, this is where we encountered the traffic and the noise again but also the life that it is only possible thanks to it.

Friday, July 11, 2014


After the epic journey across Mongolia from last year, my memories of the magnificent Gobi desert remained very present inside me. There, we spent days that were as hard as unforgettable. I left with images, sounds (or complete lack there of) and sensations that were recorded in my mind forever. Sublime moments that make the mere experience transcend and stick it into one's body. The kind of moments that I live for. It is for this reason that during the days we spent in Cairo I was filled with so much enthusiasm for the upcoming ride across the most famous of all deserts, the Sahara. Enthusiasm and nervousness, not only because the very idea of cycling across it intimidates, but also for being the way of immersion into this whole new continent, completely unknown to me until now. Far from scaring me though, this is the elixir that feeds my spirit, and perhaps very few things I enjoy as much as feeling that itching inside the guts that the uncertainty for the unknown generates. 

The door to Africa

Between traveling, working and living, I have spent little over 8 years of my life in Asia. Exploring and discovering this continent had always been my life's dream for as long as I can remember. After several years of living there and feeling it already like “my place” in the world, I can't still help but feeling a strong curiosity as to how I ended up being born in the exact opposite corner of the planet in such a different culture when at the same time I feel so strangely connected to another one. I guess they are the existential games of karma playing on us. The fact is that when you feel like fish swimming in the water, it ain't so easy to just jump to another pond. However, my thirst for adventure is insatiable and it is already telling me that it is time to give Africa the long journey it deserves, for it is the only continent where I have never ever been before. It is for this very reason that I finally decided to cut the umbilical cord and once and for all take the leap out of Asia. For months in advance I have been evaluating different alternatives to reach the continent exclusively by bicycle but the social situation in three key countries, Pakistan, Syria and Yemen has deteriorated so much that it is virtually impossible to reach the north of the continent without flying. Therefore, we had no other choice than flying and from Delhi we went straight to Cairo. 

My position on tourism

This is a separate post and it is not related to this trip. It has been inspired by a comment made by one reader and it seeks to explain my position on tourism, since I am fully aware that many of the comments I write ranting about it might be misunderstood and taken the wrong way.

 There are several ways of traveling around the world. From the the most ephemeral, like a quick journey somewhere to visit only major tourist attractions, to the longest and most profound that leads to a high degree of penetration in a different culture. While they are all valid ways of traveling there is only one that is the best one, and that is the one that fits one's personal goals. Not everybody has to enjoy visiting the Statue of Liberty or spending days walking around the Louvre. Likewise, not everybody has to be willing to jump on a fully loaded bicycle and set off to ride across a desert or walk the world at 20 km a day. However, regardless of the way we choose to travel, I believe that we all have an important responsibility at the time of visiting a foreign country. Just like when we go for a visit to someone else's house and we generally adapt to its codes even putting them above our own, when we visit a foreign culture we should do something similar.

Touring India with family

It is time for visits once again and this time we have received my mom. As I already mentioned before with the visit of my dad, our parents are to a great degree responsible of who we are, and my mom is as responsible as my dad for the adventurer that I have inside and for having given me the wings that lead me to believe that there are no limits at the time of letting yourself take the leap and fly. Needless to say, she didn't doubt for a second when I asked her to come and visit us in India. So for two weeks we left our bicycles with our lovely Indian family to temporarily travel again using public transport. For me, it meant visiting for the second time some of the places that I had already been to back in 2001, with the caveat that this time having much more experience and a much richer perspective, especially as a photographer, I have been able to experience this trip in a different way. On the other hand, it meant having fun walking my mom through the huge cultural shock that involves every first visit to India, and making her travel on my low budget, teaching her how to eat with her hands Indian-style in the popular eateries and have her travel in the famous 2nd Class Sleeper of Indian trains. Some might tell me: “How can you do all that to your own mother???” to which I proudly reply: “well, it just that my mom is like a 4x4, she can do anything”.

This is going to be more of a visual walk with updated personnal comments and appreciations, since there is not much more that haven't written before about the following places of India. (sorry my fellow English readers, as all of what I have written before is only in Spanish) 

The old side of Delhi

 Old Delhi is for me, one of the most fascinating places in the world. I could spend days, weeks or even months wandering aimlessly, getting lost in its alleys and never ever get tired of it. The vast array of images, smells and textures is virtually infinite. It triggers an immense combinations of emotions that stimulate the senses.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The weddings

 There is nothing more special than being able to experience a country from within, living with its people, following their traditions, living the everyday life. It was in this, my third time in India, even more than in any of my two previous trips, that I have been able to experience India from the intimacy of an Indian home. Destiny had it that we were lucky to cross our paths with Manish, who together with his whole family and friends pretty much adopted us and made us part of their family during the month that we spent together with them. 

And here goes the third.......

 It's the third time in my life that arrive in India and the second by bicycle. 13 years ago, I was arriving for the first time and at 22 years old, I was barely a kid carrying a backpack with little experience in comparison to the present. I already knew back then, during the first few days and after having gone through the first big shock that one experiences in a first visit to India, that I would come back over and over in the course of my life. Today, 13 years later, I still have the same feeling I got in that first trip, that of carrying India very deep inside me. As years pass by and I get older, I feel that India keeps growing inside me and with me with every trip. India is a planet in itself and it is quite true the fact that either you love it or you hate, because no matter where you are in India, you may like it or not, but one thing is sure, you can't be indifferent to it. I certainly love it with devotion, it's like a magnet that doesn't allow me to detach from it. Now, that in this third opportunity we've had the enormous fortune of experiencing India from the inside, through a local family that has pretty much adopted us during our stay, and later with the visit of my own mother, to whom I haven't hesitated in showing her the corners of the country where few tourists make it, I have nothing but confirmed once again that very same original feeling from the first trip: I will never stop coming back to India.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Rural life and hard work

Leaving the Himalayas for the lowlands of the Terai was the beginning of the immersion in the Nepalese rural life. Away from the hordes of tourists that come and go to the high Himalayas, Pokhara, Kathmandu and the eastern Terai, you have this small country pretty much for yourself. Traveling through simple villages of friendly and modest people, not obsessed with the money that supposedly all foreigners have was a true relief. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

An explosion of life

Landing in Nepal after 71 days of Japanese sterility was like getting back to life. It is said that man is a creature of habit, and sometimes it takes a sudden shake to realize how easily one gets accustomed, perhaps unconsciously,  to a particular life situation. Getting off the plane in Kathmandu was like waking up after a general anesthesia, all senses were suddenly awake and I felt them with even greater intensity. It was an explosion of life, it was like the joy that comes with the spring after a long, dark winter. It is in such contrast that I realized how much Japanese asepsis had somehow numbed my spirit, and Nepal, with all its stimulus was the injection that would bring back to life all my emotions.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Bye Japan!

70 days in Japan. 25 days cycling across it and 45 days working in Tokyo were more than enough, perhaps too much. Unlike that wonderful feeling of wanting to come back over and over again that countries like Mongolia or Indonesia left in me during this last year, the more time I spent in Japan the more I felt the need to leave. This by no means mean having had a bad time but mostly not having been able to achieve a deep connection with the country and its culture.

Japanese style extravangaza

During these 70 days in the most technologically developed country of the planet, we've seen many amazing things. At some level, after some time of being here, one feels that the Japanese are really beyond everything. Let me explain it. The reality of this country is so so different than that of the rest of the planet, especially the one in the third world, that at some point it almost feels like science fiction. The activities, the problems, the preoccupations that seem to occupy the mind of the Japanese are so radically different from those that me and the people around me lived with that I sometimes feel like I'm in Disneyland. Tokyo never stops and life happens at full speed. The famous crossing of Shibuya,, sees 100.000 people crossing it per hour during rush hour. With its squandering of light and yelling advertisements, it is the icon that sums up the frantic pace of life in Tokyo. In each of its corners, when the traffic light is green for the cars, people start accumulating like drops of rain in a water tank, when the traffic light turns red it bursts, and people run like ants going in every direction as when one steps on an anthill.

Friday, March 21, 2014

One year on the road

Highway to the future

 After leaving Kyoto, we finally entered the last stretch to Tokyo. It was a road in the future towards the future. We decided to cycle the 550 km along route 1, the road that connects some of the biggest industrial zones in Japan. We could've certainly chosen a quieter road along the countryside with a little bit more nature, but we had a commitment to be in Tokyo at a certain time and we hadn't neither many days left nor the will to continue much longer.

Japan is a cutting edge country, it seems to be a couple of years ahead from the other rich countries and light years ahead from the rest of the planet, but only technologically speaking. In terms of human touch it lags light years behind most of the economically poor countries, which one really starts yearning with every step on the pedal in this country. Respect, honesty and politeness are values that abound here, and that is very positive, but indifference and apathy also abound as well. With the exception of our friends in Osaka and that really unique man we had met in Fukuoka the first day, we haven't really had any true connection with any single person. We are pretty much two ignored human beings that pass mostly unnoticed riding along the roads of the future. It is fascinating and hideous at the same time.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A little bit of nature

Despite the virtually infinite urban continuum along Japanese routes, there are some places where there is relatively a higher proportion of nature. Needless to say it is never an unspoiled nature - one simply doesn't come to Japan in search of adventure because there isn't any - but it is nature in the end and, on the island of Shikoku in autumn, it is especially beautiful. After taking nearly a dozen boats and ferries during this last year, some passing through traditionally stormy waters, it was almost surprising that there had never been strong tides. More surprising still, would be that when crossing to Misaki, in the peninsula's turquoise waters of Sadamisaki, we arrived yellow in color and almost puking. What a tide out of Saganoseki! In just 10 minutes it forced me to lie on the floor and it made of the remaining 60 the closest thing to being inside an operating washing machine. It was not until the next day that the remaining headache was definitely gone. My surname is Marino (it means “sailor” in Spanish) but it seems that such surname didn’t endowed me with any extra maritime skills.

Illusion of perfection

Getting to Japan is like leaving the present and take a leap into the future, at least technologically (I hope!). Even coming from Korea, which is on the right track to become "the future" soon, the impact is remarkable. Just to think that only two months ago we were cycling across the steppe and the desert of Mongolia feeling that we were centuries back, disembarking in Fukuoka feels as divorced from the present as the Mongolian experience. From the Chinese frantic chaos to the extreme Japanese order, the gap is also radical. At first glance, everything in Japan seems perfect and is dazzling wherever you look at. However, with each passing day, this hyper-ultra developed giant reveals very crude imperfections for anyone who's willing to take a deeper look without getting carried away by all that glitters.

Monday, February 3, 2014

A few videos of the year

While we take a two weeks breaks in India with my mom, I invite you to watch the following compilation of videos from the past year, the first year of this trip.

The a summary of the whole year in only 7+minutes

One year cycling in 7 minutes from Nicolas Marino on Vimeo.

Indonesia, riding across the jungle. Part I  (revamped version from the extended one

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The longest bicycle path in the world

 Korea seems fully aware of the problems that come with such an excess of technology and a population of workaholics. To try to compensate for these new "bad habits", the result of a mega-project of engineering that involved reconfiguring the course of the four major rivers of the country, included with it the design of several bike paths that connect the whole country from north to south from east to west. In this way, they are not only making exhaustive use of hydroelectric power but also giving people an incentive to go cycling and stay outdoors, providing them with the necessary space to do it in a safe, comfortable and professional way. 
Aside from the main "four rivers bike path" that links Incheon with Busan along 700 km, the number of new bike-path is increasing year by year, connecting different regions and cities.
Many are currently under construction and the final goal is to connect the whole country through a network of bike paths, allowing cyclists to move freely, staying away from the dangers of motorized traffic. This not only solves the stress of the cyclists but also that one of the drivers, increasing overall safety significantly. As if it weren't enough, the government made sure to design the path in a way that would connect the major tourist attractions of the country. Quite an advanced way of thinking. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Little giant

 South Korea is the country number 50 that I visit, and after almost a year of pedaling mainly through remote regions of Asia , arriving in Korea was like an abrupt jump into the future. That leap forward took away the adventurous routes loaded with adrenaline that  constantly fed us for so many months. All that temporarily came to an end. Adventure would be reduced to zero, zilch, nada and the extreme roads and rigorous weather would all be left behind. How to survive on a small budget in these technology congested jungles, extremely reduced space and exorbitant prices would become the new challenge. The enjoyment would not be the beautiful tingling of the adrenaline running through the veins but the bedazzlement facing a world so technologically advanced that it is someimtes incomprehensible.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Dharma. My new bicycle.

We crossed into China with a voracious appetite. It was not the hunger as much as the necessity we had to eat well, to eat delicious food and nothing better than being back in China to accomplish this. You pay the price though, of exchanging a fairy tale dream land for being back at the factory of the planet and the return to it feels like the most brutal punch back to the crude reality. It was inevitable since sooner or later we would have to leave the tale anyway.

The poisoned earth

Already in the final stage of our crossing of the desert, on the way to Zamyn-Udd one could already the change in the horizon. Ahead  of us, we were able to see the Chinese horizon and what used to be an immaculate blue sky vanished into a murky grey. Once in China, the remaining 300 km of Gobi desert were devoid of any attractive whatsoever. A flat terrain, infinite, dull, full of huge high voltage power lines towers, a massive increase in the traffic which was loud, fast and annoying and now with the added hindrance of a very strong headwind that was incredibly hard to tolerate. However, the worst would come in the final 300 km before Beijing riding across the scary province of Hebei 河北.

The incredibly high price that China has to pay for insisting in keeping a level of growth that is simply unsustainable, unsustainble for them and unsustainable for the whole planet, is nothing but outrageous. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Mongolia in the heart

Having cycled across Mongolia meant having made a long-time dream come true. 55 days that felt like leaving the time and space in which one is used to live in. It is probably true that you must have felt some romanticism in all of what I have written about this country, but it's just that the beauty of Mongolia takes you out of your own orbit and invites you to romanticize. Its landscapes of smooth shapes and slow paced "precarious" life pacify the mind and evoke a feeling of magic inside. It is true that these are images of its brief summer. Soon after we leave the country, temperatures will plummet down to -20C and by the end of December they will stabilize between -37 and -40C (when speaking, Mongols unconsciously omit the "-") and a windchill of much lower ones. Even with its extreme weather, I suspect that even spending a winter here should be an intense experience which I'll try to make happen some time in the future. 

There are many beautiful countries in the world, or better said, all countries are beautiful or have something beautiful in and/or about them, but there are countries that apart from being beautiful they are special. In my perception, when I'm in this kind of places I can sense an extra quality that separates them from the rest. Until today I have trouble describing what that quality is and I certainly have no definition for it, but it's like a series of phenomena that happen in the same space at the same time invoking a physically and mentally positive body reaction inside oneself, a sort of mix of joy and inner-peace. I have come to feel this truly powerful sensation in my several years of traveling across the Tibetan plateau, and I have happily felt it once again here in Mongolia. It is not by coincidence, I think, that both Tibetans and Mongolians live both in very extreme regions of the planet and carry out ways of living and have spiritual beliefs that are very similar. Mongolian nomads are by all means extraordinary people and that's to say little about them. Their affection has gotten very deep inside us and we have lived some of the most truly special moments in some of the most unreal and remote places that I have ever been to. I think I will never leave Mongolia because it is very deep inside me and has grown on me, in both my heart and the sheep smell that seems impossible to wash away. The series of photos at the top of this post are a very brief summary of the infinite images that were recorded in my retina. 


The more I travel the more I understand that idyll doesn't come in one but multiple forms. As time passed by, I discovered that the beaches of turquoise crystal-clear waters are as idyllic as the snowed peaks of the mountain ranges or the infinite grasslands of the steppe. I learned that what changes is not beauty itself, which is always the common denominator of any idyllic place, but the effects that the phenomena produced by a certain type of beauty has on oneself. This basically makes that each idyllic place feels completely different than the others. In this aspect, the crossing of the Gobi desert revealed to my eyes a new form of idyll that I would have never imagined would be possible. Because the initial image that one has of a desert is that one of a desolate and inhospitable place, and it certainly is in many ways, however, the Gobi, of all the deserts that I have already ridden across, ended up being a dazzling surprise that I didn't expect. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Lake after lake

The journey to Lake Hövsgöl left us completely exhausted. We spent 12 days and cycled 648 km riding at an average of 35 to 45 km per day, through trails of sand, mud, rocks, roots, crossing rivers carrying our stuff on the shoulders, fighting evil insects, dealing with an impending cold and in my particular case, having a terrible toothache that I will never ever forget. Reaching the 100 km stretch of asphalt that separate Hatgal village in the southern tip of the lake from the town of Mörön, felt almost like fantasy. After so many rough days , we welcomed the asphalt with utter enthusiasm. We were filthy, tired and it was only 100 km left to find a shower and a bed to sleep. Asphalted roads always take the charm away from a place, but the surrounding landscape on the way to Mörön was still amazing. Dense forests gradually disappeared turning again into vast expanses of steppe, which in some areas already started turning from green to yellow in the first week of September already. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Problems and no problems

In terms of physical rigor, the entire journey to Erdenet had passed almost unnoticed. Having just passed 10,000 km and 6 months in the tropics cycling steep slopes every single day, the gentle ups and downs of the steppe felt like a simple stroll that we welcomed with great joy. The story, however, would change in the road to the lake Hövsgöl.