I thought that Asian culture can be very different from mine. But something you discover when you travel is that ultimately we are very similar to each other. We all eat, sleep, drink, make love, watch TV, drive. There are so many things that unite us, then we have all those cultural, social, religious and moral layers that make us so different.
Take Muslims, for example. They are hospitable and welcoming people, but you can’t touch on topics such as religion or faith. They can be pretty totalitarian and they have a strong sense of religion. You can’t really raise the issue. As soon as you share your opinion or ask them something about their faith, they feel attacked and take offense. It’s a difficult subject and you need to respect that. It was August and I was cycling through Pakistan during Ramadan. It was inhumanly hot, somewhere between 40°C and 45°C. I needed to drink so I stopped in a town to buy some water. Some guys there came threateningly close to me, and asked me to go to drink somewhere else even before I had opened the bottle.
Little details makes us different.
Between Asia’s biggest cities, there are drastic differences. Japan and China, eastern Asian countries, have a strong rational character. Everything works in perfect order. There’s an ordered chaos. For sure there are places like Shinjuku Station, used by 3 million people per day, which are incredibly busy. But still, it’s nothing compared to Pakistan and India, where there’s no traffic signage and everything is ruled by chaos. They actually deal with it. They find their own order where we, as western people, see just a messy disorder. But when you get there (and you’re riding a bike!) you just freak out. It’s really shocking. Imagine a two lane road with 4 cars passing, three on one way, one on the other. And then there’s you, on your bike. I did fear for my life.
Cycling through an Asian metropolis could be a tough experience.
Still, the toughest situations are when you need to face your own mind and thoughts. I was in Japan, at the very end of the trip, I was tired. I needed a break from travelling. So I found myself at a crossroads: I could have gone back to Spain or I could have moved to some other country, worked there for a while, saved some money and then gone back travelling. That would have meant abandoning my previous life, leaving my job and graphic design, and starting a completely new life. I wasn’t sure if I was up for that. The easy option was to come back to Barcelona and take some time to decide. I guess I chose well. I couldn’t have made such an important life decision, wholly immersed as I was in that experience.
I have still so many journeys in mind. I would like to cross Africa. Travelling through the east which I guess isn’t as hard as the other side, in terms of political stability and risk of disease. It wouldn’t take that long, I think you can do it in 8 or 10 months. Africa is a fascinating destination and I’d also love to travel through the East of Europe and Middle Asia. Covering the Silk Road would be really exciting… an almighty route. I could even start from Barcelona, cross Eastern Europe and travel all the way to Asia.
Photography. Alex Prieto