Europe and the Arctic region in its north are dream destinations that attract travellers from around the world. Angamaly native Abin Joe too shared such feelings and set out to experience these areas in his own way - a solo bike ride.
Abin, who works at Infopark in Kochi, set out on a trip of 24 countries near the Arctic in July this year. When he completed his journey, Abin had spent 90 days on the road covering 15,200 km.
Having travelled to the Himalayas and the north-eastern states on a Bullet motorcycle in 2017, Abin was confident about his Arctic sojourn but wondered whether his parents would give permission. This made the youth suggest an official tour to Europe as a ruse to gain his parent’s consent.
However, money was in short supply and Abin searched for ways to reduce expenses. Europe has the best connectivity in the world, but a visitor taking a bus or train would certainly miss the experiences offered by the rural areas of the continent. “The soul of Europe is present in the villages and I felt that a bike trip would take me close to it,” says Abin.
Moreover, travel expenses would come down sharply by riding a bike. Before starting from Angamaly, Abin searched the Internet for a suitable bike and found one at Barcelona in Spain.
As a result, Abin’s first destination in Europe was Barcelona in order to take possession of the bike that would take him to the Arctic. It was a 20-year-old Honda Deauville touring motorcycle that had an interesting track record. Initially a part of the escort team of the Barcelona mayor, the bike was later bought by a policeman when its term in the security service ended. After using the bike for many years, the policeman decided to sell it and Abin bought it at scrap value.
Being such an old bike, the Honda Deauville suffered from a major problem - it had starting trouble in the morning, especially in the cold Arctic region. However, Abin overcame the issue with the help of local people who pushed the bike to make it start.
Every great journey usually starts with a setback and Abin too faced such a situation. “On the second day of the trip, my passport, visa, international driving licence and other valuable documents were stolen. I had to wait more than a week to obtain a duplicate passport and visa. However, there was no way I could get a duplicate driving licence,” he says.
The youth faced a dilemma. He could either drop his travel plans and return home or continue the trip without carrying a licence. The second option was very risky as even insurance would become invalid. But Abin took a quick decision. His dream of a lifetime was only a step away and he was on the way again. Luckily for Abin, his driving licence was not checked anywhere in the 24 countries he visited on the bike.
“A bike ride along the highways of Europe where the normal speed is around 130 kmph is thrilling. Vehicles take the right-hand-side track there and when big trucks passed, I almost lost balance,” recalls Abin.
However, the adventurous youth soon adapted to the driving conditions and the ride became smooth.
Couch surfing and other stays
Before the journey, Abin had resolved to avoid staying in hotels. “It was the best method to cut my expenses. Most of the time, I spent the nights with hosts whom I located through the couch surfing website. Couch surfing is a service that offers free temporary accommodation to travellers,” explains the rider.
Abin expresses deep gratitude to strangers who became friends overnight after he stayed in their homes. “Many of them offered supper as soon as I arrived. Then they showed me around their village. Next morning, I was not only served a free breakfast but also given a packed lunch to carry on the way,” he recalls thankfully.
There were discussions about India too. “They enquired earnestly about the situation in our country,” says Abin.
Interestingly, most of these hosts were travellers themselves and could understand Abin’s feelings.
At places such as Norway and Julian Alps which are thinly populated, the biker chose wild camping during night. “This is staying in a tent at a desolate place, be it forest or roadside,” reveals Abin.
On one occasion, he had set up the tent on a sea weed island at an archipelago in Norway’s Great Atlantic Road. All of a sudden it began raining and there was a strong wind too. Abin felt that the island would be submerged. He kept awake the entire night and could take some rest only after the rain subsided. “I saw death at close quarters that night,” says Abin.
In Arctic, Abin resorted to wild camping for six consecutive days. Finally, he reached the house of a couch surfing host on the seventh day. “It was there that I took a bath after six days,” informs the travel enthusiast.
Sometimes, he stayed in low budget hostels and dormitories also.
Few English speakers
As part of his cost-cutting efforts, Abin had only two meals on most days. His main dish was the cheap burger available in fuel outlets.
English language was another challenge he faced. “In a number of countries, the main language was not English. I was forced to depend on sign language to communicate,” says Abin.
Countries Abin visited
Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Belgium, The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Lichtenstein, Italy, Monaco and Andorra.