So much has happened over the course of my trip that for my own purposes, I decided that I had to try and sum up the trip as best as I could . And if I was going to do it for myself, I figured that I may as well bore you lot one last time.
It's had it's ups and downs for sure. Twists and turns, arrests, hospitalisations and escapes. In a strangely circular way, I managed to start and end the trip with big personal lows. A week in and broke up with Anna-Lise [and i now understand why, and it is definitely a good thing. Good riddance] and ended with the funeral of my best friend. On a slightly better note, Andy, father to my godchildren and who broke his back whilst i was in Vietnam is making slow but solid progress. Not out of the woods yet, but he has some movement and the prognosis is that he will be able to walk again in a few months. I am really looking forward to seeing him, Charlotte and the kids again. But all that just goes to show that in the almost la-la land of travelling, normal life must go on.
As well as walking, cycling (and riding a motorbike) under my own steam, I travelled on Trains, buses, coaches, mini-buses, in private cars, on boats and ferries of assorted shapes and styles (including a sinking ferry, and another i had to push) . On trams, subways/metro's, in cable cars and funiculars, in taxis, vans, a post office bus and a lorry, and on a maglev, the worlds fastest train. In tuk-tuks, sawgnys, rickshaws, the back of pickups and on the roof of a van. And as a motorcycle passenger, pillion on a bicycle, in a tractor, on both a bucking bronco and an elephant and in the back of an ambulance. Hitchhiking got me, amongst others, around Hokkaido, forced me to jump from the roof of a speeding van, gave me a ride on the aforementioned elephant (with a broken bike) and finally back to the office courtesy of some mad Lithuanian lorry drivers.
But with the possible exception of a few seconds as i jumped from the roof of the minivan in Cambodia (and once or twice hitting speed bumps or dodgy road surfaces too quickly), i did not fly at all, thus keeping in tact the record of never having been in a plane or helicopter in my entire life.
By ignoring the first month or so, when I was partly away and free but not entirely, I've logged my trip at 413 days, and into week 60. In that time, excluding daily/urban travels etc, I believe that i have travelled the grand total of 109,343km. After a little deliberation, I have decided that I visited 29countries in that period (I have ignored North Korea who's waters I was in, and Turkmenistan who's embassy i visited, which i technically entered, but counted both Hong Kong and Macau, which although no longer separate to China, involve different immigration procedures etc). And I've also ignored non UN recognised countries, thus counting BiH as one, instead of the 3 which the locals believe it to be. And i crossed a border 57 times, although many of those were the result of my initial (and final) dashes around Europe.
At a (very) rough calculation, I drank 794 pints of beer, plus untold amounts and varieties of spirits and wine. Of the 413nights, 121 were at friends or as guests of CS/HCers, whilst a further 71 were spent travelling, and 6 were roughed.
I've stayed with a number of assorted friends and willing hosts (and thank you all sooo much), spent nights in hostels and hotels and slept on buses, trains and boats (including on the deck). More randomly, I've also spent nights in a hammock, on a beach, in a half built house, on a sand dune, in a hedge, in a bus shelter, in a tent and on a balcony (both of which were nights I'd paid for in a hostel and were supposed to be hostel beds), in wooden huts and on some railway stations. Plus in a capsule hotel [aka a coffin], a Ryokan, a Love Hotel, 24hour Internet cafes and once, even in a Guets House...
I've stayed in dorms, Private rooms, in beds, on mattresses, a lilo, on tatami mats, in a chair, on couches and on numerous floors, and under mosquito nets. And entirely innocently, I've shared a bed with cats, dogs, a Thai bar girl, male and female couch surfers, 2 Japanese guys (at the same time) and 3 people who's names i didn't even know, including a middle aged German lady....
I've met untold numbers of people from all walks of life, some briefly, others who have been around for several months; some amazing and fascinating people, some nondescript ones and a few absolute utter f*cking w*kers. I've been to meet ups of TT, CS, HC, FT, TP and BE (but not AA or BB), and met people from New Caledonia, the Peoples Republic of Seattle, Bangladesh and Canukistan plus a 70year old Luxembourger who hasn't been home in 15years. Those I've met have included such luminaries as Mick Jagger, Martin Tyler, a Danish former Eurovison winner, one of Russia's biggest pop stars, an Indian TV hero and the English voice of Hello Kitty. More minor names I've met include TV/radio presenters in Japan, Bosnia, Slovenia, Russia (in several places), Romania, China (but relevant in Colorado) and Lithuania amongst others, plus large numbers of press, reporters and camera men during the World Cup.
Then there was a former member of ska band Secret Agent 8, Nicolae Ceaucescu's former head chef, a Zimbabwean professional tennis player, some ambassadors and a couple of high level Turkmenistani's. I was disrupted by George W Bush in Kyoto and Vladimir Putin in Tokyo. On a more random and personal level, i also came across the self proclaimed Hawaiian Ambassador to Asakusa, a female penguin, a high ranking monk, a Russian Nuclear Submarine captain, doppelgangers of Michael Owen and Ze Roberto (plus assorted people you wouldn't know), Kiki, My Boss and a couple of colleagues, some customers, My Aunt, an old Scottish friend from watching rugby in Copenhagen days, and a Canadian friend who is more or less solely responsible for "Hmmm. Needs More Rope". Plus of course, my stalkers, a guy who drove a knackered old Ford Fiesta all the way from the UK to Mongolia, a just released Trotskiyst convict and an old school friend I haven't seen since I was 12 years old
And even a few Welsh people.
I've consumed many strange or unconventional items, of which some of the more unlikely include such simple delicacies as horse, snake wine, wild boar, sheep's testicles, starfish on a stick, assorted insects, Chicken feet, Monkey brains, silk worm larvae, millipede, deep fried tarantula and live scorpion. And in the course of one month, drunk huge amounts of Chili vodka, one of the worlds greatest inventions.
I visited forces bases (of assorted ownership) in 5 countries, 3 radio stations and a TV studio, was interviewed - badly and by mistake - on live radio (in Russian) in Krasnoyarsk. I ended up on stage in front of 40,000 in Ulan Ude, on Japanese TV during a typhoon, on a publicity poster for a Beijing bar and being serialised in an Ecuadorian newspaper. As well as actually doing some real work - kind of - in a few countries, I have been offered a slew of jobs, including teaching English in Chelyabinsk, Dongguan and Morioka, and grabbed on a street in China twice to be invited come into a school. A couple of vaguely relevant cartographic jobs as well in China and elsewhere, whilst more unlikely (and I'm not sure which is the most unlikely) I've also been offered jobs as a Turkmenistani presidential advisor, and as a Japanese marriage councillor. And I've been in weather ranging from minus many and blizzards in China to plus even more scorchers in Siberia, Nagasaki, Vietnam and Thailand
There have been countless great parties and memorable nights, of which maybe a dozen or so really stand out. Those of you who may have been present on specific nights in Vienna, Sofia, Sighisoara, Vilnius, Moscow, Busan, Tokyo, Shanghai, Yangshuo, Beijing and Hong Kong (both on multiple occasions), one or two in Vietnam plus assorted Thai places, Luang Namtha, Tyumen and Berlin might also recall them fondly. Or alternatively, not recall them alt all. I've also managed to crash a dozen or so birthdays unintentionally, a couple of leaving do's (both often for people i didn't or barely knew), a graduation or 2, a restaurant opening, a pregnancy discovery, a prison release celebration, a wedding and a funeral.
I've accumulated a huge chunk of music, and become big fans of Tyumenski University and several classic Soviet themes and Georgian tunes (thanks Masha), Zdub si Zdob and Umathurman (thanks Mjeh and Zhenyia), B.U.G Mafia and Parazitii (thanks Oana), Guster and John Mayer (thanks Erin), Joeyboy and the hot-hip trampoline school (thanks Sam and Desh), Foje and Rebelheart (Thanks Ina) and some really cheesy Chinese music (thank you both China and Helene) amongst others.
Randomly, i started visiting the wombles (that idea has not yet been extinguished, had 4 New Years - parts of which were in 6 different countries), discovered that my MP3 player was both possessed, and had both a great sense of humour and irony, had my birthday with a group of revolutionaries picnicking under a statue of Lenin in Vietnam, stayed in such oddballs as Tyumen, Dongguan, Muroran, Daejon, Hua Hin, Oudomxay, Cluj and Banja Luka and visited, amongst others, the Worlds most polluted city, 3 dead dictators and military bases in more countries and of more different forces than is probably healthy...
There have been many firsts, although thankfully flying has not been amongst them... However, I crossed the Tropic of Cancer, Was on a ferry which went through a lock, one which was sinking, and one which I'd paid for and still had to push, went through a typhoon, slept under a mosquito net, was taken into a brothel by a female (and she didn't even work there), went to a baseball game, rode a motorcycle (and was a passenger on a motorcycle) and went into a real Karoake joint. More oddly - due to the fact that i got to 26years old without experiencing any of these delights - , for the first time in my life, I went bowling, got sunburn, and tried soju, sushi,tofu and root beer. And discovered i was allergic to cats.
And then there were the incidents or actions themselves. Some were definitely not highlights, and I more or less started by splitting with Anna-Lise over (seemingly) an odd joke about the Avon lady and in a vaguely circular way, ended with the death and funeral of my best friend.
In between, I spent a couple of days looking after a poor girl in Thailand who everything had gone really pear shaped for, had to deal with the collapse of my life in Vietnam, discovered that my inflatible camel and long term hitch-hiking pal was no longer able to inflate and then be best man at the wedding from hell. I'm still trying to work out what all the arrests were about. Plus, of course, and in no particular order, I had my wallet stolen in Romania, lost my phone in Shanghai and suffered consistent pick pocket attempts in Moscow and Hanoi. Got shot at leaving Bosnia, and had a machine gun pointed at me in Lao. Suffered any number of delays due to punctures, accidents, roadworks, running out of fuel and once because they thought I had a gun (in Beijing), was in a couple of minor road accidents (excluding the sheer mayhem of returning to Xi'an from the warriors), a taxi crash in Kunming and then had to jump off the roof of a van in Cambodia and was thrown from the back of pickup in Bangkok.
The trip was characterised at various phases by broken zips (8, i think), headphones (7? pairs), monkeys and all things related to them, and stairs. Lots and lots of stairs. My bike broke in Lao (and Erin's in China), whilst another was "stolen" in Japan. I was adopted by a village on Hokkaido and almost adopted by a woman and her kids on a Russian train (the former being great fun, the later very scary); back on Hokkaido, of course, I also almost ended up getting married entirely without realising, and from which I am still hearing the fall out from over 9months later. Leaving Russia the first time (the whole ferry gone day early, bus down dirt road to North Korea and sinking ferry in a typhoon thing) was fun, whilst entering Russia the second time was part of a 3day trip which was spent trying to mediate between large waring Chinese and Russian factions of traders in two languages I can't speak. I got caught in another typhoon in Hiroshima, was arrested for drug smuggling (frickin' liquorice) entering Korea, and had my coffee confiscated leaving Vietnam. Somebody urinated on my bag in Seoul, I celebrated a prison release in Siberia, saw a restaurant burn down in Beijing, went to the Football World Cup, got involved in the now infamous battle of ChMZ, saw an attempted suicide in Irkutsk, possibly the recent site of two dead people in Lithuania and a dead man in China.
Perhaps most amazingly, I even left Hässleholm
And I'm sure there are any number of other key moments and incidents that I just haven't been able to recall off the top of my head.
I've eaten a huge variety of local fare and have subsequently found myself craving Amok, Omul, Lok Lak, Fried Wonton, Caulau, Somun, Bibimbap, Zapiekanka, Ramen and Pho, Blini, Burek, Russian dried anchovies, Pelmeni, Korean Barbecue, Beijing Duck, Flavoured toast squares, Mandu, Piroshka, assorted Street food (what the heck were those amazing things in Beijing called?!), Gyoza and the egg and tomato dish so omnipotent in China, but always amazing. My craving for Cevapicci lasted almost a year (thank you, Beijing). I would almost be tempted to use an entire years leave to travel back to Asia, solely in order to get Tofu in that place in Huangzhou, Lok Lak in a specific place in Siem Reap, some of those Thingies in Beijing or to eat at that vegetarian restaurant in Hue.
And despite being away for such a long time, even in the countries that i visited, i missed out on so much that I wanted to see. Yakushima, The Korean DMZ, Halong Bay, Tiger Leaping Gorge, Chiang Mai, Sakhalin, the BAM, the three gorges on the Yangtzee, Sloboli and Novgorod, Savanakhet, Kazan (damned you!), the Killing Fields in Cambodia and Summer Palace in Beijing, plus of course, North Korea (as soon as possible!), Myanmar, Tibet, Malaysia and numerous other countries that I never made it to at all, will all have to wait for a future trip(s).
Wow. That looks like even more than I remember.
From here, it just leaves me to sum up, I suppose. It's had it's ups and downs, but it's been great. With the exception of Matt's death, there is nothing I would change if i had to do it all over again. Even the fuck ups and strange situations have been great (looking back, if nothing else) and have been experiences - character building and all that cr*p - and left me with a ream of stories and daft tales. Some of which have already been picked up and run with by other people. I want to thank everybody who's paths I have crossed, all of whom have added greatly to the whole experience in it's whole. Many of you I hope to see again. And a special thank you to all those people who have been stupid enough to host me or look after me. It's been amazing. Look live Couchsurfing!
Look out for the next chapter in coming months EDIT: Now starting at http://needsmorerope.travellerspoint.com
((With continued apologies for the lack of photos - I have no upload all as far as the end of Thailand, and will get up those from my journey back and the World Cup in the next few days. Look out also for a couple of final random entries of compilations of odd things from my trip, and also a round up of assorted people. And Kiki))
That's all folks.