Cycling around the world – Part Deux

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I then met Mr. Shiva Shankar who was working with HMT, Nairobi who was from Karnataka. He helped buy me a ticket from Kenya and I alone flew into Cairo,Egypt. I cycled around Cairo, went to the Giza, saw the pyramids about which I had only studied in school.

I was surprised to see an Indian Five Star Hotel, the Giza Oberoi.Went in and met with the Indian staff.

They comped me lunch and dinner. For a college going guy, getting comped in a five star hotel overlooking the pyramids was heaven.

I then cycled towards Alexandria to get a ferry across into Greece. The fun part was since my plan was virtually nonexistent and moreover being my first trip out of the country, I had no clue of what needs to be done while travelling

I had a Kenyan Visa while exiting India, got my Egyptian visa endorsed in Kenya. I went to Egypt and then stepped into the Indian Embassy, and they spoke to the Embassy of Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Italy and was advised to reach Rome and meet the Indian Embassy for onward visas. I gladly accepted that offer and I stayed back until my visa for Greece was done. Initially Greece refused to give me a visa because I was still a student and in those days, for reasons beyond my comprehension, Greece did not allow Students to travel the way I was traveling. But that’s where the Indian Embassy stepped in and I got a transit 21 day visa to cycle across from Athens to Thessaloniki and exit into Bulgaria. Bulgaria was an Iron Curtain country and I managed to get a seven day transit. Yugoslavia too gave me a seven day transit and finally a month long visa for Italy. Armed with these Visas, I cycled towards Alexandria and later realized that it’s impossible for me to get onto a ferry to take me to Athens. Cycled back to Cairo, and took a flight to Athens  and started cycling towards the north, Thessaloniki and crossed over the border into Bulgaria little later realized that being an Iron Curtain country they shut down the borders by sunset and we have to wait until the next morning. I wasn’t alone in the wait. There was a campground, a few people who had pitched their tent or staying in their cars waiting for the morning when the borders open.

I was also supported by the Indian Mountaineering Federation. They had given me a mountaineering rucksack, tent and a sleeping bag, everything that I would ideally need to travel on a cycle. My appreciation and thanks to President Emeritus Mr. HC Sarin.who helped me get connected through some parts of the expedition.

The next morning, I wake up to see the lock neatly picked and my cycle gone. Since I had exited Greece, complained to the authorities about my stolen cycle and took a bus to Sofia.

Sofia had a thriving black market for American Dollars. The black marketers would pay up to 8 times what the bank exchanged for. Here I was taking a wonderful opportunity of changing dollars and staying in a four star hotel.

 I met the Indian ambassador, His Excellency Mr. Girish Dumbe, told him what had transpired earlier. He couldn’t help much as the local authorities reached a dead end in locating my cycle.

It was time for me to move on and I started hitchhiking, took a bus to Zagreb, Yugoslavia and from where I would eventually board a train to take me to Italy. The train from Zagreb actually stops at a place called Trieste, which is a border town between Yugoslavia and Italy.

Since Trieste was the gateway to Europe, the immigration was quite strict there. They didn’t know English and I didn’t speak their language (Wish I had google translate)

 I showed them a couple of pictures of me cycling in Egypt to explain to them how I ended up there. But somehow, they were not convinced, and politely asked me to get off the train and go with them to the immigration office. The train moved on an hour later leaving me with the immigration guys. They let me go after holding me for 36 hours. I couldn’t ask them why they held me for so long due to the language problem. I crossed over into Italy and reached Bologna where I was hoping to meet a friend of mine. I was not in touch with her for some time and had not communicated about my arrival.She had got married and was away in UK for her honeymoon. I had no place to stay in Bologna, took a train that would take me to Rome. I checked in into a youth hostel almost on the outskirts of Rome. I got in touch with mom who told me that there was a cop who came by to my house on a Sunday morning. And little then did I realize that, my visa to Italy, which was issued in Egypt is quite uncommon. So the immigration officers in Trieste connected with the consulate of Italy in Egypt. Egyptian consulate had connected with the Ministry of External Affairs in India, who then connected with the director general of Police in Bangalore, who interconnected with jurisdictional police station of my house and that Sunday morning, a constable came knocking on my house door to check with mom if I lived there. The information was sent in the reverse manner all the way back to Trieste, which happened over a period of 36 hours. I was able to put this together after I came back home and spoke to mom because once I came back home, I was expected to go to the police station and tell them that I was back. Rome was difficult for me. I tried my best to ask the local Rotary guys to sponsor a cycle. A bicycle was an expensive commodity in Rome then, plus I was an Indian with no affiliation to any of their causes. I then decided to head home. I requested Air India to give me a Rome to Bombay ticket and got back.