Heinz Stücke Guinness Book of Records holder



Heinz Stücke Guinness Book of Records holder
Heinz Stücke
Guinness Book of Records holder
"Epic Journeys"
I have been hearing about Heinz Stücke for more than 10 years. While I was on my
my three-year bike tour, people I met would tell my about Heinz and that I should
meet him. Well, after ten years of looking, I finally found Heinz in Paris on the
sidewalk selling his brochures that I had heard so much about. Also with him was
his long-time girlfriend Zoya, who he afectionately calls "Zoya, the destroya" for her
tendency to sidetrack Heinz from his mission in life to seek out new places to travel
to on his trusty three-speed bike that he has used since the 1960's. Needless to say,
he didn't know me from Adam, but we quickly got to know each other from our
common interest in both international cycling and exotic women (neither of whom,
coincidently, have much interest in cycling). I purchased his postcards and brochure
and he gave me permission to post his story on my site. If you enjoy it and would
like to contribute to his further journeys by buying a brochure or some postcards,
you can write to him at
Heinz Stucke
Around the World by Bicycle
In search of adventure and with the desire to see something of the world, I started my tour
around the globe in August 1960, from my home town of Hövelhof - Germany. I was 20.
17,000 km and 20 countries later I was back home but not for long. From November, 1962, up
to the present day I have been cycling and travelling non stop. If this century is called the
century of progress, the century of the atom and of space exploration, one has also to say that
it is the century of tourism. Because of the modern forms of transportation, countries get
closer to one another every day and millions of people travel.
To travel is to learn something about one another, to meet people, to respect them and better
still to make friends so that in the future we may live together in peace.
Naturally I see that not everyone can travel the way I have done for so long. Not everyone
wants to. Many may ask themselves "Why does he do this?" "Why by bicycle?" "Why for so
long?" The answer lies quite a few years back.
In school I was always interested in geography. I read a lot of books about other countries and
about people who had travelled and had adventures. Soon I wanted to do the same. During
the time I was apprenticed to a tool and die-maker I made short trips through Europe by
bicycle. After finishing my apprenticeship I cycled around the Mediterranean, covering about
10,000 kms. At that time I was 18. These tours gave me some experience about how to travel
and the will to see more.
By that time I did not particularly like my job and I did not see why I should spend the rest of
my life doing something I did not care for very much .... just to make a living. "Is this all there
is to life?", I asked, "I might as well go around the world’. Perhaps, too, I had opened my
mouth a little too wide about all the things I was going to do and my friends teased me about
it. So eventually I had to do something about it — if only to save face!
I came to use a bicycle on my earlier trips, partly because I felt more independent, it was the
cheapest form of transportation and also because I found it to be the ideal way to see the
world. It was slow enough to permit me to study each country and its people and it was fast
enough to cover large distances relatively quickly. I admit that later on, most of my
incomecame from the fact that I had used a bicycle for the tour.
I also looked upon it as a challenge. Sometimes people ask, "Why don’t you put a little engine
on your bike?" Indeed it would make it much easier for me, so why don’t I? In response to this
I usually reply with another question: "Does one climb a mountain with a helicopter?" Also I
found that my memory worked much better when I could associate an area or an incident with
the physical hardships I had endured in each case.
Although I never intended to travel for so long, I came to the conclusion that going into an
area for a short time was simply not enough. It would be very unfair to the people who lived
there. You might praise or condemn a country solely on the basis of one encounter, either
pleasant or unpleasant. So I decided on a minimum of two to six months per country
depending on its size. I felt this period of time would permit me to get a more realistic
impression of the place. But in slowing down, time just passed by and there was always
another country around the corner. I was hardly ever homesick or tired of travelling, although
I have to admit that sometimes I longed for domestic comforts.
The many breaks and stops and the many people who gave me a home between stretches of
cycling made up for the lack of a permanent home and provided comfort.
Sometimes people pose the question, "What was the best country you visited?" I have
difficulty in naming just one- So much depends on how you look at a country. What you like
best depends on what you want to see.
For some it is the mountains, deserts, jungles, landscapes in general. It may be strange people
or different cultures, you may like hunting, skiing, surfing, climbing, or you want adventure or
a luxury vacation. I remember one time I met a group of bird watchers in the middle of the
Amazon and all they wanted to do was see the birds, to add to the lists of birds they had seen
and counted. I don't want to knock bird-watching, but if you asked one of those people which
country he liked best, he would answer "Brazil". Why? Because he saw the most colourful birds
there and that's what he likes. It's all very relative.
Because of their originally I have liked most of the countries I have seen. I never looked for
anything in particular (except perhaps challenge and adventure). I try to keep my mind open,
adapt to local conditions, show goodwill and hopefully receive the same of the people and put
the emphasis on learning.
People often tend to assume that their way of life is the best, and some are pretty successful
in imposing their way of life all over the world. The Western World for example sees to it that
what is popular in the West should become popular everywhere else, although everyone knows
that this Western "Way of Life" has plenty of problems environmentally and otherwise.
Tourists are notorious but often tolerated for the crazy things they do (because they have
money), but they are often disliked because of that money (envy). Some are also disliked
because they display bad taste in the way they behave in a foreign country. Long hair for men
may be beautiful, but if it's against the good taste of a country you only offend.
I like to wear shorts, especially in the tropics, but I learned after only two days in South
America that this is not generally acceptable there. It is against the image of machismo
(virility) for a man to show his bare legs.
Back to the question of the "best" country. I must admit that there were some where I had
better times, more excitement, and sometimes more money. But this could have been the
result of luck.
Wherever I went I tried to capture the people, their lives and their environments in
photographs. Besides a large collection of colour slides I have also kept a diary which describes
my experiences in detail. Unfortunately, I lost some of it years ago. I had met two young
Americans in Costa Rica. They were from Buffalo, N.Y., and had run out of funds after an
accident with a rifle. A bullet had shattered the leg of one of them - he was wearing a cast and
couldn't drive. They were eager to get home, non-stop, and therefore needed another driver.
The offer to drive with them came in handy because I had wanted to see Expo '67 very much.
After staying with the men in Buffalo and visiting Expo '67 in Montreal I tried to hitchhike back
to Costa Rica. Not far from New York a man picked me up. After some time he stopped in front
of a drugstore in a shopping centre, gave me 30 cents and said, "Would you be so kind to
jump out and get me two cigars, Dutch Master Blond?" I said, "Sure". By the time I came out
he had driven away with all my belongings in the car ... camera, 1,000 selected slides,
passport, my diary, equipment, everything. I could not remember the car registration number
although I did now that the car was a Ford Falcon. I described the man to the police, but
nothing was ever found. I had to wait several weeks until I got a new passport through the
German Consulate in New York and, after making it back to Costa Rica I picked up my bike
and simply continued. I don't want to blame any particular country for this, but found it a little
ironic that this could have happened in one of the richest countries in the world. At such a time
I remembered my motto: "Every blow that does not kill me only makes me stronger".
I must admit, however, that the many friends I made in the USA were probably the best I
made anywhere. The many invitations I received and the great generosity I encountered,
made up by far for the unpleasant incidents. I remember the Kirbys in Anniston, Alabama.
Altogether I stayed in their home seven times and I was treated like a son. Although they were
not particularly rich they would give me anything that might be useful for my tour. I have met
people who describe my tour as "bumming around", but most of the time the people I met
expressed admiration and were willing to help. This help was not only important economically,
but it was a moral support, too. It always made it possible for me to find the courage to
"What do your parents say about all this?" is another question I'm frequently asked. My father
did not like the idea very much at first. He thought that going to far-away places with little
money would mean that my standards would fall, maybe even that I would become a criminal.
Also he was opposed to the Idea of paying my way for me as he thought he might eventually
be obliged to. We had a discussion (perhaps more of an argument) about this before I left and
he said, "Don't expect me to pay for your tour". I said I would never want a penny and I have
never had to ask him. My mother who passed away in 1966 was more on my side. Later my
father accepted my travels, he died in 1989 aged 82.
By the way, what do I do about money? This problem is not one with which only I am faced. At
the outset I had about $300 to spend. In those early days I spent it so very carefully that I
managed on as little as 50-75 cents a day.
I was almost without money in Ethiopia, but help came along in the form of a gift of almost
US$500. It was from the Government and the Emperor, Haile Selassie, whom I had the honour
to meet. Later I started to write stories for a local paper in Germany and would show slides
whenever and wherever I could. I made some money later on my travels by selling
photographs and stories to various magazines in the countries I toured.
In South America, as in Japan, a large part of my income came from the sale of little booklets
like this one. The advertisements of several sponsoring companies would sometimes not only
cover the cost of printing, but would leave some profit. I would set up a little show with
photographs, newspaper clippings, a world map, etc in a large city and sell the booklets. Not
only did I sell a lot of them I also had conversations with many people and received many
Because my story sold so well in Japan and I spent the saved money so carefully, I could
travel for several years thereafter-in the Far East, Australia, the South Pacific and Asia. Since
1978, I entrusted my story and pictures to Frank Spooner Pictures of London. All through the
eighties he supplied me with US$3-5,000 per year, depending in which country I travelled in.
This amount was quite sufficient, especially in the cheaper third world countries. Relieved of
the sometimes heavy burden of where to find the money I could concentrate more on pure
travelling. Sometimes extra spending money would come unexpectedly. Money was put in
letters by friends noticeably by Douglas Waugh, Wolfgang Glunk and Rolf Möbius and much
was given by Alfred Li and Flying Ball Lee in Hong Kong.
Now about my bicycle. I have met a lot of bicycle enthusiasts who asked many questions about
speeds, gear ratio, the weight of equipment carried, the height of the saddle, handlebars and
many other technical things that I have never thought very much about. Some will probably
shake their heads in disbelief over some of the figures I give, but what I wanted was a strong,
reliable cycle which needed as little maintenance and repair as possible. The cycle was given to
me by a bicycle company in Germany.
It weighs about 25 kgs because it has a reinforced frame, thick spokes and solid luggagecarriers. I insisted on these things because on earlier tours I had always had trouble with
broken spokes and broken carriers, etc. Imagine a broken frame in the middle of the desert!
The bicycle has 26" wheels and a three-speed Torpedo hub-gear (incorporating pedal brake). I
never felt that the three speeds were insufficient and I am happy with the little service the
Torpedo has required. As of today I have pedalled about 385,000 kms. I haven’t kept track of
how many tyres I have used. Generally a pair would last me from 2,000 to 4,000 kms
depending on the road surface and on the tyre maker. Presently I get better mileage out of
available brands. Only in Australia in 1973 did I have real trouble obtaining tyres to fit my
bike; because sizes there were slightly different from the continental ones I was used to. When
the tyres finally needed replacing and those I had ordered from Germany did not arrive, I had
to use the slightly oversized Australian tyres over my worn tyres. This meant that for about
5,000 kms I rode on double tyres. In Australia too I added a second handlebar to be able to
change my riding position, because of some pain that had developed in my shoulders. Most
parts that move on the bike have been replaced, of course; in fact a bicycle company in Japan
thoroughly overhauled my bicycle in November 1971, free of charge. While the work was being
done I stayed with Mr. Hayashi, an engineer, and in the evenings when we went out, I learned
about Japanese customs, drinking sake and eating sushi and sashimi. In many other matters,
too, he was a great help.
With the advent of the mountain bike, which has a size and shape similar to mine, components
and spares would fit my machine more easily. Out of nostalgia never considered replacement
of the entire bike. By the mid-eighties what was left of the original bicycle had to stay (frame,
carriers, forks etc.). Since 1988 a series of repairs, replacements and additions using mountain
bike parts were done in Mr. Lee’s "Flying Ball Cycle Co." in Hong Kong. After repeated trips to
China, his shop became a convenient base for repairs to my bike as well as a good place to
I generally carry about 40 to 50 kg of luggage. It may be
more in desert stretches when I carry food and water, and
it may be less when I leave part of it with friends in case of
a loop in my route. I used to send non-essentials ahead,
but I have grown tired of the problems this poses and so I
no longer do it. The Cycling expert will say, "How can you
carry that much? It’s
impossible!" I agree, I have to walk up the steeper hills. I
agree it’s slow. But I don’t want to set any records.
Now, what makes my luggage so heavy? Primarily boxes of
slides and hundreds ofbooklets which I carry for sale plus,
other papers like diaries, maps and anautograph book for
people I meet. Then I have heavy photographic equipment
and a
large tripod. Those are the heavier items which most short-time cyclists would not carry.
Otherwise I have the usual things; clothing, some spare bicycle parts, sleeping bag, tools, etc.
I also had a tent until it was torn apart in a storm on the grassy plains (Llanos) of Colombia.
For a time, I wanted to buy another one, but I either couldn't find the ideal one or I didn't
have the money at the time. Probably I didn't look hard enough. I gave away one nylon pup
tent after I discovered that although it was dry outside, drops of moisture would form on the
inside and because the tent was so low my sleeping bag would get wet. A larger nylon tent
burned to the ground one early morning at Vienna's Camp ground because I left a candle
burning and fell asleep.
In London, in 1978 while preparing for the Sahara crossing I had chosen a new tent because of
what I thought was the right combination of weight-size and price. The tent proved to be
exactly what I wanted. The manufacturers of the tent were pleased that I liked it and even
restarted production of an identical version when years later I needed replacement. Later on I
begun to use a much larger but only slightly heavier tent made by "North Face". It easily
sleeps two people and has openings and netting on both sides to allow the air to circulate more
freely. That's very important in hot and humid conditions. You can dive in to escape the
mosquitoes and avoid a sauna like atmosphere.
In the jungle of the Amazon where it is essential to sleep off
the ground, I used a hammock almost every day. In some
hotels all that is provided is a pair of hooks to support the
hammock which you must bring yourself.
For a while I had cooking utensils, but I used them so rarely
that I eventually discarded them. For trekking in Nepal and
tours in remote Ladakh and Afghanistan I obtained new
cooking utensils. At present I have a SVEA petrol stove, pots
and things I need for small meals. This luggage is distributed
evenly over the entire bicycle.
The sign in the centre of my cycle shows a map of the world
marked with the route I have already travelled. Every other
available space bears the names of places visited. I also have a sign on the back of the bike
with the colours of my country and the words "pedalling around the World". This sign has
caused many people to stop for a talk ... "You really pedalled around the world?" In different
countries the sign had the same message, but in the language of the country. A particular
question asked mainly by Americans was, "How did you cross the oceans? You didn't pedal?
How can you say you pedalled around the world?" I would sometimes answer with "Well, I
pedalled from port to starboard ten hours a day on the ship while I came across': or, "I put
huge balloon tyres on the bike and floated across". I said anything to escape the monotony of
that question. Sometimes my teasing answer led to a good conversation; "How about having a
bite to eat with us?" or, "How about spending the night?" Naturally, the easy, and ideal way to
meet people in a foreign country is to wait until they approach you with a question. Staying
with people is as interesting as seeing the sights, but sometimes when I had to make the first
move I found them hesitant and a little suspicious. So my sign helped at least in initiating the
first contact. At times when surrounded by too many on lookers I covered the sign or took it
I do not have a schedule. My average daily distance is about 100 to 120 kms, but some very
bad roads in Africa-Latin America and Asia sometimes slowed me down to a mere 30 to 60
kms a day. My personal record was 300 kms in 12 hours, covered in the Syrian desert with the
help of strong tailwinds. I was also aided by marker posts every 5 kms, so I tried to cover a 5
kms segment every ten minutes.
Naturally one would assume that I have had my fair share of accidents-and rightly so with and without
the bicycle. Besides several bad falls, caused by loose gravel or sharp curves, I was once hit by a truck in
the desert of Atacama, Chile in 1965. The bicycle was damaged and the equipment was scattered over a
wide area but I was only bruised.
Another accident was the result of an intolerant customs official on the Guatemalan border.
After finding out that I had been in Russia, he decided that I must be a Communist. He said
that due to the political turmoil in his country the last thing they needed was another
Communist. I protested to such reasoning, but to no avail. I left the bicycle at the border to go
back to San Salvador and to protest to the Guatemalan Consul there. Before I could lodge my
complaint, a friend I was riding with drove his car against a tree and I was unconscious for two
days. It took me weeks to recover. Ironically, when I tried to enter Guatemala the second
time, over a different border they were very friendly. They insisted that I stay the night, fed
me until I couldn't eat anymore and even collected some money for me.
Another accident occurred on the Alaskan highway. It was too late in the year to cycle up
north, October, I think. By hard work I had managed to make it to mile 496 at the Liard River,
when rains made it difficult to continue. I waited two days and when I started again I ran into
two young men from Anchorage whom I had met weeks earlier. They were on their way back
to Alaska. "Why don't you come with us?" they asked. "In Alaska the road is paved". Since I
could start on the Alaska highway from the other side too, I agreed. In any case I had to come
back to White Horse, Yukon to return south. We put the bicycle on top of their sporty GTO car.
About 10 pm that night Richard took over the wheel. Just a few kms later he took a curve too
fast and lost control. The car turned over completed on its way down a steep 20 to 30 metre
embankment and landed in a fast flowing river. We scrambled out of the water and I could
hear Richard shouting, "God dammit? I did it! I did it! My twelve hundred dollar paint job!! (His
car had a beautiful design painted on it). I went back into the river's icy waters to get my
belongings. The entire topcarrier with the bike-was 50 metres downstream. Richard kept
shouting, "Get out of the water before you freeze to death". The temperature must have been
way below freezing point that night because everything became a block of ice seconds after
being out of the water. Well, that was the end of that ride.
In a day or so I did what I could to straighten out my bent bicycle and then I pedalled four
more days to White Horse. By that time I had had enough of the Alaskan highway. I could not
get spare parts for my damaged machine and the winter snow had set in. I did go on to Alaska
but left my bicycle behind in White Horse.
In Japan, I must have come close many times to a major accident. Particularly frightening
were the many long road tunnels. They were narrow and filled with exhaust fumes and I was
pressed against the tunnel walls when trucks went thundering past me. None of the drivers
seem to notice me. I was scared as much as I was angry and I really hated those tunnels.
Near Gonbad in Iran another serious accident almost stopped me from continuing my journey.
Again I was in a car, this time with an Iranian youth. (I was on the way back to collect my bike
which I had left in Mashad earlier). We had a head on collision with another car. In a blind
curve the oncoming car, a blue VW, driven by a police officer, suddenly veered across our lane,
The crash was terrible. 'That’s it, that’s the end of my journey," I kept thinking. I received
head injuries, broken ribs and cuts on the arm. After 10 days in hospital and 3 weeks
recovering I cautiously started cycling once again.
In India during my first tour of the country I used to cycle at night to avoid the heat of the
day. I sometimes went through stretches of jungle where I imagined I was being followed by
man eating tigers. People had been talking about such beasts. Every little noise in the forest
would make me pedal
faster. I got a tremendous shock one night when I cycled full-speed into a buffalo, He was
standing quietly in the middle of the road. But generally I learnt not to be afraid of wild
animals. They leave you alone if you leave
them alone. That goes for the larger ones anyway. The only ones that really bothered me were
the smaller ones, the mosquitoes, flies, fleas, ants, etc. (and bees).
People often ask where I spend the night when on the road. There is hardly a place you could
mention where I haven't slept. I hope to make a list some day of all the different places I've
stayed in. I suppose most nights have been about equally divided between (1) sleeping in my
tent or hammock, (2) in the homes of people who invited me (3) in cheap hotels or (4) youth
hostels in Europe, Japan and Asia. But then there were hundreds of unusual places to spend
the night such as churches, mosques, temples, shrines, ruins, empty houses, on bridges,
under bridges, on benches and on beaches, tables (once on a pool table) in trucks, under
trucks, in cars, in trains, on buses or in bus shelters, in offices, in schools, in fire stations, with
the Salvation Army, on yachts, in canoes, in pleasure houses, in villas, in the mountains, in
police stations, in shacks, garages, stables, caves, prison cells, military camps, in 24-hour
truck stops and even once in a telephone box. You name it, I've slept in it. I have also slept in
many different body positions and the most difficult of these was "while riding the bike". Twice
I have run into a ditch that way. Many nights were spent in Mr. Lees s bicycle store room in
H.K. surrounded by hundreds of expensive Cannondales. I was captioning some 7,000 slides
taken during travels in China and rebuilding my own bicycle.
Generally I tried to find some kind of shelter. Sometimes I have deliberately slept in unusual
places in order to keep a particular spot more clear in my memory. I remember sleeping at the
foot of the statue of Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado Hill in Rio de Janeiro, high above the
lights of the city and waking up to a spectacular sunrise. I slept on top of the Temple of the
Jaguar in Tikal, the ancient city of the Mayas in the jungles of Guatemala and over the ruins of
Machu Pichu, the lost city of the Incas. In Ladakh (India) I pitched my tent at 5,200 m for 48
hours during a snow storm, but it was Tang-Lang-La Pass in the same province where I spent
a night at 5,360 m (17,582 ft.) after having pushed my bicycle and gear for 3 days.
I had a lot of excitement in doing these things, although sometimes it was unexpected. I
remember one night in Algeria in 1963 when I cycled in the dark to escape the hostility of the
people towards the French. I wasn't French, but that didn't seem to make any difference.
Cycling into a mountain area, I found that there was a curfew after dark due to a Kabylian
counterrevolution I knew nothing about. When I made it to the top of a steep hill at midnight,
a gun was fired. I didn't know if it was meant for me or what. I didn't investigate. In panic I
raced down the hill. Although it was cold in the mountains I found myself sweating.
At 3 am I came into a small village and to a little white mosque. The entrance was open and
the floor covered with carpets. Without thinking about it too much I spread my sleeping bag on
the floor and barricaded the door. Some noise outside woke me up early. Through a little hole
in the door I could see many people outside. An old man was knocking at the door. I didn't
know what to do and I was a little scared. Hastily I tied the sleeping bag to the bike, mounted
it, opened the door suddenly and cycled out. Whatever they had expected, I caught them
totally by surprise and was back on the road before anyone could move.
In Japan on the other hand, I could sleep without fear on the steps or inside shrines and would
even welcome discovery because more often than not I would be taken inside the caretaker's
house, and he would give me food, provide a bed and try to make friends with me.
Another time while cycling through the desert between Cairo and Suez late at night I decided
to sleep in the sand under a bridge. A soft desert wind blew from behind. At six in the morning
a truck crossed the bridge and I was awakened by thunderous noise and vibrations. began to
notice a funny smell. I sat up and then jumped up as if stung by a scorpion. About three feet
away was the naked half decomposed body of a human being. Considering that I had only
slept for a short time, I got up rather quickly.
After cycling the last few kms to Suez, I checked into the youth hostel a few kms outside the
city. I asked how to get into the city by bus and was directed to the corner bus stop. After a
few minutes the bus came and I got on. Straight away I became engaged in conversation with
a friendly Egyptian.
The bus was crowded and we had to stand. But the bus didn't move! Everyone became
curious. Outside a group of soldiers blocked the street and then began to get on the bus. I
heard the word Inglesi" (Englishman) and I looked round to see who they were talking about
and found much to my surprise, that they were heading for me. They twisted my arms rather
brutally and pushed me out of the bus. On the street they knocked me unconscious. When I
came to I saw that the bus passengers were arguing loudly with the soldiers. The man I had
been talking to and the bus driver then took me in the bus to a hospital where I was
bandaged. The new friend who had come to my aid was very angry about the incident and
insisted that we go to the police. With the Chief of Police for Suez we then returned to the
scene of the incident and only then did I see the anti-aircraft guns in a field nearby. The
soldiers claimed that I was photographing them and that they had only been defending their
country. However I didn't even have my camera with me at the time. The Policeman said it
had all been a terrible mistake" and that the men would be punished. Bandaged and angry, I
left that City the same day.
This brings us to the general difficulties with police and local authorities. When you are visiting
a country where there is political turmoil, or if you are unlucky enough to be caught in the
middle of a local revolution, you can have plenty of difficulty and it can even be extremely
dangerous. In such situations even the police and soldiers are nervous, angry, trigger happy.
Often their sentiments turned against me for no apparent reason other than bad feelings
towards all capitalistic countries. I may have been seen as a symbol of those countries. I have
lived through more than one such violent situation.
To name a few: military coup in Ecuador in 1966, students rebelling against the military in
Mexico in 1968. There were times of high tension and fighting, like the French-Algerian conflict
of the early sixties or the Arab-Israeli conflict of the same period lasting to the present day.
Ethiopians battled Somalis in their border areas in 1963. I also happened to be nearby when a
machine gun battle erupted between secret police and guerilla fighters in down town
Guatemala City in 1968. None of the police or guerillas were killed, but 5
civilians were.
But on the whole, I had as many good encounters with the police and
military, as I had bad ones. Often I stayed in police stations and often I
got protection. In meeting military people I preferred the officers of higher
ranks. The common soldier I found often to be ignorant. Because of their
uniforms and weapons they could be arrogant and dangerous. They often
showed strong evidence of "hate" making propaganda against either East
or West. In dealing with police, rank was not so important. A man's mood,
his prejudice, his money needs would make for either a friendly encounter
or a hateful one. This is, of course, a generalisation. There are quite a few
differences between countries especially between the prosperous and the
underdeveloped ones. Of course in a wealthy country one seldom, if ever,
encounters the military. Contacts are mostly with the police, and most of
those involve being told what not to do. "You can't cross this bridge". "You
can't sleep there". "You can't hitch-hike in this State". "You can't sell your
booklets". "You can't cycle on this road".
This reminds me of a funny incident in Texas: I stopped late at night at a 24-hour truck stop. I
asked the owner if I could spend the rest of the night writing and reading, At about 4 am I had
finished writing up my diary and started to go through four or five 'Time' magazines which I
had picked up earlier. I had grown accustomed to tearing out pages as I had read them in
order to save weight. Also, even before I began to read I would tear out all the advertising
pages which I was not interested in. What difference would a few pages make in comparison
with all the equipment I already have to carry? Probably not much, but I am nevertheless very
weight conscious.
So, there I was sitting at 4 am, tearing pages out of magazines. The waitress had a strange
look on her face and she glanced over to me sometimes in a worried way. At 5 am a squad car
appeared outside. The officer ordered me out of the building and studied my papers carefully.
He wrote down everything but apparently could find nothing wrong. Finally he asked in a
curious tone of voice, "Tell me why did you tear the pages out of those magazines?" When I
told him, he grinned and said, "I see. Welcome to Snyder."
I do not recommend carrying concealed weapons for your self-defence. In most countries they
are illegal, so you would have to go to a lot of trouble to smuggle them in and out. Of course,
in a strange, wild place a gun gives you a feeling of security. But it can also lead to dangerous
One such moment came to me in Africa in Zambia (when it was Northern Rhodesia). I owned a
rifle-pistol combination. Totally exhausted, dirty and thirsty, I had come into this black village
in the middle of the day when it was 40 degrees C. I saw a sign saying, "Cold Castle Beer" (a
South African brand of beer). I quickly downed three or four of these beers and I asked for
some food but they only had some eggs.
Which places do I remember on this first leg of the journey? Istanbul, a city on two continents
where East meets West. It is unforgettable to look from Uskudar on the Asian side over the
Bosphorus, when the setting sun silhouettes hundreds of pointed minarets against the sky and
the whining sound of the "muhezzin" in the air calling the people to prayer.
In the high plains of Anatolia in Turkey, I had to fight off huge 'watch dogs of sheep and
goatherds who would chase me for many miles. I would pedal furiously to get away and
covered good distances in those days. When my turn came I would chase stupid camels in
desert stretches. Although they could have escaped in any direction, they would stubbornly run
in the middle of the road in front of me for miles and I sure made them run fast, too.
In Jerusalem, when it still belonged to Jordan, I visited the holy places. I entered through
Esteban's Gate and followed the 'Via Dolorosa' and I was pushed around and teased by a
bunch of youngsters making it a 'Via Dolorosa' for me too. Finally some military police came to
my rescue.
In Iran I remember most the washboard dirt roads (now all paved), a typhoid attack and the
impressive mosques of Khum, lsfahan, Mashad, Shiraz and Teheran and of course the ruins of
Persepolis, capital of the Persian empire 2,500 years ago under Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes etc.
One of the most interesting countries I ever visited is India. It is also one of the poorest,
dirtiest and most shocking. People die literally in the streets, passers by just don't care about
it. You are sickened by what you see, but you also learn to ignore it after some time. Yet the
people of India and their religions, their varied customs, their colourful saris and exotic foods,
their life style and temples .... are all so strange and exciting and new, that India ranks very
high among all the places that I saw. Supreme beauty is what one encounters in the Taj Mahal
at full moon. A pale glow comes from the white building. Like the guidebook says: "It's a
dream in marble built by giants and finished by jewellers". One can enjoy India but it is
difficult to understand it.
From Colombo, in Sri Lanka I did not know where to go next. I had planned originally to go to
South Africa, but could not find a working passage. Eventually I signed on to work on a
Norwegian fruit ship. After Singapore we went to Haiphong, North Vietnam. We were to take
bananas from there
to Nakodka, Russia. To make a long story short, I managed to get into Russia on the third
attempt, I found out later that the man who gave me my permit to enter had no authority to
do so. In Siberia, I thought that I couldn't cycle because of political reasons. I had been told
that there were "no roads". Supposedly I could cycle in the "European" part of Russia, but then
I was taken to Moscow. Finally I was confronted by the official in charge of tourism for the
whole of Russia. He said. "Sorry, we have no provisions for tourists who travel by bicycle. You
will have to leave the country".
Entering Africa by way of Gibraltar, I was greeted by one of the largest floods Morocco has
ever had. On one of the following nights I had to push my bicycle for eight hours through up to
3 ft. of water, desperately trying to keep on the road. I got out of the water alright but
everything was soaking.
Many people don't realise that Africa is not overwhelmingly "black". A large part of African
territory is Arabic and the same is the case with the population. Even the Ethiopians, although
very dark, dislike being classified as
Negro (they are Hamits). The Arab people and the Arab world were not new to me, because I
had been there before. Arabs are very prejudiced against the Black; just as much as, for
example, the Whites of South Africa.
In Sudan, although it is little publicised, there is probably as much apartheid and often more
hate between the Arabs in the North and the Blacks in the South than there is in South Africa.
Personally, I found black Africans often disappointing. A good discussion was seldom possible.
I often got angry at their giggling and laughing when I cycled past, sweating and having a hard
time. In those moments I could have exploded. I am trying not to be prejudiced, but ... well I
have a lot to learn. Of course I must not forget their colonial past and considering the way
their former masters
lived, it must have been funny after all for them to see a white man on a bicycle.
Because of the big game, the savannas, colourful tribes and Kilimanjaro (almost 5,900 m) the
Ruwenzori and Ngorongoro crater: because of the proud, tall Massai and Watusis, the game
parks: because of all these things, East-Africa is more exciting than most other parts of Africa.
Only a little further south, of course, you have the spectacular Victoria Falls. Other highlights
were the pyramids and the ruins of the Pharaohs in Egypt. The Greek and Roman ruins of
North Africa were magnificent, too. Ethiopia, with its rugged mountains is not so well known.
The Takazze gorge in the Simien is supposedly so large that, according to a guidebook, you
could throw the Grand Canyon into it and "hardly notice it". In the Sudan and southern
Ethiopia and northern Kenya I encountered some of the worst roads anywhere. Sometimes
they were hardly visible, other times destroyed by temporary rivers, many times too sandy to
cycle. At times like that, I got off and pushed.
I caught pneumonia in Egypt on the Red Sea in a place where, because of the dry warm air,
people are generally sent to "cure lung ailments". I stayed 10 days in my tent without hospital
care. A travelling doctor gave me some antibiotics. I ran across a number of other travellers on
the dusty roads of Africa. There weren't too many roads to go on.
The muddiest water I must have drunk was in southern Ethiopia. To me, however, it tasted
like champagne because that was after I had run out of water for almost two days. When I
arrived in South Africa, I enjoyed the comforts of a rich, well developed country with good
paved roads, large cities and had no difficulties in getting to Cape Town which was my final
destination in Africa.
I paid US$228 for my passage to South America. This was from the generous gift of Haile
Selassi. Leaving Cape Town, was leaving one of the great beautiful cities of the world behind.
But Rio de Janeiro is even more beautiful and it was waiting for me.
If someone, during my first few weeks in Latin America in April and May of 1964, had told me
that I was going to stay more than four years I would have replied "Impossible!!" But during
that time I slowed down more and more (for the reasons I pointed out earlier). Also, I found
the Latin Americans very friendly, generous and easy to get to know. They would open their
arms and houses quickly for a young adventurer. Deportista y Aventurero sounds good in
Spanish. They are so spontaneous if sometimes not to eager to keep their promises. As long as
you don't expect them to do what they say they are going to do, you can have a wonderful
time. They don't use much logic. They act according to their feelings at any given moment.
Therefore they can be very unpredictable and contradictory. They put a lot of emphasis on
living and playing first; work comes later. Perhaps for that reason they seem to worry less.
They are very capable and have a lot of potential but little "stick-to-it willingness". In my
opinion, that is one of the reasons why Latin America is still called "a developing continent".
But why should we try to make them like us. Go and accept their way of life. I became a Latin
American in many ways during my stay.
I visited every country and most regions of South America. In general the roads were better
than in Africa, but more mountainous. I crossed the Andes on several occasions. Between Lima
and La Oroya I pushed the bike over the Ticlio Pass which at 4,843 meters was my highest
point on the bike for many years.
In Patagonia, strong constant west winds would push or break me depending on the turn of
the road. Among the great sights of nature I enjoyed the lguazu Falls (on the border of Brazil,
Argentina and Paraguay) and the Angel Falls in Venezuela which are the highest of all falls at
just under 1,000 meters. My personal favourite waterfall in the world is the splendid Kaiteur
Falls (old man's falls) at 225 meters in Guyana (derived its name from the Indian custom of
putting an old man into his canoe for his last ride down the river.) The round trip from
Georgetown took me ten days, because the falls were remotely located in jungle regions.
Some other impressive places were the Inca ruins of Cusco and Machu-Pichu in Peru. I also
enjoyed the ruins of the Mayas, Aztecs, Olmecs and Toltecs in Guatemala and Mexico.
Spectacular mountain scenery was offered all along the Andean chain with enormous glaciers
in the south. Different and exciting were the chains of active volcanos in Central America. It
was a very exciting day when I stood at the foot of the Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala when it
was in full eruption. I liked the colourful Indian customs of Guatemala, Bolivia, Peru and
Ecuador the best because of their originality and their photogenic quality.
Most adventurous of all were the many trips and expeditions I made into the jungle regions.
Since there were no roads, I usually had to leave the bicycle behind. On foot, by canoe, raft
and larger boats, I covered great parts of the Amazon jungle. Since I was a boy I had wanted
to see the mightiest of all rivers, where even minor tributaries are larger than anything
comparable in Europe. The ultimate in adventure is to be completely on your own, when life
itself depends on your abilities and decisions. I felt a little like Livingstone or Stanley must
have felt when they explored Africa a hundred years ago.
But the jungle was also a hard place to live in; hot, humid and often boring. One encounters
fewer animals than one might think. In most people's imagination, the jungle is a place where
animals lurk behind every tree. They think of jaguars prowling, snakes slithering and monkeys
playing. They dream of insects buzzing and sound everywhere. In reality everything is a
greenish haze. It is impossible to really see or distinguish anything, unless perhaps an Indian
tells you exactly where to look. Go and look for animals. Go and try to find a snake for
yourself. You will be disappointed. You get tired. You give up. Then, suddenly some noise,
something breaks away and you are lucky to have seen what it was. You must be very lucky to
get a glimpse at, say, a tapir or a jaguar. I never saw a live jaguar in the jungles and I spent
plenty of time there. I don't know just why I was so attracted to the jungle in the end. But I
was glad to get out again, to get back to comfort to see civilisation once more.
North America may not have the Amazon and jungle, but when it comes to spectacular sights
of nature the United States can't be topped I think, anywhere in the world. A great number of
the most unusual monuments of nature are dotted all over the country from coast to coast. Be
it the immense and colourful Grand Canyon or the giant Redwoods and Sequoia trees in
California. Or the equally giant sky scrapers of nature in Monument Valley and the thousands
of intricate red, pink and yellow pinacles of Bryce Canyon. There is the Petrified Forest,
fantastic Zion Canyon and Yosemite National Park and Niagara Falls, Everywhere you will be
standing gaping and not believing nature's creations.
However, after six years in the two Americas I finally became eager to set off for another part
of the world. The final bit of excitement came in San Francisco, when my bicycle disappeared
but through the extensive pleas which were broadcast over TV and radio and through the
assistance of the citizens there, my bicycle was luckily recovered after only 4 days. By the way
the bicycle was stolen on three other occasions, in Columbia, Turkey and the Philippines, in
Tibet it was confiscated by the authorities but it was eventually returned. I must consider
myself very lucky indeed to have it recovered each time. As time passes I do begin to have a
special relationship with it and I would not know what to do, should I lose it now.
My plan to stop in Hawaii for an unknown time also served as a stepping stone across the
Pacific. Despite the many tourists I enjoyed the group of islands very much thanks to the
many good friends I made there. Most exciting were the live volcanos on the big island and the
climb up Mauna Loa (over 4000 metres) passing up through its incredible desolate volcanic
landscape. Also a new experience was flying to the many islands of Micronesia on the way to
Okinawa. Having fortunately made the acquaintance of an Air-Micronesia pilot, my bicycle was
transported free of charge. In Japan, I found financial success and considerable publicity.
Conditions in general were a little crowded for me in most places, but the kindness of the
people, their honesty and their willingness to help came as a pleasant surprise. Often people
think of the Japanese as being impenetrable and mysterious. I found them to display great
openness, always ready to laugh, an almost childlike enthusiasm and readiness to do anything
you suggest. To climb a mountain, to do a tour, to play a game. They constantly gave little
(and big) presents and souvenirs. The only big drawback in Japan is conversation with people.
A different way of thinking accounts for many, unintended misunderstandings. Not that
conversations are very complicated. In fact they talk generally about less important things,
because Japanese people must keep problems to themselves. To get along well in
overpopulated areas this is a necessity, but on the other hand tension may not find an outlet.
Sometimes the outlet is the accelerator of the car. Westernisation is obvious in Japan but only
on the surface. Much of the Japanese life and culture is traditional and indigenous. Western
things get a Japanese imprint very quickly. Japanese people are probably the most
homogeneous people in the world. To understand one of them is to understand most of them.
Leaving Japan in November, 1972 with
a pocketful of money and many good
memories I thought I would be able to
make my way back to Germany in a
year or two with no more money
problems. It's interesting to note how
many times I said I'd go home and how
many times I was wrong. I started this
"going home business" back in the
sixties. First I was to be there in 1968
then 1970. "Well", I said, "I'm sure that
I'll be home for the 1972 Olympics". Then it was for the Football World Cup of 1974. Finally,
1975 was to be the year when I returned. After that when people asked "When do you intend
to go home", I shrugged my shoulders and said "I'm not sure, maybe next year or the year
after," or I said "I've got to break Marco Polo's record!" What's his record? Well, he stayed
away for 25 years. Now my answer is: "I will go home when I run out of new countries."
By the time I had finished my sixth bottle of beer I had eaten a dozen eggs. With the 7th
bottle in front of me and a shirt soaked in sweat, I relaxed some more.
In the breast pocket of my shirt I carried the pistol. The weight of the weapon was pulling my
wet shirt down in an uncomfortable way, so I put the gun on the table. Because people were
watching I thought I had better empty the magazine. I put the bullets away and pulled the
trigger to release the cock but overlooked that there was another bullet in the barrel. The gun
went off and the bullet went into the wall.
I was very lucky indeed that nobody was hurt and I completely sobered up in no time. The
people had all got up by this time and I thought that I'd better get going, so after paying the
bill and adding a generous tip I staggered out into the bright sun. Behind the village was a
steep hill. I made it about half-way up and collapsed.
There was something on my face when I woke up. A big dog was standing over me and licking
my face. I glanced up not knowing what was going on. Behind the dog a white woman was
coming nearer. I heard her saying, "Is there something wrong with you?" "Oh no" I said and
carried on up the hill.
Altogether, I only used the weapon a few times, sometimes to chase dogs away and once I
shot into the air when two drunks got nasty. I don't remember firing the weapon for real selfdefence and in Brazil it was finally taken away from me.
I prefer to travel alone because it is most important to me to be able to set and keep one's
own pace. Also, that way I have no-one but myself to blame for any wrong decisions. I believe
that a lone traveller learns more because he has to depend more on making contacts in order
not to be alone and because he gets more invitations. Alone I have a better chance of getting
work, or for example, passage on ships. Now I know I was right and will stay alone, although
in the beginning I would have taken a companion if I could have found one.
Every so often and for short times however I would team up with other cyclists or travellers if
they were going my way. I did this with Horst Lechner in India in 1961, with Fumiko Mitsue in
Japan in 1971 and again in India in 1976 with Martin Eaves, an Englishman on a world cycle
tour. But he had to interupt his journey in Calcutta because of hepatitis. I also cycled with
Daniel Masson in Laos in 1989. To go trekking in Nepal I joined up with Canadian Walter Ratte,
and one trip in the Amazon was with a Swede, Bo Carlo.
I do not feel lonely because I have a vivid imagination and I daydream about a variety of
things and make plans for the future. A country exists in my mind even before I arrive there
and lives on in my imagination long after I leave it.
I also own a little radio which I listen to and it has helped me to pick up languages. This way I
have learned both Spanish and English which I speak rather fluently now. Since I never
studied any language in school I haven't got much knowledge of grammar. I only know what
sounds right or wrong. The advantage in learning a language that way is that you learn to
speak without much work or effort. But you do not learn how to write it. English is especially
difficult to write.
In countries where other languages are spoken (depending on the amount of time I spend
there and the necessity of having to use the local tongue) I would pick up enough words to get
along or use sign language. But this little knowledge one forgets soon after having left the
place. While in Japan I tried to learn only the spoken language. But because of the eagerness
of the Japanese to practise their English and because I never had to try and decipher the
written language I didn't make a great deal of progress. It is impossible in this short report to
talk about all my thoughts on the different countries I have seen, or even to mention every
one. But I will try, at least, to give you an impression of my travels.
When I first started I took the Eastern route partly because the countries of Asia stirred my
imagination more than other places - Persia, India, China, Japan. What exciting names,
especially for a young man of twenty, full of enthusiasm, ambition and wanderlust. Also, going
that way would save me the initial cost of crossing an ocean. And, last but not least, it was
relatively easy that way to obtain the necessary permits and visas.
Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines and Hong Kong were the first few places I visited after Japan;
and exciting and beautiful places they were. Hong Kong rivals Rio de Janeiro in beauty and
spectacular setting. In Taiwan Chinese culture was kept at its best. The great cultural heritage
of the Chinese people is on view in the National Palace Museum. The people are busy and hard
working. My attempt to visit the People's Republic of China in 1972 was not successful.
Next I went to the Philippines. The people there were constantly smiling and friendly and
carefree. Everywhere I cycled, laughing and unusually pretty children would follow me out of
curiosity. 350 years of Spanish colonisation and 50 years of American rule left them with much
Western influence. Everybody speaks English with ease. Here I saw the World famous rice
terraces of Banawe, Bontoc and other places in northern Luzon. It took many centuries for
skilful mountain people to build them. Further south lies the perfectly even cone of active
Mayon Volcano.
A Swedish cargo vessel took me to Australia, my last continent. It was clear from the
beginning that it would require some time to make the tour around Australia. I did not plan
from the L start to make the tour so extensive, but people kept asking me, "Will you go to
Darwin," or, "Will you cross the Nullabor?" Often they expressed doubts about not being able
to do it, "I bet you can't cross the Nullabor by bicycle". To go west of Ayers Rock? "Nobody has
done it (by bicycle) and you must be crazy if you try it." "It's not a question of whether I'll be
able to do it," I would answer, "It's only a matter of having time to prepare for it in a proper
way, of using good sense and of getting up and going!" I kept going for just under 7 months
and covered 12,000 kms.
In the outback areas many motorists would stop to offer water (or a cold beer) or to invite me
to visit them, or just to see the guy who wants to make his life so hard. In the cities I stayed
with the people I met in the outback, Repeatedly I came across the same people in different
parts of the country. Each time there was great "Hellos" and each time people were surprised
about the distance I had covered.
When thinking about the country I never
forget the great 'Red Centre" of Australia with
strnge landscapes and impressive rocks and
gorges. When it rains, wild flowers cover the
land as if they were a carpet. Out of all the
coastal regions the area round Port Cambell
in Victoria is my favourite spot. The ocean
has cut the coast into amazing shapes. I was
taken to some of the sights by the Cowells of
Nobel Park. They became an Australian
counterpart to the Kirbys of Alabama.
But the real challenge in Australia was the 1,300 km sandy trail, lying west of Ayers Rock.
Vehicles travel infrequently on this often corrugated narrow trail. My bike was loaded up with
food and water. Riding from sunrise to sunset I could cover a maximum of 80 kms a day (all in
first gear). Part of the way I went through aboriginal reserve. People at two outback stations
knew of my expedition and were helpful. I was told about water holes and twice water was
placed for my consumption in "easy to spot" places.
When the day grew old and the mood of the sky would change, my own mood would change
too. Can the horizon not be reached? Am I homesick? Home to where? Is it just emotions that
people have? The sky becomes dramatic, the feeling is good. Let me have a last check on the
map. Where will I put my head down for the night? The map is blank, but anyway I like to
know where I am. A campsite is chosen. The sinking sun turns a hill into a glowing red colour.
Nobody is around and everything is completely still.
If Australia's vast distances were challenging, New Zealand's varied countryside was much
easier and much more pleasant. New Zealand is really the ideal country to cycle in. The
climate has few extremes, the distances are short and the traffic is light. In the south the
glaciers, the fjords and the high mountains with snow all the year round are the major
attractions, while in the north it's the area of volcanic activity and the Maori cultural places
(original settlers of New Zealand) that most people want to see.
Plenty of palmtrees, plenty of beaches, plenty of sunshine is fine for a while but too much of it
is not,and soon you have enough of it. This became, true to some extent on a number of
South Pacific islands after I visited New Zealand. Fiji, Tonga. Samoa, New Caledonia, Vanuatu,
the Solomons, Papua-New Guinea etc. are exotic names indeed and of course worth seeing. I
bought a stopover air ticket and this was important, because the immigration authorities kept
asking for onward tickets.
One of my difficulties came on the day when I was
on board the SS Ainiu back to Fiji and the Captain
informed me that my passport had been lost and
the Fiji Immigration Officer didn't want to let me off
the ship. There was no German representative in Fiji
and it took five weeks of corresponding back and
forth to Australia until a new passport arrived from
the German Embassy in Canberra.
The tropical climate on the islands is not always
healthy either.Tropical ulcers and sores develop from the smallest scratch. Food may be scarce
and tasteless. Road conditions can be very bad. A road on Bogainville island turned into 3 feet
of grass with vines and undergrowth which left me desperate and helpless. Melanesian and
Polynesian people live mostly on the islands and a large group of immigrant Indians in Fiji. The
people on Bogainville are very black. Phrases like: "blacker than black", or "the blackest people
in the world", I heard people call themselves without any superiority or inferiority complex.
Most of the places I mentioned have an English colonial past and became independent only
recently. New Caledonia is French however and Vanuatu was the New Hebrides where a joint
English-French rule was exercised; it was the only 'so called' Condominium Government in the
world. Everything was in duplicate from the two Governors to the postal system, the police
force and the flags.
Papua-New Guinea is a country of great contrast. A country of high mountains and of deep
jungles and of strange people and even stranger customs. Here people are very much attached
to nature and to a tribal way of life that hasn't changed much. But the Australian Government
and missionaries did bring some western culture to the area along with western goods. As a
result you may see contrasting, even grotesque sights, such as a naked native buying food in
an air-conditioned supermarket in Mount Hagen in the highlands. Very impressive affairs are
so called sing-sings when the native people gather and everything is tribal and strange, and
here the Westerner will certainly feel out of place.
After I arrived in Indonesia I unfortunately had problems with my stomach. For 3 months
cycling around I suffered with some kind of dysentry. At the same time road conditions in the
remoter islands of Timor, Flores, Sumbawa were among the worst I ever came across. In the
heat of the midday sun I would collapse in the shade somewhere and didn't feel the urge of
ever getting up again. Bali was not quite the paradise people like to make it, but still one of
the great beautiful places one has to see.
Despite my condition I climbed 'Bromo' and 'Merapi'
volcanos in Java, and after staying in Singapore for a
month I was ready and well to start off for Bangkok up
through the Malay peninsula. There the communist
advance in Vietnam and the occurrences in Cambodia
made people very tense. I could not go to Vietnam or
Cambodia anymore. I did cycle to Luang Prabang in
Laos. I was afraid of running into military operations but
the people and the soldiers I encountered did not bother
On the way to Calcutta from Bangkok I stopped the 7 days permitted in Burma and joined
what travellers called "The Great Burma Race". Due to the visa restrictions you are only
permitted seven days. To see as much as possible you have to run! India in 1975/76 was not
all that much different from the India of 1961 which I remembered vividly. If anything, there
seemed to be even more people now. The state of emergency imposed on India by Mrs.
Gandhi did seem to make things work better and basic foods were available at controlled
The people were as curious as ever. Repetitious questions drove me crazy sometimes. I
selected remoter areas of India to cycle in Kashmir, Ladakh and Himalchal-Pradesh for the
summer months, trekking in Nepal in October/November and Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and
Rajastan in winter.
Most memorable was the tour across high Himalayan mountains 474 km from Leh to Manali
pushing my bicycle to a record height of 5,360 m and of course it was a great experience to
walk to the foot of Mount Everest in Nepal. From New Delhi in Spring of 1976 I started my long
trek westwards, homewards, towards Europe once more. In Afghanistan I took the difficult
central route via Band-i-Amir and Chakcharan to Herat and I tried Turkey's cold East-Anatolian
Region in the middle of winter, just to prove that this is possible, regardless of what any one
says. It was a very special day when I crossed the Bosphorous and stepped back onto
European soil on 4 January 1977, 14 years exactly to the day when I left via Gibraltar in 1963.
The ferry took me across the Bosphorous passing the Dolmabahce palace on the European side
and immediately I felt myself coming nearer the bustle and sound of Istanbul, the minarets,
the end of the day with the sun big and red behind Aya Sophia. At the time I thought "I'll have
to get accustomed again to Europe". Then, "Maybe I should do a tour of Europe first before
going home"..
And that is exactly what happened almost as if I was
afraid of going home, as if I never wanted to stop or
abandon this life of travelling and of freedom.
Cautiously I approached the borders of my homeland
in Austria- in Switzerland- in France and Holland
during 1977 without ever setting foot across the
border. Money was low. I wasn't going home with my
hands empty. Only about 200 km away from my
home-town my aging father and my sisters and their
expanding families came to visit me during a weekend in Holland. Yes, only a weekend. After
all they had to work like everybody else. This suddenly made it clear to me that I wasn't going
to stop. There were so many countries not yet seen. In my head new long-range plans began
to form. I went to England and spent a couple of Winter months in London. I sold my story to
various journals and engaged the help of an agent. Then I made a lengthy tour of the U.K. and
Ireland and Iceland.
The Winter of 1978 was approaching. I took the map of Africa. This great Continent of over 50
independent states I had barely touched on my 1963-64 tour. I wanted to cross the Sahara
from North to South, after all a new tarmac road had already been built to Tamanrasset in the
heart of the Sahara. Soon it would be too easy to do. Martin Eaves the Englishman I had first
met in Assam, India, wanted to do the same. We prepared together in his home near Bristol. I
needed a visa for Algeria. I applied early but the OK from Algiers never came.
We started together loaded up with
extras for the desert and split again in
Paris while I tried once more for the
visa. I saw Martin only once more in
Cameroon. I never obtained the visa,
changed plans quickly and took a cargo
vessel from Marseille to Dakar-Senegal.
I didn't know exactly what my route
would be, or how long I would stay. A
new idea had become important to me,
the idea: "To see all the countries in the
world." My route was determined by countries "Not seen." Because countries "Not seen" in
Africa were spread all over the continent the travels there extended to three years and at the
end of that time there were still some missing. Almost all was done by bicycle (40,000 kin). I
had more adventures to overcome, although with advancing age and growing expenence I
tended to do things with more preparation and caution, eliminating adventures of the sort that
come when you are young and enthusiastic but inexperienced. Today I call it: "Doing stupid
things" like entering the desert without sufficient water hoping some help will come along
when you need it. Surprisingly often it does. For me the danger comes by doing more difficult
routes, routes away from civilisation, routes where few vehicles go. I crossed areas and
reached countries that were difficult to do even in the Eighties.
The jungles of Gabon or Zaire for example, or the Kalahari
Desert or Timbuktou. I cycled in Madagascar for 90 days and in
La Reunion saw a new volcano erupting and growing.
Surprisingly a visa was granted for Saudi Arabia and I cycled the
length of the country. Saudi Airline Magazine published a story
about my tour that they received from my agent in London. A
lavish press conference was given in the Sheraton Hotel in
Yeddah, even though tourists are not allowed in Saudi Arabia.
I thought about the good time I had in Ethiopia during my 1963
tour there and how quickly the situation can change. This time I
was on the other side of the border in Somalia. Ethiopia had
become difficult to enter. I saw the many refugee camps near
the border. Somalia itself was not exactly easy to enter either, nor well known, photo taking
was restricted but the people were friendly.
Less of a happy occasion was the night in Nigeria when at last, after all those years on the
road and in the bush, I stepped, barefoot on a scorpion, and was stung. In Cameroon I was
detained for 6 days after a discussion with State Security Police. I was accused of "Slandering
The State." It didn't help that my visa had just expired. I was finally freed through the
energetic help of the German Consul in Duala.
Looking back and thinking about it the most dangerous moment probably came in Zambia
when four of Nkomos "Freedom Fighters" stopped me on the road near Rufunsa 155 km East
of Lusaka. One of them pointed his AK47 in my direction and pulled the trigger. The bullet
went through the big toe on my right foot. I didn't feel any pain. They ripped my things apart
and stripped me to my underpants, threatening to shoot me all the while. Luckily only a little
later a German working for the Zambian Government passed in his car and heard me shouting
"I am a tourist, the German Embassy please". He grasped the situation at once, but sped away
because the "Freedom Fighters" pointed their guns at his car. His wife and children were in the
car too. But he soon came back and with five Zambian policemen. The "Freedom Fighters" said
I was a military man from Zimbabwe (just independent). The police said they would check it.
After first aid on my foot, my things were much looked at. It became clear that I was only a
world cyclist after all. Mr. Buttner my rescuer took me to Lusaka and I spent ten days
recuperating in his beautiful home.
In 1982 I returned to Europe for the second time. In
a "mopping up" operation I picked the countries not
yet seen. Malta-Monaco-Poland-Romania-Bulgaria
transiting others on the way. I chose the EasternBlock countries in the middle of the Winter 82-83 to
make an otherwise "Too easy" journey worthwhile,
and to prove that you can do it, if you wish to. Even
camping in snow and ice. My agent had provided me
with some extra money, because the Eastern-Block
countries became expensive since one was obliged to exchange a minimum in foreign
currencies (Poland 15$US, CSSR 12$US, Romania 10$US per day).
In 1983 I came to Spain. For one year I travelled the Iberian peninsula and successfully sold
another brochure of my journey.
Failing to find an economical flight to the Caribbean, I found myself once more in Africa.
Mauritania received me with high temperatures never known before. Near Choum and Atar the
thermometer climbed to +530C (in the shade of course!).
More hardship was to come. In Gambia angry bees stung me 40 to 60 times and left me in
hospital for 4 days and with a memory forever to watch out for angry bees, not that I will
forget the Tse-Tse flies in Guinea. Their bites were beastly too. I had food poisoning in Dakar
and in draught prone Cape-Verde Islands the rain of the century fell (400 mm in 48 hrs.). The
resulting floods tore down what people had laboured hard to build over the years. 32 people
died. My tent which was built on a 1,400 m high ridge was torn in the storm. I found refuge in
a mountain cabin.
Finally I did the much dreamed of trans Sahara crossing (May-June 85). This seemed almost
easy compared to the earlier difficulties. In 15 days I had crossed 600 km of the worst stretch
between Arlit and Tamanrasset. It took 57 days from Agadez to the shores of the
Mediterranean. Food and water was freely given by passing truck drivers and tourists in
September 1985 saw me once more in London. Within days I had gone to the Caribbean
region hopping from one island state to another first by cargo boat then by aircraft. Most
island states were expensive. The Dominican Republic I liked the best. Large, Spanish
speaking, cheap, few tourists, pretty girls. I spent two months there. In early 1987 all
countries of the "Western Hemisphere" were visited.
From Miami a US$87 "special offer" flight by "Virgin Atlantic" brought me back to London in 9
hours. The flight included steak, free drinks and a box for my bicycle. This must have been one
of the cheapest flights an airline has ever offered. For a few weeks I got stuck in the office of
F. Spooner Pictures sifting through a growing mountain of pictures and papers. Not wanting to
be buried in it I soon escaped from the accumulations of the past and set my sights on China.
This grand country I had not been able to enter in 1972. Although flights can bring you to the
most remote corners of the earth in a matter of hours, I took my time picking a few countries
on the way.
Sri Lanka where I stopped first was a bargain - the Maldives are
exotic and beautiful - Sumatra was remote and mountainous Sarawak and Sabah full of jungle and Brunei is owned by a Sultan
who is thought to be the richest man in the world.
This followed by 3 days of excitement in Banaue - Philippines where my bicycle was stolen for
the forth time. How the police recovered it in a village, 50 km away remains a mystery to
me. The thief said he "found" the bicycle unattended and only took it for "safe keeping",
destroying the lock and other things in the process. He had the nerve to ask for a reward. It
was only in April 1988 that I finally set foot on the Chinese mainland. China became the
country where I spent more time and cycled more miles than in any other country. My circles
inside the country became increasingly larger to encompass every province and in the end
included neighbouring countries like Mongolia, Pakistan, India, Vietnam and Laos.
In China alone I cycled some 35,000 km in 580 days. To do this
in China I had to learn to travel differently. Primarily I had to
learn that information can not easily be obtained from the
people by the spoken word alone. The most simple situations
can be frustrating. For example. I was at a crossroad, there
were four directions and no signposts. I was about 20 km from
Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province. I pushed my bike to the
policeman in the middle asking helplessly "Chengdu? Nali?
Where?" pointing in various directions. His face showed no
comprehension, when I repeated, he turned to denial. I
repeated it again, he said "mei you, mei you" (don't have)
energetically. Chengdu, written in Chinese, shown on a map, would have solved the problem
quickly. To find my way I tried to have as many different and detailed maps as possible.
China is a patchwork of open and closed areas. Most countries in the world have the policy:
Everything is open to travellers except what is closed, but in China it is the other way
around: Everything is closed, except what is open. Furthermore no visitor to the country is
supposed to bring his own transport. These two stipulations made almost my every move in
the country against the law. How on earth could I have possibly got away with 580 days and
35,000 km? Because in China the course of daily life is one thing and what the law says is
another. Rules are broken endlessly by everyone in society and in all spheres of existence.
I feel about as guilty for travelling the way I did as does a Chinese person for cycling on the
wrong side of the road. The problem starts when the arm of the law decides otherwise. To
state an example, punishment can be severe for local people for minor wrong doings.
Foreigners may get a warning, pay fines, have their bikes or cameras confiscated or be sent
out. of the country. Each one was dealt out to me in the course of my travels in China. There
is no coordination between the various security organisations, no central computer. 50 km
away you can start anew. Once out of the country you can get another visa and enter again,
if necessary the next day.
Chinese people can be incredibly generous and friendly,
but it has to be on their terms. You may be overcharged
in the morning and showered with gifts in the evening
"by the same person". It is important to keep in mind
that it is their country, their customs, their way of life
that you participate in. And it is up to you to adapt to it,
and that is the difficult part.
With changes in the former communist block I finally saw
my chance of cycling in Russia as well. That was always
denied before.
Mongolia's National Sports Festival "Nadaam" was
coming up. A last minute train ticket and visa for
Mongolia was obtained through "Andr?s Monkey
Business" in Beijing who specializes in Trans-Siberian
train journeys.
Competitions in Ulaanbaatar were held in the so called "three manly" sports of Mongolia:
Wrestling, Archery, and Horse racing. (but horses are ridden by children). While waiting for
the Russian visa I cycled through the open spaces to the west. 1,500 km to Hovd then took a
flight back to Ulaanbaatar.
I was not much attended to in the Russian Embassy in Ulaanbaatar on the day I was to
received the visa. The reception room personnel were watching a TV screen, where a sombre
looking woman was reading names from a list. Then somebody said to me; "you know, there
is a coup in Moscow!?"
Later Mr. Karalov came and handed me my visa: "It does not need to concern you!" he said.
Riding to the border I was first refused entry. The second border, 20 km away, was heavily
guarded. Past watchtowers and pointing guns I was ushered by soldiers to the entry point.
After several hours of waiting the go ahead was given.
I headed for Almaty 5,000 km away. The road followed the rail line and was mostly good.
Food was easily obtained in the villages along the road (sometimes even smoked Salmon or
Caviar - cheaply bought with hard currencies). After Novosibirsk I turned south into
Kazakstan and reached Almaty with no difficulties. Flights and trains got me back to Beijing.
And then it was one more time down to Hong Kong to escape the winter in the north, to write
many letters, to rebuild my bicycle, to see Mr. Lee and to focus my vision on all the countries
to come…
My story may sound like a continuing string of adventures, but you have to keep in mind that
33 years is a long time and I have tried to put so much into just a few pages. Of course one
tries to tell about major events and it is difficult to describe the times in-between. I did not
cycle continuously. I would often leave the bicycle behind and use other forms of
transportation. Although I cycled about 385,000 kms I also travelled by train, plane, boat,
bus, car etc. for another 600 to 800,000 kms.
When I finish travelling - maybe in 1970-1980-1990-2000? - I would be happy if I could
make a living out of my experiences, by giving slide shows-writing a book-selling my
photographs, or whatever; Anyway the big question is; "Will I finish?"
I cannot recommend that everyone should do as I have done. It depends on the individual.
Anyone can do it. Determination, consistency and imagination are more important than mere
physical ability. You have to forget about comforts and having a family. You have to do it
early, before you have responsibilities and before you become a slave to your environment.
You have to be completely free.
Would I do it all over again? No! I never liked to cover the same terrain I've already
My travels have continued since this booklet was first printed in 1992. In North Korea, I rode
my bicycle only to the border post (a distance of some 500 meters). There I was stopped
from cycling any further. Instead, I was chauffeured around for seven days with a guide and
'taken good care' of. Not used to travelling in style I even enjoyed it. The only painful thing
was the US$ 1000 price-tag, that came with it! At the North Korean-Russian border, they
didn't want to let me in at first. The visa didn't mention the border crossing point. But the
chief of border guards was a friendly person. After sharing his chicken and vodka with me he
let me off the train and into his country. Then I was on my own. In the eighteen months that
followed, I cycled 21,000 km through every one of the fifteen new countries of the former
USSR. I also went to many of the republics within Russia itself. E.g. Karelia, Komi, Tartastan,
Chechenya, Osetia, Dagestan, Kalmyk, Yakutia, Tuva, and more.
I crossed the borders of the numerous republics
so often that I lost track. At many of the new
borders I didn't need to show my passport. For
much of the time I didn't even have a visa. I
entered on a fourteen day Russian transit visa
which was generously extended by four months in
BlagoveshenSkl (Never heard of such). Of course,
all of this would never have been possible before
the fall of the former regime. People in all the
regions I travelled through were very unhappy
with the present situation. There were very few
Western travellers. I can count on my two hands
the ones I met in 18 months (except in Moscow).
Can you imagine arriving at a restaurant
(mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide), where the
owner called me the very first one. He was so glad
that he invited me for a big meal and drove me
around in his Mercedes. (Pskov, 22-2-93).Of
course, Russia 'is not complete without: 'From
Russia with love'. Actually she is from Belarus. When we met I was taking pictures on a
bridge. Looking into the pond below I heard a sharp voice: 'What are you doing there?". The
KGB? No, two pretty girls standing behind me. One of them, the English speaker, is Zoya.
'It's none of your . She is too pretty. We make an appointment. We meet again. She says she
loves me. She is 36, divorced and has a daughter of 11 years old. We subsequently travelled
together to some places by train. Among other places to Vorkuta (January 93), a coal mining
town north of the Arctic circle. It was –30 degrees Celsius and blowing. Sometimes she
joined me in places where I had previously arrived by bike. She also joined me when I
arrived in Kyrgyzstan. From Bishkek we traveled by train to Hong Kong, from where she has
since returned to her home in Minsk. Next I decided to go to Albania, one of only five "not yet
seen countries". Having tried to enter in vain four times during the crazy days of Enver
Hoxha dictatorial rule one now arrives there easily and without visas. An amazing 300,000
concrete bunkers "large and small" dot the land. They were built to defend the country
against imagined enemies. It is said that one bunker has the material for 4 flats and there
are 10 inhabitants in Albania for every bunker. Many flats could have been built instead.
Threading my way up through previously only poorly visited countries in Eastern Europe I
arrived once more in Minsk.
For years I had been wanting to do Norway's spectacular coastal route but always quickly
postponed it as "too expensive" or "too cold" or to be done when I am rich and/or old. But
now it suddenly seemed the time to go. The approach route was exciting too. It's a long haul
up from Minsk via Karelias Lakes and beautiful Kishi churches to Murmansk, Russia's large
northernmost city (69 degree Lat.)
Battling rain snow' and winds during 4 months and for 4000 km Norway lived up to bad
reputation regarding weather but also up to my best expectations of beauty. Later in London
while doing inventory of about 28,000 slides stored with F. Spooner Pictures, money was
made available for a new journey to Africa. Previously elusive countries like war torn Angola
now seemed possible and Aeroflot had cheap tickets to a number of destinations there. As all
flights were via Moscow (and stop-overs permitted) I could conveniently visit Zoya again
(increasingly important).
Many returning Africans were crowding
the Tu 154 airplane on the way to
Duala. Not welcome anymore in Russia
nor supported by their own countries
many were left stranded in Russia
without even the means to get to their
home countries. My plan was to go
first to tiny Sao Tome and Principe 320
km off the coast of Gabon. I planed to
reach the islands by boat from
Libreville. Every other day the boat
was supposed to go. Five weeks later
when it finally did I was fuming, having spent too much on food and accommodation in
expensive Libreville. To top it all the difficult to get, US$100 visa for Angola had expired.
Angola, still short of a full peace agreement nevertheless had a lull in the confrontation of the
opposing sides but guns and Kalashnikovs could be seen and heard everywhere even slung
on shoulders of small shepherd boys. But I never felt threatened. I cycled on routes that
were considered safe and cleared of land mines, but could be in terrible condition otherwise.
Assistance was offered along the way by passing vehicles, often aid organizations or truck
drivers. Approaching the Namibian border I found the road side littered with destroyed and
rusting military vehicles a reminder of battles fought here in the 80-ties between South
African forces and Cuban Russian assisted government troops. The Caprivi strip in Namibia
provided an access route towards the other side of Africa. Much needed rain was falling all
over the northern part of the RSA.
It reminded me of the
miserably wet days in Norway
the previous year when I
wouldn’t get out of my tent for
two or three days d in a row.
Denis, an Irishman, had given
me a lift to Jo-Burg in his
small Cessna. That made it
possible to include Maputo, the
capital of Mozambique in my
tour of that country. The
southern n summer made riding uncomfortably hot. I was washing naked under a bridge in
the middle of a nowhere one day when a swarm of angry bees suddenly attacked me. It was
the second such terrifying attack after one in 1984 in "The Gambia". When the poison got
into my system there was a strange tingling all over my body, I fell to the ground and lost all
control of my body functions choking and screaming and rolling from side to side in the
dirt!Some hours later natives hinted it might have been the soap I was using that made the
bees so angry. Should I sue the soap maker?Although the Comoros are only a short distance
from the mainland in Mozambique there was no way of getting there except from "way up"
Nairobi or "way down" Johannesburg. The Comoros made the world news only a little earlier
with yet another "coup d' etat" but the situation was quiet again after the intervention by
French forces. I couldn't possibly give the-country a miss but was miffed by the high US$445
return flight from Nairobi and unhappy by high prices in general and high temperature. I
stayed just 7 days and only on the main island of Grande Cormoro.
And that left only one last country to visit. The Seychelles where even more expensive.
Kenya Airways gave 25% discount on their flight in return for some publicity. I cycled along
the beautiful coastline of Mahe and Praslin. There wasn't the money to celebrate, neither did
I much feel like celebrating. And so what? Previously neglected issues caught my attentions
while I was still in the Seychelles. What about some countries done only so briefly that I am
ashamed to mention them. 3 hours in Liechtenstein? 1 hour stopover in Qatar? A few hours
across the border from The Emirates into Oman or similarly at Puntsholing into Bhutan? O.K.,
they didn't let me go any further: But I could try again?! And I want to see Greenland too. All
copyrights reserved.
You can reach me here:
Heinz Stucke
Facts & figures: 1999
59 years old
415,000 km cycled
192 countries seen
37 years on the road
80 to 120km/day
Same 25 kg 3-speed bike
40 to 50 kg luggage
15 passports filled
Never returned to Germany
1995 to 99 Guinness Book of Records:
"Most Travelled Man in History"
You are invited to prove me wrong.
For an interesting article by Ron Gluckman on Heinz go here: