ISLAMABAD: After cycling over 150,000 kilometres around the world, a couple from France has reached Islamabad and expressed their surprise over hospitality in the country.
Richard and Stani Velomad left their home in France eight years back and in their second trip have bicycled across continents.
Dressed in a military green shalwar kameez with a white and red chequered scarf around his head to blend in as a local, Richard Velomad on Thursday told his audience, mostly adventure seekers, at the Alpine Club of Pakistan how he and his English wife were living their dream and seeing the world on cycles.
They risked getting shot along the way over asking for directions, rode through stunning landscapes, braved freezing weather and at times were offered tea everywhere they went in one country.
The French/English couple rode into Gilgit-Baltistan through China on mountain bikes on April 20. The riders were particularly surprised at the hospitality extended to them in Pakistan contrary to what they had heard about.
“Pakistan is a completely different story from the rest of the world. As much as we admire the friendly nature of the people and the hospitality extended to us, the landscapes in this country are simply breathtaking. The heat, freezing temperatures and the bumpy roads did not matter against the fine landscape in the northern Pakistan,” said Richard Velomad.
The couple immediately fell in love with truck art and got their bikes painted by an artist along the road.
The Velomads started out back in 1996 from Alaska, North America, and took a year to reach Mexico in 1997, which took another six months to cross. In March 1998, they reached Belize in South Africa, Guatemala in May, 1998, rode through the Honduras - the land of the Mayas and Incas, reaching Colombia in October, 1998. The pair then biked into Ecuador in December 1998, crossed Peru by March 1999, the birth place of Coco Cola as they were told, and Bolivia in June 1999, and Chile in 1999.
By the time the two reached Argentina in March 2000, they were almost broke and had to return home to make some money to hit the road again.
“Waking up to a different view, watching baby turtles hatch on the beach, taking pictures with people who smelled more than we did and so much more was all worth the trip,” said Stani Velomad.
Back home, the couple worked 85 hours a week and two jobs each. “We bought a rundown residence, painted it ourselves, gave it new and modern look and then sold it. We did similar things to make enough to hit the road again,” said Richard Velomad, explaining how bicycling around the world had become an addiction.
Against the wishes of their families, in December 2004, the couple left their hometown in France again and headed for Morocco and Tunisia in North Africa. They caught a boat to Sicily, rode past stunning architecture through Italy heading north. The two described Slovenia as a country of likeminded people.
“While in other countries where people would talk about politics, the Slovenes were like us, with a passion for outdoor adventures, hiking and climbing etc,” said Stani Velomad.
Although beautiful, Bosnia conjured sad images in the head when the couple rode through this country because of its history of war. The two took plenty of photographs of architecture in Austria and in Germany.
“We like Netherlands particularly because the whole country is made for bikers,” said Richard Velomad, describing their ride through Poland and Latvia.
Two years later in July 2006, the two bikers reached Russia, the land of a fabulous culture and both elegant and stately buildings. Because of visa concerns, the pair had to bike through Russia in three months. They completed some of that journey by train.
In September 2006, the bikers were in Mongolia, where they stayed six months. In May 2006, they reached China and rode through Japan, Hong Kong, Macau, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
“Destruction of rain forests in these countries is the main feature, same as in some of the South American countries,” said Richard Velomad.
In July 2010, the two were in Australia followed by New Zealand before heading back up north again on their bikes wherever they could ride it.
“In Burma, people were like Pakistanis. Wherever we went they would offer us tea. Then through China we entered into Pakistan.”
The couple didn’t say how long before they ended their journey. “All we know is that we are heading towards India,” said Stani Velomad, explaining how the world had been their home since the last eight years.
It wasn’t the physical difficulties they faced but adapting to different cultures which was a bigger challenge.
“It has been draining who to ask for directions and who to trust. It’s alright if this goes one for a month. But eight long years we have been amongst people, who could have been unwelcoming,” said Stani Velomad commenting on the risks they had faced along the road.
“In the USA, a woman pulled out a shotgun at my wife when she knocked on a door to ask for information,” said Richard Velomad.