Monday, 24 March 2014

Round pegs and square holes...

Its funny how time seems to slip away when you go back to your old routine. 
It feels like half a life-time ago since I first set out on my tricycle back in June. It was as though I was caught in some kind of timeless bubble back then, just me and the road, the sea, the mountains and the occassional bear. But sitting and writing this now I can't believe It has been over five months already since I walked up my parents drive, opened the door, took off my warn out boots and sighed with the relief, exhaustion and the anti-climax of arriving back home.

I have actually been writing and re-writing this post since before christmas, I keep getting to the end but by the time I get there i'm not sure if the begining still fits. The truth is my life has changed so much in the last two years and even more so in the past few months, it's difficult to find the words to explain.

Like the young hobbit Frodo Bagins I have found myself asking: "How do you pick up the pieces of an old life?" (Incert: smug grin for finally getting in a geeky Lord of the Ringsquote.) I guess the honest answer is that you can't...

Apparently Jesus said something about new wine and old wine skins? Someone else less poetic said something about round pegs and square holes. My challenge since I have been back has been working out which of my 'pegs' are round and which of my 'holes' are square. Deciding whether I should reform my round pegs or chip away at my square holes? Or if I should even be trying to fit one inside the other anymore at all?

I think it's fair to say that I think a lot, and probably far too much. But there are some questions I have thought about over and over again, and with very little resolution for far too long. As my journey this year came to an end, it became more and more clear that I needed to draw a line in the sand and answer some of these burning questions that were genrally around the theme of: "what the chuff am I doing with my life?" Now there are of course all the practical questions: "What do I do next? Where should I live? Do I want to settle down? Do I get a proper job?" Those questions were answered easily enough with a little imagination and a horse box... (More information on which I promise will follow shortly.) But the questions that have been really bugging me are slightly more on the abstract side. Which won't surprise my more regular readers. Questions of faith and identity. I have called myself a Christian for over 15 years and my faith has influenced almost all of my decisions in life, but over the last few years I have found it more and more difficult to hold together my Christian beliefs and how I feel about myself and the world. The bible teaches that humanity is fundamentally flawed and in need of a saviour... But as I look around me I'm not so convinced. Yes there are wars, and horrific injustices all around the world, there is greed, hate and selfishness. But there is also love, kindness, explosive creativity, music, laughter, family, and always someone who picks up a scruffy looking hitchhiker at the side of the road. As I have travelled I have met some truely incredible and wonderful people, and many of them haven't been Christians.

As I read the bible more and more I find myself asking: "Who is this God?" We sing songs about the animals going into the Ark "two by two" but forget to mention to our children that if the story is true it was probably the most horrific act of mass genocide ever recorded in human history... We tell people about the amazing sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross but gloss over question of why God would demand such a blood thirsty sacrifice in the first place? 

I have chatted with friends over the last few years as many of us have struggled with such questions. Some have found new ways of understanding or interpreting the bible and others new ways of expressing their faith. If I am truely honest I have found that I have lost my faith in the 'Goodness' of the God of the bible all together... 

So about the line in the sand... I don't think I will ever find the answers to satisfy my questions but I have decided it is time to let them go. To except the reality that I no longer find hope or truth in the Christian Gospel, but in the people around me. In friendships and family, in acts of kindness and creativity... 

It's not that I have given up on faith all together. I've just come to the realisation that along with most of the human population, (at least those that are honest with themselves) I really don't have a clue. I think it's natural for us to find context and meaning to our lives through faith of some kind. But for me the bible and the Christian tradition really doesn't make sense anymore.

It's a strange thing to turn your back on something you have lived by for so long but my resolution is this: To get on with life, leaving behind the anxieties and the questions of the past. To accept myself as I am. To love more and live more and to squeeze out of this life every zest of joy and happiness there is to be had... and given away... 

Oh and to convert a 3.5 ton horse box into a travelling thearte and travel the world! Did I mention that bit? Forest Gump's mama used to say "life is like a box of chocolates..." It seems like for me, life is a horsebox!

More adventures, stories and deep pondering's to follow soon... It's time to start writing again...

Thursday, 3 October 2013

How many Roads?

How many roads must a man walk down? before you can call him a man?... 
I'm not quite sure why but I sing it to myself as I set off on my journey home from Krogis in East Germany. Ok so hitching isnt walking, and nor is cycling for that matter, but it must count for something? Smiling and grimicing at the same time, I look down at the huge pile of stuff I have packed to carry home with me - one rucksack packed to bursting, one suitcase, one very awquard to carry portfolio case, one djembe, one amplifier, a collection of fire staffs, circus equipment... oh yes and and one unicycle - This is going to be a long ride... 

I had made it safely, and quite quickly back to Germany from Macedonia. And arrived in Krogis in the early hours of Saturday morning, I walked into the familiar courtyard, the old grey buildings silent and stern. I noticed a huge sign had been painted on the side of the wall. I had been asked to paint it myself at the start of the summer, but declined, partly because I didn't want to spend my whole visit up a ladder, and partly because I wasn't entirely convinced of the words: "God rewards those who seek him with a desperate heart." There was something a little to absolute about such a statement. Like it was some kind of equasion for success. What about everyone else? I thought to myself: And what kind of rewards do you mean? As I walked up the stairs and found an empty room to lay my head for what was left of the night I wondered how cinical I had become and thought: perhaps their is truth in such a statement?

I woke to find my good friend Daniel out in the garden digging over the hard ground to make a vegetable patch. He had been taking about doing it for ages and it was so great to see him out with his boots on swinging his sledge hammer at the earth. The next few days were filled with chats and coffee, music and fair rides at the local wine festival, but no wine, as the new rules of the mission base stated that they could only drink in the secrecy of their own rooms?!?! After spinning around at high speed on one of the rides at the fair though I was glad not to have any beer in me, as I wasn't convinced it still would be after that. I stayed an extra day to celebrate Daniels birthday with him, and took him out with the rest of the guys to the river to build a fire and roast brotworst. The heat of the south and the long days of summer had given way to the brisk cold nights of autumn. We stood around the fire closely turning ourselves every so often to warm our backs as well.  Another Summer is over... 

At midday on Tuesday I said my final goodbyes, I picked up my rediculous pile of belongings and set off for home. I struggled to carry it all, even around the corner to my first hitching spot.

It was indeed a long ride home. The first half of the day wasn't too bad, I managed to get to a motorway services and then found another long ride from there half way across Germany. The next guy I hitched with was a fellow cyclist. (I noticed this by all the biking stickers on his car and by the mountain bike that was laying over the back seats.) One of my faviroute things about hitching is all the great people you get to meet but it has it's down sides too. We were so busy chatting about bikes and travelling that we completely missed my turning and as there was no way back I ended up going much further south than I wanted. I spent that night dosing in and out of sleep in the enterance of a petrol station and after a very long night, the morning I agreed to go even further south with a truck driver on his way to Luxembourg. He then proceeded to break down and dropped me at a junction on route. After another short ride to a better spot I finally found a guy in a camper van going all the way to Calais! I might even make it home tonight. I thought to myself.

We made it to the coast by around 5pm and while we stopped in a petrol station I noticed a British couple who I assumed were on their way home. I couldn't believe my luck when they agreed to take me over the channel. They weren't leaving till 8 and they were going from Dunkirk but that would give us time to get something to eat. We arrived at the ferry port an hour early to descover that the road to the boarding area was closed due to an accident. Our 8pm ferry from Dunkirk turned into 11pm from Calais. And my hope of a warm bed that night was squashed. I ended up at the new cobham services on the south of the M25 at 1am and settled in for another long night of half sleep. 

It was an early start and still dark when I found my next lift but It would be light by the time we arrived at reading services. I was so close I could almost taste home! I arrived in Chippenham at 8am, to stubborn to catch a bus or call a friend I carried my stuff around the bypass to the next round about and almost broke my back in the process. Finally I found my last ride home with a Lithuanian guy, of all people. He dropped me right outside my house. I found the key hidden under the mole as my brother had said and opened the door...

After 5 months, 14 countries, thousands of miles, countless shows, hundreds of kids, mountains, beaches, rivers, islands, amazing cities and I wont ever forget the bear... I am finally home!

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Another Ending...

There have been so many streams of thought going through my mind the last few weeks; I have found it difficult to focus on anything enough to write. I have cleared paragraphs on my phone (on which I have been writing all summer) a dozen times already and written and deleted several titles to this post. I had thought to call it The end of your life book club in reference to the book (written by Will Schwalbe) I have been reading recently, which may be to blame for many of my wandering thoughts. I thought I was reading a book about the relationship between a mother and son as they come to terms with her terminal illness. But as Schwalbe writes about the life of his mother I have found myself inspired and stumped all at the same time by the things she has done. I also nearly entitled this post Poverty Tourist for reasons I will try to explain later. In the end I settled with Another Ending because this is exactly what it is. 

The strangest, happiest and saddest thing about going on adventures is that there comes a point when the journey must come to an end, and for me this is the point where I turn around and head for home.

Endings have a way of bringing things into focus. In all of us I think there is a natural desire for conclusions, for closure. To know we can close the book, safe if the knowledge that everything is as it should be. Of course there may be a sequel - more adventures, more challenges, questions and trials - but for now, we rest, our questions answered and fears relieved. Of course not all endings wrap up as neatly as that, in fact many writers leave us hanging in suspense driving us mad with unanswered questions until the next book comes out. For me the end of this chapter is more attune to the latter.

It was four months ago when I began this journey. My tricycle full to over flowing and my mind and my heart a sea of questions unanswered and dreams unrealised. I had told myself and many others: "This will be my last big journey, I think." I'm not sure why I said that. I think even before I began I was weary of the transient lifestyle I'd been living. I want a home, a place that's mine, to put my belongings in cupboards and wardrobes rather than forever carrying them in a suitcase or leaving them behind in boxes.

Those first few weeks were hard work - I remember - and there were many times I nearly turned around. I'm glad now that I didn't though I would often stop and stare into the distance, then turn around and stare behind me and wonder which way to go. Reluctantly I would face forwards once again and pedal on. 

This journey hasn't just been one measured in kilometres cycled, countries visited and mountains climbed. In many ways my physical movements have been a backdrop for a greater adventure that has been taking place, an adventure of friendships and connections, of learning to see and to do something about what I see, of admitting my weaknesses, realising my strengths and accepting myself as I am, of hope and courage, and mostly... Mostly of dreaming.

As I read about the life of Mary Ann (Will Schwalbe's mother,) it has felt as though I were sat next to her at her coffee table listening to her stories and hearing words of wisdom - from a woman who even in her last days was determined to live a full life and one that impacted the world around her. 

Since I can remember my prayer and my dream has always been to live a full life. To do something that mattered, that made a difference. I say prayer, because I do pray still, not with much faith I must admit. Something Mary says to her son, after some friends (who are completely unreligious) tell her they are praying for her made me smile: "I think the prayers of heathens are much more powerful than the those of the religious." Maybe she is right? I found my self praying the other morning after watching a short film about the Syrian civilians who were brutally murdered in a army attack. I thought of the refugee's we had met last year on the Syrian border in Turkey, I thought of the street kids in Elbasan, the Roma communities I had visited... I don't want to be a poverty tourist! God! I want to do something...

I think prayer is the natural expression when we realise we are at the end of ourselves. I have reached the end of myself. I don't know what I can do, yes I can juggle and set things on fire... But really... How do I really make a difference? So I find myself praying, with little faith, and little discipline. Father if you are really there, help me, I don't know what to do or where to start. I know I don't have much faith, but I do know that I want to make a difference... I can't see and do nothing.

I think I have decided that questions very rarely lead to answers. And to expect them to is often the recipe for frustration and disappointment. Mostly they lead us to other questions, to conversations, relationships, impulses, adventures, challenges, and yet more questions after that. Perhaps though questions are more important than answers because they lead us somewhere, and the journey changes us... This has definitely been true of my journey over the last few months. As I have talked and listened and seen; and as I've made decisions and dealt with challenges I have found myself unpacking many questions from my bags and leaving them on the side of the road, not because I found the answers but simply because I had travelled to a point where the questions became unimportant and I had to make room for new questions which would take me further down the road. 

Sometimes questions follow us for decades as we navigate our lives other times they stand in front of us and demand a decision, an action... As I start to pack my bags once more and get ready to leave Skopje and head for home I find myself thinking about my place in this world. As I look around me and see all that is going on - the good and the bad - I ask myself: How will I respond?

Will Schwalbe quotes from the book he found next to his mother's bed the day she died which it's self quotes the words of John Ruskin:

If you do not wish for His kingdom, don't pray for it. But if you do, you must do more than pray for it; you must work for it.

This is indeed another ending, but whether it is the last of my journeys I'm not so sure... I'll have to wait for the sequel.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

This is why!

It was 4.30pm on Friday night and the last day of our circus workshops. The dress rehearsal hadn't exactly gone smoothly, some kids were missing and others wandered off half way through, the hardest part was getting the right children on stage at the the right time, if you turned your back for an instant you would loose some and others who shouldn't have been there turned up in their place. Somehow though we made it through the entire show but after 2 hours I thought to myself it's going to be a long night. "kids often surprise you." I said to charlie while we were worrying about the evening's show. "They are aweful right up the last second. but give them an audience and they shine..." at that moment in time we were actually more concerned about the sun shining than the kids. Our performance space was outside and it had been raining all afternoon, and was showing no signs of letting up. Fiona had said to me that I best start praying. Yeh right. I thought to myself as I looked around at the thick grey clouds looming over the mountains. I really didn't have much faith for such things... If I had prayed it was silent, and it was more of a grumble than a prayer. Really after 2 weeks of hard work...? 

But soon enough the first patches of blue began to appear, the clouds retreated over the mountains and then I was suddenly aware that I had a shadow. I couldn't quite believe it but the sun was out. Just in time.

We walked over to the Roma area that evening. The kids were wild with excitement as they followed us through the streets, miming the parts of the show they would take part in and pointing to themselves eagerly, just to make sure we didn't forget them. Soon chaos had surrounded us once again, chairs and benches were being brought out, sound equipment set up and kids were running about and shouting as I swept the last of the rain puddles off the yard. Parents and many other children began to fill the seats and then it was time... I don't know how but somehow we managed to get all our kids to sit together and almost all of them turned up. (One decided after coming to nearly all the workshops that he would miss the show and go to a wedding instead) I stood up and did the obligatory introductions and then the show began. After the chaos of the dress rehearsal I wasn't quite sure what to expect but as usual they surprised us all. From the opening number as they entered through the audience to the sounds of pink panther, to their closing bows. They danced, balanced, clowned, juggled, span things, through things, dropped things (and sometimes caught things) with smiles on their faces as their families and friends clapped and cheered them on...

There are times when I wonder what I'm doing with my life. Wandering from place to place, no home, no job, no partner, no idea what's next. But then sometimes I remember. As I watched their show, and looked into the faces of these kids who had won my heart and driven me crazy, I new. This is why! 

All the questions melt away in these moments and are replaced by dreams and possibilities.

Tomorrow is set to be a day of many goodbyes. In the morning I wave off my sister Charlie as she flies back to England, she has been an incredible help and as always, a lot of fun. Then after 4 wonderful weeks here in Albania I must pack my things once again ready to leave for Macedonia on Tuesday morning. This is the end of the road for my beloved tricycle too, tomorrow I have to take him apart and pack him away to wait for his ride (in the back of a van) all the way back to England. I will be very sad to leave him behind, I never decided whether it was me or the tricycle who was the goose, we have shared so many experiences over the last few months that 'it' has become a 'He', and almost a friend. (although we have had many arguments.) But with winter approaching and thousands of miles to make all the way home, I must travel from here by cardboard and thumb once again. 

I am sure this won't be my last visit to this beautiful country though, In fact I have already started scheming about plans for next year. And with so many friends here and many opportunities to work with wonderful kids, it seems it would be wrong not to return.

But for now, Skopje here I come...

Sunday, 8 September 2013

The 3 wheeled circus...

A look of guilt and an uncontanable smile broke across my face as we sat at the airport coffeshop waiting for the bus back into Tirrana. Charlie had handed me a margarine container filled with polistirine  protecting two eggs she had dutifully transported all the way from England on the plane. I had thought that someone in my house might have had the sense to think I was only joking about the egg I so desperately needed... Thankfully Charlie had the grace not to crack said egg on my head and the next day we laughed as we enjoyed American pancakes made from English eggs sat in Albania with friends from Texas and South Africa.

On wednesday we began our circus program in the roma gypsy area. It was for this reason I carried a trailer full of circus equipment across Europe on my tricycle, of course it wasn't untill I had cycled half way that my sister agreed to come and help and I realised I could have sent everything over with her by plane and enjoyed a much lighter load... But the circus arrived all the same. I had spent many days making more equipment, (flower sticks from old inner tubes, staffs from broom handles, even stilts were cut to size at the local saw mill) and Charlie had brought some of the things i left behind in England to add to the collection. So when the gates opened on Wednesday morning we were ready for the beautiful chaos that awaited us. 

And chaos it was... Over 40 kids arrived and soon the courtyard was alive with balls and rings flying through the air, brightly coloured socks were spinning around children's heads, diablo's shot up into the sky and occasionally wooden stills would crash to the ground as a kid tumbled down after. There was laughter, shouting, screaming, snatching, cheating, fighting... I discoverd quickly that embracing the crazyness is much easier than trying to control it... Although not always the best idea.

The next day was more successful, we scrapped the games that everyone cheated at and returned to silly warm ups which mainly consisted of the 'wiggling fingers, shaking wrists, spinning arms, circling hips turning round on one foot dance,' it's not at all sexy but apparently quite entertaining. I even taught the kids how to bow and explained that if we had to drag them offstage everytime as they continued to do "just one more trick" it kind of ruins the show...

On Thursday night we were invited to a birthday party of a friend from the Roma community. Raji's birthday was slightly eclipsed by the presence of his new born daughter but still the music blaired out of the giant speaker (that somehow apeared part way through the evening) and of course we were subjected to traditional dancing, in wich everyone joins hads and dances around and around in circles, over and over again, it's actually quite fun if a little dizzy. It was possibly slightly more dizzy for me as I had not learned the art of leaving the last bit of my drink. Apparently if you Finnish your beer your host fills it right back up again... Thankfully they were quite small cups, but I must admit I couldn't tell you how many times it was refilled. I didn't often refuse but even when I did I was completely ignored. 

There are many things that are difficult to understand about Roma culture, many hard things, perhaps even wrong things. But there are also some beautiful things. And for one they deffinatley know how to party.

The next night as we walked our way down to the bridge we could see the crowd had already gathered. For me it was a familiar scene, I rembered mine and Patrick's show there last year, the kids had remembered too, for weeks they had been miming and pointing, asking when we would make a show. They all seemed to like the fire breathing best as that was the most common mime they made. I didn't even try to explain that I wasn't going to breath fire, I just nodded and said "soon."

We arrived at the bridge to find hords of excited children, adults and families had come out to see what was going on too. I would like to say that it was because they had heard how good we were, but the reality is that there really isn't much else to do... 

I have made countless shows throughout the summer in all kinds of places, but this place and these people hold a special place in my heart. Often I count my success by the amount of coins in my hat, here I just enjoy smiles, high fives, cheers and laughter. The music blaired, fire burned, people shouted... Occasionally a car would come through and we would have to pause as it passed. The circle seemed to get closer and closer, untill I dropped my staff into the croud and everyone jumped back. Charlie did great as usual (every time I see her she gets better) and she whispered instructions as we performed our partner ruitine trying to prevent me from hitting her in the head with my poi... 
It was a great show though, and all the better for having my little sister join in. As we packed away, dripping with sweat and stinking of fuel, the excitement slowly died away and I thought to myself. I love this!

After a mostly relaxing weekend (well for me it was relaxing, Charlie was a bit saw after the "little" bike ride I took her on) 
we have begun another week of circus workshops here in the Roma area. We are working with the kids on a show to perform to their families and the rest of the community. Today is day two and little routines are taking shape and stars are beginning to emerge. It's hard work, hot in the sun and the kids are pretty wild. most nights I'm ready to crash by 9 o'clock. But its worth it, not just for the fun, and it is a lot of fun, but for many of these kids life is survival and childhood is short. The guys who serve this community have created a sanctuary for the kids here, where they find safety, guidance, love, education, fresh fruit and so much more. It is such a privilage to be apart of something so special and even for just these few weeks to be able to bless this community in giving what we have.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Old tricks...

The lady in the shop looked at me queerly as I proceeded to mime milking a cow in an attempt to buy a bottle of milk for my coffee that was waiting back at the house. (It's always traumatic when you discover there is no milk after you have poured the coffee.) My house mate, Elton, had sent me out bleary eyed repeating the word for milk over and over before I left. Needless to say I had completely forgotten by the time I had got to the shop.

The pace of life has slowed down quite dramatically since I arrived in Elbasan, which was well over a week ago now. I have welcomed the rest though, I really hadn't realised how tired I was and the first few days all I did was eat, sleep and relax. When ever I did try to do anything I groaned and hobbled like an old man much to everyone else's amusement. 
It's the strangest thing being in one place, after so long on the road. Sometimes I miss the stars, and smell of an open fire. But the comfort of a soft bed, and the wonder of kettles and cookers more than makes up for it.
After a couple of days of being more or less horizontal I have now started to venture out a bit more and am enjoying getting to know a little more of Albanian culture, hanging out with my friends here, and making some new new ones too. 

It was Tuesday morning when I wrote OHRID in big letters on the back of a pizza box, packed my bag and set out for Macedonia with my thumb at the ready. It had be quite some time since I had hitchhiked and it felt great to be back up to my old tricks. Even better when the road zig-zagged steeply up the side of the mountain and a smiled to myself very happy that I wasn't cycling. I arrived in Ohrid a few hours later after 3 lifts and a bit of a walk.

I stumbled apon this place last year when I was hitchhiking back from Turkey, a small town set on the side of a vast lake, surrounded by mountains. And so when my good friends Han and Dan told me they were going to be travelling through Macedonia on their 60 day trip from England to Kuwait, I suggested that we meet here. 

I can't tell you how nice (and strange) it was to hear Hannah shouting down at me from the window of their hotel room. After so many months on the road and so often as a passing stranger, to see friends I have known and loved for years was priceless. Han and Dan had booked a hotel room just outside of the old town for two nights before they would continue  on their folding bikes to Greece. The biggest shock for me was the size of their bags (they were tiny.) I really do need to learn the art of packing light. I thought to myself.

We walked about the old town, drank coffee as we sheltered from the storm. (Ok I had beer, and Han and Dan searched for hot chocolate and ended up with some strange hot strawberry milkshake, but the thought was the same) We chatted, and laughed and shared stories from our different trips, reminiced about old times and old friends. And the rain continued to hammer down arround us. 

By lunchtime the next day the weather was back to it's normal heat and ironically we decided to go out on a bike ride arround the lake. I hired a bike and was excited to ride on two wheels and without a mans wait in luggage trailing behind me. It was so nice to race up the hills and wizz down them again. When I get home I'm getting a racer I thought to myself. We ended the day with a meal at a little resteraunt on the side of the lake watching the waves crashed on the beach and the wind picked up once again. I waved them goodbye the next morning as they peddled off on their way to Greece. 60miles and over the mountains... It felt very strange to be the one waiting behind rather than cycling away into the distance, but I was quite happy to hitch my way back to Albania this time. I'll leave the mountains for another day.

Today is Sunday and I am back in Elbasan sitting in the shade at my place in the Roma area. Wedding music fills the air and we've just shaked the last of the fruit off the trees to feed the kids tonight at church. On Tuesday my sister Charlie arrives and then starts two weeks of circus workshops, fire shows and many kinds of fun. Can't wait!


Monday, 19 August 2013

Turtles, tunnels and the last days.

It's been just over a week since I left Dubrovnik to make the last 300km of my journey to the most south easterly border of Croatia, then through Montenegro and then finally to Albania. 

For many cyclists 300km is a 2 day ride but of course nothing is quite that fast on a heavy layden tricycle in the 40 degrees heat of summer. And truth be told I had been getting even slower still over the last weeks. The first day I only made it 10km out of the city before deciding that the cliff I was cycling along was far to beautiful to carry on and I really should stop and watch the sunset... And then the stars... I ended up camping that night with my hammock tied between two rocks out on the side of the of the cliff gazing up at the night sky, the lights of Dubrovnik shining down below. 

The next morning I finally made some miles and headed my way Along the coast towards Montenegro. I had organised to stay with a guy called Marko who lives in the hills just before the border. It was a little way off route and a long way up, but after being in the city for a few days I was looking forward to escaping to the quiet of the hills. Macro had described his place as a little oasis which I liked the sound of. But after making my way up the long winding road I was a little surprised to find a couple of scruffy sheds covered in all kinds of random junk. A big sign said Marko's flee market. And a little old bicycle hung from a tree. I knew I was in the right place but as I waited for Marko to arrive I thought to myself where is this oasis he talked of? Marko didn't arrive back at the 'oasis' until the next morning. An older man in his 70s and as scruffy looking as his sheds, he wore nothing but a pair of brightly coloured shorts that looked like they had been made from a child's duvet set and his huge belly spilled over the top of them. He later told told me he was a nudist, so I was quite glad to have found him in his shorts "Are you coming to the beach today? Or do you want to fuck off?" He said in a gruff tone. I hesitated for a moment, but agreed to come. Once I got over His ruff appearance and baldy language I discovered a kind and generous man with some incredible stories, the day at the beach got extended into the night and followed with raki and fire shows and wasn't until the next morning that I made my way once again towards the boarder. The miles came quickly as a sped down tge other side of the hill I had laybord over a few days before. Soon I crossed the little border on the cliff road and passed my way into Montenegro. It was strange to find myself in another country after spending over a month in Croatia.  

"Montenegro is much like Croatia only the the mountains are bigger and the roads more windy." A guy I met had told me. He wasn't wrong. My road wound up, down and around every cove and ridgeway. Finally I left the coast and zigzagged my way over the last pass to take me into Albania. As I made my way over the hill and through the last small villages of Montenegro I could see before my eyes the world slowly changing from Christian to Islam. Monistaries faded out and were replaced by Mosques and grave stones were marked by the crescent moon instead of the cross. 

I camped that night on the top of the hill. In the company of three tortoises that happily wandered around beside me (I later realised these are quite common around this region and sadly saw more than one squashed on the road as cycled the next day) I Cooked my spaghetti on a little open fire and watched the stars in the clear night sky. Tomorrow I pass into Albania I thought to myself. After two months on the road and over 2000km, mountains, bears, seven countries, dozens of shows, and many friends and faces, my journey was finally coming to an end. I was looking forward to finally arriving but I was also sad to think it would soon be over.

I crossed the border the next day and it was like passing into another world. Until now most of the changes I have seen have been gradual. But here the changes were stark and drastic. As soon as I passed through the borders I was approached by Roma children with hands out stretched, women carrying babes in the midday heat asking after every passing car. To my right a group of Roma's sheltered from the sun under self made canopies. To my left two young boys were rummaging through the  rubbish. A man walked down the road leading his cow by a rope and chickens hung upside down from a boys hands flapping their wings as he tried to sell them. 

As strange as all this was to me. It seemed that for everyone else the mad Englishman on a tricycle was a much more unusual sight. Many People shouted after me, or pointed, or laughed, and If I had stopped for every person that waved me down to say hello I would probably still be there now. 

There were many other changes too. For one, cycling on the motorway is perfectly normal, and actually in many ways safer than cycling down the smaller roads where, if you weren't careful you might loose a wheel in a pot hole or get run off the road by a lorry and where almost every car honked its horn as it passed, sometimes right in your ear sending you swerving out the way in shock. 
As I cycled along the motorway I must have passed a dozen weddings by the time I reached Tirana (which traditionally last for three days here, and each day the bride wears a different dress. Needless to say there are a lot of wedding shops. And the dresses are quite something.) 

After a nights stop in Tirana I made the final part of my journey over (well actually through) the mountains to the small town of Elbassan which was my final destination. My friend Kerri had told me there was a tunnel right through the mountains but as I cycled up and around the winding roads, dripping with sweat in the midday sun I wondered if I had come the right way. But finally I saw the black hole of the enterance, I attached my lights and sped down hill through the dark and cool of the tunnel. I looked at my map. 5km to go! It felt so strange to say it out loud. 

I cycled into the town passed the old walled city and made my way to the kebab shop my friends had introduced us too last year. I have finally made it! Wow! Shit, this is crazy! 
I thought, or something like that (though it was probably more colourful.) Of course I ordered a beer. 

It is hard to put into words what it feels like to have finally arrived. This has been the most incredible journey of my life, without a doubt. And yet it feels like it isn't finished. (Although my legs are, at least for the moment) As I think back on all the adventures I have had over the last few months, the hard days, the wonderful days, the days when I wanted to give up, the days when I joked about going all the way to India. (Jokes over! Btw) it's hard to believe it all actually happened... But it did... I cycled from England to Albania. All 3500km of it...

Of course the journey isn't over though. And the reason for coming all this way has just begun. Today I moved into my new house for the next month, right in the heart of the Roma area where I will be making a series of circus and art projects with the kids here. As I rode through the streets many of the kids came out to greet us, some even remembered me from last year. It felt strange but good to be back, I was introduced to the guard dogs, bribed them with treats in the hope that they won't eat me (one is as soft as a pillow and more likely to lick you to death than anything else, the other, a big German Shepard needs more convincing)
Finally i emptied my bags and my precsious circus cargo from my tricycle and pushed it into the little shed and locked the door.

I won't be cycling for a little while...