Julia Ibarra and Nicolás Marino are a couple of fearless travelers who crossed half of the world by bike, with lightweight luggage and their shelter tent. They already crossed all of Asia through jungles, experiencing wild animals, being hosted by tribes and enjoying a lot of new cultures, food, flavours, skies, stunning beaches, and millions of new sensations that will stay in their hearts for ever.
They met each other in Chengdu, China when Nico was working as an architect and Julia was working as a model and teaching English in a university besides studying Chinese. Their lives changed when they decided to join one of the most important trips they ever experienced, leaving behind what was ordinary for them. They embarked on an adventure shedding many conveniences of the modern life, to have a long and low budget journey through years, learning from fascinating new worlds.
Why have you decided to start this journey? Was it hard to make this decision?
Nico has had this trip in mind for a few years. He started to travel by bike since 2006 when he cycled from Tehran to Shanghai in 10 months. When we met the idea of a trip like this fascinated me. At the end of 2012 I decided to stop what I was doing and joined him. Let me tell you that first, to let go of everything you know and leave for an adventure is not easy but it is indeed exciting and eventually gives you true rewards.
Where are you travelling right now? How many countries have you crossed already?
Right now we are in the north of Ethiopia. We have explored China, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Mongolia, South Korea, Japan, Nepal, India, Egypt and Sudan.
21000 km covered until today
How did people respond when you arrived to their villages by bicycle?
The bicycle opens several doors. The people come to us chatting about how difficult the journey is or the weather, but it depends on the country. In some places the people open the doors of their houses and involve you warmly in their lives. In other countries, they are more reserved or suspicious.
Do you ask the people to allow you to sleep or camp somewhere? How do you communicate with them?
We try to camp whenever we can, always trying to be safe. In countries like Indonesia, for example, they didn’t let us camp, they always gave us a room in their houses. In India we were in rural zones where was not advisable to camp so we were hosted by the locals or in small hotels that we found on the way. In Ethiopia we tried to camp always close to people because in the area where were travelling there were recent appearances of hyenas or leopards. In a lot of countries like the Philippines, Nepal or India the communication was not a problem because a lot of them could speak English. In Mongolia the interaction was almost by signals. Indeed, a smiley or a bad face are part of an universal language recognized in all the world. If one person wants to communicate in order to ask basic things, he or she can express himself easily. We also always try to learn some words of the country we are in.
What is your source of income? Where did you find the warmest people?
We have some savings and Nico used to sell his photos often. In Japan we were selling photos of Nico on the street and that worked really well, we also made a deal in a hostel; we worked for 3 hours in exchange of accommodation. In Indonesia and Sudan we were living with locals and there were days when we didn’t spend any money. In Mongolia a lot of people invited us to lunch or dinner. The warmest people we found were in these three countries: Mongolia, Indonesia and Sudan.
What do mostly attract you while you travel?
What I am most interested in is the direct contact with different cultures, see firsthand how people live and to learn from them.
Since the moment that you got further away from the city and into the countryside, without hotels… What do you do for showers or clean clothes?
Always depends on the country, the weather, water availability, etc. In the tropics it is easy because we can always find a lot of water and take a shower with bucket is not a problem. In Mongolia, for example, in the steppe area there were a lot of rivers but the water was completely frozen! In the Gobi or Sahara we spent several days without a shower.
How long the trip is going to be?
Our plan is to end the trip in Australia in 2016 and settle down, but it is only a plan in our mind. Let’s see how things fit as we get closer to that date. At the moment we want to travel around all Africa.
When was the most complicated part of the trip? When have you met a risk for your life?
So far Ethiopia was the most problematic. It’s a safe country but in several non-urban areas the kids found fun in harassing us. We didn’t receive the hospitality and kindness from the people that we felt in other places.
He started his blog to share his adventures with family and friends. Today it has become something bigger and is followed by thousands of people around the world. Having a blog has brought him great satisfaction in knowing that many people get to enjoy the world through what he writes and his stunning photography.
What advice would you give to someone who would like to organize such a trip?
First of all do not idealize the experience; traveling by bike is a mentally and physically tough experience. It takes a longer or shorter adjustment period, but once that is overcome, the rewards are really priceless.
Tell us the best anecdotes of the trips through Asia and Africa.
There are so many, it’s hard to choose:
In West Timor, for example, I got sick with dengue and a woman called Sinema appeared from nowhere. She was an angel who welcomed us into her home with her wonderful family and she made anything possible to see me recovered and healthy as soon as possible.
In Java we met a guy who asked us if we could show him how we ‘make babies’, harmless of course, but the humour of the proposal was not lost on us.
In Japan a stranger took us to lunch, he bought us food for dinner and gave us 50$ because he was fascinated by our trip and always wanted to have done something like this.
In Mongolia, in the middle of the steppe, we drank fermented mare’s milk in a Mongolian yurt with 15 Mongolian drunks celebrating I don’t know what, but we did laugh a lot.
In Egypt we met a really interesting cairota homosexual. He and his friends made us see what it is like to be part of going against the tide as an oppressed minority within a ‘prohibited’ counterculture, but much more common than many would believe.
In Khartoum and Delhi we arrived as guests and left with two new families.
Do you think you’ve grown spiritually in this journey? Do you think your mind has widened somehow?
The understanding and experience that we are all one and that we are all equal was first and foremost. Now I judge a lot less and I do my best to understand the person I have in front of me with more empathy.
What are the three destinations that have changed your life and why?
Mongolia, Sudan and Indonesia have shown me that at some point in the West we have long distanced from each other. In these 3 countries one can stand in the door of a stranger and end up living with them as one of them. Another world is possible and exists.
What health precautions do you take before traveling or while traveling?
We have a first aid kit with some basic medicines for malaria, diarrhea or fever for when we are ill and in a very remote area. We’ve bought everything when we arrived in Africa. Before this we had nothing and luckily we did not need anything. We always try to eat and sleep well so that is why we don’t get sick.
What would you say to those people who dream of traveling as well but do not dare?
A journey like this one is unique in life. If anyone has the ability or chance to do something like that, he or she should, change the routine or remain in your comfort zone. You can never regret doing something like this because what this brings you is so valuable that you will never be the same again.
Interview by Anabel Garcia Ramon. A special thanks to Katie Goldsmith.
All the pictures are property of Nicolas Marino.