EP.10 • ESPLORA TEAM
Esplora is a collective of creative people passionate about the outdoors and visual arts, it aims to inspire people to get out of their comfort zone and experience nature.
We met Giuseppe, Cyclovagabond on social, at the Bicycle Tourism Fair in Bologna, there was an immediate strong understanding aimed at exploring faraway places. In just a few minutes of conversation, we laid the groundwork for what would later be Esplora's biggest project to date: the Nepal bikepacking crossing. The idea was to make a docu-film of the trip, a 1300km ride and 26000m positive elevation gain from the jungles of the Terai to the high Himalayan peaks, a new medium for Esplora, a bet and a challenge against ourselves.
We are already sure that it will be difficult to summarize in a few questions all the curiosities we have about your trip. We think that travel is, in addition to something physical and tangible, also a deeply philosophical concept that goes beyond the actual days of travel and activity.
So let us begin by asking, what was the preparation and pre-departure phase like? What were the thoughts, emotions and expectations?
From the moment we and Giuseppe decided to leave for Nepal, we immediately began to figure out the logistics of the trip: it was critical to find a way to get our bikes to Kathmandu, but even more critical was to figure out how to get from Kathmandu to Mahendranagar, 700km further west on the border with India, which Giuseppe would enter after a month of crossing the country. For this we relied on some local guides who helped us with information on where to get tickets and which bus we should take-as you can imagine Nepali bus stations and their organization are far from the standards we know in Italy, but this made everything even more of an adventure. Expectation-wise we were all very excited about what we were about to do, however, we didn't really know what to expect from this trip. Our philosophy has always been to take things as they come, and this allowed us to live the experience in an open and positive way, turning even difficulties into moments of challenging ourselves.
The phase before departure was an intense time of interlocking logistical and organizational situations, but the fluidity with which things were happening left me breathless.
Thinking about the meeting with Giuseppe and the idea of going to Nepal together born after only 10 minutes of conversation: everything was in harmony.
Every thought toward Nepal was a confirmation that we were going in the right direction, that that land was there waiting for us, and we were there to be welcomed.
Emotionally, a great feeling of peace and a whirlwind of mixed emotions enveloped me in the weeks before departure.
The preparation, leaving aside the specific technical details, was not so different than for other trips. I have been on several trips so I know well or badly what I need and what is superfluous although it must be said that each trip is a school for the evolution of the next trip. We did not do any special physical preparation, just a few miles before leaving. With only a few days to go I felt many emotions, I was leaving my 6-year-old son Thom and my partner Virginie at home, but inside I was serene, I had no great expectations, I was just sure that it was going to be a great adventure.
You also left with the intention of doing a photo report and creating clips for a documentary that will be released soon, however, are there also other types of materials with which you returned Italy? Let us elaborate, did you by any chance keep a written diary while you were away? Did you collect any notes, objects or natural elements found along the way?
I personally left with the idea and intention of keeping a diary of the trip, the truth however is that as soon as we arrived in Kathmandu we found ourselves in a completely different situation from what we knew, very far from what we are used to in Italy. The days were a succession of continuous and profound stimuli, made of encounters, smells, people and situations. It was very difficult to manage, at the end of the days, to carve out time to put thoughts together on paper, so I "naturally" abandoned the idea of a diary. Instead, we came home with many items, most of them related to the blessing rituals to which we were invited each day. In fact, we brought home several ceremonial scarves, traditional Ghorka Special Forces hats, bus tickets, and some Tibetan flags found at Tilicho Lake, 5200m above sea level, which are the deepest memories for me.
That's right, in addition to the photographic content there will be a documentary that will be an intimate account of this expedition. As for the journals, we tried to keep them for a while but actually a lot of what we wrote was posthumous, and many of the materials we brought home we have displayed in the exhibition we organized in Chamonix at the municipal library (it will be open until March 2, 2024).
When you travel by bike, you can't buy or retrieve many things so you make do with small items: a Buddhist necklace, an Indian plastic fender, and a stone from when we were at 5,000 meters.
During this kind of itinerant travel you pass through so many villages, towns and natural environments, was there a particular place or situation where you felt at home despite language differences, cultural differences and countless miles away from Italy?
I start with a premise: Nepalis are a fantastic, welcoming and friendly people and they never miss a chance to help you, even in the small way they can. Being treated as guests but also long-time friends, both in the capital Kathmandu and in the highlands beyond Manang, never made me feel out of place. Certainly the occasion when the day after we landed we were called into the house by Chandrakala, an elderly lady who invited us for a blessing, although she did not know us, made us know immediately that we were in the right place. A place made up of good and simple people, and we know how much that is enough to feel safe, to feel somehow at home.
I felt cradled in every place, the feeling of being in a country of harmony was constant, almost as if we were wrapped in a big hug.
The welcoming nature of these people surpasses all limits and conceptions of Western sharing.
They are as welcoming as we, perhaps, know how to be anymore.
Their eyes and smiles were the most intimate and genuine means of communication.
The day I felt at home was when we were invited by the family of Babu, a very affectionate child who reminded me of my son, and his family welcomed us into their attic and offered us a bed and a very cozy dinner.
You left with three people, what is it like to leave in company and share the journey with someone? Do you think there were more moments of silence or dialogue?
What were the unexpected encounters that you remember most?
As much as traveling by bike is a truly unique experience when done solo, having traveling companions with whom to share experiences, fatigue and joy is priceless. When you're alone uphill it's just you against yourself, and you toil, you toil so hard listening to your body and the signals it sends you. When you are pedaling with companions you are always alone against yourself, but having the chance to lift your head and exchange a joke with those people with whom you are somehow sharing the fatigue is good. You should also not think that in a group there are no moments of silence: quite the contrary!
Traveling by bike is a challenge against yourself, and moments of fatigue can take on many different facets. Sometimes you find yourself riding for hours in silence, listening to yourself and listening to the world outside, other times fatigue leads you to rambling, you start making speeches with others at random and without a head or tail. It's funny because you talk about the most absurd things as if they were normal and somehow these talks exorcise fatigue, heat or cold. I don't know how many times, climbing up from steep trails, we found ourselves counting how many pizzas we would order in the evening once we arrived at place x, of course there was no chance of this thing coming true, but it was our way of allowing ourselves a "comfort thought" in a moment of discomfort. Certainly having a special impact on me were the encounters with the elderly ladies who, bent over from years of work in the fields, invited us for a blessing.
Leaving with other people is a feature not to be underestimated for such a trip, for sure there were some delicate moments but the wave of harmony of the place overpowered everything else. We spent a lot of time together, and it was a wonderful opportunity to plan from a wonderful place, the future of Esplora, a project that has been active for 4 years now and is increasingly taking shape.
We laid some great foundations for the coming years and the goals we would like to explore, precisely, we can't wait to share them in detail, in the meantime I would say: get ready to go with us! In 2024 we will also create experiences where people can venture out with us returning to connection with nature.
Among the most intimate and profound encounters I particularly remember this one: AIDE - ANNAPURNA MASSIF, ascending the Thorong La Pass we make an encounter of the kind that warms your heart. Aide, who has been running the tea house halfway between High camp and The Pass for three months straight without coming down, welcomes us into his lodge, offering us hot tea-it's the best tea in the world-and his gaze makes us feel welcomed.
We have no money; in return we decide to donate a head flashlight with batteries, and a pair of glacier goggles. The love and kindness these people convey to you with a smile is incalculable.
I left with Charlie and Marco quite serene and, as often happens, on the trip we got to know each other better. I think we were able to amalgamate characters to be able to be calm, you have to understand when it is time to talk and when it is time to stay closed in your own sphere. We met quite a few people on the trip, personally it was the glances we crossed for a few seconds that struck me the most.
By leaving, you have chosen to support a volunteer social organization on the ground, a decision that we believe provides additional value to the expedition and allows for a different vision and intention regarding the trip. You were not just tourists. Tell us about this choice and its value with respect to the trip?
Often in our travels we find ourselves, once we return, to be filled with lived experiences that we somehow try to internalize. On this occasion, perhaps also driven by the particular nature of the trip, before we left we found ourselves pondering what we could leave to the local people as a sign of respect and gratitude. So we decided to open a fundraiser to support the activities of the NGO Gonesa, which provides education support for young children in Pokhara.
We knew we were doing a good and useful deed for them, but the moment we went to meet the members of the association and the children they help, it was a very powerful experience. Seeing with our own eyes the people we were somehow helping was a profound moment that opened our eyes to the responsibility we should have as travelers and guests.
Exactly, we chose to operate in this sense after this question began to resonate in the mind: Do we explore? Yes, but what do we leave to the place we explore?
On the one hand we have an exploration dedicated to discovering the nature of places that leave us full of experiences, joy and wonder, welcoming us as guests.
On the other hand, we have the human side of exploration: the connection with the people who inhabit the place, who make you live, feel, breathe it, and who live that environment on a daily basis, compose its roots and are its beating heart.
What can be our legacy? And this is how we chose to partner with VISPE.
The choice to support VISPE came from the Esplora guys, I immediately welcomed it, and I must say that the moment of meeting the volunteers was very powerful. We saw the work they do to help people in need and to ensure that children can study and have a safe place: it shocked me to understand that schools are not only for education but also to ensure a meal a day for these children who could not have it at home.
Wanderlust Vision chose to support you, in addition to technical clothing that could help me in all weather conditions, by following you in creating the soundtrack for the documentary you are going to make. How is this working process proceeding? How does music impact during a trip? And most importantly, how much can it impact afterwards as a medium to tell the story of an experience like yours?
We are very happy to have had the opportunity to collaborate with the guys from Wanderlust Vision, I think our projects follow similar philosophies and it is nice to create synergies together, for example the soundtrack of the short-film we shot. Of course, music takes on a profound value during the journey. On the one hand there is the music you have in your headphones, your own music that you decide to bring from your world: in my case Green Day kept me company for many of the climbs we made bringing me in a sense "home." On the other side is the music of the country you are in, traditional sounds that vibrate in the air, sounds to be discovered that help create an authentic and unique atmosphere to immerse yourself in.
Of course being able to translate that music for our world is not easy, so on our trip we tried to sample local sounds and vibrations and then, with the help of the guys from Wanderlust Vision, translate them and turn them into what will become the soundtrack of the docu-film.
The possibility of collaborating with a reality like Wanderlust Vision on this project is a source of great joy for us, not only on the technical aspect where the fleece was of fundamental importance, but also on the care of the soundtrack that we will realize together with Tudor (Klaus) will be a moment of great creativity and immersion in the journey.
Music has the evocative power to highlight the images even more, creating emotional states and inner journeys that I believe are fundamental to making an all-around creative content. The production is developing around the sampling of sounds made on site, along with a whole part of production and creation of sounds that we are starting to put together from references of ambient, psychedelic, distensive or tension genres, of traditional musics and ethnic instruments: it will be a journey in the journey!
It is going great, collaborating with Tudor is a pleasure, we influence each other with many visions and stimuli.
We close these questions by asking: what is left of the trip once you return?
Certainly a great adrenaline rush as soon as you land, but how does this propagate in the weeks and months that follow? How does one metabolize such a trip by returning to the daily grind?
I admit that it was not immediate to return to our 'normal life'. So many situations, such as packed clubs and the hustle and bustle, I put up with them much less now. I happened to talk a short while ago with a friend who, listening to the stories of the trip and teasing me, compared me to those people who after a week in London almost struggle (or do so on purpose) to remember Italian. The truth is that we were in a place that is totally different from the world we know, especially in the Terai region. We had some very strong and very profound experiences, experiences that marked us and encounters that we will never forget. Not because we have to 'boast' in any way that we have been there, but because I assure you that when a family that does not even have beds to sleep (for them) hosts you in their home as if you were the oldest friend, when the house lacks even the front door and any kind of comfort, I assure you it is a profound encounter, a bit destabilizing, but one that will stay with you forever.
Every bike ride starts with a starting point and turns into an extraordinary adventure. But in the end, what remains of a cycling trip? What remains is the unique connection between people and landscapes, the essence of an experience that goes beyond simply moving from one place to another.
What remains are the deep genuine experiences, the awe of seeing the Himalayan range for the first time, of going to the land of the high peaks beyond the Courtenays, where one breathes a thin air, as if time did not exist: it is all so concrete and real that returning to this Italian reality gives rise to such a sense of gratitude. Gratitude is the greatest feeling I carry inside, because here they don't teach us how to be, and there I got to see people happy with the simplest things, grateful for the life we are given every day.
This has been fueled even more by the sense of unhappiness I read in people's eyes, so damned stuck in a harmful and alienating system. It is also to them that Explore speaks, and it is also why we will continue to explore, and from here that the desire to leave continues to feed, with immense gratitude for the opportunity to do so.
We have already planned a trip to an even wilder land: Mongolia.
What's left from the trip? Coming back from such a trip is always quite difficult, in a few hours you find yourself in the usual reality and it can happen that you can feel almost annoyed by some common mechanisms. I think travel opens the minds and the spirit. The bike trip is a philosophy, a meditation, a state of exaltation and effort: sweating to get to that point that is not necessarily established and budgeted.
Metabolize such a journey how do you do it? You don't metabolize you leave for another trip!
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