Some time back, I would have not been able to endure five months in a voluntary isolation and write for three-four hours, sometimes the entire day, every day. For something like this, beside a good will one needs lots of patience. While the former has never been a problem, I have always been short on perseverance. I undertook not only writing novels but also important life events – such as building my career or a serious relationship—and very soon would give up. I would either realize that I was able to do it and soon lose interest, or something new would divert my attention in a different direction. Then, how did I make it this time?
The answer is simple –traveling helped me.
Until the time I stationed myself in Pokhara in October and made a decision not to leave until I finish the manuscript, I do not know the number of times I had to overcome my weakness while riding a seemingly never-ending uphill, while pushing the bike on a path where even goats stumble, while being rained on and being frozen in a tent, while pushing on even when sick, afraid and penniless. The thousand times repeated: “You can do it” and “Keep on, you will get there, everything will be overcome and the target will stay into sight as long as you don’t give up”—these so simple and evident truths became part of my everyday survival on this journey, which is indeed tied to constant body challenges and toughening up of the state of mind.
The novel I wrote talks about the first six months of my trip, that first half of the year when I still had a companion and—what I believed then—my prince from a fairy tale that was happening to me. Although between two to two-and-half years have passed since I wrote about these adventures, reading my personal diary and recalling everything was sometimes so hard that I drowned in my pain and the feeling of being trapped in the past which I had to relive again. However, without this, without evoking the past emotions that needed to be translated into words, there is no good story. Sometimes I cried for days and felt as if I were possessed by these bloodthirsty emotions—the love, the sadness, the anger, the lovingness. It hurt like hell, the way all dearly missed loves hurt when their memories are relived, day after day. But, this was the only way to do it.
If it were not for that perseverance, that patience that in the meantime I have acquired and has become an inseparable part of my life, I could have never endured it. I would have given up, pushed everything into oblivion where it belongs, and would have continued without a book I wanted to write so much. This very novel, one of the many that will follow, I am certain about that, was the very reason to embark on this pedaling adventure around the world. I started with this to force my creativity to free itself and to impel myself to start living from it. Only I know just how much all this has cost me.
The emptiness that followed after I wrote down the last full stop was anticipated. I have two published books under my belt, a novel and a collection of short stories, and I was already familiar with this feeling, in a way I had even expected it. As well as what followed after re-reading and editing the manuscript—the search for a publisher.
I published my first book at the age of twenty five, after winning the most prestigious book award for an unpublished manuscript—the one given by Matica Srpska, named “The First Book”. Then and there, in 1994, five of the most prominent literary critics of that time decided in an anonymous competition that my story would be published as a winner of the genre of non-fiction. Except for being a confirmation that I was a talented, at that time young writer, this award did not generate much benefit for me. The publishing was delayed one year and, excluding one official promotion held in the offices of Matica Srpska in Novi Sad [Serbia], the book did not have, as we say, ‘its own life’. Surely, this was my mistake too, because the most important part—fight to reach readers and critics—starts after the book’s publication.
The second book was published by accident. While working in the world of money and finances, I was writing for myself, primarily as a defense against everything that was part of my mostly meaningless, daily working life. When I collected about dozen stories I showed them to the editor of the Narodna Knjiga [publishing company], a writer and a critic whom I appreciate very much. Soon after, we met for coffee and the editor told me: “This is good. We can publish it”. Just like that. It was 2005 and, similarly to ten years earlier, I did not lift a finger to help my book live. Hence, I have never asked myself why it had remained unnoticed.
Unlike the previous two times, today, in 2014, I care very much that this book is published as soon as possible. Therefore, I called all my friends, all my followers to help me. I sought ways to contact editors who were willing to urgently read my book. Just that—to read it in the near future, and if they found it good to publish it. I did not ask for a favor to publish something that may not be good.
In the meantime, I have created my audience, and I believe that increased interest of the media in what I am doing will also help. For the first time, what we call “the life of a book” after its publication is almost guaranteed.
However, as it turns out, waiting is unavoidable. It also turned out clear that the doors of some publishers such as Laguna, remain closed and as inaccessible as Kafka’s castle. They filed me in their archive and informed me that they will answer in six months. Six months despite the recommendation for publication? How long is the waiting period when the author is not recommended?
There is also Samizdat, probably the most logical choice considering that the largest number of readers is following me via B92 Blog. Besides, I am mentioning this publishing company in my novel in several instances. To my surprise, Veran Matić [Chief Executive Officer of B92] himself replied to my inquiries and promised that one of the editors will read the manuscript in a relatively short time.
Finally, the manuscript also went to Dereta following the recommendation of an influential Facebook friend. They also replied by asking me very politely to be patient.
And, I am being patient. I am waiting. Unlike previous times when I would feverishly wait for a reply, this time I am calm. I know that it will materialize one day—first the reply and then the published book. In the same way the top is reached after a long climb, the sun comes after the rain and one always gets to the finish line unless one gives up.
Being a guest at Zoltan’s
While I am waiting, I make plans for my next journey and I am finally taking a break.
Since a while ago, I decided to fly from Nepal to Beijing to apply for a new passport. There are no more unused pages in the old one, and the only Serbian embassy in Asia that can issue a biometric passport is located in the Chinese capitol. Therefore, as soon as I had finished writing I leave for Kathmandu to apply for Chinese visa.
I stayed at Zoltan’s place, a guy that was recommended by another Facebook friend. I met him earlier in September, during my first visit to the Nepalese capitol, but the dates of his holiday, which he spent in Serbia, and my visit to Kathmandu did not overlap, hence we managed to meet only briefly. Still, it was long enough to attend a mini-Yugoslavian party in the house where Zoltan lives.
Whereas he has been in Nepal for over a year now, working for a NGO [non-governmental organization] involved with disabled people, his friend Milun has been living in Kathmandu for over six years and has had enough of the life and the people here. He is at his wits’ end due primarily to the fact that his family is in Serbia. When we met I was still enthusiastic about Nepal and the Nepalese and, to my every single observation about the country Milun would equally repeat: “Don’t get too excited, you’ll see”.
Over the past years trips, when meeting our expats, I noticed that many of them had serious dislikes about the country they lived in and its people. I have impression that this is quite normal. After the initial excitement, the inevitable disappointment follows, and afterwards either the acceptance or the rejection ensues. This depends on many things, but it seems that the decisive factors are someone’s willingness to integrate into the new society, as well as personality traits.
Therefore, I was not at all concerned when Milun warned me to be wary of the Nepalese.
Unlike me, Azer, who has just arrived to Nepal, was nearly terrified. His wife got a job in a city at the border with India, whereas he and his high school daughter, who was enrolled in the international school, stayed in Kathmandu. His fears are primarily related to his daughter, her upbringing and safety in a city where a policeman, a drug dealer and a macro are standing at a same street corner, next to each other, and are often good friends who help each other. In a city where it is not advised to walk down the street after eleven in the evening. Where short skirts and pants, even on a fourteen-year-old, mean an open invitation for assailants. Where several dozen announcements about missing persons, mostly girls that came for trekking, are hanging on the boards in front of the embassies.
I did not feel at ease hearing all this. I had a lump in my throat the first time I left Kathmandu and went to Pokhara, and earlier when leaving for the Himalayas.
Today, after having spent six months in this country, I know it much better. The initial excitement has dissipated, but it did not give way to Milun’s gloominess. It is true that the Nepalese are difficult in many ways—they are too noisy, without basic good manners, unscrupulous, and always ready to charge a white tourist twice as much or even more, intrusively curious, childishly conceited while believing they are the best and special because their flag is unique due to being formed by two triangles instead of a rectangle, because the Himalayas are in their country, and because …. just because they are simply “the best” in everything. However, I do not think they are dangerous or that their country is unsafe.
I nevertheless have tired of them and can hardly wait to leave.
Accidentally or not, an unplanned mini-Yugoslavian party repeats again. After having dinner in a restaurant, Milun and I go to Zoltan’s place, open a bottle of wine and soon are joined by an old friend of the host—Bergen from Sarajevo, who has been working for years in a mission in Afghanistan. She came to spend her ten day holiday here, so Milun spares her all those warnings he deliberately shared with me and Azer the previous time.
Company in Pokhara
Despite the self-imposed isolation, my stay in Pokhara did not lack social activities. Two couples of bikers, one has been on the road for nine years (and still together!) and the second one for a year and a half, made me company the first months as they had also stayed for a longer period, making a break.
Sometime around New Year, three young Croatian travelers arrived. They started in China and continued southward, toward India. One of them recently won the title of the best amateur cook in a reality show called “Master Chef”. His journey is actually an attempt to get acquainted with the cuisine from eastern Asian countries. He wanted to walk the Annapurna trail together with his two friends, so we met in order to tell them my experiences. Then, we met again to go grocery shopping. Next, to celebrate with dinner and strong “Nepal Ice” beer. Although they are half my age, or maybe just because of that, these guys became dear to my heart during this short time and I was heartbroken when they left. I reflected on how easily and quickly, when abroad, we accept those that come from our, even though former, country.
For a while, right about time when I was writing the most difficult part of my novel, there was nobody around and that suited me fine. Then, when I finally got through this and was nearing the end of the story, Marija contacted me. A lady from Serbia, who has been working and living in the Netherlands for years and had married a Dutch. They started their journey few months ago and, at the time when they contacted me, they were in Vietnam planning to continue to Cambodia and then next to Nepal. Bart, her husband, sold everything in the Netherlands and with that money they embarked on this journey. They planned a short visit to Serbia after Nepal, and afterwards a return to Cambodia to volunteer teaching English and some other courses at an international school.
Before meeting them in person, in one of her e-mails Marija wrote that they too, were trying to be outside the system, to be free. That was the main reason they sold everything in the Netherlands.
“The Netherlands is a country where everything is supervised”, Bart claimed when we finally met after they arrival in Pokhara. “Everything is networked, everything can be done on-line; you don’t have to show up anywhere in person. They have your social security and health insurance numbers; they observe you with webcameras on a street, in a store, even the web hosting company collects your information whenever you try to reach your e-mail account from abroad”.
I noticed that that has been the norm everywhere in the West, even in Serbia.
“Yes, but that means control. And we don’t want to be controlled. We want to live our small lives privately, without an eye or an ear that is watching us and eavesdropping on us”, they replied more or less using those words.
Then I recalled an article I recently read about a couple in Croatia, also of mixed nationalities (he is Croatian and, I think, she is Dutch)—they officially do not exist as a couple. They do not have identification numbers because they were not reported in the Registrar’s office at birth, they do not have any documents and therefore, they are officially not alive. They live in a small earthly paradise, subsisting on organic farming and they do not feel they are lacking anything from the world in which the rest of us are filed under different numbers. I remember reading that they mentioned that the society of similarly officially non-existing people counts many members who are in regular contact thanks to the Internet. A screenplay for a new Avatar or an indication of salvation of humankind?
Maria and Bart have not gotten that far. At least, not just yet. All they want is not to be controlled and to do what they love. The latter one, among other things, meant all three of us going out together for a cup of coffee, visiting each other in different neighborhoods where we were lodging, looking for cheap restaurants for lunch.
A young traveler from Dalmatia, Dario, joined us a couple of times. His story is one of the craziest I have ever heard. He worked as a policeman, saved some money, then simply ran away and hitchhiked all the way to this part of the world.
“A policeman who runs away to hitchhike to India?”, I was stunned. “That’s good; there is hope for this world”.
Dario planned to visit India after Nepal, and afterwards he must return to Croatia. An arrest warrant was issued against him there and he will be arrested when he crosses the border. The reason behind it is that he is obliged to work for the police department until he pays off or returns the scholarship he received.
When asked what he is going to do, Dario shrugs. He will pay them. In the meantime, during his “escape”, he has discovered what he would really like to do in his life: given that he is from Ploče, a coastal town visited by many tourists, he will organize tours on donkeys to nearby attractions, which will provide him with money sufficient for traveling six months per year.
Lately I am getting more and more interview requests. One of them, published in Blic Ženi, sparked a lot of attention and, besides being copied in Kurir without my knowledge—although, as a consolation, I am among the few who got in that magazine with a positive news story –restored my friendship with former colleague. Katja, my former colleague, worked as a web-designer in the same journal where I had worked as a technical editor. Both of us were laid off at the same time. For this story it is important to mention that Katja rides a motorbike and likes traveling. Not recognizing me in the interview, she offered to bring whatever I needed from Belgrade because on her way to Bhutan she was making a stopover in Nepal soon.
Right about that time, I started having problems with the front cassette, which was, after 28,000 km, completely spent and with broken teeth. It was an old model and I was not able to find a matching one here, so I asked my friend Dragan to search for it in Belgrade. He referred me immediately to Aleksandar Erski from Šabac [Serbia], the guy who donated this very bike for my trip because I did not have a proper one or money to buy a new one. Indeed, in few days, Erski found two front and two rear cassettes, a couple of chains and all sorts of parts that he expressly sent to Belgrade.
Meanwhile, Dragan was granting my second big plea – to obtain a new copy of my birth certificate, as well as the proof of citizenship from my father’s birth place. Without these documents I could not apply for a new passport. The bureaucracy is exhausting when you must do it for yourself, let alone when you do it for someone else… But, my friend managed to get the documents on time and, together with those bike parts, give them to Katja before her departure to Kathmandu.
Sometimes I find everything that people do for me so unbelievable. I add to this list the airplane ticket to Beijing bought using free miles from my online-friend whom I met through my blog. This is the same friend who helped me when I lost the only credit card I had in China by immediately sending me money via Western Union. No, I am sure I did not deserve this.
First of all, I got into three math assignments in a workbook used for an entrance exam in math. In one example, students have to calculate the number of revolutions of the wheel on my bike when I pass one kilometer, and in the other two, I need help to convert inches to centimeters and miles to kilometers. Two things make me happy about these exercises. Children will discover that it is possible to travel on a bike long distances, even around the world, and although this information may just skim through their minds, they will get to know it at the young age of 14–15; I got to know this only in my thirties. The second thing that makes me happy is the fact that the traditional examples with airplanes, cars and alike are replaced with assignments citing the ecological bike. All in all, kudos to Jasna Maričić-Marilović, the workbook organizer.
Before long, I got an offer to be part of a commercial TV spot. The producers and the advertising company whom I am not allowed to name at this time, came up with the idea of showing some real, brave people, people who push borders and help others with their own efforts. What else could I say but—yes! It is nice, encouraging and besides, they pay!
Thus, with the help from Marija and Bruno, the entire day I was filming scenes that the directors could use. We were roaming around Sarangkot and Phewa Lake—containing one of the most beautiful scenery in Pokhara, but unfortunately, it turned out that almost nothing was usable. Among other things, the scenery was not beautiful enough, the directors said. And it is not. Contrary to the common belief, Nepal is actually ugly and dirty, dusty and polluted to the maximum. The only scenery that takes your breath away is in the Himalayas. It is too far and too hard to get there, so that idea was disregarded. I got new instructions, to try a scene in Kathmandu where I was heading to just before my flight to Beijing.
After three days of biking from Pokhara, dusty, tired and hungry, I managed to make the shots that satisfied the directors. I paid a Nepalese guide to help me by holding the camera while I was riding around Durbar square—the symbol of Kathmandu. And now, I am anxiously awaiting the commercial to see how it all came out.
Meanwhile, three additional requests for interviews had arrived. In the past, when not biking I was writing my blog or for-a-pay articles for the Q-sphere, I was sorting out and uploading photographs to my gallery and other social media, thus intentionally working on my self-promotion. I hardly had free time for an effective break. Today I do not even have a break. Since a while ago my journey has become a pretty serious job, demanding my daily, almost full day involvement. The fact that I enjoy what I am doing is the only, but crucial difference from all the other jobs in my ‘previous life’.
On the eve of my departure to China, I am trying to reply to at least two out of three requests for interviews and to film additional video for the advertising company that is making the commercial TV spot; to buy fake camping gear and wardrobe, which is several times cheaper here than anywhere else in the world; to collect information about touring the Inner Mongolia I plan to do while waiting for my passport, and also about touring the Gobi desert which I want to ride after leaving China; to fix my notebook and install a VPN so that once in China I can still use Facebook and Picasa, websites that are forbidden there; to write a new article about all this that has been happening to me since my stop in Pokhara, particularly after I have finished my manuscript, and finally to upload all the English translations on my blog.
The latter one is one of the miracles that keep happening to me. In fact, it is related to two ‘miracles’: an offer from Darko to revamp my blog free of charge, and then an offer from Vesna to translate my posts to English, also for free. At the moment, Darko has set up the basics of the site and the blog is fit with the new looks. There is still plenty to be done and the English version of the same is in preparation. In the meantime, I am posting brilliant translations of my ‘Himalayan tour’ done by Vesna on the Serbian version of my site. And, I am attracting more readers, this time the English speaking ones. We are negotiating about the translation of my book. Considering that I am not expecting any significant earnings from the Serbian edition, I am planning to make the English version available for download for few dollars as an e-book and a Kindle version on Amazon.
This rather ambitious plan was accompanied by a nice story about finding a new personal vocation. Vesna, a reputable lecturer who taught for many years in the US, accidently has discovered that she is enjoying translating and that this is the career she would like to pursue. That made me happy not only for her, but also for me – it seems that after all, I do return favors to some good people, even if I do not do it consciously.
One more drink
The night before leaving Nepal, a group of self-organized travelers I met on the forum Klub putnika, Aleksandar-Baki, Olja, Ljerka and Dragan flew into Kathmandu. Much earlier, knowing about their planned arrival, I asked Baki to bring from Serbia a package prepared by my Facebook friend Mirjana – one book, tons of chocolate banana marshmallows, plasma cookies and Serbian coffee. At the last moment, just before their departure from Belgrade, Petar Maksimović from Infoteam, the official agent of the Garmin in Serbia, provided me with one GPS unit to make my journeys through the Gobi desert and later, easier. Two and a half years ago, at the beginning of my trip, Petar gave me one of those gadgets, but my former companion and I did not use it very often in Europe and we returned it. Considering that this time I am all by myself, planning to ride through the not so tamed regions of Asia, the satellite navigation will be of great help. Thus, Baki brought the eTrex20 to Kathmandu. He added his own gift to these two packages—prepečenica [a type of brandy made in Serbia from plums] in its original (aimed for tourists) packaging, in a pear shaped bottle tapped with a corn cob. One has to be prepared for cold nights in the desert and later in Siberia.
I believe that Baki’s plan and the plan of the others from the just-arrived-group was the same as Zoltan’s and mine: to meet briefly, have a drink together, chat a little and then go our separate ways. My host even pointed out that he did not plan to stay too long although he was looking forward to meeting our countrymen. “Neither do I”, I replied in agreement with him. “My flight is tomorrow”.
Yeah, right. It started at half past six with one beer and ended around midnight when the waiters, prior to going to sleep, asked us to pay and leave. To just say I enjoyed it is not enough—I do not remember the last time I felt so relaxed and cozy. I truly love travelers because they are open, funny, full of interesting stories, curious, educated, and even better when they are coming from my country—is there anything more natural than to get drunk in their company? There, it finally happened to me and I do not regret it, even for a bit, despite the hangover the next day during the flight to Peking and the tones of Ibuprofen for my headache that would not go away. After half a year spent in Nepal, after successfully climbing the Himalayas, after finishing the novel, this is just the right ending of one phase of my journey.