We recently hit our 6 month anniversary; 6 months since the surreal moment of watching a van pull out from our driveway in Shoreditch with all our things. A collective 8 years of our lives, sealed into 24 cardboard boxes, neatly stacked and marked. The day was flat and gray, with the ever-present hum of traffic. As typically London as could be.
6 months later, here we are, buried deep in south-western China. We’re in the little wooden caravan village of Shaxi, one of only three surviving on the ‘Tea Horse’ route - one that connected Yunnan to India, a sister to the Silk Road. It’s the kind of village you’d be forgiven for thinking exists all around rural China - until you actually travel through the countryside. This one is really special; Shaxi is the kind of rejuvinating place to gaze out the window and watch the seasons peacefully drift by.
We’ve washed our underwear in the sink, hobbled onto trains with food poisoning and gotten lost countless times. These (and more) romanticised aspects of travel are all things that eventually happen to anyone who’s on the road for long enough. (Except, perhaps, getting tear-gassed. Seriously - it’s not fun.)
But the route we’re taking, overland from London to Sydney, has shown us something unique - something more than we thought it would ever be.
There is a gentle cultural blend which has no regard for country borders - a melting of everything that makes up the identity of people. If anything, this slow cultural blend follows the geographic contours of the world.
The flow of religion through the world is integral to the culture of the people who inhabit a region - seeing the sprouts of Islam in Europe blossom as we counted down the kilometres to Turkey, was astonishing. And then the influence was promptly cut-off as we crossed the geographic guillotine of the Caucasus mountains
To the victor goes the spoils, and so each country has its own version of history. Empires have spread over such vast areas, and it’s no wonder countries choose to celebrate certain aspects - indeed, we’ve all heard of Chinnghis (Genghis) Khan, and his mighty - if abruptly short - empire.
With food and eating habits so integral to our daily lives, it’s no surprise to see how these traditions are related to the empires and their cultural influence (thanks hugely to the Ottomans). For every country that lays claim to a special home-made spirit, there is another with the same grandma-perfected recipe, guaranteed.
Current world events have become more meaningful for us; our feet were plodding along on the same Turkish soil where attacks occurred. Russia’s military operations are feeding a paranoia of travellers through its borders. As we write this, borders are even closing in Europe, due to increased migration. Our route is simply not possible now - only 6 months later.
And through all this time, the gradual change of people, of faces. Our ‘Portraits: London to Sydney’ photo project is going strong. Seeing the influences of various ethnicities dance and mix with each other is incredibly interesting. We can’t wait to see it completed.
Our journey hasn’t been about conquering the world. We haven’t ‘done’ Eastern Europe, nor did we ‘do’ the Trans-Siberian railway. As one ex-pat put it to us in China, ‘the more we travel, the more we realise how little we know’.
Watching the blend of culture; of religion, history, eating habits and people, by travelling overland is an utterly fascinating experience.
Next stop: Nepal.
EMMA & PETE
We're just two Aussie's who met in London, married in Prague and travelled overland back to Australia.