Matteo Tricarico, whom we followed through his bicycle Odyssey from Vietnam to Italy, has finally reached home after almost two full years on the road. Congratulations to you, Matteo!!! I am so envious of you I am turning green right now!! The following is Matteo’s last diary from Italy. Hoping to be soon able to embark on a similar adventure, I give you matteo’s final words, and I invite you to contact him if you desire to bring him to talk about his trip in your clubs, associations, homes or whatever else in La Dolce Italia….
Day 736, chronicle 098, Manfredonia (N41°37.633′ E15°54.941′) Italy, 15 October 2011 2:55 pm -
The trip ended Sunday, October 9 at 12:15 when I got off my bicycle and I shook hands with the mayor of Manfredonia, Angelo Riccardi, who greeted me at the headquarters of the LUC (Urban Cultural Laboratory). A stage was prepared there and I received plaques, trophies and other awards from representatives of the municipality of Manfredonia, the Olimpic committee of Foggia, the UISP Gargano, associations for diversity “Il delfino” and “Occhi felici” (happy eyes), Avis and the Association Gargano 2000. Frankly, I was pleasantly surprised and genuinely touched by the warm welcome back I received from both the authorities and the citizens of my home-town, a worthy grand finale of two years of travels. It still seems unimaginable and incredible to me, even if I personally experienced it. Although not even a week has passed since I reached my destination, my cycling life seems already distant in time, belonging to another phase of my existence. Not being in the middle of the “action”, I find it hard to tell about the last month cycling from Thessaloniki, where I wrote the previous entry of this diary. I am composing this last chronicle on the old high school desk in my youth bedroom at my parents’ house, and I cannot help remembering all those places where I laid my computer to describe the prominent facts of the adventure. It is the first time in my life that I kept a diary and found it a very useful exercise to rethink and reflect on what happened, besides being a way to ponder and draw lessons. Even if I have always tried to make the story interesting for you, oh my readers, I ask pardon of the tedium I may however have caused you.
The last part of the journey, when my mind was already in Manfredonia, and every kilometre was one less to the goal, started on September the 27th 2011 at nine o’clock when I left Kyriaki’s house in Thessaloniki and headed westward onto the motorway E75 and then the E90, that cuts across western Macedonia. I covered about 80 kilometres of flat terrain and I was about to climb the mountains that lead to the mythical Mount Olympus, when a police patrol approached me and told me to stop. The agents informed me that it was forbidden for bicycles to go on the highway. I replied that I did not know it and that I would leave it to the next exit. “You will not proceed any further on this motorway!!” exclaimed the woman agent while taking my passport and registering my name on a book similar to that of the fines. In all the countries I crossed in this journey, it was the first time, with the exception of Burma, that I had serious trouble with the law, mainly because I’ve basically always respected the rules of the road. While the man agent was talking on the radio, the woman was scolding me about the dangers and irresponsibility of my conduct for the car and truck drivers, but especially for my safety. Within ten minutes the rescue service van arrived and my bicycle was loaded on it, while I sat on the back seat of the patrol car. Here the conversation moved away from my criminal conduct to the trip and my life. I was sure that they would have driven me to the police station; instead, they took me to the state road N4 to Igoumenitsa, and they left me there. I thanked them and assured them that I would never take the motorway again. I also promised that in my diaries I would talk with positive notes about the Greek police. After I thought that: if cops are so kind to those who contravene the law, not even fining or making them pay the expenses of the service van, I am not surprised that the Greek state is in a situation of default …
I spent the same night in my tent on the roadside near an abandoned house a few kilometres from Leventis and the next day I started to ride on the road that runs along the highway. I entered the mountainous Epirus region, through roads climbing steep slopes covered by a dense pine forest that stretches before your eyes up to the peaks around 2500 meters of the Pindos Mountains range. I crossed the pass of Katara and I stopped for the night near Mersovon in an area inhabited by bears, whose presence is clearly marked by road signs that game me concerns to sleep outside. On 29 September I went down to the valley descending a slope of about fifty kilometres, reaching Pamvotis lake and the city of Ioannina. I spent that night in the suburbs of the city. From here to the coast it is relatively flat with the exception of the hills that protect the town of Igoumenitsa. The port has ferries to Turkey and Italy, my last frontier to cross into my motherland. At the time of embarking the Aegean Queen, I had a moment of sadness because I considered this as the true end of my journey, but I had to change my mind later, because the arrival in Italy brought me unexpected and pleasant surprises.
I covered the 168 nautical miles that separate Igoumenitsa from Brindisi in my sleeping-bag on the rear deck, because all the chairs inside were promptly occupied by entire families and groups that, judging by the language and the facial features, came from the Eastern Balkans. Landing in Puglia, I found Nadia, a cyclo-friend from Latiano, who welcomed me and with whom I had made an appointment for the next day in Lecce to attend the regional cyclo-gathering organized by FIAB (Italian Federation of Friends of the Bicycle). That Saturday, October 1st, I visited the historic city of Brindisi where I was approached by a young man on a bicycle who asked me: “Aren’t you the one who is travelling from Vietnam?”, I replied “In the flesh and bike!”. So I followed Daniele to his house, where I was a guest for lunch before leaving heading to Lecce. I did not reach the city on that day, but I stopped about ten kilometres before it and slept in an olive grove. Sunday, October 2nd was the last of three days of cyclo-gatherings and I joined the other participants to visit the beautiful baroque city and surrounding countryside, ending up in a wine growers’ cooperative for a glass and homemade pasta. For that night and the next I was Nadia’s guest, with whom I spent the next day cycling to Campomarino on the Ionian coast. We swam in fresh but crystalline seawater. The next day I followed the Adriatic state road reaching Bari in the afternoon, and the same evening I told my travel experience to the Ruota Libera (Free-wheel) cyclist members association. In Bari I was a guest of Alain, a French cyclist transplanted here for several years, who created the first rapid service delivery by bicycle, the Bici Express Bari (www.baribiciexpress.it). October the 8th I reached the town of Margherita di Savoia, where I was received by the Vice-Mayor, who handed me a plaque, and by members of AVM (Association of Volunteers Margherita) and Unitalsi associations. I spent a couple of hours showing them videos and talking about the trip. The next day, the 730th, it was pouring with rain but this did not prevent a delegation of Manfredonians cyclists to pick me up and ride together for fifty kilometres up to my home-town, stopping for refreshments at Zapponeta.
Finally, the sporty aspect of the project “From Vietnam to Italy by bicycle for the disabled” ends here, but the humanitarian aim will continue for the next three months when I will travel throughout Italy to tell my experience. I will return cycling for another sporty-humanitarian project from next January. Keep on following me, there is still a lot to see …. Until next time.
PS: If you have any question or want to contact me to talk about my experience in your town in Italy, write to mt(at)matteot(dot)com
Project official website with news, photos and videos: www.travelforaid.com