Updated: Jun 7
‘’500 days, 25591km later but above all gratitude and love for life as never felt before'’
Marco is a passionate cycle-traveler who decided to make a change in his life on January 17, 2020. This interview took place during one of his rides on the way to Cantabria. He told me that the best thoughts come out when he's cycling. So it was.
Marco, first of all I want to thank you for agreeing to have this chat. My cousin Edo told me about you and so I started following you silently for a while, your story fascinated me immediately.
Yes, I remember that one day just outside the university I said to Edo ’’I don't give a damn about what we're studying, I'd really like to have someone that pays me to do sport challenges in the world'‘, then no one is paying me right now, but in the meantime I'm here and let's see how my life will evolve (he laughs).
Talking about sports, I saw that you recently paraglided, what an experience!
Yes, it was a birthday present! We also went canyoning for Hendy's thirty years and it was crazy, the water was really freezing! I must say that I have long since moved away from everything that is consumerism and when you manage to give your day, your time to someone, it's the most beautiful thing. And even when you can do it for yourself on a daily basis, that's an even better gift.
So, who was Marco before and who is Marco now since he started this journey?
I left Turin on January 17, 2020, when the word lockdown and pandemic did not exist and when the idea of having a curfew seemed to belong to the Middle Ages. A few things have changed since then, but let's say that the Marco from before was a Marco who in recent years was struggling to be able to invest his time in the best possible way despite actually having everything: a great job, a girl, a little house in the center of Turin that we had transformed into our nest, a nice car... you know, the stereotypes of the ideal life. But I realized that I wasn't cultivating my passions, more than anything else I didn't have time.
I talked a lot about the importance of time and I believed in it very much, but actually I was acting as all the others, without trying to change. When you start working, life overwhelms you, you realise that you pass from one weekend to another, from one holiday to another, from one summer to another where you can really do what you want: experience the mountains, play sports, visit, explore… but there's always a wait, you realise that you are just a pawn and that you do what society wants you to do. Even when I was promoted to manager, I couldn't be happy about that piece of paper, it gave me absolutely nothing because the world I belonged to was super distant from my values.
I became more and more aware of it, a process that started with my Erasmus which is also why I'm here today. Undoubtedly, if I hadn't done this experience, I wouldn't be the person I am now.
Where have you been for your Erasmus ?
Cartagena, in the Murcia region. When you leave alone once and you make it by yourself, you realise that you can do it other times. This definitely raised the threshold of happiness for me: being connected to other cultures made me truly happy. And actually, I have to say that the moments in my life when I was really happy are often those when I had the least. As in my current trip, I can certainly enjoy a few days of ''luxury'' by doing something different, but the moments of pure enjoyment are made of simple values and the kindness of people that reigns above all.
Another milestone for me was the Camino in 2016 after a quite though year. In fact exactly 5 years ago, on March 12th, my dad passed away because of a lung cancer after a life invested entirely in work and of course, in building a family. But I can't honestly tell if I ever saw my dad happy, I don't think he lived the life he would have dreamed of at my age. Maybe I didn't have the time or the maturity to ask him. But it was a lesson to see that everything can end so fast: in the four months since he was diagnosed with cancer, many other difficulties happened. I had a really difficult time. I always felt the call of the Camino and I was sure that it was the right time for it. I asked my boss a four-week break and I still remember the email I wrote to him. He couldn't have said no.
The Camino was taking a step back, getting rid of my role - I was the production team leader in Barge, I managed more than 50 people over three shifts, we made brake pads. There, I realised that human connections and in general everything that had to do with people's well-being was what made me happy. I remember that people were so used to it that when asked how they were doing, they answered concerning the machines. For example, there was a lady who was probably my mother's age, I swear to you she had tears when I said that I wanted to know how she was.
All these things were already inside me despite a certain competitiveness to do everything in the best possible way, but always both from a professional and personal point of view. I often had to sacrifice a lot. I don't know if you can still hear me but there's an incredible wind and obviously I have it all in my face! The microphone is still hidden in the neck, very well. (He laughs)
Yes, I can hear you very well! By the way, it's fantastic: I'm here interviewing you while you're riding on your bike who knows where (I laugh).
Yes, and I have a crazy view on the sea! On the other side there's the highway, but as long as there's no police, we are fine. I trust in the good energy that we emanate! (In Spain it is forbidden to ride a bike with earphones).
Anyway I was telling you about the Camino. It was like regaining possession of my time. I don't know if you've ever done it, but I think you'd love it considering your values, it's an incredible experience. Despite being a strong promoter of the bike, doing it by bike only worth 10% of it, because the Camino are connections, it's about going slowly, enjoying a sunrise with someone you had lost a few days earlier. The Camino is getting lost and finding the others again, finding your deeper self. I've been passing through these areas it the last few days by bike and it's crazy: every meter reminds me of something, I'm thrilled just talking about it.
Amazing, I saw you're seeing again some friends you met right on the Camino, it's really able to create strong connections and emotions.
Yes, among other things, I met my ex during the Camino, so for me it has an even deeper value. I met people who are still among my best friends, people that I continue to see despite being Tuscan, Venetian, Apulian... the other day in Pamplona I met Roberto, this 46-year-old gentleman I met on the Camino. We shared about ten hours together, but from the first glance I knew it would have an impact on my life and so it was because after ten minutes we were talking - I'm extremely loquacious (I laugh because it's the same for me) - he told me that what I was doing didn't suit me. Those words had such an important weight.
I realise how the connections created while traveling can change your life. The other day in Bilbao I joined a couple of friends that I met on a trek in Peru on Lake Titicaca. It's true, at some point all the dots you create in life can be connected, even while sharing in person or on social networks you can create a network of people with the same values.
A lot of people got in touch with me, during the lockdown I was a bit of a window on the world when everything was shit. Some people tell me that I was brave, but I reply that ''I would have been braver to stay in that position because it would have hurt me so much ''.
It is precisely this human component that fascinates me so much about your journey, all these connections also help to know yourself better.
Yes, of course, I have never regretted leaving alone, there have been various chapters of the journey, but I've never felt alone.
What have been the main stops of the journey so far? I guess Covid forced you to revise your initial plans a bit.
I divide my journey into three chapters due to Covid. The first is Asia: from Singapore to Laos, crossing Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia in more or less three months. Everything was cheap there, I moved from hostel to hostel with no need for a tent, I ate for $1 and met so many new people. One day I was pedaling in the Malaysian red lands and that reminded me of the Mesetas. I called a friend of the Camino and told him that I wanted to return to Europe through Asia until Finisterre. This was the plan in my head, but with the lockdown it was not possible, I had to wait for the borders to open again.
We spent the lockdown in Laos. I was offered an expensive repatriation flight from the Italian embassy. My mom and my sister wanted me to come back home, but I knew that what was around me was what made me feel good. So with a bit of uncertainty, I stayed in Laos and I couldn't have made a better choice. There, I met a Spanish couple, they are my brothers now. We were 12 friends and we enjoyed it so much, we did the lockdown in a resort, we had the possibility to visit the province when most of the travellers had returned already. Nature is awesome there: hiking, caves, lagoons, we did conditioning classes in the evening, I motivated them to go running... I would really love to be there right now!
But then the borders didn't reopen and we all had different needs… that's also where I met Hendy, the Brazilian girl - but this would be another chapter! You should definitely write an article only about her. We explored Laos, I was in the North and she was in the South, but I realised I wanted to do something, I was about to consider the option of going back home. We then met again and a flight from the Malaysian embassy jumped out for the Malaysians trapped in Laos, obtaining it was such a huge mess. In these moments, you realise how all these life teachings are much more precious than those you'd have in a ''normal'' life.
The Italian embassy put pressure on you to return, but Marco, as a good free citizen, did not give up!
Yes, I took a flight to Athens at the end of July and I must say it was a shock after Asia: you realise how fast everything goes, I suffered the first few days. Luckily I met some cycle travelers thanks to the Cycling East group where we exchange opinions on visa, laws, meetings etc in Asia. A couple in tandem then hosted me in Paris, I also met other people on Warmshowers, and this really motivated me again. An evening on the beach was enough, I met people who have been traveling for years like an Argentine who has traveled over 40,000km around the world, two souls coming from Africa with 5 euros a day... crazy!
Stories that you only know while traveling, they're so out of the box that when you make a step outside and cross them on your path, a new world opens up.
Exactly, look I worked at Bulgari in jewellery, I don't know if you would ever have guessed so from this LUXURY conversation (I laugh and confirm). While traveling I met crazy life stories and this stimulates you so much, it gives you alternative paths. People who do what they really like regardless of what society dictates or what others think. I needed these stimuli.
One day I was on the phone with a friend, Luca, who had been in Australia for a while, another rebel. I googled NordKapp while I was on the phone with him to see how many kilometers there were from Athens and I said '' You know what? It's about 4000km, I'm leaving ''. And here is a new chapter: I crossed Eastern Europe towards NordKapp. It was literally a race against the cold, I remember a Finn at that beach party who told me '' You are not in time, it's too late and you'll never arrive without dying of cold ''. It was August 1st when I completed this mission and he was actually very tender, he congratulated me. I must say that that comment pushed me through all the difficulties: I was cycling next to the reindeers while telling myself ''Fuck, I have to do it ''.
When I left, the borders were closing behind me: Greece, Hungary, Bulgaria... And from there, I simply declared that I was going to the North. To say that I was going to NordKapp was too big, and I only started believing in it when I arrived in Sweden. It was a youth dream, everyone wants to go to NordKapp and I wanted to go too! The beauty of traveling is also this, that you discover things even without studying, through encounters. For example, I didn't know that there was a world after NordKapp, can you imagine that in the Svalbard Islands there is the Seed Bank where seeds of all species in the world are contained? It's absolutely the safest place in the world (He laughs).
Other fun fact: when I was in Athens, I met a Norwegian boy while eating a falafel, I had a t-shirt that my best friend had given to me with ``Real men don't need motors'' written on it and the symbol of a bicycle. When I said I wanted to go to Norway by bike, he mentioned the name of a city, Stavanger. I tried to stay there for a month at one point, then we met again and did a hike together. Madeira, indeed, was a parenthesis between two chapters when I joined Hendy.
Wow, who would have thought in that moment in front of a falafel that you would have seen him again miles away!
Yes, I keep so many good memories about moments of sharing with other cycle travellers. Even when you are under the rain, when you have flat tires, when the police stopped you, you lost six pairs of gloves and everything is going wrong, you tell yourself that it's a great day and if it's not, it will be great tomorrow. This is an important lesson: the shitty days are there, but you pass through them and you tell yourself ''Tomorrow will be better''. And when you start saying it, then it really is. You are tested all the time, step by step.
And while we're chatting, you've arrived in Portugal (I laugh) and let's say you could write a book about all these adventures! I'm happy with your frankness in sharing even the bad moments, as in life there are ups and downs every day.
Absolutely, then when you're alone everything is amplified: as the positive moments are wonderful, the negative ones are shit. But for example, if you ask me to tell you a negative moment, I always have a hard time thinking about a particular episode. Now because it's recent, there are those kids who destroyed my tent during the night, this was a bit traumatising. It makes you lose your confidence and the next day is hard: you suffer because you haven't slept, because you have bad thoughts, and everything seems difficult, you need to disconnect for a moment. But then the following one you're fine and it worths even more.
Sorry but I'm having a hard time, I'm in a quite hard turn (He laughs while breathing fast).
What was I saying? Oh yes, the next day I met a couple of Warmshowers on their sixties who have never cycled, they discovered the site thanks to their daughter who did a few trips. I was pampered like a son, I slept 10 hours in a very comfortable bed. And I needed to rediscover that mankind is good and that kindness is really powerful.
It's always about your thoughts guiding your emotions. There was a day when I arrived in France, I had these negative thoughts, I lost the key of a lock, another pair of gloves, I broke the bottom bracket of the bike and I was in the middle of nowhere, it started to rain, the curfew was approaching... in those moments you have to make decisions in a short time. And then, I was able to catch a train and reach Decathlon, change the piece, find a camper area to sleep and that's it. In the end, there are many difficulties that we simply create in everyday life. The third chapter instead, begins in Luxembourg towards Santiago and is the one preceding the return.
But let's go back in time, when and how did this idea of leaving come out?
I never had a plan, I left with a one way ticket to Singapore, with no expectations. I had my birthday party and that was the occasion to gather my friends and say goodbye. The bets were open to know when I would be back, I didn't know, I had many ideas and very confused.
But what if I ask you what kind of relationship you have with your bicycle? I guess it has evolved and is still evolving during this journey!
Yesterday with another cycle traveller we had our bikes presented (He laughs). Let's say there's a strange relationship, her name is Kaylene. It's the name of an Australian woman I met on the Camino by chance, we exchanged a glance and there was energy between us. We walked a few kilometres together and had a coffee, but we stayed connected. I felt that this meeting had changed me and when it was time to give a name to my ``horse'' during a hiking trip in Cinque Terre with my friend Maggio, I chose Kaylene. The relationship then becomes intimate, it sees you suffer and suffers with you in the rain, in the mud, in any condition .. it becomes visceral.
You are one thing, it's part of you, it's the best way to achieve your dreams. It's the only thing you need to take care of: the more you treat it well, the more it all comes back to you. How much time, sweat and effort I spent under the rain along the road to change tires with 40 degrees! I also started a count to see who won between the front and rear wheels in the number of punctures (the rear one won 11 to 7!). It's very difficult on a mental level, because there are long days, I even managed to do 200km in one day, plus knowing that there's the possibility of perforating is even harder.
On a trip like this you realise that the quality of what you have really makes a difference.
Less but of better quality. Look Marco, I'd love to talk to you for hours, from the first moment I felt a very strong energy and I'm really happy about this conversation!
Thank you, I felt the same thing and you brought me luck, I just arrived in Cantabria without being stopped by the police!
Publishing this interview is like a small return gift I want to give Marco. Thoughts, words, emotions, encounters, tears, smiles, efforts that you will carry with you forever and that will guide you in what you'll do in your future. Good luck!