I was introduced to Pedro through the usual social channels – I think it was probably Facebook. After reading about his travels I felt a sense of déjà vu. His story of overlanding from Europe to Asia bore a close resemblance to that of Greg and Emma (who we have previously interviewed). Things got even more bizarre when I discovered his next journey was from Europe to South Africa (their next trip was from South Africa to Asia). I knew I had to interview him!
I mean seriously, when you start to get an understanding of what Pedro has been through during his travels, it’s like an onion, and Pedro’s onion has more layers than most. Not many people can say that they have hitchhiked more than 20,000 km (12,400 mi). To give you some sort of an idea of the scale, that’s nearly double the entire Trans-Siberian Highway!
It goes without saying that an extraordinary journey makes for an incredible story, so you will be pleased to hear that Pedro has already published his first book called Daqui Ali. It’s currently in Portuguese only but you can get your hands on the English version and help support Pedro over at IndieGoGo where he is running a crowdfunding campaign.
For just €17 you get 400 pages of non-stop adventure delivered to your door. You can’t beat that! We’ve already ordered our copy. He’s already 86% of the way to his funding goal and needs us backpackers to get him over the line.
Show your support for Pedro at http://igg.me/at/an-overland-journey
Here’s a short trailer to get you wanting more..
Want to know more about Pedro and his adventures? Read more in our interview below and connect with him here on Backpacker Travel and his Facebook page.
BT: Prior to your trip to India in 2009, you were working as a psychologist in Birmingham. Had you done any significant travel before this time?
Pedro: Yes! But maybe for some people, it might seem like nothing special, and I kinda get that… when people go around the world 45 times then other trips might seem less valuable or significant. I believe a trip is as significant as one feels it. So, yeah, going on an inter-rail for 3 weeks is not as big as, say, traveling for a year, but I did feel it as something that made some impact on me. I’d also lived in Norway for 6 months and Finland for an academic year, which was something like traveling. Other than that I had visited about 30 countries in smaller trips, some more significant than others.
BT: Can you tell us of any instances where your study of psychology helped you navigate a dicey situation?
Pedro: Not really. It’s been like a LIFE long mission to understand whether having studied psychology has taught me anything in social terms or not. Because a dicey situation is still a social situation, in the sense that is happening there and then, in real LIFE. Sometimes it frustrates me a bit when I say something and I’m feeling like, “Yeah, I’m so clever” or whatever and someone comes and says, “I can tell you studied psychology.” So where’s the merit in myself?! I’m joking but it is a little bit like this at times. I believe I am good with people and usually know how to approach them. But the question is whether I’m like this because I studied psychology or I studied psychology because I was already like this. I believe it’s the latter. But yeah, of course, a certain social and emotional intelligence, be it from yourself or because you studied how to improve it, goes a long way when traveling. It served me really well with corrupt policemen in Africa… but that’s another question – literally, it’s two questions down.
BT: You ventured through a number of war-torn countries, in many cases, hitchhiking. How did your experience differ in those places?
Pedro: I’m not sure I can establish a link between a war-torn country and a certain experience that I had. Because my first instinct is to say how nice people were with me, to establish a link between war and poverty, then between poverty and kindness. But I’m not sure there is such a link if I look at things objectively. I was in Syria a few days before the revolution and then I proceeded to Iraq. From Iraq, I proceeded to Iran, a country that wasn’t and isn’t, having any war. And I can’t say whether people were nicer in one place or another because they were so nice in all of these places!
In Africa, I was in many countries that had had very violent wars in the recent past. People talked about it. There was an underlying pain but also a will to move forward, it seemed to me. People told stories and explained how brutal things had been. I had friends who were on the verge of becoming child soldiers and perhaps I met other people that actually were child soldiers but didn’t tell me. But the way they related to each other, and to me… I can’t say it was too different than in other countries that hadn’t had a war.
In Nigeria it was different. They have a big problem in the north of the country with terrorism in the shape of Boko Haram. So I crossed Nigeria from west to east cycling, in an 870 km trip and I was stopped 23 times by the police, always fearing I could be a terrorist. It had nothing to do with me looking like this or that, having a beard like this or that, because I know a Swedish guy, looking like he is from where he’s from, that had the same problems. Not only that… if in every single African country, people would shout out “Jesus, Jesus!” a million times every time I passed by, cracking up thinking they were so funny (I got used to it easily and learned how to play it to my advantage), in Nigeria, they’d call me “Boko Haram, Boko Haram!” dozens of times a day, and that sucked ass! You know, I’m a white guy living in a small town in Portugal. I’d experience xenophobia in Birmingham one time but that was that. It’s a concept that is new to me. So… even if that experience was quite heavy, to be called a terrorist all the time, it kinda opened a window for me in understanding what some people go through every day. I was in Nigeria because I wanted to be. Nobody made me, I wasn’t there because I had no money and needed to provide for my family, I wasn’t escaping a war zone. I was just this dude that had an idea of cycling to South Africa. But some people – don’t have a choice but to go to a place where they feel this kind of racist/xenophobic abuse on a daily basis! I don’t think people should go through it to understand it, but I did, and although I was never a prejudiced guy in any way, it was another stone to build a castle of empathy…
BT: Corruption is a major issue in most, if not all, developing countries. Tell us your thoughts on this and how you dealt with this ongoing problem.
Pedro: We’re talking about corruption across the board here, from the guy that gets your bags first in the airport because you paid him and someone else didn’t, to the president. In Southern Europe and other not-so-southern countries it also happens, but more on a high level.
I’m very against this, man, like most of us, I guess, and I’ll go (almost) all the way not to pay anything. And it’s not even about the money, because in many countries you can pay one or two euros and off you go, not wasting a whole hour or two standing your ground. The thing is – by paying you’re contributing to a fucked up system, you’re rewarding corrupt assholes. Also, you’re undermining the next guy, who might actually not have that money! (I know, “Who doesn’t have two euros”, one might think. Trust me – some people travel on such a low budget it makes a big difference).
Having said this – I paid when I was arrested in Laos. I’m not proud of it, but it was such a situation I felt I had no other way. Nowadays I suppose it would have been different, I’d endured it longer… but it was my first big trip, I was in jail and people back home hadn’t heard from me in a while… so I caved.
In Africa it’s different. Police ask you for money all the time. Humans are awesome. But some humans, when they put on a uniform, they turn into giant walking turds, thinking that the uniform is to be used to intimidate you, not protect you. So you have to meet them somewhere. This is where emotional/social intelligence comes in handy. Like in Sierra Leone, which was the worst country in this aspect, many policemen were absolutely arrogant evil bastards, and that intimidated me. However, I couldn’t show that they intimidated me, or they’d use it, so I acted all cool and all, but not too cool, so they didn’t think I wasn’t taking them seriously. They’d ask for all kinds of documents that I didn’t need and even arrested me one night. I spent two hours in jail and managed to get out not paying anything and not even showing my passport, let alone a letter from my government, a letter from the police in the capital, a residence permit, and all the other bullshit papers they were asking for. They were totally drunk, so they were easier to manipulate… but also more unpredictable.
By the time I got to Nigeria, I learned that the best way was to act cool (always) and take control of the conversation. They’d tell me to stop and I’d be the one asking questions. When there was a half-second break I’d go like “So I’ll see ya…” and off I went.
However, this ethical stubbornness sometimes goes bad. When I was to get into Kinshasa (the Democratic Republic of The Congo) I refused to pay a bribe… and that meant I had to go back to Brazzaville (Republic of The Congo) and that meant I had to go back home! Yep… I had a totally full passport and there wasn’t an embassy in Brazzaville where I could make a new one. I’d planned on making a new one in Kinshasa. That sucked. I flew to Portugal, got a new passport, flew back to Brazzaville and did the same thing again. This time I had to pay $20.
BT: Following on from that, you have been arrested on more than one occasion. What goes through your mind when you realize you’re all alone getting locked up in a foreign country?
Pedro: I was arrested in Finland in 2004 because my flatmates had posted weed from their home countries to themselves in Finland. Customs came, saw all the flags we’d stolen on drunken nights out and took us all to jail. In Croatia, we were gonna spend the night in what looked like an abandoned house, when police came and took us. In Laos, I went tubing in Vang Vieng, came back, had a blackout and woke up in the back of a van in the middle of the bush. I spent two nights in jail. In Sierra Leone, they arrested me because I “didn’t have my papers” but never locked me up, and in Nigeria, they locked me up for a few hours until someone came and assessed whether I was a threat or not.
I was pretty okay in all of these, except for the one in Laos. That was one bad experience, man. The worst of my LIFE. I don’t know whether I was drugged or what happened but for the first couple of hours, I thought I had been kidnapped. I knew I was gonna die, and that’s not a cool thing, no sir… I didn’t remember anything but knew I couldn’t have done anything really bad because that’s not me, not who I am. Some people get drunk and then violent, but I had never had a violent episode in my LIFE. So I was the victim of this scam perpetrated by the people that are supposed to protect me, the tourism police. I felt powerless and had this deep feeling of unfairness. I felt abused and almost like… violated.
But then it was over.
BT: Of the two journeys, which was the most challenging and why?
Pedro: That experience in Laos was the most challenging of my whole LIFE, but that was one thing. So I have to say my cycling journey through Africa was the most challenging. I cycled for 15,000 km in a continent famous for its scorching heat. So the physical effort was quite demanding. I had this period for about 6 weeks when, every now and then I’d start having these headaches, goosebumps, I’d start sneezing and I felt like I was dreaming… my head spinning. It’s like nothing was real. That was extreme tiredness. Also, every time I crossed a border I was always on edge because I never knew whether I’d come in contact with some asshole policeman that would catch between countries and use that to his advantage. Then the problem in Nigeria, when I didn’t feel too welcome so many times… it doesn’t mean I didn’t like the trip, I adored it, but it was more challenging, for sure.
BT: The backpacking community is always looking for ways to travel cheaper and more authentically. You made it through Iraq with no money, Iran with only $35, and ended up spending around €3,000 over the entire 9 months of your first trip. How on earth did you manage that?
Pedro: Yes, I wanted to travel on a low budget for several reasons: first, because the less you spend, the more you have for the next trip, for LIFE, for whatever. Then because when you travel on a low budget you end up having experiences that are more authentic. Like being in Turkey with no place to stay because I don’t find a cheap one, asking some people whether it’s safe to sleep on the street there and ending up at their place eating, hanging out, and spending the night. You’ll also resort to Couchsurfing more which means you’ll stay with real people rather than hotel hosts. Finally, I wanted people to understand that traveling for a long period of time is possible even if you’re not a rich person.
How did I do it? Couchsurfing helped a lot. I slept for free for over a hundred nights. And on my second trip, the African one (I don’t know how much money I spent there yet) I slept for free for about 370 nights out of the 450 that I traveled. Here, more than Couchsurfing, I was hosted spontaneously by locals, a lot.
In order to save money, I also hitchhiked a lot. And if I was in a European country I’d eat supermarket food. If not, local stalls on the street, always. The €3000 also included insurance for the whole trip and a camera. I have to say I could have done it with less – I must have spent about €1000 partying.
BT: Having hitchhiked over 20,000km, what have you learned?
Pedro: I learned that usually the cheaper the car, the more likely it is they’ll give you a ride. I learned that the poorer a country is the more likely it is they’ll give you a ride. And I learned this is one of the best ways to travel. I had never hitchhiked before, we just don’t do that in Portugal.
Now I still even if I have to go to Lisbon or somewhere like that. It’s for free and I get to know someone!
BT: How did the idea for your wedding proposal come about?
Pedro: I like stories. If it has to do with my LIFE, I like nice, beautiful stories.
On my first trip, my girlfriend came to meet me in India. We’d been together for 12 years already at that time, so it was safe to assume we’d marry eventually. But how would I propose? How would I give her a nice story? Because when you love someone, if you give them nice stories, you’re giving yourself nice stories.
I had an idea about proposing in a nice place. But which one? I’d have to wait. With what ring? What if she gave me the ring that I was gonna propose with? Yeah, that seemed cool. So I hinted that I’d like to have one of those one euro rings but it’d be lame for me to buy it for myself. She got the hint and gave me one. She then returned to Portugal and I kept going. Nepal, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore… so many nice places, but not exactly what I was looking for. Till I saw myself in Angkor Wat. That was it! I hid the ring there, kept going and when I arrived in Portugal told her I’d lost the ring at the beach. She lectured me a bit, like “You never keep the stuff I give you” but it was alright. I also told her that it’d be nice if she started saving 50€ a month and a couple of years later we could go to Cambodia, as I’d really like her to see Angkor Wat.
Time passed, and I went to Africa. After this 15-month journey, we agreed to meet in Cambodia. And so we did. We went to Angkor Wat but I couldn’t find the goddamn temple where I’d left the ring! Man, I knew it’d be hard to find the ring, I never thought I’d have trouble finding the temple! Maybe it was one of those that was under renovation. I searched for 3 days and at the end of the third, I had to give up. Luckily I had a backup ring I’d ask her to choose “for my friend’s girlfriend”. I chose a temple, sat down and explained that no, we hadn’t been looking for a certain temple because of the sunset there. I’d left something there for her. I explained everything and also told her how I want her to have nice stories about her LIFE.
She said yes.
BT: You have already written and published one book and are in the process of writing another. What led you to write about your travels and what was your biggest challenge in putting your story together?
Pedro: I’ve always loved writing. Before writing the book about my Asian trip I wrote two fiction ones. And when I left, I confess that I imagined a book would come from it. I was gonna live so much, gonna have so much… food for thought… You know, I think a lot, and I knew there would be so much to think about, I’d learn so much… and if that’s the case, it’d be almost selfish not to share it. And yeah, that’s exactly what happened. For example, I was treated so kindly in so many places most people consider scary that I felt it was my responsibility to share these experiences and defeat, even if just for a single person, some of these stereotypes.
My biggest challenge in putting my story together was to keep it short. Or not gigantic. It’s difficult to be objective in selecting what’s important when everything is important to you! So I had about 700 pages of text but eventually, I managed to bring it down to 390. I’m currently going through the exact same problem with my African book. But I’ll get there!
The other challenge was to self-publish. I didn’t like the way the publishing system works so I decided to do it on my own. Turned out great!
BT: Finally, the obvious question that we always like to ask – what’s next?
Pedro: I don’t know man… I’m getting married this year and I’ll probably have a kid next year. My girlfriend, or fiancé, wouldn’t quit her job to come traveling with me, and I’d never ask that. It’s not something you ask. If we lived in a country where jobs were easier to come by I might encourage her a bit more, but we don’t, so I don’t want her to make a decision to please me and then find herself unemployed for ages. So when and if I have a kid I don’t want to leave like for a whole year, so I’ll have to adapt my style. Maybe envision a big trip but do it 3 months at a time… There are many things I’d like to do, but I’m not really focusing on them now. I daydream, sure… but I’m living here, now, and that’s cool. The future will tell!
I’d like to thank Pedro for taking the time to chat with us and wish him all the best with his upcoming wedding.