Sat, Mar 27, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Building bridges with a Chinese junk and dreams

AFP , HONG KONG

They have a dream to pursue. To build a bridge between Western and Eastern cultures -- following the footsteps of the great explorer Marco Polo in a Chinese junk.

Two East German adventurers, Axel Brummer and Peter Glockner, are retracing the historical route of the 13th-century Italian traveler from China all the way to Venice.

They are now in Hong Kong preparing for the first step of the journey.

"We want to trace Marco Polo's trip as closely as possible. Marco Polo went to China and he got culture shock. Its very important to understand the two cultures, talk to the people, learn about their lifestyles, their way of thinking and their philosophies," Brummer, 37, said.

"We hope to be able to bring our knowledge back to our country," he said.

The two met by chance as teenagers in the spring of 1990, shortly after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and found they shared the same dream of escaping their current lives and undertaking an extraordinary trip: to travel around the world on a bicycle.

"At that time, we just wanted the freedom," Brummer said, speaking also on behalf of Glockner, 36, who returned home temporarily to visit his sick mother. He is expected to rejoin the expedition in Singapore later this year.

"We didn't have anything; we had no money and just wanted to see the world," he said.

So off they went. In the past 14 years, they have traveled to 130 countries, over 135,000km by bicycle and 6,000km by kayak.

In between their trips, they make an earning writing books and articles about their experiences. So far, they have written seven books and hundreds of articles published in Germany.

The Marco Polo adventure is their largest expedition so far.

The route will hug the coast of Asia, the Middle East and the Mediterranean until they reach Venice, sometime in the next two to three years. The only difference between the modern trip and the one skippered by Marco Polo 700 years ago will be the leg around Africa,which will be bypassed through the Suez Canal.

They will first drop anchor in Saigon, then Borneo, Singapore and Sumatra, spending a few weeks in each to explore the surrounding areas.

Then they will moor in Phuket for six months until the monsoon season passes before setting off for the long voyage to Italy.

There is no set timetable for each trip.

At each stop they will look for more volunteers and Brummer stresses prospective crew must not only be "dreamers" but also hardworking and willing to cook, clean and do repairs.

The sailing follows the completion of a nine-month cycling trip to China from Venice in 2001, but before it even started they met with a major hindrance.

The junk which they originally bought for the trip -- the Precious Dragon -- sank during a cyclone in the middle of the Indian Ocean in May last year. The 18m boat was best known for having previously sailed from Hong Kong to Britain in 1997 to mark the handover of sovereignty to China.

For most, that minor disaster would have been a frustrating and discouraging experience. But Brummer shrugged and said: "It was an adventure. We had to start it all over again but a lot of people helped."

They eventually found a 31m Chinese junk in Indonesia that only had a usable hull and the rest had to be rebuilt with the help of 60 people -- 20 German friends and 40 Indonesian volunteers -- over five months.

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