Formal education is designed to open doors, and sometimes it does so in unexpected ways. For Pete and Keara Brennan being locked down in libraries while studying their respective disciplines of nursing and veterinary surgery was all the inspiration they needed to plan a grand adventure for their post-graduate era.
While some might consider a few weeks in Maui enough paradise to erase the school blues, the Brennans had different dreams in mind.
Keara's involved sea kayaking to Alaska from Vancouver, a trip they completed last summer. Pete's was to cycle from India to Ireland, an adventure they're currently in the middle of.
The planned route began in Goa, India, progressing through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Montenegro, Macedonia, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, England and Ireland. The route was chosen with careful consideration of both meteorological and political climates as well as providing immersion in a huge variety of cultures and landscapes.
"I was concerned about an anti-Western attitude in Iran but found the complete opposite," said Pete in an email interview.
"Everyday people would stop and ask if we were okay, give us food and water or ask us to come back to their house for the night, which we did on many occasions.
"On one miserable and rainy day, a young teacher stopped us three times throughout the day to see if we wanted to come back to his house. We eventually caved in on the third request and spent the evening with his family. In Iran, they take their religion seriously and travellers are to be treated as 'friends of God' so we were well looked after most of the way."
The Brennans are using their six-month, 12,000 kilometre undertaking as an opportunity to raise money and awareness for the Room to Read foundation, a non-profit that aims to improve literacy and gender equality in education in developing countries. Their goal is to raise £1 per kilometer cycled for the foundation.
"Our cousin Dierdre passed away in 2007 and we wanted to create a positive legacy for her. She was a gifted scholar and understood the power of language and learning," continued Pete, a former nine-year resident of Whistler. "We wanted to pass those qualities on to those who need it most. Room to Read focuses on raising child literacy rates in the developing world with a key emphasis on educating girls and providing scholarships for them to continue learning up to higher education."
Travelling through the Middle East as a woman can have its challenges, as Keara can attest. In a small town in Iran, a police officer told her she couldn't ride her bike because she was female, something that almost drove them mad with frustration. After explaining no other place in the country they had travelled had prevented her from biking, the Brennans were able to convince the officer to back down, but not before he insisted her hijab was covering her entire head on their way out of town.
Their different professional skill sets have come in handy along the way.
"Keara has traded her veterinary skills for accommodation in Iran - she de-wormed a herd of horses and gave a consult on a sick horse," said Pete. "I've only had to use my nursing skills when Keara sustained a mild concussion after falling off her bike and had to do a cardiac assessment on a lady with chest pain in Iran. That was difficult to do because it occurred in a small rural town where men can't touch women unless in wedlock, so I had to coach Keara through what to do."
After surviving the Middle East, the Brennans were happy to reach European Turkey. Their joy, however, quickly turned to dismay when people in this historically volatile border region started throwing stones. The next few stops proved equally challenging but the Brennans were pacified by the excellent food, good roads and warm weather. The hard part was writing their parents to tell them they had ended up in jail.
After finding five passports for the two travellers - all of which were legitimate - the Turkish police became suspicious of their GPS and SPOT transmitters, camera lenses and laptop and decided to hold them for a period of time. They ended up spending the night in jail, though it didn't dampen their spirits.
"Today, we've been allowed to make phone calls, drink a lot of tea, and are waiting for an interpreter," wrote Keara on the blog. "Pete's been wearing women's sunglasses since Iraq so maybe these cops are concerned about his sexuality, maybe they think we're mercenaries heading for Syria in our high vis vests! Fingers crossed tomorrow we'll be back on the road, unharmed, but a bit sad not to be going to Syria. We'd heard great things of the people and scenery, and I was very much looking forward to beers with a buddy there. Better luck next time eh!"
The Brennans will wrap up their trip in early July of this year. For more information on the trip go to indiatoireland.org. To donate to Room to Read follow the link on their site.
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