Few adventurers, no matter how bold, would willingly travel solo through Iraq. But Miquel Silvestre’s reason for going there was simple – he did not trust the TV news to tell him what the country was like, so he wanted to explore it for himself.
The BMW Motorrad devotee owns three BMW motorcycles, but chose one of his two faithful R 1200 GS machines for this journey. His other bike is a BMW R 80 GS. A former lawyer who grew tired of his desk job and decided to see the world instead, Miquel said he had learned more about people’s similarities than their differences on his latest journey.
“The people were kind. I have found that everywhere I go – the countries may be different but we are all just like each other. We want to feed our families; to work; to have fun,” he says. “In Iraq, my arrival was like an alien, like someone from Mars, just landing in their neighbourhood. But people treated me well. Because I was alone, they did not see me as a threat, they thought I was weak. My weakness is my strength, because it allows me to be accepted. People take me into their homes and show me great kindness.”
Miquel was careful about where he travelled in the country – he did not venture out of the northern part, as areas like Baghdad are still completely inaccessible. “There are areas where you literally cannot go because if you are a white traveller you would be killed or even sold to terrorists,” says Miquel. “But in the north everyone I met was very friendly and helpful. They were proud of their country and proud that I wanted to see it – and felt I was brave to go there.”
His journey began in Turkey, and took him to Iran and Iraq. While he was travelling south through Iraq he experienced one of the most frightening moments of the trip, when was forced to pass just 20km from the city of Mosul – still perilously dangerous. However, he passed by what he calls “the nest of snakes” safely.
The risky detour was necessary in order for him to visit Arbil. The city is Iraq’s fourth largest after Baghdad, Mosul and Basra. It proved to be a highlight. Miquel says: “The old town stood out on a hilltop in the middle of the metropolitan area. The walls were tall and gorgeous but the area was empty – abandoned, half-ruined but in process of restoration. It was incredible to go through that dead town. The government had forced the inhabitants to leave so they could rebuild the neighbourhood and turn it into a museum that attracts tourists.”
Miquel’s relationship with his motorcycles is as important with the bonds he forms with locals on his travels. He sees the GS as much more than just a machine. “BMW GS motorcycles are indestructible, and I know that I can always trust them. I have visited more than 60 countries, gone all over the world, and my motorcycles have never let me down. I would never ride anything else. For me, BMW motorcycles are like a philosophy, I have written about their history and how they changed everything when they arrived in the 1980s. Other manufacturers have tried to copy, but there is nothing like the GS – the others cannot compete.”
Even for an experienced rider, who has taken on everything from deserts to mountains, the riding in the Middle-East was tough. Road surfaces were cracked and buckled by the heat and damaged by the onslaught of heavy military vehicles. “But my bike never suffered a single breakdown, it was perfect,” says Miquel.
Next up for the traveller is a circumnavigation of the globe, which will begin in New York and end in Camino de Santiago, Spain. A popular pilgrimage route, the destination was literally thought to be the earth’s end, before Columbus’ time.
“It is an important destination for me to finish in,” says Miquel. “Pilgrims who go there throw their clothes in the ocean at the end, and I will do the same, it is very symbolic. I will go in July. But I do not need to prepare – I have my motorcycle, so I am ready. I have also been sponsored for the trip. It will take 15 months and Continental will provide me with tyres throughout that whole time. I am also sponsored by the auditors BDO. They have nothing to do with motorcycles, but they support what I am doing and I am visiting all their branches, which are in 50 countries, all around the world. I have already been to many, including one in Jordan.”
And Miquel will not rest while he waits for this epic next journey to start – he is about to head to Ireland, where he will record a documentary about the Spanish Armada’s failed attempt to invade Britain.
Miquel will be updating his website and blogs throughout his next journey at: www.miquelsilvestre.com