From 1979 to 2007, a Chinese man cycled across the world, scouring 88 countries in Europe, Africa, North and South America and Asia for US$40,000. Planning to next tour the Korean Peninsula, he will keep biking around the world to uphold a dream that he has held since being a young man.
Li shows his passport full of visas.
Four old passports with visas from 88 countries and a new one
Fifty-year-old Li Yuezhong envisioned a wonderful journey around the world, taking in all the sights he had only previously read about.
Born in 1957 in the northern city of Tangshan, Hebei Province, Li graduated from senior high school at the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976. The ensuing Great Earthquake which ravaged Tangshan claimed the life of Li's mother. After a series of small jobs, Li became a private businessman after China's opening-up in 1978. Becoming a licensed street peddler, he had saved up 80 yuan by April 1979 and set out on his journey. With a bike proving too expensive, he relied on his feet to carry him on the road.
Averaging 50 km a day, Li took in the sights of Mount Taishan, Confucius' hometown of Qufu, Nanjing, the gardens of Suzhou, Shanghai and the West Lake in Hangzhou. With hostels at the time requiring a justification letter for residents, Li s elected to sleep on his hammock every night. Thus, he finished his initial two-month and five-day journey with only 80 yuan.
After returning to Tangshan, Li sold shoes and clothes again to prepare for the next leg of his trip.
"In 1982, I bought a bike and a second-hand camera and began my nationwide trip with 1,200 yuan," Li told China.org.cn. He traveled 21 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities in 14 months, cycling a total length of 25,000 kilometers.
As a sorely misunderstood independent traveler, he was once detained for four days by Zhejiang police without food or water, and was beaten twice for answering back. But these bad moments only steeled his resolve to travel around the world.
In 1990, private entrepreneurship was frowned upon and upon the suggestion of a friend, Li decided to move abroad. After a year of studying English and cooking, he moved to Bulgaria in the winter of 1991 but not before having visited Xinjiang and Tibet, corners of China he had not seen on his previous journeys.
"After working for a Chinese restaurant in Bulgaria, I opened mine later," Li recalled, adding that his business had flourished and netted him a tidy amount. Three and a half years later, Li sold his restaurant and bought an Italian-made bicycle, camera, tent, tools, books and other necessities. On March 1997, Li set off from Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, with US$20,000.
A map traces Li Yuezhong's route. Black lines show his bicycle route, green lines stand for other transport methods. (courtesy of leeyuezhong.blog.sohu.com)
After cycling through Turkey, Greece and Egypt, Li made a tour of 26 European countries before reaching Africa through Portugal in 1999.
Nomads in the Sahara Desert. (courtesy of leeyuezhong.blog.sohu.com)
His 18 months in Africa did not go so smoothly since he was infected with malaria eight times. He recovered thanks to a Chinese medical team in Cameroon, and traveled through 25 African states. He recalls that the sandstorms and punishing Sahara climate restricted him to 20 kilometers a day. Once, having missed his planned supply stop, he was forced to rely on the help of two French bike riders who shared their food and water with him. Such kindness would be shown to Li again in Brazil when a local bank owner replaced his bike after it was stolen at a carnival.
Carnival in Salvador, Brazil (courtesy of leeyuezhong.blog.sohu.com)
To save money, Li carried about 30 kilos of necessities by bike, slept in a tent and cooked with a small gas stove. Covering between 80 and 100 kilometers a day, he also passed the night for free in churches, small restaurants or gas stations. His guides were the reliable Dictionary of Geographic Names of the World and Atlas of World Famous Places.
By the end of 2001, Li reached the United States after visiting 68 countries. Finding himself short of cash, he worked as a cook there for three years and traveled to 42 states in his time there. In July 2005, he returned to China to renew his passport and began an Asia tour.
A Indian girl carrying a creel on her head (courtesy of leeyuezhong.blog.sohu.com)
Noticed by overseas Chinese, he received help in South Africa and Brazil with donations reaching thousands of dollars after he was robbed, while local Chinese newspapers interviewed him. In Guatemala, which has no diplomatic ties with China, a local Taiwanese resident provided accommodation to him and other Chinese people there gave him US$500. In Indonesia, local Chinese mended his bike free of charge.
However, certain obstacles prevented him from entering the Czech Republic for the lack of an invitation letter and in Costa Rica, a corrupt official denied him entrance without a bribe.
When passing close to war zones, Li said he had to talk about his travel plan to anyone he met in advance. "It would be helpful to let myself be known by local leaders. If I felt comfortable, I would proceed, if not, I would not risk my life," Li said.
Traditional housing and barns in Sulawesi Islands, Indonesia
(courtesy of leeyuezhong.blog.sohu.com)
A revised passport policy forced Li to return home from Indonesia this March to renew his passport after using 4 of them up. So far, he has spent US$40,000 and got visas from 88 countries in four passports.
"I have learned how to use the internet and recently opened my blog," Li told China.org.cn.
After a short rest, Li will continue his Asian trip soon, heading for the Korean Peninsula, Japan, India and Pakistan.
"I know it is not easy to get a visa from North Korea since the country does not allow individual tourists. But I wrote two letters to Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi for help. I am very interested in the process and also very eager to get the visa," said Li.
A whale tail rises above the waves in Argentina. (courtesy of leeyuezhong.blog.sohu.com)
A Performance at the Polynesia Cultural Center in Hawaii. (courtesy of leeyuezhong.blog.sohu.com)
When asked about his next goal after finishing the worldwide trip, Li joked "one day I discussed the issue with a friend, we decided to head to the moon by bike! But I have to wait for a long time since my friend was only 3 years old."
"I prefer to be alone in my trip. Traveling is about individual feeling and it is difficult for two people to mesh all the way. I have no detailed plan and I like to follow my own inclinations," Li said.
When asked at what point he would stopped riding, he said he will go as long his body permits it even if it takes another decade. "I'd like to roam the globe, and appreciate the art, relic, landscape, culture and customs in different parts of the world."
(China.org.cn by staff reporter Li Shen and Wang Zhiyong, July 12, 2007)