The Bicycle Clown

Álvaro Neil, the biciclown (bicycle clown), was born in Oviedo (Asturias), Spain on July 17, 1967. He studied Law in Pamplona (Navarra) and trained as a clown in Barcelona and Madrid. After selling his car, he left his job at a Notary Office in Madrid to cycle around South America (2001-2003). He also offered his clown shows for free to the poor audiences. He came back to Spain, wrote a book about his experience, Miles of Smiles around the World (2004-2014). Then he started preparing his big project. He started on November 19, 2004 from his local city, Oviedo. The first leg of this big project was Africa. Two years and nine months later, he had cycled down the west coast, from Morocco to Cape Town and then backed up to Cairo, covering 30 countries and a whopping 38,000 miles. He stopped in Cairo (Egypt) to write his second book. And he kept on going. Middle East was the second leg of his journey and then Central Asia. He had published his third book, available in English, Photograph diary of a clown in Africa. Crossing Karakorum highway (between China and Pakistan) in winter he came into the Indian Subcontinent. Then Nepal and northern India, Sikkim. Alvaro entered Bangladesh on February 12 and left 20 days later for Kolkata.
He has offered 49 performances for at least 15,000 people on his way. Some people think he is crazy, others think he is an adventurer; he has even been incarcerated at times while on his journey according to his website, www.biciclown.com. He does not think of the future, never forgets the past and lives the present, the only verbal useful tense. Interviewed by RAHAD ABIR

When did you plan to travel the world and why?

After finishing my South America trip (2001-2003) I decided to start my world tour (2004-2014). There is no reason for it, as the sun has no reason to give us light every day.

Who are your biggest influences to be a globetrotter?

The people who have died very young like some of my friends, they inspire me not to lose my life working in an office.

What sort of difficulties have you faced at the very outset of your journey?

Cars. Drivers are crazy, especially in India and also in Bangladesh. In India they respect a cow but not a cyclist. Also some diseases like malaria. I had it four times in Africa

How do you manage your travel cost? In this respect, what biggest changes did you have to bring in to your life style?
I live cheap. I don't go to good hotels or good restaurants. If the country is very expensive I cook myself. I sleep in my tent. I had worked five years as a lawyer and saved some money. Also I wrote three books and I get money selling them. And now I got some sponsors who provide me with the best material.

Could you please give us a day's sketch?

I wake up early, cycle for about 100km, stop every two hours to rest and eat something, talk to people or to myself and look for a place to sleep, cook, wash my clothes, repair my bike and try to find an Internet cafe to update my website.

What do you miss during your journey?

I miss having a wife. It is difficult to travel alone, but it is better than not travelling at all. Maybe one day.

Have you read most of the travel books such as, The Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guevara?

I watched the movie. It is quite different from my trip. Going by bicycle is much more difficult and much more beautiful. You need less money and more courage.

How many countries have you been to already? Can you give us some interesting anecdotes?

I have been to 50 countries. Poorer countries' people are more hospitable. Iran, Sudan, Turkey are great countries about hospitality. But in Turkey a car crashed into me and I had serious problems with my bike. I had to call the police. Nobody speaks English there. I stayed two days in a village trying to repair the bike. It was very hard.

You are carrying out a project and raising funds during your journey. Let us know about it.I am not raising any fund.

I do my clown shows for free, but only for disadvantaged people. Already I had done 49 for more than 15,000 people. You cannot put a price for a smile, so I do it for free. I try to make people who are suffering, smile.

What do you usually do entering a country?

Stamp my passport, change money and look. I look at how people dress what they eat and I try to do the same. In Bangladesh I wore a lungi for cycling. It is very comfortable.

Have you written any book about your journey?
Three books, but only one is available in English-- Photograph Diary of a Clown in Africa. It is with pictures about my trip to Africa. You can get it on www.paquebote.com

What is life to you?
The paradise but with a bad end.

How did you see Bangladesh?
Full of people. Very curious to meet a foreigner, very friendly and always smiling, much more than India. I loved it. And thanks to the Bangladesh Embassy in Nepal that gave me the visa for free and I saved 40 US dollars.

Published in the Daily Star, 2009