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Expedition Michal 2006-2011

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The real adventure starts where the struggle for survival begins…

When the idea of travelling overland around the World arouse for the first time, none of us could even suspect where this path is going to lead us. The project begun with a small group of people, however only I have lasted till the very end… and even though I was doing it alone, it is entirely up to the individual whether you want to do it on your own or in a company of others, because you can find a true soul mate even in the most remote parts of the World.

The first stage involves crossing by land from Poland to New Zealand in always changing company of numerous travelers. By various means (by train, boat, bus and hitchhiking) we have reached the border of Burma, exploring by the way also the underground cities of Cappadocia, experiencing Iranian hospitality in the dawn of potential U.S. military intervention, visiting Persepolis and eternal Zoroastrians temple in the desert. We have visited also the land of Pashtuns at the border with Afghanistan, where at the Smugglers Bazaar, amongst gunshots and grenades explosions, we have found the refuge by one of the local "businessmen". In Derra Adam Khel (where the holy Pashtun tribal law rules above everything else) we have been firing handmade weapons produced on the spot.

In beautiful India we have tried the fruits from every single corner of this amazing country traveling far and wide, from the southern peninsula of Catholic Kerala to the Himalayan peaks of Sikkim (Gochala Expedition 5003 m above sea level) and the Province of Kashmir, which is still in a state of war. There we have crossed on the roof of the bus the second highest passable pass of India (Taglangla 5 325 m a.s.l.). From the life of a pilgrim in the holy city of Sikhs, Armitsar, through the palaces, forts and desert of Rajasthan, through cities and temples of the central and southern India, through Bolywood movie set in Mumbai, through the Andaman Islands to the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, we have tried it all!!!

The Bangladeshi military wouldn't let us cross the jungle land border with Burma where a revolution against the military dictatorship arouse. Bangladesh was right after elections and as much as we wouldn't like it, in order to continue our journey, we had to take a plane, which took us away from this country sinking in a post-election chaos.

Here we could continue our journey through the mysterious countries of the South-East Asia. In Thailand, a Buddhist paradise created especially for tourists, we have stayed long enough to enjoy the exquisite food sold on the streets, buy a hammock and become victims of a scam with the big money involved before we had to face a legal operating mafia making their living from controlling the transportation of the tourists to Angkor Wat. Escaping from there we have made our way to the grim Killing Fields, where till the present day in the sand you can find the teeth and bones of some of the 2,3 million victims of the Khmer Rouge. Traveling on the roof of the train we have also visited the ruins of the deserted casino for the country elites of the Khmer regime in Bokor.

In Viet nam, where constantly living memory of the Viet nam War became a money making machine, we had a chance to take a closer look at the life conditions and the cuisine in the one of the last countries around the World governed by a Communist regime. We have crouched through the tunnels of Viet Cong and in My Son we have commissioned tailor made cloths. We have checked out the floating market in the Mekong Delta, the second largest delta in the World. Despite the fact, that the legendary Ha Long Bay was charming, full of unexploded bombs Laos reminded us about the fact, that it is the little things that are important in life. In this country full of contrasts the idyllic existence of Vieng Thong coexists with the military equipment abandoned in the jungle on the Ho Chi Min trail. Once we have visited the Golden Triangle full of opium smugglers we came back to Thailand to explore the first capitol of the Thai Kingdom, Sukhothai.

In Singapore we have discovered what really shopping is. We even got a ticket for eating the Durian fruit in the metro. In Indonesia we have mastered to perfection the technique of getting a bed next to the electricity outlet on the always crowded ships traveling between the countless islands of the archipelago. On the Maluku Islands I was trying to get to the bottom of the religious civil war, which ended not so long ago and in the Buddhist temple in Borobudur we have been purifying our souls. On Java we have visited Bromo, one of the most active volcanoes in the World, where the ancient gate to hell is located.

Once again we had to take the plane in order to reach the distant shores of New Zealand where in no time we have adopted the most popular phrase "no worries mate". Having no work and only a little bit of money in the pocket and the all the belongings of your life squished in the backpack the struggle for survival has begun. In the course of this few years the fortune of every one of us took a different path and after years I stood alone continuously chasing my dream. The time in the land of Kiwi was an interesting experience and showed me what really lies beneath the façade of the paradise prepared for the tourists.

Ididn't have to wait long for new adventures to come along. Now I will remember for the rest of my life, that it is not possible even to transit through LA without the US visa! It was in Mexico, where I have made the biggest mistake during the whole time of the Expedition. I have purchased a 20 years old 4 wheel drive vehicle for a reasonably low price, which will break down since now all the time. It became my home, where I slept in the hammock and had my kitchen. Immediately I began to explore the archeological gems of Indian culture without understanding a word in Spanish. Was it on the paradise coast of the Caribbean Sea or on the world's most peculiar pyramid Cholula or in the miasmatic Teotihuacan, I always tried to learn and understand the reality around me.

The most beautiful ruins throughout Mexico however couldn't compare with the heartbreaking story of Guatemalan guerrillas, which after the ceasefire have decided to cultivate coffee beans and bananas on the plantation in Santa Anita. Guatemala itself is a country of many wonders such as hidden deep in the jungle Tikal, picturesque terraces of Semuc Champey or the lava rivers of Volcano Pacaya, and in itself it is totally opposite to the boring Honduras, which is equally difficult to get in to as well as to get out of.

It is here however that I have met an extraordinary Polish person, who turned out to be a shaman and he familiarize me with his plan of smuggling a Colombian wise man through the border from Panama to Costa Rica. Back then I didn't realize yet, that this magical person will appear on my path in the most unexpected and hilarious situations. In Nicaragua I have tried my chances with the Momotombo Volcano, which turned out to be not only bigger, but also stronger than me, so I made my way towards Masaya Volcano called as well the Gateway of Hell. In Costa Rica, a gringoland, I was living the surfer's life and I had my first surfing lesson, which ended up with the damaged ribs. I have also glideed on a steel line on the altitude of 130 meters above the earth surface.

In the beautiful city of Panama I was living in the very heart of the slums district, where people had nothing else left, but to dance till unconciseness to the sound of immortal tango on the streets of this magnificent city. Forced by a serious engine problem to stay in Colon, willing or not I took part in a local carnival. At night I was walking around the city listening to the Israelis as well as the Arabs, which tried to take over the city, and during the day I was trying to get some sleep in the car heated up to an unbelievable temperature parked on the footpath in the front of the mechanic workshop. With the broken car I couldn't leave the country. On the end of the day the car went over the Darien Gap jungle (which is not passable with a vehicle) in the container and I took the next plane to Colombia to be met unexpected once again by my mystical shaman.

In Colombia I realized that the salsa bars aren't for me and so I got into the battle with the bureaucracy trying to retrieve my vehicle from the harbor. It was a lost cause and I did make it only thanks to the kindness of good people I have met on my way. In Baranquilla I did survived one of the biggest and most famous carnivals in the world, but you have to be a super hero to make it through the 6 days of continuous hedonism. I did also a diving course in one of the most spectacular places in the World, as well as went for a trek to the legendary Lost City. Close to the border with Venezuela I have discovered an unusual phenomenon, which is, that it is easier to get fuel in here than drinking water.

In Bogota I did experience another moments of horror. The problem was that in Colombia it is not possible legally to buy the second hand vehicle parts and I had to change the whole broken engine together with the gearbox. Thanks havens by coincidence I have met a person, which risking his freedom, helped me with my trouble and even gave me a place to stay in his workshop for the duration of the work. The visa was nearly over and so I had to win the race against the time to get to the border even though the mud avalanches didn't make it any easier.

Ecuador welcomed me with its unbelievably high peaks, that were equally beautiful as difficult to conquer. It turned out that the center of the Earth is not at all in the middle of our planet and that the mechanics are extremely expensive. On the other hand volcano Cotopaxi is like a marvel well hidden from the outside world. It is a bit of a pity that in this unspoiled wilderness the vehicle's radiator exploded, so instead of enjoying and exploring the surroundings I had to devote myself to save the situation, however the real adventure starts where the struggle for survival. It didn't stop me from driving downhill on a mountain bike from the volcano Chimborazo, or from jumping off the bridge in Banos.

The true ecstasy began with the exploration of the ancient cultures in Peru, which is full of petroglyphs, pyramids and entire cities built of clay bricks, hidden in the jungle settlements, forgotten fortresses of ancient empires, cities of the dead, and sarcophagi, burial mounds and mysterious lines in the desert, cities built of sandstone or wonderful and deadly mountains crowned with eternal snow. When I was trying to reach the deepest canyon in the world (Cotahuasi) once again I fall a victim to the "Curse Of The Always Braking Car", which was following me since day one of the Expedition, however it is thanks to it I have meet mechanics in every corner of South America and learned most useful secrets of this craft, as well as the Spanish language. It was also here that I came closest to death due to the gas heating, which was the only mean that allowed me to survive cold and lonely nights at the altitudes of several thousand feet.

Crossing to Bolivia was in fact a return to the world governed by corruption and impunity police. It is here that I have managed to cross the biggest salt desert in the World guided only by my 6th sense, which later on to my misfortune brought me straight to Potosi, the City under siege. I was grounded here for three weeks witnessing people's tragedy, senseless violence and dehumanization of the crowd. No wonder I have chosen to break out of the city, risking my life I did escape in the middle of the night ramming through the barricades made of stones and other objects. Unfortunately during this heroic operation vehicle become partially destroyed. After the frozen wastelands of Salinas Uyuni I went straight to hell hot area of Santa Cruz and the famous Jesuit missions. I was shopping in the witches market, where shamans obtain their secret components for the celebration of magical rituals. Afterwards I went to the gate of the jungle, Rurrenabaque, where I was exploring and learning about all sorts of mysterious exotic plants and animals. Piranha doesn't really taste as good as I thought. On my last day in Bolivia I got to be hosted at the Bolivian Navy military area.

Next for over 4 000 km I have been driving through the largest jungle in the World to get to the extraordinary Sao Luis, where I had an honor to meet the Spiritualists, as well as having a pleasure to live for a while under one roof with a Mason. I was charmed by Brazil where the travelling distance is measured in days. You can't say you know Brazil till you haven't drove on the beaches along the eastern edge of the continent, didn't wet your feet in the furthest to the east point of South America, didn't wander at night on the splendid paved streets of Olinda or didn't jump on a rope from a bridge in Salvador. Even such incidents as throwing stones at me in the 'favela' (poor district) of Rio nor the assault with a deadly weapon on the Meeting Point Of Three Countries, didn't manage to discourage me from exploring this magnificent and colorful country.

Brazil is a real paradise for backpackers and in its glory it bows down to Argentina only because of the divine Iguazu Falls, which no matter how well you are traveled and what you have seen in your life, it always takes your breath away. Here driven by the unstoppable imperative of documenting the adventure I had accidently dipped the camera in the water, and so ever since the need of fixing my equipment has become a priority. Unfortunately it turned out, that the camera was a little bit too sophisticated as for the reality of Argentina. In the meantime the brave expedition vehicle began to fall to pieces, which ended with a very expensive replacement of the cracked engine block and a prolonged stop on the side of the road ... and that's how I spent the Christmas Eve 2011...

The fixed car worked, but God only knew for how long and so came the time to make the decisions, which will shape the future of the Expedition. I have decided that the best way to go about it would be to sell the vehicle as soon as possible and to go to Africa in search for work. In Argentina, no one wanted to buy it, in Paraguay it was spurn and in Bolivia they wanted a little too large bribe. Finally, after a ravishing carnival in Santa Cruz, I have sold the car for next to nothing and once again with all the belongings of a lifetime squashed in my backpack I was on my way, first to Buenos Aires and then to one of the most amazing places on earth, Cape Town.

So I have entered the last stage of this part of the Expedition, which was all about to gather the funds necessary to cross Africa back to Europe. The place was chosen perfectly, although dangerous and corrupt the amazing atmosphere was one of a kind. Initially I have landed on a farm, where people were living in harmony with nature, eating their own crops and following the open source idea, to later find a lodging in the hostel closer to the city center in exchange for work at the front desk.

Unfortunately, when it all began to fall into place and I was about to start working for the international airline, it turned out that my father's health condition requires my immediate presence, and so I have returned home in time to say goodbye.

Whatever we would say about the Expedition, one thing is sure… Being confronted with the multitude of diverse and exotic cultures, not only did I gain more extensive understanding of the World, but also a better perception of the problems of human nature and this is the kind of knowledge that you can not learn from any book in the world and what's more I did preserve it in the written, photographic and filmic form.

This adventure have exceeded my wildest expectations and I would not trade it for anything in the world.

It will continue in a new project Expedition Africa 2013 and you are all invited.

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