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How two Europeans are travelling across Asia without a smartphone

Bulgarian Boris Kanev and Spaniard Marta Samalea, along with Burma, their hitchhiking cat, have been on the road across Asia since October 2013. Recently, they reached India, and all of this, without a smartphone

Boris Kanev facing the mighty Kanchenjunga from Pelling, Sikkim. Pic courtesy/rovingSnails.com
Boris Kanev facing the mighty Kanchenjunga from Pelling, Sikkim. Pic courtesy/rovingSnails.com

Marta Samalea and Boris Kanev
Marta Samalea and Boris Kanev

Q. What were some of the biggest challenges that not using a smart phone caused?
A. None of us has ever had a smartphone, so we were unaware of the amount of apps one could use along the way. Sometimes, we had no map, and relied on details scribbled by locals; often, we followed the wind into whatever direction it went. We had to make up signs with hands and feet when we had no way to translate that we do not eat meat (and try to explain that to a Kazakh nomad!). We are still dreaming of the day when we will know all the stars by their names.

A lady at the Shush Zigurat, Iran
A lady at the Shush Zigurat, Iran

Q. When you look back, are you happy with the decision?
A. Totally, because if we had travelled with a smart phone we would probably not be having this interview and be popular all over the Internet. “Couple hitchhikers with smartphone” does not seem to be as cool as “without”. Jokes apart, if we had to choose again in between buying a phone or getting good shoes, winter clothes or a cooking stove, we would definitely do the same again.

Nongriat, Living Root bridge, Meghalaya
Nongriat, Living Root bridge, Meghalaya

Q. Did you miss taking selfies, sharing them? Also the checking in at various spots?
A. We don’t have a selfie stick, and our camera’s auto-focus hasn’t worked for months, so we are pretty bad at taking selfies, but we like photos in general, and take loads of it. We simply share them whenever we have the chance,
and nobody cares whether we were in Sikkim, yesterday or today. The feeling of immediacy that social media gives has never been too much of a concern for us, and we, sometimes, share stories or photos, months after they happen, when we have digested them or they feel relevant.

 Burma, the hitchhiking kitten who joined Boris and Marta a few months ago and has been travelling with them since then.
 Burma, the hitchhiking kitten who joined Boris and Marta a few months ago and has been travelling with them since then.

Q. Would you be able to do this journey without any gadgets like your netbook for example?
A. Yes, of course, and everybody could. Technology is cool and eases our lives, but we were not born with phones attached to our skins, but ears and eyes, and hands and feet instead, so we can surely make use of them. Neither of us had travelled with a netbook before, and we had reached the end of Europe, and the coast of Morocco without one. Even during this travel, we did not have one for a while. We would not be able to blog as much, and to connect so often to the internet (specially since we both hate internet cafes), but the travel itself would be more than possible.

Boris Kanev (left) and Marta Samalea (right), crossing a desert in a truck in China. pics courtesy/ rovingsnails.com
Boris Kanev (left) and Marta Samalea (right), crossing a desert in a truck in China. pics courtesy/ rovingsnails.com

Q. What were some of the most unusual things or places that you saw and experienced?
A. Hasankeyf (Turkey) in the morning mist, the Iraqi mountains in spring, the hillside villages of Hawrawman (Iran) and Hormoz Island are on top of the list; also the steppe, and a holy rock called Sherkala (Kazakhstan). The dried bottom of the Aral Sea bed, the birds of the Turkmen desert, Lake Issyk Kul (Kyrgyzstan), the impressive Tibetan Mani wall near Yushu, the sound of falling coconuts in Thailand, walking barefoot with the monks for alms rounds in Yangon (Myanmar), the endless sea of mountains in Manipur and Mizoram, the jungle in Meghlaya and the sight of Kanchenjunga.


Charyn Canyon, Kazakhstan

Yushu Circunambulating Mani wall, China
Yushu Circunambulating Mani wall, China

Q. Where are you at now and what's the plan ahead?
A. We are in India — enjoying the bliss of having reached our destination, being cared for by our wonderful Indian family in Madhya Pradesh. Coconut for breakfast, mango after lunch, sweet tea, the best vegetarian food, friends, and travels here and there around the state. We are taking our time to finish a short e-book of magic tales that will, hopefully, help us get back home before Christmas time. Our next destination is whatever lies in between here and Bulgaria.

Monks make rounds for alms, Myanmar
Monks make rounds for alms, Myanmar

Horses in the steppe near Sherkala, Kazakhstan
Horses in the steppe near Sherkala, Kazakhstan

Luang Prabang Mekong River, Laos
Luang Prabang Mekong River, Laos. Pics courtesy/ rovingsnails.com

Q. What must a couple remember while taking a long journey together? Do you two fight?
A. To distribute fairly the load of our backpacks. And do likewise with everything else (we mean, to understand how much each of you can take, and when you need to rest). Learn to hold each other and build on trust. Remember: a tent is never big enough, there is no way to avoid an elbow poking on your ribs every night, and it makes no sense to fight about that. But we argue, definitely, especially over the control of our only keyboard, like people fight for the TV remote back at home.

The roving snails travel roster

Start date: October 1, 2013, from Sofia (Bulgaria)
End Date: To be concluded
Funding: This journey is totally self funded (we don’t have official sponsors), we financed it with savings, with writing and with crafts, and we travelled on a tiny budget and in a simple manner (hitchhiking, walking, camping, couch-surfing from time to time and often, volunteering too) Our savings helped. But we are truly thankful to the unofficial sponsors of our roving trail: everyone who got our handmade postcards in markets and online, who sent us a gift or a loan, the publications that gave us a chance to write, and each and one of our family members, for their unconditional support.
Blog: Rovingsnails.com
FB: Facebook.com/Rovingsnails
Twitter: @RovingSnails

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