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In Conversation With: Anselm Pahnke

We talk to Anselm about the highs of lows of his two year, 26,300km journey so far...


Stefan: “Thanks for taking some time to share your story with us, where are you at the moment?”

Anselm: “I have found an old road camp where workers used to live to build this amazing mountain road which I am on right now. It goes along the eastern border of Tibet. They still have power up here at 4200m and the big surprise is that there is open Wi-Fi. Can you believe it? This sort of thing just happens in China. From here I will start climbing up to 5000m tomorrow. It’s nice to stay inside for a night as it got really cold outside last night!”

Stefan: “So, you have been on the road for two years now – where have you been so far? What is your motivation for such a long journey?”

Anselm: “My journey started with a plane to South-East Asia (Thailand). I had an idea to travel around by bike for a month or so, but soon realised how much I liked touring so carried on going! I went to Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam in that part of the world before taking a flight from the Philippines to Cape Town in South Africa. From there I zigzagged all the way North through Africa: Botswana; Namibia; Zimbabwe; Zambia; Malawi; Tanzania; Burundi; Rwanda; Uganda; Kenya; Ethiopia; Sudan; and Egypt to Israel. I then took a plane to Iran and cycled east over the Pamir Mountains, through the ‘Stans, and finally into China. So far, I have visited 42 countries on my cycle tour…

I’m young and adventurous, I want to see as much as I can for myself through my own eyes, and feel alive. You can read about something, or find it out yourself; I prefer to risk it. I decided to ride up through Africa because I had previously worked in Ghana for one summer and it gave me a good idea about the spirit, culture and the life of African people. I arrived in South Africa with a friend to cycle some countries with him. After he went home, I thought, lets try the next country, and the next. That went on and on, as I figured out that each country on the route north was safe and amazingly beautiful. People in Africa always make you smile; you won’t find their kindness anywhere else and you will never forget it. They don’t seem to care about tomorrow, which makes life much more true and fulfilled in some ways.”

Stefan: “You probably class yourself as a nomad at the moment, but where are you from originally? Where is ‘home’?”

Anselm: “I am a nomad, yes. Over the past 2 months I’ve moved almost every day and haven’t slept in a hotel. I never know what is going to happen or where I’m going to end up until the end of the day. It might sound farfetched, but at the moment, my home is the world; the road and the people I meet. One day I will return to Hamburg, Germany. That’s the place where I grew up.”


Stefan: “And, have you travelled by bike much in Germany? Or have you always felt the urge to head to far-off places?”

Anselm: “Germany is easy and nice to cycle. I have done a few tours, sure, but I always said to myself that once I am old, when time and fitness is more precious, I can poodle around Germany. I have cycled a lot in Europe – from Portugal to Greece for example. Now is the time to head further afield…”


Stefan: “You have ridden sections of your journey with other friends and travellers you have met on the road – do you prefer to travel solo or with touring companions?”

Anselm: “Although I don’t always actively seek a companion, both are really important to experience in my opinion. If you travel alone, you will get much deeper in touch with your surroundings. People talk to you, because you may look lost, your mind is focused on what you need and you will never have many problems because you can do whatever you want and there is nobody you need to ask – for example, if you want to eat or pitch your tent. But also, this is not how life goes. It is great and challenging to try it out but after a month or so, it is important to be with another person. First of all, it gives you a mirror, other opinions about things and many new ideas…

…Life is rich alone, but sharing is caring and happiness is much more real if you share it. It means a lot to find someone you like to be around with 24/7. Right now I am with a Swiss friend and it is a lot of fun. Just last week I had a bad accident with a truck and it was good to have someone to get me back up.”

Stefan: “If you could choose a couple of 2-4 week sections of your journey to ride again, what would they be?”

Anselm: “If you have four-weeks for a cycle tour, I would urge you spend it riding the Pamir Highway – a road traversing the Pamir Mountains through Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Take as lighter luggage as you possibly can. You could start in Dushanbe, Tajikistan and ride on amazing mountain roads along the border of Afghanistan through unforgettable mountainous valleys. Finally you will end up on a high plateau at about 4000m and discover wide greens fields full of nomads that travel there with their yaks in the summer. You see snowy peaks of 7000m+ and feel closer to the sky than ever before; that is why that area is called the ‘roof of the world’…

…If you like it warmer, try Croatia in the fall or Cambodia after the rain season. My favourite stages in Africa would be Namibia, Malawi and Uganda.”

Stefan: “Excluding bike and luggage, what items could you not travel without? Your straw hat looks well travelled!”

Anselm: “The music box on my handlebar that I got in Cambodia a long time ago. Everybody can listen to it and plug in their own music to dance on the road. Riding through every African country, the people loved it – even if you don’t understand each other it is a lot of fun to smile together. Music can do this. Other than that? A mirror to watch the traffic because outside of Europe drivers are not used to travelling cyclists on the road at all.”


Stefan: “I am sure people wonder about money on such a long journey as yours. You just go back to the very basics, right? Food, water, shelter…”

Anselm: “I always carry $50 US Dollars and a bit of local money. I don’t need much money for my living: $200-300 each month is enough. No hotels and no transportation, just food, drink and visas. Once you figure out how much your surroundings and the people you meet provide, you begin to understand that luxury is not what you need to be happy on the road.”


Stefan: “What are the most interesting things you’ve taken from your trip so far?”

Anselm: “To back yourself: trust the unknown, and what you can do. Instincts are the most important thing we have, and it is incredible how you can improve them – whether finding a place to sleep in unknown surroundings, or knowing whom you can trust to take your bike for a week when you go hiking. People are amazingly helpful. I have travelled through many countries that ‘appear’ not to be safe. But those that are often portrayed as the worst are the best: Sudan and Iran in particular. I will never forget how warmly people reacted to me. The world out there is safe, friendly and full of beautiful surprises. All you need to do is to open yourself to it…

…I also learned not to focus too much on planning the road ahead. It was hard to do in the beginning but, to a certain extent, trusting what is coming makes for a much better experience. Before I cycled the Pamir Highway, for example, I never looked at a map or any other information; everything comes together when it is needed. Before I always tried to push things how I would like them to be, but that does not work out often and makes you unhappy. “

Stefan: “And what is the plan from now on? Where are you heading?”

Anselm: “The best plan is not to have a plan, as I learnt from my first three weeks in South-East Asia. I understand now what that means. For now I will go south, try to leave Tibet before the winter and get into Vietnam. Indonesia is still on the bucket list…

…Then, once I am eventually home I need to have a plan again…!"