A man on foot, or a bicycle, will see more in one mile than the motorized tourist can in a hundred miles.
This quote by Edward Abbey is what inspires Margao-based software engineer, Lynn Barreto, who has cycled to various countries like Nepal and Vietnam. He recently concluded his two-month trip to Sri Lanka, where he cycled around 2,200 km at an average of 75 km per day.
MORE THAN CYCLING
For Lynn, it is not just cycling, but understanding the socio-cultural aspect of a place, capturing it through his photography and discovering interesting facts and stories. For example, during his Sri Lanka journey, he encountered a unique Goan connection through Fr Jacome Gonsalves, a native of Divar island, who is buried in the Our Lady of Assumption Church, Bolawatta, Negombo in Sri Lanka.
He happened to learn about this quite by accident, while having a conversation with a local.
He also travelled back to this place to find more about it.
He states, “I had already travelled about 100 km away from Bolawatta. However, after completing a 2,200 km cycling trip around the Sri Lankan coast, I made the decision to go back to Bolawatta and find this Goan connection. Fr Jacome Gonsalves was born on June 8, 1676, on the island of Divar in Goa. He passed away in Bolawatta, Negombo, on July 17, 1742, and is buried in the Our Lady of Assumption Church.”
He continues, “Visiting this church and his grave held great significance for me, not only because he was a fellow Goan, but also because his former house, which has now been donated to the diocese and used as a school, happens to be just 150 m away from my great grandparents’ house at Divar.”
He shares that Fr Gonsalves arrived in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) during the Dutch occupation, a period when the Dutch were imposing Calvinism as the official religion in the country after defeating the Portuguese. He also assisted Fr Joseph Vaz in his missionary work in the same country.
Lynn also met Ms Souza, who stays next to the church. She is a descendant of one of the 14 families which came to Sri Lanka, from Goa, around the time of Fr Jacome and settled there. She mentioned to him that every year, many Goans visit the church during the feast days.
LEARNING IN LANKA
During this journey, Lynn also discovered that Sri Lankans are quite well versed with Goans. And, when they discovered that he is from Goa, the bond was immediately formed.
“Many Sri Lankans, especially those in the tourism industry, have worked in the Gulf (Middle East) in the past, and their experiences of working with Goans has fostered a high regard for Goans. Upon learning that I am from Goa, they treated me with great respect and hospitality. Many of them are still in contact with their Goan friends, and they fondly reminisce about our Konkani music and feni,” elaborates Lynn.
When asked why he chose Sri Lanka, he says, “Sri Lanka made headlines this year due to anti-government protests. While watching YouTube, I came across videos by Nuwan Kumara and Shenelle Rodrigo, along with her husband, showcasing their cycling trips across the island nation. With the situation improving, in May, I decided to embark on a cycle ride along the entire coast of Sri Lanka. The videos they posted were immensely helpful in planning and charting my route.”
BITTEN BY THE CYCLING BUG
Prior to this Sri Lanka journey, Lynn explored Vietnam last November. He flew to Hanoi with his bicycle and started the ride from Hanoi to Da Nang (1,100 km) during his one-month stay. As he could not visit many places, he went again in February of this year and covered 900 km from Danang to Ho Chi Minh.
Prior to this, in May 2022, he cycled 1,200 km across Nepal, starting from Siliguri in West Bengal, all the way to Kathmandu, then to Pokhara and Lumbini, and finally back to India at Gorakhpur.
In November 2021, he embarked on his first cycling journey outside Goa -- a ride from Siliguri to Gangtok, with stops in Kurseong, Darjeeling, and Kalimpong. “I have friends in Sikkim and had been there three times before, so I knew that if anything went wrong, they were just a phone call away, and would immediately come to my aid,” adds Lynn.
Looking at this journey of thousands of kilometres, covering a variety of terrain, one may assume that Lynn has been doing this for many years. However, he started cycling just around three years ago, during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The last time I had cycled was back when I was in school. One day, June 23, 2020, feeling bored, I picked up a cycle that my nieces had left at my home and went for a short ride. I enjoyed it so much that it soon became part of my daily routine, and on average, I would ride 35 km. On Sundays, I would challenge myself with a longer ride, covering around 100 km to explore interesting places in Goa,” informs Lynn.
He doesn’t follow a strict fitness regime, but cycles regularly, about 35 km on average. However, before his Nepal trip, he cycled up the Chandreshwar hill in South Goa a few times to get used to the elevation.
For Lynn, cycling is also an excuse to soak into the colours and flavours of a place. A history buff, who also conducts heritage walks in Margao, cycling allows him to travel at his own pace, taking in the sights and sounds of each place.
“Moreover, I meet a lot of people who are always curious to know about a cyclist’s journey. During my ride in Vietnam, I had the pleasure of encountering, both, young and old people who warmly waved, greeted me with ‘hellos’, and asked where I was from. It’s these interactions and connections that make cycling even more rewarding and memorable,” states Lynn.
He is now working on cycling to Cambodia and Laos later, in November, this year.
During these rides, he has observed that some of the places are quite cycle-friendly and cycling is part and parcel of the people’s lives. This is sadly missing in Goa, and also, Goan roads are becoming dangerous for two-wheeler riders, especially cyclists.
He informs that Vietnam and Sri Lanka have marked cycle lanes even on highways. Their roads are in good condition and drivers are disciplined. He discovered cycle lanes in Nepal, too.
“In Vietnam, I observed that a majority of the kids travel to school by bicycle, and in the villages, cycling is the primary mode of transport for people of all ages,” he observes.
In Nepal, he discovered that the drivers were considerate towards cyclists. “On numerous occasions, they slowed down to let me negotiate the roads affected by landslides. Throughout my travels in all three countries, I was pleasantly surprised by the absence of reckless driving, and the constant honking that is common in Goa was a rarity.”
Regarding roads in Goa, Lynn maintains that they are “nothing short of a nightmare, with potholes everywhere. Even the new road from Verna to Bambolim, not even a year old, is in a horrible state for riding. Furthermore, there is a lack of road etiquette among drivers. Unfortunately, it seems like everyone is always in a hurry in Goa,” he adds.