A KILKENNY man is to travel 10,000 kilometres by bicycle to Burma in aid of the Susie Long Hospice Fund.
Hugh Bergin from Ballyouskill will depart on April 27 for an extraordinary journey that will take him though the old Silk Road routes which carried trade, religion and cultures across the deserts and mountains of Central Asia.
A veteran of many foreign adventures, Hugh made headlines in 2007 when he became the first Irishman to travel around Africa by motorbike. During that journey, he heard the terrible news that his friend Susie Long had died
of bowel cancer, after spending seven months on a public waiting list for a colonoscopy. She was only 42.
“I was in Africa when Susie died, so I missed the controversy about her late diagnosis and the injustice of the two-tier health system which she highlighted in the national media,” he said.
“After she died in a Dublin hospice, her husband Conor MacLiam and friends set up the Susie Long Hospice Fund to establish a hospice in Kilkenny. I want to do this cycle to Burma in Susie’s memory, as I believe strongly in
quality local care with dignity for anyone facing a terminal illness,” he added.
Born in South Africa to Irish parents who returned home when he was ten, Hugh has travelled extensively throughout his life. He was an expedition leader in Asia and South America for four years with the British travel company Exodus, ran a Caribbean music club in Texas and worked in New Zealand as a performance arts student, retreat centre caretaker and employment consultant for the government.
After selling the successful Café Sol restaurant in Kilkenny in 2006, he undertook a 20,000-kilometre solo run by motorbike around Africa in aid of the Irish-based charity Self Help Africa. He went on to complete an MA in
Development Studies with Kimmage DSC and is now doing consultancy work for the college and for Oxfam Ireland. In recent times he has become increasingly fascinated by Burma/Myanmar and while researching the country’s difficulties and challenges the idea for the ‘Bicycle to Burma’ adventure was born.
Exchanging a motorbike for a touring bike will bring huge physical challenges as Hugh journeys across Europe to Odessa on the Black Sea, the crossroads where East meets West which he hopes to reach in May, and continues through Georgia and Azerbaijan and across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan.
The journey will become increasingly exotic as eastwards stretch the old Silk Road routes across Central Asia, then on through Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand in Uzbekistan, the Pamir ‘highway’ in Tajikistan and the reputedly beautiful, mountainous and accessible Kyrgyztan.
He will travel on to Xinjiang province in China and the Turkic Uyghar people and desert culture, turning right at Kashgar for the Kunjarab Pass, the world’s highest by road, and down the magnificent Karakorum ‘highway’ in
Pakistan, where the mountain majesty with K2 on the left is spectacular. Then it’s into northern India and a bolt for the quieter roads of lowland Nepal. The planned route may change depending on security and weather concerns.
At the moment there is no land entry into Burma but Hugh is hoping that may have changed with the recent rapid opening up by the country’s repressive government. He will liaise with contacts there for up-to-date information at the end of his journey, which is expected to take six to eight months.
The Bicycle to Burma expedition will also raise funds and awareness for KRCEE, a community-based organisation that supports education in refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar/Burma border.
People can make donations and follow Hugh’s journey on www.bicycletoburma.com, where he will post regular blogs and updates.
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