HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Bicycle Benni travels the World

May your dreams come true around the May Pole

Bicycle Benni travels the World

Postcards home benefit the ‘School for Life’ children in Chiang Mai

Michael & Marion Vogt
Photos Bernward Elsel

Whilst some of us use the odd bicycle to commute to work, do a bit of fitness, or just enjoy a scenic ride around the outskirts of Chiang Mai, others take it to an extreme, especially if the plan is to spend eight months on a bike, pedalling around 210 kilometers a day.

Bernward Elsel nickname “Benni”, is a 25 year young German geography and economics student who has taken the extreme route. He says that he’s got it in his genes. “My Grandfather toured some of his neighboring countries on a bike, my father did it in the 60’s and 70’s to England, and I just literally follow in their steps,” said Benni.

Taking an eight months time-out of his studies, he decided to cross Asia from Sumatra to the Himalayas, and currently enjoys the plains and hills of Northern Thailand, before he continues to Laos, back to Bangkok, to Kunming, Lhasa, Mt. Everest, Kailas, Islambad and finally Delhi. A reasonable ride! With a boyish smile, he told Chiangmai Mail that he sometimes felt like an alien, in places which very rarely see westerners. One remote village on Sumatra even closed the local school for a day, just to see the strange looking man on a bike.

While Benni calls it a little exercise and a dream come true, there is more to this undertaking than just enjoying the sights and sounds of different countries - there is a charitable reason. Benni is raising funds for one of the projects here in Chiang Mai, the ‘School for Life’, a model to change the lives of the poorest of the poor. However, Benni is not begging for money or financial support, he approaches people who may fancy collecting stamps and postcards from all over the world. For a donation as little as 15 Euros (708 baht), the donor will receive a number of postcards from various stations along Benni’s route. Benni said the worst thing that has happened to him so far was sunburn which developed into a rash, requiring antibiotic cream, which in turn gave him an allergic reaction. But Benni has his Doctor at home, online, sends him some digital pictures of the rash, and receives medical advice via email. Other than that? “I broke my nose. I went surfing on Koh Lanta, and the waves were too high.”

Benni will continue his studies to become a teacher, and his lucky students will enjoy listening to his travel stories. An interesting young man who lives his dream.

One of the ‘resting places’ for the night on the way up to Chiang Mai. Benni has his tent, just in case he has to camp.

More than enough volunteers to take care of the bicycle.

Bernward Elsel with all his equipment in front of the Chiangmai Mail office. The bicycle 18 kg, the extra one in the back 7 kg, with 30 kg left for necessities, including tent, medication, cameras, CD, CD burner, water filters etc!

Use low gear! A joke in itself!

A ‘Thank You Benni’ T-shirt from the children of the School of Life for the adventurer before his leaving to Laos.

Flowers and Garlands as arrival presents. Benni was overwhelmed by such a welcoming committee.

Even when you carry everything and wheels can be repaired, sometimes you need a shop and hope they will find something that fits!

It was a VIP welcome for somebody who traveled the world and personally delivered bicycles ‘by bicycle’ for children much less fortunate than others.

Benni in the midst of children and volunteers at Joy’s House. Joy standing in front of him.

May your dreams come true around the May Pole

Chiang Mai expatriates celebrate old rituals

Marion Vogt
Dr. Howard Graves

A group of Chiang Mai residents decided to reclaim one of the old European festivals. May 1, may now be Labor Day in many places all over the world but previously this was known as Beltane by the Celts, Walpurgis by the Teutons, and Floralia by the Romans.

Make your wish, the Beltane Fire is up and burning!

The May pole is the common feature of May Day festivities, but with different interpretations. For one, the May pole was the “Tree of Life”, in the ancient rite of placing the obviously phallic pole in a hole in the earth as thanksgiving for the new life and vigor of the season, for gifts from the earth and rain from the sky. In other cultures, the May pole represented the world center and the complicated dance of weaving cords around the pole was a magical attempt to direct our nature back in order.

It not only looks complicated, it is...

Today the dance is performed by any who wish to participate in weaving and re-incanting the magic. There has been a resurgence of this ancient ritual in the western world of late and people gather and create their own traditions based on the land they are living in, wherever they are.

In Chiang Mai the May Pole celebrations began at 5 p.m. on May 1. It was an evening of games, picnic, and fun for the children as well as for the adults. I believe this tradition with its rites was performed for the first time in Chiang Mai. And because we are in Thailand, thanks were given for the rains that hopefully will come soon and which will bring new growth and quench the thirst and put out forest fires and float the freighters in the Mekong.

Weaving of the multicolored bands traditionally done by the teenagers of the villages in Europe but here done by parents and children.

Families gathered in front of Wat Lanka on the River Ping and began the ceremony by carrying a 4.5 meter long bamboo pole through the village. It was decorated with different colored ribbons and flowers. Then it was raised and placed into the hole in the earth. This was followed by dancing and weaving the colorful bands round the pole.

The lower you get the harder it is for the adults to get around.

As the sun set, fathers and sons lit the Beltane fire and those who wanted to make a special Beltane wish jumped over it, while the younger, older and/or not so brave ones watched, singing and many definitely reminiscing.

The last knot!

The sun is almost down but the May pole is up, beautifully decorated with ribbons and flowers.