Former Friendship intern Antonio Arno cycles over 10,000 km from Luxembourg to Bangladesh in an epic journey, traversing 22 countries across two continents.
by Tahmeed Chaudhury
April 30, 2023
“Counting down to the day I was set to leave, I was terrified,” says Antonio a day after accomplishing his feat, when asked what propelled him towards embarking on such a lengthy and arduous journey. “One hour into the ride, I was thinking to myself ‘oh my God! Am I really doing this? Where will I sleep tonight? What will I eat for dinner?’ I decided to take it one day at a time and that is when things started falling into place.”
Antonio Arno, an Italian-Luxembourgish ecologist, set off for the expedition of a lifetime on March 1, 2022, when he left home on his bicycle to conquer 22 countries and two continents. The expedition took approximately nine months, with him reaching his end point of Bangladesh mid-November the same year.
Starting off on a bright, sunny day in Luxembourg, Antonio ventured through twelve European countries including France, Germany, Croatia and Turkey before entering Asia through Iran. He then cycled across Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan from where he flew to India, the only non-cycling leg through the course of his journey. From India, he rode to Nepal before returning to India and eventually cycling to his final destination, Bangladesh.
“It feels crazy. I am yet to fathom it, it’s like a dream,” says Antonio, a look of astonishment and exhaustion from the trip visible on his face. He began cycling around a decade ago. “What I love about cycling is that at the end of a long and painful day of riding, you find great satisfaction in eating your meal or when you fall asleep right after lying down.”
Antonio’s frequent tours to nearby European nations instilled in him an ambition to cycle beyond Europe for a prolonged period of time. Having to choose between Africa and Asia, he chose the latter and set Bangladesh as his end point owing to his great memories in the country from his time working as an intern at Friendship.
The best parts of the journey, according to Antonio, were experiencing diversity in cultures in each country he travelled through, the lessons he learned and the places he could see. From seeing hot air balloons floating in all their glory in Cappadocia, Turkey to experiencing the ancient heritage of Samarkand, Uzbekistan to climbing more than 5 km to reach the Thorong La Pass in the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, Antonio has had the pleasure of seeing more in nine months than an average person has the fortune of in their lifetime. The latter led to him carrying his bicycle on his shoulders for more than ten days through an arduous Himalayan climb.
Antonio was most enticed by the random acts of kindness from strangers. He was offered accommodation and food in many cities and there were instances when people extended bread and water from cars while passing by him on roads. “In Soysalli, a small city in Turkey, a man invited me to his house to rest, cooked pasta for me and then gave me fruits and vegetables from his garden. He did so out of his heart, without expecting anything in return. When I was leaving, he, along with his wife and kids waved me goodbye. It moved me to tears.”
As for lessons, Antonio learned to adapt and survive in the wild, but stressed on the importance of unlearning—in this case unlearning the rigid beliefs and perceptions people have towards other countries and cultures. “I met so many different people with so many different approaches to life, it changed my perspective. No one is necessarily right or wrong. It’s a beautiful, diverse world where everybody is different in their own way.”
Now that his expedition is a success, Antonio believes in taking a leap of faith, when asked what he would say to those who want to achieve something similar to him. “The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Don’t let fear take you over, just go for it!”
Antonio proceeded to enjoy Bangladesh, a country he has fond memories of from his first stay and where he admires its people for the family values they hold and for being hospitable, kind and jovial even when they are not living the best life. He also travelled to Thailand and Cambodia where he was joined by his parents, but not on two-wheels this time. His cycling mission was successfully concluded.