British Columbia

Bangkok to Paris, and other trips taken on bicycle by retired Vancouver couple

“Everyone at home…says, ‘You’ll get your bike stolen, and, ‘Oh isn’t it scary?’...and you go there and there are universal themes of family, hospitality and kindness."

Margo Mactaggart and Chris Oram have visited 45 countries and cycled well over 40,000 km

Vancouverites Margo Mactaggart and Chris Oram were stopped at a checkpoint near Afghanistan during their 11-month cycling trip from Bangkok to Paris, and they were very nervous.

"The lads who are manning this checkpoint are blond, Russian-looking, and to us they can't be more than 17 and they've got AK-47s," said Mactaggart.

Once they left the tiny shack where their papers were checked and went out into the cold, Oram tried buttoning up his coat, but was struggling because his wrist was strained from six months of continuous cycling.

"I'm having trouble doing up my jacket, and the guy puts down his sub-machine gun and walks over to me, and he does my jacket up for me," Oram said.

Cycled through 45 countries

Oram and MacTaggart said that event has been typical of their experiences cycling throughout North and South America, Europe and Asia since becoming empty-nesters in 2006.

A yak near Ak-baital Pass in Tajikistan, which Margo Mactaggart and Chris Oram went through on their 2009 Bangkok to Paris trip. (Margo Mactaggart and Chris Oram)

The active couple went to Cuba for their first cycling trip ("Chris knows I would go completely squirrelly after half an hour on the beach," Mactaggart said), and have now visited 45 countries and travelled well over 40,000 kilometres by bicycle.

"Everyone at home … says, 'You'll get your bike stolen,' and, 'Oh isn't it scary?' But they don't speak English there.' Blah blah blah,'" she said.

"And you go there and there are universal themes of family, hospitality and kindness that are the overwhelming experience you have."

Trouble in China

However, on their 2009 Bangkok to Paris trip Mactaggart said they got themselves in trouble in China because they were in a province which was suddenly closed to foreigners after a monk in that region had lit himself on fire.

A Chinese official came to where they were staying at midnight, and told them to be on a 6 a.m. bus out of the area.

"It's quite disturbing, it makes you realize the civil liberties you are used to taking for granted," said MacTaggart, who had learned some basic survival Mandarin for the trip, which she said was immensely helpful.

"We made the mistake of going too close to Tibet, we weren't trying to go to Tibet, but it was an ethnically Tibetan area."

'Extreme generosity'

But generally for their travels, "our basic problem is generosity, extreme generosity," said Oram.

Mactaggart and Oram were invited into the home of a family in Tajikistan. (Margo Mactaggart and Chris Oram)

The couple recalled that on their Bangkok to Paris trip, near the Wackhan Corridor (a narrow strip of territory in northeastern Afghanistan), they were invited into a local family's house and given the best of a meal they had cooked up.

"We had seen kids who had obvious nutritional deficiencies in this area, because this place has had a very tough time at the end of a civil war and is very high up so it depends on food imports," Mactaggart said.

"And we were protesting, 'No, it's okay, we aren't that hungry,' and they insisted."

Most recently, Mactaggart and Oram cycled from Whitehorse to Vancouver, passing through Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast as well.

"For all our wanderings in Central Asia and and South America, the distances between food shopping places was greater on the Stewart Cassiar highway than for anything else we've done," Mactaggart said.

When asked if they had biked down to the Vancouver CBC studios for their interview, Mctaggart said they weren't sure about the bike parking, and: "We're more worried about getting our bikes stolen here in Vancouver than we are in Tajikistan."

To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled: Vancouver couple have cycled over 40,000 kms through 45 countries


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