Well... I'm back in the land of English... feeling quite strange about it all to be honest, not quite as euphoric as I'd expected. The people of New Zealand are an amazing lot, I'd like to think that it's not just down to the fact that there's only 4million of them in a pretty large area, and that people here are simply a bit more in touch with, and trusting of, human decency, certainly moreso than can be said of a place like London... not that that would be hard, London's about as attuned to human decency as a meeting of the interahamwe ... but anyway.
It's quite probable that my uncertainty about being back in the West was clouded somewhat by the weather. In general I went from humidity and monkeys to snow and winds from Antarctica, which was actually fine, as those winds and I were going the same way... that then seemed to change, however, to no snow (which is quite pretty, especially with red berries dotted amongst it) and plenty of rain, wind going the other direction, and blowing generally any way possible so long as it was in my face. I've ridden over some of the most cragged terrain of the whole route, and realised half-way over it that I'd been doing so with my rear brake-pad hitting the disc every rotation... I'm also losing my fingers to the delights of carpal tunnel syndrome, so it feels like someone else's hand is on the end of my wrist, a thing only very seldom useful and almost always discomforting. One way or another, it's been tough, but that's cool, it was never supposed to be wholly easy.
Possibly the biggest single change has been the food, and after the initial pleasures of finding a mediocre Indian restaurant on my first night, and a sensational fish and chips at Lockie's of Hampden (highway 1, south island, purple sign, right-hand side) ... it's generally just been really disappointing to realise that curries, stews and stir-frys, made with fresh vegetables, right in front of me, have been replaced by sausage roll a la plastique and steak and cheese pie a la plastique ... There's also a McDonald's, Subway or KFC at every turn, and, as testament to this healthy diet of us westerners, there are these humungous creatures walking around, and they look partly human, but they've got a great, bubbling bulge that leads them around, and a great, bubbling bulge that follows them around, and they shuffle from side to side in order to move forward, with their facial features obscured by slumping tubes of fat... I haven't seen anything of the like in 16,000km, and think that perhaps it might be some underevolved sea creature that has come upon the land.
This initial woe at the state of my balanced diet turned (with the help of the weather) into a bit of a general gloom about western society. Because in all of the poor countries I've been trapsing through, people seemed to have more time to mill around, people seemed to be happier (I'm sure that there's a complex causative relation between these two points, just can't quite put my finger on the econometrics), people are certainly healthier, more relaxed, it's still warm when it rains, and old people aren't left standing in shops waiting for someone to wipe away the dribble that's rolling down their chin. In the west we've traded all of this for... I'm not quite sure... road safety rules, when driving however you fancy must be quite fun anyway... and not dropping litter, which would often be quite convenient... It's a raw deal for certain.
The kazakhs had a good t-shirt being worn around Almaty, it said 'no money, no crisis' ... and indeed, roll on poverty is what I say, all we have to do is sit back and watch the food improve, and as the governments of the western world have entrusted economic resurrection to the same stellar crop of bankers that have obviously performed so well in recent times, I'm quietly confident that we'll see menus picking-up within five to ten years.
I was also thinking a fair amount about westerners and our peculiar mentality as I rode through the hills, in the wind and rain, feeling about as comfortable as a calf in a veal crate. In short, it was definitely closer to suffering than anything in the miles up to now... it made me think of a guy I saw in China, when the desert threw up some hills and mountains for variety. In China they have a sort of three-wheeled scooter, with a big crate on the back, so that the thing becomes a little like a cart. Some unfortunate chap had had his three-wheeled scooter-cart break down on him, and as I rode by the fellow, who would have been thinking about going to collect his pension had he been born a bit further west, was pulling it up a hill, with his hands on the handlebars, and a strap tied to the cart portion of the vehicle and strapped high around his chest. The poor bastard had a face that looked like it wished it was dead, and an excitable vein in each temple that looked like it might well make his wishes come true come the top of the hill. But anyway, I rode by him, preparing to ride my 100 daily miles through a desert, making my life infinitely more difficult than it would ever need to be, for the sake of pretty intangible things, while that old chap just got on with what was his daily life anyway. There's definitely nothing more weird than a westerner.