Beyond the Sea - 16,000 kilometers around the Mediterranean Sea
On 01 July 2023, photographer Mattia Lazzarin set out from his home in Italy atop his Ritchey Ascent for a 12,000-kilometer ride around the Mediterranean Sea. His goal was to visit refugee camps to learn more about the lives and struggles of their inhabitants, share their stories with the world, and support the organizations that help them.
You can read our original blog post about Mattia’s Beyond the Sea project from back in June to learn more about what he had planned. You can also see links there to donate to organizations he supported along the way.
As he pedaled for several months through countries like Turkey, Greece, Spain, Morocco, Egypt, Croatia, Italy and 11 more, his journey became deeply personal, as you’ll read below.
When Mattia rolled back into his hometown in northern Italy 144 days after he left, his cycling computer showed an astonishing 16,714 kilometers completed, he had kindness in is soul, and trust in himself, the world and his bike.
Here’s a brief interview we had with Mattia shortly after he arrived home. Mattia shared a lot of stunning photos with us, and we’ve included some of them at the end of the interview.
How has this adventure changed you?
I believe the effects of this journey on me will be long-lasting. It was a rich journey—different languages, cultures, landscapes, people, everything I encountered became a part of me, gently and without force, at the pace of my pedal strokes. This slowness and gentleness will work within me for years. I can say that the change I feel in the present moment is TRUST—trust in myself, in my ideas, in my body, in my dreams. I know I have the strength to make them a reality; I know they are beautiful dreams worthy of expression, sharing, and transformation into reality, just like this journey. Trust in others—I never felt in danger; I always found a helping hand, someone pointing me in the right direction, nourishing me wherever I went.
After sharing such a significant experience with your bicycle, what kind of relationship have you established with it? Have you ever talked to it?
"Teti," my bicycle, has been and I consider it an extension of my body, as if it were another organ of my system. At times, I felt it as extra legs, and at times, as a heart that helped mine pump blood. On solo days, it was my only friend; I've wet it with tears, rain, mud, seawater, and it has always been by my side, always shining, always ready to convert the strength of my legs into motion, ready to turn my doubts into certainties. It endured and supported my weight - both the weight of my body and, at times, the weight of my thoughts. I had great trust in it, and I believe it trusts me too. We arrived together back home without losing pieces of ourselves. The most important thing I told it was in the Negev Desert in Israel: I knelt beside it and whispered, 'Let's promise to get back home'... and we kept that promise.
Which moment or event of the journey represents your overall experience the most?
The first chai (tea) offered to me by a man just as I entered Turkey! At the beginning of my journey, I was a bit scared thinking about when I would be outside of Europe, in Eastern and Arab countries. Some microscopic prejudice was hidden in me, a product of mainstream bombardment that often describes these populations as 'dangerous.' Being called from the roadside by that gentleman was like a bell that caught my deep attention. He brought me to the sidewalk, took out two chairs and a table, then came out with two glasses of tea, saying, 'You are my brother,' which he also wrote on a piece of paper and hung on the wall behind us. This completely unexpected, seemingly random gesture imprinted the word HOSPITALITY in my heart, one of my quests on this journey. Hospitality— that man is an example of what one can find outside their doorstep when traveling with respect, love, and an understanding of the world around us.
Have you had moments of discouragement where you wanted to give up? How did you overcome them?
At the end of the first month, after passing through Patras and looking at the GPS, I realized I was far from home. I felt like a tiny dot lost in the universe, a lump formed in my throat, a homesickness that gripped my legs like a vise. It was Sunday, the church bells were ringing, and the word I heard was 'family.' Oh, how much I missed home. I picked up the phone and called my sister and father...that call warmed my heart... they reminded me that they were with me, and home was in my heart! I saw airports and thought of a flight home...then I managed to see the road, and I knew that by pedaling, I would reach home.
How has completing the journey by bicycle, compared to another mode, influenced your experience?
The bicycle is a delicate means; it makes no noise, moves without emitting nauseating and polluting odors, has a sleek, essential form. All of this allowed me to arrive and enter each country peacefully, not as an invader or conqueror but as a humble circus acrobat balancing on two wheels, bringing his show to many different cities, without the pretense of being repaid. Simply, I could approach people. I believe the bicycle is a bond, a universal language. It is not sharp like a cutting blade; it enters the world gently and is embraced by it.
What did you bring that you wish you didn't have?
I traveled with the essentials; I didn't have much with me, and I used everything. Perhaps, in hindsight, I wouldn't have brought the lock to chain the bike—a symbol of fear, a symbol of attachment, in places where attachment to things did not exist.
What did you not bring that you wish you had?
Perhaps at certain moments of the journey, I would have brought someone with me to share my emotions in real time.
What advice would you give to someone interested in cycle touring/travel?
Listen to yourself, look inside yourself, take time for yourself when planning the journey, adjust the stages to your body, to your physique, without fear of being judged for the kilometers you cover each day. Always do what you are capable of doing. This allowed me to come home with legs and a mind still capable of another thousand kilometers. Above all, having tailored this journey allowed me to enjoy the beauty every day. Always be yourself even when you travel.
What were your goals for this journey? Do you feel you have achieved them?
The primary and vital goal was to return home, or rather, to come home! Sometimes we don't think about it, but the return is an integral part of the journey. To reach this goal, faith is needed every day, willpower is needed every day, living is needed every day. Another goal was to show, through my eyes, what lies beyond the sea—people, landscapes, cultures—and document the wonder surrounding this sea. To see and show with my eyes how borders divide people like a knife, dividing dreams for those who want to cross them, dividing families seeking hope. I believe I have achieved the goal of shedding some light on these places because many people on social media thanked me, thanked me for showing them the world simply by showing reality.