Breaking down barriers by bike

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 January, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 January, 1997, 12:00am

Russian artist Vladislav Ketov, 45, is spending nine years cycling around the world's coastline. He is 72,000 kilometres and 66 countries into his 220,000-km journey, which he plans to finish in his home town of St Petersburg in May 2000. His project, called Eden, is aimed at promoting environmental awareness and breaking down barriers between countries. In Kenya he was made a United Nations Environmental Programme representative.

What's on your mind? I am in Hong Kong trying to get a visa for China. I've been refused three times. I don't understand why the Chinese authorities are so frightened of one cyclist. The only other countries which wouldn't let me in were Libya, Liberia and Somalia.

I'm also looking for sponsors. When I started out no one believed I'd do it, but I'm a third of the way through now and I think I've proved I can. No one has ever tried to use the shoreline as a route for cycling round the world. I patented the idea in 1988.

Why are you doing this? I've always dreamed of doing this. I started off in 1991 with about HK$300 in my pocket. My assumption is there's only one border and that's the coastline. All other borders are created artificially and have no natural reason for existence. They are nothing but obstacles to freedom and human rights. I want to help create a peaceful world by breaking down these barriers.

What was your worst experience? I was stopped at the Serbian battle line and accused of being a KGB spy. The soldiers with the guns were making a show of power. They let me go when some bystanders said they were giving Serbs a bad name. But the most awful part was in the desert in south Angola. I met some freedom fighters loaded with guns and ammunition, I found water only four times in 12 days, and I had so little food I had to catch and eat a snake. When you're travelling alone across conditions like that it doesn't matter how much you know - if you don't make the right decisions every time you're dead.

Were you ever frightened? I'm more scared of bureaucrats than anything else. The biggest headache has been visa problems. I've lost 21/2 years hanging around waiting for visas. If it wasn't for that I'd be in South America by now. I've only had difficulties with officials, soldiers and policemen. But I've always got on with the ordinary people in all countries, which has delighted me. I'm not an anarchist - I'm a humanist. How many bicycles have you got through? I'm on bike number three. I've changed the wheels about a dozen times and used up hundreds of tyres.