From The Daily Star, Saturday, 7 February 1998
Text of the article "Bikeabout: surf the net while biking the Med" (view scanned article) is as follows:
'Bikeabout: surf the net while biking the Med'
Thousands of schoolchildren across the United States are getting an introduction to manouche, the reconstruction of downtown Beirut and other individuals throughout the region thanks to what has been billed as the first 'cybersurfari' of the Mediterranean.
The intrepid 'Internet jockeys', four Americans and an Austrian, are halfway through a 'wired' circumnavigation of the sea by bicycle. In each of the 21 countries lying on the Mediterranean, the cyclists explore, take pictures, and download their experiences onto an educational website accessed by schools across the United States.
This week 32-year-old Americans Ethan Gelber and Padraic Kennedy arrived in Lebanon, and introduced American pupils back home to 'words of the day' like haram, pictures of Beirut's central district, Byblos and Tripoli, plus a Palestinian woman's account of the situation of her community in this country.
"It is an exploration by bike of the different cultures around the Mediterranean," said Kennedy, a history teacher from Arkansas. He met Gelber, who makes a living as a writer in Paris, where they both worked as bicycle tour guides.
"A daily account of the trip is offered on the Internet," Gelber added, "to take away the stereotypes that largely determine the American people's view of Middle Eastern and Muslim countries especially."
"Traditional education in the States is very bad," Kennedy explained. "We live in a fast society in which the average child no longer takes time to read books. So the computer provides a modern tool to give the pupils information in words, pictures and sounds.
"And on Wednesday mornings, between 8am and 10am Eastern Standard Time, they have the possibility to e-mail questions and receive an immediate answer."
So while the bikers push their pedals, people around the world can surf the non-profit-making 'Bikeabout' website and follow their adventures by a simple click of the mouse.
Their nine month odyssey started last September in Ceuta, a small Spanish enclave on the Moroccan coast, with five people, five bikes, two trailers, four laptops, a digital camera, a video and assorted guidebooks.
Colleagues Corinne Whitney and Austrian Andrea Siegl are now in Cyprus, while Anthony Ziehmke is in Damascus. They will meet again in Turkey later this month.
The five stayed in Morocco for two weeks, where they encountered their biggest physical obstacle so far: the Rif mountains. "One day," Kennedy said, "we had a gruelling climb 2,000m up into the clouds and when we finally reached the top, it poured with rain."
Other problems had a more political nature. The journey across Algeria seemed too dangerous to contemplate.
"To avoid Algeria we had to take a train through Spain to Marseilles," Gelber said, while opening his laptop. "From there we took a boat back to Tunisia."
He enters the Bikeabout website, which starts with the group's logo: a bicycle wheel around the Mediterranean and a map of the area with all the flags of the countries lying along the sea.
"If you want to know more about Tunisia," he continued, "just click on its flag and the programme starts."
A visitor to the website gets a few 'fast facts', such as the size of the country and its population, its capital, the food the cyclists have eaten that day, plus a new word and an interesting person encountered on the day's trip.
"We try to find a balance between light and heavy information, between facts and more personal accounts so as not to lose people's attention," Kennedy said. "People have different interests anyway. One classroom in Ohio, for example, tries to prepare the food we eat here."
After the home page, people can surf to different fields offering a large variety of topics.
"We select subjects from a 'think globally, act locally' perspective," Gelber said, "to show people living in different cultures often face the same problems. We stay away from politics as much as possible.
"Most topics are from a social, economic or environmental nature, but we also give cultural and historical information."
In Tunisia, for example, they visited Carthage so a short introduction to the once-powerful Phoenician city is given.
"There is not much left today," said Kennedy, who holds a PhD in European history. "After the last Punic war, the Romans burnt down everything. But you still get a good impression of how it must have looked; the famous harbour, canal and inner lagoon are all still there."
After three weeks of cycling along the Tunisian coast, another political mountain blocked their path: Libya, which does not allow Americans to enter its territory.
The travellers had to fly via Sicily and Malta to Cairo, where they stayed for four weeks. After clicking on the Egyptian flag, "a little camera in the text will give you a photo illustrating the text," Gelber explained.
There are pictures of people, city life, the Nile, and pyramids. There are also sound clips, which apart from Cairo's crazy traffic noise introduces Americans to such things as the Berber language or Tunisian prayers.
With a visit to Israel preventing a trip to Lebanon and Syria, the group split up with the two girls going to Palestine and Israel and then to Cyprus, while the boys headed to Lebanon and Syria.
"Beirut is so far the most familiar city we have visited," Kennedy said. "It has shops, nightlife, banks and services we are used to at home but, for a cyclist, the traffic is horrible".
"The budget for the equipment and nine months of travelling is about $90,000," he continued. "Most of the money is there, raised by sponsors, friends, family and ourselves. I just hope we can make it through the expensive European countries without borrowing money."
After Turkey, the tour will take them through Greece, the new republics of former Yugoslavia, Albania, Italy, France and Spain, with a return to the US set for late June.