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Wandering cyclists 'cultivate empathy'

WILL HARVIE
Last updated 05:00 11/08/2014

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Two wandering cyclists hope to generate wealth and empathy by increasing cycle tourism in Christchurch and the South Island.

Roberto Gallegos, from Mexico, and Annika Wachter, from Germany, have been riding towards New Zealand since 2011, and along the way spotted that encouraging cyclists to stop in a community benefits the economy because they spend money on food, shelter and supplies.

More important for the pair, encouraging cyclists also cultivates empathy - the ability to step into the shoes of other people and understand their emotions and perspectives.

"Somehow the bike gives you a state of vulnerability," Gallegos said. "You aren't a threat . . . people give you food and shelter.

"The more you get to know people, your preconceptions fade away. They have faces now," he said.

Bikes made this much more possible than speeding along a motorway in a car, he said.

The pair started cycling in Germany in September 2011 and made their way by land to Turkey, Armenia, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, China and Malaysia. They cycled parts of Indonesia and Australia before arriving in New Zealand in February this year.

They're still riding the same bikes, although "we've changed so many parts that it's a good question whether they are the same bikes or not", Gallegos said.

It wasn't travel for travel's sake. "We wanted it to have a purpose."

Long days in the saddle led to insight. "As we rode our bikes, we realised how they were the perfect vehicle to get to know the people, the places and the cultures we encountered along the way," they wrote on their blog at tastingtravels.com.

In Kedah, Malaysia, they discovered a rice paddy culture that was ripe for cycle tourism. Paths between paddies were suitable for cycling locals and encouraging tourists only required small modifications such as signs and maps.

In Christchurch, the pair have paused their journey and found jobs.

"We would like to present Christchurch and the South Island as bike tourism [destinations] for Mexicans and Germans," Gallegos said.

He would speak about "cultivating empathy by bicycle travel" at a sold-out Ministry of Awesome event on Wednesday night.

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- The Press

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