Epic 'Smiles' bid to bring relief

Alvaro Neil, of Oviedo, Spain, takes a break in Alexandra, the latest stop in a 13-year world...
Alvaro Neil, of Oviedo, Spain, takes a break in Alexandra, the latest stop in a 13-year world cycling trip on which he aims to 'bring smiles' to disadvantaged people. Photo by Sarah Marquet.
Seven years ago Alvaro Neil (44), of Oviedo, Spain, quit his job as a lawyer, told his girlfriend "don't wait", packed a clown costume and set off on his bicycle for Africa, and then the rest of the world, with an aim to bring a smile to the faces of those he thought needed it most.

His "project" is called "Miles of Smiles Around the World" and offers "clown shows to the most humble and for free".

"I'm not a busker; I do it for free".

"Smiles are priceless.

"I do it only for disadvantaged people or in emergencies, after the tsunami [in Japan] for example."

He said he had received so many things from people that he wanted to somehow give something back and so did his clown routine as a "gift".

In the seven years since he has been cycling, he has given 58 performances in 64 different countries and cycled 101,654km.

"It's one life and I want to do something great. I want to travel before I'm old.

"Cycling is the best way to travel. By plane and bus you move, but on a bike you travel through. You [get the] smells, the sounds.

"You can fly from here to China then the next day to America but it doesn't mean it's good ... Humanity is moving too fast."

Mr Neil has budgeted the equivalent of $NZ15 a day to live on, which often means he has to camp out or rely on people to take him in for a night as he had found cheap backpackers in New Zealand cost about $25 a night.

"I eat rice and tuna, the next day rice and tuna, the next tuna and rice, the next maybe pasta and tuna."

Out of all the countries he has cycled through so far, he had found New Zealand to be the most expensive when it came to food, he said.

"Other countries, they put the expired food out for free, but here they sell it ...Some shops have discounted stock, but it was expired stuff.

"In others [countries] I can live off $4 a day."

He said 60% of the money for his trip came from his personal savings, 20% from sponsors and 20% was money he made on the road by selling DVDs of his story.

In his seven years on the road, he had "seven times been about to die", he said.

Those seven times included accidents with cars, a snake bite and malaria.

"But life is too short. The worst day on the bike is better than the best day in the office ... I don't have a house, I don't have a pension when I retire, but it's worth it." Bhutan had been his favourite country so far, he said.

The Himalayan kingdom bordered by India and China was resistant to tourism, but Mr Neil was invited by the Bhutanese Government and believes he is one of the few cyclists to have ridden through the country.

He has been in New Zealand since the Rugby World Cup and, after biking some of the Otago Central Rail Trail, was in Alexandra on Thursday, on day 2616 of his travels, where his bike, Karma, got a few running repairs.

After Alexandra, he was due to head north to Tarras, where he planned to meet his sister, whom he hadn't seen since he left Spain.

His favourite part of New Zealand was the Catlins but, more generally, the South Island, he said.

"In the North [Island] you bike up a hill, then down, then flat for a bit, but then another hill ... The South Island is more gentle."

He will be in the country until April then fly out, from Auckland, to Alaska to begin the American leg of his tour before heading back towards Europe.

- sarah.marquet@odt.co.nz


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