Dan Hodd's goal: To show that it is possible to travel far while emitting less CO2, and to testify to the environmental crises encountered along its route. Freja Refning Hansen and Elise Krag, two Danish documentarians, followed him on part of the journey, which they will soon recount in a series of short films. We met them in Sharm el-Sheikh.
You have crossed much of the Middle East by bike, hitchhiking and public transport. Why did you undertake this journey?
Dan Hodd: I've been cycling around the world for six years. It is essential to rethink the way we travel in the 21st century. We are moving more often and farther than ever before, and we are doing it in the least sustainable way in our history.
Yet we have sufficient knowledge and technology to find alternatives. And before, we also had the necessary infrastructure to do so. Until the end of the 90s, it was possible to go to Baghdad from Berlin by train! There were many ferries, lots of boats that took you from Alexandria in Egypt to Cyprus, Turkey or Greece. The last of these boats ceased to operate in 2005, and since then the region has experienced so many conflicts […] that there is almost no connection between the countries of the region. Transnational networks [de transport, NDLR] have collapsed. So I try to show the complexity of this situation: it breaks the heart to see that we have lost all these means of transport at a time when we have to rethink the way we travel.
The Middle East is often perceived as a dangerous region. What were your impressions?
Dan: In total, it took me five weeks to reach Sharm el-Sheikh from Europe, passing through Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. We separated only once, passing through Iraq, for a visa issue. Apart from an incident while passing through Baghdad, I did not feel insecure.
In fact, the main dangers I encountered were related to air pollution. In Baghdad, the traffic is crazy. The most difficult thing as a cyclist was to breathe in all those horrible fumes coming out of the exhaust pipes. Cycling through it all, even wearing a mask, was probably the most dangerous thing I experienced on the trip. Other than that, I saw some amazing scenery.
Freja Refning Hansen: We thought that this trip would also be a good opportunity to document local cultures, which are often misunderstood. I am thinking above all of Kurdistan, Iraq and Jordan.
When my friends learned that I was going to Iraq, their reaction was rather…dramatic, I would say. It must have been weird for them when I called them from Erbil [in Iraqi Kurdistan, editor's note] to tell them: “I feel completely safe, I have great friends here who help us, we have met environmentalists who take them to see incredibly polluted waterways, and they try to save the turtles…”
Now that you have arrived at COP27, what are your plans?
Dan: I don't have access to the Blue Zone [reserved for accredited organizations, editor's note]. So I have no way as an activist to make my voice heard there. In fact, I felt more capable of making a meaningful contribution through my journey. Being here physically... There are a lot of very intelligent people who are opposed to certain aspects of the system and who can participate in conversations. They don't need me here to do that. But illustrating certain issues by making this trip to the COP without flying is something that is unique to me.
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This story was produced as part of the 2022 Climate Change Media Partnership, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews' Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security. It was first published in French in Vert on 10 November 2022 and has been translated to English and lightly edited for length and clarity.
Banner image: Dan Hodd plays chained violin alongside Extinction Rebellion activists during COP26, November 2021 / Credit: Mar Sala Oltra.