The road connects different worlds - an interview with the guest of the 5th ŚFN Arkady Paweł Fiedler

He travelled across Africa and Asia in a Fiat 126p, but as he says, travelling came easy to him thanks to his father and his grandfather, the famous traveller, naturalist, and writer, Arkady Adam Fiedler. The special guest of the 5th KATOWICE Silesian Science Festival, Arkady Paweł Fiedler, was interviewed by Agnieszka Niewdana.


Let us start the conversation with a basic question: where are you now?

“I am at home in Puszczykowo. I have just come back from a two-week trip through Europe. I was looking for the most famous and beautiful roads. I came up with the idea some time ago. I mainly look at faraway places, and Africa attracts me the most. However, the pandemic thwarted my travel plans, so I looked a little closer. I am very interested in the road itself - as a link between different worlds, so I decided to find beautiful and famous roads in Europe that I have not yet had the opportunity to drive on. I went to Montenegro, took some interesting routes through Romania, also through Italy, Switzerland and France. I liked it so much that I am already planning another trip to other parts of Europe. I should point out that I drove without polluting the environment with exhaust fumes, as I had a fully electric car at my disposal”.

You mentioned some changes in plans due to the pandemic. How does a traveller cope with difficulties that came from it?

“The pandemic took us by surprise. I was lucky enough to return from a winter expedition to the Arctic just before it had started, in mid-January 2020. There, I was able to experience road travel in the style that I like, i.e. by car. I experienced a new type of road and new challenges. My further plans, however, got pushed back. I wanted to finish my film and travel project “PoDrodze” (On the road), which features a Fiat 126p. I managed to go to Africa and Asia. In 2020, I was supposed to visit both Americas. Everything was set. Unfortunately, the project had to be postponed until this year, but again no luck. However, if not for the pandemic, I would not have made this trip across Europe”.

Bohater wywiadu siedzi na pustyni na krzesełku i trzyma metalowy kubek. Za nim mały fiat. W tle błękitne niebo.The Western Desert of Egypt, "PoDrodze" film and travel project, Africa 2014

 

Do you remember your first solo trip?

“I used to go on outings in Poland with friends during high school, but my first long journey to a faraway place was in 1995 or 1996. I bought a train ticket that allowed me to travel all over Europe in second class. It took 1 and a half months. I slept in campsites. I got as far as Valencia, Granada in Spain, and there the ticket expired. So, I hitchhiked back home. It was an important experience for me. In the 1990s, you couldn't read travel guides on blogs and social media. I didn't have access to the internet at all and couldn't get advice on, for example, what to take with me and what would be unnecessary. I experienced everything first-hand, I still remember how heavy my backpack was. I then wondered why didn’t I just take the car. I met a German guy in the south of France. He drove a total junker, but he had everything in it. His experiences and mine inspired me to make another trip, but this time by car”.

So your first trip was an analogue one?

“Exactly. You couldn't just open your browser and check how to get to a hostel. Instead, you had to rely on people to help you. Today, social media are probably the biggest obstacle in travelling. If a traveller wants to exist and work in their profession, they have to have an online presence. Sharing your experiences is important, but sometimes it can be exhausting. You have to find a suitable place, the internet, spend a few hours making a post, choosing photos... You have to disconnect from the journey. Instead of experiencing the place you are in, you are always thinking about the next post or live broadcast. Of course, you used to write reports or keep a travel journal back in the day, but it wasn't done in such a hurry. That is the biggest difference. And the car? People used to travel like that as far back as a hundred years ago. I recently visited an interesting automotive museum in Turin. There is an old, huge car from 1907 on display, which travelled from Beijing to Paris. Even as late as the inter-war period, Poles were still embarking on car expeditions around the world. Cars do change, of course. It is worth noting that a hundred years ago electric cars were already in use, but were set aside in favour of internal combustion vehicles. Now they are making a comeback. It's interesting because a new side of car travel is now being rediscovered”.

 Bohater wywiadu siedzi w małym fiacie z otwartymi drzwiami po stronie kierowcy. W tle obłoki na błękitnym niebie.

Mongolia, “PoDrodze” film and travel project, Asia 2016. Photo by Albert Wójtowicz

 

Before you decided to pursue travel as a profession, you spent 11 years in London. You spent your time there on film travels. I find this time in your life and your work quite interesting because it seems that with such a rich travel tradition in your family, there would be no chance to escape it.

“I always followed my own path. The trip to London was meant to give me new experiences and a chance to brush up on my language skills. I kept postponing my return and so 11 years passed. I met my wife there, and my daughter was born in London. This city indeed provided me with a lot of new experiences. I worked in cinemas, and films have always interested me so the work was enjoyable. I started by screening films and ended up managing cinemas. Of course, I spent my holiday leave travelling. A trip to Poland in 2009 was an important one. It was the first time I set off on a journey along the borders of Poland in a Fiat 126p. This trip made me think about travelling as a career".

What was your main reason to come back to Poland?

“I have always missed Poland. I often went home during holidays. One day, I came to the conclusion that maybe these two weeks of holiday leave should be spent in a different way. Hence the idea to visit places that I had previously explored with my parents or grandparents, but also those that were still unfamiliar to me. I thought about the route and came up with the idea to take it along the borders of Poland, as it would be an interesting and above all varied route. It was after this trip that I came to the conclusion that travelling might be a worthwhile thing. Additionally, I rediscovered Poland and the Fiat 126p. This is the car of my childhood. I prepared for the 2009 trip thoroughly. It was an interesting experience when I got into this tiny, little car and time just slowed down. The world started to reach me through the open windows of the car - I felt the temperature, the space, the noises on the side roads. This car was the starting point for many interesting conversations I had at petrol stations and roadside stops. People found it interesting. I came to the conclusion that it was worth continuing this adventure".

Bohater wywiadu kuca na ziemi. po obu jego stronach kucają mieszkańcy Afryki trzymający łuki.

Namibia, “PoDrodze” film and travel project, Africa 2014. Photo Albert Wójtowicz

 

Cars seem extremely important to you. This can be seen in subsequent travel accounts, in which the choice of means of transportation is not accidental.

“I decided to test the tiny Fiat also in other routes. Since Africa has always been a dream of mine, I took up the challenge of travelling there in Fiat 126p. An important experience was the later journey through Africe in an electric car. There were no charging stations along the way, so I had to look for electricity among the residents. They were very helpful”.

What are your memories from Africa?

"I wanted to make a show from the roads in Africa, so I spent a lot of time in meetings with TV stations to convince them to work with me. In the end, nothing came of it. I failed at the very beginning, but I didn't want to give up and I gathered the crew myself. We had virtually no experience. We had to get used to each other and the car. The charming Fiat was a real pain when we had to drive it sometimes for more than 11 hours at a time. Fortunately, the car made it easier for me to strike up a conversation with the locals. The challenge was considerable, especially in terms of logistics, difficult roads to cross in a car completely unsuitable for that, and crossing borders with the whole team. There were many difficult moments, for example in Egypt. I fought the bureaucracy there for two weeks. The sight of the desert and nights spent sleeping outdoors was the reward. The most interesting road went through Tanzania, along Lake Tanganyika, to Zambia. I did not know what to expect from it. A thousand kilometres of gravel and wilderness, with occasional villages or small towns. The journey to Africa was, dare I say, epic”.

Bohater wywiady stoi obok małego fiata. W tle droga prowadząca przez pustkowia oraz błękitne niebo z obłokami.

Mongolia, “PoDrodze” film and travel project, Asia 2016. Photo by Albert Wójtowicz

 

You also travelled through Asia in a Fiat 126p...

“Travelling by car is unique in that the world around you is changing all the time, from kilometre to kilometre we encounter new sights and experiences. My best experience in Asia is also connected to the road. I especially remember crossing Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and the famous Pamir Highway. It was quite a challenge for me and the car. Driving through the steppe in Kazakhstan was also a great experience. The journey was extremely monotonous, which sometimes bothered me, but in hindsight, I appreciate being immersed in an almost endless green ocean. Mongolia is mostly about gravel roads, people living in yurts, and vast wilderness”.

Travelling is usually associated with holidays and resting. In your case, it is work.

“Yes, and I must point out that the work of a traveller is extremely arduous. If you want to travel professionally, you have to be prepared to work 24 hours a day. I have been doing this for several years and I am still learning”.

How would your famous grandfather view your travels?

“I think that he would be happy that I am travelling, getting to know the world and the people, but also that I have found my own way of travelling. He would say that i should enjoy it”.

Thank you very much for the interview.

Interview by Agnieszka Niewdana


The interview was published in Gazeta Uniwersytecka UŚ (University of Silesia Magazine) (issue 1 [291] October 2021).

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