Motorcyclists on peace rally to Olympics

July 15th, 2008 - 2:20 pm ICT by IANS  

Messinia (Greece), July 15 (DPA) Carrying a branch belonging to the oldest living olive tree in Greece, more than 50 motorcyclists have embarked on a two-month journey to China to bring a universal message of peace to the Beijing Olympics. The 51 competitors began their 52-day, 23,000-km trek Monday in ancient Messinia in the Peloponnese and are due to travel through remote desert, mountains and scrub to carry a symbolic “flame of peace” and 4,000-year-old olive wreath to 14 countries, including China.

The journey, which will cover the route of the olive oil trade and the Silk Road, will take the riders from Greece to Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, Serbia and Bulgaria.

“The Silk Road was known as one of the most historically important trade routes between the Mediterranean Sea and China where business once promoted culture,” said George Karampatos, president of the Olive Tree Route.

“Today, with this rally, we are trying to promote the message of cross-cultural dialogue through the olive tree because we believe that culture promotes today’s business,” he said, adding that the Olive Tree Rally is carried out in association with the Council of Europe and Greek foreign ministry.

The riders, from Greece, Britain, Ireland, Germany, France and Switzerland, will have to travel a gruelling 12 hours a day in order to reach Beijing one day after the start of the Olympic Games Aug 8.

The motorcyclists will be accompanied by dozens of doctors, mechanics, journalists and historians who will follow the bikers in a convoy of jeeps and a 60-foot trailer truck which houses an olive exhibition.

Organizers of the rally said that while they do not expect security to be a concern en route, finding enough petrol for the motorcycles and jeeps will likely pose a problem for the team.

“One of the biggest problems we expect to face is finding enough petrol, namely unleaded petrol for all the bikes and jeeps,” organizer Mihalis Kalogeropoulos said.

According to Kalogeropoulos, the most strenuous parts of the journey will most likely be the trek through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and enduring the high altitudes through China.

“The motorcyclists will be given a short time to relax when we place the bikes on the Trans-Siberia train to Moscow for the return journey, but other than that it will be an extremely tiring journey.”

Organizers said it took two years to prepare for the journey and to finalize the selection of 51 participants which include doctors, architects, engineers, teachers, a financial banker and an olive tree farmer from Switzerland.

“All the participants had to pass a series of interviews as well as undergo a number of psychological and physical tests including camping and kayaking to see how well each individual could cope in a group setting,” Kalogeropoulos said.

None of the participants, who vary in age from 35 to 60, knew each other prior to the trip.

During another olive-tree rally through northern Africa in 2003, Morocco and Algeria temporarily opened their borders to allow the bikers to pass, nicknaming them “the terrorists of peace.”

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