LAUSANNE — "We struck off, heading for the horizon with a fever we thought could be cured by accumulating kilometers. But it just riled us up even more. Still, moving quenches something. It eases our melancholy at not having done anything with our lives, at having been born too early and having failed at everything. We weren't gamblers, we missed the boarding time for pirate ships, we never met up in Sherwood Forest. What's left? Motorbikes, my friend."
So begins writer-adventurer Sylvain Tesson's new book, En avant, calme et fou (Forward, Calm and Foolish), published by Editions Albin Michel. The book recounts a quarter century worth of road trips, illustrated with photos from his companion, photographer Thomas Goisque. The travel buddies rolled through India, Russia, Mongolia, Siberia, Finland, China, Serbia, central and southeast Asia, Bhutan, Chile, Nepal, and Madagascar. And on Nov. 5, the Travel Channel aired a documentary about one of their motorized misadventures on a Royal Enfield, the legendary Indian motorcycle, on frozen Lake Khövsgöl Nuur by the Mongolian border.
The Paris-born Tesson has made a career out of road tripping and earned a fair amount of attention because of it. But he's not the only jaded city slicker drawn these days by the call of the open road. While some people are content to just while away the days in a resort hotel, where the only wandering consists of going from your room to the pool or buffet, others dream of clearing out and tearing up the road. For them, what matters is the trip, not the destination. It's about losing yourself to rediscover yourself, like Jack Kerouac or Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider.
In fact, a survey done by the Rent-A-Car company found that among European drivers, 20% cited "a road trip with friends' as the the most meaningful travel experiences of their lives. It shouldn't come as a surprise, therefore, that travel businesses are starting to take notice, with options designed to sate that special kind of open-road wanderlust.
Motorbike trip in the Himalayas — Photo: lensmatter
Take Vintage Rides, for example. The company offers motorcycle trips in Asia — on a Royal Enfield, of course! The website describes nearly a dozen different options, including a 7 to 15-day motorbike tour in the Himalayas. "The operative words? Adventure, attraction and liberty," it reads. "During your trip, you'll ride through the roof of the world to the Nanda Devi, up 7816 meters. What a view!"
Another company — Sensations du Monde (Sensations of the World) — offers "a trip on the mother road," on America's famous Route 66. "Take your turn on the long asphalt ribbons, burning under the sun and stretching towards the horizon, crossing the empty spread of cracked red earth, service stations, old cars, cacti, and motels," the tour operator explains.
Then there's the website Van It, which David used last August to rent a fully-equipped Volkswagen van for a road trip through the center of Spain with his two teenage children. "The goal was to stop at the edge of a body of water — a lake or natural reservoir, something I vaguely located on Google Earth before leaving," the divorced father explains. "But we did a lot of wandering, using backroads rather than big highways, which standardize the landscape too much, giving it a tunnel effect. At each stage, we drove for hours on dirt roads looking for the perfect place to stop. A road trip is full of infinite possibilities, and that becomes pretty dizzying."
We create a path, in the joy of the unforeseen, looking to escape traceability, far from what society imposes on us.
Another road tripper, Paul, recently returned from a week of wandering in Greece. He surprised his fiancée with two tickets to Athens — and with a rental car waiting for them at the airport and no schedule. "We crossed the Peloponnesian Islands, with the music low, stopping randomly at sites whenever we found them on Lonely Planet: Epidaurus, Monemvasia, Hydra in the rain, Mystra from the terrace of a tavern because we were lazy that day," he explains. "And everywhere we went, we were alone. I'd like to say that we took pleasure in losing ourselves, but with GPS, we never really lose ourselves anywhere."
For sociologist Rémy Oudhgiri, author of Petit éloge de la fuite hors du monde (Eulogy for Escaping the World) (Ed. Arléa), the revival of road trips represents an update on Guy Debord's drift theory, which advises people to randomly wander through cities to "invent" their lives. "Today, 67% of Europeans say they have felt the need to escape their daily life. Road trips are just one of many possible escapes," Oudhgiri argues.
"We create a path, in the joy of the unforeseen, searching for places that escape traceability, far from what society imposes on us," he adds. "Walking is also a type of road trip, as well as a contemporary phenomenon. With the ecological problems, there's a new urgency to go independently discover the world as we know it, before it degrades."
On the road again — Photo: Tim Trad
Filmmaker Andy Collet touches on some of these themes in his new documentary In Gora, which follows a band of riders crossing 6,000 km and 13 countries in a remodeled school bus. In Calabria, another recent documentary, Pierre-François Sauter follows two undertakers who go by hearse to repatriate a body from Lausanne to Calabria. A very human portrait, much of the film takes place in the intimate confines of the passenger's compartment.
It's a controlled escape from leisure.
From Thelma and Louise to Little Miss Sunshine, the cinema world has long been fascinated with this theme of the road as something that encourages revelation or change. In the real world, though, many neo-adventurers don't actually seem to like losing themselves. Instead they plan every night in advance, according to Oudhgiri. "It's a controlled escape from leisure. They recreate conventions to escape the boredom of having already seen everything," he says. "Real wandering means not knowing where you're going to land."
As if to illustrate Oudhgiri's point, two months ago, in Scotland, the first Instagram travel agency in the world opened. Its aim? To offer road trips to travelers based on the photos they've liked on Instagram. There's nothing like everyone rediscovering themselves in the same photogenic spots.
It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.
PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.
Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.
Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.
Share capital of one billion
The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).
The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.
Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.
While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.
The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down
Raising Initial Coin Offering
Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.
For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."
What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".
Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.
Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.
Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.
- Crypto Tipping Point: Is Digital Currency Too Big To Fail ... ›
- Bitcoin, Petro, Libra ... Why Cryptocurrency Isn't Really Currency ... ›
- Inside The Himalayan Hideaway Of Chinese Bitcoin Mines ... ›