The road to recovery…tarmac and the economy.

The roads changed dramatically and with immediate effect as soon as we passed over the border into Italy. While a continuation of the same piece of tarmac it was hard now to avoid a variety of potholes, sunken drains and bumpy repairs. Given the thinking time a bike ride then allows you it made me start thinking about the places we have travelled and what the roadside view can tell us of the local economy.

In terms of GDP listings for 2013 it is the USA that comes out on top; Japan is third and they would both certainly fair well in the tarmac states too. Nepal (105) had fallen down bridges, often based on bribes for poor workmanship. India (10th) faired well unless taking local shortcuts and roads were great through France (5th) and then we crossed the border( Italy, 9th)

It is of course not so simple to say a good road equals a good economy but we know and can see from Africa that a lack of basic infrastructure means an economy that is very slow to grow. While the big multi nationals can find a away to make this work if it’s worthwhile ( I think particularly here of Coca-Cola and their ability to get soft drinks/water to the most remote villages) it is this lack of transport links that is one reason why product all stays local and export/import is much more difficult.

Without doubt our worst roads to date have been around Napoli. In addition to the many potholes and drains we have also been dodging litter from uncollected waste. We have seen more broken glass in this short section of our ride than the rest of our trip put together. Lawlessness and a real attitude of not caring or being unable to do anything to fix problems in this area only adds to a country struggling economically. As we made our way on the cobbled streets towards Pompeii I couldn’t help but think of the great Roman roads of time gone by.

Ironically our best road to date was in Sudan (71). Mile after mile of fresh, smooth tarmac. It was of course also one of the poorer areas we travelled through yet here comes China, 2nd on the gdp list…for it is they who made this investment.

Aside from potholes I am also interested in entrepreneurialism given my previous work in this field. We don’t see many street stalls randomly placed in the UK. Inevitably you would need permission, a license and entrepreneurial spirit and a sense of get up and go. To some degree we have made it both too easy and too hard for people. In India, Africa and Italy we cycled past numerous stalls selling fruit and vegetables, see pop up stalls of souvenirs, cleaning products, sunglasses etc. In Africa supplies even came to us on local scooters or donkey carts. In the UK this is harder to find. It’s also why things like The Big Issue are great ideas. Entrepreneurial activity isn’t just about money. It says much more than that.

Of course this is all just a way of words to some degree – you can find correlation if you’re looking for it. that said, given we still have countries to ride through that fall much further down the list I rather selfishly hope they too may have had a little tarmac investment. Cambodia is at 119…..

…… suspension please!