Pirates of the Danube

What would you do if you could do anything? Jamie Bowlby-Whiting asked himself the same question and decided he wanted to be … a pirate

What would you do if you could do anything in life? Literally, anything. I’m talking about no job, no commitments, no restrictions – just you and the whole world in front of you.

While working as a glorified babysitter in Istanbul – my incorrect job title was that of an english teacher – large class sizes and a difficult work environment meant that I wasn’t having the positive effect on the world that I hoped for. So I started thinking: what would I do if I could do anything?

First I thought of cycling, of sleeping outside, of foraging for food. Everything I had read on the internet suggested long-distance cycling was expensive, and I had very little money. Throwing all caution to the wind, I quit my job anyway, and with two great friends, bought £30 bicycles and cycled 1,000 miles from England to Slovakia. We slept outside, we foraged for food (both in the wild and in bins) and had a wonderful time.

Despite everyone saying these sorts of journeys were impossible, my cycling adventure showed me that this wasn’t the case.

“What would I do now if I could do anything?” I asked myself again. “I would be a pirate,” I decided.

Not the pillaging kind, of course, but the dream of living on the water and moving freely through the world seemed appealing. I would be a friendly pirate.

“As we rolled the raft into the water, we had no idea if it would float, but when it did, we leapt aboard and jumped for joy”

Finding ourselves close to the Danube river, we were in a perfect location to start such an adventure. We were lucky enough to be gifted eight large metal barrels, access to old billboards and several metres of plastic billboard covering. All of these materials were waste materials, soon to be discarded. Rather than letting them be wasted, we assembled them into a three- by five-metre raft with sleeping quarters.

As we rolled the raft into the water, we had no idea if it would float, but when it did, we leapt aboard and jumped for joy. My pirate adventure was really happening.

For 15 days and 170 miles we were ‘The Pirates of the Danube’. We enjoyed sunshine as we cruised down the river, continued to forage for food and cooked over an open fire each night. Every evening involved no more than stars and burning embers. A simple life, as it should be.

Entering Budapest, we were arrested by the water police, but even they could not hide their pleasure at seeing our creation. As they made us disassemble our raft, they awkwardly apologised, feeling guilty for stopping something so harmless.

We were disappointed at first, but quickly made peace with the abrupt ending of our trip, because we realised that for over two weeks we had lived out a dream. We gave the wood to a lady who wanted it to heat her house over winter, we gave the plastic to someone who was building a gazebo in their garden, and we gave the barrels to a man who recycled them for scrap. Thus our recycled raft was recycled once more, leaving no trace of our journey.

This – one of the best experiences of my life – only happened because I chose not to listen to what is, and what isn’t, possible. I chased a dream that people told me couldn’t happen. And it worked.

What would you do if you could do anything?

Positive Travel is edited by Aaron Millar. He writes about adventure travel and personal development through exploring the world, at The Blue Dot Perspective.