Roberto Merchán after returning to Ardales. / A. JIMÉNEZ

A hero's welcome for the man who cycled home from Thailand

Roberto Merchán returned to Ardales after a 33,000-kilometre journey that took him over five years to complete

A. JIMÉNEZ / I. LILLO ARDALES.

Roberto Merchán's long journey from Thailand on his bike finally came to an end on Saturday, 5 November as he arrived in his home village of Ardales.

The 35-year-old man completed the 33,000-kilometre trip on his bicycle from the east Asian country. It took him five years and two months to finish, having got under way on 11 September 2017.

Merchán announced his return to his home village on his Instagram page, and the locals quickly got to work to make his arrival as special as possible, which ultimately went beyond his expectations.

On the day of his return, he was accompanied by local cyclists from the outskirts of Ardales all the way to the main square. Upon his arrival, and with the local band playing the theme tune from Rocky while hundreds showed their support, Merchán got off his bike, which he had named Carmela, and simply said: "My goodness, I didn't expect this."

After his arrival, Merchán was presented with a flag of Ardales by local councillors. "I didn't expect this reception at all," he said. "When I started this trip, what was clear to me was that I wanted to finish it in Ardales, with this bike or another."

A lengthy voyage

Merchán's love for travelling began when he was a boy. "In the summer we would go north for a month and we always visited many places, I think that's where it started," said Merchán's father, Antonio.

As he began backpacking in 2016, Merchán decided to buy a one way ticket to Thailand. "I thought it was going to be three months, but it took me a while," he joked. The 35-year-old, tired of backpacking, decided that the best mode of transport was a bicycle. And so his journey began.

Working whenever, wherever and however he could, Merchán managed to visit a range of countries, from Thailand, to Tibet, to India, Iran or the 'Stans' (Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, etc). "I learned from each country, but every time I entered a new one I reset my expectations and started again so as not to compare them".

After spending some time in Ardales, Roberto Merchán will go to work in Switzerland as "whatever" he can find in December before deciding what his next big adventure will be. For now it's a choice between cycling around the whole of the African continent or going from northern Alaska down to Tierra del Fuego, in southern Argentina.