Prague, 19 July 2017, fourth day of the Mongol Rally and our second in the capital of the Czech Republic – one of a handful places along our way which we have selected for a day of rest and sightseeing. Having strolled down Charles Bridge, we are now walking along the western bank of the Vltava, in the residential quarters of Staré Město (Old City). Fifteen years ago, Marco and I had been walking down these very same streets and alleyways on our first school trip outside Italy. In reminiscing about that trip, we are reminded of our teacher of history and philosophy who had accompanied us and who, with his charisma and subtle sense of humour, had left such a big mark on both of us.

As we are lost in these thoughts, time goes by and we’re forced to speed up in order to reach Ziktovy Sady, a leafy park in Nové Město (New City) overlooking the eastern bank of the Vltava. There, we are about to meet with Roman Garba.

I first met Roman at a conference on the archaeology of South Arabia in London last year. A Czech in his mid-forties (I guess), Roman has many business cards, and just as many lives: a telecommunications consultant who started work on trans-oceanic cargo ships, he fell in love with archaeology during his many business trips and holidays. During an extended period of residence in Oman, he developed an interest for triliths – Iron Age sites consisting of alignments of standing stones – and began to study them at the University of Leicester, where he is currently writing up a Masters dissertation on this subject. Another of Roman’s lives, and perhaps the one that best defines him, as he readily suggests, is that of the adventurer.

Roman has done it all, visiting over one hundred countries – many of them repeatedly. The last time I had seen him, in Oxford earlier this year, he had just returned from a trip in West Africa which had seen him drive, hitch-hike, and bus-ride from Gambia to Morocco via Senegal and Mauretania.

None of the 25 countries that we are visiting on our drive across Europe and Asia is unknown to Roman: he has seen them all. I suspect he may have some valuable advice for us and many an interesting story to tell, and have brought along our maps and my travel diary to make sure I won’t miss any of it.

We find Roman lying on the grass of Ziktovy Sady. He’s just come back from a hiking trip on the Czech mountains with his son, something of a preparation for yet more adventurous hiking across the passes of the Georgian Caucasus which the two will undertake this coming August. As we walk toward the Vltava waterfront, Roman’s clear blue eyes beam of anticipation at the thought of this impending trip.

The river, at this point, is a buzzing hub of moored bateaux which have been converted into open-air bars. In comparison with Staré Město, which is packed with tourists, only locals may be seen here – enjoying a chilled beer in the evening sunlight. Roman leads us up the platform to the deck of one of the bar-boats and encourages us to try the blackberry beer, a specialty offered only at this particular venue.

As we sip this purple-coloured drink with a pleasantly sweet aftertaste, our conversation turns to China and, particularly, Kashgar – the first Chinese city on our itinerary and an important centre in the Muslim-majority Xinjiang region of western China. Of over 200 teams participating to the 2017 Mongol Rally, our team HerodotusExpress is one of only two who will attempt to cross China this summer, and we are eager to learn more about a part of our route that so few ralliers are set to cover.

A famed stop along the Silk Route, Kashgar was visited by Marco Polo at the time of Qublai Khan, Genghis Khan’s grandson. Roman’s memories of Kashgar are dominated by its architecture, where the encounter of Islamic and Chinese art has produced particularly bizarre cases of hybridisation, with some buildings reminiscent, in his own words, of Gaudì’s Barcelona.

As the sun sets behind the Castle of Prague, we are retracing our steps back from China and on to the Caucasus. Roman’s suggestions concentrate, this time, on Georgia, which he has already visited three times. To my surprise, Roman does not recommend any Medieval Georgian monasteries – several of which we will visit on our way. Rather, he urges us to stop at Chiatura, a miners’ town located about 200 km west of the capital Tblisi.

The city sprang up in the early-twentieth century to exploit the manganese mines located at the top of the forbidding mountains of this region. In order to establish a transport system that would take workers from their homes in the valley to their workplace at the top of the mountains, Stalin’s engineers created a dense network of cable cars, most of which are still operational. Although adding Chiatura to our itinerary means for us a detour of 150 km – which, in our 30-year-old Fiat Panda, equates to nearly three hours of driving – the bizarre thought of a town whose skies are clouded by hundreds of cable cars is too appealing to pass up: Marco and I readily agree that we will visit it.

With the evening drawing to an end, we prepare to part ways with Roman the telecom engineer, travel agent and archaeologist. As for Roman the adventurer, I wouldn’t be so sure: we may well encounter him once again along our way, be it in Georgia, Iran, China, or somewhere else in a distant corner of this planet Earth, which, like him, we will never tire of exploring.