What if… I get stopped by corrupt policemen?

So you have done your research, read the blogs, the forums in Horizons unlimited and ADV Rider. You may even have read my blog. And there you go, the “dodgy “ policeman.

 While preparing my first overland  trip around South America, back in 2005, these kinds of stories with the police were stressing me out.

 By my estimate I have ridden a good 70,000 to 80,000 miles abroad. That includes a year exploring South America, many long trips around Europe, Russia, Central Asia, Vietnam, USA… and soon to come Africa. And let’s not forget I also lived a year and a half in Brazil (Rio) where we had motorbikes.

 I have met many cops and militaries on the road. I have been stopped many times. And I have stopped myself often enough too, near Uniforms, to find my way round, a hotel, a place, a road, ask about safety in the region…

Here are few entertaining anecdotes about some of these encounters, or scroll to the end for my suggestions:

In Colombia, while we were trying to get to a remote archaeological site, we were stopped by the police in a small village. The mountain road had been washed out by landslides and rivers of muds. It was too dangerous on two wheels because of said rivers of mud washing light vehicles down the mountain. After some discussions, it was agreed they would keep our motorbikes while we went to that site on a bus. One Cop volunteered his house, so the bikes would be safe overnight. After a flight of stair, one Beemer (BMW f650GS) was left in a bedroom between 2 beds, the other one in a corridor between the kitchen and the bathroom.

Then while we waited for the bus, we were entertained by  the police’s Chief with coffee and stories about the FARC. He took us out to show the hills from where the FARC were shooting at them. After seeing the bullet holes behind me,  I suggested we finish our coffee inside!

IMGP0697 They even stopped the bus and started searching it so we wouldn’t miss it! The next day we came back and picked up the bikes. We bought cakes for the guys and gave a football t-shirt to the house owner Cop! We decided, with Alistair, not to give any cash, as I am very uneasy about handing cash to someone in uniform.

In Russia, trying to find the trail to Astrakhan, we found a village. Asking the cops for directions, my Russian was too limited to understand all. So they got on their car and drove for miles on end until they told us by gesture to carry on into a main track. I wrote about this in the Post: Where is the Road.

In a Russian town (Nalchik) , trying to find a place to spend the night, with parking for the bikes, I stopped by some cops. One of them explained to me where to find one, and with my limited Russian I still understood when he added to do a U-turn at the following read light. As otherwise, he added with an apologising smile,  I would ride over a solid white line and he would have to fine me.

In Uzbekistan, the guys would stop us mainly out of boredom and to check out our bikes, but they were also helpful.

In Colombia one Uniform stopped me and asked me (pointing at my motorcycle suit) why I was wearing an astronaut costume!

Many times, the cops were just doing their job. In slightly less safe places, like Colombia or Uzbekistan, checking for ID, registering our passage, that sort of thing.

 We did have a couple of weird encounters though. I let you judge.

 The first time we went to Kyrgyzstan, while riding to a small remote border with Kazakhstan, we came across a police check point. Only two guys. The fat chief would not move from his car, eating sunflower seeds that he cracked open with his teeth, barely stopping to breath, while his compere was doing the work. That is when I decided I did not speak any Russian. What he was trying to tell us was that we were not allowed to take Kyrgyz money out of the country and we had to give any left to them. Hmm… sure. We played dumb and stupid. That usually works fine. After a while, saying in English that we had no idea and no money, I looked for some of my British coins, in in my tank bag: a brought out a pound, with portrait of the queen. It seemed to do the trick as they were happy to see the Queen, and let us go.

 In Peru, like in Kyrgyzstan, we were stopped for speeding. In both case, we had no clue whether It was true or not. Road signs are rare. In Peru it was in a nice stretch of road, in the middle of the desert, way far from any village. We were probably cruising at 60 or 65mph. In Kyrgyzstan, we had passed a town. We accelerated, going about 65 or 70 km/h, but maybe we should have stayed within 50km/h. Hard to tell with lack of road signs!

In both cases we did not deny or get angry.  In Peru, as I speak Spanish, I spoke with the guys. They wanted 100 USD or something like that. I told them that we did not have that cash and that we could not go back to the previous town to get any, as the cash point had not worked with our cards (small lie there). We suggested they keep our driving licences and we would come back, once we got money somewhere. After a long lecture about the dangers of speed, they gave us back our licences and let us go.

 In Kyrgyzstan, it cost us a bit. I wrote about this in the Post: The road to Osh. But in summary: the fat chief in his car (why is the chief always fat and sitting in his car?) told us it would be $100 and we would need to go back to the previous town and go to the bank to pay the fine. I had no problem with that. But how lucky we were, if we paid there and then to them, it would be $50. He said we could pay by card.  So the guy got a credit card payment machine. I knew what would happen… Alistair tried with a credit card, then another. None worked.

As I was  the only one speaking some Russian, I was the one talking to them. I told them we did not have $50 with us in cash. I had discreetly removed cash from my day purse. I only left about 6 or 8 USD equivalent in local currency.  As the second card failed, I handed my purse, saying take it all. He took 600 Soms (if I recall –  about $8) and let us go. After that we rode very slowly. In Kyrgyz the cops are famed for fining foreigners for speeding. It is unthinkable a real fine would cost $50 or $100. The locals probably don’t make that in a month! We got to the hotel in Osh, were we met, in the hotel’s carpark, a  group of polish riders, they had been fined 50USD each for speeding!

 So here are few suggestions if you get stopped by Uniforms on the road and they want to get some of your cash:

 1.       Smile and be friendly, we always are, no one likes an *rsehole.

2.       If you break the law, like overtaking where it is plainly forbidden, go over a solid line, speed or anything else, and get caught: the Cops are doing their jobs. The fact you are abroad does not mean you can disregard the rules. Denying it is silly. Especially if they get the gun-speed to show it (as they had for us in Kyrgyz). Too many travellers feel entitled to ignore local rules. However, if they ask payment in cash, see rule 3.

3.       Have a dummy wallet with a bit of local money in it, say about 10 to 20 USD equivalent, no more.

4.       Do not flash cash ever! Make it clear you have credit cards and you only carry little cash.

5.       Take your time when they stop you. You have all the time in the world, why hurry, have a chat

6.       Slow down while riding! Don’t give them any reason to  stop you.

 In the end, don’t worry too much  about “corrupt cops”. In all our trips, we only had one encounter where they were plainly trying to get cash out of us for no reason other than they could. And we gave them nothing (well, a pound coin). And if you get caught doing something wrong and they want payment in cash, see rule 3, 4 and 5.

 The vast majority of times, the Uniforms (military or police) have been doing their job and been often helpful. If they stop you, don’t assume immediately the worse. 99% of the time, they are just bored, want to have a look at the bikes and have a chat with you about your travels. So smile when you open your helmet! (see Rule 1). After all, you are living  the Dream!



what if… your bike is stolen?

First of all, let me give you  an update on our preparations. I have agreed with the shipping company to deliver the bikes to them on the 9th of April. A bit of preparation to do first on them but we should be fine by then.

The CRF250 (Alistair’s bike) is currently in Somerset in the trusted hand of Gabriel (Zen Overland) getting a luggage frame built for the soft panniers.

I have ordered the Carnets (kind of passport for the bikes, required in south Africa). The carnets’ price are based on the value of the bikes and allow for a temporary import of the bikes into SA.

I had my vaccinations checked, this is extremely important, and had  a jab for Typhoid. I am up to date with everything else, and, apparently, I will never need another rabies booster again ever. Covered for life! Although, rabies might be the least of my worries if I were bitten or scratched by a lion!

I also bought a large supply of Doxycycline as anti-malaria.

So, let me start the “What if” series with the bike being stolen. People who start preparing an overland motorcycle trip can worry about pretty much anything. I know that prior to my first overland trip, one year around South America with my ghastly BMW, I certainly did.


Well, as it happens, I have a bit of experience there. Five month into our trip around south America, we stopped in the sleepy little town of Imbituba, Brazil. The place was empty of tourists as it was out of season, sometime in October, and middle of the winter (southern hemisphere). The weather was cold, it was raining and we wanted a nice place to rest. I had been having quite  a lot of problems already with my bike, further north, with the battery dying repeatedly, and various other issues. We found that little Pousada, the price was correct. We rode the bikes into the compound, parked them in a shed, away from the rain and from prying eyes in the street. We put the steering locks but they were not chained. The shed had no doors.

 The town is famous for surfing, during  the high season, and for whale watching. This is a big nursery area for Southern Right Whales so you can see many females with their babies.

So we took a boat and went to see them, the next day. It was well worth it.


 The next morning, Alistair went for a wander and woke me up. He asked me “Did you move your bike?”. AS it was 7am and nothing would ever get me out of bed before at least 8am, unless work (!), fat chance of that happening. We walked to the shed. My bike was gone. For few minutes my brain went into “can’t compute” mode. The bike was there last night. Should be there. Why is it no there? Is the bike defying the laws of physics and vanished? I had to eventually admit that the bike was gone. Stolen.

 We found the owner of the Pousada and with a mix of English, Spanish and Portuguese managed to communicate. He took us to the police station. The following few days were the worse of our trip. I won’t go onto all the details. After the police station we went to a bakery for food and coffee and to decide what to do next. I am in charge of the communications.

So I contacted the motorcycle communities through a motorcycle  travel website. The response the following few days was insane and amazing. I had motorcycle clubs as far as Ciudad del Este (at the border with Paraguay – notorious place for smuggling) watching the border in the lookout for my bike. People emailing me from all over Brazil, apologizing for the theft happening in their country,  and offering help, accommodation, advise ….

We also contacted the local newspapers. The thinking behind that was to put pressure on the police to do something. The next day our photo was on the front page of the local paper.

 Meanwhile we started looking into what to do to continue our trip. I had set on this adventure to motorcycle around South America for a year, and I had no intention to let a little toe rag destroy the trip of a lifetime! To cut a long story short, the police eventually found my bike, 300km south, and arrested the thief that had stolen it (he was well known to them) and he went to jail. According to the local police, the thief had probably targeted and followed us,  and waited for the right time to steal the bike.

 Now I make a confession: at the back of my bike was a very sturdy chain. We did not use it on the day when the bike was stolen. We could have fallen into the blame game with Alistair. Kind of “Why didn’t you chain the bikes together?” – “Well why didn’t YOU?” etc… Except that we don’t function like that. What was done was done. We had to come with a  solution and work as a team. This is important. Stuff will happen in a trip like this. If  you are traveling with someone, unless you work as a team when faced with big problems,  your partnership will not last.

And we learnt our lesson. We always chain the bikes together. If you carry a chain, use it!

 Motorcycle travellers getting their bike stolen during their trip is still a very rare event, you have more chance of getting your bike stolen from your house if you live in Greater London. But if you are concerned, make it that bit harder for the opportunists: use a sturdy good quality chain, and try, when possible to get the bike in a secured parking. Our bikes have often been guarded by very scary looking dogs, up some stairs in front of the hotel receptionist, in many hotels’ lobbies, police officer’s bedroom, military compound etc… Ask around and you will be surprised.

But should this happen, don’t despair. Put things into perspective. It could be worse. Really, it could!

Imagine if a loved one or yourself was diagnosed with terminal cancer or some terminal illness? Now, how does your bike being stolen fare vs that fact? Pretty low, right?

 The simple fact is, unless big health problem or death, all problems on the road are down to time and money. If you are on the road, you should have plenty of time… and make sure you have contingency money!




Do you carry a stove?

I often get asked if we cook our own food, on the road, and what we take with us.

These days we go minimalist.  We like to travel light. The more stuff we carry, the more weigh on the bikes and the harder they handle on the trails.

We have perfected, based on many trips, what we really need, which is surprisingly little.

We carry few spare parts, those that would stop us on our track, like clutch cables, puncture repair kit, levers, inner tube, and few maintenance stuff like oil filter and spark plugs. Anything else, we can get on the road. Sure, we won’t be able to find it in the next village but in major towns or, last solution, shipped from Europe.

The camping gear is essential. You never know how long it will take to get from A to B, whether you will make it (hard trails, weather conditions, break down, getting lost…) so being able to camp is important. In Mongolia, we had  a long stretch of nothingness where we just used to pitch the tent in the vast emptiness. However, once you leave the western world, accommodation is so cheap that, we usually try to make it to a village or town and get a room.

It is the same thing with food. For long trips we carry a fuel stove. To be fair we only use it for boiling water. Pot noodles, sardines and bread tend to be good options to survive on the wild, with a combination of fruits like apples, and nuts. Chocolate bars tend to melt in the heat. Alistair always carry biscuits and sweets. As for carrying bananas, we made that mistake once only! Anything soft will pretty much disintegrate on corrugation or tough trails.  Finding banana everywhere in my top box, with no access to water, was not nice!


However, whenever possible, we eat out. If we stay somewhere, we will always find a place for  a coffee, juice, and something to eat for breakfast. Then at lunch, we can graze on nuts and biscuits, on the road. For dinner, we can always find something. Worse come to worse we have been dining sometimes on crisps and bread. Wherever there are people, we will find food. And water.

Usually food is very cheap, so eating for a couple of dollars is fine. You have to be pragmatic and eat whatever you can find. On travels like these, it is not about gourmet food but food as fuel.

I have met many travellers who set off on their trips and camp wild all the time and cook all their food. It can definitely cut costs, if you are on a very tight budget. However, I find this very amusing when said travellers are on a 10 or 15,000$ machine with kit worth another few grands! They certainly look the part, I have to be fair here, with their shiny aluminium panniers and beautiful top of the range suits and helmets and all the survivor kit!  Next to them we usually look like cheap tramps!


In Kazakhstan, where the police is famous for stopping travellers to “fine” them, the cops would come to our level, on a long stretched of road, in their car, drive next to us to have a good look and move on. They probably felt sorry for us and did not bother us, on our cheap looking bikes and our mud caked soft panniers.

So we travel on cheap bikes and with little kit, but we don’t really camp all the way unless we have to or the price of accommodation is too expensive.

So, in summary, I carry on my bike a roll bag with the camping gear, and some maps. Then some spare parts and the tools to work on the bikes. Total luggage weigh on my bike is about 12kg. I also have a tank bag for water, maps, nuts, and few bits like toilet paper, camera…

We also always end up carrying a bottle of engine oil. Our bikes have a tough life and, once again, we learnt that lesson the hard way, having had an engine blow up and die in the middle of nowhere is Uzbekistan, back in 2014! Checking oil level and topping up is primordial.

Otherwise this could happen:

And then you need a new engine!

Then, in Alistair’s soft panniers, come the waterproofs and warm layers. We do not travel with Gore-Tex motorcycle suits, as we would die of heat exhaustion in most places. Breathable textile suits with plenty of venting zips are my favourites. In some places (Russia or Patagonia) the weather can go from hot summer day to freezing in a couple of hours. We do carry very little clothes, some cheap and some expensive. The expensive ones include a base layer like Merino wool, a thin but good quality down jacket (it packs tiny), merino wool socks. On the cheap side we found that outdoor trousers and T-shirts from Decathlon are super cheap but super-efficient. Indeed  they wash and dry in a nanosecond. They also pack very small and are very light. As we carry few clothes only, we need clothes that can wash and dry overnight! We usually wash our clothes ourselves as we go along, in hotels bathroom sink.

Other than motorcycle boots we have each a pair of trainers and flip flops. Flip flops are really essential in shared bathrooms or campsites.

In term of ‘electronics” we carry a phone and one iPad between the 2 of us. With wifi everywhere these days, they are enough.

Anything else we may need, we can buy on the way. Wherever there are people we can buy stuff. So why overload?

food on the road, Turkey:

 Food on the road, Georgia:

Market in Samarkand, Uzbekistan:


That’s not an adventure bike!

The choice of bike is a never ending topic of discussion, in the motorcycle travellers forums.

You have people asking which bike to choose, some firmly insisting that you cannot possibly go anywhere without a behemoth like the  KTM ADV 1290cc or BMW ADV 1200cc…. those bikes weigh 230kg dry… once you add fluids, luggage frame and metal panniers you get up to 250?

I have met many non-bikers people who think the ideal machine to travel must be a Harley Davidson. Hmm… try doing 1000s of miles on dirt roads, corrugation, through rivers, deep mud or sand, on a Harley.

So the answer to the never ending question “Which bike?” is… it depends! What are you going to do with the bike? Where are you going?

My choice of adventure bike is the humble Yamaha XT250. Yes, it is a 250cc engine. On the V5 it says it weighs 108kg. I think in reality it is about 130kg with fluids (fuel and oil).

How could I possibly travel is such a tiny puny machine? Surely it would disintegrate and die after the 1st river crossing?

There are two reasons for my choice.

The first reason is that the bike is incredibly light, tough and simple to repair. It is so tough, that the 2 bad crashes I had with it, I came off badly but the bike had nothing. I came off once riding a very muddy trail. Under the mud were bricks. My helmet’s camera holder disintegrated under the shock, my shoulder pretty much did too, leading to few trips to the hospital and 2 years of physio and other therapies. My  XT? Nothing.

In Kyrgyzstan, I got attacked by cows. Well, sort off. There are no fences in central Asia, animals roam free. I was cruising along, a rabid dog came out of nowhere, spreading panic through a pack (?) of cows. Who knew cows could run that fast? They charged toward me. I hit one, once again falling badly on tarmac. Same shoulder. It did hurt a lot. The bike? Nothing. Through the trip it needed nothing. Few adjustments, as everything comes loose on bad roads, through the vibrations, but nothing much other than wear and tear.

My second, and major reason, is that I can go through pretty much anything on such light bike. I am not talking only about gravel or sandy trails. I am talking big rocks, rivers with unknown surface under the water, deep mud, mounds of rubble, goat tracks, incredibly steep tracks (up and down) … The GPS tends to take us sometimes through some very exotic “roads”. I could not do that with a big heavy bike. With my small bike I can go anywhere. With my heavy BMW, there were places we could not go as it would have been impossible with them.

So the choice for everyone is the following:

1-      Take a big bike, heavy and comfortable, carrying all the Mods Cons, but restrict where you can go, and miss out on some amazing, but hard to get, places. 90% of the time, that bike will be perfect;

2-      Take a small and light bike, that may not be as comfortable or fast, travel light, in no so much comfort for 90% of the time, but use the 10% where you have no limitation where you can ride.

For our 1st long overland trip, in South America, we chose 1. Now we prefer choice 2.

If you are going around Europe, Turkey, North America or even South America, and you are going to stick to tarmac and main highways, anything will do. Even a Harley! God help you if you break down in the middle of nowhere in south America, though!

I broke down everywhere around south America with my dreadful BMW. Finding a BMW motorcycle dealer was near impossible. Bolivia? None. Argentina? In Buenos Aires only. Chile? In Santiago only. Colombia? Only in Bogota or Medellin. And be prepared to pay mega bucks for the pleasure. Repairing the BMW required getting the computer software for that. Guess what? Only BMW Motorrad will have that. Fancy trucking your bike for thousands of miles? I have met many people who had to end their trip and truck their expensive, fancy motorbikes, from central Asia, back home, as there was no way to repair their precious bikes in the ‘Stans.

And if you think we are mad of riding half way round the world on such small bikes, have a thought about these guys!

We met these 2 in the mountains in Mongolia.

We have met many cyclists, over the years, travelling the length of the Americas, from Prudhoe Bay to Ushuaia, or the length of Eurasia, from Dublin / London / Paris to Shanghai. Cycling through the ‘Stans requires “balls of steel” (If you forgive me the expression!): never ending very though deserts, mountains passes beyond 4,500m, extremely sparse population… Central Asia will throw everything at you and the kitchen sink!

Would you take the challenge?


should I go?

Many themes keep coming back in the motorcycle travel forums.

One of the things that seems to worry people is, coming back after travelling for a long period of time. How to find another job? How to quit work and maybe a successful ( if unfulfilling ) career? How to resume your life at the end of the trip?

Each traveller I have met (and I have met many!) is different and has different circumstances.  I can only talk for me in this subject.

The first time I decided to go travelling for a year, around South America, risigning was a tough decision to make.

It had been so hard for me to build some sort of career. I went through years of minimum salary temp. jobs in France, after university, unable to get a permanent job. In France, unless you know someone and are part of some Business school and its network, it is extremely hard. Youth unemployment was, and is still, huge.

Then, I moved to London, finally landing a permanent job, in a big company.  Through hard work and very long hours, studying and going through a lot of grief at work, I made my way from the bottom of the ladder to a decent wage… yes, resigning was hard. Would I find a job again? Ever? Would I get the opportunity to even resume a career I had spent over 10 years building?

It was scary. I hated my job, but I still needed to work after my trip.

I took the plunge, and Alistair with me. After a year around South America with the bikes, we came back home.

We found jobs, quickly and at the same level than when we left. Since then, we have come and go many times. We now both work as contractors, giving us much flexibility for our trips.

My CV has more holes than a Swiss cheese, and yet, I seem to be very much in demand, in my industry. At least for now.

What most overlanders will have is a sense of purpose, independence, problem solving skills, the hability not to panic when the SHTF… all qualities that are in demand. No boss wants to worry about their staff. Turn up on time, do the job well done with minimum fuss, don’t made demands, be nice to everyone and at all times, even the one you would love to punch in the face… That big gap in your CV should not be a problem.

My first overland trip changed me. I learnt a lot. It made me confident enough to apply for jobs I would have thought beyond “my level”….

Do you come back to your previous life? Not really. You may appear to… but everything will be different.

For me, the only way to keep my sanity at work these days, is to plan the next trip!

The hardest part of any first long trip is not the trip itself and its challenges. No, the hardest part is making the decision to go, making that leap unto the unknown, plunging way beyond your comfort zone. That is the very hard part.

As one guy, who had never done anything or gone anywhere, told me angrily, “anyone can do it”!  Indeed, anyone can travel overland by motorbike, yet, very few chose to. Why? Because that leap of faith, that jump into the unknown, is too hard for most to comtemplate. However, without risks, there are no rewards.

Can you jump?



We have our tickets

I plan to terminate my contract at the end of March. Alistair will be done by then too. The beauty of being contractors!

We bought our planes tickets for Cape Town. Departure the 28th of May. That’s it! No way back.

I have confirmed the shipping for the bikes. I am shipping with Moto Freight. They come recommended by other travellers, and Roddy, my Moto Freight contact, has been really helpful, answering all my questions and more! So the bikes have to be delivered to him no later than 16th of April, preferably earlier.

I will arrange for the Carnet ( the bikes’ passport) to be delivered at that time, so I can give them to Roddy. He can then send those to the freight company dealing with the Port authorities and Customs, in Cape Town. Still some paper work to sort out but my time frame is fine.

We have about 2 months to get the bikes ready, including a bespoke frame built for the CRF.
Gabriel, from Zen Overland, will do the luggage frame and fit a 5 litres fuel canister on it. Fuel might be a problem is some lightly populated sections, so we will need to carry some extra.

I have not looked at vaccinations yet, but most stuff should be up to date from our previous trips. I don’t think we need anything other than Typhoid.

For the anti-malarial tablets, I am not sure what to get. Malarone is good, no side effect on us, can be used to treat malaria, but extremely expensive. Each tablet is about 3 pounds! One a day! Argh!

I am not keen on taking Lariam (also known as Mefloquine) , because of the potential side effects. It comes with long lasting risks of hallucinations, psychosis, depression etc… So bad that even the US FDA issued warnings. So this one is a big no.

The mix Atavaquone/ Proguanil, made me very ill for few weeks, when I used it for one trip.

Then there is Doxycycline. I have used that one before with no side effects. But a lot of tablets to carry.

I will book the travel clinic and discuss the options with the nurse. Also I am not sure I can get 4 months of prescription drugs at once.

Few weeks ago, I contacted Johan, one of my south African former colleague and friend. We both contracted on and off at the same company. We worked in few big projects together. He moved back to Cape Town with his family, soon after the birth of their first daughter. I was asking him recommendations for accommodation with secured parking for the bikes. His quick answer was “ no if, no but, you are staying with us”. With his growing family (a toddler and a baby) I was not angling for an invite. Honest. They have enough to deal with the kids and jobs. But the offer is gratefully accepted.

It will be great to open my paper maps and get some input from him and Jo-Ann, they know this region of the world very well.

There is no greater pleasure in life than opening a map flat on a table, gathering around ( with few cold beers!) and getting (or giving!) tips, write on the maps, highlight the best roads, mountains, jungles, deserts and settlements in the most unlikely locations… dreaming about and anticipating all those places with mysterious names. I love my maps. Paper maps. I am going to be controversial here, but I care very little about GPS. It is useful in town when looking for a hotel, I will grant you that! But more than once, the stupid thing has taken us too many time through donkey trails and rivers, while there was a perfectly nice tarmac road a mile away!

As for the many farms’ tracks and disused roads it took us through, in Russia and Siberia, to this day we have no clue where we were! I presume, in one way, it does not matter much. When travelling, we are rarely going anywhere precise, so we always end up somewhere!

I think my love of maps started at 12, reading The Hobbit and then the Lord of the Rings. I loved to look at the map in these books, the details, the kingdoms, the mountains, the Moria, Mordor… ah yes I am “One of Those”! Many books with maps followed: SciFi, Fantasy, Mystery, Adventure, Classics (Jule Vernes!) anything…. I was not fussy, world maps, Fantasy maps, any map.. so full of possibilities, so full of stories…

When I was a student, playing “Dungeons and Dragons” with my friends, I always volunteered to draw the maps!

Yes, I am “One of Those” too! From Nerd to Motorcycle traveller, it was not such a big step!

( this was the birthday card I got from Alistair! I love it! )



Aren’t you scared?

Aren’t you scared? Isn’t XYZ country (take your pick) dangerous?  These questions keep coming when I talk about my motorcycle plans.

My answers are always the same: Colombia / Brazil / Russia / Kyrgyzstan and so on,  are safe. We avoid troubled places. Depending on the country / Town it is easy to know which regions / places to avoid. I would not go faffing around Dagestan, one of the Russian republics, for example; Or some parts of Colombia, or wander into an “unpacified” favela in Rio.

Our personal safety is my top priority. The safety of the bikes comes second!

I do a lot of research. Often, the best info is on the road. The police and military will be around. Especially in more volatile regions. Who best to ask? In Colombia they gave us good advice, in Central Asia, while making our way to Andijan (eastern Uzbekistan), the heavy police and military presence was enough of a hint to avoid wandering too far off the hotel in the dark.

Common sense applies at all times. We have lived in big cities, and we know there are places, even in London, Paris or Rio, where you do not go, ever; places you avoid at night.  The same applies when you travel. So far we never got into trouble with any mugger or gangs.


For Africa, I must admit, something had been worrying me for a while. So I had to ask a specialist.

Let’s introduce Sandy. I met her at Motorcycle Mechanics evening classes, back in 2005. She was planning to ride from London back home, to Cape Town, while I was in the early planning of our 1 year around south America. She did ride back home the following year, through the middle East, Egypt, Sudan etc… all the way to South Africa. Then, in Cape Town, she created a motorcycle tour company. She knows the region very well, and as a biker, she understands the risks. So I sent her a message. I am a bit concerned about wildlife. I certainly do not want  to be eaten by a lion!

You see, we often end up travelling across very remote roads, and on the bikes, we are “out there”, very vulnerable. Namibia is very sparsely populated, so my question is not that daft. The answer came fast. Lions in Namibia are very wild, but she never saw any while riding there. She gave me valuable advice: avoid wild camping, stay in campsites as much as possible. If wild camping, have a fire going all night. Do not walk at night in remote places, do not go for a swim, unless someone who knows what s/he is doing tells us it is safe (crocodiles and all that!).

So, reassured, of sort. The bit about not camping wild is tricky. We are always at the mercy of a mechanic problem. I suppose, in such case, we could hide the broken down bike and ride 2 up on the other. We did that once, in Kyrgyzstan, when Alistair’s bike died. We hid it in a ditch and came back the following morning.

So I guess we will have to wing it and improvise. My plans are vague. I know by now, that the day we get on the bikes, my plans will last about 24 hours, before we have to make changes!

“Wildlife” encounters in Kazakhstan were a little less intimidating!Aren’t you scared?