Trapped by Coronavirus: The Day Motorcycle Travel Came to a Sudden Stop
Coronavirus forced our world into lockdown. Millions flew home, stockpiled on toilet roll and hunkered down to see out the pandemic. But it’s not that easy for motorcycle travellers. Some managed to ship their bikes out in time, others had to leave them and fly out… and the rest stayed behind. Most are trapped inside closed borders, a few want to leave but can’t, one caught COVID-19 and the rest are just trying to make the best of a tough situation. Here are their stories, why they’re still on the road and what their new plans are…
6th May 2020
My wife and I set out to travel around the world to experience all of its hidden treasures, different cultures and to help find our way in this world while getting lost at the same time. We quit our jobs and sold all of our possessions to find out if it would be the worst decision – or the best decision – we had ever made.
Marisa and I often take small breaks throughout our journey. We spent a month in Colima, Mexico and another month by Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. Of course, there are more restrictions now than we have had in the past. We now have a 6pm curfew – something I haven’t had since I was 16 years old. But we are allowed to ride to the small shops to get food and some fresh air.
We rented a small house that only cost us around £100 a month, so we got lucky as far as finding cheap accommodation, but we have yet to find out how all of our paperwork checks out when we try to renew our temporary import. We are hoping that it all goes smoothly, but are wary because the borders may be looking for reasons to make an extra buck or two.
We’re a couple from Kenya who left home back in 2018 to fulfill our dream of travelling the world on motorcycles. Being the first people from Kenya to ride round-the-world is really important to us too because we get to tell the great story of Kenya and promote our incredible country as we travel.
Coronavirus put a complete halt on our travels. All the borders around Nicaragua are closed and we can’t leave the country. While it is possible to move within the country, we have chosen not to as we have a part to play in managing the spread. Travelling around will only expose us and Nicaraguan citizens. Staying put is our way of being responsible to ourselves and the country that is hosting us.
This decision has obviously increased the cost of living. We can’t camp anymore as it wouldn’t be comfortable for long periods and so we have to pay for proper accommodation. That comes with increased food costs and other home necessities that we never had a budget for. We also have to pay for visas, bike insurance and temporary import renewals monthly. Food is easily available but we’re far from open markets and have to shop from a supermarket, which makes it a little more expensive than when we were travelling.
We have had to cancel our trip. Shipping the bikes home so that it will be easier to fly out when airlines resume flying has been the biggest challenge.
Check out Wamuyu and Dos’ awesome article on Mad or Nomad: The First Africans to Ride Round-the-World.
Just a Journey
I’ve always wanted to travel and am so lucky to be able to do it without any time constraints. I used to travel with a very tight budget, but I’m now in a privileged position as I can work remotely as a web analyst. I started in 2017 on a bicycle, got tired after one year of pedalling and switched to a motorbike. It was quite a challenge as I had never even ridden a scooter before. So, I went back home to Poland, got a driver’s licence and bought a bike. Six months later and I left to ride through Europe to Southeast Asia. I met Roman in Iran and moved into his van. Since then my travelling has become a mix of biking and van-life in-between.
We were in Cambodia and planning on crossing the border to Laos when the coronavirus situation got serious. As soon as we realised that the borders might close at any moment we dashed into Thailand. We didn’t want to get stuck in Cambodia. Their healthcare system is non-existent and you can’t trust the officials. Thailand is way more developed and politeness and respect is a major value in Thailand, which became really important considering xenophobic acts in some other countries.
Before the provinces closed down, we managed to extend our visa and get to Koh Chang Island where we are currently. It was a great choice. As soon as we arrived the borders closed, the provinces shut down shortly after and then the island was off-limits too. There are restrictions on some services like massages, pubs, alcohol and going out after 10pm, but that doesn’t really affect us. People are kind here and wearing masks while shopping is a pretty good trade-off for being stuck on Paradise Beach.
I am just a girl (singing in the voice of Gwen Stefani) and the first Belorussian woman to travel solo around the world on a motorcycle. I started in August 2018 without knowing how far I’d be able to go, what to expect, how to get money or even how to organise everything. And now I’ve been on the road for 620 days and after exploring 22 countries and an awesome ride through Patagonia I am stuck in Argentina. Nevertheless, starting my journey was by far the best decision of my life.
I was planning to send my motorcycle back to Europe, fly there, visit parts of Africa and return home at the end of May. But before I did that, my German friend, Patrick, and I wanted to take a quick look at Iguazu Falls… we ended up getting stuck there for almost three weeks! And we didn’t even see the waterfalls because Argentina closed all the National Parks on the day we arrived.
It was only by the help of our embassies and a little miracle that we managed to get back to Buenos Aires on April 4. Patrick flew home and I stayed in strict lockdown (I’m only allowed to go to the shop and pharmacy).
Argentina announced that there would be no commercial flights until September and I can’t ship my motorcycle out either. I’m not allowed to ride anywhere or even walk outside. I’ve had to look for a job online because I’m running of money by just sitting around and doing nothing. There are only 8 Belarusians here, so we are hoping that some other national repatriation board can take us.
I’ve given an Argentinian friend of mine power of attorney so he can send my motorcycle to me if I can ever catch a flight out of here.
I was 62 years old when I left London six years ago. I have a wife and three grown up children. I used to work for the Automobile Association and have a fairly decent pension to travel on. My travels have been inspired by the books I’ve read, especially Ted Simon, Sam Manicom and Graham Field. I was also inspired by Ewan and Charley. I’m mainly travelling simply because I want to see the world and find out about other peoples’ lives.
I’m completely locked down in Lucknow, Northern India. I’m fortunate because I met a local rider who found me a quiet hostel in which to stay. I get breakfast and evening meal for less than £10 per day. But I’m not allowed to go outside on my own. The fear is that I’ll be arrested by the police because the lockdown is very strict. There’s no chance of moving anywhere else because of it.
But thankfully I have internet so I can keep in touch with the world and also catch up on my blog. I have plenty of books to read too. But I want to get back on the road ASAP, of course.
I’m Heather Sinclair, I’m originally American but have been living in the UK for the past 5 years. In 2018 I did a 10-month, 22,000-mile motorcycle journey across Asia from Indonesia back to the UK (where I met Andy and Alissa from Mad or Nomad at the top of a pass in Kyrgyzstan!). The travel bug had well and truly bitten me and so I spent the next year and a half saving money from my IT job and preparing my bike for my next trip overland across Africa to Cape Town.
The timing of the pandemic meant that my trip was affected almost immediately. I was in Sorrento, Italy waiting on a Grimaldi RoRo boat that would take me and my motorcycle to Israel when the outbreak started in the northern part of the country. Consequently, my boat was cancelled when Israel banned entry of any vessels arriving directly from Italy. With few other options to get myself to East Africa (and most of them very expensive) I changed my plans entirely to head to Cape town instead via West Africa. I considered worst case scenarios like a few countries closing borders, but never thought that most of the world would enter a lockdown.
I backtracked through Italy via a series of ferries to Spain and then to Morocco where I met up with a friend and fellow overlander. Life was normal in Morocco and the tourist industry was encouraging tourists not to cancel their trips, so it was quite a surprise to everyone when Morocco suddenly closed its borders and entered a complete lockdown.
The lockdown was quite strict. Inter-region travel is strictly forbidden, there’s a night-time curfew and you need a stamped permit to go outside. Only one permit was given per household. Since I was staying with my friend Pavel and his bike was actually working, (mine started to burn an alarming amount of oil when we were out exploring the deserts the day before lockdown) we decided that he would get the permit. That meant I wasn’t able to leave the house for the first three weeks until we managed to convince the authorities to give us a second permit. By then the police stopped enforcing most of the measures in our village so I can at least go on walks around the area now.
Another unfortunate consequence of the lockdown is that the mail service has ground to a halt and my parts for rebuilding my engine have been stuck somewhere in morocco for the past month.
Brit on a Bike
I’m Jack, I’m 22, and am riding a Royal Enfield Himalayan around the world and hoping to break the world record for being the youngest person to do so. Leaving on July 11th 2019, my trip has taken me through Europe, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, China, Southeast Asia and Australia before flying on to South America from Sydney in January 2020. I headed south through Chile to Patagonia before dropping into Argentina and swinging north up the legendary Ruta 40 to Bolivia. Arriving in La Paz to a rumour that borders were about to close, I got a shift on and entered Peru asap, where I have been stuck since March 16th.
Quite simply, the whole situation with the military plane put me in the mindset of going home and, after having the time that day to think through all the pros and cons, I realised that it was the wrong decision. I had turned down the first offer of repatriation from the UK Embassy on March 29th, so why was I suddenly bailing out now? Realising that I was making the decision based on pressure from friends, family and military/intelligence contacts out here, rather than what felt right with me, I reverted to my original call and decided to stay. This meant staying whilst the Ambassador and Foreign Office Crisis Team flew back, as well as turning down a last-minute flight from Cusco to Lima to connect with the German plane on April 19th.
Like with anything in life, there is no reward without a bit of risk. The reward here is the opportunity to see South America without tourists, given that international air travel will likely be shut for a while. As a young lad with nothing really forcing me back to the UK, a few months of lockdown here as opposed to home makes zero difference. I have a good airbnb with an outdoor terrace overlooking Cusco, the ability to leave to buy cheap food and, more importantly, alcohol, as well as strong WiFi to get on with personal admin. I’m aiming to nab the world record for the youngest person to ride round-the-world, if I were to leave now that would be out the window as this was my one year to crack out a RTW trip before finding a job. Just hoping the gamble pays off!
After a sabbatical break of six months back in 2013 (which turned into a six-month trip around South America on our motorbike – a 650 GS at the time), we decided that we wanted more for our lives than comfortable jobs that gave us enough money to travel but hardly any time to do it… So, in 2015 we quit our jobs and have been travelling the world on our motorbike ever since. We left from Portugal with the aim of slowly reaching Vladivostok. Which we did last year. After Vladivostok we went to Japan and South Korea and then shipped our bike to Southeast Asia.
We first heard about the coronavirus in January while we were in Cambodia, but most countries still had their borders open. We had already been in Laos for almost two months when the country decided to close down its borders after registering its first COVID-19 cases. The government imposed a lockdown from 1st April until 4th May. This meant that all international borders were shut, provincial borders were limited to essential travel only and a 9pm curfew was enforced from mid-April.
We’re glad that we can still go for walks and bicycle rides everyday. Even though Luang Prabang looks deserted, there is still some freedom of movement as long as gatherings are avoided. Using mouth masks is compulsory, most hotels and restaurants are shutdown, but the markets are full of vegetables and goods and restaurants still provide takeaways.
The officials have also allowed everyone with a tourist visa to have them extended for as long as the lockdown lasts. In that sense we’re happy how laid-back Lao is, which has turned a complicated bureaucracy into a simple thing. But while everything’s fine with our visas, no one is able to tell us what to do with our bike’s temporary import permit… We hope they’ll be understanding when it comes time to leave.
I’m Roxy, I’m a 24-year-old girl and originally from Poland but have lived in Scotland for the last 8 years. When I’m not travelling I work as a Software Developer. I first started travelling on my bike around Europe and now it’s turned into riding around the world. Every day on the road is an adventure from the people I meet, roads I’ve ridden and places I’ve seen. I started my trip in July 2019 riding through Europe, Asia and ended up in Australia where coronavirus has paused my trip. Next I’m planning to go to North and South America.
I think I probably ended up in one of the best places in the world. I was only planning to stop in Esperance for a couple of days before continuing East towards Melbourne. But that’s when things started getting worse in Australia and the decision to close state borders was made.
I decided to stay in Esperance because even if I couldn’t cross the state at least I could do a lot of riding here because Western Australia is so huge, right? But then they said that any non-essential travel between the regions within the state has also been banned… so I got stuck in one place.
But there is no lockdown here as such. I’m still allowed to go out shopping, go for a ride, walk, go to the beach and for a swim – as long as I don’t go outside the region and maintain “social distancing”.
I should also mention that there has not been a single COVID-19 case in Esperance! (there were very few cases in the Goldfields-Esperance region, but none in the town).
I spend my time riding around the area, swimming in crystal clear waters, snorkelling and body boarding. If you ask me, I don’t have much to complain about!
Far and Further
I went on my first overland trip in 2017/2018 when the rat race in London caught up with me and my girlfriend. We sold what we had, packed what was left, bought a car (we didn’t want to ride two-up and she didn’t want to ride a bike) and drove to India and back. A lot changed when we returned and we broke up. We were both infected with the travel bug and stationary life began to feel incredibly mundane. So, I came up with a plan to become a digital nomad and to try and circumnavigate Africa. I left home Feb 2020 on my Yamaha Tenere and now here I am – stuck in Morocco.
I didn’t really have a plan for the African trip, but the little I had planned has changed completely. I wanted to test the Tenere before heading across Africa on a smaller trip, return home, resupply and start riding south.
I rode to Morocco to meet with Chris Scott, he planned a project for big twins to ride across the Sahara – that didn’t happen. I was supposed to ride back through Albania. I started a small NGO to help with reforestation of Lurë NP and to plant 2,000 trees. Albania is on complete lockdown and so that’s not happening now either.
While all of my plans were being thrown to the wind, Morocco went into lockdown. I met up with Heather who was also escaping COVID-19 lockdowns in Europe and we sprinted from the Sahara to the Moroccan coast in an attempt to find a good spot to wait it out.
Lockdown in Morocco has two sides. On one side we have to show a form at police checkpoints when we go shopping, provincial travel is prohibited, there’s a 5pm curfew, masks are compulsory and most of the shops and services are closed. But on the other hand, it didn’t take long for the Wednesday souks to open!
I was once a corporate litigator in Sydney, Australia. I was a kid from the bush who worked hard, got an education, got a profession and good job, and was utterly miserable. So I bought a KTM 690 Enduro R and left town. I’ve been riding ever since. For more than three years now, I’ve been a homeless person with a motorcycle, a machete and a mounting obsession with jungle trails. I used to tell people I was riding to Paris but that’s not really the point. I’ll go wherever the trails take me, and hopefully, I’ll see the whole world on my way to Paris.
Almost overnight, borders in Southeast Asia slammed shut. Whereas I used to gaily carouse from country to country on my motorcycle, one 30-day visa at a time, I suddenly found myself faced with a lockdown of indeterminate duration.
When you’re homeless, the notion of being locked down at home quickly becomes problematic. I needed a roof over my head, food in my belly and somewhere I could safely go into cockroach mode to wait it out. So I booked one of the last flights into northern Thailand. Here I have friends, I’m safe, and I’m waiting for life to resume.
Chiang Mai has been in lockdown lite mode. All the bars, barbers and brothels were closed; you couldn’t congregate, or enter a store without a mask, or buy alcohol for a month. Villages barricaded their roads with concrete and steel roadblocks to prevent outsiders from entering. National parks closed, roadblocks and a nightly curfew meant no more road rides along the twisties to Mae Hong Son.
It’s been nearly a month since the last COVID-19 case was identified in Chiang Mai province. The choking smoke and heat of the Burning Season has finally broken and rain has brought coolness and fresh air. We wait.
Memoirs of a Motorcyclist
My names James and I’m from the UK. I love motorcycles and after a couple of solo trips around Europe I decided I wanted to go further. With that decision I saved up, planned a route, quit work and started my RTW trip. The objective for my trip is to ride round-the-world by motorcycle with as little to no flying if possible. My route so far has been across Europe, Central Asia, China, Nepal, India, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and back into Thailand. From here I plan to ride down into Malaysia, Indonesia and then find a way to get across to Australia by sea if possible. After that I plan to go be sea to North America and ride all the Americas before returning home via a cruise form New York to the UK.
The short version is I’ve got to stay longer in Thailand than I planned and I’m restricted on movement. The first way in which my trip was affected was that I couldn’t go into Vietnam. The day that I went to apply for the visa was the day Vietnam stopped issuing visas to European passport holders.
As Vietnam was off the cards I headed straight back into Thailand, rushed to extend the Thai visa and obtain the Australian work visa. I got both of those and headed towards Malaysia. I thought I should extend the Thai visa in case Malaysia closed its borders before I got there. If that happened then at least I’d be allowed to stay in Thailand until May 9th. I’m glad I did as it was only a few days later while on my way to Malaysia that the border shut. With the Malaysian, Indonesian and Australian borders closed I have no choice other than to stay here in Thailand if I want to continue my trip.
The biggest obstacles I’ve faced due to the virus are health insurance and the Carnet. The company I’m with won’t extend my Carnet which I need to get into Malaysia and Australia – the only option I’ve got is to get a very expensive new one.
Esta es mi Vuelta
I’m a 30-year-old Colombian dude who always dreamed about going around the world in a motorcycle. It’s not easy for a Colombian guy living in the Colombian economy to do this, so it was a challenge. I saved up and started the once in a lifetime journey. And each month I didn’t know how I was going to survive the next one. But the dream kept me going. I’ve managed to make it through 20 countries and now, one-year and three months later, COVID-19 has trapped me in between India, China, and Thailand in one of the trickiest countries in the world to get into: Myanmar.
In this country you can’t ride your motorcycle unless you pay a guide. Each day costs 95 USD. So, I had to leave my motorcycle at the Myanmar Border (600 miles away) and make my way through Myanmar by bus.
I´ve been in lockdown here for over two months now, spending all my money and not being able to go out or even see my motorcycle. It’s a beautiful country, its cheap to eat but the hotel bills are mounting. Plus, some (not all) people don’t let you in their restaurants or even sell you food because they think you have the virus.
Mad or Nomad
Hey, we’re Andy and Alissa. We sold everything, packed one too many bags on our old bike and left home on 1st January 2018 to ride round-the-world. Since then, we’ve broken down more times than we can count, got lost in Mongolia, blew all our money living in Japan for six months, thought about becoming nomadic horse herders in Kyrgyzstan (turns out we suck at riding horses), destroyed our bike in Afghanistan, had a ride from hell through Siberia and Alissa broke her leg in Nepal April last year. So we flew home for 8 months while Alissa learned to walk again and continued our trip January 2020. We’ve come to expect the unexpected by now… but we never expected this.
We feel really lucky because we have no end date for our trip. That means that the coronavirus has only affected us by keeping us in one place. Yeah, there’s a curfew, everything’s closed, borders are shut, it’s a £2,000 fine if you get caught outside without a mask and I keep losing mine, and there’s also a ban on buying alcohol (for the love of God, why?!), but other than that we’re not hugely affected.
We have a place to stay and can wait this out in relative ease, even though we’re confined to the village we’re in.
The biggest problem is that Alissa had a motorcycle crash in Nepal last year and her ankle has been playing up recently. She had an MRI scan here in Thailand about two months ago and the surgeon said she’ll need to have a piece of metal removed. We had planned on flying home to do that soon, but it’ll now have to wait.