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 had to think deeply about where we wanted to get ‘stuck’. There are a couple of African countries where I would prefer not to be landlocked. Uganda seemed to have a handle on pandemics, with Ebola having a huge impact on daily life in the not so distant past. We are originally from Chicago, Illinois, and that didn’t seem like the best place to avoid a virus that spreads like wildfire. Our parents agreed and we settled in for the unforeseen future while the world heals.
There were originally more than ten people staying at the same hostel as us. That’s whittled down to four over the last month. But we are happy where we are with good friends and plenty to keep us occupied… for now.
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.
We were in Panama when the Coronavirus started and many thousands of miles from home. Our plan for this year was to ride up to Alaska. We were in Costa Rica when it started to get out of hand and so we looked for the best country to be in for visas and that was Mexico.
We started our mad dash north. We needed visas for Honduras and Guatemala and estimated a week in Nicaragua and another week to Mexico. But unfortunately the borders closed for all nationals two days after we entered Nicaragua. We were only left with flying out to Mexico and couldn’t leave our bikes behind because of processing the bike imports and the cost of flying them was ridiculous. This left us with nowhere to go and we had to settle on staying and shipping the bikes back home.
We have come to terms with ending the trip and going home to observe the post COVID-19 travel dynamics. Family and friends worry about us but the airspace over Kenya has also closed. We are still hoping to send the bikes home as it will make our return easier when airlines resume. We feel safer here than being in airports and on planes where it would be too difficult to social distance.
It’s difficult to plan with the world on lockdown. Our priority right now is to have the bikes shipped home. If we can get them on a boat back home, then it would be easy for us to fly back. But as we can’t ship them yet, we’re stuck.
We’ve heard that airlines have pushed re-opening until June. Borders also remain closed so we can’t leave to any other country. That means we have to stay in Nicaragua until there are flights to Kenya.
We are keeping safe indoors and taking care of our mental status by talking to family and friends. It’s not easy but we’re fortunate to have each other. There are other travellers out there on their own and we imagine it’s much harder for them.
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.
Honestly, going home was never an option for us. I can see no benefit to being back in Poland. Our government is horrible and has placed insane restrictions like closing forests. The healthcare system isn’t effective and that’s even before coronavirus. A beach hut here is cheaper than renting any flat in Warsaw.
The only reason I’d go back to Europe is to meet my friends and family, which is not possible now anyway. There aren’t that many corona cases in Thailand anymore (there have been no recorded cases in our province) and we have good health insurance just in case.
If I have to be stuck in one place, then I want to be outdoors at least… and a beach seems to be a good option!
We’re planning on staying put until the situation is stable and the borders reopen. The visas are now automatically extended until July 30 2020, so we don’t have to worry about that anymore and we can extend our temporary imports via post.
We were talking about moving within Thailand, but honestly, it’s hard to find a better place. Depending on when we’re allowed to leave Thailand and what the weather is like, we’ll either go to Laos or Malaysia next.
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 have passed through all stages of adopting the inevitable. I was shocked at the beginning, I cried a little bit, was angry and shouted, looked for any possible way out, sat and stared at maps in depression… and now I’m just accepting and understanding that I can’t fight against these circumstances and a pandemic.
So, I’ve put my big trip on pause and will continue and finish it the proper way when it becomes possible again. Until then, I’d love to go home and stay with my family… but that’s now just a dream.
The best plan is no plan! That’s used to be one of favourite mottos – but not anymore. Now I believe that we all need to think a lot more and make decisions based on simple things like safety, stability and economics instead of purely relying on our powerful adventurous spirits.
I’ve received quotations for shipping my motorcycle and sending it by air. The prices start at 3,000USD. So, it’s better to leave it in a safe place and hope that my friend can send it when the prices return to normal (or at least half normal).
It’s very difficult for me because my motorcycle is my closest partner and we’ve been together for five years almost every day. Breaking apart will make me suffer a lot. I’m just going to have to wait for any repatriation flights and hope there’s some possibility of getting home.
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 glad I’m in India rather than the UK because it’s much safer here. The idiots running the UK government have created a very dangerous situation. My family are happy that I’m here. I wouldn’t be able to see them anyway because of physical distancing rules.
I’m happy to stay here until the restrictions ease and then head for Mumbai. I want to put my bike on a ship back to the UK because there’s a six-month limit on keeping a foreign vehicle here. No good to me as I want to tour around for a couple of years. My plan is to buy a Royal Enfield Himalayan, which I’ll be able to use without restriction. When I’ve finished in India, I’ll either sell it or ride it back to the UK.
I had planned to go back to the UK for a visit but I don’t think that’s practical now. Firstly, because when flights resume they will be very expensive. Secondly, the UK has handled COVID-19 so badly there’s every chance India wouldn’t allow me back in again. So I’ll stay here for now and do a home visit later in the year. My visa situation is OK for the time being, so that’s one less thing to worry about.
I’ll stay where I am until I’m allowed to move. I’ll probably buy a new bike here in Lucknow and prepare it for onward travel. Once I’ve got my bike down to Mumbai and on a ship, I’ll carry on with my journey. I hope to get to Ladakh, Nepal, etc. But Christmas back in the UK will be something to look forward to at the end of this year.
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.
Because Morocco closed its borders without any notice, tens of thousands of tourists ended up getting stuck here. I declined the repatriation flights because I had given up my job and my flat for this trip and as an immigrant, I don’t even have family back in the UK to stay with. I wasn’t ready to give up on the hope of the trip, so if I was going to have to wait it out it was cheaper to wait it out here in Morocco.
As the lockdown has been extended to May 20, it means I’m now in one of the longest and strictest lockdowns anywhere in the world. My hope is that once it’s lifted, I’ll have the freedom to travel within the country within short order. If that’s not looking likely, I may finally give up on waiting it out here and try to temporarily move to any country I can where I can both enter and be free as I’m not really interested in trading one lockdown for another.
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!
In all honesty, aside from the tedious delay, all COVID has buggered up is the amount of time I spent in Bolivia. If lockdown was to happen, I figured that I would rather be stuck in a tourist town in wealthy Peru than some backwater in poorer Bolivia. As it turned out, the border closed indefinitely the day after I crossed and the whole of South America shut down shortly after – lucky escape. I made it to Cusco at six o’clock on March 16th, with the nationwide lockdown commencing at midnight – talk about cutting it fine! Unwanted police attention, including the use of drones to look for people drinking or talking in groups, forced the closure of the large hostel I was staying at. A hundred odd people then moved to Airbnbs whilst waiting for repatriation flights, in scenes of absolute and hilarious chaos.
I stayed with a British group before they all boarded a repat flight on March 29th. Despite intense pressure from family and friends, I decided to stay, take a gamble, and roll the dice on things reopening. Moving to a solo Airbnb overlooking the city, I started coming down with COVID-19 symptoms that same day. Moral of the story? No matter how lovely she is, if she has a persistent cough, do not pursue! A UK Consulate contact who is here training Peruvian Special Forces set me up with a hazmat team swab test, which quickly came back positive on April 2nd. Therefore, I found myself alone and infected with a global respiratory pandemic at 3,500 metres altitude – excellent! From then on, I was completely quarantined in the Airbnb, with my contact dropping off food and terrified neighbours treating me like the Walking Dead whenever I showed my face at the window. If I left, I would be swiftly arrested.
After almost two weeks in solitary confinement, I got a call from the Embassy late on April 14th saying that the Peruvian Air Force was sending a C-130 transport aircraft to Cusco the next morning to evacuate all remaining tourists affected by COVID to Lima. Civilian airlines refused to fly anyone with a positive test so this was the only option to connect with the LAST British Airways repat flight that afternoon. Only £250 for a door to door return? It would have been ludicrous to pass that up. I was warned by my contact that the Health Ministry would overreact and they did not disappoint. Myself and an Australian biker mate were duly covered in head to toe PPE gear and loaded onto a fully kitted out ambulance with various others for a blue-light police escort to the airport. Once there, we were held onboard just outside the runway whilst the military plane landed. However, in a stunning turn of events, the pilot saw the ambulance full of PPE-clad westerners, decided that this wasn’t what he had signed up for, and swiftly f****d off into the air again! At this point, I turned to Ray the Aussie and said: “if we stay on this ambulance in this ridiculous clothing we don’t stand a chance – let’s get off and distance ourselves from the problem group”, of which some were still COVID positive.
We both shed our PPE and jumped off to assess the situation, with the ambulance returning to the problem hostel shortly afterwards. We waited the entire morning outside the runway gates, with the plane returning at one point under direct orders from the Minister of Defence in Lima. Rumours swirled among the different European consulate officials that they would do a rapid finger prick test to decide who could board, and who would be forced to stay. Finally, after hours of heated debate between the Health, Defence and Foreign Ministries, the whole effort was canned and the plane took off again for the last time. Bemused at the whole situation, Ray and I got into my contact’s truck and drove to his place for a beer whilst we found an Airbnb. By this point, Ray just wanted to get out of the country and boarded a bus to Lima a few days later which connected with a German flight to Frankfurt on April 19th, the last one before Peruvian airspace closed on the 22nd.
Since then, I’ve been holed up in the Airbnb by myself, the last Brit in Peru, waiting for the lockdown to end and things to calm down. After finishing my two-week quarantine, I got an immunity letter and am now allowed out for only three things: supermarket, bank or pharmacy. There is a curfew from 6pm-8am every day and nobody is allowed out on Sundays. Roads are completely shut down and use of personal vehicles is prohibited. My bike is in a locked storage room at the hostel and TIPs have all been extended by the government. Lockdown here is supposed to now end on May 10th but, given it has already been extended three times, I am not holding out much hope!
My plan now is to hunker down in this airbnb, keep my head down for the time being, and hope that things reopen gradually from May 10th. I doubt that the entire road network and inter-regional travel will open immediately, so I am mentally prepared for several more weeks of this. Perhaps the most crucial factor is the situation in neighbouring Ecuador and Colombia – if it remains dire then the borders are unlikely to reopen, leaving me stuck in Peru. Worst comes to worst and I am stuck in Cusco Province, I’ll go and spend a few weeks living in the Amazon Jungle! In terms of the record, I have until June 2021 to get back so hopefully that should be enough to get over the line!
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.
We ‘decided’ to stay in Laos when the border with Thailand shut down. Our original plan was to travel from Laos to Thailand and then onto Malaysia, where we hoped to leave our motorbike and go back home for a couple of months. Our embassy informed us of a few flights repatriating stranded Europeans back to Europe, but at the time we considered that it was quieter here than back home (a mix of Portugal and Luxembourg). And for that reason as well, we decided to stay. We also didn’t to risk going back to our parents’ homes, knowing that planes and airports are probably the most risky places to get the virus during these times.
Tomorrow the lockdown will be partially lifted, but international and provincial borders remain closed until at least 18th May. At that time we will have a better idea (will we?!) if Thailand and Malaysia will open their borders or not. If yes, we can keep our plan of riding to Malaysia. If not, we are considering leaving the motorbike here in Laos and trying to find a flight back to Europe. But that will also depend on available flights and open borders. If we decide to leave, we will have to go to the capital, Vientiane, to explain to our friends at customs that we can’t stay here forever waiting for the virus to disappear. We will try the most used Lao expression ‘Bo pen nyang’ (a kind of ‘that’s life’) and again hope that they’re understanding…
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!
At first I was hoping that things would go back to normal after a month or so and thought I’d just wait it out. I was probably in one of the best places in the world to be stuck and didn’t mind a short break here. Plus, I just paid a small fortune to ship my bike to Australia from Malaysia and if I was to fly back to the UK (whether on my own or with my bike) it would cost another big chunk of money.
Also as there hasn’t been a single virus case here in Esperance (and Australia is doing much better than Europe in general) it feels a lot safer to stay here.
As lockdowns continue well over a month later, I’m starting to face some issues. The biggest one is that my 12-month e-Visa only allows 3 months per entry and my 3 months are going to be up in a month’s time. That means I either need to fly out, leave my bike here, extend my carnet and come back after several months when borders reopen to foreigners (likely to remain closed for good few months) or fly out with my bike and miss out on most of Australia.
I’m currently in touch with my work (I’m on a long sabbatical leave) to see if I can go back to work for few months. If they say yes, then I may leave my bike in Australia, go back to work (in the UK) and continue my trip in few months’ time.
But Australia is slowly lifting some of the restrictions, so I’m also trying to find out if I can extend my visa in case travel between the states is going to be possible soon.
Nothing is certain at the moment. All I can do it wait and hope that things go back to normal soon!
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 decided to stay here in Morocco because after COVID-19 tampered with my plans, there is no reason to go back home.
I was in the Sahara when there were repatriation flights and I didn’t have a place to safely store my bike.
My digital nomad job makes this decision easier than it is for most travellers. I had to sort out my travel insurance which expired and because of COVID-19, most of the Czech insurance providers stopped selling new policies. Also, my green card isn’t valid for Morocco which means I need to buy short-term local insurance.
But I believe Morocco is a good place to get stuck. People are used to tourists, are friendly and there’s no coronavirus antagonism towards foreigners. My 90-day permit will expire by the end of the lockdown (if not extended), but hopefully extending my stay should just be a paperwork exercise.
My plan is to wait here until I can continue my journey down to South Africa. I can do this because I’m able to work while I’m waiting for the situation to improve, it would be a completely different situation if I had no income.
My biggest worry is not the border closure, but the security situation in sub-Saharan Africa and the attitude towards foreigners there. Corona has managed to put a stigma on the travellers and in some locations the fear of the virus spreading made travelling even more dangerous than it was before. If six months go by and I’m still in Morocco, I may have to find a different strategy…
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.
People ask me if I’ll go home. What home? It’s wherever my motorbike is parked. I hold Australian and New Zealand passports but I don’t have a home to go back to.
I’m all in on this trip. Southeast Asia has made space for me to live my life over the past 3 years. We are all in this together.
Pragmatically, flying back to Australia or NZ would consume the entirety of my resources, and my trip would be over. I wouldn’t be able to come back and resume it. And I’m worried about my motorbike – my love, and my only asset. The local temporary import paperwork is fine for 30 days, but it’s not designed for pandemics that strand you from month to month. I want to be here in Asia to get my bike across to the next country as soon as those borders open; I have no desire to test my luck with customs, and I’m jonesing to ride.
I am waiting in northern Thailand until the borders open up locally here in Southeast Asia, and tourist visas begin to be issued again. Then, I will get the first flight back to my bike, sort things with customs and hustle across the next border. If it’s still wet season, perhaps I’ll go road-riding in Thailand. If it’s already the dry season, then you’ll find me riding off-road in Laos and Cambodia until at least February 2021 – assuming my resources and luck hold out. After that, the plan is Thailand, Myanmar, India, Pakistan and Iran. But who really knows. We’ll see what becomes possible, and when.
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.
I really dislike flying. It’s not the flying itself, it’s just that I ‘m restricted to staying on the aircraft and can’t get off when I like. On a side note, if given the option to get off at 32,000 feet I wouldn’t take that either!
I also decided to stay because the cost of living in Thailand is less than in the UK. If I fly home I reckon there’s more chance that I’d catch and spread the virus. While I’m writing this, the UK had 4,800 new cases yesterday… Thailand had 3. And finally, flying my bike out and then back here as well as me getting back here without flying would be very expensive and incredibly complicated.
I’m going to stay on the road and try and get to Australia. Once in Australia I plan to work for a while to top-up and recover my extra spend during this lockdown time. Hopefully I’ll be able to continue soon and see you all on the road someday!
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.
I decided to stay on the road because I believe you have to fight for your dreams and not run away as soon as something scares you. It has been really hard for me to just let go of my dream that easily and return home.
Unfortunately, since I’ve now run out of money, I now have no choice but to return my home country. I’ll need to work and save up again to be able to continue.
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.
There was no benefit to flying home… we think. Even if we did fly back, we’d have nowhere to go. And we didn’t want to risk catching something on a flight and giving it to friends and family so couldn’t stay with them either.
We did initially consider leaving because Thailand was making life difficult with visas and temporary imports. But thankfully they’ve got a handle on that now and have given foreigners a blanket amnesty. Flights were extortionate and often cancelled without any notice and we don’t have the funds for that type of gambling. And let’s say we did get a super expensive flight, left our bike and found somewhere to stay… we’d literally just be doing the exact same thing at home, but spending ten times more and waiting for another flight back here to continue. Doesn’t make sense.
We gave up our old lives back home for a new one on the road. In a way, this is our home now and so we have to make the best of it where and when we can.
We’re staying put, keeping our heads down and playing the waiting game. When Malaysia opens its borders we’ll leave Thailand and make our way to Kuala Lumpur. Once/if the UK returns to some semblance of normality, we’ll leave the bike with a friend and catch a flight home so Alissa can have an operation on her leg to remove the metal plate. Once it’s fixed up again we’ll return to Malaysia and continue towards Australia and then onto Alaska! Well, that’s the plan anyway…
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