Living Your Dream

Our (so far) 50-country, six-continent, 130,000-mile world tour-on

Editor's Note: This magazine seems to be a bit of a traveling-biker magnet of late. Like moths to a flame, wayward motorcycle adventurers have somehow found their way to our doorstep over the last few years, eager to show us their photos, tell their stories--and possibly have such tales end up in the pages of the magazine.

First was Uwe Diemer, who chucked his life in Switzerland for a wild trip through Africa, South America and, finally, the United States. Uwe's "Touring the World on Five Liters a Day" piece appeared in our July 1997 issue. Then came Keith Kimber and Tania Brown, whose stories of their 18-year, two-up, world-tour odyssey aboard a CX500 Honda appeared in our April 1999 and 2001 issues. And then came Fernando Valsesia, a fun-loving Argentinean who appeared on our doorstep with the funkiest-looking ST1100 we'd ever seen--along with what turned out to be a wonderful, 100,000-mile, five-year world-tour story that appeared in our November 2000 issue.

So we weren't surprised when Rob (47) and Dafne (34) de Jong contacted us and asked to drop by to show us their photographic archive chronicling their recent tour around the globe--on a sidecar, no less. The couple left their Rotterdam, Netherlands, home four years ago with a heady desire to see the world. And see it they have, finishing their first full circle last November.

"There," I say, pointing my finger at the little-used dirt road. Dafne turns our sidecar around, deftly keeping the third wheel from dipping into a pothole. It's already late afternoon and we'll only have about an hour of daylight left to set up camp and cook dinner.

The views from the Denali Highway in Alaska are spectacular; Mount McKinley's white peak and snow-capped ranges can be seen on either side of the valley. Normally, we only camp in places invisible from the road. In Africa, we preferred a hot campfire to a flashlight or electrical light, for it attracts less attention. But here in Alaska we don't have to worry about that.

First we collect firewood, for temperatures will soon drop below freezing. Then we get our cameras out to be ready for the magnificent sunset that will surely come. The small canvas tent we bought in South Africa desperately needs service, though it's kept us warm, cool and, most importantly, dry for more than two years. I take our petrol stove out of our "kitchen" top-box and get water boiling for a warming cup of tea.

After all, the most important thing, being out here on the road, is to be able to turn left or right, when you feel like it. It's all about freedom, following your nose, living your dream.

"So, we're finally in Alaska," Dafne says. "Yep," I say, "we've come full circle now." We sit down and stare into the flames as we drink our tea and think about the day we left Holland, and all the fun, scary, crazy and interesting things that've happened since. A gentle breeze is cooling our backs while the fire makes our cheeks glow.

When the sun starts coloring the sky, we stand up and let our eyes go to the horizon. Somewhere to the southwest, over the ocean, are roads just waiting for us. From here we'll drive our sidecar through Japan, Siberia, Mongolia, around the world again.

Chile, December 1996.
As far as the eye reaches we can see sand, sand and more sand. There are mountains in the distance, but most of the time it's flat. The Atacama Desert is mindblowingly huge. It swallows you, even while you ride for days and days. "Does it ever stop?" we ask each other. Then, suddenly, a strange structure appears in front of us. "Uh oh," Dafne jokes, "the hand of the desert says stop!" Smiling, I take out my passport. We try to discover who made this sculpture and what its meaning is, but aside from some irritating graffiti, we come up empty handed.
Bolivia, March 1997.
The Andes Mountains bordering the Atacama Desert in South America is, to us, the most beautiful place on earth. The tarred roads are good, yet much of the area is unspoiled, and as you come out of the mountains you begin to feel the heat of the desert and to see snow-capped peaks in the distance. While whizzing down one particular road winding our way down into a valley, a car tried to keep us in sight, but soon had to let us go--too fast. We were stopped a few miles later by a policeman who'd been watching us from below. He was startled when Dafne, who was driving, took off her helmet. He said literally that, "we were using too much speed." Dafne just smiled and pointed to the speedometer, explaining in some kind of Spanish that our sidecar was capable of doing 240 kilometers per hour, but we were taking it slowly because we still had a long way to go. The cop grinned, touched his cap, and began writing out a ticket--for the driver of the car, whom he'd ordered to stop behind us.
Chile, December 1996.
We've had all kinds of strange things offered to us. Mostly animals, such as monkeys, sloths and sheep, but also windshield wipers and refrigerators. One man in Nicaragua asked us to take his six-month-old baby boy, and in the United States we were offered guns. This man has, hopefully, just slaughtered a small goat. He shelters it from the fierce sun in his little shack, where the other half of his goat hangs wrapped up to keep the flies away. As soon as the noise of an approaching vehicle reaches his ear he jumps up to display his wares.
Peru, April 1997.
In South America we often camped at gas stations, most of which are truck stops with showers and a small restaurant. A few memorable times, though, we camped on the beach. This particular spot was at Puerto Inca, only a few feet from the historic remains of an Inca port where food (mostly fish) was conserved in holes in the ground after ships had brought it in. Occasionally, an important message would arrive, which had to then be rushed to the rulers of the empire in Cuzco and Machu Picchu. To do this, the Incas had set up manned posts every four to five miles for the 150-mile stretch of road, along which runners would take the news within 24 hours.
Guinea, West Africa, March 1998.
The most criminal river crossing ever. The "ferry" had just been repaired after it had tipped over, losing a truck in the depths of the water. Three men were needed to make the "thing" move along the chain that ran across the water. One turned the handle, the second slammed the chain on the sprocket, while the third held a stick in the water to do some steering. We had to pay a criminal price, and (as this was the country where we were first arrested by Customs and later on had to deal with corrupt police who tried to confiscate our cameras) this picture is not one of happy memories.
Guinea Bissau, West Africa, February 1998.
In Africa, everything is transported "by back," "by head" or "by bicycle." In Malawi, wood sellers stack chopped branches ingeniously between four sticks mounted on the carrier racks of their bikes. The stacks are so big they reach over the riders' heads. They are also so heavy that many can't make it uphill and end up pushing. We saw quite a few lose control because of the load while whizzing downhill. We took numerous pictures of people moving along the road. Being motorcyclists, this one is our favorite.
Guinea, West Africa, March 1998.
In most of Africa, but surely also in Pakistan, India and Nepal, you meet people as soon as you touch the brakes of your bike. Even if you don't want to meet them, they'll be there; either sitting next to you, or opposite you, usually grinning because they don't speak your language. They won't leave because it's impolite to leave a guest alone, or because of curiosity, since it's not every day they get to see a mzungu (white man).In Siguiri, we decided to eat something in a small eatery--that is, once we made it through the mob that surrounded us. The whole street was soon blocked, cars hooting. We thought we were in trouble as we detected a police uniform in the distance, but we never expected he'd take out a whip and start beating around with it.
Mali, West Africa, April 1998.
In Mali, we were invited to visit a small rural village. We first had to see the chief, an elderly man with a wrinkled face dressed in a once-white T-shirt. He sat on a bench made of branches covered with goatskin. We were not allowed to speak to him directly; we found this out as the chief spoke to the next elderly in line, who repeated his words to someone younger in line and so on until the youngest was reached, who translated the words for us from tribal Banbarra into French. Before we left we were presented with a gift of the village and, as we knew it would be considered impolite to refuse it, we tied down the chicken on the rack on our sidecar to take back to Bamako, where the next day we had a tiny barbecue with some friends from Switzerland.
South Africa, August 1998;
Zimbabwe, Southern Africa, January 1999. In Tanzania, we'd heard there were hyenas around. Once, Dafne tried to jump over me through the small entrance of our tent, just as I was taking out my contact lenses; she'd heard a noise in the bush. We did find my lenses, but never saw the hyena (the only animal that we've been afraid of because of its lethal jaws and intrepid manner). We were warned of animals many times: kangaroos in Australia, bears in Canada, keas in New Zealand. Once we heard the coughing sound of a leopard near our tent at night in India. Another time a noise in the bush was a wandering cow. We also had a close encounter with a hippo; it dived under our boat while out on a fishing trip in Zimbabwe. But most of the time we enjoyed our meetings with nature, and sometimes, as with this elephant, even while sitting on the buddy seat of our Yammie.
Namibia, Southern Africa, December 1998.
Asking for directions becomes second nature to any world traveler, and is an important part of any world tour. In northern South America, where road signs are often nonexistent, folks will swing their arms into the air every time you ask them if it's this or that road you have to take. In India, they will shake their heads, not like we do, but from shoulder to shoulder, and say, "Me no English!" The metal box atop the sidecar was given to us in South Africa, as we would soon enter the rainy season and this way we could keep the luggage on top dry. The box was too big and too heavy, however, and in Kenya we made a poor family very happy with it.
Tanzania, East Africa, April 1999.
We'd always wanted to drive around Lake Victoria, though the roads off the beaten track in Tanzania are not so good, and become quite impassable during the rainy season. Too many times people had told us a particular road would be too bad for us, and too many times we'd passed without problems. This time was different, though. Mud was everywhere! Our Yammie pulled the sidecar through the muddy waterhole in the background, where the road was washed away. The trucks had been standing there for nearly a week already, and further uphill a bus was tied with ropes to a tree to keep it from sliding into the bush. We were the only ones that made it through that day, and, of course, the many helping hands wanted to be filled with money.
Malawi, East Africa, March 1999.
You drive through a village in Africa and see the most beautiful pictures around you. But as soon as you stop to get your camera out, you're mobbed, and the picture is gone. We therefore always carried a small autofocus camera in one of our pockets to shoot while riding. In some African countries it is very hard to take photographs of people; in others you are quickly running out of film because everybody wants to be photographed. These guys had been following us for a while and thought this picture was the best reward ever.
Tanzania, Eastern Africa, April 1999.
We made it to Mwanza at the south end of Lake Victoria, but decided to not ride around the western part of the lake since the roads over there would be even worse--and the situations in the Congo and Rwanda were not overly inviting. The ship that took us and our Yammie across the lake was an old cruise ship with separated classes called the Titanic Africana. Our Yammie was carefully placed on the deck in third class, and we think it was superstition that kept the crowd away this time; seems one of the crew had let the word go around that our sidecar was a coffin.
Pakistan, October 1999.
We'd seen them running through the desert, worn out men with bent backs, carrying as many as four five-gallon jerrycans on sticks over their shoulders. With gas costing next to nothing in Iran, being 12 times that price in Pakistan, and with Baluchistan being a tribal area in which Pakistan law and order do not exist, this is the perfect place for a smuggling business to thrive. As far as 500 miles from the border, the smugglers have strangled the gas stations and, needing gas desperately, we pulled over to ask for help. The man shakes his head when I point at the pump. "Irani?" I try carefully, and out of an adjacent shack the gas is taken from five-gallon cans and filtered by cloth before running through the funnel into our gas tank.
Syria, August 1999.
In Syria we met the nicest and most honest people. Must have something to do with Big Brother, who is constantly watching all and everybody, and crushes those who disagree under the iron fist of the regime. "If you do not display Assat in your house you will be frequently visited by secret police," we were told. Damascus is a magic city where you walk straight into history. We were invited for tea in a weavery where the heavy goat-wool material for Bedouin tents was being woven. We simply could not get enough of the Souk (marketplace in Cairo), which is full of narrow alleys, little shops and colorful people. Unlike many West African mosques, Christians are welcome in the Omayad mosque in Damascus.
Jordan, August 1999.
This is Wadi Rum, Lawrence of Arabia's favorite place, and the most beautiful desert we've ever seen. We'd dreamed about riding off-road bikes in this desert, and of course had to see for ourselves if warnings that our sidecar couldn't make it in the sand were legitimate. Well? As long as I kept the throttle at full, we'd keep moving, though deeper and deeper. We needed the help of a four-by-four vehicle to be pulled out. "I told you so," the Arab is saying, "look what you've done."
India, November 1999.
Today, tomorrow, next week, next year, there are children as young as six years old walking over the snowy winter passes of the Himalayas, from occupied Tibet to Nepal, to be free. Those who make it may end up in Mussoorie, India, where they are given a permanent home and a new future by the THF and SOS Children's Villages. During the five years of preparation for our trip (1991-1996), we got to do something more with our tour than just travel and absorb all the beauties of the world. Out of it grew our project called, "The World on a Children's connect children worldwide by exchanging their drawings." Among the children we visited are the richest of the richest, but also street children, or those who are dying of AIDS (Zambia), children of war (Uganda), children of the earthquake (Turkey) and refugee children from Tibet (India). It's a work of love, to bring them messages of friendship from all around the world, and work together to prepare new messages that will travel along with us in our sidecar as we continue our journey.
Pakistan, October 1999.
Baluchistan is one of the harshest places we've come through on our tour. You know it's not going to be easy the instant you meet with the unfriendly environment, deteriorated one-lane roads and tough people--however colorful it may seem. These Nomadic children and their mother are sitting on top of a trailer (being pulled not by buffalo but by tractor) transporting them and their household to their winter grounds. There were as many as five tractor-trailer combos riding in convoy, and we had to go off the road to pass them.
India, January 2000.
In Africa and South America you do not buy potatoes or tomatoes by the pound or kilo. On the ground, sheet or table, little stacks are made. Even fresh sardines (garnished with flies) are sold that way in the markets. In Varanasi, India, the tin in the middle of the table is the volume of beans or fruit you get for the listed price. You might think the lady on top of the wagon is also for sale, but that's just the way things are in India.
India, January 2000.
For the first time we plunge into what is known as Indian traffic: bicycle and moped rickshaws, bicycle carts, push wagons, donkey carts, cow carts, mopeds, small motorcycles, scooters, cars, minibuses, trucks, goats, sheep, cows, here and there an elephant--but most of all people, people and more people.
Australia, April 2000.
G' day mate! We were told that Australia is the oldest continent on our planet. And though dinosaurs have long left our world, you might find one over here in the Australian outback. Or would it be a punker kangaroo?
Australia, April 2000.
We came through the rainy seasons in Central America and Africa, but we'd never driven through so much water as in the Australian outback, where cyclone Rosita had flooded the desert. Sometimes we had to take a bypass through the bush, which was green and full of flowers. Once, with the water too deep and the bypass too muddy, the only way through was to clear the bush and make a road. Every time we came across a "waterhole" we took off shoes and socks to test the ground, and most of the times we came through the water without problems. Soon after we arrived at Ayers Rock, the road to Docker River and Giles Station was being closed, and the next four days we were stuck in Alice Springs with all roads around us flooded.
Australia, May 2000.
Fun down under. Yes, this is the Phillip Island GP circuit. With our 900cc Yamaha sidecar modified and remodified for off-road use, we were certainly flying--all over the track! At the next corner I almost lost Dafne, who was lying flat atop the sidecar and, lacking handgrips, could not return to the pillion fast enough. We have to thank our friends of Australian Motorcycle News for all the help, as well as Yamaha Holland and Yamaha Australia, who helped us overhaul our Yammie afterward--not because of our little race, but because of the 100,000-plus miles we'd already covered.
New Zealand, June 2000.
Thanks to New Zealand Motorcycle Rentals, we took two solo bikes around the Islands while our sidecar was shipped from Australia to Los Angeles. We felt like we were on vacation, and did all kinds of weird things, including bungee rocketing, hot-tubbing in freezing weather, and a geo tour with an archeologist. But best of all, we explored the country, camping in woolsheds or on farms if we were not invited at a "home stay" or bed and breakfast. We couldn't get enough of it.
New Zealand, July 2000.
New Zealand is probably the only country in the world where a beach is officially a highway. The "road" leading to the 90-mile beach (no more than 90 kilometers long) is possibly even more spectacular than the beach itself, as you drive down a stream through a rapid river. (Unfortunately, we couldn't park the bikes and get the cameras out, so you'll have to go and see for yourself.) Not accessible at high tide, the ocean washes away the tracks left behind, and makes it possible for nature to come to terms with human motorized terror. You will have to come to terms with the ocean as well, for your bike will be covered in salt and algae, which means steam cleaner, soap and washing until you drop. Because this was the greatest day we had, it was well worth the work. (Note: You need special permission from New Zealand Motorcycle Rentals to take their bikes on the beach.)
Canada, September 2000.
The 470-mile-long unpaved and unspoiled Dempster Highway treats us to an autumn feast of colors, decorated here and there with a snowflake, for it can snow any time of the year. We see caribou, who will begin moving to their winter grounds soon. Ground squirrels race over the road as soon as we are spotted, and we have to be careful around geese because they tend to stay put in the middle of the road. Riding roads like these are the greatest moments of our lives.
Canada, September 2000.
"Are we going big next time?" With global positioning and the Internet making the world look smaller and smaller, the need to go out there and explore the world for yourself is more important than ever. You'll find out how big it is, no matter if you are walking, riding a motorcycle or even driving a huge mining machine. It's the feeling of being out there. You'll also find out that North America and Western Europe are not the world--we're just living on a small island of wealth.
Australia, May 2000.
Tangalooma Island, just off the East Coast of Australia, is a little paradise on earth. "Is there life after the journey?" I ask Dafne. The trip had all started as a dream, it had brought us together, and taken us far. "It will never stop," she says. "Life is a journey: You are born, you take a journey and you die."