We were in Asunción, Paraguay, when we first heard it, but as soon as I translated the Spanish phrase into Greek for Stergios, he smiled realizing what it meant: It had been his life for the last two and a half years on the road. “La Vespa no corre, pero llega” had said the wise guy from the local Vespa Club, “The Vespa won’t go fast, but it will arrive.” And it’s as simple as that!

I remember standing in the queue at the airport of Lubumbashi, DRC, trying to slow my heartrate down. Partly due to the excitement that I was finally in the Congo, partly due to the fact that everything and everyone around me moved at an extremely slow pace. I counted the minutes as time seemed so still. The lady at the passport control desk calmly took the documents from my hands, gently opened and counted the pages, lazily raised her eyes and looked at me… then after a little chitchat with one of her colleagues, finally stamped it and let me pass. “Polepole” said a man in Swahili to me as I rushed out the airport. “Polepole?” What the heck does this mean?

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It isn’t easy to slow down when your life has been a continuous sprint for as long as you can remember. And it is even more difficult to accept that your fast pace isn’t the answer to everything that may you think is wrong with various cultures of the world. But after discovering the definition of “polepole” it became a daily part of our conversation, often jokingly telling each other to “Polepole mon ami, polepole!” That is “Take it easy my friend, slow down!”

The time and place of our birth is a completely random event. Both Stergios and I were born in a small country on the edge of Europe—Greece. We were raised in the “fast environment” of a Western world country (though Greece has this interesting mix of Mediterranean, Balkan, Oriental, etc., cultural elements), attended a European-style educational system, worked and generally lived according to the terms of the West (though severely underpaid, but hey, this is another story). Everything had to be fast, everything had to be done with a view to the future: study, work, buy, invest....

Stergios’ first days in Africa were a struggle to cope with the fact that his scooter seemed far more familiar with the pace of life there than he. He’d found some routes to be dull and was anxious to get to the next place just to see something new. He even almost fell asleep riding a straight line in Morocco. But this gradually changed. As time went by, he discovered the joy of traveling slow. This way, he had the opportunity to take closer looks, to do things like spend more nights hosted by locals in anonymous villages.

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As for me, after having sped out of that airport, I grabbed a taxi to the city and ended up stuck in traffic. Left with no choice but to look carefully out of the window, I finally mumbled to myself “polepole!”

No more than a month after we’d started traveling together, Stergios and I began to fully agree with our scooter’s philosophy on life: We now appreciate the fact that being two-up on a 200cc scooter has helped us change our point of view on various subjects, reduced our stress levels, made us spend more time in places and meet people we would never have otherwise. We now live at slow pace and are certain that we prefer to take time to admire the beauty of the landscapes we ride across, or watch the frantic rhythm of the big cities while we ride carefully on the slow lane.

And how does the story above connect to the Paraguayan scooterist’s words of wisdom?

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Our scooter has never let us down. Sure, it’s overloaded, funny, and its 10-inch wheels and two-stroke engine—at full throttle—harass the calmness of the Andean Altiplano or the African savanna. Even when the days we needed to cross the Atacama Desert seemed endless, and our amazement of the otherworldly landscape gradually turned to boredom, we were happy. Why else would we tell the story of losing my shoe in the desert… or why we spent that night in the abandoned campsite during a tsunamis warning… or tried the most delicious tangerines offered to us by a passer-by? No, we won’t go fast, but we’ll always get to where we want to....

WorldVespa.net

From the moment we set off for what later proved to be a RTW “no-schedule, no-plan, no-deadlines” scooter trip, we heard, overheard, and of course, read many stories about the “ideals.” What do I mean? Countless are the opinions about the “ideal traveler,” the “ideal bike”, the “ideal gear” for a “proper adventure” and of course, countless are the debates on every single one of these issues. Along with all the above, comes the “What should I pack with me?” question, which seems to a favorite of travelers—one that can trigger endless conversations or even all-out warfare on the forum threads.

I remember seeing a photo—it was on a popular social media group—picturing an overloaded bike, filled to the top with custom cases, saddle-bags, various gadgets... I think I saw a water cooler somewhere on that pile, emerging through two spare tires that were tied somewhere…. I laughed and immediately thinking to myself, “Oh, ours is even funnier!”

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When we do presentations about our trip, we like to include photos of our loaded scooter with both of us on it which always seems to garner a few giggles from the audience. We never take offend in this. Actually, we also laugh and introduce our scooter, “Kitsos,” a popular name people in Greece give to their donkeys. So, now that you’ve got the idea, let’s start from the “Hows” and the “Whys.”

The Hows

We don’t have heavy, hard panniers or top cases. The luggage we use (backpack, waterproof duffel bags, saddle-bags, etc.) are all lightweight, but hey, they provide plenty of packing space. We tie everything on the front and rear rack, hang the saddle-bags, put some stuff—mostly tools and some spare-parts—in the glove box, and last but not least, tie our jerrycan on the scooter’s floor.

Before you say anything, I should remind you that the purpose of this text isn’t to suggest any wise tips or teach you what’s right or wrong… rather, it’s just about how we have done more than 70,000 kilometers across Africa and South America with no significant breakdowns. And yes, some of the problems we had are connected to the heavy load, but as proved later, not as directly as someone would think. To put it more correctly, the only issue we’ve had to deal with was the faster than usual deterioration of some spare-parts and maybe some pushing on the steep slopes in the Andes—above the altitude of 4,000m.

The Whys

Would we be able to travel a bit more comfortably with less luggage? Let’s define “comfortably,” first. If comfortably means a bit faster, without the stress of thinking about the chances of burning the clutch or overheating the engine by riding across the Andes in first gear and at full throttle almost all the time, then yes. But there is another side in this. We try to spend as little money as possible—without compromising our having a good time, according to our needs and preferences. Until now, we have managed to keep our expenses at around $20 (in total, together for the two of us) per day. We don’t want to be obliged to look for accommodation at every place we visit, and we don’t use our tent as a backup solution, or as a fun alternative, but as our main option. So, we have to carry our camping gear (tent, sleeping-bag, mattresses, etc.). We also don’t want to be obliged to eat at restaurants, nor have poor quality canned or dried food all the time. We prefer to cook tasty, healthy, economical meals with fresh, local products. And we also like variety—Greeks have a thing with good food! This requires a fully-equipped kitchen (stove, pots, condiments, olive oil... we even carry a small pressure-cooker in order to cook properly on high altitude).

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As for clothes, no, we don’t have much. We carry one or two pairs of pants, 3−4 T-shirts and our thermal set for the harsh weather. Personal hygiene: the basics. What comes last but not least: electronics. We both work on our laptops and this is non-negotiable. Otherwise we couldn’t edit photos and videos nor write thousands of words for the articles, blogs and books. We also carry our cameras, lenses, chargers, etc. Why? Because this is what we love to do, this is what we do for a living and because not doing these things would make us miserable.

Oh, and I should mention that our trip has no expiration date, so being patient until it’s over and we return to our “normal” lives is not an option in our case.

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To sum up—and this is a conclusion I reached while writing this piece—we are kind of minimalists, but it is difficult to tell when you see all the stuff piled on our scooter. We carry only the necessary for our needs, preferences and, of course for our (extremely low) budget. This way, we are able to spend less, be more independent and, as we’ve seen until now, we have done it with only some minor compromises. So, the next time you see an overloaded bike, think twice!

WorldVespa.net

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