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?
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.
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?
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....