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

After all this time on the road we can say with certainty that we’re much wiser than before we left! We’ve learned all these secrets, all these hidden treasures of knowledge and after some serious thinking, it’s time to share some of them.

Some of them may seem funny, others may seem dangerous… but who are we to say what’s best? You can decide which are to be followed, and which are to be left aside.

Mechanics

1. Planning to climb the Andes and not sure of the motor’s performance? The solution comes from Argentina and it’s both simple and vegan friendly. Cut an onion in half and place it in the air filter casing… seriously. It’s as simple as that. It seems to be an old trick introduced to the collective wisdom of Argentinians by truckers that works with older vehicles (those with carburetors). So, if you’re going to climb to the higher altitudes, better carry some onions with you!

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2. Do you have a crack in your fuel tank, and a sweet tooth, too? You can solve both issues by just going to the nearest “confiteria” (pastry shop) where you can acquire “dulce de membrillo” (quince paste). Available almost anywhere in South America, it’s delicious and useful, too. Mechanics swear that by applying some dulce de membrillo to a tank’s crack it will prevent any fuel leak forever. And we’d add that the remainder makes a perfect desert.

3. Imagine yourself searching for a place to repair your two-stoke in a town where they service only four-strokes. So, what do you do? You go to a boat mechanic! The majority of the small vessels in South America, the ones you see in rivers and lakes, have two-strokes. A boat mechanic has enough knowledge and experience to help in a case like this.

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Wildlife Encounters

4. You are in the African savanna, have seen all the warning signs about wildlife, but still want to pitch your tent and spend the day (and night) there. You take the courageous decision and while you’re sitting next to the tent admiring the red sunset behind the acacias, you hear a noise coming from the bush. You turn your head and you see a lion staring at you. What do you do? You dance the lion away! Seriously… they say that if a potential victim does something unexpected, the predator will stand perplexed without knowing how to respond to it. (No a specific dance required, just two or three improvised steps and maybe a pas de bourrée.)

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5. We all know that even the best and most people-friendly animals in the world have a natural instinct of chasing pretty much anything that moves. Especially motorbikes which combine relatively low speed, annoying noise and sometimes exposed ankles. We love dogs and we prefer positive reinforcement as a training method, but that cannot be applied in all cases. What do you do? You teach them a lesson by showing how annoying he is. You stop your bike (he’ll then likely stand still because you are not that interesting anymore) or give them treats.

worldvespa blog 6 crazy tips dog

Health

6. Let’s say you caught a terrible cold and suffer from a cough. If you’re in an area where frogs are easy to find (and catch), then you’ve already solved your problem. Take one, boil it, toss the meat, keep the broth, add some honey and cinnamon and drink it. No, it’s not the honey that has soothing properties, it’s the frog!

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worldvespa mini bioStergios and Alexandra (both Greeks) first met in 2014 in the DRC while he was on his RTW and she was doing Ph.D. fieldwork. Since then, they’ve been traveling together. They write, film, photograph and ride their scooter around the world, combining their passions—and have recently released their first book “Rice & Dirt: Across Africa on a Vespa.WorldVespa.net

So, you bought brand new gear, serviced your bike, bought all the camping equipment including a tent, stove, sleeping bags etc. You tested it all, downloaded and installed maps and apps, ticked everything on your list, and now you’re ready to go on the adventure of your lifetime. But, I have a question for you: Are you REALLY ready? Don’t worry, I don’t want to discourage you from hitting the road. I just want to mention one or two things that you’re going to come across sooner or later, and I’m not talking about flat tires and muddy roads. It’s most certain that you’ll bump into people and situations difficult to understand and sometimes difficult to accept or even to co-exist with.

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Different cultures, different people, different situations and different environments! They all sound interesting, challenging and of course, new to your eyes. But what happens is that your eyes are the same good ol’ eyes that you always had and that your perception of the world depends on what you’ve seen up until now. And before you tell me that you’re an open-minded person who understands other cultures and is always ready to learn, please keep in mind that this can be way more difficult than you may have imagined.

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I always considered myself very open-minded, and since I have an anthropological background I was confident about my ability to adapt, understand and accept the “other.” So, imagine my surprise when I uttered for the first and last time in my life the phrase, “This is Africa!” What?! I’d fallen into the worst trap and was upset with myself for letting all the pre-constructed notions I thought I’d rejected affect me. What is Africa and who is wise enough to even make an acronym of it (“TIA”), thus to accept it as an non-negotiable truth?!

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Let’s talk about stereotypes now, because even if we think we’re not biased and congratulate ourselves for being objective, this probably isn’t that clear. How many times have we approached a police control check with the certainty that they’re corrupt? In Africa, always and in South America 90% of the times. You’ll probably tell me that it’s better to be prepared and I’ll agree, but where exactly is the line between “prepared” and “prejudiced”? Oh, and if I start writing the reasons why police may be corrupt, you’ll be surprised to find among them a Westerner willing to pay in order to get on with it, only because “TIA.” Same subject different continent, “When in South America, play the silly gringo and don’t speak Spanish to the police.” I’m fluent in Spanish and I have to admit that our first time in South America I followed this strategy. Nothing ever happened really, but this time I chose to change my style and reveal my secret ability. Guess what happened now? All the policemen started asking more questions, but not about our papers. They were all willing to chat and know more about us and our trip!

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Enough with the notorious cops. Let’s go to the loud and rude underdeveloped countries (yep, I’m completely sarcastic). I need to mention here that we’re coming from a pretty loud, rude and underdeveloped country, too—Greece—according to the mainstream cinema and news propaganda. We’re trained to survive in these conditions. If you’re wondering whether I like loud music all day long and people who shout, just know that I’m a very quiet person with a slight agoraphobic twist. But in Brazil, Paraguay or Argentina life is like this and it is “take it or leave it.” Basically, everywhere is “take it or leave it” and the key to understanding it better is to forcefully plant in your brain that NO, you’re not better than the others. You’re just slightly different and before you start bragging about your higher abilities and your higher standards, it may be better to really bear in mind that the only objective reality that exists is that some people are more privileged than others—by chance!

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The moral of this story? But what I’ve learned from our travels is that every time we’ve met the new and the unfamiliar with a more positive and open approach, the reward was immediate, and this attitude has allowed us to get surprisingly closer to the people we meet on the road. And in this way, you may feel that the things we have in common are more than the things that make us different. You may feel like part of a bigger community and overcome many of your fears. And if this isn’t the essence of traveling, then what could it be?

Follow WorldVespa by checking out their website at https://www.worldvespa.net/home/

I know, at first glance this phrase seems a bit contradictory, but here's the story of how we almost suffered a “burnout” when we decided to take things more seriously on our long-term journey across Africa and South America.

It was in 2013 when Stergios finally set off on his RTW trip. Up until the day he left, he had been working tirelessly as a waiter. Rewarding or not, this was his job and he was doing his best, but when he counted his savings, his only thought was to be able to spend as much time as possible without having to work as an employee. So, he left his country free from any work obligations and with no specific plans.

As many travelers do, before he left he started a blog so he could share his stuff from the trip: pictures, videos, his travel journal... No big commitments no great expectations. But what usually happens almost unconsciously to many people the moment they cut everyday stress out of their lives, is the realization of what they really love in life. So, this is how Stergios realized he loved making videos and shooting pictures. When we met and immediately after we started traveling together, I had my own “revelation” about how much I loved writing. This is how we found ourselves with a bilingual website, a YouTube channel with videos from every country we crossed, countless pictures, texts, and of course, this is how we understood that this had become our way of life. Being on the road, traveling on our scooter and expressing our creativity through what we loved, seemed the ideal life. And it was, for sure!

The big step forward was the decision to take a break from the trip and try to sort out how we would proceed (Stergios set off for his RTW trip with $11,000 and when I joined him in South America, I hadn't more than $5,000). Our wallets were significantly thin, but we were determined to find the best option in order to go on with our plans without making – at least many – compromises. We parked our scooter in Brazil, got back to our country, Greece – not the most popular for its economic growth, for the majority of its residents – and after recovering from our post-travel depression (that's another story), we started working hard on our project.

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While on the road, we couldn't realize how many things we were doing and how many hours we were spending working. It may seem easy, but since we were sincerely devoted to our plan, worldvespa had changed from a part-time-no-strings-attached hobby into a professional commitment. We were experiencing a positive type of stress, which made us more alert, energized, motivated and resourceful, and this feeling of positive stress got triggered again soon after some months in Greece. Stergios had started working as a waiter again and I had been back to my work as a Spanish teacher. But it was not enough, so I started doing some freelance translations while we were also working on promoting the book we had just released, doing presentations, writing pieces for magazines etc. Oh, and I forgot to mention that Stergios was also trying to make a documentary with his footage from Africa, all by himself. We even took a full-time pet-sitting job! Did I stress enough how much we enjoyed everything? If not, I repeat: we really loved all the things we were doing and we were trying our best in every single one of them.

It was at some point while we were working with a translator for the release of the English version of our book “Rice & Dirt”, when the first symptoms started cropping up. Sincerely, I have no idea when exactly the positive stress started shifting into this chaos, but we found ourselves not wanting to get up from bed in the morning, not having the energy to do things, finding it hard to meet and talk with people, suffering from headaches and stomach issues... So, we did what everyone does these days: we googled it. The articles we bumped into, explained everything: we had reached a point at which our stress had become too much to handle and we were about to hit the level of burnout. We even had booked our flights for South America, but we couldn't feel relieved, just more stressed! Endless lists of e-mails waiting for a reply, sales, prospective sponsors etc... We had achieved what we dreamed of and we were finding it hard to smile about it.

You'll be probably waiting for the magic plot-twist, but actually there isn't any “Deus ex machina” making his entrance to help resolve the situation. We had to find ways to help ourselves and the truth is that we are still working on it. What we managed to achieve is to acknowledge the fact that our devotion has been rewarding (to be honest, not much financially but mainly morally) and to stay faithful to our promise of living according to what we love. Soon, we'll be on the road again resuming our RTW trip, doing some scooter traveling therapy. Let's see what happens next!

WorldVespa.net

 

Imagine yourself on the motorbike two-up with your beloved, in the endless straight lines of Patagonia, riding towards the sunset.... Now imagine the same thing but without the beautiful scenery. Put yourselves on the bike, dripping with sweat, struggling to survive the killing frenzy of the Brazilian truck drivers and the scorching sun of the tropics. Both stories can be equally true, but let’s face it: The second one is likely to happen more often than the first. Life can’t possibly be that dreamy every single day!


And after a long ride, you’re finally at a campsite, have just put up the tent and waiting for the instant noodles to soak enough to be kind of edible. And then you look into your beloved’s eyes and your only thought is “let’s go to sleep.”

I know that most photos on Facebook, Instagram and other social media depict happy moments with beautiful, clean and fresh smiling couples, but have you ever wondered if there’s a dark side behind this wholly idyllic picture? Guess what: there is! Not exactly dark... I’d say dirty… and I’m afraid it’s not with only positive connotations.

So, what do we have? A traffic jam, tired moments, dripping sweat inside motorcycle gear, bad food and consequently zero romance. Then why even bother to start a long-term trip with your partner? Simple: Because it’s the best! You probably presumed that with the above descriptions there is no space left for romance, but after some years on the road I know that you can have anything as long as you work on it.

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In our case things were a bit different at the beginning. We didn’t plan and set off on a trip together. We first met on the road somewhere in Africa, decided to travel together for a month and long story short, since that day back in 2014, we’ve been together, traveling the world on our scooter. Getting to know each other was a fast forward procedure as we were together 24/7. And when the honeymoon was over, we realized that we needed to work on keeping our relationship healthy. It wasn’t easy at first, but now we think that we’ve found our way to be happy and can maybe share a few tips....

First, I won’t be giving any gender-orientated tips, as I believe that what I write here applies to all couples regardless of age, gender, nationality, etc. After all, we’re human and we have the same basic needs.

So, for us the key word to everything is “respect.” What I mean by respect is to understand one’s own personality and by doing so, you’ll most probably be able to understand the other’s needs, and maybe predict their reactions. And why am I stating what’s obvious? Because it isn’t. Most couples get to know each other better during a long-term trip because they have to spend all day, every day together. And usually that’s where the tension begins. So, respect means to give the other their space and time. Don’t try to talk and resolve a situation by pushing your partner to co-operate. Allow time. Or, if you are the one who needs more time, remember that your partner is waiting for you impatiently, so try to cut down the time you might otherwise need.

If there’s tension, find where it comes from. In our case, much of the tension is a result of “external factors” and has nothing to do with our relationship. We have different ways of resolving issues and sometimes we may disagree on the methods we follow. So, we try to be accurate about who does what. For example, if we decide that I’m going shopping to buy lentils, my partner won’t say anything if he’s tired of lentil soup. If I buy something more expensive than we had agreed, he’s allowed to correct me.

Know one’s limits (and respect them). For example, I have difficulty in dealing with too many people at the same time and tend to be slightly agoraphobic. My partner, because he knows and understands me, won’t leave me alone to handle a very noisy situation if he sees that I’m tired.

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Choose your battles. When a bad moment comes, try to keep mouths shut and think. There are days when we ride in silence without disturbing each other’s thoughts. If you spend 8−10 hours every day being in contact with someone (total lack of space), it’s important to have the time to create some symbolic space at least. This means one thing: silence.

Last but not least, frequent “updates.” We often discuss how we feel with our choices. Are we okay? Do we need something different? How should we proceed? It’s important to know if we both like/need similar things in order to be happy, and we always try to talk and be “updated” about if we are okay.

And where is the romance in all these? Romance is not some cheap trick that some women achieve by donning lipstick or a fine dress, or men doing the prince-charming act. Trying to comply with gender-related stereotypes can kill romance. For us, romance is a state of mind that is achieved by knowing and respecting each other for everything we give each other. For us, the epitome of romance is being able to feel good and confident and being with a person with whom you can share even the everyday mundane moments. And if you achieve this, you’ll probably continue to see your partner dripping in sweat in their motorcycle gear as the most attractive person in the whole world!

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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