BY CHANTAL SIMONS
When we ride, just as it is in life, it’s the little things that make the big trip so special.
Over the past 15 months I rode my Yamaha XT250 from Australia to the Netherlands on a solo mission. I ventured into the unknowns of a continent I’d never been to before, and committed to a relationship with the road. And while I could write a full book about the accounts of this relationship, it was the little things that counted. The little snippets of joy, freedom, fear, victory, happiness, beauty, struggle, uncertainty, kindness and all the other aspects that made my relationship with the road.
As I finally hit the bumpy road in the relatively unexplored country of East Timor, I think back to all the obstacles of getting here. It has been a month since saying goodbye to my beloved bike in Darwin, Australia. With the promise of it being shipped across the Timor Sea in two weeks, I’d set off to backpack around Bali. I’d never been to Asia before, so why did I think it a good idea to cross the entire continent as a solo female traveler on a 250cc motorcycle? There’s only one fitting answer: why not?
After weeks of emailing back and forth with the shipping company to arrange the crossing, they then proceeded to blatantly ignore my emails sent from the shaky Bali wifi connections. It was still unclear when exactly the cargo ship carrying the anticipated freight would dock in East Timor.
One night, by sheer coincidence after a beautiful Balinese dinner at one of my now favorite little restaurants, I stepped out onto the road right in front of an adventurously dressed KTM. There was no doubt about it, these people were on a long trip. I ran towards them before they mounted the bike and excitedly shook their hands stating, “Hi! I’m Chantal, and I’m going to ride my bike to the Netherlands”. Judging from their faces the couple was more than surprised with my sudden appearance and confession. Nevertheless, we engaged in a long conversation about their extended travels and my upcoming adventure. They too had their fair share of issues shipping their bike from Australia to East Timor and they gave a lot of advice on how to get in touch with the shipping company. They even knew how to track the progress of the container your bike was in. After big hugs and wishing each other the best of luck for our respective journeys, we went our separate ways into the warm Bali night. It wasn’t until much later in the trip that I started noticing that when I needed it most, help would always appear…
The next day, with new found confidence, I fired up my laptop to once again email the shipping company. This time I had more luck. It turned out my contact person got married and took off on his honeymoon, conveniently forgetting to instruct one of his colleagues to tend to his clients… They told me the bike would be shipped two weeks later than planned for no apparent reason. It was annoying, but there are worse places in the world to kill time than Bali. Eventually, I climbed on board a plane to East Timor, watching the Indonesian islands grow smaller and smaller. Once I arrived in the youngest country in Asia, I was generously granted a free three month visa and wished a beautiful stay in their country by the smiling officer at immigration. It took another day before I was reunited with my loyal steed, but then finally after a month of communicative struggles the adventure could start.
So now here I am. In front of me a minibus throws up clouds of dust, passengers’ arms sticking out the windows. Luggage tied onto the roof with shredded blue and white nylon rope forms a fortress in which two men and a goat are positioned. They are seemingly unperturbed by the pothole infested lack of pavement. I hold my breath to avoid the dust entering my lungs in pursuit of the van. Once I overtake, the air is clear enough to enjoy the view. To my right are dried out fields, the remains of rice paddies. Some trees look to be scorched by a recent fire. To my left, past a few grazing buffaloes, the deep blue sea stretches till the end of the earth. It is well over 35° Celsius, so keeping the throttle open is the best way to deal with the heat. I take a deep breath and realize that the tinglingly stunning landscape isn’t a picture. I’m really riding in East Timor. With the surf crashing onto the beach just meters away, a wave of freedom washes over me. I throw my head back, open my left arm to the side while holding the throttle with my right and laugh out loud.
So this is it, the adventure, off the well-worn track, and into the unknown. I’m in love and can’t wait to see what fruits this blossoming relationship with the road will bring.