My grandfather stands six feet tall, with bright orange hair and muscled arms that come from swimming 100 laps a day even at age eighty. He has traveled much of the world by motorcycle – crossing Africa twice, traveling along the Silk Road, Russia, North America. My grandfather also made the mistake of giving me the book “Jupiter’s Travels” by Ted Simon, which tells of his four-year journey around the world by motorcycle. Since then my dream has been around the world in four years and two wheels.
In a few weeks I am heading out on the first leg of this journey which will take approximately six months – driving solo from Cape Town to Ethiopia by motorcycle (The Route). The trip contains four main aspects that are very important to me.
First and foremost – the adventure itself. It will be challenging and intense. I admit I am concerned about being mugged, having my motorcycle stolen, being torn apart by hyenas, having the motorcycle fall on my leg in the middle of the desert, etc etc. Africa is extreme – the poverty, the alienation of standing out so awkwardly, the climate, the distances, not knowing the language – all these add to the difficulty. The fact that I am camping and traveling alone do as well. But I have been to Africa before, traveled alone before and gone on a long-distance trip by motorcycle. I have read as much as I can and am intensely curious about the continent and the countries I will be traveling through.
My grandfather has taught me that the planning can be as much fun as the journey itself. A year ago already I hung up a huge map of Africa on my office wall and started sketching the lines, imagining the routes. I have talked with people, read books and blogs in order to make the trip a reality, and then began searching for financial backing and sponsorship’s. I wrote to several companies and magazines. I was lucky to receive positive responses from nearly all the people I wrote to. I am extremely uncomfortable with pitching or promoting myself, so I learned a lot from this process. It has been a quickened version of a Business Management Course and even if I had not received one feedback it would have been worth it.
The aspect of writing for an audience is also a critical part of the journey for me in order to hone my ability to write and see what opportunities travel-writing might bring me in the future. I have written a journal during every trip I’ve gone on, and I am overjoyed that I have those notes to look back on and understand what person I was at that stage, to escape back into that reality. But I want to take it a step further and explore what exposing your thoughts can lead to.
Lastly is the element of a solo female journey. All our lives as women, we are told that we are less able to do things – less able to carry, less able to fix, less able to “rough it”, less able as drivers, less able to walk back home in the dark. Especially in Western cultures, females are brought up with the “Spider Syndrome”. Because of course no woman thinks that any spider is a real potential threat or reason to screech. But we are taught to present ourselves as weak and helpless – it is “sexy”. We are taught to have men carry bags for us and open doors, and I suppose since we are taught to be anorexic beauty queens we really are not capable of doing these things ourselves. On my first trip to Africa I was struck by how different the attitude towards women is. Women are those who will carry the load of shopping bags or firewood, who will stand on the bus, who get off last. The attitude towards them is not respectful or equal, but they are not seen as weaker or less competent.
We need to begin stretching the boundaries of what society thinks women are capable of and to teach young girls that there are no boundaries. My journey is part of that. Of course it won’t be easy and I won’t deny the fact that it will be more difficult because I am a woman. The risks are there, the threats exist, but we shouldn’t be scared to take them on.