My name is Zainal Baharudin and I hail from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I met and fell in love with my wife, a South African educator, in beautiful and scenic Windhoek, Namibia in 1989 while we were both working there and got married in Malaysia in 1991. We have a 21-year-old son who is currently studying.
What inspired you to take this trip?
It has always been my dream to travel the world and after I retired from the corporate world in 2014, I packed my bags, told my wife to hop on and rode off into the sunset. I figured that the average lifespan of a Malaysian male is 75 years and for the first ¾ of those years, we work towards what we perceive to be a good life. Before you know it, youth is gone, your health is on a decline, and you have not even had a chance to really live. My idea of living is visiting other countries, eating different food, learning about and experiencing different cultures, religions, customs and meeting people from all over the world in their own environment. That is why I retired at the age of 52 to not only live my dream, but to LIVE.
For Celeste, her decision to join me on this trip is way simpler than mine–it is because she loves me and will go wherever I go.
How did you plan your route and how much time did you spend planning?
We planned to travel the world in five stages, this being Stage 1: Asia to Africa by way of Europe. Stage 2: South America to North America. Stage 3: Europe. Stage 4: Asia, from Russia to Japan. Stage 5: Australia and New Zealand.
For this Stage 1 trip, we had to identify the countries on route between the two points, consider the seasons of the respective countries and then determine the time we would spend travelling towards, in, around and through the particular country. The other factors considered were prioritising countries that we were very keen to explore and also those which are safe to travel to and through. Planning the actual route took about six months.
Our route covered 33 countries: Nepal, India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Italy, France, Spain, Morocco, Mauritania, Mali, Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and again to South Africa.
How did you navigate?
We used GPS, sign boards and paper maps as well as asking locals for directions. In Pakistan and most of Africa, we relied mainly on the locals as they knew best which roads were best, more scenic, safe, etc.
Can you give us any stats related to the trip?
- Distance covered: 60,000 kilometres at an average speed of 90 km per hour
- Average distance travelled per day: 350km, except for Zimbabwe where we travelled 400-450km per day.
- In Republic of Congo the road was so bad that we took 3 days to cover 120km and 5km of that 120km took us about 2.5 hours to cross.
- Throughout the journey, we fell three times in Pakistan, eight times in Africa.
What was your travel style? Were you flexible with your choice of lodging?
Our travel style was “free and easy” although we did have a certain time-frame for each country. When it came down to lodging, we were on a budget based on Thailand 3-star lodging, which could be equivalent to a backpackers hostel in Europe or a campsite in Africa. We were not flexible ever when it came to cleanliness, personal safety and especially security for the motorbike at the lodgings.
We also learnt on this trip how much we rely on the internet and how important it is. In this day and age, it is a necessity.
What were the most memorable moments?
- Riding on the bike on the open road and into the sunrise
- Having our own personal police escorts in Pakistan and some parts of Iran, with armoured vehicles and guns
- The challenging roads in Pakistan and most of Africa
- Riding on the Karakoram highway from Islamabad to Attabad, the highest paved highway in the world
- Riding on the Llogara Pass Albania, one of the most dangerous highways in the world
- Getting caught in a sandstorm and our first encounter with snow, both in Pakistan
- Stuck in No Man’s Land between the borders of Mauritania and Mali
- Watching a youth jump from the Stari Most bridge in Mostar, Bosnia. (The bridge is a popular diving spot for both locals and tourists.)
- Seeing the bullet holes in the walls in cities of Mostar and Sarajevo
- Animals roaming around freely in Africa
What were the most memorable people you encountered along the way?
Without the countless friendly, kind and good people we met in every country, our journey would not have been as pleasant as it was. At the core, people are “same same but different”–we all really do have the same needs and wants. In some of the countries, we were fortunate to meet other bikers who welcomed us with open arms.
What do you remember best about India and Nepal?
India: Definitely the food, food, food, colours, cows, rubbish. Although traffic is noisy, hectic and crazy, there is a flow to it and once you get into the rhythm, it is all smooth sailing. India has so much history, culture and beautiful architecture and people so all your senses are activated at the same time, all the time.
Nepal: Because I visit here so often, it is like another home to me. Nepal is also all about the food, the culture, colours, the beautiful temples, historical sights and the famous Himalayas, of course. Nepal is also very cheap and if you love nature, this is definitely the place to visit because everything is still natural and everyone and everything is still in harmony with nature.
How did you deal with the differences in culture and language?
In most of the countries, people can speak English. It was only in France and the French West African countries where language was a problem. But Celeste is good in picking up new languages and quite animated so she learnt all the essential words and phrases so we could at least communicate. Since both of us come from multi-cultural countries, we did not encounter any cultural issues because we know how to adapt and respect other people’s beliefs, cultures and customs.
Was age a hindrance in any way?
No, no at all. As long as you are in good health, in good shape (we like to trek, hike, etc.), and young-at-heart, it’s all doable. But if we were older, out of shape and not in the best of health, we would just adjust the trip accordingly by driving a 4X4 and having fewer Indiana Jones activities.
What safety precautions can you share?
Know your rights, befriend the locals and stay in touch with your embassy at all times. It is best to avoid going to places where your embassy tells you not to go because if things do go wrong for you, the chances of them helping you is very slim. It is best to avoid places where the locals tell you not to go to. Leave your arrogance and preconceptions of the country and its people behind and keep an open mind and heart at all times. Remember that you are the visitor so always be respectful of the beliefs and customs of the country you are visiting. If you do want to voice your opinion–as we found ourselves doing quite often (with Celeste being an educator and all)–diplomacy is key.
How did the trip affect you as a couple?
It goes without saying that spending a lot of time together for so many months add on the stress of some of the challenges we had to face (bad roads, corrupt border control officials, visa issues, expensive lodgings/food). There were times when things got a bit heated, which is expected. Everything that we usually experience in our lives at home was exactly the same, only the location was different. Same drama, different venue. At the end of the day, we are a team, a couple, a family. And for me, there is no other person I would have wanted to do this trip with other than Celeste.
What surprised you the most about this trip?
Besides the fact that we did not end up killing each other (two people alone together for so long …), it was also that what we read and hear in the media about other countries and people are not necessarily accurate. We were also surprised at how doable it is to follow your dreams if you dare to do so.
Looking back, what would you have done differently?