“In all these years on the road, I’ve never felt lonely… until now. As a solo traveler, I used to meet so many people along the way. I always had a choice of staying in remote places by myself or checking into a hostel or lodge, where I could hang out with other travelers. But now everything is different. This is my third month in Africa and I still haven’t come across any overlanders. In every place I stay, I’m the only guest. Sure, I still have the freedom of riding what keeps me sane in these difficult times, but I’ve never been so alone on the road. Strange times”, read a recent Instagram post by Kinga Tanajewska, aka On Her Bike. Kinga has been on the road for years now riding around the world; when the pandemic hit, she left her bike in Mozambique and spent most part of 2020 in Europe. After flying back to Mozambique, picking up her bike, and hitting the road again, Kinga is back traveling – but, as her post says, overlanding in 2021 is looking very different.
She isn’t alone feeling lonely on the road: riding Ecuador in December of 2020, I saw the same. Empty hotels across the country, from little mountain stays to jungle lodges, basic hostels to luxury resorts; not a single soul on two wheels on the road, except for locals on small bikes and a lone Ecuadorian ADV rider every once in a couple of weeks, mostly around the capital Quito; even on the Pan American Highway, busy with two-wheeled travelers back in 2019, there is now an eerie quiet.
Travelers who had left their bikes in Africa, South America, or Asia in the hopes of waiting out the pandemic at home are now either considering shipping the motorcycles back or bracing for another six months or so until the land borders spring open. While, like Kinga, a few travelers have resumed their journeys, such as Tracy Charles and Janelle Kaz in Colombia, most are planning to stay put for longer until the pandemic is fully under control.
Riders who have started their RTW journeys in 2019 or early 2020 find themselves either stuck or having to double back: the corridor into Asia via Central Asia is shut with riders stranded in Greece or Turkey for the foreseeable future. Morocco, the gateway into West Africa, remains closed; the big overland routes around the world have now become more of a “there and back again” destinations. Instead of being able to continue more or less indefinitely, overlanders now have to ride as far as they can get, then be prepared to either turn around or hunker down and wait – except, nobody knows for how long, and few can afford to stay on the road for years with no clear direction or the ability to plan ahead.
The information on borders, COVID-related restrictions, and new rules are as confusing as ever. Some land borders may be open, but some countries may require extra PCR tests or quarantine; the restrictions and rules change so fast that it’s near impossible to keep track, and planning a long route involving more than three or four countries over several months or longer is futile. Overlanding in 2021 is looking more and more like overlanding in 1981: the only way to confirm whether the border information is correct or not is to go and see for yourself, taking the risk of being turned around or having to go through more procedures and paperwork than expected.
Having holed up in Andalucia, Spain, and sort of hovering around waiting for the Moroccan borders to open, I’m noticing European overlanders wandering to and fro between Portugal and Spain fleeing new restrictions as they emerge. Southern Andalucian campsites are now bursting at the seams, filled with RV’s and 4×4 vehicles leaving Portugal and flocking to Spain where foreigners are still allowed to travel more or less freely; most of those vehicles bear German, Dutch, and English license plates. While Northwestern Europeans escaping the cold winters and holidaying in Spain isn’t anything new, it’s interesting to see how directions and destinations are now decided by COVID restrictions rather than weather, landscape, or cost of living.
It seems overlanding in 2021, whether on two wheels or four will mostly be influenced by who is allowed where and under what conditions rather than traditional RTW routes or iconic London-to-Sydney or Lisbon-to-Vladivostok pilgrimages. Those lonely roads Kinga and other travelers are seeing aren’t likely to fill with riders soon; and yet, little by little, 2021 is looking much better than 2020. Who knows, maybe we’ll be sharing beers and stories around campfires on the major overlander junctions around the world by the fall putting these strange and lonely times behind us once and for all.
What’s your take on overlanding in 2021? Are you ready to hit the road (again)?