I almost met them on the road: Lennart & Maia came to Iceland just a few weeks after I’d left. After Iceland, they continued their travels, all the way down to Africa. As if that wasn’t challenging enough, they did it in de midst of the pandemic. Their photos are mind-blowing good, and so are their stories. It’s time to ask them 10 questions!
Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves?
Maia: My name is Maia (since Maike proved to be too complicated for most international people to understand), 34 years old from a little town in Germany, close to the Netherlands. After working on ocean cruise ships, I found home and my husband in Switzerland where I work as an Executive Assistant & Project Manager. Since 2015 I ride motorcycles and prefer travelling the world on two wheels ever since.
Lennart: My name is Lennart Andreas. Originally born in the Netherlands 35 years ago, but always been roaming around the world and ended up living in Switzerland, where I met my wife Maia. I was and will be working again in the tourism & hospitality industry and I do a thing or two with taking photos too… Started riding motorcycles back in 2008 – and hopefully will never stop.
Maia: Lennart and I kept talking about all the countries we still wanted to visit, the African continent being right on top of our long wish-list. One day we started imagining spending Christmas in Cape Town. I started to become tired of talking about something, we might never do anyways, feeling sad all our dreams might just remain that: dreams. We finally looked at each other and just took the decision: we will spend Christmas in Cape Town after riding down there on our motorcycles from home and we will do it starting in summer 2020. We vowed that we are committed to make our dream come true no matter what. And so we did. We started planning, saved as much money as possible from this day on, told everyone about our plans and made all necessary arrangements. Everything started to fall into place once we took the decision to go. For all the “problems” that would keep most people from fulfilling a dream like this, a solution was found.
Then, the year 2020 came and suddenly nothing seemed certain anymore... Almost everyone was expecting us to push back our trip. We quickly realized that we would need to become more flexible, but we never considered postponing this journey. This journey wasn’t just a long holiday. It was so much more, an inner longing for understanding our world a little better and a crucial experience for us as individuals as well as our relationship. It just felt right to go and insight we trusted that everything was going to work out well.
Lennart: We both agreed that we still wanted to go, had to be flexible and will see where we will end up… Due to closed land borders in Africa at that time, we were forced to ride north instead of south at first, and we did really love this new plan, but we never gave up hopes to still be able to get to Africa at a later stage. Around August was a good time to make our way up to the North Cape, crossing the Baltic States. Spending a wonderful time in Norway, we continued to Iceland and spend almost all of September on this magical island. It was only then when we received the good news, that Kenya was about to open international borders again. With Tanzania being open as well, we quickly decided to roll the dice and take our chances. We rushed to London and had our bikes flown over to Nairobi, Kenya. Financially, we used up all our emergency budget on that move, but hey, this was an emergency wasn’t it?
In the worst case we would be riding around those Kenya and Tanzania for 3.5 months, best case we could still make it to South Africa, if more borders would open. And guess what? Borders opened up. Sometimes just a day ahead of us, but that was all we needed. And so we made it from Kenya through Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia to South Africa.
Obviously, we had to adjust our plans, especially the itinerary, so often that the only plan left was to enjoy whatever we were allowed to experience. Everything we saw and experienced during this journey was partly far from what we originally planned and yet could not have been better, if one would have tried to plan for it. It just worked out so surprisingly well! We never had bad spirits, we were always happy to be out there on our bikes and the fact that we could travel to begin with.
We rode through 23 countries, reached the most northern point of Europe as well as the most southern point of Africa, experiencing some of the most magical natural wonders and diverse landscapes in only 6 months. 30.000 kilometers and just a fantastic time!
You did your trip on two Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro. Why did you choose this adventure bike?
Lennart: I’ve always been keen on Triumph, as it was my first bike back in the days. While living in the States, I rode from Los Angeles to New York; on a Triumph. In Switzerland, I fell in love with the then-new Triumph Tiger Explorer XC. Within 5 years, I did 100.000 kilometers with this machine without having any major issues. Meanwhile, Maia started riding motorcycles too, and it took her one short test ride to convince her to have a Tiger 800 XRt as her first motorcycle. After attending the press launch of the Tiger 900 in Morocco, I knew this would be the perfect bike for the trip. It has everything you need for any trip around the world and does not need any further modification. Weight, range, suspension, comfort, power, ability and agility are all on par. And after experiencing the engine, going effortlessly at 1500rpm in 2nd gear, I was sold. There was nothing known yet about the reliability when we departed on our journey, but with our positive experiences, we knew Triumph would have this under control. Turned out they did; we reached Cape Town without any issues.
Maia: I actually agreed to take the Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro on this trip without a single test ride beforehand… Ever since Lennart returned from the press launch in Marocco, he got into rhapsodies about the Tiger 900. Not only do I trust my husband, I also have a big deal of faith in the reliability of Triumph motorcycles. When I finally got to test ride both versions of the Tiger 900, the Rally Pro and the GT, I fell in love with the Rally Pro instantly myself. Everything I missed with the Tiger 800 XRt as my riding skills improved over the past years, the 900 Rally Pro now offered me.
Your timing to do a motorcycle world trip was not easy - in the midst of a pandemic. What was the most challenging part?
Maia: Integrating the PCR-Tests in Africa into our schedule. Because this entire procedure was new to everyone, it wasn’t easy to get correct and reliable information. Especially when procedures can change by the day. Especially in Africa. Every country handled the testing differently. Sometimes we would need to go to the regional referral hospital, sometime to a private lab, one day you could just show up and other times you had to have an appointment or testing wasn’t available for international travelers anymore because they were running out of test-kits.
For me personally the most challenging part of this journey was to witness the effects the pandemic-measurements had on the local communities, especially in Africa. Hundreds of children dropping out of school at a very early age in only one town, the number of teenage pregnancies skyrocketing in several countries, an increase of gender-based violence during lockdowns, desperation and anger about the rising obedience to China, … many in Africa are losing hope. Not because they fear a virus, but they don’t know how to feed their children at least one meal a day.
Lennart: The challenging part of it for me were the logistics. I kind of did the planning for this trip, and now all of a sudden, we needed to take COVID-19 tests into account. That meant it was, especially in Africa, a small logistical puzzle: where do we need to be, at what time, to do a test so we can have the results within 72 hours? Where can we cross the next border, and how can we time it in such a way that we can make the most out of these 72 hours? It worked out surprisingly well, again, as everything else seemed to do on this trip as well.
What were the extra measures that you had to deal with because of the pandemic?
Maia: We couldn’t take open borders for granted anymore. Therefore, we would always have to check the latest news online and eventually adjust our route accordingly. Other than that, it has been quite easy everywhere. In some countries wearing a face mask was taken very seriously, in others it was more of a „suggestion“. The measurements kept changing depending on the month or country. The rules have never been consistent over the past months. It’s been the same experience for all of us I guess, traveling or staying home.
Only in South Africa we experienced stricter measurements such as curfew between 21:00 and 06:00 am or an alcohol ban. Not very pleasant, but also not a problem to us personally.
Lennart: Same here. I was expecting a far bigger impact of the rules and regulations on our daily lives while being on the road, but it hardly impacted us indeed. Guess it has to do a lot with the impressions you get from the media as well. We were kind of expecting the end of the world in South Africa because of the new mutation of the virus. Turns out, life in South Africa is almost business as usual. People have bigger problems in most part of Africa than this latest virus.
Did you feel as if you were treated differently by the locals because of fear of the virus or was the welcome everywhere still warm?
Maia: This has truly been a concern of ours, especially before arriving in Africa. I want to point out that we did not travel at the very beginning of the pandemic. Several months later, by the time we arrived in all these foreign countries, people welcomed us very friendly and warm. We did not meet a single person who seemed afraid of us. All the way we have been invited to people’s homes where they treated us with great hospitality. Everyone – particularly in the tourism industry – was rather happy and grateful to see us, than afraid or distanced.
Lennart: Indeed. It would have been a different story maybe if we would have travelled during the lockdowns in Africa, which was impossibly anyways. We knew of some world travellers that experienced a very hostile atmosphere just trying to go home at that time. But now, just after the lockdowns, people were just so happy to see us. For these countries, so many jobs depend on tourism. And to be honest, we felt safer from the virus there than anywhere else.
What was the most important thing you’ve learned on this trip?
Maia: One thing? I’ve learned so much… After all the little challenges we had to overcome riding a motorcycle through various countries, I definitely feel much more confident about my mental and physical strength. I did something, I would have not dreamed of being capable to do a couple of years ago. This made me understand, that there is much more I can achieve in my daily life as well. My lifestyle and the decisions I take, may those be seemingly insignificant, can and will have an impact on the lives of people in a different country, on a different continent. The values I want to live my life by became clearer to me and I feel a greater sense of responsibility. Discovering a new level of confidence and strength within me, I am no longer afraid of assuming responsibility and living up to my values without finding excuses. I can make a difference and have a positive impact through conscious decisions in everyday life.
Lennart: For me, it was „we cross that bridge when we get there“. On such a trip, even in normal times, so many things can go wrong. There are a million reasons to think of why not to go on such a trip. And now we had the added issue of a pandemic… We set out with an open mind, with the idea that we possibly had to adjust our plans as we went along. In addition, since we have zero technical skills, any major issue with the bike would bring us to a halt. But hey, we would deal with that once we actually get to such issues. Have faith, take it easy, keep believing in your goal and never give up on following your dreams. Nothing is impossible, we know that now…
What advice would you give other motorcycle travelers that want to travel responsibly in these times?
Maia: In Africa, as well as in many other countries, we met countless people who were grateful for our visit. Traveling by itself has therefore never been irresponsible in my opinion. One can practice social distancing in their hometown as well as in a different country. Just use common sense and respect personal boundaries of the individuals whom you have contact with.
Lennart: Yes, just go. If you want to go and the borders are officially open, just go. Despite the social pressure trying to convince you that you should stay at home, there is no point in doing so. Adhere to and respect the local regulations, but please do travel. You do require a flexible mindset, but you will quickly see that the world is still a beautiful place.
What was the most memorable event of your adventure and why?
Maia: The first thing that just came to my mind was our last day of riding on Iceland. We were on the way back to the ferry, the weather was once more unsettled, which allows magical moments created by the sunlight breaking through the clouds. We saw yet another beautiful rainbow coming up and I cried for some time on this ride. Still amazed by the island’s beauty, I felt very sad knowing we would leave this magic behind for now because I simply wasn’t done with Iceland yet. At the same time, I was overly grateful because we were finally on our way to Africa, which has been our dream to begin with. No one, including us, knew if we would be able to make it there and now, we were getting closer and closer. It was a moment of overwhelming emotions.
Then there are numerous feelings I will never forget: the joy when hearing the sound of a hippo close by, the energy going through my entire body when witnessing the symphony of the northern lights, the love when the Kenyan family we stayed with in a village prayed for us before leaving them again and the excitement when I climbed over dunes barefoot at Sandwich Harbor in Namibia.
Lennart: My wife shutting down her Cardo (our communication system) because she was mad at me… I actually thought the system was broken, turns out she was just angry at me, haha. First time she did that, so yeah, quite memorable for me. Anyhow, all jokes aside, for me, Iceland will always stand out. Africa was a dream coming true, but we somehow had an idea of what to expect. Iceland basically was a surprise visit and we were just blown away by the sheer beauty.
Like Maia said, there are also so many small individual events that have left such an impression when thinking back. The very high seas resulting in massive waves crashing into the bow of the ship on the way to Iceland, feeling like you have landed in the Lion King movie in Kenya, endless hours of rattling and shaking on Namibian roads, that first elephant you see on the road in Zambia that you though was walking away but was ready to charge you, being alone in so many beautiful areas because of COVID-19, riding into Cape Town and by doing so reaching your goal, seeing how beautiful nature can be but at the same time how tough it is to survive in Africa… Shall I continue?
Are you planning your next adventure already?
Maia: We are a little surprised ourselves by the fact that we got back home feeling simply happy and satisfied. We did it. Our dream came true and even the adjustments we had to make benefited the whole experience. We learned to focus on all the things we have and did experience instead of focusing on everything we haven’t done yet. No desire to go bigger, better, keep looking for more. Just satisfaction and gratefulness for what we have achieved.
Certainly, we won’t stop traveling. It’s something we always enjoyed. I am sure we will have a great time during a few shorter motorcycle trips this year and who knows what the future might hold for us.
Lennart: Yes, like Maia said, it is such a great feeling to come home so satisfied, so happy, so grateful. We lived our dreams in a time where everyone thought it was impossible. We reached our goal, did everything we wanted to do and more, and got home safe and sound. What more could you wish for?
Your pictures are absolutely amazing! Where can we find out more about your trip and follow future adventures?
Maia: It is a privilege that many people followed us on this journey on Instagram (@maiastravels and @lennart.andreas) and Facebook. We are happy to answer all questions and share our experience with everyone interested, hoping many more will feel inspired to make their own dreams come true. Therefore, we will (sooner or later) publish more detailed blog posts on our website about all the hard facts, including our finances, as well as personal stories.
Lennart: We love to share our experiences and have talked about it already for hours since we are back. It seems like it is so difficult to do such a trip, but it really is a lot easier than one thinks. It just takes some courage and determination. But, anyone can do such a trip and we just hope to share some of that enthusiasm and passion that we have with anyone who is interested. There are many, many, many unreleased pictures that will show up over the coming months on our social media channels. Then, there is tons of video too, but it will need some time for us to go through that.
A few magazines worldwide will release several articles on our trips, and who knows, there is still so much left to tell, so many stories, so many great people we met: maybe there will be a book or so…