We were recently talking to a hotel host in Morocco who inquired where we were from. This is always an interesting question, because as travelers, we feel we’re “from” wherever we started our day. However, to avoid confusion, we just say “California” since most people know of California from movies and television. The next question, upon seeing that we’re on motorcycles, is “Did you ride your motorcycles all the way from California?” We smile and reply, “Yes, we traveled across the United States and shipped them to Iceland. After Iceland, reaching the rest of Europe and northern Africa has been a combination of ferry crossings and daily riding.” They always seem to be amazed that we’ve traveled so far. But in reality, it’s just taking our days “mile by mile”, and before you know it we’ve visited 43 countries on three continents. Mile by mile – day by day – they add up.
January and February
2022 started similar to most folks in the United States – spending the Christmas Holidays and New Years with family. In January and February we did our best to visit with all of our family, and made preparations to return to Cartagena, Spain to be reunited with our BMW motorcycle “mules” and continue another year of overlanding through northern Africa and Europe. We were excited for 2022 with hopes that the COVID pandemic would abate and offer more freedom of travel.
On February 24th, Russia invaded Ukraine with a major escalation of a war which began in 2014. The invasion resulted in the largest refugee crisis since World War II, and the deaths of tens of thousands on both sides of the conflict. I was struggling with the guilt of preparing for another season of motorcycle overlanding. How could we possibly be enjoying ourselves in Europe, while millions were fleeing their home country, or digging through the rubble of what was once their home. I wrote a short post trying to come to terms with my feelings called An Uncertain Europe.
With the heavy thought of the Russo-Ukrainian War on our hearts, we finally came to the conclusion that there are always terrible things happing in the world. Sadness and death are a natural part of life. We chose to focus on the vastly more positive things – joy and love. Living each day with joy and doing our best to bring a smile to those we meet.
Our travel year started with a flight to Europe from the United States. After a few days of connecting flights and train rides, we were reunited with our friend Maria and our two G650GS mules that we left in storage with her parents. Over the next week we packed the mules for what we hoped would be riding west and then catching a ferry to Morocco. March and April would be the ideal time to explore this north Africa country. However, political issues between Spain and Morocco were delaying ferry travel between these two countries. We had heard that our best chance for reaching Morocco was to catch a ferry from France or Italy. We packed our mules, said our “haste más tardes (until next time)” and headed north towards Sète, France where we had a ferry scheduled to Tangier, Morocco.
Although we’ve traveled through the eastern coast of Spain in the past, there is always something more to see. Along our route north, we experience the comfortable weather of early Spring and saw many sites to include Santuari de Santa Maria Magdalena, Poble Vell de Corbera d’Ebre, and the Salt Mountain in Cardona.
Just one week before we were scheduled to board the ferry to Morocco, we received an email and our cancelation of the trip. No Morocco. The ferry company seemed to suggest that it was just a matter of weeks before Morocco would open its border to ferries, but we just didn’t have the time to wait. Our 90-day Schengen limit started the day we arrived in Europe and we had a lot of places to explore. We decided, with reluctance, to give up on Morocco and book a ferry to the French island of Corsica instead.
Corsica ended up being a wonderful place to spend a few weeks. Our travels snaked across the island from north to south where we focused on the typical sight-seeing, and riding as much of the Trans Euro Trail as we could. Our time in Corsica was very memorable – for good reasons and bad. When we arrived there was a strike where the angered farmers were preventing gasoline from being delivered to the stations. We had to wait a few days before we could fill up our tanks and continue along in our travels. We were surprised at how beautiful and diverse Corsica is, with its wide variety of incredible coastal views, mountains, forests, and pigs. Yes, pigs! Pigs roam widely along the country roads, and they especially loved when Chantil would feed them doggie treats from the side of the road.
After Corsica, we boarded a short ferry ride south to the island of Sardinia. The late April weather made our riding around this Italian island seem like the perfect time to visit. We enjoyed the wonderful Italian hospitality as we hopped from tourist destinations scattered throughout the island. What surprised us mostly about Sardinia was learning about the Nuragic civilization that lived here from Middle Bronze Age (18 century B.C.) to the Roman colonization of 238 B.C. We even slept a night in a Nuragic cave deep in the backcountry!
From the south of Sardinia the next logical place to continue our travels was the island of Sicily. Unfortunately, our introduction to Sicily was not a pleasant one. When the ferry lowered its boarding ramp in the capital city of Palermo, we rode into a city that was full of trash, banged up cars, reckless drivers, and poor living conditions. It was not a good first impression. We decided, somewhat last minute, to book a ferry from Palermo to the country of Tunisia, where we hoped to experience the north African culture we had missed in Morocco.
We throughly enjoyed our three weeks in Tunisia. It was exactly what we needed, with a renewed energy of a completely different continent and an experience that was unlike anything we had experienced in Europe. The sights, sounds, and smells were all so different – it was reinvigorating! We enjoyed visiting some wonderful places to include Roman structures, old fortresses, beautiful mosques, and many well-preserved STAR-WARS filming locations. Tunisia truly was a memorable country to explore on two wheels.
We returned to Palermo, Sicily to find that the tourist season was now in full effect. Popular tourist attractions like Valley of the Temples and Mount Etna were chocked full of tourists. We quickly realized that if we wanted to enjoy the summer without crowds, we would have to head into the eastern countries of Europe – not Italy and Greece. We decided to visit one more place before leaving Sicily – onward to the small country of Malta.
Malta isn’t very large and could be visited in a few days – we took a week. We were surprised by a few things in Malta. First – apparently they drive on the left side here. We didn’t know this until leaving the ferry dock at 11PM and wondering why the headlights of an approaching car were in our lane! Second – Malta is very developed. Shopping malls, large grocery stores, and newer cars were the norm here. It felt a bit like we were transported into England with a dash of Arab culture and architecture thrown in for flavor. Malta was definitely worth the short ferry ride from Augusta, Sicily.
After Malta, we returned to Sicily and continued up the east coast, and stopped for a few days to explore Mount Etna. Although this popular site was very touristy, the guided hike up the jagged volcanic face of this active volcano was a highlight of our travels.
After another ferry ride, we were on the mainland of Italy – “the boot”. We dashed across the southern portion of the boot towards the heel, stopping to enjoy a day in the very picturesque city of Matera. In Bari, we boarded yet another ferry (our 9th so far this year) that delivered us to Patras, Greece.
Our time in the Schengen Zone was rapidly approaching our 90-day limit, but we made the most of our limited time in Greece, by riding the entire portion of the Adventure Country Track (ACT). This freely published route winds around the mountainous regions of Greece, where we enjoyed backcountry hospitality and the moderate temperatures of the early summer months. After finishing the ACT, we headed towards the hustle-and-bustle city of Thessaloniki, to get new rear tires fitted on the mules. We wanted maximum traction for exploring the many off-road trails that we had planned to explore in eastern Europe.
On day 89 of our 90-day limit, we left Greece and entered Bulgaria. We planned to spend the next 90 days, outside the Schengen Zone, enjoying the countries of Bulgaria, Romania, and Serbia. However, Bulgaria would surprise us with a “less-than-welcoming” experience after our first week in the country. While entering the city of Plovdiv, Chantil’s mule caught fire! She quickly pulled over and shut off the engine, but the black smoke and the smell of burned plastic was already permeating through the air. A short between the frame and the positive battery lead had burned a large section of the main wire harness.
Fortunately, the wonderful folks at Moto Camp Bulgaria came to the rescue! Peaches drove three hours south to haul us and our two mules back to their camp in northern Bulgaria. Ivo helped us arrange to ship a new wire bundle from Germany, and Polly made us feel at home while we waited for the parts to arrive. We ended up having a wonderful time at Moto Camp, where we got to present at the Horizons Unlimited annual gathering, and meet many motorcycle travelers from all over the world. With a bit of work, patience, and time, we had a new harness installed and were on our way exploring the beautiful countryside and Communist era sites of this wonderful country.
The month of August was highlighted by our travels through Romania. Chantil and I both found Romania to be a fascinating country to visit, especially the mountainous regions of Transylvania. We enjoyed many wonderful sites to include the impressive salt caves of Salina Turda, and riding along famous roads like the Transrarăul, Transfăgărășan, and Transalpina. We even made time to see Count Dracula at Bran Castle, however our favorite castle was Peleș Castle in Sinaia.
Our fondest memories of Romania were riding through the remote regions of the country while following along the Adventure Country Track. This route winds along some of the most beautiful places of Romania, and provided a peek into the lives of the farming and Romani villages dotted throughout the mountainous regions. Just watch out for the sheepdogs – they love to chase motorcycles!
Serbia was a country that we felt like we needed to experience after spending a previous winter season visiting all of the former Yugoslavian countries except Serbia. While visiting Kosovo in 2021, our views of Serbia where not a pleasant one. The Kosovo War of 1998-1999 was still engrained on the memories of many Kosovo Albanians who fought in the war, and the hundreds of memorials that would continue to shape the minds of future generations. NATO and US bombings left as many as 1,200 Yugoslavian military and civilians dead. As we crossed the border from Romania into Serbia, we wondered how we would be received as Americans.
Fortunately, we found Serbia to be a wonderfully accepting country. Although there are reminders of the NATO bombings, especially in the capital city of Belgrade, we found that the Serbians offered the same hospitality we had received from other Balkan nations we had visited. Highlights of our travels through Serbia included the many Communist-era monuments, the autumn colors and natural beauty of the Vraneša region, and one of the most beautiful Orthodox churches we have ever experienced – The Holy Martyr George in Topola.
As the autumn season crept upon us, we needed to be heading south to warmer weather. Greece and Turkey were the obvious choices, however we still had some “unfinished business” in Italy, and the Alp regions of France. After riding three of the previous Adventure Country Tracks (ACT) through Portugal, Greece, and Romania, we were excited to ride the ACT in Italy as well. We decided, somewhat last-minute, to book a ferry from Montenegro to Italy and ride the entire 720 miles (1160 km) of the ACT which winds through the central portion of Italy.
We were just five miles from starting the first day of riding in the backcountry, when Chantil’s front sprocket flew off her mule! The bolt that holds the sprocket onto the counter-shaft had snapped off, sending the sprocket, and washers, into the roadway! Between the parts we recovered from the side of the road and the spares we had, we had what we needed to repair the sprocket. We just needed to get Chantil to a garage that could remove the broken bolt shaft from the counter-shaft. I towed Chantil down the road to a garage where they were able to remove the broken bolt and fix everything within a half hour! We started our ride along the ACT, grateful that the sprocket bolt didn’t break on a remote trail, far away from help.
Throughout our 12-days of riding the ACT, we were blessed with unseasonably clear skies and sunny warm weather. Although the entire ACT was enjoyable, my personal favorite was riding through the magnificent Tuscany regions, where it felt like we were riding through a painting of a childhood memory. Highlights of the ACT also included the old city of Orvieto, and a side-trip to San Marino.
After the ACT, we headed to Maranello, which is the home of one of the most exotic cars in the world – Ferrari! During our short time there, we visited the Museo Ferrari which showcases some of the most beautiful sports cars in Ferrari’s history. Of course, most were in my favorite color – Ferrari red!
On the day of our departure from Maranello, I was checking the tightness of my front sprocket bolt, and it too snapped right off – just like Chantil’s did a few weeks before! We rigged up the tow rope and Chantil towed me to a racing shop that did a phenomenal job of removing the bolt shaft, and then welding the sprocket to the counter-shaft. The teeth on my counter-shaft had been wearing slowly over the past four years and had deteriorated so badly that the sprocket would no longer catch properly. Welding it was the best option at the time.
It took us much longer to ride the Italian ACT than we anticipated, so the option of riding into the French Alps was no longer available due to snow closures of the off-road trails in mid-October. We could either turn south and ride along the west coast to the more favorable weather of southern Italy, or we could continue to Seté, France and catch a two-day ferry to Morocco. We decided on Morocco! We had wanted to visit this north African country ever since we arrived in Europe, but the COVID pandemic and political problems between Spain and Morocco made ferry travel impossible until late April of 2022. If we didn’t visit Morocco now, we might never have the chance again.
The rest of the month was highlighted by a short visit to the city country of Monaco, and spending time with our gracious friends – the Lukasik Family. It was so nice to be able to unwind for three weeks and prepare our mules for their journey to Morocco. We were truly grateful for the incredible hospitality we received from our friends during our time in Toulon, France.
Europeans say Morocco is “the neighbor that is so close and so far”. Although it’s only a short ferry ride from Spain, Morocco is so much different in geography, culture, religion, and politics. We found it to be invigorating and exactly what we needed to rekindle our travel spirit. Nearly everything about Morocco has been so different than what we’ve experienced in our travels throughout Europe – the clothing, the public call to pray, the exotic and flavorful foods, and the medinas and markets that date back millenniums. It’s all so interesting! We plan to stay in this country for 90 days, making a slow clock-wise circle to the famous sites, while taking the time to explore the backcountry and small farming villages.
A Wonderful Year of Memories
What to Expect for 2023
We’re excited to see what 2023 brings us. Our hopes are that we will return to Europe in March, ride through western Italy and the larger Greek islands, and then wind our way north to the Baltic region for the summer months. Perhaps we’ll make it to Turkey in the autumn and for Thanksgiving. More adventure awaits…
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