Back in the sixties I was a bit of a wild child. Always looking for the next adventure. In those days some countries were untouched by the western world and I wanted to immerse myself in as many of these exotic worlds as possible. Perhaps it was to find myself. Perhaps it was to lose myself. Definitely it was to connect with the greater world around me and push myself beyond what I thought was possible.
In 1966, aged 23, I boarded a ship with my shiny black Honda motorbike and set sail for California, arriving in San Francisco after weeks at sea. I will never forget the looks I got from the ship’s crew as I walked my motorbike off the gangplank. I had told them about my great journey and I could almost see their minds trying to compute what on earth a single woman was going to do all alone on such an epic journey on her motorbike.
Buses and trains get you from A to B but there’s nothing quite like the freedom of touring the countryside on a motorbike, feeling free as the wind blowing through your hair. I was headed on a road trip down through central and South America bound for Chile. Some of the places I would pass through were so remote I needed to be self sufficient with language, gear and motorbike repairs. I learned as much Spanish as I could and did a crash course with a local motorbike repair shop before I left Australia.
The real magic happened when I crossed the border into Mexico. Some days I rode with nothing but open arid, mountainous or agricultural landscapes with not another single soul for miles. Other days there were farmers and workers carrying harvests on their heads or tending their crops and animals in their fields. When my eyes met theirs their faces would light up with joy beaming at me from their labours. Some days I would have the company of locals riding their motorbikes along side me. This was a highlight. At times I could not communicate with my road companions but the joy and knowing we would each share on our faces said it all. Other days I would pass through quaint little towns or lively festive cities. This was wild and would sometimes be overwhelming after days of solitude on the open road with nothing but the sounds of my own thoughts and the motor rumbling along.
I made it all the way to Colombia before my first mechanical issue. I was making my way across a flat open valley when my bike gave out and I had to pull over. It was getting late and the light was fading. I grabbed my trusty toolkit and after a bit of tinkering I had the bike back on the road. Luckily it was an easy fix as the next motorbike repair mechanic I passed was three days ahead and I was grateful I was saved the long walk pushing my bike.
After three months on the road I made it all the way down the east coast to Chile and I am happy to say that all the motorbike repairs I needed to do I managed myself. I carried a few spare parts that would fit in my gear and this kept me on the road. For a young woman traveling alone in a foreign country in the sixties, to have achieved such a great journey independently was thrilling and empowering.
~ Elisa McTaggart