There are probably easier vehicles with which to travel the world than a Vespa… but where would the fun be in that? Christian Bauer speaks to Alexander Eischeid about this most epic of journeys.
Many people have travelled significant distances on a Vespa, but probably the toughest trip on a Vespa ever made was the ‘Vesparicana’ by Alexander Eischeid. On an old Vespa PX125 Alexander travelled from the Arctic Ocean to Alaska through Canada, the USA and Central America all the way down South America to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. In 22 months he travelled 71,000km, visited 19 countries, broke eight pistons, two cylinders and three brake drums, and used five sets of tyres. Nuff said. Before ‘Vesparicana’, Alexander already had some experience in travelling. In 1998 he bought his first Vespa and since then he has travelled through 15 countries in Europe on a Vespa. In the past, he already travelled with a backpack around Central America and South America, from Mexico to San Diago de Chile, where he enjoyed the people and the countries so much… that he decided to go back on a Vespa.
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Why choose a Vespa for such an extreme trip? Simple — he loves riding them. To him it is the epitome of freedom. With the sound of the engine and free time for weeks and months, life is fun.
He knows he has the Vespa under control, and can repair it himself. The challenge was to do the trip not on a BMW but on a small Vespa. From Cologne, he flew to Vancouver, Canada. Than he rode for 6500km up north to the Arctic Ocean in Alaska, There he came up with the idea to give his Spanish post Vespa, that he named ‘Elsi’, its last job: to take water from the Arctic Ocean, Alaska, to the South Atlantic in Ushuaia, which is the most southern point on the continent. His epic journey continued and he travelled from Alaska through Canada, down the coast of the USA, took a turn to Utah in the desert, and went on to Mexico, He travelled for 11,000km in Mexico alone.
From Mexico, he went over Belize to Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica then on to Panama. Next, he took a boat and sailed with the Vespa for five days in the Caribbean, to get to Columbia in South America. From Columbia, he travelled through Ecuador to Peru. He then got an invitation from the Vespa Club of Brazil, so decided to cross the continent and drove through Bolivia, Chile and Argentina to Paraguay and finally to Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Phew! Then from Brazil, he went south to Uruguay, and from Buenos Aires, he started the last part of the trip: the next 6000km though Argentina, Patagonia down to Tierra del Fuego and finally to Ushuaia where he spilled the water from the Arctic Ocean into the South Atlantic. But still the trip wasn’t over. He had to ride another 6000km from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires. From there he took a container ship back to Hamburg and stayed on the ship for one month before he rode from Hamburg back to Cologne. All in all, he did 71,000km… epic.
During the trip Alexander realized that there are advantages to travelling on a small PX 125: “People who knew the Vespa welcomed me with open arms, but even people who didn’t know the Vespa, did see immediately that one man on a small colourful machine with so much luggage cannot have much money and he just wants to travel. So they invited me to their homes and I could build up my tent in their gardens.” It was his scooter that brought him closer to the people. Although he told himself that he was able to repair the machine, in practice he didn’t have that much experience in mending a Vespa.
It was a bit naive I have to say. All my learning was by doing. It is possible to figure a lot out by yourself but I should have learned certain things beforehand. For sure I should have restored and prepared the engine a lot better before I even set off. All ball-bearings should have been changed in advance!”
He learned this the hard way when the scooter broke down quite often near the end of the journey. Also because of all the weight of the luggage, the link of the suspension to the chassis broke, so he had to weld it in Argentina.
Reinforcing this connection is another thing he would do now before going on a trip like this. Another modification was the luggage rack; he shortened the seat so he could bring the luggage closer to his back. On the front luggage rack, he had two levels, this way he had more space plus the weight was lower, which made riding more comfortable.
Facing death at gunpoint
Alexander’s written a book about his trip which not only describes the problems of riding a Vespa over such a long distance, but also the different experiences and impressions from the various countries. From Canada and the USA the quality of the roads wasn’t much of an issue, nor was it a problem to find food or gas. But when he saw grizzly and black bears… he had to learn how to behave while camping in the wild. He kept talking to rangers and hunters to ask for their advice. It became dangerous at times, for example when he crossed Death Valley, it took him about seven hours to pass it and he drank about five litres of water. Thankfully, no problems from the Vespa there! Phew again! Central and South America were a bit more dangerous at times, there Alexander tried to get in touch more with the locals, so he would get the information regarding which areas he should avoid and which areas were safe.
Another problem there was the quality of the fuel; sometimes it was only 82 octane and it destroyed seven pistons and two cylinders! In Brazil, for example, the price of fuel is always the same, but depending on the price of the oil they add more or less alcohol to it. It can contain between 40%-70% alcohol. Also at times, it was difficult to find two-stroke oil and he had to keep several litres in stock.
The worst moment of the trip though, was when he got hijacked in Guatemala. He was at 2500m altitude, it was a sandy road and it went steeply uphill. He didn’t have much engine power so he wanted to change the jet in the cart. While he was working on it, two guys jumped out of the woods, one with a gun and one with a machete! They yelled very aggressively: “Amigo dinero, dinero.” So he gave them his wallet. They took the money, around $20, and they also wanted his camera. He gave them his camera as well but said: “Come on guys, all my pictures of Guatemala are on the memory card.” And so the guy took the card out of the camera and gave it back. In the end, nothing serious happened, but it was a bit of a shock and he had to find his way back into the trip for a while.
Something quite fascinating was that Alexander brought a lot of scooter clubs from all the different countries together and that was very much a coincidence. At first it didn’t cross Alexander’s mind that there could be support from Vespa Clubs, but already in Alaska, he needed new rims. On the Internet he found out that there was a Vespa Club in Vancouver and asked them for spare parts. They welcomed him with open arms and told him to go to Portland, Oregon and San Francisco to visit the clubs there.
Later he was in San Diego and he met Vespa Motorsport where they made a YouTube video of him. Scooterists from Mexico who buy their parts in San Diego saw the video, so they knew already that he was on his way, so they contacted him on his website and invited him to stay over and fix the bike. The clubs started talking to each other to let them know that Alex was on the way. In South America, he met scooter clubs in almost every country and he even decided to cross the continent to visit the club of Sao Paolo, Brazil. All the clubs got connected. So in this way, his trip really brought the American scooter scene together.
In the final chapters of his book, you can tell that Alex reached his physical limits. Also, the Vespa kept breaking down and he admits that he did not think it would be so hard in the end… still it was the adventure of his life, so far. Back in Germany, Alex published the book Vesparicana about his journey and he started to give presentations all over Germany, but of course, he has plans for a new adventure now: he is thinking of travelling with his wife in an Ape from Cologne all the way down Africa…
More info on Alex: www.vesparicana.de
Words: Christian Bauer
Photographs: Courtesy of Alexander Eischeid
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