As We See It

[Desert Export]

Wild ride: A man, a motorcycle and a plan to drive from India to Spain

Vegas expat Jordan Jones is traveling from India to Spain on a motorcycle named Billie-Jean.

Name: Jordan Jones

Age: 34

Vegas connection: I’m a Vegas native. You could almost say I’m third generation. Both my parents were born in Vegas. My maternal grandmother arrived in the late 1920s, my paternal grandfather just a few years later in 1931. I grew up on what was then the outskirts and could now be considered central [Las Vegas]. I spent my days as a kid building forts in the desert and chasing lizards. I graduated from [Bishop] Gorman, went to university in Colorado, and pretty much began the travel life right after that.

Current location: I’m in the middle of nowhere in Kyrgystan, a former soviet outpost in Central Asia. Sleeping in a tent, trying not to freeze (the mountains around here are about 14,000 feet and still covered in snow and ice). Before this place popped up on my potential route during my early planning stages for the moto adventure I could not have picked it on a map. It’s a funny country. The culture, architecture, people and food are a strange mix—almost like the love child born of a night spent with Lenin, Mao and Gengis Khan in a mountain yurt.

Next destination: From here I’m heading in the direction of Tajikistan to drive the Pamir Highway. It’s an ancient trading route from the Silk Road days that goes about 600 miles through mountain passes (some above 15,000 feet) and follows the border of Afganistan for several hundred miles. It’s the second highest international highway in the world—mostly unpaved, definitely not going to be easy, but it will be a great adventure.

Jordan Jones: The scenic route

What the journey’s all about: I started traveling about three and a half years ago. I was living in California at the time and sold everything I had that didn’t fit into a backpack and hit the road. I can’t say it was a spontaneous decision. ... I always wanted a family and kids, but I know it gets much harder to travel like I do once I take that step. So I had always planned one last big trip to see the world before I settled down. The money I had from selling my things lasted me a while, but when that began to run out I started looking for random little jobs here and there. I worked picking grapes for a season in France, I worked at a restaurant in New York, a goat farm in North Carolina, a cruise ship in Alaska and most recently I was working as a non-paid volunteer at an NGO in one of the largest slums in New Delhi. I travel cheap, my “all-in budget” (transport, accomodation, food, beer, entrance fees, etc.) is between $600-$900 a month, depending on what part of the world I am in.

How you travel: In my earlier travels, it was always all about buses and trains and hitchhiking, which are fun and are a good way to put you in touch with locals, but I’m hooked now on having my own wheels. It started in Brazil, where I bought an old model VW bus in Sao Paolo and drove it 4,500 miles up the coast to the Amazon where I sold it. I lived in it, slept in it, cooked in it ... Her name was Coco. Then I bought an old delivery car in Germany named Herbi for $800 and lived in that for a few months, driving it through six countries. On another stopover in Europe en route from China and Burma I bought a motoryclce named Billie-Jean. Having your own wheels you can go anywhere, and you end up passing through random little towns and villages where the locals never see foreigners, and so they are so curious to know what you are doing, where you are from, where you are going. I got the idea for my current adventure when I was in the Tibetan region of China. I wanted to wrap up my travels with a big adventure to up the ante a bit. That was when I came up with the idea to drive a vintage motorycle from India to Spain.

How you prepared: I began the research about six months before I arrived in India to learn what kind of documents, permission, licenses, etc. I would need to legally buy a bike and then take it out of the country. The visa planning stage alone ate up at least 15 hours of planning. Central Asia is one of the hardest places in the world to travel through when it comes to visas. Once in India I had to find a good bike and an honest mechanic to help me rebuild the engine and get her ready for the trip. ... I got lucky and was introduced to some guys at a place called Vintage Rides in Delhi (, they organize tours through India and Nepal on Royal Enfield motorycles. That is how I found Bala, my 1979 Royal Enfield. Sometimes it seems that the entire adventure revolves around her. (She’s an attention seeker.) Driving a motorcycle 8,000 miles across rivers, mountains and desert is a challenge and adventure as it is, but choosing to do it on a finicky 35-year-old motorycle is like attemping to climb Everest without oxygen.

Somtime I wonder if I’m in over my head, but I have learned not to despair when breakdowns happen but to embrace them. That is why traveling with you own vehicle is so great. All of a sudden you find yourself in some tiny villiage with a flat tire and you are completely dependant on the kindess of some strangers whose language you don’t share. And half the time you end up sipping tea or drinking vodka with them while they assure you that the bike repairs can wait.

The rest of the planning just comes as you go. You meet other “overlanders” (people traveling internationally in cars or motorycles) who update you on road conditions and border crossings, which are all always changing. You might be planning to take some small mountain road then find out there was some uprising betwen local villagers and mafia clans and that the road is now closed. ... I have learned one thing for sure: With Bala and her temper and the conditions in this part of the world, if you think it will take a week to get from point A to point B, plan on it taking 10 days.

What you’re bringing: One toolbox full of tools and spare parts, camping gear, camera, netbook computer, smartphone with GPS maps and clothes. Four shirts, three pairs of underwear and socks, one jacket, one pair of pants, one pair of shorts and of course, motorycle gear (helmet, pants and jacket).

The charity component: I hand selected four charities, and I hope one of them will appeal to your philanthropic taste buds. If people donate more than $50, I will send a postcard to them or anyone they want. Instead of giving some material gift for your friend’s birthday, you can donate $100 in their name and I will send them a postcard from wherever I am in the world with whatever personal message you want on it.

Why you decided to start traveling: For me, traveling is the best way to evolve as a person. ... Some people think my life is some big vacation. There is a difference between traveling and going on vacation. I’m not sitting next to a pool drinking daiquiris (well, maybe every once in a while); traveling is a huge challenge. It tests your patience, your determination, your reasonsing, your adaptability, your morality, your ability to relate to people and to make good decions even when in unfamiliar waters. Nothing goes as planned. I think the result taking all this in is that you evolve as a person, you find out more about yourself, you become better equipped to deal with whatever life throws at you, it balances you out.

How you became the family photographer of a Delhi slum: When I worked in the slums of Delhi, I often took tourists to see the projects and schools that the NGO ran in the slums. People there are poor but friendly and were happy to have their picture taken, sometimes the tourist would show the photo on their digital camera to the little kid whose picture they just took, but that was the extent of it. I thought it would be cool if the people could take something away from it. It’s not like these people have the means to collect an archive of family photos. So I started to take my camera along. When someone would point to my camera I would smap a picture and then later have it professionally printed. I would caarry the prints everytime I went into the slums and hand them out when I found the person I had photographed. I kind of became the unofficial family photographer for the slum. Once word got around, I couldn’t walk through the slum without having dozens of people asking to be photographed.

Advice for potential travelers: Do it. When I talk about my travels people always say things like, “Wow! You are so lucky!” But the funny thing they need to realize is that it has nothing to do with luck. You can do it too, but people love to make excuses: I have a lease on my apartment; I have a job; I have kids; I don’t have the money. So sublet your apartment! Quit your job! Bring your kids! Sell your car or that expensive stereo you just bought, or work two jobs to save money! Just go!

Your next big adventure: The big adventure of settling down! I have never been in a place in my life where I was truly settled in. It will be interesting how I deal with it.

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