Interview: Tiffany Coates
File under Interviews
Author: Mike Werner
Location: Normandy, France
Every once in a while during my motorcycle travels I encounter very special people. On my last Dakar & Morocco trip, I had the good fortune to meet Tiffany Coates, a Round The World adventure rider. Tiffany is an exceptional woman; one who only recently learned how to ride motorcycles, and to celebrate, took her BMW R80GS motorcycle (dubbed Thelma) around the world. Tiffany lives in Lands End, United Kingdom. When we met her on the ferry to Tangers, she was heading out to Timbuktu on her recently acquired BMW F650GS.
Travelling in foreign countries like in the Middle East, Africa, Asia or South America is never easy, but it can be extremely daunting when you're a pretty woman. Tiffany has become a celebrity amongst the long distance riders. So I decided to ask her a few questions.
First, let's have an introduction
The Start 1997-2000
I originally set off with my friend, Becky Lincoln, for a simple trip to India, and now, five years later, I am on my fifth continent; I obviously took a wrong turn somewhere.
Here is how it happened. Becky and I originally came up with the idea in November 1997 to travel to India by motorbike, despite the fact that neither of us had any previous bike experience. After a crash course in How To Ride Bikes for complete beginners we got our licenses and a few months later set off on a second hand motorbike - a BMW R80GS - christened Thelma.
We started with £2500 between us, an 800cc bike from which we could only reach the ground with tip-toes and a vague journey plan of heading East until we reached the sea. We traveled through France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan finally reaching India after four months on the road. We had numerous adventures along the way including camping rough while bears and wild wolves roamed around our tent in Romania - and this was before we had even left Europe.
Traveling through Iran we had to wear chadors as it's illegal for women to appear in public not covered up with these huge black sacks complete with long head scarves. Putting them on over our leathers felt bizarre, but that's how we had to dress for the month we were there.
We drew crowds wherever we went as the Iranians had never seen a woman on a bike before; at one point we were arrested by the security police after a short chase through the town (we hadn't realised they were police).
Pakistan was our favorite part of this trip - a beautiful country with fantastically friendly people - who invited us in wherever we went. The foothills of the Himalayas were a stunning sight as rode through them, and we managed to get to 4800m and still be on a road although surrounded by snow. We had various mechanical problems on the way which we always managed to overcome, partly through luck, a lot of help and a steep learning curve, although due to on-going electrical problems we did end up having to push-start Thelma all the way through India - no mean feat as she weighs quarter of a ton! We spent three months traveling the roads of India - you've not seen anything until you experience the horrendous driving
conditions in this overcrowded country.
By this point we realised that we wanted to continue our journey and headed onwards, going through Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore and eventually reaching Australia where we rode across the continent via the outback, where there were only kangaroos and 150 feet long road trains (huge lorries) for company. We worked hard to save money and whilst Becky returned to England to start University I shipped Thelma to Cape Town where I worked for two months and persuaded another friend, Maggie Dunleavy (Ireland) to fly out from the UK and ride through Africa with me.
This part of the journey included the countries of South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt - the classic Cape Town to Cairo route with a few diversions. Crossing the Namibian deserts we had an accident where I was injured and unconscious for a while - Maggie's worst nightmare come true, but within two days we were back on the road.
Throughout Africa, the road conditions were the most appalling I had encountered anywhere - mud, sand and dirt being the main road surfaces - we had a few falls but made it through successfully, even managing to cross rivers that came up to the petrol tank.
Some of the highlights of Africa - riding through a herd of elephants in Zambia and swimming with the dolphins off Zanzibar as well as the immense sense of achievement at actually reaching some of the more remote areas after tackling roads that were allegedly impassable - not bad when you can't reach the ground properly.
Arriving back in Europe during winter wasn't a good move, we arrived via a ferry from Israel to Greece and ended up crossing the Alps in a blizzard, before the freezing journey across France in December without the starter motor working.
From deserts to snowstorms in a week.
How many miles do you think you've done so far ?
I have covered 90,000 miles on my travels
What countries have you ridden in ?
France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt, Israel, Greece, Italy, Spain, Canada, USA, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal and Mali.
Did you find any disadvantages of riding alone as a female ?
None except for the lack of toilet facilities at times and also having to put up with sleazy border guards and policemen.
Any advantages ??
I had the best of both worlds, where I was given more access to families and welcomed more warmly than a man would be, but also being treated as an honorary man and receiving the respect that a man's status would have in many of the developing countries.
What was the nicest trip you've taken ?
Hmm, a difficult one to answer - some beautiful memorable roads such as the Karakoram Highway in northern Pakistan and the wildlife of Africa
Have you made many good friends on your trips ?
Yes, that's one of the hardest parts of travelling, meeting great people- making that bond and then having to say good-bye and know that you might never get the opportunity to meet them again because they live so far away or in such remote places
What motorcycle would you recommend to anyone wanting to do similar trips ?
An airhead BMW like Thelma of course - it has really saved me at times that Thelma has this big old engine that car mechanics can work on and also that she just seems to be able to ride over and through anything, just like a tank.
Do you get lonely when travelling long distance ?
Yes, I do, when there are long stretches of road or if something big has happened and I want/need to share it with someone.
Do you ever reach a point that you think "I've had enough, I want to go home" ?
Only once in all my travels - ...when I was on Ruta 40 in Patagonia - I had no idea about the terrible reputation that this stretch of road has - the
most ferocious winds I have encountered anywhere combined with deep gravel tracks and almost no other vehicles - a very bleak and lonely place to be when you are on your own.
Can you maintain your own motorcycle ?
Yes, I can carry out full maintenance and can also diagnose many problems when they occur, some repairs I can do myself through improvisation - eg the bra fixing the headlamp.
What was your scariest moment when travelling ?
When we (Becky and I) got arrested by the Iranian secret police - we were in Kurdistanand had no idea why we were arrested - or should I say we didn't know which of our many illegal actions had finally got us into trouble
Your funniest ??
I think being able to laugh at myself is probably the best way to cope with most things, so I think I would say that having to ride a Yamaha Virago for 500 kms in Brazil, with a car tyre on it that was OVAL shaped and therefore VERY bumpy whilst suffering from the extreme cramps that accompany Giardia!
What was your most memorable event on your travels ?
Sunrise in Africa and watching a herd of zebras walking across the track ahead of us as we rode along.
And words of wisdom for a budding motorcycle traveller ?
Just go for it - because if you ask too many people they will tell you it's too dangerous or too far. Travel with an open mind and a ready smile.
Thanks Tiff, for sharing your adventures and allowing us our dreams...
You can follow Tiffany Coates travel tales on Horizons Unlimited blog site. Click here to read her stories.