Konstantinos Mitsakis is a Greek travel writer but he has gone far beyond his writing – since 1985 he has been travelling on his motorcycle around the globe – a record of all this can be found on his website motoexplorer (in Greek) and the English-language Roads of the World. We are extremely happy to be hosting this author of 12 travel books today and hearing all about his overland adventures.
This interview was partially taken from a former interview in a Greek motor magazine with added questions especially for this interview answered in Greek. All the material was translated by Harry Mitsidis.
Konstantinos, tell us something about your childhood and how you decided to become a world traveller.
I was born in Sydney, Australia and the first images I had were of this far-away land, literally at the other end of the world. When I was 9 in 1973, my parents decided to return to Greece after 20 years in Australia. That return journey would remain deeply ingrained in my memory and was a catalyst in my desire to see the world.
It was a long see voyage of 33 days (Sydney-Pireaus) with the then well-known passenger ship ‘Patris’ (ed. note: ‘homeland’ in Greek). On the long voyage home, we stopped in Perth, Durban, Las Palmas and Valletta. For the record, it was one of the last sea voyages of the famed ‘Patris’.
How do you feel that your country of origin affected your view of the world. And what were people’s reactions in different parts of the world when they heard you were Greek?
Intense light, blue seas, emotional people, clear skies, thousands of years of history, ancient civilisation, culinary delights, diversity of scenery. This rare combination is what our Greece is, a place that has left an indelible mark on me and has determined not only my character but also my travel interests.
As far as reactions in various places of the world are concerned, when they heard I was Greek, I would get only acceptance, true respect and huge smiles. The reactions I would get as a Greek were truly touching.
I will mention what happened to be in Iran, in Zahedan, as a passenger in a taxi. Telling my middle-aged driver where my origins lie, he enthusiastically told me I was the first Greek he had ever seen. At the end of the ride, saying he was proud to have met a descendent of Alexander the Great – as he called me – he categorically refused to be paid for the ride despite my objections. That day I was convinced that Alexander the Great had sealed the passport of history for us…
What does travelling by motorbike mean to you?
Two-wheeled trips are a way of life for me and they offer me diverse experiences, challenges, authenticity, adventure and open new paths to knowledge. Overlanding the world by motorbike, I was able to discover all the strength that was hidden in me. I learned to listen more to the heart, rather than logic, I broke the limits of freedom and the imagination, I continued dreaming, I fought compromise and in many cases I went beyond my emotional and physical limitations. Holding the steering-wheel of my motorbike, I was able to taste every moment of magic that was given to me and feel a thousand different emotions. And the voyage continues…
When you started this, did you plan to roam every continent or is this something that just happened?
I started travelling with my motorbike to get to know my own country and then the neighbouring ones. Soon though, I got ‘hungry’ for longer trips further away. So the nearby adventures of my first years in Europe (1985-1990) were just a starter of my long two-wheel adventures on 5 continents. With Phileas Fogg and Marco Polo in mind, daring travel dreams that seemed like a fantasy were realised, exotic destinations ceased to be something out of a mere travel guide and an impressive number of countries are now written down in my travel logbook.
How long have you travelled on one single journey and where was this?
The longest continuous one journey was 14 hours and was from Bucharest to Athens (1200 kms) in 2010. Specifically, I left the Romanian capital at 06.00 a,m and reached Athens at 22.00 the same evening. This involved two border crossings (Romania-Bulgaria and Bulgaria-Greece).
What model of motorbike do you recommend for long trips like you have done?
I have used many different models of motorbike, including YAMAHA RD 350, KAWASAKI GPZ 600, SUZUKI GSX-R 750, SUZUKI GSX-R 1100, KAWASAKI KLE 500, BMW F-650, BMW GS 650, BMW RT 1200, BMW K 1200, KTM 990 ADV, KTM 990 SMT, KTM 1190 ADV, KTM 1050 ADV, YAMAHA CRYPTON 135 X, SUZUKI V-STROM 650 and more.
However, I prefer not to answer in terms of a model but of a type of motorbike, For me dual-sport bikes (on-off bikes) were the best for those long and demanding journeys. They are much easier to handle than street bikes, they are capable of handling any terrain and overcome road difficulties with considerable ease.
Which of your journeys have left a mark on you?
On my own Bucephalus, I relived Alexander the Great’s historical journey in 2001, crossing the territory of 14 countries (Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India).
Starting from our very own Macedonia, I rode 28,500 kms leading me to mythical lands. I saw Persepolis and the Achaemenic kings, I rested in Siwa Oasis in the middle of the desert, I met the descendants of Alexander the Great in Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan. It was a very different, entirely authentic trip which I felt was completed thanks to my respect for history and which I recommend to conscientious Greek moto travellers.
Were there occasions when you were afraid?
Certainly throughout these years of travelling on my motorbike, there were events and circumstances where my life was in danger and I was certainly afraid. Riding in Afghanistan in 2005, still an active warzone, a sniper shot us on the outskirts of Kabul but thankfully the bullet bounced off my wife Olga’s helmet.
In 1998 I crossed the then warzone between Sudan and Ethiopia with the motorcycle on a military truck full of explosives. In 2000, I was attacked by knife-wielding thieves in Peru but luckily I escaped unharmed. In 2009, 2014 and 2017 I crossed southwestern Pakistan with an army escort to protect me against possible Taliban attacks.
How long does it take to plan a trip and what does this entail?
I usually need 2-3 months to plan a trip with all the needed details. My biggest headache is when there are air or sea transfers at various points in the world.
Moreover, the study of the geopolitical situation of the place I am about to visit and the knowledge of any bureaucratic procedures that may be needed to enter with a motorbike are important parameters in planning. As is, of course, the type of terrain in each country (asphalt, gravel or sand).
You’ve been to 110 countries. Which ones have charmed you most?
It’s hard to answer which country I left my heart in, but I can say that Asia, the largest continent of our planet, to me represents a unique kaleidoscope of cultural, historical and religious elements, which fascinate me.
Thirsting for adventure in the vastness of Asia’s hospitable lands, I visited places which have been sealed by a history of thousands of years, on ancient merchant routes. I was fascinated by the warmth but also the hard day-to-day realities of its people.
If you insist on countries, I would say: India, Iran, Syria, China, Indonesia, Uzbekistan, Nepal…
I imagine some amusing incidents must have happened to you. Which one comes to mind?
In 2001, at a petrol-station in north-western Syria, a corpulent businessman from Kuwait, owner of a super-stylish white Mercedes-Benz, had stopped next to us for fuel. After politely greeting us and examining our motorbike, he suggested I get into his car, which I did. He unexpectedly asked me what my relation to my smiling companion was (my wife Olga) and his offer was simple and astounding: $10,000! That’s how much he offered me to… sell Olga!
For about half an hour I was trying to make it clear – half serious, half joking – that in Greece we are not accustomed to selling our wives. After successfully convincing him that I still needed Olga’s companionship and I had no reason to get rid of her, we exchanged phone numbers and address. Olga’s would-be ‘buyer’ insisted that he be my host on a future trip of mine to Kuwait. As long as I went with Olga of course…
Finally, our signature question – if you could invite any four people from any period of human history to dinner, who would you invite and why?
Tough question, but for sure I would invite, in order of priority, Alexander the Great, Magellan, the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos and Marco Polo.