“Adventure is just bad planning”
Life has a way of happening. Despite our best planning, things, people and circumstances get in our way, forcing us to adjust and move on. So is the case with adventure motorcycling.
The elements, terrain, people and governments at times exert themselves, forcing us to change course. When those things happen, do we take our lumps and continue on or do we quit?
No one understands this question better than Emilio Scotto, the man who traversed the globe on a Honda Goldwing and set the record for the world’s longest motorcycle journey.
The Pinnacles Desert, Australia
Beginnings in Argentina
“Tomorrow, I’ll go around the world” a nine-year-old Emilio told his mother in their family home in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She promptly replied, telling him the world would need to wait, and that he was going to school that day. That young Emilio would wait until he was 30 years of age before embarking on a quest to fulfill his childhood desire to see the world.
He purchased his first bike in 1980 after seeing a picture of a Honda Goldwing at a local motorcycle dealer. He described the experience in a 2016 interview the Guardian:
“I saw through the glass door of the dealer’s office a photograph of an alluring black motorcycle with fairing, a radio, an antenna, suitcases on both sides and a sign that read: ‘The world is yours, on two wheels.’ It became my motto. I had never ridden a motorcycle but I knew it was the one. I called it the Black Princess.”
Emilio Scotto with his Honda Goldwing GL1100
Over the next four years, Emilio put 30,000 miles on the “Black Princess” but longed for bigger challenges outside of his native Argentina.
With little money to his name, Sotto left his job in 1984, sold his belongings and set out on a trip that would take him 10 years and nearly 500,000 miles (735,000km) to complete. Crisscrossing the globe twice he experienced every challenge imaginable, including government red tape, jail time, robbery, traffic fines and accidents, natural disasters and attempts on his life. Scotto bridged nearly impassable routes on his Honda GL1100 and in the end visited 232 countries, 6 continents and took over 90,000 photos.
The distance he traveled was equal to a trip to the moon and back and his efforts earned him an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Likewise, his story is too great to tell in its entirety, so included are some highlights.
From the Amazon to America
With a little more than $300 dollars after selling off his possessions, Emilio crossed over from Argentina into Uruguay and continued North to Brazil. Riding along the eastern seaboard of South America, things took a grim turn when he stopped at Rio de Janeiro and was promptly robbed. Despite little money and limited fuel, he was able to make it to the Northern state of Bahia and its capital Salvador. It was here he received financial help from a friend and was able to continue his trip north.
Facing the immensity of the Amazon jungle, Emilio was told he would need to backtrack nearly 8000 miles to the in order to pick up the Pan American Highway. Undeterred, the Argentinean found passage on an eighty-year-old, single-cylinder river boat to take him and his bike down the dark waters of the Amazon to the city of Manaus. Along with him, about three dozen men, rough cut from living in the jungle joined him on the journey. Emilio soon realized he was riding with a desperate crowd. “As I watched and listened to them, it became clear that these people were outlaws, people living on the fringe of society [who] had been informally banished to the jungle,” Emilio recalled.
Crossing into the U.S., Emilio was surprised by the “low” speed limits. He received more tickets than in any of his travels outside of the U.S. After visiting San Francisco, he traveled to Las Vegas and then moved on to New Orleans, Florida and up to New York. A local New York news station covered his ambitious quest to see the world, which helped him raise the funds needed to travel to Europe.
On attempting to enter China, border officials demanded $70,000 to enter the country. China was slated to host the 2000 Olympics in Beijing at that time. Scotto caught a break after contacting the Motorcycle Club of Beijing who in turn put him in contact with the president of the Beijing Olympics committee. Feeling this would be an opportunity for the Chinese to demonstrate their goodwill in supporting International sport, the president arranged for Scotto to enter the country.
“I was allowed to tour China freely, with no restrictions, no supervision, an arrangement simply unheard of,” Scotto remarked. “More important, I could change money freely, just as if I were a Chinese citizen instead of a tourist—a privilege that gave me great leverage with the little money I had.”
The Perils of Africa
Emilio arrived at the Northern African port of Tunis ready to conquer Africa. At the oasis of Nefta, he realized the overwhelming size and expanse of the Saharan desert. “All around me is an ocean of sand…this is the way into the inferno,” he mused, when talking of that first experience with the African continent.
Africa was a continent in flux, with many of the countries at war and in some places, suspicious of outsiders. In Burundi, Chad and Cameroon, authorities charged Scotto with spying. In Zimbabwe, authorities jailed him on suspicion of possessing a forged passport.
Things were so chaotic when he entered Liberia during the mid-80s—a particularly difficult and tumultuous time in the nation’s history— that he had to stay in a diplomatic compound until getting safe passage out of the country.
He would remember these experiences afterwards as the most dangerous time on his journey.
“I emerged from Africa a bit scarred but definitely battle-hardened,” said Emilio of his quest to visit all 55 African countries.
Emilio’s World Tour by the Numbers
- 2 consecutive circumrevolutions around the world
- 10 years, 2 months and 19 days on the road
- 6 continents, including 232 countries in 485,000 miles (735K km)
- 1 replacement engine
- 12,500 gallons of gasoline
- 300 gallons of oil
- 86 tires
- 12 batteries
- 9 seats
- Imprisoned 6 times (once in the U.S. and five times in Africa)
- 15 traffic fines (13 in California, one in New York and one in Argentina on the day of his homecoming)
- Robbed 5 times (Brazil, Mexico City, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, China)
- Target of gunfire twice
- 2 traffic accidents. One in Yugoslavia, the other in Tanzania.
- 9 collisions (with a man, a taxi, a deer, and eagle, a baboon, a pig, an emu, two dogs, plus innumerable insects
- 1 major earthquake, 2 tornados, and 4 hurricanes
- 3 major illnesses. Scotto almost died of Malaria in Africa.
- 90,000 photographs
You can see Emilio’s legendary “Black Princess” Honda Goldwing at the auto museum in Laughlin, Nevada.
“Emilio Scotto’s Epic Motorcycle Journey Around the World.” Rider Magazine, 17 August 2004, http://ridermagazine.com/2004/08/17/emilio-scottos-epic-motorcycle-journey-around-the-world/. Accessed 21 May 2018.
Lahrichi, Kamilia. “Argentina still set the heart – and engine – racing for Emilio Scotto.” The Guardian, 19 August 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2016/aug/19/emilio-scotto-argentina-why-i-love-motorbike. Accessed 21 May 2018.
“Emilio Scotto.” Emilio Scotto World Tours, http://emilioscotto.com/emilio-scotto-3/. Accessed 22 May 2018.
Purchase Emilo’s book The Longest Ride from Amazon today.