Around the world on a Vespa
Why plan an adventure on a big bike with a big budget when you can buy a mint green Vespa 125 for £700?
In April 2015, 24-year-old fine art graduate Emma Trenchard embarked on an adventure east, riding a Vespa 125 from the UK, through Europe, Central Asia, and beyond. This is the story of her amazing journey so far: “Accompanied by my much-loved Vespa 125, Grettle, I set off from my home county of Dorset to head east. With the world as my oyster, a blank canvas on which to paint a colourful story, I set off into the unknown.
“I stuffed as many clothes as I could under my seat, piled my leather panniers with paint tubes and Pritt Stick, filled my yellow top box with a sleeping bag and sketchbooks, and strapped a tent to the top of it all. Knowing as much about mechanics as my mother knows about our computer; I left without tools or spare parts, bid farewell to two nervous parents and headed for Dover.
“It took two rainy weeks to get to Salzburg, Austria, a hugely exciting stop for Grettle as it’s her home town (she is named after the youngest child of the Von Trapp family from the film Thesoundofmusic).
Kyrgyzstan? Why not!
“We scooted around the Sound of Music sites, before setting off southeast for the Grossglockner Alpine Pass. We journeyed through the dramatic scenery of Slovenia, to the coastline of Croatia, through the barren, rocky, lake-filled landscapes of Montenegro and Albania and on to Greece, camping along the coastline until finally reaching Turkey.
“On the border of Croatia and Montenegro, I was offered a job to teach art in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. This came as the perfect solution to my rapidly decreasing funds, so I accepted gladly, aiming to reach the capital by the end of July.
“Having arrived in Istanbul I became horribly lost. I stopped to ask for directions and misunderstood the response. I ended up driving the wrong direction down a motorway, rounding a corner, and crashing head-on with a van. Grettle lay under its front wheel, smoke billowing out and oil covering the road. I was carried off on a stretcher to the local state hospital.
“I escaped from the hospital with the help of local police officers and found Grettle later that evening in a scrapyard. I'd been told she was a write-off, and was wondering whether to opt for horse or camel to continue my journey, I was overjoyed to discover she was fixable.
“A young mechanic welded Grettle’s fork back into place, hammered her into shape, and reassembled her entangled electrics. Once we had fully recovered, we set off for the Black Sea coastline.
“Reaching Georgia, I headed southeast through the lush and mountainous landscape, en route to the capital; Tbilisi. Three days later there was an escape at the zoo and bears roamed the rooftops, lions prowled the streets, and tigers terrorised tourists while Grettle and I escaped into Azerbaijan.
“A police car accelerated up beside me and pulled me over. ‘Money’ appeared to be the only word of English they knew, which they repeated angrily several times, while prodding the small bag around my hip and pointing at Grettle’s speedometer. The idea of Grettle speeding was ridiculous, but with no alternative I opened my wallet. They saw two 50 Manat notes and snatched them. Outraged and upset, I pulled over at the next café. Two men pulled up in a car and said: “We saw your bike, and followed you here.” The driver, Rashad, said: “This Vespa...for speeding?” he laughed. “If you like, we will find these men, and get your money back.” I thought it highly unlikely, but had nothing to lose and went with him to a police checkpoint.
“There followed many phone calls, during which I was asked to describe the officers. My memory went blank and I couldn’t remember if they had moustaches; apparently a key factor in the search. But 15 minutes later the officers had been found – and the chief of police handed me my 100 (£50) Manat back!
‘Three days later there was an escape at the zoo and lions prowled the streets’ 'I left without tools or spares, bid farewell to two nervous parents and headed for Dover'
Roads of silk
“Taking passage onboard a cargo ship, it took two days to cross the Caspian Sea. As we drew in to Kazakhstan the scenery changed dramatically to desert. With the temperature reaching over 60ºc at times, it was with some effort that we tackled the desolate and barren Silk Road, and wandered the ancient cities of Uzbekistan, before making it out of the heat and into the high ground of Tajikistan.
“We disappeared into the wilderness of the Pamir Mountains, where terrible weather caused the collapse of the Pamir highway. As the mountains crumbled before my eyes, rivers engulfed the roads, valleys were flooded, many people were killed and power cuts plunged the region into darkness.
“With a boat only strong enough to take pedestrians across the flood blocking the M41, and a two-mile climb over the washed-up remnants of the landslide, it was impossible for any vehicles to cross. With only five days remaining on my Tajik Visa, Grettle and I had no choice but to tackle the Wakhan Corridor. This panhandled strip of land, lies in the far north eastern corner of Afghanistan, its northern border sepa- rating Afghanistan from Tajikistan is marked by the Indus River, alongside which a bone-rattling road winds its way through the Corridor, wedged between the Pamir mountains and the Hindu Kush. It was the highlight of the adventure, a breathtaking road that reaches 4655 metres, before coming to an end in southern Kyrgyzstan.
“Grettle broke down 20 miles outside the capital, so I arrived at Bishkek by tow rope. I was greeted by a somewhat startled school secretary, who towed me to my new apartment. It was just two days prior to the start of school.
“I have since been fired, and am now teaching English in Mongolia, saving up to take on the next phase of my adventure, onwards to Canada for a circumnavigation of the globe!”
‘As the mountains crumbled before my eyes, rivers engulfed the roads’
Next week: 70 years of Vespa
A wrongt urn saw Emma and Grettle collide head-on with a van in Istanbul