Many countries around the world have started to open up their borders again to allow traveling during the summer holidays in the northern hemisphere. South Africa is still continuing with the Corona-lockdown, but we are hoping to open up for tourism again soon. In the meantime we explore other options – and they are virtually out of this world.
Adjusting our 3D-goggles, we sit comfortably back in our chairs. The pedestal fan is hooked up to the computer, adjusting the force and direction of the airflow so we can feel the wind in our hair and develop an (almost) real sense of freedom. Thanks to our surround-headphones, we get the full benefit of the engine roar, artfully engineered by skilful sound designers. The graphics are impeccable: The landscape before us stretches out in high definition. I use the dictaphone-app to send a quick voice message to our group of fellow riders. They come from all over the planet. Right now, they sit in front of their computers in Berlin, New York, London, Beijing, Sydney, Auckland or Bogota – just like we do in Cape Town. Having connected via the Internet to one of our much sought-after “Virtual Due South Motorcycle Tours”, they are equally excited as we are to get today’s motorcycle ride started…
Now there is a scenario! And it is not as far-fetched as one might think. Virtual reality holidays are just one of the many ideas currently thrown into the ring when the future of travel in post-pandemic (or rather post-lockdown) times are discussed. And in a way it makes sense. From schooling to working to celebrating birthday parties: almost all occasions, for which people used to come together, have been moved into cyberspace. A number of virtual holiday packages already exist. Thus, virtual motorbike touring seems to be the next logical step, especially when you look at the possible advantages.
Virtual holidays: A better way of motorcycle touring?
To start with, virtual tours are more eco-friendly: No need to fly and harm the climate, and no burning of fossil fuels in both, the airplane’s or motorbike’s engine. They are also virtually stress-free: No need to pack or get a travel insurance, no currency exchange and no pressure to learn a couple of words in a foreign language. Virtual motorcycle rides could be more comfortable, too: No sweating into your bike gear when riding under the hot African sun, no getting wet when hitting some un-seasonal rain. And lastly, travels in cyberspace are probably cheaper: You buy the Virtual-Reality-equipment once, and then you are free to travel as often as you like, as far as you like. Imagine what it would be like if you were able to travel to some far, far away destination even though you have only the weekend. Or you could just squeeze a quick ride along South Africa’s beautiful Route 62 or around the Cape Peninsula in between two meetings while you are in your home office!
Curiosity is the traveller’s motivation, surprise is the reward.
Tempting as that may sound, there are quite a few downsides to virtual motorbike touring. First and foremost, we are convinced that nothing can ever replace meeting a person in real life. Be it a family member or friend you are travelling with, be it someone who joins your group of riders, be it a chance meeting by the side of the road – one of the greatest perks of travelling is getting to know people you never would have met had you stayed at home or confined yourself to your own peer-group. Also, humans are curious by nature, and there is an explorer in all of us. Exploring has a lot to do with facing the unexpected, which only real life has to offer: Sceneries, smells, temperatures, tastes and textures, colours and lights, all of which are experienced even more intensely when you are on a motorcycle.
Like: Riding your bike through a thunder storm that came totally out of the blue, inhaling the scent of the dry earth as it opens up to the rain. Enjoying a speedy run along the open road when all of a sudden some tight bends come up, forcing you to focus and to utilise all your riding skills in order to get through them swiftly, safely, enjoying every second of the adrenaline rushing through your veins. A flat tyre in the middle of nowhere with the sun beating down and no mobile phone reception, and then a farmer stopping for you, loading your bike on the back of his bakkie, giving you a lift to the nearest garage and helping you to fix the puncture. Chasing your own shadow during the last couple of kilometres on the ride back to the hotel, the evening sun behind you, and the prospect of a cold beer shared with friends ahead of you.
Memories are made of genuine experiences
And let us be honest, that evening when you sit down with your cold beer (or a coke, if you prefer) as well as weeks and months later when you think back on that day, the things you recall will not be the ones that were perfect or went according to plan. Instead, you will remember the moments when the unexpected happened, when you were challenged, when you had to improvise, when something or someone took you by surprise. It is these “real impressions” and experiences that leave an imprint in your memory.
We are far from being averse to technology. But despite all the progress made, no algorithms, cybernetic systems, apps, software or virtual reality devices will ever be able to substitute the freedom of the road, the joy of travelling and the desire to just go – or in our case: ride – and explore the wide open world, punctures and all.
The reality and future of motorcycle tours in South Africa
At the time of writing in June 2020, South Africa is still very much closed for tourism. After more than eleven weeks of lockdown, the whole industry is feeling the pressure immensely. Hotels, museums, sights, restaurant, bars, souvenir vendors, car and motorbike rentals as well as tour operators: With no tourists allowed in the country, none of us are able to do what we like the most – i.e. showcasing our beautiful country and giving you memories that last a lifetime. No tourists also means no income, and only few of the tourism related businesses receive financial aid. There is no predicting when it will be possible to safely travel to and from our beautiful part of the world again. But we sure hope we will not have to wait very much longer.
We know from our friends and partners in the business that everyone is gearing up to meet the new requirements of post-Covid-tourism. New cleaning regimes are being established, tables moved further apart, sanitisers purchased, staff is being educated and trained. Ourselves, we have used the time to plan and prepare, our fleet operators have maintained and prepped their bikes, we know of more than one guesthouse that has invested in renovating rooms and even building extensions. So when the time to travel is here again, we will be more than ready welcome you. For real.
bakkie = South African for pick-up truck
This article has been inspired by our own attempt for a “Virtual Easter Ride-Out” (as reported in our blog post “Lockdown Lunacy and other Musing), as well as by the thoughts and writings of others, such as:
Foreign Policy Forum: The Future of Travel After the Coronavirus Pandemic: https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/06/13/travel-tourism-coronavirus-pandemic-future/
Hello Magazine: 5 virtual holidays we’re taking right now: https://www.hellomagazine.com/travel/2020033187168/best-virtual-holidays-maldives/
Danielle Kirk: Would you take a virtual holiday? https://www.contiki.com/six-two/would-you-take-a-virtual-holiday/
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