I came across Jacqui Furneux when her daughter sent me a press release about her book, Hit the Road, Jac! Seven years, Twenty Countries, No plan, which recounts tales of her seven-year adventure exploring the world on a motorbike, much of it solo. During her travels, which took her everywhere from Nepal to East Timor, Jacqui slept up trees, in police stations, brothels, toilets and at the side of the road. I loved the idea of Jacqui, at the time in her 50s, eschewing the norm and being so intrepid, so we had a chat and she regaled me with an account of some of her escapades. My jaw dropped (yours will too).
Now 67, Jacqui is still off on mini solo adventures on her motorbike (in fact, when I first replied to her daughter, Claire, she told me Jacqui had gone ‘AWOL’ camping somewhere) and kindly agreed to write a short piece about what kick-started her solo travelling, below. It doesn’t touch the sides when it comes to the enormity of her seven years exploring the world, but it gives you a taste of how fascinating her book is.
I was in the Karakoram Mountains in Pakistan. I’d made my way there on a hired donkey. I slept in a goat-herders’ hut under a sky filled with stars. It was just one of many magical moments in my seven-year adventure motorcycling around the world.
I was 48, living and working as a health visitor in Stoke-on-Trent when I first went backpacking. My marriage had ended and my two grown-up daughters had left home. My husband and I had always talked about travelling together when we retired but I ended up doing it alone and much earlier than planned. I’d always been curious about seeing the world.
I was stuck in a rut after my children left home and full of trepidation, went to a travel agent and pleaded with her not to let me leave until I’d booked myself away for a year. By the time I left, I’d bought a round-the-world ticket that kick-started a seven-year journey exploring 20 countries on two wheels.
My elderly mother who had not travelled because of two World Wars, sent me off with goodwill and said, “Do my travelling for me, Dear.” My friends thought I was odd or brave or a mixture of both.
I started in Bangkok then made my way through south-east Asia and Pakistan before moving on to India. It was there in a restaurant in Jaisalmer that I met a Dutchman 17 years my junior who was travelling through the country by motorbike. Hendrikus invited me to join him on the back of his bike. I’d been in India long enough by that stage for that kind of proposition to be quite normal so we spent four amazing days camping in the desert just as friends. Then I flew to meet my daughter who was visiting Goa and Hendrikus continued his travels. After a year I returned home to live with my mother in Bristol and worked as a manager at a friend’s backpacker hostel. Eight months after my return, I received an unsigned letter through the door asking me to be at a certain café at a certain time. I had no idea who had sent it.
When I got there Hendrikus was waiting. I was both shocked and delighted to see him. He said he hadn’t been able to forget about me and asked me to join him again on his travels. I already had a motorbike licence and had been finding it difficult to settle back into life at home so without hesitation I flew to Chennai and bought myself a Royal Enfield motorbike like his for my 50th birthday.
We spent the next four years exploring the world during which I had some heavy escapades. I was knocked off my bike in Pakistan and broke my leg. I was nursed back to health by a troop of comedy actors. In Malaysia, Hendrikus and I separated for a while. He travelled to Australia where I eventually rejoined him. I’d met a skipper who was sailing there. I put the bike on his catamaran and agreed to split the work and expenses. It was an eventful journey. We got caught up in very frightening storms in the Straits of Malacca and picked up five castaways clinging to bits of flotsam in the sea. Then we were robbed by pirates who took most of our food and fuel. The captain of the catamaran turned out to be a rather scary man. He said I was bad luck and threatened to kill me so I always slept with a knife under my pillow. We parted ways at Jakarta in Indonesia and I went on to Australia from there.
There were times when I questioned what I was doing. Should I really be riding an antique motorbike through jungles when I ought to be saving for a pension? But for every scary moment there were plenty more wonderful experiences like the time Hendrikus and I were in the Hunza Valley in Pakistan, famous for its apricots. A local couple invited us to join them for a cup of tea. They picked some rosy red apples and apricots from the garden and shared bread and home-made cheese with us. We all sat smiling at each other and it was such a moment of contentment. All over the world I encountered this kind of acceptance and friendship.
I still have my beloved motorbike and we go everywhere together. Since I returned we’ve been all over Spain, France, Morocco and Portugal. The adventures aren’t over yet!
Hendrikus decided to stay on in Australia. We parted company and I continued on my journey. I was just as happy travelling on my own. People talk to you more. They think you might be lonely which I never was. I travelled through 20 countries including Ecuador, Colombia, Nepal and Cambodia. Pakistan, India and Australia were my favourites simply because of the contrast they each offered. I’d spend a week in the outback and not see a soul whereas in India you can’t get away from people.
Coming back was hard at first. It took a long time to settle down but I have a wonderful family and I am happy to be home. I have just published a book about my travels. It is called: Hit the Road, Jac! Seven years, Twenty Countries, No plan.
To find out more about Jacqui you can visit her website, www.jacquifurneaux.com, or follow her on www.facebook.com/JacquiFurneauxTravels. Hit the Road, Jac! Seven years, Twenty Countries, No plan, is available to buy from Amazon.