A few months ago I vacationed in Belize and rented a motorcycle to get around. I came to the country prepared to be given some hassle about renting a motorbike, since I was a female traveling alone, but was pleasantly surprised to find that the bike rental company was run by a very rad woman named Emma. I was so interested in her story that I interviewed her for the web site. Whether or not you are interested in motorcycles, Emma’s experiences are really interesting and her life is so inspiring that I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading about her and her travel philosophy.
If you ARE interested in motorcycles (as you should be), and you want to ride a motorbike in Belize (which you also should), contact Emma at her web site, Alternate Adventures. Read on for my interview with the lady herself!
Tell us about you and your background. Where did you grow up and how did you make your way to Belize?
I grew up partly in Spain and partly in Sweden, in a bi-lingual house, with a Swedish mother and a Spanish father. We always traveled between the two countries and I believe that made me early on comfortable being in different surroundings and experiencing different cultures. I am convinced that this childhood also infected me at an early age with a serious travel bug. In my early 20’s I had already on my own made it to 5 continents and I knew that this had become an unstoppable habit.
I pursued two university degrees and studied and worked abroad. One day at my office work I realized I had reached a glass roof, I wouldn’t be able to get any further in that particular company because of its corporate politics. Once that realization was clear to me I decided to give up the job, leave the great financial benefits behind and let life take its path into another direction. Before looking for another job, the natural thing for me to do was to pack a backpack and see what adventures life would bring. Few weeks later I left for some surfing in Costa Rica, with the intention to stay for a while before continuing onto Colombia, a country I had been curious about for a long time. Once I had my surfing quota filled I ended up going west towards Nicaragua instead of east towards Colombia. After all I hadn’t been in Nicaragua for a few years….and once in Nicaragua, El Salvador was so close…and then I had of course not been in Guatemala for over 10 years….so I continued westwards to check them out before I would finally make a 180 degree turn to follow the initial Colombia plan.
While in northern Guatemala I got an email from a friend of mine who was in Belize and who had got seriously sick. My friend was young, a little bit naïve but very lovable and seemed to always have people helping her getting out of the troubles she continuously managed to get herself into. This time she had ended up with a flesh eating bacteria and was taken care of by a bush doctor in the jungle. I made my way there to help. Three months later my friend was well and decided to continue her journey. Myself, I stayed in the jungle for another 6 months. No electricity, no communications but plenty of pure nature. In other words, a very instructive period. However, after almost a year there, I found it to be too remote lifestyle for my liking. As a result the backpack was packed again and soon I ended up in Hopkins Village by the Caribbean coast…. and here I have stayed…
When did you first start riding motorcycles and how did you get interested in riding?
Actually very recently, about 2 ½ years back. I have always done a lot of sports and always had a very easy time excelling within a short time period after taking up activities. As I grew up I got a huge support from my family to try different things, but when it came to engines the parental policy was an imperative NO! To the point that when I was 15 years old and all my friends got mopeds for their birthdays, I was told that that for me such a thing would be out of the question, motivated with a statement that it was simply too dangerous. Instead it was suggested I could buy myself a good mountain bike, with my own money of course! So I actually started to ride motorbikes in Belize…and as a matter of fact, my first day on engine powered wheels I was shit scared. Motorbikes were quite frankly probably my one and only fear, imposed on me thru years and years of my family’s danger alerting brainwash. But as most fears, if you take the bull by the horns and confront them, they seem to vanish. I read somewhere the acronym of FEAR is False Emotions Appearing Real. I like that, it makes sense. Needless to say that I today L O V E riding bikes…
Tell us how Alternate Adventures got started.
Alternate Adventures started in Hopkins Village a couple of months after I first set my foot here. Right away in Hopkins I met some people that were good riders, but that didn’t feel too comfortable with overnight stays in the jungle. Myself on the other hand, with some solid recent jungle experience in my toolkit, I felt at the time more comfortable with the jungle than the transport aspect of the venture. So, we put our skill sets together and the result was cruising Belize on two wheels with tents bungeed to the back. This brought me to see this small Central American country from a completely new point of view, and it blew my mind away. Some research showed that nobody was renting bikes in Belize and I understood that it would be a great product to offer here so I decided to be the first to do so.
Why start a business in Belize and why Hopkins in particular?
I just kind of ended up in Belize, as I think I have explained above. I just kind of let things happen, and by doing so, they simply did. You know, just like life happens in general, right, if you just allow it to happen instead of trying to control it. It is however kind of a paradox that I, being half Spanish and hence fluent in the language, have ended up in the only non-Spanish speaking country (except Brazil) on the whole Latin American mainland. Sometimes I laugh about this paradox.
Belize is a very untouched country. A lot of things are still not “done” here and with a very low density of people, a lot of the nature is still untouched. I find that inspiring.
Hopkins itself is a wonderful village, probably the friendliest one in Belize. [Head Geargal’s note: After traveling in Belize, I agree! Though most of the country is friendly, there is something special about Hopkins.] The area around Hopkins is centered between many good riding areas, probably the best location in Belize to reach most of the jungle and the sights, so it makes sense for my business.
What is your favorite part of running your business?
The best part is doubtlessly to meet the renters when they return the bikes. At this moment I get to hear about their adventures that funny enough always seem to turn out slightly different, even if riders have headed the same direction and even we have discussed their plans in beforehand. People make pit-stops in different places, meet different people, notice different things in our nature etc. At this moment it feels like I vicariously have been riding with them… and since I currently have a fleet of 8 bikes, I some days have been “riding” (even if vicariously) in 8 different places in the same day!! And on top of that, needless to say that the only thing beating these stories is to hear renters say it was the best day(s) of their vacation!
What would you like to be doing in five years? Would you like Alternate Adventures to grow?
I believe in goals to a certain extent. But I also believe that sometimes heading too rigorously towards a goal makes you miss the interesting stops along the way. Also if you would just allow yourself to take your eyes of the goal for a second and glance to the side, new paths will appear. Instead of believing in goals, I believe in results, i.e. doing your very best in every moment of your day and to enjoy what you do! That way new opportunities will automatically appear and new paths open up.
All this said, I of course have somewhat of a plan. I am not leaving my destiny completely to the randomness of life. I doubtlessly intend to stay in sector of adventure based tourism. This industry allows me to meet people from all over the world and follow their vacations and adventures. In a way it turns out to be very similar to traveling, just that I get to stay in one spot and other people have to catch planes and carry luggage. I thrive on the adventures that are off the beaten track, and I believe that even the smallest adventures, such as for instance a human encounter in a small remote Mayan Village, may turn into a large eye opening experience. The name of my business is Alternate Adventures, embedded in this name is this philosophy, to take a motorbike and create an adventure for yourself, designed by yourself. Alternate, means both different, and changing (alternating) and as I said earlier, renters’ motorbike experiences seem to be different all the time.
To answer your question more directly, yes, I of course would like Alternate Adventures to continue growing. It already grows everyday with every happy customer. Two years of hard work is starting to pay off, the word is getting out there, with the help of internet rapidly also outside the borders of Belize. As a matter of fact, most of my business comes prearranged thru internet from people that take the bike for a week or two to see the entire country.
For the future, I do not see a need for guided motorbike tours in Belize. It is very easy to get around in this English speaking country. Furthermore it has very little traffic and I can from my office easily equip customers with ideas of where to start their adventures. However, Spanish speaking Guatemala might have something to offer in the touring segment and it is just 3 ½ hours ride away from Hopkins. I can let you in on that a week-long route has already been checked out…
What is the ultimate motorcycle tour you would like to offer someday?
Wow. The Pan-A highway of course! Highlands of Guatemala, National Parks of Honduras, Colonial towns in Nicaragua, Beaches of Costa Rica and maybe ending up at the yearly Carnival in Panama.
What would you tell women who are interested in touring but don’t know how to get started?
Female motorbike riders always raise curiosity but also I can see they receive plenty of respect for their courage ride and this can become a huge and pleasant confidence booster. In macho dominated societies, like most of the countries in Latin America, I believe that these dynamics manifest themselves even clearer. I am a female and I own and run the only dirt bike rental company in Belize and I can tell you, I receive a lot of respect from locals for my “balls” to do so.
My first recommendation if feeling a bit lost, is to bring a friend. Male or female doesn’t matter, but riding in general is most of the time more fun, and easier, if you are two. If your friends are too lame, find a new one thru Facebook sites like Girls Can Love Motorbikes. And They Can Ride, Too.
Secondly, do your first tour in your home country, even if it is just for a weekend. Then advance to countries where languages you dominate are spoken. Then simply keep expanding your circle of comfort and explore more! If you ever feel intimidated, remember, FEAR means False Emotions Appearing Real.
Have a great day and most importantly put on your bucket list: “Biking in Belize!”