Meet Roberto and Annika, avid globetrotters and world cyclists who hail from Mexico and Germany respectively. I had the pleasure of meeting them in Nong Khai, Thailand, over Songkran in April 2013, where we had a ball splashing water and celebrating with the locals and other foreigners through the streets. Few months later, we met again after they cycled all the way down to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where we had what Roberto dubbed “the best cheese naan in town”. Having ended up in Sydney recently, here they tell the story of their journey so far from the land Down Under.
Names: Roberto Salvador Gallegos Ricci and Annika Wachter
Location: Sydney, Australia
Job title: Travel tasters
Job description: We write about different cultures, people and places to cultivate empathy through bicycle travelling on our website, http://www.tastingtravels.com/.
1. How would you sum up the life story of your other half?
ROBERTO: When Annika was small, she had a really big map of the world that she pasted on the wall of her room. On this map, she drew a potential route that she would take around the world on a boat. I can totally picture her doing so as if she’s the little girl from the movie Up: Adventure Is Out There. To this day, she collects maps and sees the world as her own playground.
Her mother always encouraged her to make friends with foreign children, which she did and with pleasure. When she went on her first backpacking adventure alone, the town went on talking about her, but she never minded them and had the time of her life. She truly is a free spirit.
ANNIKA: Roberto has always been very clever. He was born in Mexico City, moved to Tijuana (way Northwest of Mexico) and spent most of his school time on the other side of the border in the States. That’s why he loves American football, donuts and Disneyland―but as a true blue Mexican, he loves tacos and tecate even more! Roberto mastered high school easily and moved some 2800km away to Guadalajara when he was just 18 years old, which was where we met. Roberto had never seen himself with a German girlfriend, or falling in love with a flatmate. But as the story goes, life had other plans.
2. Define your partner in five words.
ROBERTO: Love, laughter, simple, morning sunlight.
ANNIKA: Caring, honest, people-person, gentleman, empathic.
3. How did the idea of working and travelling together come about?
ROBERTO: After two years and almost five months, you more or less forget why you made that decision! What I know right now is that I don’t regret a single moment of this journey and lifestyle. The main and only reason that has made this experience the best ever is that I’m able to share with the woman I love; the friendships of so many people we’ve met along the way.
Situations (both good and bad) have taken place, but all of them have turned out well with the help of unexpected human beings who strengthen our faith in people. For every sour experience, like having my camera and credit card stolen, for instance, we met Dan, Pierre and Nurkas in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan for a month to help us with everything. To this day, we plan on seeing them again…somewhere our destiny takes us.
ANNIKA: I’ve always wanted to travel since I was a little kid. I had soon read all that there was about travelling in my village’s library and I wanted to go and explore the real world. When I finished high school, everybody warned me to “better learn a profession before you head out there” or “at least study something”. So I studied something (Cultural and Gender Studies), met Roberto in my exchange semester and then he wanted to join me on my adventures!
I thought that he probably imagined travelling the world as a very romantic thing with sunsets, candle-light camping and beautiful animals, and forgot about mosquitoes, rain, the hard floor and thirst. But boy, was I wrong! Roberto was well aware of what he was getting himself into and he loved it with all its nuances from the first moment in. We’ve been on the road since September 2011 and we’ve learned a lot about each other and ourselves. Travelling has brought us in contact with many new friends and we’re so thankful for that! There hasn’t really been one favourite place because it all had to do with many other circumstances. The most beautiful place can be all grey and ugly on a rainy day with bad mood in the air or when an argument arises, and the ugliest little town can be a wonderful surprise if we just meet some nice people and eat good food!
4. How do you deal with conflicts along the way?
ROBERTO: Just acknowledge your part of the mistake(s) you make and ask for forgiveness.
ANNIKA: We’re still learning that the worst thing to do in a tough situation is to argue, as we need to rely on each other 100 per cent. If we’re going through a conflict, I’ll have a few minutes to myself, calm myself down, then only talk things through calmly and find the root of the argument.
5. Tell us the best story from your journey together so far.
ROBERTO: This is a hard one indeed! I reckon my most cherished memory of Annika was the first time I saw her. She ran to me and hugged me without even really knowing me! She was just very happy to be in Mexico and you could feel her happiness and her pure soul. Every time I hug her now, I can feel that magic once again. It gets me through the worst, even after a quarrel which happens after working, travelling and living together 24/7.
ANNIKA: There are just so many! One of them was Christmas 2012, when we hiked up the Emei Shan, a holy Buddhist mountain in Szechuan, China. We had hiked up for two and a half days, and for many days it had been cloudy at the top, so we didn’t expect a nice view. But on our summit day, we were surprised with the most stunning view: a sea of clouds at sunrise. We both just stood there hugging each other and knew that this moment was so very special thanks to our better half.
6. What’s a MUST in every place you visit?
ROBERTO: Food, food and food! Any food’s always a ritual. The taste and richness are what we try not to miss in every new place we arrive at. We often spend an hour or so in the supermarkets of a country we’ve arrived at, just to see what they offer. It may not be so travel-like but we enjoy it a lot!
ANNIKA: We like to meet locals everywhere to learn more about the local food, their favourite places (which often differs from the usual touristy/sight-seeing spots) and in towns, we like to grab our bike and a map and get started! It’s fun to just ride, get lost and discover parts of a town that are a bit off the main road.
7. How would you define LOVE?
ROBERTO: Love is being able to make space in yourself for another soul, so you’re able to see as much as you can through her eyes and in consequence, understand her.
ANNIKA: I feel that Roberto is my family, even though we don’t have children yet. I feel that with him I’m home, no matter where we are. I think that’s something that defines love for me.
8. How do you keep the romance alive?
ROBERTO: After almost four and a half years together, I’ll answer this question like my father did when I asked him the same thing. Romance is like seasons; there could be winter, fall or summer but there could only be spring if you’re brave enough to wait for it, and for that you must work on it.
So basically, let the details signify what she means to you; a salsa-dancing day, a walk in the park and a hug at night can make this trick happen. While cycling, I sometimes see her and relive her in my memories…all the wonderful things I’ve gone through with her until I want to tell her, “I LOVE YOU.” And I’m always flattered by her response…”Me too.”
ANNIKA: We met in August 2009 and fell in love when we were flatmates back in Mexico. Then I moved back to Germany and we had a long-distance relationship for 10 months. We visited each other and Skype-d a lot, even though we had nine hours of time difference. Both of us put a lot of effort into the relationship and that’s how it wasn’t too hard at all.
Then Roberto moved to Germany and we set off on our travels. Now we’ve been together 24/7 for nearly two and a half years! We travel, work, live and laugh together and we’ve learned that to make a healthy relationship last, we need to invest a bit of time and money in romance. We go out to dance, have a beer by the riverbank, make each other tiny, portable presents…these things remind us that we’re not only travel partners, but a couple too.
9. What qualities do you admire most in your partner?
ROBERTO: Patience, passion and her ability to love.
ANNIKA: Roberto can look right through me. Whenever there’s a conflict about a small detail, he knows there’s usually a bigger root hidden behind it. He’s very open towards me and often makes the first move after an argument as he knows that I’m too proud to make nice. He accepts me as imperfect as I am. He’s a great planner and an absolute people-person. He’s a lot of fun to be with and very sensitive with me. Apart from that, he’s a good cook, great (self-taught) bike-mechanic and creative mind. He always makes me laugh even when I’m angry with him and too proud to laugh!
10. What’s the most romantic thing that your partner has done for you?
ROBERTO: When we lived far away from each other, she stayed up with me several times until I slept with the camera on. Then she would sing for me a song that became our anthem: We won’t get any younger by Billie The Vision & The Dancers.
ANNIKA: When he lived in Mexico and I, in Germany, he came to visit me and his flight went to Paris, so that was where we met instead and the days in the city of love were very romantic. He also knows that I love to dance so after some months (if not more than a year), he took me salsa-dancing in Bangkok. He told me to dress up and we had a wonderful night! But the number one would probably be on my birthday when he brought a guitar to the lake where we celebrated together…and when I least expected it, he and my brother (whom he had secretly practised with) got up and played my favourite song. Roberto had invented new lyrics especially for me. That was amazing and I couldn’t stop smiling then.
11. If you both made it as the cover story in a national newspaper, what would your headline say?
ROBERTO: “ANNIKA AND ROBERTO FIND LIFE IN MARS: the aliens also love cycling!”
ANNIKA: ”House about to explode: Couple invites new friends from their world travels to their private home. 8,779,445 visitors expected!”
12. If you could pick anywhere in the world to settle down, where would it be?
ROBERTO: Mexico and Germany, although the two are far from each other, I now see them as one. They’re both our homes, and we feel like we’re home in either place.
ANNIKA: Anywhere? Hmm…probably Atlantis, just because nobody else would be there! Maybe we’d pick a pineapple under the sea? 🙂
On a real note, though, we’d most probably be in Mexico. We want to be near both our families, but there’s no country between the two! Both Mexico and Germany have their advantages, but the weather is definitely a big plus in Mexico.
13. In life, who or what inspires you most?
ROBERTO: My inner voice that says that what I’m doing feels right, and I’ll sleep like a baby at night.
ANNIKA: The people we meet and the things that we learn from them. Talking to them and getting to know them is what we enjoy most.
14. What do you want people to see or feel when they look at your photos?
ROBERTO: Look how nice and friendly the people in these pictures look!
ANNIKA: If they feel the urge to pick up their old bikes, pack a small bag and make a weekend trip somewhere to cultivate empathy, then I think we’d be happy.
15. What are your upcoming plans?
ROBERTO: Work every day to be happy, even in the rough times, regroup and fight for our happiness and those around us.
ANNIKA: Live in New Zealand for a year and see if we’re still able to settle down, then we’ll continue travelling. After our travels, we want to settle down again, find jobs, get married and have a family.
///// Photo credits: Roberto Salvador Gallegos Ricci, Annika Wachter and YML
///// Photo montage: YML