I’m Elena Axinte, a motorcycle rider for 6 years, and I’ve been traveling the world with my bike for 3 years. I’m Romanian by origin, have lived in Milan for more than 12 years, and I’m a theatrical actor and drama therapist. Three years ago I made a spontaneous decision to change home and transform my life – from Milan to the world! And so Elena Axinte transformed into Hele Biker, a traveler together with her beloved, slightly unorthodox motorcycle, a Harley Davidson Sportster 883. Compelled by the call of the World, by a sense of universal belonging and by the conviction that “home is everywhere”, in August 2019 I set out to live my life on the road, in the world, anywhere, indefinitely – with no projects or set plans.
I was in the middle of my journey through the Middle East, after a forced stay in Saudi Arabia that lasted one year and two months – I had to stay there due to Covid restrictions but I also managed to visit every city, mountain and desert. You can find the first part of my journey here: From Lebanon to Saudi Arabia by motorcycle.
The next country was the UAE. Happy to finally get across a border after more than a year, I started exploring the United Arab Emirates, where I had to deal with another complex situation. Shortly after my arrival into the country, Saudi Arabia closed its borders again, and the only other border with the UAE was the one with Oman, which had also been closed for over a year. So, I was stuck again, but this time in a very small country and in the middle of summer, with temperatures reaching over 40 degrees.
Yet, even here, I manage to carve out a place for myself. I stayed in the United Arab Emirates for five months, and over these five months I explored all seven Emirates, beaches, deserts and mountains, much longed-for Dubai and even the Expo. Long walks in the desert, training paragliding sessions and flights, camel racing, and a lot of motorcycle tours. And all this in temperatures ranging from 40 to 50 degrees, because the world doesn’t stop even at these temperatures.
In October 2021, Oman finally reopened its doors. I’d heard so many wonderful things about this country before I went there. All Saudi Arabians described it to me with great esteem and admiration, especially toward its people, but what I found exceeded all my expectations.
Oman, too much beauty in just one place
The only issue I had in Oman was that the country had far too much to offer. Too many wonderful places to see and explore, a lot of culture and tradition to experience and live, a spiritual – even mystical – side to be discovered and understood, but, above all, incredible people to connect with. A country that offers you everything: Deserts, sea, ocean, idyllic beaches, breathtaking coasts, green mountains, rocky mountains, valleys and gorges, natural pools, lagoons, islands, trekking trails and climbing walls, high and low temperatures, monsoons, camels, cows, goats and sheep, coconut trees, banana and mango plantations and date palms. But, above all, Oman conceals genuine authenticity, simplicity and humility, traits that distinguish it from all other countries in the Arabian Gulf.
You need a lot of time to see the country, not all of it but at least its major sites. I spent over four months there, this time by choice rather than restrictions, but I could well have stayed longer. It’s impossible not to fall in love with this country. Among the most meaningful moments I experienced, there’s my great adventure in Oman’s Empty Quarter, when I crossed, all by myself on my Harley, over 500 km of desert. Or the two weeks spent in the mountains with over 300 camels, accompanying camel herders and owners during the seasonal migration, with no services at all (electricity, bathrooms, showers or anything else). I also can’t forget the twenty days I spent on a remote beach termed ‘The Maldives of Oman’, a truly surreal place, with white sand, pink lagoons, thousands of migratory birds and flamingos, tortoises, turquoise waters and a lot of marine life. A hidden, little known spot, still almost untouched. There, I spent my days looking after a friend’s campsite and cleaning the beaches from the large amount of plastics carried there by the tide.
Then, Oman offered me something further – it opened the doors onto a country that it was impossible to enter at the time: Yemen. Due to internal war and conflicting relationships with its neighboring countries, Yemen was, and still is, closed to tourists, but thanks to my new families and connections in Oman’s Dhofar region, I managed to enter Yemen legally. I lived for a week with a Yemenite family, in a small village in the Al Mahra region, the only really safe area in Yemen. A part of the country where the signs of war are nonetheless visible – poverty, lawlessness, no rules or infrastructure, lack of salaries and jobs, very highly priced gas and other utilities. A part of Yemen where, despite such conditions, life goes on – without bombings and strikes, at least.
Here, I experienced life in a world scarred and torn apart by war but also saw beautiful mountains, sea, coasts and ocean. They told me I wouldn’t notice much difference between Oman’s Dhofar region and Yemen’s Al Mahra region, as they’re close by and share the same culture. Sure, it’s all very similar – the mountains, sea, beaches, clothing and even the music and food, but their LIFE is not the same at all, the people here are not the same, even if many belong to families coming from Oman. “We only experience the flavor of Oman”, told me a Yemenite friend. Life is not the same because, there, one has to new ways to survive, to keep safe, every day while also trying to enjoy life despite the crumbling surroundings. The food, too, is not the same – there’s much less of it here, distributed very carefully, never wasted, shared among many and, above all, much more expensive. I left Yemen with a heavy heart, but also filled with joy and gratitude, as I knew that from then on I had a family waiting for me over there, too.
After crossing Oman and the United Arab Emirates again, I got ready for the last stage of this journey in the Arabian Peninsula: Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait. This part of the trip was a bit hastier, yet equally intense. Crossing Kuwait, I left the Peninsula to explore my last Arab country, Iraq. This was one of the most intense experiences I ever had, a very challenging one in emotional terms. As soon as I arrived, a new friend told me, “Iraq is the only country in the world that used to be the best and now has become the worst.”
Iraq opened its doors to tourists after the Pope visited in March 2021, and my first impression was that everyone was doing their best to “clean up” and restore the country’s image, so tarnished in the eyes of the world. I spent two months here and managed to explore the country far and wide. I entered from the south and then slowly discovered cities and their surrounding villages – some very famous for their archeological sites, others renowned for historical events or natural attractions. And many other simple places, similar to each other yet very important to me, because that’s where I could best observe everyday life in all its complexity, far from tourists.
The first impression I had of Iraq was that it felt as the most alive among all the Arab countries I visited. Hustle and bustle all over the place, a sense of alertness and a lot of excitement everywhere, happiness and hard labor, very loud music... Very loud life, actually. As if people were trying to conceal the drama suffered by the country, all the tragedy they had experienced and inherited. We, as visitors, are often keen to learn all the ins and outs of their terrible past, to get detailed accounts of how hard it had been and will continue to be. But here, people only want to bury these memories and some even pretend that nothing happened.
Of course, Iraq means ancient civilizations – Mesopotamia, Babel, Babylonia, Zigurat – Baghdad, Kurdistan, the floating village in the marshes, Saddam Hussein and his palaces, cities entirely destroyed by terrorists, Karbala and Najaf – the most important sites to Islamic Shia communities all over the world. I loved Iraq, and I loved its people, with whose suffering I strongly empathized.
And this is how my chapter in the Arab world came to an end. I had the great chance to get to know this world very intimately. As a woman rider, I had the privilege to access both worlds, that of men and especially that of Arab women – a world so mysterious, misunderstood and denounced with a thousand prejudices. And I had the enormous opportunity to be part of the most private life of Arab women, getting to know them behind their veil, behind the abaya [women’s clothing typical of the Persian Gulf region, consisting of a long robe-like dress that leaves hands, feet and head uncovered].
And, several times, I found a disarming simplicity, which is embarrassing when we think about all the stereotypes surrounding them. Arab women are wonderful, strong or weak, imposing or meek... Everything – ordinary women just like all women.
Of course, oppression still exists and some of those prejudices are well-founded... But nonetheless behind all this lies of ordinariness within a culture that’s so different from mine. There’s a big difference between a country’s system and real everyday life. Notorious restrictive regimes have nothing to do with how people live in the intimacy of their homes.
The most beautiful memory of my journey to the Arab countries are all the tears that streamed down my face every time I had to leave a family – the most beautiful and difficult memory, as everywhere I went I was welcomed like a guest yet treated as a real family member. Every time I left a home, I felt as if I was leaving my parent’s house, my sisters and brothers.
I spent over two years exploring such a new and surprising culture.
I took part in life’s special events: Pregnancies, births, weddings, separations and divorces, tricky teenagers and also bereavements. I witnessed important religious and ritual occasions, experiencing everything firsthand, including fasting for Ramadan (three times). And this is why I chose to take this life journey: To assimilate the world, to feel as if I belonged everywhere. This is what happened in the Arab countries. It’s so wonderful to be able to breathe as one with one’s surroundings, speak the same language, dance to the same music.