CHENNAI: Walter Astrada might just be insane. After riding 36,200 km across a dozen countries in nine months on his Royal Enfield Classic 500, he plans to do more of the same. The photojournalist who has won three World Press Photo Awards has for the past year been on a dream assignment. A world tour on his motorcycle which he fondly calls ‘Athena’ doing nothing but taking pictures. Ahead of his visit to the city this month as a part of the Chennai Photo Biennale, an international photo festival, the Argentinean talks to City Express about his desi travels, why he doesn’t use travel apps and the art of finding a home wherever you go.
How did this idea of a world tour on a motorbike happen?
Well, when I had the idea about six years ago, I didn’t own a motorcycle, nor did I know how to ride one. But there are so many places I haven’t been to. So I thought what better way than a motorcycle to move around; you can stop where you want and also enjoy the road.
It’s been 9 months since you started. Aren’t you homesick?
No (laughs). I’m from Argentina, but I left the country 17 years ago and then lived in five other countries. So I don’t know where my home is anymore. I’ve made some of my best friends in different countries, and one of them is right here in India.
Speaking of India, how has your trip been so far?
I enjoyed being in the desert in Rajasthan and riding along a different kind of terrain. I also visited the ‘living bridge’ at Cherrapunji (Shillong) which was amazing. I’ve spent three months here covering the North and Northeast and would have definitely liked to stay longer.
So how does Chennai work into your schedule?
I actually wouldn’t have been able to make it to Chennai if not for the workshops I’m doing as a part of the Biennale on February 25 and 28. So Athena won’t be with me, as I’ll be flying in from Thailand to do this. But it’ll be a first time for me in your city and I don’t know...let’s see what it brings.
Aren’t you on apps like TripAdvisor and Zomato that help you plan your visits and food?
No, honestly I don’t plan my routes anymore. I find less planning helps me enjoy the present better.
But you must have done a crazy amount of planning to make this trip possible.
I saved up for about five years. But now that I’m on the road, a lot of my funding comes in from the pictures I sell from the trip. And so the journey is ongoing; there’s actually no return date set yet! After Myanmar, which is where I’m headed to after India, I will spend a whole year in South Asia.
Tell us how your bike got the name Athena.
(Laughs) I needed a name that powerful, like the Enfield engine. And that’s when the idea of a Greek goddess came to mind. So far, I think the name has served me well. Only four punctures so far!