The Jakarta Post
Mario Iroth and his motorcycle. (Courtesy of Mario Iroth/File)
Thirty-three-year-old Mario Iroth is known to his 149,000 YouTube channel subscribers as an Indonesian traveler touring the world on a motorbike.
But taking his followers on a journey far away isn’t the only thing he does.
Mario and longtime partner Lilis, 32, are "on-the-road ambassadors" of Indonesia, promoting their beloved country to coffee buddies and friends they meet on the road.
Manado, North Sulawesi-born Mario has always been a big fan of motorcycles and traveling. In 2013, after years of working behind a desk in the travel industry, he decided to take an adventure, touring seven countries in Southeast Asia.
“I wanted to showcase my passion for freedom and creativity, so I made a YouTube channel,” he told The Jakarta Post in Jakarta on Dec. 17.
Upon returning home after his first trip across Southeast Asia, Mario realized that if he wanted to bring an Indonesian flag on tour around the world, he first had to get to know his own country.
In 2014, after inviting Lilis on a trip, the then Bali-based couple decided to tour from Sabang in Aceh to Merauke in Papua with Lilis in charge of the documentation. This trip, five years and three international adventures later, still remains the most memorable one for Mario.
Mario Iroth (right) and Lilis pose for a photo during a media event in Jakarta on Dec. 17. (JP/Teresa Yovela)
“Turns out, touring Indonesia is even more challenging,” he admitted.
One time when his motorbike ran out of gasoline in Papua, the couple knocked on door after door to find a seller. “A woman brought out a jerry can [of gasoline]; we asked how much for a liter and she told us ‘No, we sell per jerry can only’, so we bought one for Rp 300,000 [US$21.47], even though we only needed 2 liters,” Mario laughed, noting the price of gasoline back in 2014. “The most expensive gasoline wasn’t in Europe, but in Papua.”
Aside from hunting for gasoline, Mario and Lilis were also challenged both mentally and physically when faced with unpredictable weather and ferry schedules.
“Sometimes when the waves are big, the ferry won’t operate and we would have to extend our stay, eat pisang goreng [fried banana] and drink countless cups of black coffee. When we finally get ferry tickets, we were so happy, even happier than getting our passports stamped.”
The trip gave the couple a broad knowledge of Indonesia, allowing them to introduce others to the country better when chatting with people they meet on international trips.
In 2015, Mario quit his office job of nine years and, alongside Lilis, went on an eight-month trip from Indonesia's Parijs van Java (Bandung's nickname), to the actual Paris in France that year, followed by a trip around parts of Oceania (Australia and New Zealand) in 2016.
“People like to say that we only return to Indonesia to extend our passports and apply for another visa,” Mario joked.
Aiming for even more challenges, the couple toured the continent most Indonesians worry would make them prone to diseases: Africa. The trip took 370 days and was 50,000 kilometers long.
“We feel really proud because typically, people who tour on a motorbike are either from Europe or Australia.”
The use of a Jakarta license plate on his motorbike also helps strike up conversations with fellow motorcyclists and locals. Equipped with photos and videos from their previous travels around Indonesia, they would tell stories about home.
“The first thing that is a popular topic among people about Indonesia is the tsunami. Even the rural Africans felt sorry over the tsunami in Aceh a long time ago,” Mario explains. “The second thing is obviously Bali.”
Mario also tells the story of when he showed photos of Papuans wearing their traditional koteka (penis gourd) to the Africans.
“One of them told me ‘All this time living in Africa, I’ve never seen this tribe before’, so I told them that we also have black-skinned people in Indonesia’.”
His goal is to show that Indonesians don't only have typical Asian faces but have various tribes, which is unique compared to other Asian countries.
“I’ll show them Flores, Wakatobi and the booming Raja Ampat Island, so people will see other parts of Indonesia rather than just Bali.”
One part of their Africa trip took them over the Sahara Desert to meet the people of Sudan.
“The locals gathered and circled around us. When they saw that we are from Indonesia, they hugged us. It turns out, when they see Indonesians, they remember [Indonesia's first president] Sukarno. Back in KAA [the Asian-African Conference in 1955], president Sukarno recognized Sudan as its own country because at that time they were still part of Egypt,” Mario explained, looking at Lilis to make sure he gets all the information right.
“All of these were part of their history lessons. So every time they see Indonesians, they would say thank you because Indonesia is the first country to recognize Sudan as its own country.”
Mario and Lilis also often collaborate with the Indonesian embassies in promoting Indonesia. They would speak in festivals held in their destination countries and display the motorbike as a sign of achievement and appreciation and also to grab people’s attention.
The couple is currently preparing for their next trip to the Americas in January 2020. Themed “Riding to the Last Frontier”, Mario and Lilis plan to start their journey at Estancia Moat in Argentina, stop at Ushuaia in South America and then head to Alaska for a chance to watch the aurora borealis, aka the northern lights.
With the success of their Africa series on YouTube -- their video "Motoran ke Rwanda Afrika" (Biking to Rwanda, Africa) gained 2.4 million views -- Mario and Lilis are challenged to create even better videos, with high-quality footage and broad information. Driven by her passion for photography, Lilis is learning more about flying drones, 360-degree cameras and video editing.
“We hope that our adventures aren’t just watched by motorcycle fans or travel enthusiasts, but also seniors who are probably sitting in their chairs thinking, ‘I can no longer ride motorcycles like that anymore’," said Mario. (kes)
The writer is an intern at The Jakarta Post
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