NEWLYWEDS Alfishahrin Zakaria, 31, and Diana Latief, 30, began their journey in life together on a Honda motorcycle that took them across 24 countries.
Together, they traversed some of the most dangerous terrains in the world.
They slept by the roadside and at petrol stations, enjoyed some of the most magnificent sights, and had a honeymoon they never dreamt they could have, given the constraints of their budget.
They did all these to realise their dream of arriving in London in time for the 60th anniversary of Malaysia’s independence.
I have met many travellers on bikes, motorcycles and 4WDs who travelled around the world, with some making it into the Guinness Book of Records, but the journey that the loving couple undertook is one of the most romantic stories that I have ever heard.
Former colleagues at the Standard Chartered Bank, Alfi and Diana tied the knot a week before they embarked on their journey, during which they earned themselves the nickname “Kapchai Couple”.
A simple marriage ceremony on March 30 at the Selangor Jawi office, attended by their families and close friends, was quickly followed by last-minute arrangements for a ride on some unfamiliar routes and the filling up of sponsorship forms.
Getting out of one’s comfort zone is usually not something considered by newlyweds, but Alfi and Diana love the challenges of the unknown.
Sleeping in tents and sleeping bags in sub-zero temperatures are unusual items on any honeymooners’ itinerary, but the unexpected generosity they received along the way from locals and members of the biker fraternity made their 146-day journey one of their most memorable experiences together.
This experience was topped only by the euphoria they felt when they waved the Malaysian and Selangor flags in front of the Malaysian High Commission office in London on Aug 31.
Talk to bikers and travellers and they will tell you that backpacking, riding and travelling rough are addictive.
Alfi had ridden solo to Krabi in the past, and he added more miles every time he felt the urge to travel.
However, when the idea to do a “Merdeka ride” on his newly acquired Honda RS150R came to him, they had to get married.
And, thankfully, Diana was also a traveller, though she was not quite used to long motorbike rides.
“Being together 24 hours a day is part of the challenge, and we came to know a lot about each other.
“Exhaustion and stress could have been problems, but we learnt to handle it and not allow these things to get to us. After all, there were only the two of us,” said Alfi.
The couple was gobsmacked and touched by the hospitality and warmth of strangers they met in Pakistan, India and some parts of Europe.
In Agra, they met a group of bikers who helped ease their ride through some of the most turbulent areas of India.
“We were met by groups of bikers everywhere we went. They waited for us, provided us with food and shared everything with us.
“They searched for cheap and safe accommodation, and when we were in Jammu, a politically turbulent area, they accompanied us for our own safety,” said Alfi.
There, Diana was given a pleasant surprise. A rushed wedding had meant that she did not have her fingers hennaed.
This wish came true for the new bride when one of the biker’s mother offered to do that.
“People were so friendly everywhere we went. That was a blessing for us as newlyweds. We didn’t have much money. Although we were partly sponsored, we didn’t want to waste money unnecessarily, but people were so generous,” Diana added. She said there was no fear of Islamophobia despite her being in her hijab most of the time.
Their journey had taken them to one of the top 10 dangerous roads in the world and top four highest roads; a must for all bikers.
In freezing conditions, they had to inch their way along narrow roads, facing oncoming heavily laden lorries on one side and steep mountain terrain on the other.
“When we had to cross a fast flowing river, we saw a lorry driver ahead, waiting patiently for us to see that we were safe,” said Alfi.
The stories of kindness and generosity were endless. There was the meeting with fellow Malaysians in Paris who treated them to not only dinner but also tickets for a ferry from Calais to Dover, a Dutch rider who fixed and repaired their wheels for free, and more.
In Iran, they were chased by a group of men in a car. As they got closer, they were told that the men just wanted to take pictures with them after noticing that they were Malaysians.
They were invited to a birthday party, offering them a glimpse into their generous hosts’ Persian culture.
“They continued following our ride and insisted on giving us drinks,” said Diana.
But what about the honeymoon?
“When planning the ride, I knew we would pass through some romantic places, such as Cappadocia in Turkey, Paris in France and Venice in Italy.
“But these places are expensive. The hot-air balloon rides were so expensive and would have been way out of our budget,” recalled Alfi, who had already been lucky to book a cheap hostel cave just for the two of them.
“I knew we couldn’t afford it. I wrote on my Facebook that looking at the beautiful sights was enough.
“My mother read my status and the next morning, she sent me a message asking us to go on the ride as she would pay for it as a honeymoon gift from her,” said Alfi, tearing up as he remembered the woman who had tried to stop them from going.
“She was initially against this trip, but she later became very supportive and generous,” he said. His parents’ names, Asmah and Zakaria, are proudly displayed on their bike.
Indeed, apart from the sponsorship from the state government, Alfi and Diana had to use part of the dowry that Alfi had given her during the marriage.
Paris and Venice, too, offered them some sweet and romantic moments that they would certainly treasure all their lives.
Now that the ride is over, they will head home for a big event for 150cc Honda and Vespa bikers on Sept 23 at the Shah Alam Stadium.
And of course, it is not the end of the road. Once they have settled down and found jobs, there is no denying that the travel bug will bite again.