Fear. Horror. Terror. Catastrophe. What are these guys doing with my bike? And why is that shirtless Spaniard straddling it?
In truth, I do know what they were doing. They were taking my bike to the Stahlratte to cross to Panama. I didn’t know this when I started this trip but there’s no road across the Darien jungle and the only way is to take a boat. In my case, I’ve chosen a 4-day cruise on the South Caribbean through the San Blas islands. I’ll be sailing on the fabled Caribbean Sea! Woohoo!!!!
Two things are in my mind as I think of the journey ahead and none is probably what you are thinking. Here they are.
An argentinean song:
And, of course, this great classic of classics:
More than anything else, that game always made me dream of the Caribbean Sea. Now, will I find the Big Whoop treasure? Will I at least get to insult-fight the Sword Master? More in 4 days when I’m on the other side.
Oh, and I won’t have internet until I’m on the other side. See you!
Tomorrow I take the Eyre highway to Adelaide. 2000km of treeless nothingness and of course no cell coverage or internet. It’s going to be the longest communications blackout since I went « into the wild » in Kyrgyzstan.
There is supposed to be gas stations and water/food shops along the way but apparently everything is terribly overpriced so I stocked up on water and food for the crossing. I have probably overstocked since the crossing should take around 3 days/2 nights give or take and I must have food for a week or more. But hey, it’s me! I’ve already been lost and without supplies so this time I won’t be caught unawares. The thing I may be short on is cash, will they take my credit card along the way or does everyone just leave for that highway with a big pile of cash for fuel? I guess I’ll find out in a couple of days.
In the meantime, you can follow my progress thanks to my SPOT, here: Live Tracking.
If you want to know more about the Nullarbor crossing (some call it like that), here’s a couple of links:
It just happened. I didn’t ask to go into the jungle, yet here I am.
I recently purchased an Android application for my phone, an annoying little piece of GPS software that keeps telling me to turn around, go back to a random point on the road behind me and then to come back where I am to be on my way. Sometimes it also tells me to take a longer road but I usually disregard that sort of nonsense and follow my map and road sign.
But, on the morning (more like noon) of a sunny day some 10 days ago (was it on the 5th?), I left that great place that is the Rider’s Corner determined to do my own version of the Mae Hong Son loop. I knew it’s a famous road with 1864 curves and figured it wouldn’t hurt to keep some of the curves for later and stray a little bit on a smaller road, maybe do a bit of dirt so instead of heading directly to Pai, I turned left at Mae Rim and pointed the bike towards Samoeng.
Arrived at a random intersection, I must have been in a pretty stupid mood because instead of looking at the little arrow on the GPS that tells me which way to turn, I tried to figure it out by turning the map in my head (it never works) and of course turned the wrong way, turned around and then took a wrong road again. The only difference with my usual random riding style (a fancy name for getting lost a lot) is that this time the GPS recalculated instantly and I didn’t notice. I didn’t notice the recalculation happening and I didn’t notice it had chosen a « trail » type of road, the kind that appear in dashed lines on the map. In the beginning it seemed like an OK small Thai road but pretty soon it turned to a dirt road and I still felt it was alright because I was planning to do some dirt that day anyway. The dirt road turned to a two-rut track up until a small sort of village. Not really a village, just two houses where the people gave me strange looks. I understand them, how would you look at a stranger that comes by your house where the road ends in a monstrously huge bike (compared to their scooters it is humungous)? Would you tell him not to go there? In what language? Yes, I thought so.
After that, it all went downhill. Hum, not really downhill but it got worse and worse and worse. The two-rut track turned to a one-rut track. I guess I missed that first clue. The one rut grew fainter and fainter as I go deeper into the forest and the obstacles became more frequent. Here a tree stump that knocked my pannier and half of the newly acquired rideasia.net sticker, here a fallen tree I should go around and here and there a little mud puddle that had me scared that if my bike should slip, fall and tumble down the hill, I would never be able to bring it back on my own. It reassured me only a little that there was a fresh wheel track in the mud. It meant that once in a blue moon, someone actually used that trail and I could get help if needed. That was just unfounded hope., in all the time I spent on the road, no one came.
It looked a bit like on the following video, only worse.
I don’t know at what moment I realized that it had become too narrow to turn around but I do remember thinking a couple of times about turning around and remembering how the other times I had turned around, it had set me on a bad mood for no less than three days so I didn’t. I should have. This time I should have turned around. I dropped the bike a first time on the right side and thanks to the slope I had no trouble picking it up. To be sure, I did smash my right foot under the pannier. But I kept going.
And then I dropped the bike in that muddy track from the first video. If you go back, I’ll tell you where. In the video, you will see a tree leaning onto the road. That’s where I’d come from. I had the choice of a very steep rocky little path and a very muddy tough not so steep rut with a tree. I chose the tree and never got to the tree. I dropped the bike before, smashed the front fairings against the rock wall and trapped my pants under the pannier. The slope, the position of bike and the space I had for leverage were all wrong and for a moment there I was scared I would have to go into Bear Grylls mode for the night and sleep in the jungle while I recovered my forces to try and pick up the bike. I didn’t have nearly enough water but surely I had seen enough episodes of the series to know where to find some. Or I could just walk to the stream that my GPS showed 2km from the place.
Finally, I gathered my wits, managed to pull the bike by the front wheel into a bit of a better position and shouted S.H.A.Z.A.M. while raising my fist to the sky. I didn’t get a shiny white cape or a red costume but Hercules at least must have heard my prayer because the next thing I knew, the bike was in the upright position. So upright that if it had been the back of my seat before landing, no air hostess would have complained. Without my helmet or jacket or the luggage I had removed in order to be able to pick it up, I moved it come 200 meters ahead, checked the road, decided that I was too committed to turn around and came back for my things and did that little video.
After that it became much easier and very soon I was back on a sort of civilized road. A dirt track but a road after all. Someone came while I was admiring the stream where I had come out of the woods and asked me a couple of questions and tried to indicate me which way to go. He also asked me if I was travelling alone, or so I understood. He spoke only broken English and the question was « You travel no my-friend? » and some hand motion completed the meaning. I said yes, no my-friend was travelling with me and wend down to the stream to wash the sweat from my face..
I thought that would be the end of my troubles but it would have been too easy. The road was quite good with some dirt patches and some muddy patches but nothing I couldn’t handle… by day. The last 10 or 15 km I rode in the dark. And it’s always darker under the canopy of course.
Finally, I reached the main road to Pai but I was still 62km away and in no shape to continue. The first hotel of sorts I found asked for 87 euros for a night. I decided that I still had some strength left and went on to find a 20 euros room. Not my preferred price in Thailand but I really was exhausted.
Results of my little adventure:
My right foot hurt for more than a week and still hurts a bit when I ride. My socks smell of Tiger Balm.
The front of the bike looks a bit more like a road bike than the straight face out-of-the-factory a Tenere should have
The high-beam flick switch is blocked in the off-position
I tried to smash the front back into shape in Koh Samui and now I have no low-beam
Was I in a bad mood for 3 days after it? NO WAY!!! I can’t say I enjoyed every minute but now when I look back it’s all fond memories. I came out of the woods in one piece and that’s enough to make a good day.
One last little video. If you listen carefully, you can hear me talk and be happy to see people and civilization again.
And after a day’s rest at Bishkek’s Sakura guesthouse, where it’s cozy and warm, I was ready for the Almaty run. Now that we were going to Mongolia, we all needed visas. Neil and Chris had decided that they would try to get into Kazakhstan with their Kyrgyz visas and they left early with a shared taxi but for me it was out of the question to leave my bike behind when I could ride there and so at 8:15am, I was on the road to Almaty. There was no news from Iain or Robin and Keely so I figured they had their own plans for getting a visa.
I didn’t get lost while leaving the city this time. I had carefully studied the way out because I had no time to lose. I knew also that at some point on the way I would run into Richard, another I still hadn’t met of the China group. And I did.
The road was long and mostly straight, which that particular day was a good thing because I could ride fast but I did spend around 20 minutes talking to Richard, changing my Som for his Tenge and accepting the Kazakh SIM card he kindly gave me. It was very nice but it proved to be fatal to my tight schedule.
When I arrived to Almaty the traffic was, of course, hectic. How could I forget to account for that? Well, my Parisian training always proves useful in these situations and I managed to skip most of it despite the big panniers on the back of my bike. Soon I was cruising on the high-speed lane of Sain Street towards the Mongolian consulate but alas, yet another obstacle was on my way. You see, Mongolia has almost no paved roads, it makes sense that the way to the consulate takes you off-road in the middle of the city. Wait, what? Yes, Sain street is in works right north of the street I was looking for so I had to make a big detour, get into some small neighborhood street where I wasn’t even sure which way I was supposed to go (thanks to Richard’s SIM, I had a working Google Maps) until I found it: the off-road track of course. Take it and you’ll get there! And get there I did and at the entrance I found Neil, Chris, and Iain. So much for the mystery of how he was going to get his visa. They were all waiting outside because they had been told that they could get the visa on the same day so I went to the door and begged to be received. When the guy said it was closed, I pointed to my watch and showed him that we still had more than 5 minutes to go before actual closing time and he was nice enough to let me in and apply but of course I wouldn’t get it on the same day (even when I begged). No biggie, I can come tomorrow, pick up the visa, then go to the bikers shop to try to get new riding pants and then leave to Charyn canyon without having to spend 2 nights at the awful but not quite the worst I’ve seen Djetisu hotel where they have cheap shared rooms only if you ask for « hostel ».
So in the evening I went for some Turkish kebab (it’d been a long time since Turkey and I was already missing it), had a walk through town, bought a replacement for my cigar lighter USB charger and had a drink with Iain and his new French friends, the guys from En 4L sur la route de la soie.
The visa was there, so much that the guy came out of the door with my passport ready when I rang the bell. Was I the only customer today? Did they have a camera? I didn’t ask. Next mission, the biker’s shop and my potential new pants. Except for the humongous traffic jam I got into where I was invited to lunch by some random car driver and his friends. I played dumb because I was sort of in a hurry and went my way amazed at the possibility of being invited to lunch by a random group of strangers. They didn’t have my size. How did I know they didn’t have it? Well, I tried ones that looked pretty cool and the sales lady said « Sexy! ». That’s how I knew it wasn’t my size, that and the fact that I had to struggle and remove the internal liner to get them on. Oh well, I would have to get my sewing kit out… On my way to Charyn canyon!
For a preview of Charyn canyon, here’s a video from a couple of guys who’ve been there before. If it doesn’t go automatically, you should advance to the 35m20s mark.
Wow! It’s been a week since my last post and that one was about Russia. That’s two countries ago! The internet has been getting scarcer and scarcer ever since Beyneu where only one of the hotels had wifi (and it wasn’t the one I was staying). On the desert camps I don’t really count on the internet but in cities I expect some connectivity. Khiva was alright, slow but available while in Bukhara not only there was very few hotspots but everyone was pretty stingy about them. I figure they pay by the megabyte and want to keep their connection for their own customers. Anyway, Bukhara was great for many other reasons and most of the time I didn’t care about the internet. Now I’m in Samarqand and they have electrical problems, the connection keeps resetting itself every half an hour or so. I almost feel bad asking the hotel guy to get up and go reset the router every time.
Yesterday I went gear shopping with my mom. Yes, my mom wanted to say goodbye before I embark on my big adventure and so she came all the way to Paris to spend a week with me and spoil me one last time before the rough year ahead. Rough? Well, I don’t plan for rough but for sure I won’t be living in luxury.
So we were shopping for the last bits of my kit that I’m still missing, like a sleeping bag, a small foldable hammock, a medkit (still have to get that one) and some more bits and bobs. Renán joined us for our second visit to Décathlon, he was in the neighborhood and I know he loves to browse that store.
First visit to Décathlon was to the big one in Bibliothèque (map) for information and just because I really like that shop, 2 whole floors of sports and camping gear goodness. From there we were off to Au vieux campeur, the legendary Parisian outdoor shop. It’s not so much a shop as 27 different same brand shops in one neighborhood, each with a specialty. We started with the guide and maps shop just because you need to start somewhere, especially to ask where the one shop you are looking for is. The plan was to buy my sleeping bag there but their prices are so high I ended up just buying a sleeping bag liner and decided to go to another Décathlon to get the Quechua bag, a lot cheaper for basically the same quality.
But there was one thing I had seen on TravellingStrom’s blog that had attracted my attention. Everyone knows (or is it just me?) that my biggest geekery, the device I would by a million times over and never stop enjoying and using is GPS. Everything GPS-related just automatically attracts my attention, some time later, Paul posted it on my wall « you need to get yourself one of these 😀 SPOT Tracker thingies (that’s an affiliate link there) » and so I ended up at the GPS and binoculars branch asking about the SPOT. As the sales guy explained how this tiny orange box tracks your every move and enables you to send an SOS message to rescue services wherever you are in the world with you GPS-calculated coordinates by simply pushing a button, my mom understood that this was the gift she wanted to give me for my trip.
Really, what else can your mom give you as a gift when you are about to embark on a motorcycle RTW trip during 11 months if not the possibility to come back home safely if anything goes wrong or worse. And this is how I got a SPOT :-D. Shopping concluded, let’s go back home to activate it.
PS: I don’t really want to post from home anymore. I want to leave now!!
PS2: That’s me getting impatient. There’s still a lot to do before leaving.