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!
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.
Today I finally got the two accessories I wanted the most for my bike. The first one I have wanted it ever since I got my first scooter back in 2006, a sound system. It turns out that it’s a very popular accessory here in Mongolia so it was very easy to get a couple of 10W speakers that connect to the battery and can read SD cards.
The second one is something I have lusted for ever since I entered Xinjiang and saw that everyone had beautiful saddle covers for their bikes. They also have them here in Mongolia and today I finally found a couple of shops that sold them in the black market of Ulan Baatar. I and another rider I met here (Léo from vamosprimo.tumblr.com) bought one each, a bit unsure if they would fit my Tenere and his Africa Twin. They did. I’m so happy! Incidentally, now my bike is properly Mongolian with the speakers and the rug 😉
Since the China part 2 plan has gone down the drain for mysterious reasons, I had to do a bit of brainstorming to get my act together and keep going the way I want and the way that brings me more satisfaction. I don’t want to take a plane during this trip unless I really have to. This is not one of those times.
Today, I went down to the train station and bought myself a train ticket to Beijing. So there is a bonus in all this, I get to travel on the Trans-Mongolian Railway, part of the same network as the Trans-Siberian. Meanwhile, my dear Z will be shipped straight to Bangkok and will be waiting for me there until I arrive. From now on and until I get to Bangkok, I will be on foot. It will be a new experience but I have high hopes for this new part of the trip. It will be something different being back to depending on other people to get from one place to the next one.
After I got the train ticket, I went for a walk in the town center, checked rucksacks at the camping store (too expensive) and then at the black market (too cheap). Since I will only need this rucksack for a couple of weeks, I will go for the too cheap one and bring my straps, bungees and cable ties with me into China in case it needs « roadside maintenance ». Finally, I went for lunch inside the black market. I had already had lunch there yesterday with David and really enjoyed it: good cheap food, who could say no to that?
I sat at a random food stall and ordered a random dish from the menu around 4000 tugrugs. I have no idea what I ordered but a couple of minutes later I had in front of me a sort of prison tray with a full meal on it: soup, fried noodles with meat, Russian salad, two other kinds of salad and a strange but not completely disgusting hot white drink.
After that royal lunch, I was going to check the auto parts market for a couple of tools I am still missing and a 13 spanner for Lorraine who had asked me to kindly buy it for her but a sudden dust storm and the menace of rain convinced me to stick my hand out at the side of the road to go back home. In no time, a random local had lowered his window and was asking me where I wanted to go, I hopped on and went back to the hostel to finish repairing the bike.
Of course you don’t know what was wrong with the bike because I haven’t told that story yet but the rest of the afternoon was very productive: I put a new chain that Richard kindly agreed to sell me, I put the missing bolt in the pannier rack and finally I hammered my panniers back into shape, they are waterproof again. Actually, I didn’t hammer them myself, the hostel’s watchman saw me doing it and obviously thought that I was using the hammer like a little girl because he took the hammer off my hands and did it himself.
When I had finished with all my repairs and maintenance for the day, it was already time to go for dinner with the group. Today is the last night we are all together, from now on we more or less all go our separate ways. Neil is flying to Hong Kong, Iain is flying to Bangkok, Lorraine may be flying to Korea, David is driving back to the UK through Russia (I hope he doesn’t freeze!), Richard still doesn’t know and Chris is taking the same train as I am but will be crossing China a bit faster than what I have planned to. The group was created with the sole purpose of crossing China together on our bikes (+David’s car), now that we are not allowed to do that anymore, it makes no sense to stick together any longer. We all have different plans for the future and have already set them in motion but meanwhile, we absolutely had to find that English pub with the funny name that we had spotted a couple of days ago.
PS: Since my bike and I are going to be parted for some time, I have set up a new wallpaper on my computer, something to remember her by.
When I was planning this trip and I thought I wouldn’t be able to come to China, I thought of leaving my own bike for some time in India and buying a Chinese bike to go around China. The most likely candidate was a Shineray 150 Sport, a military-green beauty with pannier racks and handguards.
I saw one at a shop in Turpan the other day and thought I might still do it one day…
I interrupt the continuity of this tale to do a little update on the China situation and the changes on my plan.
It seems that the Chinese government has decided to promote overland tourism in Mongolia. In a convoluted way, as usual with them bureaucrats. The Chinese government has decided that whoever enters China on his own vehicle via Xinjiang cannot transit into the rest of China and has to exit Xinjiang into one of the neighboring countries, that is: Mongolia, Kazakhstan (visa expired), Tajikistan (closed to tourists for now) or Pakistan (I don’t have the right carnet for the bike).
That leaves only Mongolia and that’s what we have decided to do. Enter Xingjiang, exit into Mongolia, ride Mongolia (I’m a bit nervous about this but we are a group and have a support car), try to get a new Chinese visa in Ulan-Bataar and then enter China again via Erenhot into Inner Mongolia. It’s going to cost us a lot more money and time but hopefully we will be in Laos by mid-October.
Now, I am in Naryn, Kyrgyzstan and hopefully will enter China tomorrow. I have just come back to civilization from the most trying days of this trip so far: the worst mountain road I have ever ridden, including many river crossings and camping at 2761m altitude with my summer sleeping bag and my tent being wet from the storm the previous day. I am back safe now and looking back it was a lot of fun. I will tell the full story and post pictures later. Now, I have to go and get ready to ride to China. I hope there is heated rooms near the border because I don’t want to camp at 3500m. See you on the other side of the looking glass… if I have access to the blog of course!
This was a big success. I wanted to let go most of my things but I didn’t want to just throw them away, I wanted other people to use them and reuse them so I set up everything I wanted to leave behind in my living room and invited the whole building and all my facebook contacts in Paris to come and choose and pay whatever price they wanted to leave with my things. I enrolled the help of 2 wonderful ladies, Alice and Renae so that at times I could sneak out and start loading the truck I had rented to move the things I wanted to keep into Caro’s basement. What I didn’t count on was that Renae would bring along Léo (I should have suspected it though). Léo instantly felt that he had a mission that day: to sell all of my things at the right price and he instantly took over the management of the garage sale. It was pretty funny seeing him become the manager of his own bazaar, he was obviously having a lot of fun and there was no reason to stop him. He was just great and I had time to load the truck with Cleber, Dan, Florian, Khaled and Salim. Still at the end of the day all the big stuff was gone and a lot of the small things too but now I have a lot of work to remove everything.
Sunday – The move
I woke up early to take care of the big mess in my room, and I didn’t. To say that I did nothing would be unfair, I prepared all the soft luggage containing most of the clothes that I won’t wear anymore in the coming week and put them all outside while I waited for my friends to come so that we could set off to Caro’s. Little by little they came, except Salim who was exempted on account of a sort of intoxication and Khaled who was still sleeping on account of another kind of intoxication. Lucky I had called for backup and that Cleber was nice enough to stay and help when he had only come to pick up some stuff from the garage sale he couldn’t carry with him on Saturday. With the full team assembled, the Avengers set off: Adrian, Cleber, Dan, Renán, Santi and yours truly left Paris around eleven to move my most cherished things into a basement. Nothing left to say except that it all went well, my stuff fit alright in the basement with a lot of leftover space for the owner to still keep some stuff.
Monday and Tuesday – China welcomes me
Despite all that I had left to do in the apartment, the most important thing today was something else. After the LOI, it was time to pay a visit to the « China Visa Application Service Center« . A bit nervous about the whole thing, I went up the stairs and asked for a form and started to fill it when my number was called. Oh my! They are already calling me and my form is almost completely empty. « Never you mind, this is not the US embassy, we are not here to humiliate you, just go fill the form over there and come back when you are ready », the smile of the lady behind the counter seemed to say. And so I did, came back and then the dreaded question came « your plane ticket, please ». No, you see, I arrive by the road… Oh, just wait. [phone call] Ok, go to counter 15. On my way! To the journalists counter! Now I was nervous, I had just been sent to the same counter as the journalists, what am I going to do? What will they ask me? A statement from my insurer actually, that was the only thing :D. And all is well that ends well, today I went to pick it up, here’s a photo.
PS: Yes, 1 day, I was so impatient I paid for the express treatment.
PPS: I also received confirmation of the apartment checkout date: June 25th, Monday. Now I have a definitive departure date, I leave on Monday right after the apartment inspection. It’s ON!!!
It’s been a tough wait but I’ve finally received my LOI for China. Now I can plan my departure accordingly. I have an appointment with the visa office on Monday so, depending on the apartment checkout date, the most probable departure date now is Friday the 22nd when I’ll go camp with the Couchsurfers one last time and then leave directly from the forest. It seems fitting to leave from a camp :-).
Here is the happy email I received today 😀
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.