A trip through China’s backyard

People oftern ask me which way I came and when I tell the full story, they ask why I couldn’t ride through China the second time. To explain that, I usually have to go back to the first ride through China. I have told this story countless times and I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no good way of telling it. This is more or less how I remember it happening.

In this post, I won’t tell about the great roadside food we had in Xinjiang, I won’t tell about the amazing Jiaohe ruins we visited, I won’t tell about the beauties we missed because of the dust storm that enveloped us for three days, I won’t tell about the motocross race departure we watched where the pilots wanted pictures with us, I won’t tell about our guide Benny making us take boring highways and not letting us camp. No, those stories I may tell later or I may even leave their fate to oral tradition. I won’t tell all those stories now because there’s another story I need to tell. Because I let someone ruin my Chinese riding experience. Doubly so. Yes, I am talking about you Robin L. I don’t hold a grudge against you, I’ve learnt from the experience and hopefully I won’t let it happen to me again (not holding a grudge doesn’t mean I don’t blame you for what happened later). I learned I have to screen more thoroughly the people I travel with, I learned to distrust overly enthusiast people, I learned to not feel responsible for other people’s stupidity.

Some people go to China as they go to their city’s Chinatown, feeling that they can impose their rules on the behemoth that is the Chinese bureaucracy and that they can go against the more than 5000 years of uninterrupted unique cultural evolution that China has on its back. So, aside from the great memories I’ll keep of us drinking from the beer penguins in the night market or eating freshly made noodles by the roadside, or the sad ones like Lyn having to abandon us halfway to go back to Australia to take care of her dying father, my most patent memory from China is from this dude wandering off with his wife on a road that we had been told not to take, camping out instead of coming to town, and, the crown jewel of his shameful ignorance and closed-mindedness, insulting our guide and calling him a f*cking liar and a d*ckhead in front of the whole group thus causing him to lose face in front of us and with it the last trace of sympathy he could have had for this group of foreigners. That happened in Turpan, on the 6th or 7th day of our Chinese voyage together. It wasn’t the first incident and it wasn’t the last. Well done, now the guy that has to write a report on us that will probably influence the approval of our second crossing of China is mad at “us”.

With this incident in mind, on our last day, in the quaint little town of Qinghe (or Qinggil), the one thing we hadn’t dared to put into our Big Brother analogy back when we were about to enter China happened: we held a Tribal Council, Survivor-style. During that meeting, Richard stated that he wouldn’t be joining the second part of the trip if the rogue couple (him and wife) was joining, I stated that I needed them to be there in order to reduce the cost of the trip but wouldn’t be enjoying their company, I was also accused of being a mellow person while all the British bunch mellowly told him that he could maybe think about possibly reviewing his attitude before the second part of the trip, if he pleased to join us again. Sorry guys if you don’t remember it this way, I do and this blog’s written from MY memory. There were some more insults from the accused (or is it accursed) and they finally told us that they wouldn’t be joining the second part. Pity, it could have been fun to see him go to prison for whatever other outrage he might still have had in stock for the second part.

Some of you may be thinking that it’s sad that this is my strongest memory from this part of trip. It is. I needed to tell this story because it’s also part of the experience. I felt betrayed in my confidence because when you enter China as a self-driving group, you are bound by the same destiny and you implicitly trust your travel companions to be as respectful, obedient and open-minded as yourself. They weren’t and we all paid the price.

On a happier note, here’s a little video of the noodles we had just before crossing the border at Takeshikenzhen and a photo of some bum we ran into at the border.

Border bum sleeping
Border bum sleeping

Another view of the tramp who stole my riding jacket
Another view of the tramp who stole my riding jacket

Salta, Municipio de Salta, Argentina


Oh boy! Have I been silent for so long?

Well, I have a good excuse. Since March 26th, I’m on a break. After a gruelling 14-hour day, I arrived to my parents’ apartment in Buenos Aires and I’ve been resting ever since, gathering energies for the next part of my voyage: riding all the way to North America (voluntary vagueness here, don’t know if I’ll end in Southern Mexico or in Eastern Canada).

Meanwhile, a quick flashback. While I was in Thailand, I stopped for a few days at that awesome biker’s place called the Rider’s Corner in Chiang Mai, managed by Phil Gibbins (KTMphil, moderator at rideasia.net) and his wife Som, they offer cozy rooms, great Thai and Western food and a great place to meet other riders. One afternoon, I came back and Phil introduced me to motorcycle legend Dr. Greg W. Frazier, a man who has circled the globe on a motorcycle four times by himself and a fifth one carrying a blind woman on his bike.

He told me he was profiling motorcycle travellers for an article and he interviewed me and took some pictures the next day. Here’s the article: Dr. Frazier: Profiles of Adventure Travelers. Most of what he says about me is slightly inaccurate but having seen his handwriting while he was taking notes, I can’t blame him. Plus, it’s an interesting read. Enjoy! I’ll resume normal posting when I’m on the road again.

In Chiang Mai
In Chiang Mai

Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, Argentina


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:

See you on the other side!

Where was I? Oh, right, Kyrgyzstan!

The next morning we got up not too late and set on our way to the border. Our map shows a little border crossing close to Fergana and that is what we aimed for. Until we met the Italians (again). They had been to the border but it was a locals-only border crossing and they’d been turned down. After a short chat with them about their support truck, which had broken down due to water in the fuel, we set off looking for that other border crossing, the Osh border crossing.

Getting close to Osh

We got there almost in no time since we were very close and crossing it was a breeze, no hassle at all. THey wanted nothing to do with our visas, no need for them anymore. Osh i sonly a couple kilometers from the border and finding the Osh Guesthouse was also quite easy. One of the shortest rides so far. Pretty soon Chris and I had checked into the guesthouse and had an appointment for dinner with Christina, a German cyclist and her Finnish friend Henna at the California Café for a pizza (Yum!) and Neil had left to search for a hotel with private rooms.

The manager of the guesthouse, a bearded muslim wearing a kamis took us to a parking lot 500m away from the hostel to park our bikes and on the way we attracted a lot of attention among the neighborhood kids. With the bikes well kept, we went out looking for the pizzeria and not only did we find Christina there but also Neil, who had already spotted the local Chinese restaurant and took us there for a beer after dinner. I also had a very unexpected starter before my pizza: tarator! (they don’t call it tarator in Kyrgyzstan but that’s what it was).

Kyrgyz tarator
Looks like tarator, smells like tarator, smells like tarator, it’s Okroshka!

We all spent two nights in Osh for various reasons. Me, I just wanted a little rest. On the first evening I exchanged information with Christina about the road I had planned from Osh. I was planning to go to Song Kul following the road marked on the map I got from Cédric. She confirmed that it was a very nice road to do and gave me some tips about the imprecisions of the map: villages that weren’t there and other villages that were. Also around that time I got hooked reading Iker Iturregi‘s chronicle of his trip in this region and had reached the point where he was telling about the exact road I wanted to follow, the Kazarman trail to Song Kul Lake. If you can read Spanish, I do recommend reading his adventure chronicle, he’s done one of the most difficult roads in the world, the 2000 km long BAM road in Russia in less than 4 days and broken the speed record for crossing a very scary and long bridge on that road. Most people take around 10 days to do it.

Osh is not a very interesting city but I needed the rest to get in shape and ready for the next days when I would be riding solitary mountain trails with my Z as the only company.


Ulaanbaatar, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

New plan

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.

Ulan Baatar
The roundabout near the hostel

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?

Yesterday’s yummy lunch


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.

I ordered one of those, the third one after the red line


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.

Unfortunately it was closed to the general public tonight (on a Saturday night!)


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.

My memento of Z until we are back together

Ulaanbaatar, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Bad tourist

I am not a tourist, I am a traveler -I said. And my Russian teacher responded: Я не турист, я путешественник. I keep telling people I am not a tourist. I am not motivated by the monuments, movement is my drive. Change is life.

But when I am in cities, I play tourist a bit. It can be interesting sometimes.

I finished the previous post saying that the next one would find me at Madina & Ilyos guesthouse and there I was. Madina, the Uzbek matron running the house with her husband had put a brick on the floor to reduce the height of the entrance step so that I could get the bike inside the small courtyard. The courtyard was quite small and it was already crowded with an Africa Twin with a humungous fuel tank (43 liters the owner declared later) but I managed to fit the bike in a corner.

Z in the courtyard
Z in the courtyard

Cédric, the French owner of the Africa Twin soon showed up and so did Tarik (FR) and Bruna (FR-BR), Tristan (FR) and Tina (SI). A very friendly bunch that was also checking in that same day. We lazed around in the scorching heat of the morning and around lunch Tristan, a regular patron of Bukhara and Madina’s took me and Cédric for shashlik lunch at the market and to visit Char Minar in the old town. It was so hot that we looked at Char Minar for a very long time. Not because of its beauty or its many interesting and complex features but because there was a bench in the shade in front of it conveniently situated at the entrance of a little shop selling drinks.

Char Minar
We rested in front of Char Minar during the hottest part of the day

Later in the day we visited an old mausoleum and went for dinner all together, the English bunch and the French bunch but we didn’t mingle, as if an invisible channel had been drawn on the table.

Feeling that my tourist duties were not fulfilled, I set off the next day with the intention of doing some sightseeing but as usual, I set off after 10:30. It was already more than 35 degrees in the shade and a lot more in the sun and I found out that I couldn’t even take refuge in the Ark because it’s being restored so I took refuge in the mosque just in front of it, the official mosque of the emirs of old after going around the Ark to try to find another entrance and ignoring an old man who kept shouting Zindan at me and pointing in the general direction of the old prison museum. The mosque had air conditioning and I was alright there, until I tried to approach the Koran and was shooed away by one of the locals who interrupted his own prayer to show me that I couldn’t approach the stand where the Koran was. That was my cue to leave and keep playing tourist.

Next stop was Job’s well and its small water museum where I hadn’t planned to spend much time. I hadn’t even planned to enter and when they asked me to pay for the ticket, I had to go back out and count my money. In the end, I decided to enter and it was a good thing.

I hadn’t spend long looking around the small museum and wetting my lips with the water from Job’s well that the resident English speaker, a charming young woman by the name of Nigina was talking to me:

– Where do you come from?
– I come from France. I came by motorcycle.
– You must be crazy

I had just been called crazy by my museum guide, this was a sign that I had to make the conversation last. Fortunately, she was of the same opinion and after she took care of some other visitors, we went back to the front of the museum and spent the rest of the afternoon talking about my trip, her aspirations, sharing photos and just chatting. When the museum closed, she proposed to show me the other monument I had planned to see that day, the Samani mausoleum but only if I carried her computer. I am a gentleman so I said yes and not only she showed me the mausoleum but plenty of other interesting things I had missed in Bukhara while we slowly made our way to the central pond.

Zarina and Nigina
Nigina and her sister Zarina

The last place we entered was the carpet museum where her sister works. After the introductions: “Here’s the crazy guy travelling on a motorcycle”, I was admitted into the museum. While her sister explained the carpets in Russian and I struggled to understand, Nigina translated into English for me. She was truly determined to make a good tourist out of me.

So much so that she proposed to pick me up at my hotel the next day and come with me to the Summer Palace. And so she did and we spent the whole day together, sharing stories and laughs but neither drinks nor food because it was the month of Ramadan and she was fasting. Out of respect I tried to refrain from drinking too ostentatiously in front of her but the heat was too much and I wasn’t going to dehydrate (I don’t know how she was resisting it).

Harem and pond
The harem and the pond at the summer palace

Aside from being a very bright woman, Nigina studied to be a guide and knows a lot about her city and her country; it was very instructive to spend the day in such good company. She told me stories about each place we visited and she had a small book telling the legends related to each place. Ah! My favorite kind of history is of course fake history: legends! What more could I ask? But the heat of the mid-afternoon was too much and she had to take a rest, otherwise she would faint before the maghreb hour and so she went to her sister’s museum while I went to the internet café. Internet is quite scarce in Bukhara and the only true option is the café, even in hotels the traffic is limited to emails or charged by the hour.

When the heat of the afternoon died down a bit, I went for her and we spent some more time together. She had promised to tell me about the traditional Uzbek wedding ceremonies and I introduced her to the French bunch (I call it the French bunch but it includes Tina, who is not French, not in the least).

The French bunch
Bruna, Katya, Cédric and Tina

On the way to the taxi she told me about Nasreddin, the guy sitting on a donkey next to the central pond in Bukhara. Uzbekistan’s comedic hero.

Later, I went for dinner with Bruna, Katya (she had arrived later at the guesthouse), Tarik, Cédric and Marion (she just appeared out of nowhere and asked if she could sit with us). It was the end of a very pleasant stay in a very beautiful city where I met plenty of good people.

Bishkek, Alamudun District, Kyrgyzstan


Glass of rakia
A glass of Pomoriska a day…
Shopska salata
…just keeps the salad good company

Now that I’ve had my Shopska salata with a glass of rakia, I can say I’m officially in Bulgaria. Ah! Such good memoires!

A short explanation is in order. This is rakia, R-A-K-I-A. It is Bulgarian and has nothing to do with Turkish raki, that’s the next country I’ll visit, I’m not there yet. Rakia is not anise flavored. That’s why I like it so much :).

When in Rome, do as the Romans and when in Bulgaria… well, drink rakia with your salad at the beginning of the meal. I learnt that on my first trip to Bulgaria in 2007. I love rakia so much I might as well buy a bottle for the road.

Oh, and how could I forget the main dish, Meshana skara, the typical Bulgarian mixed grill. Made mainly of pork meat, it sort of reminds me of home in Argentina where a barbecue always includes a bit of everything.

Meshana Skara
Just about everything that was on the grill goes on the plate

That was dinner but my lunch was also interesting. A bit lost (post to come), I stopped at a small village and had the awesomest döner kebab ever (dyuner in Bulgarian). All the more awesome because it cost me 1.5 leva (0.75€). When I decided to take a picture, I realized they had a promo of 2 döners for 2 leva. I wasn’t that hungry anyway. It was here:

Kebab shop
2 döner for 2 leva

Nesebar, Burgas, Bulgaria

Wake up in Slovakia, have breakfast in Hungary…

…then buy some food in Hungary and picnic in Slovakia, only to finish the day 30km from Budapest.

That was pretty much the summary of our day yesterday. We woke up where we had camped, in the nice camping by the lake in the north of Bratislava. I woke up after a night in the hammock, there was no mosquitoes and I took the chance. It was pretty nice.

Bike and hammock in Prague
I didn’t sleep on it in Prague

Without further ado (save a shower of course, with boiling water though) we set off on the road to Budapest by the highway. Yes, the highway, but not for long. We stopped for breakfast at a gas station just past the border of Hungary where I bought the most useful piece of kit so far and instantly realized why I had been taking so many highways: because I didn’t know were the other roads were!!

From then on, the day was completely different to the previous days, we took the national roads following the Danube along the Slovakian-Hungarian border. Stopped at a supermarket on the road to buy some food for lunch that we would eat later on the road. When we arrived to Komárom, we wanted to have lunch and decided to cross the river into Slovakia again and set up our picnic in a nice park in Komárno, Slovakia. I enjoy crossing borders with the bike, it gives me a feeling of the distance I’ve travelled.

A long way from home
So far from home…

I especially enjoy these European borders, which are just lines on the ground with no one to stamp your passport even if you wanted to. Although here in Hungary you are supposed to buy a vignette for your vehicle to pay for road use. I’m not so sure if I had to buy it if I’m not using the highways but I bought it anyway, just to be on the safe side. By the end of the day, we had stopped for a couple of pictures in Ezstergom, visited Kisoroszi where we wanted to camp but decided against it, mainly because we didn’t have cash and it looked like a party camping. Back to the mainland and with some cash in my pocket, I was so tired of riding that we stopped at the first camping sign we saw just across the river in Tahitótfalu. It turned out to be a nice camping managed by a  very nice Hungarian guy who had hung a French flag in his house as decoration. So we offloaded the bike and went for a pizza in the surroundings.

Although the hammock was there too, it slept on its own that night because it was full of mosquitoes and I didn’t want to wake up itching everywhere. Today, I am writing this from a hotel room in Budapest (I needed to sleep on a bed) as I am about to leave for Debrecen or maybe further. Alice has just left to take her bus back to Prague. She’s such a great friend has helped me so much with all the preparations that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to repay her. Thank you again, Alice!

Alice and a new friend
Alice and her new friend

Now, off to the bike before it’s too hot to ride again!

Budapest, Budapest, Hungary