Post archive

Quick Update -

A quick update,


Well we are back in London, we have finally sorted through the photos (all 12,000 of them) and picked around 200 of our favourites. We are both up and running with work: i hit the ground running and was very pleased to have worked with 2 projects over the olympics including Aberdeen House and campinlondon.com. Cat is a busy bee with StreetPR again and the new website is really bringing the clients in!


It's been crazy, and it's only really now that things are sinking in. Looking back on the trip makes me sad, sometimes i think it showed how badly travelled i was previously, and sometimes being in the thick of it means you don't take into consideration your surroundings. This said, I'm very proud of what we did, it was pretty spur of the moment and we did well.







Left- Our office in Leicester Square  London


My back was a lot worse than expected, and i went under the knife on the 6th of October to have neurosurgery which was scary stuff. I was in a lot of pain, well agony really, and it is only after it goes away you realise how much it effects your life. I wasn't sleeping properly and hadn't for months, by the time of the op i could hardly walk, much to the horror of my good friend and personal trainer Alex Gold.


The good news is the op is over and I'm now training very lightly trying to get back to fitness and get some strength back. I sold the KTM and totally regret it, i was angry i suppose that it let me down, but i put it though hell and it survived a long time. To be true, she never actually STOPPED, just showed some pretty bad signs! But i have bought a BMW GS - don't get over excited, I'm not a huge fan at all, but it is very comfy and good for my back. The BMW has one big fan and that is Cat - it's got a lot more room on the back, but i don't think you can compare them evenly as bikes, the fact they are in the same class as each other is about it.







A lot of people ask me if we will do another trip. Well in short, of course we will, but not for a while! Bike trips are not "cheap" and i can say i have lots of 2/3 weeks trips planned but nothing bigger in the next few years. I will of course take pics and blog for those followers who still visit the site. 






Left - Cat With The BMW 


But we are back in London, back in work, working hard and looking at photos of the trip with smiles and at times disbelief.


We hope everyone is well, and once again thanks for reading our blogs and following our trip. We are always happy to discuss our trip and adventures on the road, and if you would like to shoot the breeze over a cup of tea we are more than happy to do so.


One last thing: we had one of our blogs chosen by Chris Scott and added into the Adventure Motorcycle Handbook, it's available thought CLICK THIS LINK


If you're planning a trip THIS IS THE BOOK TO READ!!


Peace and Love

James and Cat

xxx

Our final 2 blogs

End of the Trip - Sorry for the lack of photos!!!


So here I sit on our LAST day of proper travel in Chiang Mai. Yes, that's right, our last day. I will explain how this has come about over this blog and how it wasn't an easy decision to make ,but one we feel is smart and the best in the long run. 


So we went to to Dreamlake Fishing in Chiang Mai, for a fantastic 5 days fishing and I was very lucky to net some incredible fish, including a new fresh water record for me of an 81-pound (37kg) Alligator Gar. (For those interested, I actually caught 2 Alligator Gar, 3 Catfish, 4 Red Tail Catfish, 7 Mekong Catfish, a stunning giant Snakehead and Garami and lots of smaller Mud Carp and Tilapia.) 


We spent a few days relaxing and trying to plan the next part of our journey, and it was throwing up a few problems. The first was I have only got 2 pages left in my passport and with 2 or 3 countries to go I could run out of space. To get another passport, the current one has to be sent to Hong Kong as (due to fraud) they don't issue them in Thailand anymore and this takes up to 4 weeks. This means I would have to wait around in Thailand for 4 weeks, only problem is my Thai visa would run out after 2 weeks and then I would be here "illegally" so to speak, with no passport! So not really an option. 


The next problem we had was that I HAVE to enter Australia by the first week of June to get my 5 year right to remain visa. Now, the bike at this stage was not going to be ready until the 15th of May, giving us 3 weeks to get down Thailand into Malaysia and onto the plane to Oz. Which was do-able but meant we would miss Indonesia and Singapore which would be a bit of a shame. There was also the fact that all our personal insurance, storage contracts, Carnet and everything else was running out and would need to be renewed: the biggest jaw dropper was our travel insurance who wanted £150 per month per person for us to continue. All this was making carrying on at a pace where we could see stuff and do what we wanted very difficult.


Then came the straw that broke the camels back: turned out the lower gaskets and the pistons rings were also gone, meaning KTM needed to order parts which they "hoped" would be in by the end of the week around the 19th, but the bike would not be back together and properly tested until around the 25th. Put simply, we were running out of time and the financial implications of running longer for the sake of 1000km or so in SE Asia did not make any good sense at all. The biggest disappointment would be not doing the Ozzy loop, but with a 5 year right to remain visa it does mean I can come back at any time and realise this goal. 


So it was with all the above in mind, along with our commitment to work and the fact we had told people we would be back after around 12 months, we decided to call the "bike" part of the trip a day. Yes it's a shame, but really I also need to get my back looked at as I'm in a lot of pain, it's got to the point where there are simply too many things facing me which need to be addressed. So after 28 countries riding and 50,000 km this might be the end of the journey.


………………….

PERTH


So we flew to Perth to meet Cat's family and chill out here while the bike gets fixed. It has been a nice slow integration with reality but perhaps a bit of a highlight also of how lucky we are and have been. As most of you know, I hurt my back whilst with the London to Tbilisi riders in Turkey: I have since had bad days and good days and for the most part have been of the nature of "I'll get on with it" with the aim of finishing the trip being my main focus. After a couple of days, and watching me limp around moaning and munch a lot of pain killers, Sue and Chris said I need to see someone and so I went to see the Chiropractor. He then insisted I get an MRI scan before he would touch me, and the news has not been good since.


In a nut shell, I have a large herniated disc in my L4/L5 area which is causing pain in my S5 nerve (right leg) and could be effecting my S1 nerve ("mans" area). After I got the scan and went to the doctor they also realised I had shrinking of my right leg (around the muscles, NOT getting shorter, as some of you have joked!) and so they have come to the conclusion that I need to get it operated on soon rather than later. The travel insurance company were useless and so we have decided to go back to the UK and get it dealt with there as at least when I get out of hospital I can rest in my own home and still run part of my business.


It's been sore, but I'm used to it for the most part, and even though I've finished riding a bike on mud and broken up roads, it's only now starting to worry me.


Other than that we have hung out with family, eaten out and I even bought a pair of jeans!! Yes, I love jeans and it was a very good thing to be able to buy and wear a pair again.


After about 2 weeks in Perth we are heading back to the Bangkok to crate the bike up and head back to London. We plan to be in London around 30 May and have planned a few beers with friends around June 1st!



Final Goodbyes…..


So we came back into Thailand, my back is no better and so I guess it must have been something I did in the last few weeks has been the cause of the back to go from very bad to very very bad. Believe it or not, it may have even been the fishing and those big 50lb + fish put up one hell of a fight! But it was only a matter of time and rather it be now than falling off the blade on a track somewhere over summer.


I notice when we've come back to places/cities that they don't look the same, maybe it's because you know what to expect and where you're going so have time to take more things in, or maybe it's because you're no longer just jaw dropped at the different sites and sounds. But I have noticed on this that trip whenever I have spent some time away from somewhere and come back, I tend to take a more grounded view of it.


I love Thailand, I mean, there's things I don't like about it, but I really do think this country is one of the greatest places on earth. There's so much going on, and after coming from the stunningly clean streets of Perth with the big spaced out houses and the graffiti-free, rubbish-free life they live, coming back into Bangkok with its stalls everywhere, people selling food, clothes and just about anything you could ever want pretty much everywhere you go makes your senses go crazy and it's a beautiful thing. 


I love that fact you can sit down at a little stall, eat some rice and chicken right in the middle of Bangkok for less that 40 baht (80p) while only 10 meters away rice and chicken in the posh restaurant opposite is £12, or the steak restaurant the other side of you has not a single main meal on the menu for less the £20. It's just excellent and Thailand does this with so many things. 


The other good example is some of the most beautiful and magnificent shopping malls I have ever seen: they contain everything from Levi's to Gucci and beyond with some even having Lamborghini and Austin Martin dealers in where you can even buy Lamborghini cycles! Opposite these malls, in what would seem to be the car park, will be hundreds of stalls selling fake everything and some custom designers trying to show their stuff and where you can pick a T-shirt up for as little as £1.50. And it's ok: no one closing people down and trying to stop people doing it, everyone just smiles and gets along and some shop in both while others prefer one or the other. 


Where we come from,  I really think it's such a shame that "old man council" and "health and safety" have gone so far - we're all being forced to shop only in malls and eat only in restaurants all because the little guy in England is not allowed to exist, because it would be a health hazard this, or a fire hazard that.


This said, Thailand can still be the most frustrating place on earth: along with the varieties of eateries and shopping, it also applies to the level of education and so sometimes even the most basic of things takes ages due to a lack of common sense. (e.g. KTM not telling me they needed to order a particular part until I come in to collect and pay for the "finished" bike - what happened to a phone call?!)


We met with Allan Roberts again for a catch up and a discussion of his up and coming Dakar Rally attempt, and the Australia Desert Challenge. He is one hell of an inspiring guy and I love hanging out with him, he's got a real "let's get the fuck out there and do this" attitude rather than a "well I would really like to but cos of my (insert one of a thousand excuses here) situation I can't." I truly wish him all the luck in the world and I will be looking to support you in any way I can. It's guys like you that make me think I'm not the only crazy person in the worked who is so "lucky" to be able to follow my dream…….. I'm still thinking about getting "don't call me lucky" tattooed somewhere on my body!! 


We tried to ship the bike out, my what a hassle!! To begin with we sent about 20 emails out to different agents and after 2 days only 3 had replied despite us chasing them all up. One company had us believing they knew what they were talking about, but kept adding things in like "wood needs to be fumigated." "No, not included in price, that's extra." "Yes, Virgin Airlines accept dangerous goods cargo." (They don't.) 


We eventually told them to stuff it and went to another agent recommended on a few traveller's blogs, even though they were more expensive, but we just wanted to get it sorted. Unfortunately they too had a problem. Our bike import paper was 10 days expired. For anyone that knows this (and it's printed in English in the thai customs website) vehicles can stay in the country up to 6 months, and if you stay over your initial expiry date - normally a month - you just pay a fine of 100 baht per day up to a maximum of 1000 baht, when you leave.


But the shipper wouldn't accept this, so we had to go to the airport to try to get a new form. But the customs guys couldn't just give us a new form, and they couldn't understand why the shipper had such an issue with this paper. They insisted it's no problem. I made them call the shipper and explain the situation, and we went to the shipper's offices in the cargo terminal. They they decided AGAINST what customs advised and decided that actually, they would make it a problem still. This went back and forth a few times. In the end, the customs guys (who are really very helpful - the head of the department deals with us and is very good) - advised us to get another shipper, and they called one for us and said they will call us in a few minutes to discuss our bike. (To date - 14 days later - we're still waiting for that call!) It appears Bangkok shipping agents don't need or want our business.


So after spending 10 hours running around to sort this issue out and getting nowhere, we decided to go for some food and a beer to clear our heads.


I pull out the airport onto the motorway and straightaway a police officer on a bike sees me and gestures me to stop. I think, stuff him he's in the inside lane the other side of a bus and I'm in lane 4, I'm outta here - as normally they're on 250s and cannot keep up. But much to my surprise as I emerged out the front of the 6 or so buses he was right there on a FZ800 with panniers, BOLLOCKS!


When I stop he says "not bike on highway, no good, big trouble." I point to the Sat Nav and say I didn't see a sign and the Sat Nav says this way. He asked for my licence, I said I don't have it. "Your passport". I say "Nope, I have come from the airport, I ship my bike tomorrow and they have all my documents." He was a bit confused at that one. "No problem" I say, "I normally just pay a fine for my troubles now." "Yes," he says, "2000 baht." 


Laughing I say wow you must be rich man this is why you have nice bike! He laughs and straight away says 1000 baht. No no, I say it's a normally only 200, but he says "you on highway, could be big trouble, give me 500 baht." I then say ok ok, knowing I have a 500 baht note in my wallet. I pay him and he was very pleasant and let me continue on the motorway with his escort which included a little run to see what pace I had in the KTM, then when I nearly took the wrong exit he followed me off and guided me the right way.


After the day we've just had, I say to Cat, "fuck sake could our day get any fucking worse?" and literarily within 30 seconds the heavens opened! One of the few time I was wearing t-shirt and shorts on the bike and Cat was huddled in behind me wearing jeans and a top. Man, it hammered down, a typical Asian monsoon storm where you get about a day's worth of rain in 30 mins! 


Anyway I eased up and slowly cruised back to the hotel, if I'm thankful for one thing before leaving on this trip it's having done a couple of track days in the rain - you have a lot more grip than you think and it helps teach you what the bike will and will not do. Once back, and totally soaked to the skin, we got changed and I had a coffee ordered to clear my head a bit. 


I find the most frustrating thing here is waiting for other people. In my work, I have a certain amount of control-freak syndrome. I push things to the limit, work problems out quickly, and I'm not afraid to ring people to the point where others find it embarrassing. I will happily call someone thirty times in a day to find out what the hell is going on and put pressure on them, and I think that is why I find these situations so frustrating. It's horrible having a day like this were you do all the right running around, and speak to all the right people but nothing happens. Normally I'm on the phone to someone's boss, or a lawyer or someone who I know can put pressure on these people to get things done. Instead I got soaked to the fucking skin, my wallet is lighter than when I left this morning and we literally spent a day achieving NOTHING.


So we decided to go for a quiet beer. Cat is not feeling too good as it turns out she has an Oesophagus Ulcer after taking her malaria pill late on night with not enough water and then going to bed straight away, so she is struggling to eat and drink but has found that Baileys seems to work, either that or she drank enough of them the pain just went away. 


But we talked and to be honest, laughed a lot at our situation. Then I made some calls - being me, I don't like to leave any stones unturned - and other options turned up. And by the end of the day the bike situation had been dealt with, in fact in the end I had 3 options but I chose the one that was fair to all parties involved and it means myself and Cat can fly out in 2 days time.


…………….


So this morning we packed our stuff and tried to get a taxi, and it was not the best end to Bangkok. We got a taxi driver who let us put our stuff in his taxi and then told us he wanted 500 baht and would not take us there on the meter. Now, anyone who knows me knows I'm not one for being crossed, but this part of me tends to have an even shorter leash ESPECIALLY before I have eaten or had a boring coffee, and needless to say this taxi driver got a bit of a James special "you thief I hope your family are proud, you will get no business, bad omens for you" - the whole lot, as I unloaded the taxi with Cat's help while he just stood there. 


I notice the Thais are suspicious and the whole "Buddha will bring bad luck to you" really freaks them out, especially as I rubbed my beads as I said it, but good as he was ripping us off!! Within 2 minutes another driver was there and we cleared things with him first, telling him what had just happened and he said "yes don't use Tax Mafia no good they cause big problems." This second guy was what most Thais are like, especially in the north, big smile, really helpful and chatty. In the end I gave him 300 baht - 100 over what the meter said which I think is a fair deal for everyone.


My back is killing me, flying is proving to be harder than I expected and I'm now on the second leg of the 14 and a half hours in the air. I can barley keep my leg still even though I have doubled up my co-codamol and I'm on Ibuprofen and even some valium to help me sleep which I'm only managing to do for an hour before my leg pain wakes me. It's not too bad once I'm back on the ground but as you know on the plane everything swells and this seems to mean the disc leans on the nerve a little more and it's borderline agony, I cannot imagine how bad it would be if I had no pain killers taking the edge off.


So really guys this is the end. It has been an adventure and no matter how I look at it, it didn't quite end how I wanted it to. But that's why I think it's been so good - we left with no real plan and man have we done some incredible things! Seen some incredible things, been to incredible temples, see tigers in the wild, eaten amazing food, met amazing people and got to understand many religious traditions. 


I look back and from a world perspective I feel like I left like a silly little boy, I certainly feel that when I read parts of my blog back. Don't get me wrong, I'm not pretending to think I'm some world guru now, not at all, in fact I would say I'm probably a well informed teenager at best. There are much more experienced people like Ted Simmons, Geoff Thomas, Alan Roberts, Marcia and John, Big Tom and many others who have inspired us, some have helped us, and we stand in your shadows and thank you for sharing your stories and inspiration with us. There are probably others who I have missed, I know and I'm sorry but it's hard to recall all the details from memory. 


It nearly brings a tear to my eye to think this is all over. I never left England until I was 19 and I feel like a lucky guy, and I hate being called that! Hours of work has gone into being able to do this. I never thought I would ever do anything like this as a kid, in fact there are many things I didn't think I would do but have achieved nonetheless, and I encourage any single person out there that this is doable and it's not difficult and it is amazing!

 

Sure there's ups and downs, good days and bad, but when you meet and spend time with a beautiful Iranian family or get blown away by some fun lovely Nepalise kids, or share a joke with some Indian lorry drivers whose only way of communicating is by hand signals, or when you enter a country like Laos and see what we have done to each other and the disrespect we seem to be able to create and the awful things that we can do, and yet these stunning people are living there with big smiles who welcome you like you're family when they still suffer due to western wars that they really wanted nothing to do with, home sure seems like a long way off.


Then you go to Cambodia and see the shanti towns back from the beach 1/2 a mile from where only 4 years ago they were forced off their own beach land because it was sold to big hotel chains, yet they have parties in the street outside their wooden shacks and invite you to drink and dance with them, even though the iPod you have in your pocket might be worth more than all their possessions put together, and it truly makes you feel like we as individuals are something special. 


I will never forget this trip, not as long as I live, sure I would do things differently and I may not always have done things right but you cannot be perfect every day, no one can. I sit on the plane and I can say I'm a bit teary-eyed, I feel a bit stupid really but holy shit it's over and the memories and things I have seen will change my life forever. The one thing I would like to add is that I pray everyday we do not go to war with Iran, if we do I think it will make me almost inconsolable for the people there are incredible and I wish in the end I had spent more time there. If I can, I'm definitely going back. Please don't be put off by what you see and read in the papers, bad news sells papers good news doesn't sell quiet as well. 


This of course will not be my last trip, don't get me wrong I want the things in life that 90% of the world's population want and that is a family and to settle down with my own part of the world. I intend to make charity work a bigger part of my life and I do intend to do more trips. I want to do Africa and more of Europe, Russia then probably via Iran and the Stans over to Mongolia and back. Then there is Australia and in the end the Americas which Cat and I know we can do when we are a little older. 


But for the next couple of years it's back to my biggest love and that is business. I'm looking forward to getting stuck back in and creating new opportunities and then when the time comes, taking the odd week or so off to disappear into Europe and go to places I'm yet to have seen. We are very lucky to live in the UK - a whole variety of different cultures is right on our doorstep and I think we just don't make the most of it enough!!


……….


Now I need to say "thank you"s. This will be my last blog, but I will keep you updated with what we get up to and until we get home. I will keep the travel diary site (www.jamesandcat.com) up at least, even if I don't link the updates with the followers we have on other sites (horizons unlimited, advrider) so if you're reading this somewhere else and want to keep in touch, please go sign up to www.jamesandcat.com


We have met so many incredible people on this trip: everyone who has helped us, encouraged us, given us advice or has swapped stories over a few beers. The journey really has been the people you meet, especially those who helped us out along the way when we were in trouble: The Moroccan businessman who showed us an alternative way to make a living; the bike gang in Hungary who adopted us for the weekend; the families in Iran; the Sikh Indian with the tyres; the Turkish police after my accident; the hotel owner in Turkey; and many times Hemel Hempstead KTM who have always took time to give me some advice and help whenever I have called, which was often for nothing other than a thanks and for me to quickly hang up! Phil from Rider's Corner in Chiang Mai; and of course Eddie on 24/7 telephone mechanic advice while I have been in Asia. Plus anyone else who has shown us their home or way of life or taken time out of their day to talk with us and make us fell welcome. So many great people and so many friends for life.


I also need to thank our families, and close friends, special mention to both sets of Mum and Dad's; Gaz Hurst who drove halfway across the country to collect and look after my stuff and is letting us stay at his house until we get a place sorted; Ferg Harrington for being there for me and looking after my business who is not just my business partner but a true friend; Jade my sister for spending hours searching flights seeing what deals she can score us with her stewardess discounts when needed; Rob from Southern Cross for helping me out whenever he could. And everyone else for the words of encouragement, the kind emails from people we have never met, and we wish those who said they were planning their trips all the luck in the world and if you come via London we have an open house - just drop us an email as we would love to return the favour and kindness we received on the road.


Also the websites www.advrider.com and horizionsunlimited.com are so invaluable - so much help, encouragement, advice. Help fixing the bike, routes, things to see and friends along the way has all come from these incredible hubs of information. These online communities are a must for anyone considering doing any sort of big bike/overland trip.


So that's about it. We travelled through 30 countries, 28 by motorcycle, flew over 2: Pakistan and Myanmar as we could not take the bike in or get visas. We covered 50,000km on the bike, went though 3 sets of tyres and had 1 accident on the KTM and Cat had one a hire bike (only one broken bone.) We rode to 4000 meters high, paid as little as $5 for 30 litres of petrol and as little as 50 cents for a meal. We probably drank too much, ate too much and didn't do enough exercise so to speak. We saw elephants, long nose crocodiles, tigers, a rhino, rare birds, alligators, monkeys, buffalo, rare deer, big eagles, and desert cats. We went to churches, temples, mosques, synagogues, palaces and castles. We rode on all terrains, twisty mountain roads, sand covered roads across deserts that seemed to go on forever, huge pot holed truck filled roads in India, mud tracks, sand tracks, roads that were collapsing and had landslides on, and even up the side of a mountain on a trekking route. We slept in hotels, hostels, tents, on the beach, in hammocks, in people's homes, and even in the food storage room in the middle of a field in Cambodia. We have eaten lots of different types of food, too many to mention in fact but have turned down crispy cockroaches and dried meat rats. It's been a hell of a journey and I hope you have enjoyed following it with us. If you have just found the blog, go get a cuppa and have a read. It might make you chuckle and think about taking some time out of the rat race.


Lastly (but not least!) thanks to Julie and Chris (the Jetstreams) who one Sunday over some drinks and good food told us that we should definitely go and do it, when we were wondering about it, and I do believe the following weekend I bought the bike!!


Phuket, then Phuket, and Phuket Again.


Phuket, then Phuket, and Phuket Again.


It's been a while since our last blog, but if I'm honest, the last 10 days have been anything but the hardest of my life! In fact they have been very relaxing indeed!! First we got back to Bangkok, a place we are now pretty familiar with and it almost felt homely which was odd. We stayed in the same fantastic little cheap place we stayed the last time and it was as usual very good value and they do look after my bike well. 


I took the bike to KTM and moaned about the coolant level rising slightly so they replaced the radiator cap, which has not solved the problem, but I think I have a slight leak from a hose which must be letting air in, as other than the increase in level the bike is running very well. After 2 short days in Bangkok we saddled the bike up and hit the road to head in the direction of Australia which for us felt like a big deal as it's been a good 3 months since we headed in the direction of our final stop.


The first day we did about 500km. IT'S SO FREEKING HOT at the moment, its 40+ degrees and it's a wet muggy hot, it makes you tired and so for this reason finally I have resorted to riding with no jacket on the last couple of days, simply because I was sweating so much it was making me very uncomfortable, to a point where it might be dangerous. We headed straight south toward Phuket, and the first night we stopped at a fantastic little place called Rocky Point Resort, it cost us £12 for a big room with TV and we had the whole place to ourselves, fantastic!! 


The next day we started the day with a swim then hit Phuket. Disappointingly we found out we had just missed Phuket Bike Week, we saw lots of big bikes leaving as we turned up!! After choosing a nice place and settling down just in time for sundowners, we decided we should spend a week or so in a bit of luxury, as our wedding anniversary is only a month away. We stayed in a beautiful resort called the Boathouse on Kata beach. The service is amazing, absolutely 5 star, the food is good and the poolside and private beach area is always pretty quiet so were are very happy. Cat loves the service at the beach - they give you TWO towels each, constant refills of cold bottled water, pieces of fruit on skewers, and cold face towels that smell like lemon sorbet. 


We spent the first 3 days chilling out and went out on Thursday night for few beers, meeting a really cool American guy called Quinn, and 3 girls from Australia. We have spent most our time chilling out - one day was a snorkelling trip which was pretty good where we got to go to the Beach beach (Maya Bay on Phi Phi) and saw James Bond Island. Another day we went game fishing but didn't catch anything other than some Tuna and 3 Queen fish all less than 2kg in weight!! But we did meet some cool Aussie guys and spent a few nights out in Patong with them.


The Saturday night we went out to Patong which is the main entertainment area. We sat in a bar on the main street and just watched the madness: it was a lot of fun, there is so much going on such as colourful drag queens, giant lizards and cute baby lemurs, and it's all on a really buzzy positive vibe. There IS a quite seedy side to things but in general it's a very fun place to see and hang out, and no matter how you view it, it makes Thailand very different from any other place I have ever been. We watched the lady boys who do the Cabaret show hand out flyers and get their pictures taken (yes, we also got the obligatory photos), they love the attention and play up to it a lot. It's just a really crazy place to be, almost comparable to Marrakech in that sense but obviously very very different.


So now after having a "holiday" from our travels, we look forward to getting on the bike tomorrow and getting to Malaysia or at least the border by tomorrow evening. Here's to hoping it's not too hot and it doesn't rain!!


Well, it didn't rain and it wasn't too hot, but we really should have hoped for a healthy bike…..


We left for Malaysia as planned and got 200km down the road, only to see bubbles blowing out the coolant bottle into my half bottle of water I had attached to the overflow pipe: A neat trick was I told about from ADVrider.com which basically proves without a doubt that I had a head gasket going. It was slowly getting worse, so we stopped and considered out options. As the crow flies we were closer to Kuala Lumpur than Bangkok but we had a border crossing to deal with and that would mean getting off the beaten track with a falling apart bike. 


After some phone calls to see about overstaying our visa meant (we had 3 days left) and what our options were, we decided the smartest thing to do was to head back to Phuket, where we could get a truck/plane/what ever we needed!! Once back in Phuket and staying in a slightly cheaper place we made our plans and made some calls, understandably annoyed at this new situation. It soon came around that it was in fact smarter to rent a car (Toyota Hilux we got) and drive back to Bangkok ourselves, to drop the bike at KTM. It's so cheap to rent cars here and freight to Bangkok was going to cost £800 (what we paid from Dubai to Nepal!!). 


So the following day we went to see the rental guy, who right from the start came across like a right twat, but we looked for other options and there just weren't any. So we rented the car from him, went back to the hotel and with the help of some other tourists who Cat had politely roped in, we lifted the bike on the truck and strapped it down (6th time now I think). 


I did the 1000km to Bangkok the following day, I was really tired but it got done, there's not a lot to report it was boring and I was less than impressed with the wallowy Hilux which handled like a pile of crap. The air bag light was constantly on and the steering was off but we cruised down the motorway dodging Thai drivers and nut cases until we came to Bangkok. We arrived at our hotel and after some negotiating with the posh hotel across from our guesthouse, secured a space to park in. A guest at our hotel was a traveller like us - we saw what I think was a 950 KTM outside, but it had a mix of different panels on so it was difficult to tell and it looked like it had been in a fair number of scrapes over its time. It was from the Netherlands, we never met the rider but did leave our card with the bike.


In the morning we woke early to drop the bike off at KTM, then went to the hotel for breakfast and decided that it was smart to split up the journey back to Phuket by doing it in  2 days and resting for the evening at Rocky Point, the place we had stopped at on the way down the first time. And it was a lucky decision, because our day would not be an easy one... 


On the way out of Bangkok, just as we were leaving the city, I overtook a bus that was slowing to take a left exit and suddenly I lost the back end of the Hilux - it went into a bit of a sideways slide before I fully lost grip and it spun round in the road! Lucky there was nothing in front or beside us and the bus had stopped and we ended up facing the wrong way in the road. Shocked, as it came from nowhere, we got out to see we had hit a road sign (the exit from the motorway sign), and there was a policeman standing right there blowing his whistle shouting at me! 


He had seen the whole thing and I guessed he wanted me to come with him. He went to block the road so we could get the Toyota facing the right way around, but then BAM! another biker rode straight into him and fell on the floor! The policeman was furious and up to this point had seemed very calm and nice and it made me worry, as I had no idea at that time what they were going to do me for. 


I of course asked if I could pay a cash fine on the spot, but he spoke so little English he didn't even get that, but did say to me no book no book and I understood this to mean I had to go to the station. The guy on the moped who hit him got a massive telling off and all his paper work taken off him after an open palm to the face. Cat was shaken up and could not believe this was all happening but was staying pretty calm. 


I took one of my driver licences (an old one) and left Cat with the car, slightly worried I was going to get thrown in a cell. When we got to the station I relaxed as they were smiling and laughing, he explained what had happened in Thai to someone who seemed like the boss of the station and it turned out I had to pay a fine for hitting the sign as the policeman saw me lose control but said it was slippery and not my fault. I wasn't speeding or anything. They asked for 1000 baht (£20) so I agreed eager to get out of there, and after about 45 mins and going to 3 different desks with a discussion about football and the jokes about the policeman being hit by the other biker, I was free to go after shaking everyone's hand. 


Once back at the car I could see we had hit the wheel on the curb and put a small dent (in the already dented) tail and broken a light cover. Annoyed, but feeling lucky things weren't a lot worse, we drove off. I thought the car still felt odd so I slowed down after the lights (there was not a single car on the road) and after feeling everything was probably in my head, I indicated and crossed 2 lanes to get on my way, and not 100 meters up the road was a police road block! He saw us and immediately tried to stop us on one bogus charge or another. I carried on (forgetting I was in a car, not the bike) and immediately got caught at the lights up ahead. Whoops. 


The policeman caught up to us on his bike and I played dumb and we followed him to the side of the road. He was very aggressive and took my licence, saying I had not indicated (that old chestnut), basically a crappy tourist tax we have come across before. I tried to explain I had just come from the station but he said I must go back there, I said which one, but he just gave me a ticket and rode off into the traffic. Lucky I had given him my old licence (my last spare - I have now lost 3 to the Thai's) but even if I was going to go to the station and pay the bogus ticket, "where was the bloody station?????" I was annoyed at the absurdity of it especially as I had just come from a different station 1km away so we just kept going!! 


Further down the coast, once we started looking for a hotel, we realised it was Buddha's birthday and therefore a national holiday, so it took us over 2 hours (and over 15 stops) to find a bed, which in the end was nothing more than a wooden beach hut with a bit of a premium (£15 instead of £8). Once back in Phuket we had to go explain to the hire company the damage, and straight away he wanted 10,000 baht for a broken light and a dent (surround by other dents). We argued but he would not have any of it and so in the end we paid him. Hopefully we did more damage than just what he could see! The good news was that with fuel and even the crash damage included it was still about £300 cheaper the flying the bike back to BKK or forward to KL.


Once back in Phuket, for the third time, we went for a beer and bumped into people we had met a couple of nights before who are friends with Mark Jones, the kiwi guy who we met heading to the Isle of Mann TT at the very beginning of our trip! How funny is that, very small world indeed!!! We had a beer with them, some food after, and booked our flight to Chiang Mai for the morning, where we have decided I will do some more fishing at the Dreamlake fishing resort, and Cat will get some pampering while the bike is being fixed and road tested.


Our Next blog - The beginning of the end after we get some bad news.................

Otres Beach - 4 days off road!!

Cambodia - Otres Beach and Off-Roading



We woke early and

hit the road, not a lot to report as it's flat and boring most of the way, until we hit the hills near the coast, over which we got caught in a storm. It was a bit of a mission to find Otres Beach since we arrived in the dark, and there's not a lot of signs anyway, but so worth it! Straight away we found Tom, then went to find somewhere to stay and met Jade who recommended Done Right, and this is how friendly everyone is: before we'd even unpacked and gone back to meet Tom at his place, we'd made friends with the owners and other guests and had planned a 3-day dirt-bike adventure for the weekend! 





Otres Beach is FANTASTIC, so chilled out and we have become part of the family here. We have now been here for a week and it took only 2 days - cat has been enjoying cheap manicures and pedicures and we have been to the weekly pirate party and the guys to all got time off and 7 of us to have a HUGE ride for 4 days though the jungle! Cat stayed on the beach with Ali, one of the girls we had met on our second night, and made friends wit

h the rest of the beach.

 




We all rented 250 XR's or Baja's and we left around 7am in the morning. The first thing that happened was my bike packed it in before we even got to the town and so I had to take it back and we all waited for 2 hours until another bike was returned! The good news being it was in much better condition than the previous one. 





Finally at 11am we left Siha

noukville but we were behind so in a bit of a rush. We followed the coast along, hitting as many trails as we could but nothing any harder than a dirt track. Then we turned off the motorway to follow the trail for about 80 km north west to Chi Phat, a small village by the river. We had a small rest at a shack a coke each and watched the family gut a buffalo for dinner! After a couple of false starts, the road started to have less and less joining points and we soon picked up the main trail as we hit the edge of the jungle. 

Boy was the riding getting hard and it didn't stop getting hard! Myself and Chris and sometimes JD took the lead as we were the more experienced guys. The bloody trail was getting very rough indeed, and the jungle was soon thick around us. Rocks, mud, rivers, ditches, downed trees… 


we were hitting the whole lot and the trail was not taking us in the direction we expected according to the Sat Nav, which soon died. 


We all came off at some stage, be it in deep mud or on very slippery rocks which were covered in a green moss/algae on the other side of a crossing: you could not touch the brakes unless you wanted to kiss the dirt!! Slowly we all worked our way though, we had fallen trees to get bikes over, bamboo to cut our way though and at one stage had to slide the bikes underneath a section of fallen trees, one bike at a time, working in 2 muddy exhausted teams. 


We were stopping for breaks from time to time and we were a little disorientated being in such thick jungle, the one thing we all knew after about 3 hours was we needed to get a move on as it was going to be dark in about 2 hours. The problem was we didn't know how far from the end we were and we kept getting small clearings every 30 minutes or so, giving us false hope but this would be followed by a deep river crossing or fallen trees and that hope would soon slip away. We WERE reaching the end of the trail, I thought, we must be since we have covered over 60kms. 


Lucky, just as it was getting dark and we had switched our lights on, we emerged from the jungle for real. We were all tired and very hungry having not eaten since breakfast. We regrouped in the tall grass and tried to work out which direction we should be headed in, the good news was 

there were small mountain ranges both sides of us so we tried to stick to the middle. Big problem was we were losing light fast and had nothing other than a small track to follow. We were also running out of water and in the 40 degree heat we were starting to dehydrate and get very hungry!!


Nearly an hour of riding went by in the tall grass and cutting in and out of small sections of forest before we hit a wide river crossing. Hats off to Chris who just went for it in the dark and after slipping all over the place made it to the other side! I was next across, I tried to follow a similar path to Chris and ended up slipping big time on the wet/greasy rocks and the bike came down on top of me. I had fallen the other side of a rock and the bike had trapped my leg, I had managed to hold the bike up but I was slipping fast and my strength was sapped from being dehydrated and I was struggling to stop the full 100kg or more of bike crushing my tibia/fibula. 


Help! I shouted to the guys over roaring engines, HEEEELP!! Then some of the guys slowly dismounted and I shouted HELP - LEG waited 5 second then shouted HELP my fucking LEG!! Then 2 of the guys dropped their bikes and ran over, realising I was approaching a bad situation. They lifted the bike off and I was relieved to get my leg out from underneath it. I got the bike started again and we all got across the river. Two of the others also crashed in the river and it meant we all worked together and it tired us out even more. Very exhausted now, we regrouped and Chris led a discussion about stopping the night next to the river where we had running water. But we decided we would do another hour or so and if we hit more thick jungle turn back to the river and sleep there.


Again we pushed on and hit a VERY deep river crossing, more of a very steep ditch, but it was very wet/muddy and deep. Deeper than the height of the bike. We all got past it after a bit of a fight with the mud on the exit, then we looked at the sky ahead of us and saw we had a huge thunder storm brewing. Not good. We moved on along the trail and the grass got shorter and the trail more clear to the point it looked like it was used by 4X4 or trucks. 


Then much to our delight we c

ame across our first proper sign of civilisation - a fenced-off area/field. In the pitch black we stopped as the trail seemed to go in 5 direction into the dark. Over the bikes and forest sounds I thought I could hear a loud thumping of bass DUF DUF DUF!! The other guys agreed and we decided to ride towards it. After a few minutes we came to a river, a wide VERY deep river and that's when we realised we were only about 1000 meters from Chi Phat, a small village with guest houses and restaurants, problem was there was a big deep river and no bridges across!! 


In the dark we doubled back to try follow the river along and find a crossing. We dipped into some forest and I lost sight of Chris. The track forked, I went one way with JD and Marcus, and Chris, Nick, Sam and Ryan must have gone the other way. It was 5 mins before we stopped and it was in my head light as I went to turn around that I saw a structure with a big plastic tarp. This we could s

leep under and stay dry in our hammocks.


We headed over to the structure thinking the other guys would come. Marcus went for a walk and found the river and another crossing point but it was only by boat and the guy would not take the bikes. But we explained we were hungry and soon an old drunk guy appeared rambling out of the night and just 200 meters away he had a small wooden house on stilts. Marcus speaks a bit of Khmer and he tried to explain our situation. We rode the bike towards the house and the man and old lady looked on confused, "we are staying here" Marcus said, we couldn't get any sense out the old man but we needed to sleep. 



Whilst Marcus was off hunting round we had been trying to signal the other guys, beeping horns and flashing lights, we knew they were close but it was impossible and none of us wanted to go on our own to explore incase we got lost in the pitch black and it was about to poor down with rain. I thought we would set the hammocks up under the house but the old guy seemed to show a small amount of clarity and showed us to a porch area where there was some food in bags and some old tools, basically a shed on stilts. He moved a couple of bags around and we got the idea he was happy for us to stay there. 


It was pouring with rain by the time we unloaded the bikes and we were praying the others weren't looking for us or still stuck in the rain, in a weird way we also hoped they had not found the crossing, as we were so hungry, tired, and thirsty, and JD and I were suffering with really bad cramps, so the idea of them eating good food and drinking beer would be enough to make us cry!! We got into our sleeping hammocks on the floor pretty quick, there were a few creepy crawlies around but we were all so tired we didn't care. Just as I was settling down, JD remembered he had a small pack of Oreo's with 3 biscuits in it, so we had one each, then Marcus gave us a multivitamin - it's amazing how much of the edge those two things took off! Then just as I was about to fall asleep, JD thought he saw a big cockroach about to crawl over me so I flicked the light on and it turned out to be a bloody scorpion killing the big ants around us! I jumped back and JD jumped up and squashed it!! Damn that was close if I had rolled over I would have been stung and those little scorpions are VERY poisonous!!!


That night we managed to get about 5 hours sleep in total on the wooden floor on the shack. The next day I woke as the sun came up and was still worried the others had been stuck in some field or trees and got soaked in the storm. I decided the best time for me to try find them was now so I took Marcus' bike and went for a ride for over an hour but our tracks were pretty difficult to follow thanks to the rain, and I didn't find them. 


As I got back the others were up and had managed to knock a couple of coconuts out of the tree. Man coconut milk gives you a kick when you're mega hungry!! Wow what good stuff, then just as as I was finishing off my first half we could hear their bikes in the distance, we all ran towards them shouting and screaming "this way this way! Over here!!" For a bit it sounded like they were coming towards us, then away, and then finally Chris appeared as I had reached the other side of the field. I pointed in the direction of where we were staying and we all regrouped, anyone would think we had been missing days!! Slowly their story came out, very similar to ours only they took great joy in sharing the fact that they had been given some rice, chilli fish, and water, and the fact that they had seen my track this morning led them to us. 


We soon packed our bikes and got ready to try find the magical river crossing. We were looking for a bridge, well that's what we expected as it was a very wide, deep river. But the other good news was the farmer Chris, Sam, Ryan and Nick had stayed with spoke enough English to tell them there was a crossing about 2km up. So we headed up about 1.7km and then there was a steep but well worn track down to the river. We slowly made our way down it and sure enough that was our river crossing: it was some rapids!! 


Water level was a little higher as we had much rain the night before, and I'm not sure we would have crossed here if some of the group had their way, but we knew this was the only crossing point and so we had no choice, which is something I love about this type of riding: every now and again you've got to club together and get on with it. Then as we talked over our options, a guy on a moped turned up and just rode over it like it was not big deal. He did nearly get ripped sideways as it was obviously deeper than he expected but it didn't faze him at all. That sealed the deal, we were crossing!! 


Using our brains, we decided to use a ratchet strap to lead the bikes and we had one guy behind the bike to steady it at the rear. The rocks were very slippery and the guys thought the ratchet was a bit unnecessary but it turned out to be perfect as one bike got wiped sideways, with the rider off, and if it was not for the ratchet we would have been trying to find in it the Mekong delta!! 


Finally we got all the bikes across and then decided it was time to go for a big swim, man what a way to start the day! A huge swim in a stunning river, it put us all in a good mood and a western girl turned up and informed us there was a village and food only 3km away! We dried off and headed for the village and after a bit of messing about found it and ordered some food!! Man what good food and we all had a beer even though it was only 10.30am! 


Well fed, we made a plan and ironically needed to cross back over the river, but there was a ferry 2km away. We ran down and got the ferry - 2 longtail boats with wood stuck to them to form a platform and a well trained 10 year old captain ferried us across the river in 2 loads. Then as we headed out there was a small crowd gathering, and being born men (this automatically means a bit stupid) we all gunned off into the distance but JD was more aggressive with his showing off and ended up high siding the bike into the big dirt puddle in front of everyone, the second time in as many days he had crashed showing off in front of people!! We all nearly fell off laughing and JD sprung up and got back on the bike and managed to cover me in dirt as he left!! We cracked on through our trail, and soon we found the tarmac to finish off the ride to Koh Khong.


We settled into a nice hotel in Koh Khong, went for a few beers and some food and just relaxed. The plan being the following day to hit the road about lunch time and go and attack the old Chinese road, which was supposed to be particular fun, then return to Koh Khong for the evening. Two of the bikes were beyond going anywhere, so poor Marcus was going to have to miss out, but Sam decided to rent a bike for the day. We made our way towards the Chinese road and missed the turning the first time, heading about 30 minutes the wrong way on a new road before we turned back, then we hit the good stuff. 


I got my GoPro and Nick's GoPro working and we got some epic videos. It was one hell of a ride: we all got stuck, all came off and all had grins from ear to ear, we even came across a small tiger which ran across the road in front of JD! We hoped to have it on film but I was just in the wrong place as I was 2 bikes back. The big shame was the ride was cut a bit short due to a thunder storm rolling in and since we had crossed 3 or 4 very deep river streams which would flood if it rained, we had to turn around, plus it was tough enough going with the mud we had to deal with, without it getting worse!!


So we turned around, and since we all knew the way back, myself and JD decided to split and really open up on the way back. It was some fantastic riding indeed and some of the most fun I have had on this trip. Big respect to Nicolas who stayed with us despite being one of the less experienced guys, but I must say his bravery in the videos shows as he hasn't come off quick enough to know how much it hurts yet. It was a good day, lots of spills, laughs and us working together to dig each other out the mud. On the route we met up with Chris who was on another ride with guides who also used that road the day after us and not much further along they came across a stuck 400 bike just abandoned and they later found out it had broken down and the guy had to leave it and walk 50km back to town!!!


On the final day we were all tired, we did about 60km of track runs but nothing as complicated as we had the previous days, before we finally made it back to Otres beach. The following day I took the bike back, I had to put a new chain on it in Koh Khong as mine was totally nackered and the guy at the rental place was trying to tell me it was $10 for a lever and $10 for indicator lenses, I was so fucking annoyed as we had spare levers with us and they cost us $2 each but this guy would not let it go and I don't like to admit it but he started to get under my skin. I hate people who rip people off and I ended up telling him to go get the chain removed and I wanted to fix the lever and lights myself. In the end he called it quits as I did still have one days rental outstanding ($20) so $10 for the other bits was not so bad. Then we took back JD's bike and his guy was great - $3 for the lever and £10 for the whole front break unit, totally fair and honest!!


We then spent the next 10 days chilling out at Otres beach, and spent two nights camping on gorgeous Ko Ta Kiev for Khmer New Year. If you go to Cambodia then you must go to Otres beach in Sihanoukville, it's stunning and SO SO SO relaxing, plus the guys who run Done Right, and Moonlight Rock, along with the bars: Mushroom, Blame Canada and Oocha are all great fun guys and we became part of the family very quickly. It was great to just hang out as it felt like we had been friends for years. The beach is sandy and shallow and clear, the beers are cheap, the food is fantastic, especially Papa Pippo for italian (7 meals in 10 days speaks for itself!) and Moorea Bar does the best tuna salad IN THE WORLD. I think we are going to do the bike run for a week every year from now on so if you're interested in joining us next time then watch this space!!


Eventually time came to say goodbye to Otres, mostly as time is moving on and we want to get back to being bike travellers. I had to head back to Bangkok to get a new tyre and so we packed up our stuff, said goodbye to our new good friends, paid off our tabs at various bars along the beach and hit the road. We were worried a little about the fact we had not got the bike into the country legally thanks to sleepy customs officers, but once at the border no one even asked us, they just smiled and waved us though and very quickly we were back on fantastic twisty, well-tarmaced Thai roads!! 800km later and we were in Bangkok!! (again)

BKK - Cambodia - Sien Reap

 Cambodia - Siem Reap


The two weeks in Bangkok has been hard work, not because Bangkok is a bad place to be, it's great, but we have been in Thailand for a long time in total and we are keen to move on. It's VERY hard to stick within our budget in the city as we end up bored, drinking coffee or eating in western places. One of the things we are finding about traveling like this especially recently, is that one of the toughest things to do is to have nothing to do: you don't realise how much you get up to in normal day to day life, especially me - I'm very social and when I have free time in England I'm out with friends, on the bike, fishing or doing track days and this takes up a lot of my time. Now we're stuck in a strange city trying to spend as little amount of money as possible and not wanting to commit to anything long term (such as a side-trip) as the bike MIGHT be ready soon. It's a little frustrating to say the least, especially when we were finally in a place where we were consistently coming in under budget week after week eating local foods and generally impressing ourselves!! 


This said, Bangkok IS a great city, the cinema is cheap, we have been 5 times in 7 days and caught up on most the movies we wanted to see or have missed. I bought a new Mac since the cheap sony laptop got dropped, simply because there about £200 cheaper here than in the UK, but trying to keep it in mint condition until we get home is going to keep me awake at night!! 



























We have started using the BTS (rail) network to go everywhere, it's REALLY good here, and as the taxis are mostly rip-off artists, it's by far the cheapest and fastest way around town. I'm still annoyed at the fixing of the bike in Chiang Mai, 2 weeks I left it up there to be fixed - obviously he decided to cut corners (unless someone else can explain all my identical symptoms) and now it's cost me a small fortune waiting for parts and the putting of the bike in the trucks. It's very very annoying. I really wanted to do southern Laos, I'm such a big fan of that country, I'm half in the mind to go back and carry on when it's ready, but money is a working factor and so I need to be conscious of how long we have been on the road and how much time we have to get to our destination. I figure maybe in a year's time I will come back here after I have worked for a bit, maybe the end of 2013 with a mate and we can hire a couple of 250cc dirt bikes and really give Laos a good going over on the dirt stuff.


After a couple of days in Lub'd, a boutique hostel in Siam Square, we moved around the corner to a much cheaper one (A One Inn) to save on cash. We went for a meal with Geoff Thomas (www.poorcirculation.com) and his girlfriend and he took us to a fantastic place called Condoms and Cabbages. What a great place! The food is good and it's not too expensive, there are decorations all over the place made out of condoms and the idea behind the place is to help spread sexual health awareness among the local Thai population, particularly the sex workers. 


We had a good talk, Geoff has become one of Jupiter's Travellers and has lots of usual info and tips around traveling. We also talked about the option of carrying on, it is something that is on and off the cards, money is a big factor, that and the fact we don't want to get "behind" in our careers as we want to be able to have a family soon and not struggle to pay the bills. But I have to remind myself I'm not 40, I'm not even 30 yet and I have got myself to a unique position and seeing the world is on everyone's "if I won the lottery list" and so I should probably stop worrying and just do it while I can!! Geoff was adamant we should carry on, he is such a great bloke and an inspiration to motorcycle travellers all over the world, doing his trip, and on a very small budget. 


Then we also met up with Allan Roberts (www.hardwayhome.blogspot.com) He spent 899 days on the road, riding through africa, asia and down to Oz, a truly long way home and has a lot of stories. The interesting thing about Allan is he was our age when he did it and is back to his "normal" life so to speak although he's out there living still, doing rallies in Dubai and has big plans to compete in the Dakar rally after beating Simon Pavey in the Dubai desert challenge!! We also had the "should we continue" chat with him and he had also only planned to be on the road for a year or so but ended up extending about a year and a half and rolling into Oz with his last $5 in his pocket, and suggested we do the same. But of course it's tough for me to think like that as I love my job and working in general, always have and always will do, so for now and over the next 2-3 months I need to mull over my options before we reach our planned destination of Australia!


After 2 weeks I was able to go and collect the bike. I found that the bearing had also gone in the water pump seal but it was all repaired and ready to go. So gingerly I got on it and rode it back. We packed our stuff up and had a bit of a clear out and hit the road early the following morning. Getting out of BKK was pretty easy, you find a lot of people say the traffic is crazy and its dangerous, I don't think it's too bad, well no worse than London can be, and certainly nothing like India! 




We got to the Cambodia border, Poipet, pretty quickly on a boring motorway ride. We left Thailand to smiles and waves of the officials and entered Cambodia, far less organised and immediately saw clear corruption going on as an Iranian traveler was copping a lot of grief off of a officer. He was accused of not telling the truth, then he was lead off to another room where we could no longer see, and emerged 5 mins later, wallet in hand, shaking his head but clear to move on. 


Our visa was sorted for $20.00 (standard price, no bribes paid, we've done this a few times!) and then told we needed to go to customs for the bike which was 2km in the town on the left. We drove in and talked our options through as Phil from Rider's Corner always told us never stop at customs in Cambodia as it will be a lot of hassle and you will end up spending a few dollars to get it all sorted. When we arrived at the customs building, they told us the customs guy was sleeping, we asked him to wake him up, the guard just shrugged his shoulders, said can you come back tomorrow? We said no and he just shrugged again and waved us on!


And so we just rode into Cambodia! We were a little apprehensive to begin with but we have since found out that you get a bit of paper that is no real help anyway and some travellers had paid as much as $50 for it. The police here are MEGA corrupt, they stop bikes all the time and you pay fines for nothing, it's a max of only $2 for any motoring offence but new tourists are often threatened with prison and part with much more cash, up to $10 in some cases, when in reality nothing is going to happen. This said, people who spend any real time here soon cotton on to the scam police and so don't stop when asked. Some wave a stick at you, some even swing it at you but in reality they don't care, they are just looking to earn easy money out of stupid tourists!! 




After we cleared the border we saw an amazing thing: 3 pigs, alive, strapped upside-down to the back of a moped, I have seen some crazy stuff on mopeds but this is in my top 10!! (It must be a unique thing to Cambodia - haven't seen it anywhere else but saw many more like this here!)


We were headed for Siem Reap, hoping to make it all in one day. It's a pretty boring ride to be honest, the roads are in ok condition but it's flat and straight. You would think this means I can hum along at 130kph but the traffic is pretty bad, the worst we have dealt with since India. Only 2 weeks ago 5 people were killed on a tourist bus as the driver lost control on a bend after going too fast, and they speed along here easily doing 120kph or more, overtaking where they want regardless of what's coming towards them, very very scary stuff. But I took it easy and stayed very alert and we soon made it to Siem Reap and home of some of the greatest temples in the world. 


We drove around the town and found a fantastic little guest house, there were a few people around and as usual the bike struck a bit of interest from people who noticed the side panniers and the various flags. We chatted to a few of them and got the low down on the temples and the best way to deal with things. The following day we woke pretty early and headed off to have a look at the various temples. Cambodia is quite the hustle: people telling us we couldn't take the bike and needed a tuk-tuk, but we rode to the gates, got a ticket and were allowed in no problem. 




The temples are breathtaking, we saw Angkor Wat, the main one, plus Bayon, with the faces made from stone, and Ta Phrom, the one with all the trees growing out of the stones, where Tomb Raider was filmed. But we feel a bit bad as I'm sure if we had come to them first we would feel even more blown away, because we have seen so many amazing temples on this journey. Cat and I keep joking that we are looking forward to watching the discovery channel to see which ones we have been to and to compare notes!! 








After the temples, we rode out to have a look at a small landmine clearing charity that also had a school attached to it to help orphaned or injured children. Landmines are still a huge problem here and in Laos with an expected 100 million still buried in the ground. People are getting killed daily and even in places where you would not expect, for an example a car pulled off the road only 5km from Siem Reap and got blown to pieces by an anti-tank mine only 3 weeks ago!! It made for some sobering reading and makes you realise how horrible we can be to each other!!




Anyway, that evening we came back to town, relaxed and had a few drinks and some Cambodian food. We tried out the fish feet thingy for the first time and found it very tickly, but our feet were so clean after! We ate that night at a traditional Khmer bbq restaurant where you have a hotplate on the table and cook our own food. It's VERY cheap here with beers being 50 cents and very good food being around $4 a dish. The food was great and Siem Reap has a really good atmosphere, we thought about hanging out for a few days more but decided we would rather do that by the beach. Plus I had read that BigTom was down in Sihanoukville and so we made the plans to ride the 600km from Siem Reap to there.

Alright..... Who Didn’t Rub the Buddha’s Head?


Alright..... Who Didn’t Rub the Buddha’s Head?


Well we have made it through Laos, and all the way back to Bangkok, not exactly how we had planned though ………. all will be explained!


The ride to the border covered a lot of road I covered with Eddie before but it was nice for Cat to see it with me as well. It was also great that I got to stop off again at the fantastic coffee shop that’s in the middle of nowhere and right next to the coffee and tea plantation. At the border we had a quick stop at the customs office where lots of smiley Thai woman ran (literally ran) around the office sorting out the paperwork for me to help me get on my way. Then we went down the ramp and loaded onto the ferry which we paid 500 baht for – I think it should have been free, but it’s the first time in ages we have been ripped off so we weren’t bothered!




Once on the Laos side, it was very easy to get the bike into the country. They used the carnet and it literally took 2 minutes with lots of smiles and Welcome to Laos being repeated, then we were told to ride 1.5 km through the city to go to the passport office. Yes, in typical laid back Asian style we were already in the country but we had to ride through the town of our own accord to get the stamps in our passports and our visa sorted. It would be so easy to just not bother and carry on, but we felt it best to do the right thing, after all you don’t want to get banged up in a Laos prison!!


It was late afternoon by the time we got everything sorted, so we soon found a nice little guest house for about £10 a night, which gets you a very nice room here and breakfast included.


The following day the plan was to head to Luang Prabang, about 550 km from the border town we were in. It’s actually only about 200km away along the river, but the only tarmac road does a big loop to the north close to the China border, via Luang Namtha and Oudomxai, so we followed that. We woke around 9am and we were on the road by 10. 


Laos is so much better than I expected: the people are all smiles and waving at us as we go past. It’s very poor in places like India, but it’s much cleaner than India and I realise that makes all the difference. It is how I expected India to be before I left home I think.  


The bike was running well although a little hotter than I expected to the point it had 6 bars lit up out of 7, but it was a lot of first and second gear corners. I wasn’t feeling great, and neither was Cat and it meant we were banging heads a little. At one point we stopped to have a quick look over the bike and a water break and who should come around the corner but Phil from Rider’s Corner and owner of www.rideasai.net! He was with his wife and had his KTM, they stopped for a minute and had a chat. I explained that my confidence in the bike is a little low at the moment which is a shame but I have decided really it’s just in my head and I need to stop worrying. It’s probably only hot from the constant slow speed cornering. 




Once we reached Oudomxai (pronounced Oo-dom-sh-eye) I was feeling very irritable and Cat told me she wanted to stop, as we still had 200km to our planned destination. I decided we were carrying on, but got 30km up the road which then turned into bits of gravel and pot holes and was very twisty, and with only 2 hours of light left, I re-decided the smart money was really on heading back. We turned around and found a hotel that Phil had told us about, again coming in at about £10.


Cat and I were both a bit ratty with each other but both putting it down to feeling a bit ill and being tired. We had a drink then some food, all the while I was feeling very apprehensive and unsettled, then just after we ate I knew I needed to lay down so left Cat to pay the bill and rushed upstairs. We managed to watch 1 episode of Spooks on the laptop before I rushed into the loo and tried to push my intestines out my mouth. Never have I been so ill! I ended up going back 5 times until I had nothing left in my stomach. On the 3rd time to my horror it started to exit from the south too, but at 10 times the normal speed with a tenth of the normal warning, so I was a very sick boy, and I f**king hate throwing up!!!


Cat felt really bad for me, I think she had thought I was not feeling too bad and was just a bit grumpy. Lucky she was straight on it, calling cousin Mike the paramedic and posting on facebook to see if anyone had any remedies, whilst being on google and after about 50 minutes (or a lifetime for me), she said ah-ha we have those from Nepal and rummaged around in the pill bag to bring out some stomach pills we had bought in Nepal, thinking we might get sick there or in India. 


I took 2 of them and threw them up 1 hour later but this at least stopped the puking after that stage. She also gave me some valium to help me sleep during the night. I had to sprint to the loo twice but other than feeling sick I wasn’t sick again. The next day I felt weak and crappy so riding a bike was off the cards. We spent the day in bed while I recovered, slowly eating more stuff (it being a very local town, the only things I found that were identifiable were some seeded biscuits, a packet of crisps, water and oranges. Not even any bananas in the town which I found weird since we passed so many banana trees on the way!), with my loo breaks growing more manageable distances apart and getting more predictable. More pills and by the end of the day I managed to eat some duck and some rice.




After that day of rest, I woke with a still upset but predictable tummy, so we hit the road. My energy was a little sapped so Cat had to work a bit harder helping me get the bike on the centre stand etc. But on the plus side, the drive to Luang Prabang was beautiful. I love this country it’s just great, so many smiling happy kids waving and shouting all excited to see us, wooden villages with 100s of house without a brick in site but all with a big old-school satellite dish outside!! The roads are ok, part tarmac part sand/stone for about 70% of the way then the last 80 km was good tarmac, although the new bits had laid stones in places that were very deep so I had to be careful not to wash the front end out when cornering.


We arrived in Luang Prabang and it was a bit hard to tell where the city began, as it’s bigger than we expected, but we quickly started to see the odd western face and soon we came on to the main street. It’s very very beautiful. It looks like a French village in the south of France, all the old houses and buildings have a real French feel and the whole place is extremely cool and very beautiful. But the guest house game is a bit of a joke here - first places we looked at wanted 70 – 80 dollars a night, and weren’t really worth it, but in the end we got a place for 13 dollars just off the main street which is far nicer than some we looked at for 30 dollars in other places. So if you come here make sure you have a good look around!


We booked in for 2 nights, and then ventured out to the city. They have a great night market on every night, so we found a little bistro and sat with a cup of chai while we discussed our plans for Laos.


......................


 

We enjoyed our 2 days in Luang Prabang, mostly wandering around the city and taking in the sights. One morning we went to the nearby Kuang Si waterfalls which were so beautiful. It’s more like a natural park where families can have picnics. The falls are in all different levels, you can wander right through the forest, up to the different tiers and can swim in the pools. There’s also a bear rescue centre at the foot of the falls and they’ve got a big open enclosure with about 10 rescued asian bears who all look pretty happy and healthy.




We had quite an eventful morning the day we left LP. I had snapped our only ignition key the day before, but not a problem – KTM told me over the phone how to start the engine with a screwdriver, and I was able to pull the seat up enough for Cat to slide her hand in and pull out the tools. But it wasn’t until we got to the petrol station that either of us remembered that we also need the key to open the tanks! So we parked up, got out our tools, and got to work trying to get the tanks open. We managed to use the broken key shaft in one tank to turn the lock, but it wouldn’t come out again, so I unscrewed the lock from the inside to try to get to the key barrel. I couldn’t, but in the meantime, I dropped a tiny spring (or two) INTO the fuel tank. So off came the side of the bike, Cat found a bucket to tip the fuel into, and we shook the tank while looking for the springs. We found one. And after investigating a bit more, we are pretty sure we’re missing a second spring, but can’t HEAR it rattling inside the tank, and it doesn’t seem like it will either be sucked through the hoses or cause an obstruction, so we just put the bike back together.


We now only run on 2 fuel tanks (lucky we had the third one installed!) and start the bike with a screwdriver.


Non-deterred, we headed east out to Phonsavan which is where the Plains of Jars are. The city’s a pretty small and dusty place, with only a handful of westerners around, but it was fine as a base for exploring. We had a walk around the city before dinner and discovered the local night market, complete with sideshow games, rides and a bouncy castle. But I wouldn’t have got on the ferris wheel if you paid me! We then found a small restaurant called Bamboozled run buy a Scottish guy and decided we would eat there the first night. 


The food was very good and we sat and planned out the following couple of days. We are both really enjoying being back on the bike again and slowly my confidence is building back up in the KTM. We rode over to the Plains of Jars the following morning, visiting the 3 main sites and tacked on a bit of sightseeing – some of the old Russian tanks still litter the roadside, and we went to a village where they make bits of bombs into recycled spoons and jewellery. It’s run by a charity and there are several villages like this, to help them make money for local people and to make a legacy from the bombing. 




The Jars are very intriguing things - there is a lot of publicity surrounding them and they simply don’t really know when or why they were put there, so it makes them very interesting. The most common theory is that they are used for burials. You also get an idea of how badly Laos has been treated in the “Secret War”, in fact there are bomb craters all over the place, and even a lot of shells still lying around in the villages. People are still getting killed by live unexploded bombs and unfound landmines, in fact we found out that Laos is the most bombed country in the world, even though they never actually fell out with anyone. 


After our exploring we visited the MAG (mines advisory group) centre in the town, and made a donation to their cause. It’s a huge job that MAG are doing and the north-east and south-east of Laos are a far cry from the touristy cities like Luang Prabang. 


Anyway we actually had a really great couple of days and were looking forward to exploring the rest of Laos and at this point decided we wanted to do some of the Ho Chi Minh trail in the south. The following morning we woke early and headed over to get breakfast at the place run buy the Scottish fellow. We were toying with the idea of riding the dirt road to Pakxan rather than going via Vang Vieng and Vientiane, but it had rained in the night a little so we were unsure of the condition of the road. We decided we could do 200k then turn around and come back if it was bad and spend another night here. But as we headed for the south road, the clouds gathered above us and it was clearly raining over the hills in the distance, so we spun around and headed for the tarmac road we came in on, which was very very twisty. (It was on this road on the way into Phonsavan that we found a blank distance marker on the road, and wrote our story. I wonder how long it will stay there?) 


It seemed to go quicker than when we headed in and the clouds were dark above us but no rain as yet. We soon hit the turning point and were headed for Vang Vieng. About 50 km in, much to my horror, the cam chain noise came back and the oil light came on! I pulled over, took all the gear off the bike and laid the bike on its side, opened it up to have a look at the oil filter and it was all misshapen - the exact same symptoms as before! I took it out and cleaned it off with some petrol and put it back. It lasted about 20km so we were still 30 out of Vang Vieng before it came on again, only now the rain decided to come, monsoon style! We had to pull into a service station for some time, and then slowly push on until we reached a town with phone signal. I spoke to Herman the German mechanic in Chiang Mai who was surprised and baffled, but I had a sneaking feeling I knew what it was.


We got a hotel in Vang Vieng and I started to google the symptoms, and spoke to KTM Hemel Hempstead who again were super helpful. I took the clutch cover off and it was full of a white goo and the oil was milky coloured......... water pump seal, as expected. I spoke to Herman the following day, needless to say I was pretty annoyed - I'm not sure about anyone else but I don’t believe in coincidence and I think he just didn’t want to do the job in the first place, I had told him I thought it was the water pump seal and he said it was a big job and he didn’t think it was the problem. It's a shame as it's not the bike that has been letting me down, it's the mechanics that touch it!!


So I got the online "how to" guides and after a couple of days of chilling out went to work on the KTM. It took us ages, it is a very fiddly job but by 5pm I had the new seal and shaft fitted. Problem was the engine cases and exhaust were still off and it was getting dark, I was starting to rush and then I slipped and dinked the engine case on the floor, BUGGGEEEERRRRR!!!!! I had managed to crack it!!!!  All that work had messed up something I had done a thousand times!!!!!!!!! I was so pissed off but Cat got the superglue and we glued the snapped part back on, then just fitted it all back together and left it until the morning. I still needed to clean the oil filters and replace all the oil, so after another day of chilling out (Vang Vieng is very good for chilling out), we came back to the bike and started her up, but she just pisses oil out, so I have managed to cripple the bike!!! What a wolly!! The good news is it was easy to get a truck sorted to take us to the Thai border, but we get on really well with the crew down at Gary's Irish Bar so planned to stay here chilling out until Monday (after St Paddy's day)!!


We went tubing, which is what Vang Vieng is pretty famous for, it's not the prettiest side of Laos but as I have worked in nightclubs all my life I am always interested in how a good party works. This was very interesting and it's amazing really as you're never going to be able to do something like that in the West as Health and Safety would have a meltdown. We went to a few of the bars along the river and slowly made our way down the river, and who should we bump into but the owner of Ultimate Party from Cairns in Australia - someone who we have not seen for over 6 years! That day we had a few drinks but didn't get hammered and had an early night as it was St Pat's day tomorrow. St Pat's day was a lot of fun, there was a great atmosphere and it was good to have one last night to have a few beers with Gary, Mikey, Johnny, Paulie (or Whiskey Joe as he is sometimes known) and the others.




The following day the van picked us up (actually it was more like a tuk-tuk), and we had to put the bike in backwards as the roof was really low and the bike didn't fit all the way in! It was a lot of fun and we got lots of help from locals getting it in, I bet it looked pretty crazy going along in a Songthaew with a KTM hanging out the back! The road to Vientiane and the border was a mix of broken tarmac and sand, it was very very dusty and bumpy. It took 6 hours to get to Vientiane and we thought we may have to settle there or at the next closest town to the border, but very quickly we found another truck and driver willing to take us straight to Bangkok. I must say if you are considering doing a trip like this, and if like me you can just about give it an oil change and re-fuel it then you should be confident knowing that no matter where you break down there will be a guy with a truck who is willing to help you out for a few American dollars!! In this case it cost about $250 to take us the 600km to Bangkok, which is not bad considering we didn’t get there until 1.30am. KTM were great and the security guard was waiting for us and showed me where to store the bike over night.




So now we are in Bangkok and expect to be here for a week or so, the good news being the bike will be fit again once we leave. Our plan is to head to Cambodia to visit Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) and Sihanoukville, the beach town.

Road Trip and Ko Tao Then Back To Chaing Mai!

Road Trip and Ko Tao!

 

Our first day of the road trip was great fun! We went to Thai One to meet the girls for breakfast and then we loaded up the car and headed for Mai Sariang. We stopped off at a waterfall and at a huge Buddha garden with a massive reclining Buddha, it was such a pretty place. We also stopped and had a really really yummy coffee at a roadside/forestside cafe, and 4 coffees and some treats came in at 160 baht (about £3). There were lots of monks there as well and they were as interested in us as we were in them even though we could not speak to them. We arrived in Mai Sariang and found a beautiful place to stay by the river. Cat and Sam went for a “swim” in the river but it was only ankle deep so they waded around and then gave up!

 


It’s so nice and chilled out and has given me time to update the blog and website as I have not done it for a while!! And also to think about our trip as we’ve not been very bike-travel-orientated in a while.

 

 


 

After Mai Sariang we went to Sukhothai, the old Thai capital, now in ruins. It was a pretty impressive place and we walked around with Sam and Sumo to have a look at the crumbling temples. We have now seen a lot of temples but these were very interesting as they were pretty different to the others we have seen in Thailand so far, so we spent a few hours driving round looking at them and stopping off to investigate the bigger ones.

 

After the morning’s sightseeing, we did a big drive day all the way down to Chumphon, and stayed overnight to catch the fast ferry in the morning.

 

My first impression of Ko Tao was not a good one: there was a lot of hassling when we came off the ferry and once we got to Big Blue diving centre their grounds were a little messy and as we came to the beach the tide was far out and it looked like a parking lot for boats, plus it was cloudy so the water was not sparkling and everything looked kind of dull - not the beautiful tropical island I was expecting and both myself and Cat were very disappointed. We walked up and down the beach and eventually found a great little hut to stay in for about £10 a night, and it was right on the beach.

 

We have now been in Ko Tao for 9 days and it has been fantastic. The place is a lot cleaner than it first looked and I have not seen the tide go anywhere near as far out as that again since we have been here. I finally got around to doing my open water course and then in the last 5 days I have been diving 9 times seeing some of the most beautiful and biggest schools of fish I have ever seen without question, including thousands of barracuda which swam all around us. I also saw some big stuff including Giant Morwray eels (2m in length) and turtles, for which Ko Tao is names after. No whale shark but I would have been very lucky to see one even if they were around!!

 

We have had a lot of fun. Serena, my Dive Instructor, was fantastic, and Wenny and I really liked her, there was only 4 of us in our group and so we got to know each other well. I also met Owen who is from England but lives in Canada who is mates with Serena back home and so we had lots of nights out with the whole group. Having a bit of time off has also given me time to look back over the trip and discuss it with Cat. It’s been one hell of a journey but we are getting near the end of our desire to be on the road. We miss our friends, our family and business and we are looking forward to getting back to leading some sort of a normal life. Today is our 8th month on the road, and as we look back at the trip this is what we think.

 

It was great to set out with no agenda as such. But I’m also very disappointed that I was not more aware from the charity point of view. India has changed our lives forever; the children in India and Nepal and some of the other poor areas we have been in break my heart and I must at some point in my life help somehow – and yet I don’t know how!!

 

Iran was fantastic and I cannot believe what I read in the papers and see on the news, it has made me realise how manipulative the media is, and how the “people” can suffer under the hands of greedy and evil people in power – which let’s be honest is something we all know about, but to actually see it happening in the year 2012 is not something we should still be having to deal with in a modern world.

 

I feel a bit silly looking back, there are lots of reasons why but I take it as a massive positive that we have learned so much and seen so much and I so happy to have seen so much of the world and I encourage anyone who is thinking about doing a bike trip to do it!! I know that I won’t do another big bike one for a while but I also know that at some point I won’t be able to resist!!!

 

Anyway Ko Tao was great – we volunteered for a beach and dive clean up for one day: we spent 2 hours in the morning cleaning the beaches which look alright at first glance, but once you start picking bits up, you see they are covered in straws, cig butts, and scraps of paper! The biggest worry is the bars on the beach really don’t give a shit about how much mess they make, which is fine for now but don’t be surprised if there is no fish in the sea in 10 years time – and ironically no one will go there if there is no diving!!

 

Anyway we then moved on to the dive site clean up – it was amazing what we found! We went to the main port area and split into teams of 4 or 5 and then headed out with bags, I didn’t know what to expect, the water isn’t dirty but there are lots of bottles and things on the bottom. Believe it or not, glass bottles are not too bad for the environment under sea as they make great houses for fish and other creatures. But there was lots of plastic, some sheeting, I personally found 3 pairs of board shorts - 1 pair had really damaged a pretty piece of coral and I got to thinking what kind of fucking moron throws beer bottles, crisp packets and boardshorts off a ferry?!

 

I have since decided that if I see anyone do any of the above I am going to presume it’s an accident and that they really need that item and I am going to give them a helping hand off the ferry to recover it and I encourage you to do the same.  “Dear shit for brains - Next time you think about doing something that fucking stupid take a good look around and make sure you can swim!!”

 

Right, rant over!! So, after a damn fun night out on Ko Tao, and Owen deciding he fancied a bit of a road trip back to Bangkok with us, we decided it was time to pack up and go – that and the fact our Visa was expiring again so we needed to go to Burma to do a Visa run.

 

On our last night in Ko Tao we got the best send off ever, we watched Arsenal go 2 nil down to come back and beat Tottenham 5-2 – now I don’t mention football too often and I’m sorry if I just made you roll your eyes into the back of your head, but man it was a good game (if you’re a gooner) and so we went to bed happy and laughing!!

 

We left Ko Tao on the ferry in the morning – don’t worry no-one misbehaved so I didn’t have to throw anyone (I mean “help” anyone) in – and soon we arrived back in the mainland and onto the craziest jetty I have walked on, I thought it was going to collapse at any moment!! Then we jumped in the car and drove south west to Ranong for the Visa run before heading up to Bangkok all in one day and arrived at midnight, not bad going!!

 

We were so tired when we arrived, and went for a beer after check-in, but after 2 pints I was falling asleep whilst talking so we called it a night. The next day we woke late, grabbed some brekkie and did some shopping before Cat decided she wanted to take me to the VIP cinema. It was bloody cool, the best cinema experience I have ever had and then we headed back to meet Owen who had pointed out it was his last night in Bangkok and so we made up our minds to have a big one!

 

Owen was already on his 3rd cocktail (Strong Island Iced Tea) when we got back at 6pm and had lined us up one each. We had a drink, Cat went and got changed and then we got some spring roll and chicken (well I think it was chicken) for a snack, then we hit Khao San Road to find a bar.

 

We actually walked along it back and forth a couple of times, drinking street beer and mucking around with the people selling tat. We were all in good moods and there was a good crowd about, we then decided to go play pool and they gave us talc instead of chalk, this lead to some pissing about and ended up with Owen covered in blue chalk spots and Cat covered in talc!! The bar staff laughing their heads off and the waitress sneakily drinking with us!! Then we moved up the road to another bar and Owen wanted someone to play pool with so this bubbly young Thai girl volunteers. The game was fun and after me and Cat won, we went and joined the group of Thai girls and carried on drinking before it was suggested we go to a nightclub.

 

It turned into a good night and it was lots of fun. The music was great, as evidenced by Cat’s non-stop rave-dancing, and the Thai girls were so much fun so we hope they had a great night too!

 

Needless to say the next day we had sore heads and so it was a pretty uneventful day where we said bye to Owen – hope your hang over on the flight was not too bad!!

 The following day we decided to drive to Chiang Mai and so we are back to our old haunts Rider’s Corner and Thai 1 On. It’s weird as this place almost feels homely now!!! This afternoon we get the bike back, I’m going to take it for a blast and then tomorrow we plan to pack and leave for Laos – cross your fingers, rub a buddha head, pray or whatever else sends us some luck so we can move on to the next stage of this trip!!

 

Travelling Teaches Flexibility – Change of plans again!!

Travelling Teaches Flexibility – Change of plans again!!

 

Well, the 200km day never happened as Eddie and I went out for a “few” whiskey and coke’s and all of a sudden it was 4am. It was a fun night though - we went to the Reggae bar where we met another French group and hung out with them most of the night.

 

The next day was a funny day, I woke early and grabbed some breakfast with Eddie and said bye as he was heading back to Chiang Mai and I was going to go to Laos. Then I went back to bed for about 2 hours and woke up about 1pm (well I AM on holiday ;-) ) and I decided to have a shower to help me recover from my hangover.

 I was in the shower washing away and I turned around to see what looked like a snake on the tiles! It made me jump but then for a minute I thought it must be painted on, then quickly I could see it wasn’t but I thought I was dead. Then as these thoughts were going and coming at the same time the bloody thing moved and slid over the tiles onto the door frame and into my room! Shocked, but to be honest a little confused and wondering if maybe I had drank more than I thought the previous night, I got a towel and held it up, blocking the area where I had seen the snake, and slowly went back into my room.

 

Sure enough the snake was still there! It was brightly coloured black and yellow. I pondered for a minute and then thought I better get some help as I was not sure if it was poisonous and either way it was not supposed to be in my room!! I went to reception and said to the very friendly girls would they please come to my room and have a look at what I found (I figured if I said come to my room and look at my snake it could all go wrong – this is Thailand after all!)

 

One of the girls moved to come and I said no no you will all want to see this, so the 3 girls followed me asking what it was, chuckling saying I was scared of big geckos.  Then when they saw it they could not believe it and they got the handy man to come get it. It wasn’t big: it was about 50cm long but it was thin and it turns out it was a Wolf snake which is also not poisonous. But still it was an interesting morning and my hangover had disappeared!!

 

But not feeling great I just took a day off and relaxed around the cafes in Chiang Rai. That evening I went home and had an early night after getting some pasta, then I packed my stuff and planned my route out of there and went to bed looking forward to exploring Laos.

 

............................

 

Sh*t F**k C*** Bas***d.

 

Woke up early, packed the bike then had breakfast with a big smile on my face, looking forward to leaving. There were some German guys around on hire bikes all going into Laos as well. They spoke a little English and I only speak a little German but we had a nod and point and a smile. After breakfast and a joke about snakes in my room, I jumped on the bike and fired her up: it lasted until the end of the drive way before the oil light came flashing on with the cam chain making a clunk clunk clunk sound which would not go off.

 

I turned the engine off and went to call Eddie but I had no credit so I pushed the bike around the corner to the 7/11. I got some phone credit and rang Eddie explaining the symptoms, he said start her up so I did and everything had gone back to normal, but either way I was going to head back to Chiang Mai to get her looked at properly. It seems something is telling me not to get to Laos right now!

 

On the way back she switched from solid oil light to no oil light to a flickering oil light, this combined with some cam noise or no cam noise all at different times. The bike was running ok and it was only 150km to Chiang Mai so I carefully rode her back.

 

So here I am, to be honest thoroughly annoyed and over it, now a month behind my plan and after talking with the mechanic and going over it with Eddie and looking for known faults, it could be as simple as a spring and ball bearing, or it’s the oil pump, or it could be more serious, either way it’s not going to be looked at for 4 days – then, say, 2 days to find the problem, then order parts which take about 2 weeks to get here then another week for Herman the German to find a day to fit it in and do the work, so it’s looking like a I’m going to be another month behind!!

 

The good news is Cat is going to fly back out. I have had a couple of days moping around feeling a bit sorry for myself, and yes I know I’m on a good thing but we cannot be happy all the bloody time!! The current plan is to go to Ko Tao in the south and do some diving which we WERE going to do after Laos and Cambodia, then depending on if the bike is fixed, maybe go to Cambodia and Laos and back-pack and hire bikes to do day trips etc. But for now I have hired a little KLX 250 and I’m going to run afternoon trips out on the dirt track, then Thursday which is also my birthday I get the best present ever with Cat coming back and then we can pan to leave to the south by Saturday/Sunday.

 

Tuesday was great fun: I took the little KLX off and had some fun for 5/6 hours. I was nackered and at one stage I thought I was stuck - the only thing that kept me going was that it didn’t look silly far on my Sat-nav and it seemed like I was over half way.  It was the dry river beds that were killing me: I could see others had used them in the past as there were some big single track tyre marks but they were so steep, 3 or 4 times I fell off trying to get up the bank the other side but it was a lot of fun. I know this is the bit normally where I stick photos up, and I did bring the camera, but left its battery on charge – what a wolly!!

 

The following day I told Eddie about my route and he suggested we head out in the afternoon together and go repeat it. I was keen also as I had not taken any pictures or videos and with the 2 of us there it would give me the opportunity to do both. So about 1pm we met and we rode back and hit the track again, a bit more confident this time, knowing there was someone there if I got stuck. We hit it a bit harder and got through it quicker without any small falls. It was a relief when we reached the dirt road the other side and it was a fantastic ride back to the city.

 

We stopped again in a small village and had a nice strong coffee. There was no one else there apart from the Irish guy who also lived in Thailand and we got chatting before we headed back.

 

That evening I chilled out and at midnight it was my birthday so Tim from Thai 1 On bought me a few drinks and I hung out there and chatted with the guys and the 2 girls I met from Vancouver called Wenny and Samantha. It was a nice evening and at the end of the night I said would be around the following day as Cat was coming back.

 

The next day I woke at about 10am and my original plan was to just spend the day relaxing but I decided I would go for one last ride before Cat came back and I would have to spend a couple of weeks off the bikes. I asked Phil from Rider’s Corner for a route and with a sly smile he said you like your river crossings, so do this one and gave me the route. I packed the bike up and put it in my sat nav before saying I was only expecting to be a couple of hours, Phil smiled and said I think you will be longer than that, but I didn’t think much of it!!

 

The beginning of the interesting stuff was about 60km out of town, it was so pretty and to begin with I was thinking that the route was very easy going, being mostly packed down mud or loose tarmac. But soon this ran out and became single track before becoming very muddy and then I hit the river. It must have had 30 river crossings and at times the route WAS the river, sometimes for up to 500 meters or more, it was a tiring day and I was nackered!!

 

At one stage though I very nearly came a cropper!!! Basically I lost the trail and was trying to figure out what direction it went in. There were 3 options, across in front of me, up and along the river again or a very faint looking walking trail. I went up the river but it was too deep to get to the bit of bank on the other side so I guessed it was back, it really did look like the direction and I thought I could see a couple of bike tracks which by this point I had been following for a while. The river was pretty deep to get up the bank so I took a bit of a run up: in the water up the bank on the power and then blasted into the trail then bam I was sinking up to my knees in mud whilst on the bike!! SHIIIITTTT!!

 I quickly got off, well dragged myself off whilst the bike seemed to stop sinking. I could not stand as it was making me sink to my knees quickly. The bike was stood up and appeared not to be getting too much worse and so I managed to get myself 3 meters away to the bank. There was some big sticks and bamboo and after a minute I built a little platform to stand on and life the bike out on to, to give myself a bit of time. Problem was I would lift the front and then the back would sink, or visa versa!!

 

So I got more bamboo and made a platform to lift the rear wheel onto so I could then pull the front round. Anyway after a hour of pissing about moving bamboo around I managed to make myself a ramp into the river and finally got back to the other side. I was totally spent and lay on the floor for a minute thinking about Phil’s sly grin!! I was thinking about heading back but I could not imagine it would be that much further!! So I decided to have some water, took a video of the mud and me sweating lots and then headed onwards.

 

The rest of the route was still a big challenge and I was nackered! I came across some crab hunters or fishermen in the middle of nowhere, I was surprised to see them and they were definitely surprised to see me, laughing and I think saying I was crazy!! They told me it was 6km to the road. And so I pushed on and eventually hit the 4X4 track again and soon found some tarmac to ride out. It was an excellent day and I was sooooo tired and looking forward to getting back. So I rode home, had a shower and then had some food and a beer before heading down to Thai 1 to meet Eddie. The girls from Vancouver were there and I had a drink with them before Sam and I went back to meet Cat at Rider’s Corner. She turned up earlier than I thought and we had a few drinks back at Thai One before we headed off and had a relatively early night!!

 The next day we moved to another hotel and a bit of a birthday treat for me for 1 night before booking in some fishing at Dreamlake!! I was excited as I love my fishing and when we got there I was very pleased with the set up. I was not hoping to catch much as I knew it was a hard lake, but 1 hour on the bank and BAM I had a huge run which nearly pulled me into the water. I had hooked the fish and was away then all of a sudden bang, the line went even though the reel was set properly! Annoyed and disappointed I went and got a new rig, the owner explaining the lake is 8 meters deep and there is a few boulders in it!!

 

Anyway to cut a long story short, this happened a second time and I was not a happy camper having probably lost 2 fish that would have broken my 77lb record. After that first half day I didn’t get another run like it, I did get about 15 fish in total: I caught a Siamese carp, a Mekong catfish, some Talipia and some Mud carp, none of which were bigger than about 5kg apart from the Mekong which was about 10kg. This said it was still a stunning place with food and drinks served to the bank and I think when I get back to Chiang Mai in a months time I’m going to go and have another go.

 

So whilst fishing we discussed our plans and we decided we would either head out to Laos or hire a car and drive down south if the girls from Vancouver were up for it, cos it would be much cheaper than flying there and back. When we got back we went for a drink with the girls and they said they thought hiring a car would be a great idea and so we went ahead and did it the following day. Pop gave me a brand new Toyota with only 150km on the clock and we drove to Burma so I could do a border run. The drive was nice but a bit long as I left the city the wrong way. We got to Burma in the afternoon and so we only had 2 hours before we had to leave again, which was a shame as it would have been good to have a proper look around.

 

What’s Next?? Decision time!

Big change of plans indeed, well kind of. We threw around lots of ideas and initially the plan was to spend 4 weeks “relaxing” maybe in Chiang Mai, Bali or Vietnam, before hitting the road again. I was in the process of planning the rest of the route and it was at this point we noticed some problems - a fair amount of the route was on very small unpaved roads, even in 4 weeks time Cat's shoulder is not going to be up to being bounced all over the place or be able to save her from a small drop/crash on dirt roads.

 

So it was this that threw the questions - do I only stick to the main routes in Laos or does Cat take a small break and come back to meet me in Cambodia and we then go back and see anything worth looking at in Laos. I think Cat also wanted a bit of a break from it after her accident, she is as strong mentally as anyone I have ever met but she should make sure she recovers properly or otherwise she may have limited movement in the future.

 

So for about a week in Chiang Mai we hung out and went drinking: we had met Mikey and Leigh in the hospital and met up with them after getting out for a few beers a few nights in a row. We went to watch Thai boxing one night and on one of the days I went for a ride with the guys from Rider's Corner and www.rideasia.net It was really fun to be out with them, they know the area well and most of the ride was on “unpaved” roads and gravel, it would be totally impassable in the winter and big ruts were all over the roads in places.

 After a nice break together in Chiang Mai it was time for us to part company for a month. It's not something I look forward to, Cat is my best friend and we get along so well. Being apart is odd for us and as we worked together as well it's not something we have done often. So I left on the Saturday and she flew out at 6am Sunday morning. I left a day earlier as I wanted to try get a bit of a tour of Northern Thailand in before I go to Laos as my visa expries on the 2nd of Feb. My plan was heading out to hit the Mae Hong Son loop again. I got lots of options to meet people - Phil the owner of Riders Corner is in Mae Sariang and Eddie might meet me to ride around Thailand for a few days before I head into Laos. Also the Canadian guys I went fishing with are in Pai so I might meet them for a beer also.


 


The Mae Hong Son loop is one of the best road riding routes I have ever done, it's fantastic, it's a little dangerous as there is generally not great visibility round the corners due to the thick bush and forest. But the road is great. The first day I pushed on after Mae Sairang and made it to Mae Hong Son village, and after a looking at a few hostels I found a place which was a bit more than I wanted to pay but included breakfast so was not a bad deal over all. I had a walk around the night market and bought a couple of bits before getting some food and then sat in a bar, huddled round a 7inch TV watching Liverpool BEAT Man U. I was pleased Man U lost and the Thai people were as surprised as me.

 

I also met 2 guys from Malaysia Alwyn and his brother Sebastian on BMWs who were on a 17 day trip and were also going into Laos. I should also give a mention to the Thai guys I met on route who I have continued to bump into for the last 2 days, at one point me and the guy on the GSXR had a little play, needless to say he was bloody surprised at what the KTM could do!!!

 The next day I woke at 7am, had a quick breakfast and packed and left. With only a few kms to Pai, I was in no rush but I had also heard it was hard to find accommodation in Pai due to a reggae festival being on and I wanted to give myself plenty of time. I went to the Long Neck hill-tribe village, but I've got to say I was a little disappointed, it was very sales-y with everyone trying to get me to buy stuff and only about 25% of the woman had the Long Neck getup on, I was expecting a lot more. It was however a very nice ride out towards the Burmese border with the morning mist rolling over the hills in front of me.

 

Then I got a text from Eddie saying he was going to meet me in Pai and ride with me in Northern Thailand for 2 or 3 days but he could not find a bike to take into Laos. So I hit the road again and climbed up and down the mountains until I reached Pai. Pai is pretty, its like Pokhara in Nepal, it took me about 5 mins to find somewhere to stay after a good 10 mins chat with an American guy who was gobsmacked I had rode over from England. By the end of the conversation he was convinced he was going to ride round the world, gotta love their enthusiasm!!

 I plan to meet Adam the Canadian for a beer and Eddie should be here around 5pm so I have lots to do. Tonight I may or may not venture to the festival, it sounds very messy and it's not really what I'm looking for especially if I'm going to be on the road early tomorrow. A couple of beers and some good food is in order I think, but I got to watch the weight, the last month and a half has seen me put on a few pounds that I now plan to lose in the next month or so!!

 

So I met up with Adam and I also bumped into an Austrian guy I had seen on the mountain a couple of times on a moped so he joined us for a beer. Then Eddie turned up and he had a look at my coolant to see why it was going down all the time before we settled in for another beer and then a guy called Beanie joined us. The other Adam also met us and we were well on our way for a good night out. Pai has a nice vibe. We had a few beers and some food and hit a couple of bars before they decided around midnight to go to the Reggae festival and I decided it was time for me to call it a night as we were planning on doing some riding the next day.

 The following day I had a bit of a hangover but I got up early for breakfast. I packed the bike and I was missing Cat as she is the master of all things packing, whereas I tend to go by the "sling it in a bag and squash it down so it fits" theory. Eddie met me at the breakfast bar and we had a good chat and planned a route before hitting the road at about 10.30am. We had decided to go from Pai to Chiang Dao then up to Chinag Rai but via Ban Lisu Lao De on the offroad trail that is on the fantastic map we bought from www.rideasia.net.

 

The road down from Pai was excellent just like the rest of the Mae Hong Son loop: it is a very challenging ride and I can see why so many tourists crash mopeds on it. About 50km along we turned off into the national park towards the Doi Chiang Dao Wildlife Reserve, and the road got lots more pretty with us cutting through and over the mountains, about 15k along the sat nav was telling me to turn right and up to a view point so we headed in and stopped to take a couple of snaps before getting told we could not park there buy a friendly but over keen policeman.

 Then we headed down what looked like someone's drive before seeing a small turning onto a track. Another policeman asked "where you go" and we showed him on the map and he said oh very bad road I think you cannot go there on motorcycle. This half excited and scared me but onwards we cracked. Eddie is on a Kawasaki D-tracker 250cc, super moto style with road tyres but he's a bloody good rider so we decided to crack on. We made our way down the mountain off road, with a mix of single track, concrete and packed down mud with some loose rocks, at times the mud was deeper or there were some big cracks in the road due to lots of rainfall but as we moved down into the valley and up the next mountain the roads slowly got worse and worse.

 

It was a lot of fun but very very tiring especially after spending a month being very social and I was getting a hell of a workout on the KTM with full luggage on the back! Eddie was astonished at how well the ktm handled the dirt and how well it gripped and just kept going. Soon our 4x4 track was down to a walking track that looked like there were no cars using it. The views in the valley were beautiful and we kept passing the odd village with tree-leaf roofs made of sticks and mud. The roads were mostly compact mud but had huge ruts all the way along so you had to pick your route very carefully and when you came to a hill it was often very dried out but loose gravel and so the rear would slip and slide as you got on the power to climb.

 We did 3 or 4 river crossings before I came to one that was pretty shallow but long: as I started to move in the big KTM sank and before you know it, it was sunk to the guard on the bottom. Bugger I thought, Eddie said don’t worry the d-tracker is light I will get across and help you out and 2 minutes later was also sunk next to me! So we both had to get off the bikes and lift them out a bit before walking them out whilst running them and this led us to the next problem - a very very steep hill that was very very brittle with lots of stones and loose mud. It was so brittle and steep when you stood on it you slid. I plucked up the courage to go first and managed to negociate my way past some huge ruts and clicked the bike into second. The hill was steep and went to the right and was far deeper to my right and sloped in a big way with a huge rut before the wall, clearly where the water comes rushing down after it has rained.

 

I was making good progress but the rear started to slip down the slope, bugger, more power, but I found myself slipping round so I brought myself to a stop about 70% of the way up. I came to a stop, but it was so steep even in gear with the brakes on, the bike started to slide. Not wanting to back into the huge rut, I tried to turn the bike but the front slid so quickly and the next thing you know I was front first into the big rut, the bike was near enough parked on it's G-unit undertray. Eddie came up laughing as it looked like I had crashed into it, until he stopped next to me and found himself sliding backwards! He managed to scramble a bit further up and then stop and he came back and we lifted the KTM out. He went back and rode off and I managed to get going, but as I tried to ride out the steeper side I dropped the bike again, Eddie came back and helped again and the next time I got away, only to have to go back myself to help Eddie as he was stuck as well!!

 Relieved to be past the hard bit, with a smile on our faces we continued. The route looked hardly used and we were ducking past trees and bushes on a single track. Our next challenge came in the form of a deep but very wide river that had a fallen tree as a bridge. Eddie went first ensuring me it was strong enough to hold the weight of the bike and me, so carefully I crawled over it. Along we continued, dealing with the road changing from mud to sand to stones and then we had to ride up the bank and over due to a fallen tree and soon we came to another “wacky” bridge: this was man made but I was not sure it would hold the weight of the bike, slowly I got over it much to the suprise of the local guys on Honda Heros!!

 

Then we emerged onto some broken tarmac again and into a small village where we stopped and had a fantastic fish soup with noodles and drinks for a crazy 40 baht total (less than £1). We then headed down between the mountains on a beautiful road and enjoyed some great views towards Chiang Dao. Once we hit Chiang Dao we headed on along the 107 and onto the 109 towards Chaing Rai. My bike was drinking a lot of coolant and it was starting to worry me and Eddie, lucky for me Eddie is a bike mechanic and garage owner so he was keen to help me fix it!! We found a place in Chiang Rai pretty quickly even though it was late and we were both tired. We had quick showers and decided to go for some food and a couple of beers with the plan of going on another ride the following day.

 I had to top up the bike with coolant again in the morning and that day the bike drank it like it like a fish. The ride itelf was another great day, but much different to the previous day. We rode from Chiang Rai out to Chiang Saen along to Chiang Khong, right along the Mekong river through all the villages. We stopped in Chiang Khong for some lunch - thai chicken and rice - and then about 40 mins after lunch we stopped again at a stunning little coffee and tea hut that was growing the tea and coffee right behind us. It was so nice we sat and chatted and tried the local tea for over an hour and a half before realising we better move on if we wanted to get back before night fall.

 

We rode back down the 1020 and onto the 1152 where we came across a huge reclining buddha and massive green buddha and some beautiful temples where I got a some great pictures with the KTM in front of them before joining the 1173 back into Chiang Rai. It was a very pretty and great day, the only problem was my bike was drinking coolant like the world was running out!!!!!!!!

 That evening we went out for a few games of pool and for a few drinks. Eddie agreed the bike needed to come apart so we could find out what was wrong and with the suspicion of a head gasket it wasn't looking good. The following day starting early we took the bike apart, pretty early on we found a lot of coolant stains on the engine, but when we got the air box off there was some mayonaise on the front throttle body, which is not disaster but it can be bad news with a coolant-hungry bike.

 

Digging deeper we then found the the small samco hose had been fitted slightly wrong and the clip was very very loose and this was leaking a lot of coolant so we found a new clip and cleaned the bike down before putting it back together with the tanks on so we could run it for 5 mins. We ran it, then as we checked again it looked like coolant was leaking straight out of the gasket, not good from the point of view that my visa ran out the next day, Eddie also noticed a little condensation on the front throttle valve.


I then went to email Cat to ask about helping me sort a visa run with exactly what I would need to do, Eddie was sorting the bike (sorry to give you a bit of a busman's holiday mate) and then I came back. Eddie said was was looking at it and he thought the coolant could have run out of some of the engine lines from where we fiddled with the hose and couldn't clean it properly, so he had cleaned it all down and we were going to put it together and run it to see if it would leak. We got it running again and good sign - no leaking. The radiator was nearly empty earlier in the day and we topped everything up and got it together so I could take it on a 40 km test run. I had rented a bike so I could do the border run to Burma to extend my visa, but when I came back from the 40k the coolant level had dropped but only a little on both the coolant bottle and the radiator, so I returned the rental bike. There was no blue smoke coming out the exhaust and the bike was running well, so the next day we planned to ride it to the border and back to see how she ran.


 I woke early worrying about the bike but thinking how lucky I had been to have met Eddie, he's a top bloke and was up and packing to ride with me to the border, prepared to wait for me to get my visa and stay with my bike if for some reason it did not make it all the way. The good news is she did make it! It drank some coolant but only from the top mark to the bottom and Eddie explained it was probably some air still in the system. I topped it up after I got my visa and we came back to Chiang Rai stopping at another beautiful little cafe to have a fantastic lunch of prawns with noodles. The bike drank a little more coolant but we hit the road again and road back to Chiang Rai. We found a guesthouse called the Golden Triangle and parked the bike up. I unpacked and sat and drank a coffee and the coolant level has not gone down so it's looking like it could have just been the leaking hose all along. But I'm going to do a 200 km day tomorrow just to double check before I head into Laos!!

A spanner in the Works!!

Well here I sit in hospital. It’s not me this time but poor Cat. She crashed the hire bike yesterday and has broken her collarbone. It’s silly really, she’s a good little rider and has been riding bikes now herself for nearly 3 years without incident, but the road yesterday was very very twisty, not only that, but the gradient changed so much and it was on a corner that just dropped away from you midcorner, she tried to scrub off a little speed by using the rear brake (on a bike that should have had ABS) and the rear wheel skidded, she stood the bike up and well went across the road trying to turn in, before the bike slid out from under her as she hit dry leaves. She went into the barrier and spun around, lucky she was doing 25mph or less. I saw the whole thing happen as I was keeping an eye on her in my mirrors.

 

My heart was in my mouth and I stopped and jumped off the KTM no more than about 8 meters away and I had been 4 meters in front of her so it gives you an idea of the low speed. I just dropped the bike and ran over to her, she was in pain but ok and asked me to carefully remove her helmet. I could hear other traffic coming so I quickly moved to warm them and they stopped to help move the bike and help me with Cat. The good news is there was no bleeding but her shoulder really hurt. I was glad she was talking and there was no sign of any life threatening injury. This said I wanted to get her to a hospital asap.

 

We rang for an ambulance and after 10 minutes got Cat up onto her feet out of the road and into the shade. Her foot hurt and shoulder, shoulder most, I had a quick look to see if I could see a collarbone break but no sign of bone under the skin but it looked swollen. I rang the Rental company who were not happy and said I had to sort getting the bike back to them, so I asked the Thai guys who had stopped for help, and sure enough they sorted it for 3,000 Baht - about £60 - which was probably pay day for them but I just wanted t o get it sorted, and we WERE 150km from Chiang Mai, up a mountain. The ambulance came and Cat got in. It took only about 15-20 min to get here but they spoke no English. They took Cat to the nearest hospital in Mae Chaem. She was ok and told me to wait for the guy with the truck to come back. I waited about 45 minutes and he came back on a scooter saying the truck was following, I waited 5 minutes with him but then left him after taking a few photos of the bike and his face and I took the key with me hoping they would not nick it!!

 

I then headed down the mountain, I was told it was 20km to the hospital. The roads got harder and harder, I was really trying to take it easy but in places the bend and gradient made them very challenging and it left me thinking Cat didn’t really stand a chance and it made me feel like I should have put my foot down and said she could not hire a bike, but then half the reason I love Cat so much is the fact the she’s a go getter and isn’t afraid to have a go. She later told me about the horrible twisty-turning experienced from the back of the ambulance. She lay sideways and used her feet to prop herself against the sides to stop from falling off the stretcher, but very nearly did several times, even with the nurse holding her! Anyway I made it to the bottom and found a small village and asked a few people where the hospital was. I soon found Cat and she was already out telling me she had a FRACTURED collarbone and they had given her a figure-8 sling to wear. We were talking about her getting a taxi back to Chiang Mai but she decided she would be ok on the bike if I took it really easy, which of course I did.

 

We rolled back into Rider’s Corner and Phil was surprised to see us and knew something had gone wrong. He was very sympathetic and told Cat all the best riders have broken their collarbones, trying to cheers her up. I still had visions of her spinning round running though my head and I was just glad she was ok. We found a place to stay next to Rider’s Corner as they had no rooms for the night, and tomorrow we can move our stuff back.

 

So another turn in the adventure, as now I’m sitting in the hospital while Cat is having an operation on her collarbone. She was reasonably comfy with it and slept ok, if it was a bit difficult to move around. I went this morning and settled the rental company up thinking it could be the end of the trip, but left and right front fairings, exhaust cover, bent front forks, dent in wheel and lots broken clip-ons etc came in at an amazing £100, don’t get me wrong £100 is still a lot of money and 3 days budget BUT I was expecting it to cost 2k and at the very least mean us not going to Laos and Cambodia and maybe cutting the trip short at Singapore. Pleased with the outcome and after having a friendly chat with the owner using my James Rix school of talk your legs off technique, I headed back to tell Cat the good news.

 

She had decided she wanted to get a second opinion about her shoulder as she felt the hospital was only a small village hospital, and as they spoke no English she wanted to make sure everything was normal and really find out how long it would take to recover. After talking with the insurance company she decided she was definitely going as they said she was entitled to a second opinion if she was not happy with the first one, and the hospitals in Chiang Mai are international standard.

 

To be honest, I nearly talked her out of it as she was not in a lot of pain, but then thinking about how much I now suffer with my back all because I didn’t go to hospital after my accident I decided she best go, as peace of mind is the beast healer. She insisted she would go alone so I could watch over our stuff in the bar area of the hostel as our room was not ready, plus she knows I find waiting rooms incredibly boring and am not very good at entertaining myself. A couple of hours went by and they decided to re-do her x-ray as it was rubbish quality, then came the news it was actually a big, clearly-defined break and she would need surgery. Only 1.5 hours later and she was carted off to get it sorted.

 

I cannot believe it, but this happens, which is why you need to wear good protection on motorcycles. The good news is in a month she will be good as new, but probably shouldn’t be on the back of the bike until then, so I figure our plans may change slightly over the next few days, watch this space!








Chiang Mai - The First -


So we did the big 750km to Chiang Mai from Bangkok in a day. Well just under actually: we arrived at Rider’s Corner on the Saturday at 3.30pm after leaving Bangkok at 7am so it was a good steady day with pretty quiet but boring roads. Much to our surprise Rider’s Corner had a room and so we decided to make things easy for us and stay there. We soon settled into our room and got changed and went down to the bar.

 

It was a Saturday and there were a few people around so we got a beer and started chatting to Kurt, an early retired American and chatted about our trip and soon found out Kurt and been and done Mongolia on his own for 2/3 months. We swapped stories and also chatted with other people including the English guy who owns and runs Chiang Mai insurance (www.chiangmaiinsurance.com) - it’s a good place if you’re coming over here and renting or even riding your own bike to get your insurance sorted.

 

We also met Dave who has ridden in various parts of the world and found out he was organising a ride in Cambodia on mopeds and the like for a children’s charity in Cambodia (www.rideforcambodia.com). There was also a couple who saw our bike outside and wandered in called Marcia and John. They didn’t know the meeting was on that night but they had ridden round the world in 2005/6 so they joined us as we lots of stories to swap! There was a good group of people and as the night went on more and more people turned up. We also got to meet Geoff who did the Poor Circulation ride (http://www.poorcirculation.blogspot.com) - he was also a really nice guy and did a funny presentation about his ride and why he decided not to go home to England. I can honestly see why, as the Thai people are so friendly!

 

There were several other speakers and lots of other bikers around, we bumped into Josef again and we also met couple doing the reverse of our trip, well, heading back to London anyway. The night finished at 2am after a few too many beers and lots of laughs, we had a good group of people at our table and it made for a really good night.

 



In the morning I had a bit of a hangover, not too bad but we waited until about 2pm before getting on the bike and heading up the very twisty road to the Doi Suthep Temple. It is a lovely place, with a great view of Chiang Mai city off the top of the mountain. Temples in general are so much cooler than churches and I think if I ever get the urge to start worshiping a fantasy character then being a Buddhist will be my choice. All jokes aside it’s really lovely to just chill out and relax and just gather your thoughts. It’s very special to watch people saying their prayers and doing their thing.


 

After, we headed to the Tiger Kingdom to see tigers. We didn’t know what to expect and Cat did lots of research to make sure it was officially run and not some dodgy mistreat the animals place, but we read good reports including stuff from UK vets. When we arrived it was fairly busy but much to our surprise there was not a very long wait. You can choose your packages of what to see based on size, so we decided to see the Smallest, Small and Biggest tigers. It was excellent and ended up being quiet inside the grounds with the tigers.

 

We had to leave all personal belonging outside and wash our hands before going in, then the guide introduced us to the animals and stood back. We had gone in the late afternoon as we were told this was the best time as the animals were more naturally active, rather than being woken up for photos when they are trying to sleep. The little ones were so cute and a couple of them very playful. They are about the size of grown cats, some a little bigger. We had 20 minutes with each set of animals and we were the only ones in there so you really had time with them which was great.

 

Then we went and saw the next size up and they were as big as big dogs! They were also a little playful even though they could not be quite as boisterous, as they would inflict damage in a big way, but they loved belly rubs! Then it was off to see the Big animals and my gosh were they big, HUGE would be a better word, so much bigger than expected. And bloody scary!! I was taking pictures of Cat sitting behind a big male and he must have seen his reflection in the camera lens and growled at me before striding towards me! The guard was there straight away and moved the animal and me away from each other and 5 minutes later he settled down, but still they left him alone for a while and took us to a different animal.

 

The tigers were so good and we felt so lucky to be able to get so close and handle them. They don’t use drugs or anything silly – they are natural, well-fed animals who are just trained and handled very well. Monday we rode out on the KTM and did the Hoi Son loop out of Chiang Mai. It was fantastic fun and the roads were great and we even hit a couple of dirt tracks up to the water fall - a really nice way to spend a day. They also had a really cool automatic petrol pump by the road next to nothing, you just put the notes in and then it gives you that much fuel, very modern I thought!

 

When we got back that evening, Dave from Ride for Cambodia, Josef and another German guy were having a drink so we joined them and decided to go for Mexican food around the corner. The food was good, well I didn’t seem to get a good deal, but everyone else did and it was good company. A guy who had ridden round the world on a BMW with sidecar turned up and Cat was overjoyed and had fun having a look around it. Cat went home early, and me and the guys stayed out for a few more drinks until it was just me and Dave heading back to Rider’s Corner, stopping at several pop-up street bars on the way. It was a good night and lots of fun!


 

Tuesday we had a nice chilled out day, I think we have both fallen little in love with Chiang Mai and we wandered around looking at the different shops and things to do in the back alleys. I finally booked my fishing trip which I have wanted to do and so I’m all excited about that, hoping to break my personal best of 34.5lbs.  Then we had coffee and made plans for the rest of our trip, Cat wants to rent a bike for a couple of days, I’m a little nervous as she has not ridden for a few months but she’s a good little rider and so I’m sure she will be fine.

 

In the evening we went to watch the Muai Thai Boxing. There is lots of go-go bars and girly bars next to the ring area but we hung out in one of them and had a couple of beers and played pool, but over an hour after it was supposed to start nothing happened and as I’m going fishing tomorrow we decided to call it a night. On the walk back, Cat came across a guy outside a bar with a little tiny puppy: turned out he had just bought it (at the night market of all places – for 800baht - £17) and so we had a drink there. The owner was a really cool Canadian guy who bought the bar as retirement fun, now that’s my type of retirement! In fact everyone in there was great and so we ended up having a couple more drinks before heading home.

 

So I went fishing today and it was efffin amazing! I was worried I would be stuck with a couple of old guys but I was put with 2 Canadian lads who started drinking at 10.30am and so we all got along great. Adam and Justin were really cool. My first fish of the day was 20kg beating my own rod record so I was pleased and joked I was done for the day. Soon we had all caught big fish and it was turning out to be a great day! Our guide told us we might have got a few less fish in the morning than the half day group but we were going for size and it was clear our catches were taking longer to net than theirs.

 

Fish number 3 pulled out my line and the reel went whizzing. I hooked into the fish and straight away said this feels big, the guys joked around and called me a wuss for the first 30 minutes and then everyone started to take it seriously, I was starting to attract a bit of a crowd as the fish would get closer then zip out again without touching the surface. I knew it was big as when I tried to turn its head it was nearly impossible and the fight kept on going. 4... 5... 6 times the fish came to the bank and people gathered to see it before it just turned its head and disappeared again with me able to do very little to stop it other than stand there laughing!

 

I was tired and sweating buckets in the 32 degree heat. Then again it came in and this time broke the surface as I turned its head, it looked like a good fish and the guide started to get excited. We were at the 65 min point by this stage. After 10 minutes of it mucking around fairly close in, it was in the net, just, and took two of us to lift it out the water. It was a bloody huge 35kg or 77lbs, easily my biggest ever fish and even matched the all time lake record - not bad for a first visit!!

 

It was an epic day - I had 3 fish over 20kg and the other lads all had similar catches getting 8 or more fish each. By the end of the day we had sunk a few beers and had a lot of fun, the guide was so happy and enjoyed himself as well and even took us for BBQ at the end before taking us back to the hotels. That evening we met with the lads to go for a few beers, and it was a fun night which carried on from a fun day. We went to the Canadian/puppy bar and then on to the Reggae bar where someone tried to grab my wallet but I managed to make sure that didn’t happen (see, growing up in London is good for some things!).

 

The following day we had pretty big hangovers and just relaxed all day. Other than going to rent a bike for Cat we just chilled out and soaked up some sun and some coffee, and we planned to do the Mae Hong Son loop for a couple of days, leaving tomorrow.

 

..............................

Thailand - Bangkok

We arrived in Bangkok on Wed and as soon as we got off the plane the heat hit us, it was 6pm and dark but it was still 30 degrees outside. We had been very delayed in Kathmandu due to thick fog and we were about 3 hours behind. It was funny in the airport and a fitting send off: no one knew how long flights were delayed for and really it was down to guess work that we made it onto the flight. I was glad to be moving, I like Nepal but would not go there in the winter again, 12 hour power cuts means it’s really cold inside and out, and after 5pm everything is very dark!!

 

Once we arrived in Bangkok the change was noticeable and pleasant: modern buildings, signs telling you where to go; and a good level of organisation. We cleared passport control very quickly and soon found ourselves waiting to clear baggage. We had somehow lost Miano, not sure how, but we texted and agreed to meet at the baggage area. We were chatting with the really nice English bloke called John, or Lucky John as I have decided to name him, and he gave us lots of info on good bars and places to stay before Miano turned up and our baggage was clear and we went our separate ways. We jumped in a taxi outside the airport and headed to our hotel nearby. It was really nice for the £11 a night it was costing us and as we didn’t know how long it would take to clear the bike so we decided pretty quickly to stay a second night in case it was late by the time we got the bikes out.

 

Early the following day, we headed for the cargo part of the airport and mentally prepared ourselves for a long day. We visited a few offices and started to figure out where we needed to go. We then picked up a helper who ran around with us for about an hour or more before handing us over to the Carnet people (who don’t need a carnet) and issued us with the own temporary import paper.

 

The rest was pretty straight forward, and much to our surprise the smiling Thai man who had helped us for about 2 hours by this stage shook our hands and left. It wasn’t so much of a surprise he left, but he didn’t ask or want any money, he was just very very helpful. We couldn’t believe how helpful Thai customs were to be honest. People would leave their posts and walk across the airport to show us to the next room and help us get the work done. One lady even led us to the next department with her lunch in her hand, and her colleagues called out to her and I assume she said something like “I’m just helping these farangs and I’ll be back in a minute.” It was very easy even if it was time consuming and but by about midday we were moving the crates around to unpack the bikes.

 

The putting back together of the bikes went to plan and was for the most part pretty easy. Miano’s crate had no floor as such and so his mirrors and sat nav holder were missing, but luckily Cat thought to ask if they found it, after about 30 minutes a guy turned up asking if this was the missing package, and to Miano’s joy it was his mirrors! We then finished off the bikes and had one last customs inspection to clear before we got our gate passes to leave.

 

Hot and tired, I was keen to get moving but the customs guy came out and we noticed a small mistake after the Z on my chassis number there was an A which was not supposed to be there on the paperwork. He then insisted I go back to get it changed even though it was a clear mistake on their behalf and all my other paperwork matched up. Rather pissed off, I stomped off across the airport to the other side to get it sorted. I walked back into the office and the head of customs looked confused as to why I had come back. I explained the situation and he just crossed out the A and gave me his card asking me who it was that sent me back and why didn’t they just call him?! I smiled and said it wasn’t a problem, but really I was thinking well that’s the same fucking thing I was thinking!!

 

The letter A crossed off, we were given our clearance papers, FINALLY I thought. We pulled away and Miano waves his arms around as there appeared to be a problem with his bike. After I rode it round the cargo area I could see a disc was catching on the calliper on the front right side. We tried to see why but couldn’t figure it out in the 32 degree sun in our bike gear, so we took the calliper off pending further investigation back at our hotel, and Miano had to ride back with no front brakes.

 

Once back at the hotel, Cat got the beers in and Miano and I started to try figure out why this disc was catching. The first thing I noticed was the disc was bent, but this was old news and something Miano already knew; it was only just catching so something was only 2-3 mm out. After some looking around it turned out the spindle needed to be clamped in just past the flush point and then the bike ran and fitted together perfectly. This little puzzle solved I headed upstairs to shower before heading into town for a drink and some food with Cat. Miano headed off on his bike to meet his couch-surfing friend to stay at his place and we agreed we would meet in Bangkok at some point.

 

Bangkok is great, it’s a bloody great place, some things are certainly not cheap here and for the first few days we have overspent on our budget, but this is also because we are socialising again and meeting people which has often ended in us going out for a few beers, which is a great thing as we like to party from time to time and Bangkok is a great place to do that.

 

Bars aside, the city is still great. We have now been staying here for 3 nights. Our hotel is pretty average and really a little overpriced for what it is, but we needed parking. Thursday night we met some English guys and I had my first pint of Guinness in about 7 months - a real treat - and much to my pleasure they were even showing the Dakar Rally on the TV.

 

Friday we rode the bike into town and settled in our new hotel. We went for a walk around the markets, got a great foot massage and met a really cool aussie chick called Bliss who we ended up hanging out with for the rest of the day. We also went and met Sue and Ronnie (Cat’s dad’s cousins) who were over here for a wedding, and had a couple of bottles of wine and some nibbles and we sat chatting in the bar of their hotel. After they left for the aiport, we headed to Cheap Charlie’s, one of the bars Lucky John told us about.

 

It was really cool, it’s basically a shack with a few tables outside and it’s dirt cheap with beers costing 60 baht (£1.20). Lucky John was there with friends and we all had a catch up: they were heading out to see Goldie play in a club down the road but I had shorts on and I started to feel a little tired and ill so we decided to call it a night by around 11pm.

 

Saturday we went for a long walk to the temples and round all the markets along the river. I have never seen so much food cooked at the side of the road, and some of it looks and smells amazing and tastes great, whilst some looks pretty bad, but most of it is clean and edible and safe!! We saw everything at the markets including much to our disgust real tiger skins being sold in cut down patches!! The walk was pretty tiring and all we bought was new t-shirts for me and contact lenses for Cat so we decided it was time for another foot massage before we hit the town..... well it WAS Saturday night after all!!

 

Saturday night was excellent, we headed back to Khao San road and went to Muligans Irish pub for what was going to be one drink before moving on. At the table next to us there was a bloke in an Arsenal shirt and the football was on so naturally we got chatting. Soon we were sharing a table and all getting to know each other. They were very interesting, had been away from home 14 months and spent a good amount of time in Perth and had also been to India recently in search of tigers with only a little luck and a couple of small sightings, Needless to say they were not impressed with our videos!!

 

We went upstairs to play some pool and get a feed, and met another guy up there who was on his own from Grimsby (I know no one is perfect) but he was a great bloke and soon our merry band had grown to 5. We hung out, played pool, generally pratted about and in the end went on a mission to find a ping pong show, but everyone tried to rip us off so in the end we just went to a titty bar and had a drink. It was a good night and in the end we got home about 5am and so Sunday was spent just chilling out and recovering.

 

Monday was Temples day, it was great, still felt a bit hung over though I guess that’s called getting old. We headed for breakfast after a lay-in and headed for the temples around 11am. On today’s list was Wat Phra Kaew with the emerald buddha and Wat Po with the big reclining buddha. The buildings are simply breath taking places, the details blow you away – all the gold leaf and sparkly colours and mosaic tiles that glint in the sun - and it’s like something from a movie, I truly feel a million miles from home. I think this is one of my favourite places - the buildings are so beautiful and there was so many great pictures to take it was almost hard to choose.

 

We walked around for over an hour with each corner we turned offering something new for me to smile about and shake my head at the overall beauty and mystery that seemed to keep coming at you. We even went and looked at the Armoury and the Grand Palace which was also very impressive; it kind of makes the houses of parliament and Buckingham Palace look like a council flat. All the colours and gold and attention to detail just everywhere you looked there was something to be impressed by. We walked from there to the reclining buddha, again more amazing temples and lots of other buddhas as well as the huge 40-foot reclining buddha. I stapled 20 baht to the money tree for luck for the rest of our journey and we left. We had spent 4 hours walking around and decided to walk the 3km back to Khao San road to have a coffee and get an hour long leg/foot massage!!

 

We got some bad new regarding the bike: the water hoses were swelling around the joins, so leaking a little bit, not a lot at all really but the hoses have gone pretty soft and they advised me to replace them as we are in no rush to move on and after this stage I don’t plan to service the bike for 10,000 km. The only problem with this was they had none in stock. We had to order them on the internet so I decided to get Samco hoses from RacebikeBitz who were very very very helpful on the net and it was nice to get some great customer service. I got them to Fedex them over so should have them tomorrow (Friday) and as the Tax and VAT came off they cost me less that £100 inc delivery!

The guys at KTM here are pretty good, they have stripped the bike completely and are putting her back together and cleaning everything. I met another guy who had a service off them and he said he got his bike back in better condition than when he left from Austria!! We also took our panniers in to see if they can come up with a way of fixing them to the bike (they are currently held on by ratchet straps because both locks have broken!) maybe even so they cannot come off. If not, when we get to England new panniers will be in order.

 

We have also broken our tank bag, and we asked how much for a new one but its £180 which is too much and my bungy cord works fine!! But they might be able to fix that cheap as well so fingers crossed. So all in all this has turned into a bit of a midway pit-stop: my wheels have a had the India-induced dents knocked out of them and I’m just waiting for the hoses, the sad thing is we have missed the Chiang Mai biker meeting but getting the bike fixed up properly at this stage is more important.

 

.........................

 

Great news, less than 48 hours after I ordered the hoses from Samco (www.racebikebitz.co.uk) they have arrived! Good customer service like that is rare these days so very pleased. Now just got to fit them and we should have the bike back tomorrow. Still not going to go to Chiang Mai though as it’s too much of a rush to get 800km in a day especially after the bike has just had a big service.

 

So today we went to have a good look at the gold Buddha in Wat Traimit. It’s 5.5 tonnes, 3 meteres high and SOLID gold – it’s pretty big but due to crazy traffic it took an hour to get there so we decided to walk back after. I really like walking around in Bangkok, there is so much to look at. There is so much going on I love it. I really think we have far too strict rules in England, we miss out on so much culture just because the odd person might get sick or some half wit might trip over a box. I remember years ago when my Dad worked the markets, I had gone to lunch and the heath inspector bloke had come round and told my dad the eggs which he stored under the table on wood boards had to be at least 12 inches off the floor or something similar - you have to ask yourself what fucking idiot thinks that is a good idea and how come 12 inches was the measurement!  Also the eggs were on wooden boards and packed in egg trays so really well protected, what a fucking waste of time, my poor dad had to go and get the wooden pallets changed just because of some prick sitting behind a desk deciding that this was a good idea.

 

Stuff like that annoys me, it’s like the new “you cannot modify your bike” rule being bought in by the EU - there is a petition going so make sure you sign it. Some of the modifications are for safety! I have also read they’re making it the law from next year that you have to wear a fluorescent yellow jacket on a motorcycle in France - they do realise that we could be naked, covered in fluorescent pink and orange stripes with a fucking mardi gras following us to the sound of prodigy with disco lights, and the driver who “didn’t see you” still fucking wouldn’t!!!

 

Anyway my point being we all know the risks and it should be up to us to choose to take certain risks without someone making the decision we need to be wrapped up in cotton wool or dressed like a lolly pop lady!

 

On Friday afternoon I got the bike back, the great news is the guy had done an excellent job and I was pleased. The bike looked very clean so I hope the mechanical job was as well performed. They were super helpful it had a big service and then they gave me 15% off everything meaning the total bill came in under £350!! BARGAIN!

 

We had planned to go see Alex Edwards who was riding Cambo Enduro, and meet up with him in Cambodia, so we were going to take it easy and head out west to the Bridge over the River Kwai but we ended up deciding to make it to Chiang Mai for the biker meeting. It was an early start, it was going to be a long day but as it was motorway it was very boring but there was not a lot of traffic, so we managed to cruise along at 130kph and arrived at the Rider’s Corner at around 3.30pm. It took us about 7.5 hours to do the 760km! At least we made the meeting!

 

Bye Bye Nepal - Its been Fantastic.

 So we are back in Kathmandu and we decided to stay in the hostel Big Tom stayed in as it was a bit cheaper than our place, problem was there was no power (Kathmandu has 10 hour day blackouts at the moment) so if you had no generator you had no power, and it was FREEZING cold especially at night. So the following morning we moved back to good old Elbrus House who then gave us a discount for staying there for the third time.

 I was not feeling too productive, the last couple of days my mood was all over the place and the stress of the last few days was really catching me up. I could not concentrate and small things would play on my mind until I felt like killing someone, then I suddenly felt a bit better before an hour later getting very very ill. It hit me hard, I was shivering, sweating, having crazy dreams and feeling sick. I wasn’t hungry and I was having night terrors which would carry on when I woke up, but the hardest thing was going to pee: it took ages, there was no power in my pee so to speak.

 

Cat rang the hospital in the middle of the night but they said it would be ok to wait until morning. When I first woke I was feeling a bit better, this lasted about an hour before I started to get worse so Cat took me to the hospital worried I might be getting Malaria. We arrived at the Ciwec hospital in Nepal, one of the best hospitals in Southern Asia. They took me in really quick as they were quiet. They drew blood and made me pee in the cup, my pee was a bit of an off colour and they told Cat they were worried I had Malaria, Dengue fever, or any other of the really bad bugs you can catch in this part of the world.

 

I was feeling pretty down and we were sure we wouldn’t get to Dubai to see my family for Xmas. That night I needed to stay in hospital and I got the news that I had some sort of urine/kidney infection as my white blood cell count was up. They gave me some antibiotics and tried to get my vitals down (heart rate was 135, temp was 39.4 etc) to normal which took until about 10am the next day. The good news was the next day I felt a lot better, and in the morning the doctor gave me another big shot of antibiotics and he told me it if took it easy I could go to Dubai, provided I came back in a few days and gave another urine sample so they could see if it was killing the bug well enough. So it was a mad rush around (taking it easy of course doctor) to get the last couple of small Xmas gifts and then head to the airport to jump on a plane.

 

We spent a few days with my family, it was of course especially nice to see little baby Martin and my grandparents. Grandad was very taken back with Dubai, being the country boy that he is, but he liked it. Going to the markets and seeing them trade is what he really loved. It made me realise where my love for that kind of stuff comes from and it was nice to spend a few days in their company. Little baby Martin has grown so much, even in the 2 months since we last saw him and it was nice to be there for his first Xmas!!

 

So we came back to Nepal after spending a few days in Dubai. We have decided the bike should be shipped out on the 2nd of Jan and we are flying out on the 4th. I’m really excited, I mean I love Nepal but I have felt a little stuck here now unable to move on due to waiting for flights and stuff. One thing that has made us feel stuck is the current (and ongoing) fuel situation, basically there is hardly any, and it means we cannot go anywhere on the KTM as it needs fuel.

 

We didn’t realise this when we first got back until we went and hired 2 Royal Enfields. We planned to do a 2 day lightly packed trip in Northern Nepal to see the mountains for the last time. Cat loved the bike, she was taken back with how much she enjoyed riding and I think the size of the Enfield really suited her. We hired the bike from Himalayan Enfielders who are supposed to be one of the best and the biggest companies in Kathmandu, but I’m less than impressed. They failed to mention there was a massive fuel shortage and so we picked the bikes up in the evening with the plan on returning them New Years day in the evening. Our NYE was going to be in some small village somewhere and we thought it was a nice way to spend NYE.

 

 We woke up on NYE at 6am, packed our bags and off we set. We rode around for about 2.5 hours searching for fuel but no one had any so in the end we had to turn back! We took the bikes straight back but they weren’t open. We hung out until about 10am when someone turned up but their boss was not coming in that day so he told us to come back the following day to get our money back, agreeing that it’s not our fault there is no fuel around and we should be entitled to our full refund. So we left the bikes and headed back to the hotel, we hung out in town and had a coffee before heading back to get some sleep, thinking maybe we would go out for a few drinks in the evening and watch the football.

 

In the evening we got up and went to Tom and Jerry’s pub to watch the football and have a few drinks. The TV there was playing up so we headed to Paddy Foley’s where they have big flat screens and we watched the rest of the Man U game there and much to our joy they got beat. Happily we headed back to Tom and Jerry’s to watch the Arsenal game. Tom and Jerry had a lot of Westerners in and so Cat got talking to people and soon we were part of a mixed group of lads.

 

A couple of the lads were on holiday, 2 of them were based here in the army training Gorkhas and the other lad was an American backpacker. We ended up spending our evening with this group of lads, it was fun, we both got a bit drunk and ended up in some random club. The thing was, every place we went too had tickets on the door but we never paid, we just moaned and had a grumble and then they let us in. At one club Cat convinced one doorman to give her a stamp, we rubbed wrists, and then convinced the first doorman we had already been in! Midnight came and I got a kiss off my wife and not long after that we decided we had had enough and so headed home, leaving the American guy to fend for himself.

 

The following day was spent in bed recovering and watching Only Fools and Horses on the laptop. We then got KFC as it was around the corner and makes great hangover food. I read some blogs and sent an email to another bike traveller who had just gone through Indonesia to get some info about ferries etc. I also found some great blogs on Thailand and a website called www.gt-rider.com (or something close) and he has lots of info on that area.

 

I’m keen to do an off-road trail, I read about one called the Smugglers trail in Cambodia. As you can guess it was used by smugglers back in the day and it’s deemed pretty much impassable but I have read about bikes doing it. I saw one guy did it on a 950 so I’m sure I would get through it, but it’s 2 days riding and so I would need to spend one night sleeping in the open in the hammock. I think Cat will sit this one out unless she decides to get a 250 dirt bike of some sort in which case she will find it a lot easier than me!!

 

Yesterday was a good day, we had to pack the bike for Bangkok. Getting proper excited now, trying to put my back pain to the back on my mind, hoping the warm muggy weather and the lots of swimming I plan to do will help. We turned up to meet  Jeewan from Eagle Eyes cargo at 10.30am as there was going to be another biker there and he wanted us to guide him to the cargo section of the Airport. We turned up and straight away recognised the guy’s face, it was Miano (www.australiatwin.com) who I met about 3 months ago in the visa office for Iran in Istanbul.

 

We were pleased to see each other, even if a little confused as he had made it into Iran a good week before us and therefore I guessed he was long gone. Straight away we started to swap stories and I could tell he had a very different experience from us that also was not without its mini disasters and I think his blog will be worth a read. He’s doing it on a smaller budget and one of the biggest reasons is he is using the couch-surfing website and so accommodation has never been a financial issue. A great way to travel if you’re on your own but probably more difficult if you’re a couple.

 

Well after a 20 minute “how you been, where you been”, chin wag and the obvious jokes and comparisons and head shaking about India, we headed to the airport. At the airport I was a little disappointed: this was Miano’s first flying experience with the bike so he had a new crate waiting for him, but our crate had been in storage and so was being bought by a truck, but didn’t arrive until 4 hours after we had been at the airport! They also supplied us with 1 bubble wrap only, no tape and no shrink wrap and this was for 2 bikes and all our stuff!!

 

The first few hours was spent helping Miano, and we showed him how we packed our bike the last time, trying to make the bike as small as possible or you will get nailed lots of extra money, as the freight is done on volume weight or actual weight whichever is greater. But to our disappointment it took a bit of an argument for them to cut his box back a bit, and it was a full 20cm or more too long which would work out to be a fair amount of money extra.

 

To be honest we were very disappointed with Eagle Eyes cargo, especially after our experience in Dubai, and makes me realise how good the shipping and packing really was from there. Then once Miano’s bike was just about done my crate turned up and the guys who were supposed to help build it all disappeared. In the end I was there bending out nails and trying to get it ready with 1 guy helping me. I was annoyed as it was one thing to be 4 hours late but it was going to take another 4 for me to get the bike taken apart and created up on my own with only Miano to help as Cat had left to collect the refund from the Enfield Rental company.

 

In the end and again after I had a bit of a grumble, other helpers turned up and eventually they even gave us some more foam wrap and we got the bike crated and ready for them both to go. Thinking the worst was over I sat back and took a sip of water whilst sharing a joke with Miano who agreed he was also disappointed in Eagle Eyes especially when you read their 5 star reviews on Horizons Unlimited: we both expected a far more professional service.

 

But then to our amazement they called us over to help lift the crated bikes onto the weigh machine. Yes that’s right, 300+ kilos of expensive motorcycles and our stuff and these idiots wanted to lift it and carry it by hand! In fact both bikes where 350+ kilos and Nepalese guys are not the biggest guys in the world. In the end we convinced then not to be lazy and go get the forklift, they had a moan but we insisted and so they went and got it. It sort of sums up their entire attitude really: very cut-corner-ish without thinking about the consequences of dropping the bikes, cracking the crates or worse - damaging the goods. You would think once the fork lift turned up it would all be ok, but even that was a rushed job and we both thought that the fork lift was going to drop the bikes at one stage.

 

After it was all sorted we headed back to the office to tie up the loose ends and pay, Jeewan himself is very professional and so I feel bad saying that I was not impressed with the overall day, but I feel I must tell the truth. I WOULD use him again as I feel it’s the lesser evil, but make sure you go over exactly what you want and are there yourself for the packing, and make sure your crate is a snug fit as all that extra space is very very expensive!!!!!

 

In the evening we took Miano to Cafe Solu, a small hidden Nepalese place that Big Tom showed us a month or so before, we all ate great food and had a couple of beers and the total bill came in at less than £8.00.

 

 Now we have some last minute things to grab, and then its bye bye Nepal, one of the best places I have ever been in my entire life. If you come to this part of the world, do see as much of this great country as you can. Kathmandu is ok for a pit-stop and shopping,, but the rest is just fantastic. I feel lucky to have been here, eaten such good food and met such amazing people and at some stage in my life I will definitely be coming back to this great place!!

From the Middle of India to Nepal

Right in the Middle of India

 

India is proving to be hard work. It has its plus sides but most of the time it feels like work: the constant invasion of personal space and sometimes disregard for the bike as people poke and pull stuff; the ogling at Cat and the constant camera phones on us; or the groups of people, mostly men who follow us around making us feel uncomfortable. Combine this with some of the most dangerous driving and roads I have ever ridden and it makes India a challenge, to say the least.

 

Myself and Cat spoke about putting it into words but it’s so so so difficult, it’s very hard to explain. We have thought about pulling out all together, but have to admit there are things worth seeing such as the tigers, and I’m sure the Taj Mahal will be worth it. And I know people at home will be saying oh boo hoo off traveling round India and it’s “hard work” - well until you been here you will never understand. Even we read so many blogs and met so many people who dropped us little warnings but it’s nearly impossible to get an idea of what they are talking about, it’s not something that is easily put into words, or to comprehend without experience it.


 So the day after we got our tyre sorted, we rode slowly to Nagpur from Raipur. Cat got the small camera out to take some videos so we can give you a better idea of the driving in India. She got a couple of good examples of what we have to deal with on a regular basis, even if the more scary ones are the ones you don’t always see coming and therefore don’t get time to video.

 

We met up with Steve and Elaine in Nagpur as they are on their way to Goa. We were only planning on staying one night but decided to stay 2 as they offered to show us around the city the following day. We spent the whole day hanging out with them, we visited a shopping mall and had a coffee then we went and met one of their friends who runs a Pharmacy who kindly gave us some free cold and flu pills. In the evening we had Masala Dosa which is a sort of Indian wrap, which comes with spicy sauce. It was a nice evening as we sat around and chatted but we headed off fairly early as we planned to hit the road the next day early.

 

.......................

 

We have made it to Bhopal - I say made it as it was very very dangerous. Here’s what happened.

 

We are going along on a road that is big enough for 2 cars, IF they creep slowly past each other. The pace has been slow due to the large number of pot holes, and there is a small run off on either side which varies in quality, from dusty gravel to deep stones to deep sand, where the lorries have to pass each other and need the extra 2 feet either side. It’s been a hard day, lots of lorries on our side of the road and me having to move off out their way as their overtake is not complete before they reach me. This, as mad as you would be in England, does not phase me anymore as I get plenty of warning (unless it’s on a corner) but this I can handle.

 

Then a lorry is coming towards me at a fair pace quicker than most of the others we passed. In between the middle of us there are a number of pot holes but they are distributed pretty evenly, and I have a small pothole-less track on my side of the road. Seeing an easy way through for the lorry, I figured he was going to pull off into his run off as it seemed the best route, but as he was about to do this, he suddenly changed his mind, gave me a quick flash of his lights, and the lorry was hurtling towards us!

 

Cat screams and I just automatically ditch for the extra run off but it was via a big pot hole into loose sand. The front of the bike goes “vague”, for want of a better word, and the bike lurches over the various pot holes and dips. Cat shouts out in a bit of pain as she hit her bum on the pannier rack and the spare tyre hits her in the back. I’m in deep sand but have stayed on the power thinking back to the conversation I had with Martin on our Georgia ride. The lorry just misses the back of the bike and I manage to get back onto the road. I close off the throttle and let the bike slowly slow down. Cat asks if I’m ok but I’m so angry I want to fucking cry, I want to go back and chase the lorry until I stop it and give him a piece of my mind, but I cannot because he just won’t realise what he did wrong, and that is more scary than anything,

 

I don’t talk for about 30 minutes, mulling over it all in my head. All the blogs I read, all the research we did and this is what it is like, what am I doing this for? I’m not getting paid to do it. I think to myself about what happens if we have a big accident - we lay in the road for more than likely over a hour, and if we collide with one of the lorries then it’s not going to be good. I have never been afraid of a bit of danger or a bit of calculated risk, but those risks are followed with rewards and the reward has to be worth the risk, but this is out of our control and so dangerous all the time.

 

At this point I start to tell Cat where my head is at, and she confesses she feels the same way and we both agree we have given India a lot of chances to impress us. We both agree we would feel a lot safer in a car or bus and we both agree we have had about as much of India as we can take. We have already covered 4000km and we have about another 2500km to cover before we reach the Nepal border. If you’re wanting to travel India, my advice is don’t do it on a bike. Today I think we must have been forced off the road 8 or 9 times and that’s without all the usual pot holes and cows and everything else.

 

We found an old restored Moghul palace in Bhopal and decided to stay there as a bit of a treat, and because the bike caused a bit of a stir we again got a very good discount! We decided to take a second day off and just relax, before making plans to leave the country via Agra for the Taj Mahal and Red Fort. Bhopal is a pretty city and the place we are staying is very nice with amazing views. Bhopal, we found out, had a massive chemical/gas spill in the 80s which killed about 20,000 people and has meant for generations after children have been born with defects such as small or extra limbs. We also found out that this is the reason India are not participating in the 2012 Olympics, because Union Carbonide (the chemical company) are one of the sponsors.

 

We were thinking about going to Udaipur as our friend James tells us how amazing it is and how it’s one of his favourite places, but I think with the state of my rear tyre it’s not a good idea for us to do any more mileage then is necessary. Even though things are holding out at the moment I can already see cracks starting to appear in the rubber.

 

........................

 

Today we are in Agra and again it was a very eventful ride. What really bought it home today though was coming across a motorcycle accident. Clearly they had collided with something and that “something” had driven off. We weren’t the first people there but that was because it happened in a small village, but to my horror the guy and bike where just lying in the road, this with about 50 people looking on. I stopped, got off the bike, and ordered cat to grab the medical kit. As I approached closer I could see he was in a very bad way as he had a massive head wound - clearly he hadn’t been wearing a helmet. To be honest, I didn’t really know what to do but trying to think back to the first aid course we took made sure he was breathing and hadn’t swallowed his tongue. Blood was everywhere and I was trying not to get any on me, so by pointing and basically yelling, as I had to, I got couple of the watchers to help.

 

We moved him onto his side and carefully wrapped his head to try stop some of the bleeding. He was already going into what seemed like hypertensive shock, and I could see his head had taken a big blow on the left side. We were trying to find out if they had called an ambulance and they said yes and we figured out the hospital was 10km away but they said the ambulance might be an hour. I knew this poor bugger was not going to last that long so I took all the rupees I had in my wallet and tried to get someone to take him to the hospital. I had about 2,000 rupees which is about £25 which is 2 weeks wages for most people and still people refused to help, until eventually I got a guy with a taxi-bus to agree. It was at this point I saw the rider’s passenger who had clearly got a broken leg but had been sitting out of the way leaning against a building. He was in a lot of pain so I gave him some pain killers explaining o take 2 and keep the packet and last 2 for later.

 

We loaded them both into the ambulance. Again, it’s just heart breaking as really it’s only an education thing, but I turned around and 4 guys were picking the guy with the head injury up by his arms and legs while his body and head dropped around. I quickly got them to support his body and head and carefully load them in. Just as we loaded them in the police turned up and refused to let me give the taxi any money and they got in the taxi and left. It really bought home how in the shit you are if it goes wrong in India, people do not even have the basic sense of what to do in these situations. I don’t hold out much hope for the guy with the head injury, the last guy I saw like that was a few years back and finished with the guy dying as he reach hospital and that was in London.

 

We climbed back on the bike and the crowd at this stage was around 100 people who stood around and followed us. As I put on my helmet I pointed and said “see you must wear a helmet!” at which point lots of them nodded and smiled. We rode off again, talking the situation over as you do, saying we wish we knew more about first aid and saying how much it highlights the danger you’re in if anything goes wrong in India. It was at this point Cat realised that health care in India is probably not free and they only treat you if you or your family have got the money to pay, so my thoughts are with this guy and I hope he made it through and found the money to get fixed up!! At least his passenger was coherent and could give family details to try to raise money. We also saw 7 smashed up lorries and one totalled car that looked like it had been squashed by a lorry. The roads seem to be getting worse, from a traffic point of view, the further north we headed.

 

Once we arrived in Agra we found a nice hotel and the manager was very excited to see us turn up on our motorcycle, then once he realised we had ridden the whole way he insisted we stay there and offered us the room for nearly half price, on the condition we had a cup of tea with him and showed him some photos. We of course agreed and were very pleased to see our room was stunning.

 

First thing in the morning we went to see the Taj Mahal. It is an absolutely stunning building and the surroundings and setting is excellent. We really enjoyed exploring and even though we got a few people come over and ask to take photos with us (“sorry, but shouldn’t you be taking photos of the Taj? We are not tourist attractions!”) we got about 99% less hassle than we are used to, so we felt we could explore for the most part relatively uninterrupted and in our own time.

 

After the Taj we went to the Red Fort which is also an excellent building and it’s HUGE, in fact 90% of it is still in use by the military. They had monkeys there which kept Cat entertained and we explored all the rooms and had a good look around. After this we had a 20min walk around the local market but started to pick up a small group of followers so decided to hit it on the head and head back. At this point I’ll point out that sightseeing in Agra is really easy – tuk-tuk drivers will offer to take you around to whatever sights you want to see, and include waiting time, normally around 250 rupees for half a day. Our driver was really nice and didn’t even try to take us to his “uncle’s” shop!

 

 

...........................

 

India really does have some amazing stuff to offer. I looking forward to getting out now but I look back and think about seeing tigers, Kanha NP, meeting Steve and Elaine, riding through some of the wildlife reserves and watching a big group of monkeys playing around us on the road, the Taj, the Red Fort, the old colourful temples, the food... there is so much to offer but at least from where travelling on a large motorcycle is concerned, it’s not worth the danger.

 

India was the place I was looking forward to going the most before we came away, so to have left 2 months earlier than planned feels like a shame, but we did 5,500 km in a 4 week period and saw a fair amount of “real India” so to speak, I think when I come back I will fly around and see the touristy stuff or maybe try to hire a jeep or car to drive around in to give yourself that little bit of protection and privacy. “Touring” India on a large motorcycle is not a very wise idea if you ask me.  

 

Agra was our last tourist stop before we bee-lined for Nepal, but it took us 2 more overnight stops, and it wasn’t without its dramas, mostly in the tyre department. The inner tube blew out on the way out of Agra, annoying but I  had a spare and there was a tyre guy about 100 meters back so I took the wheel off and went and swapped them over, but then I knew we would have to take it easy...... mega easy as the spare inner tubes were only 120x90, the size of a skinny Indian front wheel!

 

Anyway I swapped it over and we carried on, the ride itself was pretty straight forward, and far more pleasant than I expected, this was because of FOG believe it or not. Don’t get me wrong, I would have taken rush hour in London any day over being on India’s roads as I was expecting total chaos in the fog, but more Indian drivers were going slow and using their lights than I expected so for this reason it was a pretty easy day. We stopped over night in Lucknow.

 

The second day was much the same, with two tyre changes in the morning, and towards the end of the second day about 30km out of Gorakhpur it blew again even though we were running on cold roads and keeping speeds under 70kph and stopping every 100km. So I had to find tubes, which I did in the middle of nowhere, and I bought 2 more spares as well. We had hoped to get to the border that night, but because of the delays, we decided to just stop in Gorakhpur and that night we slept in the first hotel we had stayed at in India.

 

The following day we woke up excited to be getting out, a shame I know. I have had a couple of emails and messages from people saying they were sick of reading other blogs that slag countries off and that they were glad ours was different, and reading back over this entry I think it’s not going to be much good news for you, but I’m not here to write a great story, just to tell the truth, and the truth is I will never ride a big motorcycle in India ever again.

 

It was lucky we stayed in Gorakhpur the night before because we only made it 50km before we suffered our first blown tube of the day. By now I was keeping speeds down to 60kph but it was making little difference due to the weight of the bike 2-up with luggage. The small tyre was holding up ok but cracks that should worry me were starting to become clear, but with 450 km to go and only 30 to the border we quickly put the spare tube on and entertained our last large Indian crowed before heading off. Soon we reached the border and you will be glad to see that we took pictures for you this time so you can see just how easy it could be to miss the border posts. Getting out of India was pretty straight forward and getting in to Nepal was also easy, even though they seemed unsure about my carnet and whether the bike could come in twice, but in the end gave up and just let me back in.


 

Once in Nepal things started to change. It’s like a “diet” India really and it makes it so much more fun to travel in. We headed back the way we came and as night approached us another inner tube went bang. Lucky not taking any chances I had stopped in a dirt bike shop just after the border that sold me some chain lube and asked the guy if he had any inner tubes and he bought me 2 so I was up to 3 spare tubes (or down to 2 now).

 

I changed the wheel this time with only the odd Nepalese biker stopping to ask if I needed help and was ok. It was actually a very pleasant experience not to have to keep retrieving tools and bits back off people who have let their curiosity get the better of them. We got back on the road and I noticed the new tube I was putting in was an extra thick one so I knew if I kept my speed down it should get me to Kathmandu.

 

After about a hour it was dark and we still had 160km to do on very twisty roads. I estimated we would get there about 8.45pm and Cat texted her dad and asked him to keep an eye on the spot tracker to make sure we were ok. The driving in the dark was difficult but in a way not as dangerous as it can be at times in the day as 99% of the lorries have front lights and so you can see them coming, even around corners. I had the big HD light on so we had a good view of the road ahead.

 

I was feeling sick - the cold I appeared to be coming down with was getting worse but I had it in my head to just crack on. Then about 40km out of Kathmandu, on a bend climbing up a hill, the tube blew again! There was not a safe place for me to move to and so Cat had to walk back around the bend a little to try her best to warn the crazy lorries we were there, so they would slow down.

 

Then I left the front lights on so they could see me from the other way, but I was on my own faffing around in the dark, getting the wheel and tyre off, something I had never done before 2 weeks earlier and now I was doing on my own in the pitch black. I was forced to quickly jump out the road (trying not to fall down the cliff, too) a couple of times as lorries came steaming round the corner.

 

It took me about 45 minutes but soon we packed back up and hit the road again and found ourselves in Kathmandu. Feeling the worst was over, we both had a sigh of relief and went for a steak dinner and a couple of drinks to celebrate, but it turned out the bad luck hadn’t quite finished yet!!!

 

(As some of you may have seen on Facebook, our Christmas wishes were sent from hospital!)

Is It Possible To Find an 18-inch Rear Tyre for a 1000cc Bike in India?

So our journey into India continues south – we are heading for Jagdalpur to see the 300m wide Chitrakote waterfalls which is called the Niagara of India. After an early morning start, we stopped about 10am to have a fizzy drink and take a rest, as usual we attracted a small crowd but not a brave one so it wasn’t too much of a hassle.

 

The roads were good fun, but a little dangerous in places due to switchbacks climbing up and down a hillside, and there was one period where we hit a few pot holes but nothing for more than 5km at a time. Then we crossed a railway bridge with about 90km to go and there was a small speed bump which I slowed for, but as I got on the throttle again the bike felt odd, and I mentioned to Cat that we must have some smooth but uneven tarmac underneath us but she didn’t really notice.

 

I came to a lorry and pulled out fairly far back to get a good view, nothing was coming so I beeped my horn for 30 seconds making sure he knew I was coming before pulling past. As I got on the power though I knew something big was wrong as the bike felt all over the place, but fully committed I got past the lorry before coming to a gentle rolling stop.

 

Bugger, I thought, puncture, and sure enough the rear tyre was just about flat. No problem I thought as I had a spare inner tube, so we got off the bike and took all the gear off. Having never removed a tyre at the roadside before I was a little worried but the worry soon got worse as I saw the 2.5 inch gash in the side of the tyre. Well either way the wheel and tyres needed to come off so we got to work,

 

I pretty much got it totally off, and got the inner tube out but could not quite get the last bit of tyre off and by this point we had attracted about 30 “helpers” - in the middle of the nowhere may I add!! Seeing I needed help, one guy offered to run me to a tyre man in the next village so I jumped on his moped and off we went. These tyre guys (bloke in tiny hut with worn tyres, a few tubes and some levers) are everywhere in India, as you don’t change a tyre until you need to, which is not until it gives out!! This old guy appeared and looked at me like I was an idiot but he was impressed I had done, in rough translation, “the hard bit.” He just pushed it back on the rim and then fully loosened the opposite side before pulling it off with one hand.......................... man I thought I was doing so well!!

 

He looked at the tyre and shook his head, no good he said, no good. I explained I had no choice and needed a temporary fix, and he looked at it a minute before lining it with wheel liner and giving it to me, saying go slow.............. go very very slow. We jumped on the moped after paying the guy 30 rupees and headed back to the KTM. There was Cat with a still growing audience with cars parked on both sides of the road next to bikes and tuk-tuks and lots of people.... you would have thought there was a medium sized car-boot going on, not just two idiots from London on a battered bike!!

 

I put the bike back together as a few more people turned up before re-loading and heading off. It’s an amazing thing in India, as there are so many good people here who will genuinely help you expecting nothing in return; this said there are double that number of shitters here as well who want to make a quick buck off you, and 10 times that and possibly the most annoying category who just want to stand there with phones and cameras filming and often totally invading your space. I feel especially sorry for Cat who often gets perved at to a level where in England you’d be sporting a black eye, whilst here I have to be more understanding/flattered but it’s very difficult for her!!

 

So we limped the bike those 90km to Jagdalpur. I took it easy and we checked often to see if the tyre got worse but it didn’t. Once in Jagdalpur we found the place we were looking for (Hotel Rainbow) pretty quickly as it was not a very big city: much to my annoyance as I knew we had no chance of finding a tyre.  I was tired and irritated and I was annoyed as I knew this would happen and wanted to carry spare tyres with us, but decided against it after talking it through with Cat who was insistent we could easily get it sent out if needed (obviously not thinking about Indian customs!)

 

But now we are in India, we both know this is never going to happen! India is a lot more messed up than we expected (organisationally/logistically/common-sensibly) - no matter how much we had read or talked with other people who had been here, we had not been expecting it to be as mental as it is. I was pissed off as it’s at this point that I knew no matter how optimistic I wanted to be, that if I had trouble finding tyres in Turkey and Dubai then I had no chance in India. The good news was our hotel had a bar so we made a beeline to discuss our options and just take a break from it all.

 

In the morning after breakfast, we headed into the town to look for tyres, or any other way of sorting the problem. We discussed about 100 different options but found no tyres and went back to the hotel no better off than we left. What we did discover was that Jagdalpur was too small of a town to get us any help so we needed to head back to Raipur. So the next morning we headed down to the market area to get a truck sorted.

 

It’s amazing in a city where most things are so backward that it’s so easy to get a truck to take you and your load 300 miles. I looked for a newish not beaten to death truck to take the bike to Raipur, and in less than 5 minutes we had 2 guys and a truck at our hotel helping us load our things for the 3rd time on this journey. They were going to take us to Raipur which is a 600km (round, for them) journey for about £40. Bike loaded and ready to roll we hit the highway, Cat in the front with the driver, and me and the helper in the back with the bike, much to the amusement of most of the passers-by.

 

It was actually a pleasant way to spend the day (bumping around ignored). I sat watching the world go by listening to my ipod or reading when the road was not too bad.  Some people would catch the truck up and ask me questions about what was wrong and around 3pm we stopped for a quick bike to eat at the same place we had stopped at on the way down.

 

We made it into Raipur in rush hour, the usual hustle between cars, 4x4’s, bikes, tuk-tuk’s, cows, goats, people and everything else was mental. We slowly made our way through with the typical interest from jaw dropped locals, and we were with 1km of the hotel we had stayed at before when the police told us we could not take a truck any further. Clearly other vehicles were going that way, and pissed off, I said we are going that way, he said you cannot, I said you don’t understand we are going down that road, we have been driving all day and where we need to be is just 1000 meters that way and if you don’t let me go that way with a truck we will park here, unload the tuck completely blocking the street and you will have to help me push the bike 1000 meters. Luckily he could tell I was just about serious enough to do it, so with a shake of his head he waved us though.

 

We pulled up outside our old hotel and the security guards helped us unload, while reception who speak perfect English asked what was wrong and said they were sad to hear of our problems but welcomed us back and as returning customers they gave us 20% off.

 

The following 2 days were spent throwing around the 100 or so ideas to fix this situation, as you do. We looked at second hand bikes, Enfields to start with but the running issues and high second hand cost made it not worthwhile. We were considering 2 pulsars, or something similar, if we had to wait for a tyre so we could continue travelling around. It would be so simple if India didn’t have that silly 2-month rule, then I could just fly into Kathmandu, pick up my spare set, and fly back – problem solved in a matter of days!

 

Anyway, we met a nice Indian one day whilst I was falling out with a tuk-tuk driver who had agreed to take us somewhere for a fee and then 600 meters up the road pulled over to demand 5 times more money, that old chestnut. He really had rattled my cage as I had enough stuff going on and for the first time in a while I had decided that if he had the cheek to get out of the tuk-tuk I was going to really fall out with him - he was a nasty piece of shit swearing at me when we got out as I refused to pay the extra money, then he followed yelling at us before pulling across us and knocking Cat with the side of the tuk-tuk. I was well and truly over it and this twat had got me on the wrong day, he was about to cop a hiding just so I could take some stress out on someone, even Cat wasn’t going to stop me, I think that shows what a prick this guy was (that and the fact that clumping people is not something I take a great pleasure in doing!) Then another voice started yelling at this guy and having even more of a go at him than I was: he got off his moped and walked towards him and with that this guy seemed to panic and ride off, seeing that we were starting to get some support from locals. The local came over and introduced himself as Deepak.

 

Deepak was great, he asked us what we were doing and then he parked his moped and demanded to help us out even though we told him we would figure it out. Soon he was waving down tuk-tuks with us and coming along, and refusing to pay more than the local price (which is a 6th of the best bargained tourist price!), he even paid for the first 2 and wouldn’t take money off me. We told him about what had happened and what ideas we were throwing around and we told him we needed to find out how much stuff was so we could consider all our options. We had also had bad news that the tyres in Nepal COULD get couriered over but there was a very high chance they would get stuck in India customs or lost in the post. As the shipper in Nepal said “they will definitely make it, no problem, but you might be finished and in Australia by then.”

 

The market was open so we headed down to look at second hand bikes. Deepak was translating for us and helping get us an idea of what was a good deal and bad. We could purchase two 3-year-old 150cc Pulsars for about 70,000 rupees (£900) which was a good deal as we could sell them 2 months later for near enough even money as we were getting a 10,000 rupee discount per bike for taking 2. This was the first bit of good news, our India trip wasn’t totally over as we could leave the KTM somewhere, ride around on these for 2 months, come back and get the KTM put on a truck and then head out back to Nepal.

 

We left it there for now, to see what other options cropped up. Sunday we went for a bit of a walk, where we got followed so much we jumped in a tuk-tuk and headed for the biggest mall in Raipur, which was rubbish, so we grabbed a coffee and icecream and read our books but soon we had about 10 guys sat nearby staring at Cat and making her uncomfortable. So we left and hid away in our hotel, while I posted online looking for travellers who might be coming from Nepal to India who could bring my tyres. In the evening we treated ourselves as Cat found out there was a Dominos pizza so we ordered that but nicely our hotel insisted they send a waiter to go get it for us as they were quiet.

 

Monday rolls round and I’m getting replies from adverts I placed offering various ideas. Steve from Kanha rang just about everyone he knew to see if he could find tyres, he was confident to begin with but was having no luck. I also rang KTM in Pune who were useless (I don’t want this to effect KTM who have been generally good: it’s an India thing) and I also rang about 5 other people who promised to get back to me: 4 of them didn’t and the other said no luck.

 

We headed down stairs to take the wheel off, with the aim of taking it around the bike/tyre shops in Raipur. The security from our hotel came over and got the idea of what we were hoping to do, then the manager and a few business men also came and 1 guy spoke English. He said his brother was a tyres dealer, that my tyre could get a good temporary repair and they could get me a new tyre from Bombay. I left him making the calls, and then the hotel insisted I take a driver, helper and their 4x4 which they did for free just to help us out and we drove all around the city visiting mechanics.

 

We tried many places with no luck – the biggest tyre we could find in 18 inch was 120 and I needed 150! We came to a tiny shack, with very helpful nice guys there, and they said that the tyre should not be repaired at it was too badly damaged. But he insisted he had a customer who had 130x80 or 140x80 tyres and dug out an old worn one to show me. We had been to every big fancy looking tyre dealer and this guy who was covered in oil and dirt knew more than all of them!

 

With a small smile I shrugged my shoulders and said where??? He gave my driver (sounds more posh than it was) directions to a tyre guy nearby who he said would help us. We turned up to another smart but slightly smaller tyre shop where a smartly dressed big shouldered Indian (I think he was sikh as he wore a turban) and he smiled as I went over to the counter and explained what we wanted.

 

Straight away he said this will not be easy as of the 18inch rim. But he sent his assistant to dig around and they came out with a 120x80 (the same as we had been offered 10 minutes before by the guy we met in our hotel whose brother could get it from Bombay for 5000 rupees) – and when I asked how much he said 2900 rupees. I told him that’s 2100 cheaper than Bombay, but he laughed and said “no it’s not but I’m just fair and not after your money!” with a big smile.

 

Then he said let’s search and see if we can find better, as this is not the best for your bike but makes a good backup if we need and I will make sure we don’t sell it to anyone in the meantime. Then he rang about 10 people before saying ok, I may have a tyre, it’s bigger let’s go look, so we all jumped in the 4x4 and he gave directions to the guys from the hotel who were still helping me out. When we got there he told me to stay in the car, otherwise it would cost a lot more. He went into what looked like a grocery store that had a few tyres, some batteries, spray paints, and spare parts: I would never have found this place on my own! He waved me over and had found a 130x90. It was a much bigger tyre and he said we would be very lucky to find anything bigger and the price was 2400 rupees, the cheapest yet!!! I said I needed to see if this was the best we could do and the guy said I love travel and have a lot of respect for you as a traveller on a bike, so pay for this, we will still look for bigger and if something turns up we will swap them over.

 

The deal was done. But just before I paid I saw a big-looking tyre across the road, on one last hope I though I’d better check but the guy said no it’s a Chinese tyre, I said so? and he said “in India we say Chinese is not good quality,” and I said “that’s funny cause in England we say the same thing about Indian tyres!” Both big men got the joke and laughed out loud and said oh no now its 3000 rupees! Finally I had found two very easy going decent people who were helping me out AND got my jokes! Anyway the Chinese tyre was only 15 inch even though it was a 150x80, so I bought the first tyre and the drivers took it to be fitted while I had a coffee with the friendly sikh guy from the tyre shop. We sat and chatted and I found out where he had travelled and we compared notes.

 

Later in the evening after I fitted the wheel back onto the bike, myself and Cat went back with the rumbling KTM to both the fitter and the guy who helped me find the tyre. I let them both take pictures on the bike and it drew a big crowd to both workshops. So the good news is we are back on the road, but we are not going to Goa as it’s too far from other towns and from Nepal, so instead we are going to head north as there are lots of bigger cities around and we are close to the border of Nepal should we have any more tyres issues.

 

Tiger Hunting.........................

Eye of the Tiger

 

We had originally planned to stay two nights at the Khajuraho temples, but we figured being a day ahead was only a good thing so decided to move on the following morning, plus if needed it gave us an extra day at the Bandhavgarh tiger reserve.  The ride to Bandhavgarh was supposed to be 300km but it ended up being 450km, this is a little down to maps not being correct and a little down to Cat “having a good idea” half way there so we ended up going a lot further than needed.



 

We’re starting to notice two types of roads: fantastic bit of beautiful road that puts a smile on your face as you waltz along at 100kph, or busy pot holed dusty roads with a fair amount of traffic and lots of lorries and buses! We saw today how bad these roads are from a danger point of view - we photographed 4 smashed up trucks which had all had either head on or rear end collisions. That’s 4 separate incidents on 120km stretch of road!!! This said I do feel a lot safer after having a few days to get used to it, and (bar the shadows cast from the trees over the road which hide pot holes in the afternoon and has therefore put a small dent in my front wheel) I’m a lot more comfortable than when I first started.



 

We arrived at the Bandhagarh tiger reserve and expected a fairly big place with lots of tourists, kind of like Chitwan in Nepal, but instead we were greeted with a small dusty town with a couple of shops and fruit sellers, no independent bars or restaurants, and about 10 hotels/resorts. Again the searching began and again we found a place for under £5 a night. We booked in and went straight away to see a “tour agent” to book our trip in the reserve for the morning. This is when we met an Israeli guy called Yaron, he is a professional photographer and had been out 8 times already and seen only glimpses of tigers twice. He was looking for other people to travel with him in the jeep to keep the costs down, and he was keen to go to the second area which was much cheaper. So after a chat we agreed to meet him and his driver at 6.00am the next morning.

 

It was an early and cold start but the driver turned up 5 minutes early which I actually like, we went straight off and sorted the permits and were soon in the park. Now, I like my nature, bird, deer and everything else and I soon came to realise why this was a “tiger hunt”, because they only ever wanted to stop very briefly to see anything else! But to be honest I cannot complain as after about an hour we got to see a huge male tiger! Not only did we see him in the bushes, but he walked onto the track in front of us. He wandered around the jeeps for a bit, then headed into the long grass. Our driver was very good – he drove around to try to cut the tiger’s path from the other side, and then we got another good 20 minutes show.

 

It’s something else to see one of these in the wild, and I feel very lucky to have been able to do it let alone see one on our first outing. They are big and powerful and they look every bit the big cat you imagine. When you go to the zoo you get a good idea of the animal but it’s just not the fit healthy strong beast you see in the wild! We were very pleased and so was Yaron who said we were very lucky and to be honest we are often very lucky like that. Pleased with our success, we decided we would move on the following day so again we got another day in the bag to stay somewhere else.

 

This time we headed to Kanha, another national park and tiger reserve but it was supposed to be one of the more beautiful ones. It was about a 350km day, again on some roads which I would have happily been riding my fireblade, and some which were dust, rocks and pot holes with trucks passing past us. It was a total mixed bag!! Cat rode in the morning and did the first 40km until the road started to get a bit more complicated and we hit a big town, but she did learn some cow-manoeuvring. (I actually really enjoy riding, but I’m happy to let James do most of it! From my little experiences, I have developed such a great respect for his skills, reading of the road, and control of the bike even when i’m moving around on the back!).

 

I hit a cow with my pannier at one point, there was a big group of cows and I was making my way through when one stepped backwards and got a bit of a clump on its leg. I didn’t stop as it was not that hard and the cow seemed fine. Some of the roads today were really nice, we are discovering that a lot of the “State Highways” are better maintained than the National Highways, which are very hit and miss, more miss really!!

 

We arrived in a Kanha and found two towns near the park gates, Khatiya and Mocha. We rode around for 1 and a half hours looking at hotels but we could not find anything for less than 1000 rupees a night (£12) which is not huge amount but it is for India especially when we are trying to get by on less than £40 a day between us including fuel and accommodation (and managing to, so far!). Anyway just as we picked a place another English guy came over and started chatting with me while Cat was sorting our room. I thought he was another guest but it turned out he lives here. His name was Steve, and he and his wife Elaine spend the winters here and summer in the UK.


 

We chatted for a bit and he asked where we had been etc and then he invited us to stay with him at his place down the road. I was keen and Cat came back just as he was about to go (he didn’t want the hotel to cotton on to him stealing customers!) and got a brief introduction. I told her his offer, but she was tired and dusty and just wanted to settle plus she had some laundry to do and didn’t want to feel like she was taking the piss. So I quickly unpacked the bike and then went to meet Steve and explain the situation. He was fine with it and said he understood and invited me back to his place for a cup of tea so I went.

 

Their place is beautiful, I also met Steve’s wife and we had a good chat for over an hour. He is a big fan of the tigers and that’s why they got a place out here, and by the time I left had planned to go back there tomorrow for a cuppa tea in the morning with Cat in tow. Once I got back to the hotel Cat was a little worried as I was out for over an hour and it was now dark, but she had got chatting to an English couple from Bristol and an American couple from Utah.

 

We and the English couple then decided to go for a bite to eat round the corner at a vegetarian restaurant (most of India is vegetarian, to my mates who just raised an eyebrow). It was a nice evening and we sat and chatted, they had been travelling in Africa for 7 months and were now in India for 3 months. Africa sounds very interesting and possibly the only place more backwards and crazy than here. We ordered some food and Cat’s “Indian food translation” list which she was given in Nepal from a fellow traveller proved to be very handy, and the food itself wasn’t bad especially when you think 4 of us ate for £6 total!!!

 

The next day we woke early, got some food inside us and chatted with the really friendly Americans before we headed off to meet Steve and Elaine. The plan was to pop round and have a cup of tea but we ended up having a fantastic day in their company. We chatted about work among other things and found out Steve used to run a successful company in England and that he had retired (kind of) about 10 years ago.

 

We met his security and helpers and in the early afternoon decided to go for a jungle walk along some of Steve’s favourite routes. It was really nice to be out in nature and taking in some of the amazing views. We did see lots of birds, some deer and the mighty kingfisher and India roller (please google this bird to understand just how beautiful it is, especially in flight). We had some river crossings thrown in and it was just a very pleasant day and great to hang out with other English people and have some relative normality.

 

After the jungle walk Elaine invited us to stay for dinner and cooked a great butter chicken. It was really good and again we chatted more and found about a lot about some of the electrical restrictions which they have to adhere to and how if the local government feel they use too much they can just walk in and take electrical items from their house, even though they pay their bills in full and on time!! We also found out about poachers and how it’s still a problem and that the park is now a lot harder to get into as well as a lot more expensive and it’s having a bit of a negative effect on tourism, which apparently, is what the authorities WANT! It was a very insightful day and finished with us taking a tour of a new resort close by that had a great restaurant where we had a beer.

 

The following day we had decided to do an afternoon safari. Steve had come up to our hotel as we were chatting with the two Americans Tom and Nancy, and everyone got introduced and got along so we all decided to share a driver and gypsy jeep, and thanks to Steve’s local knowledge he got us a very good deal indeed. So we all met about 2.30pm and went on our evening tiger search. We didn’t see a tiger this time but the park itself was very pretty and we did see some beautiful owls and deer, and we came close to seeing what the guides though was a leopard as the monkeys were sending out lots of warning calls, but it was thick grass and trees and we simply could not see what was moving around and making these monkeys so upset.


 

After the safari we went to Steve and Elaine’s again and had a cup to tea and some biscuits (it was heaven to have some original twix and Cadbury biscuits!). We all chatted for a couple of hours before me and Cat headed off early as we planned to be on the road the following day by 7am taking advantage of the cool weather. We grabbed a quick bite to eat at the vegetarian restaurant next door, the food was really yummy and then we hit the sack.

 

The following day we woke early as planned but as we were not in a city with lots of traffic, there was not the urgency we expected, so we decided to eat breakfast at our hotel. As we packed the bike, we drew the usual crowd and I moved it round to the front of the hotel in view of our breakfast table. Tom and Nancy joined us and we exchanged details and will go see them if (or when) we do our American trip. We ate breakfast looking at maps and then the owner of the hotel gave us better directions – very detailed and he even wrote it in English and Hinid. It meant the first 7km would be muddy road, but would save us nearly 100km! We left waving goodbye to everyone who had gathered and bit the dust road!! There were 2 river crossings and the road was quite sandy but it was nice ride. We rode through small villages until we got to the state highway, then followed it all the way, easily, to Raipur.

 

Our hotel for the night was just a halfway point, as we were heading for the Chitrakote waterfalls, still another 300km away. We found a nice hotel, actually the nicest standard we’ve had so far with very friendly and English-speaking reception staff, so we gladly checked in and bedded down for the night, again with the aim of an early start.

 

Thinking back over our day’s riding, I was pleased with the journey, the better quality of tarmac, and I had a smile on my face, thinking that maybe I was finally getting into the rhythm of India.

 

 

Introduction To India

Introduction to India

 

The madness of India started at the border. We could tell we were getting close because there were so many people (and buses, lorries, rickshaws, bikes and cows) coming and going. We carried on ahead, expecting big long queues at the border posts. But all of sudden, above us was a great big “Welcome to India” sign. Had we left Nepal? Where was customs for Nepal?? Where was passport control??


We pull up and ask some casual guards our questions, he points me towards a quiet looking, run down building and says that is passport control and customs for Nepal is over there, pointing toward about 50 lorries lined up which I cannot see past. The truth is I could have just ridden in and no-one would have known or cared and let’s be honest we’re on the rumbling KTM so it’s not like we go very unnoticed, but maybe that helps give you an idea of just how busy it was.


Cat waits with the bike while I clear the Nepalese side pretty quickly thanks to the usual friendly Nepalese staff, who at the end say a simple bye bye from Nepal and good luck in India! I jump on the bike and we ride past the welcome to India sign, we are both looking for the India customs and passport office on a street with lots of shops, and thousands of people, vehicles and all the other things I listed before on a street no wider than Brick Lane in London. Then all of a sudden an Indian man jumps out and shouts PASSPORT CONTROL!!!! I jam the breaks on (I was only doing 10kph) and come to a stop and there it was, passport control for India: 4 guys sitting at a table with some stamps, on a busy crowded street. They reminded me of the telephone card sales guys you get outside some shops.

 

We sorted the passports with them and then I went over to another shop with a small sign that said “India Customs”. They are on lunch I was told, I asked how long and the guard shrugged his shoulders, then the door flung open and the senior looking guy signalled me to enter. I gave him the carnet and he told me to sit. They seemed to have finished lunch but they were sitting around having a chat, and in the process sorting my paperwork.

 

Lots of people kept banging at the door and once my carnet was done they let everyone in and what was a quiet room with 5 guys chatting became a room of 35 people all pushing and shoving and shouting over each other and I was glad to be leaving!!

 

Once we cleared everything I waded back to the bike past the crowd of about 50 people to get to Cat, we jumped on the bike and headed out. Things were crazy, so many people and not even 50 km from the border the traffic and roads were horrendous! It was getting late (about 3pm) and we wanted to hit Gorakhpur before dark but it wasn’t looking like it was going to happen. We pushed on, the roads were busy but we were excited to be in a new country and were noticing some BIG differences to Nepal.

 

We found the town as it was getting dark. The traffic was gridlocked, and I mean gridlocked: every conceivable bit of space was used bumper to bumper and both my panniers resting against other bikes or cars. I was having to use the panniers as battering rams to keep people from cutting me up. We had been caught out, we didn’t know where the hotels were and moving through the town was very slow, after asking people and riding around we finally found the main area and settled on what looked like a half decent hotel. (but it turned out it had lots of bugs, the free wifi didn’t work, and instead of the usual paper-thin walls, it actually had a grill/hole in the wall between ours and the next room. So we were pleasantly woken at 6am by our neighbour hocking and spitting, and I think even being sick. Nice.)



 

Tired, we went for a small walk, grabbed some dinner and went to sleep with the plan to leave early due to wanting to get out the town before the traffic starts.

 

In the morning we woke early as planned and went and tried to get some breakfast (tried, because the “included breakfast” hadn’t started yet), then saddled the bike up and left. To begin with it was easy going but it got worse and worse. We had a big day planned, around 470km, so I was keen not to waste time. We soon hit the “highway” and it was actually a half decent bit of road with a central reservation, but don’t be fooled into thinking a little bit of pavement, grass and concrete barriers mean anything over here!

 

It was early and quieter when we started and Cat decided she wanted to ride for a bit, so she hopped on and for about 50km she was pilot and I was co–pilot but traffic got busier and we started to hit towns so we swapped back. Around 8.30am things were getting very busy and the idiots were out to play (side note on idiots – the tv ads for bike tyres actually say “the roads are full of idiots”!): people overtaking each other and leaving you no room, and all manner of rickshaws, bikes, lorries and jeeps coming towards us when there is nothing wrong with their side of the road! At one stage I had a lorry to my right coming towards me, one pulled out towards me on my left, with a car in front going the same way and a guy behind me not wanting to slow down trying to overtake whilst heading straight towards the lorry on the right! It was fucking crazy and we didn’t feel safe.

 

The whole place was an assassination on the senses and my natural road sense was freaking out. After 400km we realised we wouldn’t make our destination if the roads continued like this, so decided to get to a big city and “re-plan” as we could not do this bit of the trip with our usual happy-go-lucky-no-planning-turn-up-and-find-a-hotel attitude.

 

So we headed for Kanpur. Again the traffic was mental, no pavement so everything mixed together, again I was having to be a bully on the bike and make it known I would push the smaller bikes around if I needed to. We got stuck at a railway crossing and everyone surrounded us, there must have been 200 people around us, I could hardly see and the Indians are not like the Nepalese. It’s not in their culture to be polite: they like to touch and poke and grab and lift so you have to be strict or soon they are trying to climb on the bike with you. After about an hour of battling through town we found a good hotel with fast wifi so we could get on google maps.

 

We went for a walk and found a shopping mall, it was a medium sized mall but it was modern and was like being on oxford street, except for getting followed around by an ever-growing pack of Indians, but from time to time the security would come and they would all go away. Anyway this mall had a KFC and McDonalds, and we decided we deserved a treat, so Cat got KFC and I headed to Maccy D’s thinking about my Big Mac, then to my horror realised they serve no beef – NO BEEF IN MACCY D’s!!!! so I changed tactics and went back to KFC.

 

We ate our chicken then headed back to the hotel. We had decided we need to plan out our route more carefully and keep the mileage down to 250km a day but still give ourselves the whole day to get there, leaving bigger cities before 7.30am to avoid traffic. We also planned to use google to screenshot areas with hotels in each stopping point so we know the area we needed to be heading. This took us the whole day and we planned the first 50% (month and a half) step by step, fingers crossed tomorrow it pays off.

 

........

 

Well today was a different India! We got up early and set off and we were on the road by 7.30am, the town was starting to surface but was no busier than London would be at peak times (if London had wild cows). We got out the town pretty quickly as we knew what roads we needed. Soon the city was behind us and we were battling pot-holed roads with lorries - we still faced the same challenges with cars and lorries on the wrong side of the road but my pace slowed a lot and I was feeling a lot more laid back knowing I had, if needed, 10 hours to do the 272 km.

 

We stopped by the road side for breakfast and had a nice banana, some watermelon and some potato cake. Then got on the go again, and things were still very hectic but I felt I was managing a lot better. We were following our road plan, but after about 150km we found a tiny but great bit of road, signposted right to our destination Khajuraho, the home of the Karma Sutra temples. (Signposts are another of those mystical implementations of the west that India hasn’t quite adapted to yet.)

 

We rode around the town looking for a hotel. We could see it was a touristy place and there were quite a few touts about, but after looking at about 10 places we found a good place that was up to our standard and fitted our price range (£5 a night). We settled in but as we had planned things so well we decided to go look at the temples that afternoon as it was only 1.30pm.

 The temples are absolutely jaw dropping, the workmanship and detail was amazing and I was blown away! We went into the Western group of temples, I think there are other ones but these are the main. They are all set within walking distance around a lush green garden, and as the sun started to lower it made them go a beautiful orange colour and this just added to the atmosphere even more. At the base of each temple, you just take your shoes off and you can climb up to look closely at the engravings, or make a prayer. I hope from the pictures you can get an idea of just how good this place was and it is definitely up there with my favourite historical sites that I have been to.

 So three days in India has already brought us the mad roads, great roads, crazy cities and complete non-common-sense of other road users; being followed by curious Indians; Cat practising her big-bike riding in the most dangerous (road-wise) country yet; some beautiful historical temples; and a complete senses overload of sights, sounds and smells as we drive through villages, beautiful and sometimes filthy countryside  Our next mission..... Tiger Hunting!

Lumbini (Birthplace of Buddha) and Chitwan National Park - BYE BYE Nepal!

After our off-road adventure we were pretty tired and decided to just chill out and relax for a few days. We found out Big Tom was heading to Pokhara to meet us and hang out for a couple of days and he turned up the next afternoon with his mum on the back of his BMW.

 

We all chatted and helped Tom unload and agreed we should go for a few drinks, so we went for some food and a few beers at our favourite restaurant, Moondance, then had a few more drinks at the Busy Bee while we played pool and darts and had a really fun night.

 

The following day we were a little hung over but we decided to go on the hunt to see if it was plausible to find Cat a Royal Enfield and to see how she felt sitting on them and maybe even hire a bike for a day to see how she got on with the traffic. We visited a few shops and she rode a couple of bikes up and down the road, but then we stopped in at the Bullet Basecamp just off the main road where we met Aussie owner Nathan.

 

It was about 2pm and we meant to just have one drink, but then they ordered pizza and said some more friends were coming later for a game of poker, so we didn’t leave until 11pm! We had a really good time with these guys and even found out about a fantastic charity project they were working on, building a house for the local street kids.

 

We returned at 10am (as agreed) the following day to see if we could help out but it was raining and no-one was coming in until 12 midday so we decided to leave it as we also had a leaking fork on the right hand side of the bike and I wanted to deal with it straight away. A – to see if I had spare fork seals (which I do) and B – see how hard it is to change those seals in our hostel car park – (very hard).

 So the rest of the afternoon was spent in the courtyard of our hotel. I took the fork dust caps off and I cleaned them out as they were both very full of sludge and crap, I’m guessing from all the mud, dust and river crossings. Next I sprayed it with wd40 and put them back in, cleaned the fork off and bounced it to see if I was getting any signs of a leak which it wasn’t so I was guessing it was the dust cap being full of crap. I left the bike over night (but on the side stand not the centre stand) and then I check her in the morning and again no sign of a leak………… good news I thought. 

 

That morning we had decided to move on towards Chitwan National Park, most likely via Lumbini the birth place of Buddha. We loaded the bike up and got ready to go, gave Tom a knock to let him know we were leaving and see if he wanted to grab breakfast with us before we headed off. He and his mum joined us in our regular Perky Beans café.

 

I started the bike up and rode out on the pavement and the whole bike went bonkers lights flashing everywhere speedo going up and down, rev counter up and down, neutral light going on and off, same with petrol light and everything on the dash, also a slight (only very) slight change in the revs as the injector seemed to be effected. I thought it couldn’t be a fuse as if it was it would either be working or not working, so I figured it must have been the already dodgy sat nav connection. I undid the battery area and removed the sat nav charger completely and now all seems to be working fine.

 

We rode 215km to Lumbini on small twisty and slightly frustrating roads (you can’t really get any speed up because you have to creep around corners, expecting something coming on your side all the time!) but we did make it by around 5pm, then we found a cute little place to stay run by Chinese ladies after visiting quite a few others, then went for a small meal in the little village.


 

In the morning we woke and decided to stay another night so we could have a relaxing day. We chilled out until around lunchtime which give me time to do the blog and Cat to go get a Chinese acupressure massage. I also left the bike on the centre stand last night and went to give the bike a check over and the fork does appear to be leaking, but at the moment it’s only noticeable when it’s left on the centre stand over night, there is literally no signs of a leak when its being used, so I’m going to clean it off and leave it on the side stand and see if somehow this helps, but getting the forks fixed might prove difficult as I don’t have the right tool to get the tops off with.

 

At about 1pm we headed off into the Lumbini scared park to see the birth place of Buddha. It was excellent for a few reasons, 1 being it was so quiet, 2  there was so many beautiful butterflies and other creepy crawlies, and 3 the weather was good.

 

There was lots of beautiful stupas/temples and even ruins from the 1st and 2nd century BC. We walked around then saw there was a ceremony going on with lots of monks. Cat went up to an American guy who was among them and he explained that this was the practice day for over a thousand monks from around world, being ordained in a big ceremony in a few days time. We asked questions about how the process worked and what it was like and we were soon up to speed on how to become a monk. (I have since learnt that monks are actually forbidden to talk to women, they can’t touch them or pass them anything directly, including money! I initially wondered why the older monk he was talking to had said to the young one “you can explain this…” – I thought he was giving the young one a chance to show what he knows, but I guess it’s because the older monk couldn’t talk to me, and if I had come a few days later when they were ordained, I guess the American wouldn’t have spoken to me either!)


 

After this we followed the footpath along the canal and went to look at some of the other monasteries set up by different countries. Some were absolutely beautiful and very very grand.

 

We had a nice long walk and chat which was only interrupted by a group of Indian guys who came running (literally RUNNING) over to take photos with us. I can imagine that India at times is going to be hard work, we get enough attention from groups like this so I cannot imagine what it will be like in some of the smaller towns and villages.

 

In the evening we went back to the little restaurant in the town and we had a small meal followed by a beer. We met a French guy and another Australian girl, both were taking breaks from their other halves after spending lots of time together. We have met several couples who have done this and it makes us feel very lucky as other than the odd afternoon when Cat will go off and do something on her own or I will go for a ride by myself we don’t really feel the need to be apart for too long even after 6 years and spending every day together for the past few months.

 

Anyway the French guy came over just after we ordered our food and said he had seen us in Pokhara and was keen to have a beer with us as he had seen us on the bike. We went over after our food and had a chat with them both, and it turned out we had inspired him to go rent a 125 cc bike and go riding for a week around Nepal. He had very little riding experience (in fact, he said he had just taught himself how to use the gears on you-tube the previous evening!) and no protective clothing which did worry me a bit, but I hope he enjoyed his journey!!

 

The following day we packed up and headed off towards Chitwan. We arrived early, around 2pm so we had plenty of time to look around for a place to stay. We went to about 10 places all at varying prices from about 300 rupees no breakfast or internet up to 2000 rupees, but we settled on a cute little place by the river with a beautiful room, breakfast and internet included for 1000. So we were very happy with this and the guy who ran the place was a great bloke, really friendly and helped us pick a good jungle trek and the staff were all really nice.

 

We met another biker on a Royal Enfield, it was his 7th time riding around Nepal and India on an Enfield and his 10th time here on holiday over all. I can easily see how it could be done, for the price of 2 weeks in Spain or anywhere else in Europe you could come and spend a month here, see more, do more, eat better and stay in much nicer places and surroundings. I must say that I’m really really growing to love this country!!!

 

Once settled in, we set about making a plan. We had 2 days and 3 nights, so the following day we booked a full day Jungle trek. I was really really excited, I cannot think of a better way of spending a day than trekking through a jungle, seeing all sorts of new and interesting creepy crawlies, birds, plants and small animals with the chance of seeing the long nosed Crocodiles and normal fresh water ones, Tigers, Rhino, Sloth Bears, Leopards, Elephants and lots of other very special animals. The only question mark was the weather as they were 50/50 on whether or not it was going to rain so the hotel owner said he would not wake us up unless it was clear and not going to rain as it would not be a good day if it rained all day.

 

In the morning I woke at 5am a bit eager and I could hear it pissing down, disappointed I went back to sleep and we woke up at 8am, and it seemed to be clearing up a lot. So the guy said grab breakfast and we could get out there for 9am, starting with our cut-out-tree canoe ride down the crocodile infested river.

 

We ate breakfast and got ready. We met our Guide for the day and we then headed down to the canoe where we met our other guide - yes we had 2 guides for just the two of us, one in front and one behind us. The guy in front was clearly the boss, he was very informative and once he found out we liked knowing about creepy crawlies, birds and plants as much as we were keen to see a big animal, he went out of his was to show us some very cool stuff. 

 

We were told the weather was not great for seeing big animals so we weren’t expecting much. But we were going to see some stuff and straight away one of the main things I wanted to see showed itself to us on a sand bank: a long nosed fish eating crocodile and it was a big one as well at about 4 meters in length. We also saw 3 different types (colours) of kingfisher, we saw normal crocodiles and we saw herrings, stalks, and Canadian/Alaskan (can’t remember which) ducks.

 

Once in the jungle it was hard work. Yes, at times we were on trails but to be honest only rarely - we spent a lot of time beating through the bushes and making a path for ourselves. There was long grass which was over twice my height, trees with huge prickles, thick bushes and some places were covered in leeches so we were constantly flicking them off.

 

We came across some dropped antlers from a male deer, huge scratches on tress from tigers marking territories, lots of rhino and elephant droppings and then we soon picked up fresh prints from a rhino. We tracked it for about an hour but lost the trail in the woods on thick leaves. Gutted, we carried on and saw white monkeys in the trees and some deer running off into the distance.

 

Just after this we were walking through the forest area and all of a sudden there was a huge movement and rustle in the bushes next to us. We froze, obviously this was something big, but we had no idea what. The tracker slowly crept forward and I followed him whilst Cat and the other guide hung back so we didn’t scare it off with our footsteps. The tracker was whispering that he thought it was a sloth bear, very dangerous and known to run at you as often as they run away, and at 6ft tall and over 300lbs it was no joke!!

 

He thought it was hiding in the bushes about 20ft in front of us, so we crept closer. I had the camera ready, and he had his big bamboo stick poised to try get it to move out the bush in front of us. My heart was in my mouth, he swung the stick back, then suddenly a huge “Arghhhhh!” from behind us. I turned around in half panic, and there was Cat with her arm out in front of her and she cried out………

 

“A leech got me!!!”

 

I told her to just flick it off, but she was worried that his head would get stuck. “No babe, that’s ticks” I reminded her. By then the second guide had come over, sprayed the leech with some stuff and flicked it off. Unfortunately, thanks to the decibel level of the leech screech, every animal in a 5k radius did a runner!! Myself, Cat and the guides were laughing at the situation, so we moved on and found somewhere to stop for lunch. Sloth bear was well gone!

 

After lunch and getting pretty tired of jumping over fallen down trees and beating back tall grass, we stopped and waited for a while whilst the guide climbed a large tree to have a look into the grasslands in front of us to see if he could see anything. It took him a while and I thought I spotted some yellow birds in the tress making a lot of noise. Sure enough I had found some yellow song birds and I spent a few minutes watching two of them flitter around. It was just great to be amongst it all.

 

We also came across a beehive, and we had to wade across a river (well I did with Cat on my back) – yes there were crocodiles in it, we had seen a big one only 300 meters back. It was at this point I found a leech on my leg and he had been there a while as he was nice and fat!! After the river crossing we started to head back and covered some ground where the tracker knew a large male rhino was often seen. It was something I really wanted to see having missed it in Africa due to an ear infection!!

 

We did then see a few barking deer, they bark like dogs, the good thing was Cat spotted them (I’ll make a country girl out of her yet!) and the big male had a full head of antlers so it was great to watch them disappear into the woods!! Soon we hit the track road which was normally used by safari jeeps but wasn’t yet due to large mudslides not being cleared. We had about a 50-minute walk to get back to the river to cross over on the canoe.

 

About 2 minutes along there was a faint crashing in the distance, we all froze and stopped and listened, then another and another and our guide said Rhino Rhino. We quickly circled around being VERY careful and quiet. It moved very quick and at one stage I was sure he was heading the wrong way but then we caught a glimpse of him through the trees. He was very camouflaged, just a grey bulk behind the tree trunks and bushes. After a stop and a quick check we quickly crept further round and closer, we were about 20ft away and the rhino had stopped for a drink. He clearly knew something was up as he stopped drinking and lifted his head. We stood still and quiet and watched, half wanting to get a little closer and half preparing to run if it turned towards us.

 

We watched for about another 2 minutes as it drank some more and then slowly walked away. It was an excellent experience and feels so damn real to be hiding behind a tree whilst a rhino is only a few feet away. We were very happy with our guide/tracker and he was pleased for us. Then we walked back and after chatting in Nepalese they started to search the wood where they found fresh rhino pee, which they started to collect from all the leaves and plants that had been sprayed. We asked why and they said it was pretty valuable for making special medicine!!

 

After this we slowly made our way back along the jeep trail. We saw some other trekkers, some had seen nothing others had also seen a rhino and one had even seen a sloth bear. We are very keen to check out other parks around March time when the grasses are much shorter as seeing animals like that is such a good experience. The whole day with 2 guides cost us £40 which is a lot but it was a great experience and compared to some of the cheaper jungle treks we heard about, we had a great day.

 

For our second day we planned to have an elephant day. In the mornings at around 10am, elephants come to wash in the river right out the front of our hotel. We could see it from our balcony and there was even a big croc sitting on the opposite bank. We went down to riverside and it was a lot of fun to watch. The elephants and the people getting sprayed by them really seemed to enjoy it.

 

In the afternoon we went to the elephant sanctuary/breeding centre. To be honest it was very run down and even though they are doing a good job with breeding and rehabilitation, and we got to see the babies, they had no fencing around the enclosure and so the elephants were being chained up to a 12ft long chain around one leg. There were lots of people there but there was something that just didn’t quite sit right for me and I felt a little bit sorry for the animals, they just didn’t seem as happy as the elephants that we had seen that morning, even though they came from the same place.

 

The following morning we headed out and back to Kathmandu on the “squiggly road.” It was a hard ride with a lot of switchbacks, there was not a lot of traffic but the total came out at over 300km which is a long day at 40km a hour!! The best part was going over the beautiful mountains at 2500m high and getting a great view of Mount Everest!!! Once back in Kathmandu we looked at a couple of guesthouses but got harassed so much we decided to go with what we knew and headed back to Elbrus House.  They were very happy to see us and made sure we got a big room.


 

We have now applied for our Indian visa and have to wait a few days more to see if we get it – which we should.  So we’ve spent our time just relaxing and catching up on blogs and photos, and visiting our favourite Kathmandu bars and restaurants.

 

On one day we went to Pashupatinath which is a sacred temple and river where the Nepalese bless dead bodies, cremate them and then throw the ash in the river – all in clear view of you. It’s the closest I have been to dead bodies, and it was a bit of a sobering experience to say the least. Cat found it a little harder than I did, but it was a beautiful thing to see it anyway as you will see from a couple of the pictures, and you can tell it’s a very spiritual and important part of peoples’ lives. But it was hard seeing people rub down the bodies of loved ones and we even passed a body lying on a stretcher right next to us, of a old man. It’s all dealt with very quickly – death I mean, sometimes people may have only been dead 2 hours before this takes place and in most cases the longest they have been dead is a day maximum. The cremation itself takes 3 hours, plus all the preparation/blessing time beforehand. The temple itself was very pretty and there were a lot of tourists around. I was careful of what I took photos of and made sure there were no uncovered bodies or people being blessed but as you can see it’s pretty sobering stuff.

 

One evening we spent with Tom – www.bigtomsride.com - to bleed his brakes on his BMW. We talked a lot of crap and had a good day, and finished off with some great food at his local favourite. We loved the buff chowmein (took us ages to figure out why they call beef “buff”, but then we realised it’s for buffalo!!) and also the roasted soybeans with chilli and onion, kind of like spicy popcorn. It was a very pleasant evening!

 

Another day we spent working on the Mule. Tom is a whizz with electronics, so we have re-soldered the sat-nav and HD light, which was really poorly fitted and I’m actually pretty disappointed in the work carried out by Seb Sports in Dubai. You could see it was such a rush job and at the end of the day it didn’t even last 2000km, very annoying.

 

Tom helped me sort it all out, but it was a very easy, albeit time consuming job. I’m very surprised at the lack of care given to motorcycles by mechanics and servicers. I kind of understand why they “cut corners” if it’s for a local biker and the bike is being ridden around good roads where they can come back if anything goes wrong, but even this should not be acceptable to us as bikers!! But when a bike is being ridden around the world, not to do the best job possible for that person seems like a slap in the face to every biker out there, I bet if they were riding the bike they would have done things very differently. Anyway we got it fitted much better and so everything works again. I also adjusted my clutch as it was playing up a little. I don’t know if it’s fixed as I haven’t taken the bike out on a big run but I will soon, I would imagine everything is fine.


 

So Friday we had to go get our India Visas. The plan was to get 6 months double entry but they only gave us 3 months single entry which was a disappointment, but we did meet a really cool couple and chatted with them and even met them for a few drinks later (a few too many in Cat’s case). We had a great evening, Rolf and Helen work as crew on luxury yachts and cruisers and go all over the world looking after the rich and famous, sounds like fun work huh!!

 

Today we were planning on leaving, but due to a rapid deterioration of Cat’s health we have decided to stay another night, I think the happy hour cocktails got to her!! So now we are sorting out our stuff and waiting to leave tomorrow. India here we come!!

 

 

 

 

The Uncharted Road To Muktinath (altitude 3800m)

In the morning after breakfast we headed to the permit office in Damside. On our way we stopped to ask for some directions and another couple of people came over to chat, this time it was an English guy who had just got here and he was planning to spend a few months in Nepal and India. We also had a good long chat which was great but not the most interesting part of this story - Cat had gotten off the bike to ask for directions and a big dog came over so I gave him a rub and a bit of fuss, and the next thing you know this huge dog is trying his best to get on the bike behind me! We couldn’t believe it and he didn’t give up so we had to keep putting him down again, very funny. Anyway we found the permit office in Damside and got our permits in only a matter of minutes.

 

We then hit the road and headed north. It was excellent to be honest, it was a lot of fun and the views were very good, even though it was still foggy so we were a little limited, but what we could see would still take your breath away. The road was mostly tarmac on the first day and it was nice to be out of the city. The other good thing was that there were not lots of people around and the roads for the most part were very quiet.

 

By the time we got halfway to Beni the roads got to a point where I dropped the tyre pressures, not sure where to set them due to having a pillion and luggage, but I decided to opt for a 24psi front and 26 rear. Well, from here out the roads got worse and ended up being the worst/most challenging I have ridden. Most of the time it was manageable but in places it was very very muddy and boggy and the bike did not feel grippy enough so I dropped the pressure again to 18.5 rear and 20 front which dramatically improved the grip that was available.

 

We were flanked the whole time by a cliff edge that has a huge river running though it and water is pouring off the mountain on both sides which when it’s opposite to you it gives you beautiful views of cascading water but when it’s on your side it turns the road into a muddy bog! At one point the whole road was held up due to the road just collapsing down the cliff side, traffic coming both ways was waiting and we were told they had been there hours. Luckily they had rebuilt enough that we could squeeze past (literally just enough for foot passengers), and the faces on some of the backpackers and trekkers as the mighty KTM came slipping and sliding past them in the thick wet mud after squeezing through a gap with less than 10 inches on either side was pretty funny! Cat later told me she forgot to take photos of this bit because she was too scared for my life!!

 

Cat also got a good taste of 2 up river crossings and I think Cat quiet enjoyed them, wet feet and all. (And while we’re on the subject of wet feet, the single most annoying mistake we made on this trip is substituting our proper bike boots for hiking boots, to save space. They’re fine riding along, until you get to river crossings!)

 

Just after this we had our first little off  - we were going along on good packed down mud and it suddenly turned into sludge without warning due to a waterfall crossing ahead. I lost control slightly – at least I lost the usual reaction time for steering and I ended up having to jump on the power to bring the back end round but we were far too close to the drop off the edge, then we suddenly found grip for a moment and it forced us back straight at the cliff wall. Luckily I had scrubbed most the speed off and we came to a stop against the cliff wall, only bending the mirror slightly!!

 

Both breathless we picked the bike back up and checked for any damage. It was hard going uphill with so much weight on the bike and it’s even harder when the front end starts to go with all that weight behind it, but the good news is the KTM was fine and ready to carry on, so after a 5 minute break we moved off.

 

We started looking for a lodge after that, and came to Tatopani where we decided to stay for the night at the lovely Trekkers Inn lodge. It was VERY basic at only 200 Rupees (£1.50) but the food was excellent and they let me ride the bike right into the garden area where there was a bar and restaurant. As usual it attracted a bit of attention but the good type and so it was very safe.

 

That evening I wrote some blog and a young lad came over to ask me if I had any games, so I gave him the ipod which has the motoGP game and Sonic. I helped him out with the controls and he thought it was the best thing ever, he sat quietly next to me for about 5 hours playing the games until the battery went. I didn’t sleep very well that evening for one reason or another but in the morning we were woken to the first clear blue sky since we left Kathmandu, it was like someone had switched the views from good to jaw dropping and we got our first peak of a snowy peak as soon as we walked out of our room.

 

After breakfast we packed up and left to cover the 75km to Jomsom, but the first 15km was a killer. We seriously considered turning around a couple of times – the road was mostly really rocky, sometimes dry and sometimes slippery. At one point, we caught up with some local guys on 125’s, but as I passed them we all hit some massive rocks on a steep climb, we lost control and went down and so did one of the bikes in front of us. The others ran over and helped us lift the heavy KTM up and then I rode past the worst of it solo and Cat walked 100 meters or so until it was rideable again. We also came across a great waterfall with a bridge across it – but the bridge was broken and had just a single plank of wood so a bike could do a trapeze stunt to get across. The big jeeps and buses were driving through the pool/river but it was too deep and bouldery for the bike. Luckily we saw a group of local bikes on the other side, who had obviously just made it across, so we threw caution to wind, Cat jumped off and walked (to take photos!) and I rode over.


We were told by the checkpoint guards that the road improved after Ghasa, so we got stuck in, and about 1km after Ghasa we came around a corner and there was our first big glimpse of the Annapurna range. It was totally stunning with the sun shining right on it, it made us both excited like small children and set a great tone for the rest of the day. The road kept changing from rock and solid boulders and half cleared landslides to mud to sand to compact sand and then suddenly mud again, and there was no fence or barrier or anything between the road and the edge, so I was trying to stick to the inside track as much as I could but often the outer edge was less ridden and so easier to pass on, but dangerously close to the edge.

 

We worked our way up slowly, stopping to admire the next incredible view, at times being surrounded by snowy peaks. It was getting colder and as we approached the 2800 meter lever harder to breath. We stopped for a snack at Marpha and had some of the nicest apple juice I have ever tasted, then we moved on and the road was slightly better. Once we got to Jomson Cat said she wanted to stop and spend the night there so we could acclimatise to the altitude, as the next day we would climb another 1000 meters in a pretty short distance.

 

Cat looked at 2 places but the second seemed busier and so we decided even though it was a little more money to go for that, plus the room was right at the front so we didn’t have to carry all our gear all the way upstairs and through the back of the lodge. It was a great place but the food price was about 1.5 times anywhere else and so we felt it wasn’t the greatest choice. The food quality was also pretty poor compared to other meals we have had, but it wasn’t by any means bad, it just seemed a bit of a “group tour” stop.

 

In the morning we had a good chat over breakfast with the Belgium couple we chatted with the night before, and also got chatting to an American couple who live in Abu Dhabi. We were advised the road to Muktinath was impassable on our bike (this has been a common theme) so we were a little worried, but it was Cat this time who was full of encouragement, so we decided to give it a shot. We also randomly saw Khem, who ran our hostel in Kathmandu, and he was on his was to the Temple in Muktinath.

 

We packed the bike up and left. The first 10km or so was flat riverbed gravel, and the iciest river crossing we have ever been through! The road started to climb up the mountain side, but it was good compact gravel and sand. In some places there was ice over the puddles and icicles next to the waterfalls we passed. The air was thin and the bike would struggle under 3000rpm to I had to keep the revs up.

 

We climbed pretty fast and we were treated to some incredible scenery spurring us on. And there were lots of amazed trekkers watching us go by. (That, or they were thinking “you evil ozone killing swine with a stupid loud bike” – but I like to think they were thinking “wow you’re so cool” – what can I say……. Baffle out!)

 

We reached the top (3800m high and the end of the road!) after about an hour and we both hopped off the bike and jumped for joy. From what we were aware, we are one of the first bikers of this type to make it to the top and do this route. The road was only finished in 2010 and there was a few local (125, 150 cc) bikes going from Jomson to Muktinath but that was about it.

 

We took a few photos and sucked in the view and I had a victory fanta. It was at this point I decided I was going to get back to Pokhara that day. I hate myself at times like this but the challenge was set in my head, as it takes some of the sturdiest 4X4’s 2-3 days! This was not announced to Cat as she was harping on about a hot spring which I had no interest in and delicious honey pancakes which I had a mild interest it, I figured I would just keep going and say I couldn’t hear her!

 

So we jumped on the bike and headed back. Now that I knew the roads a bit I knew I could open the mule up in certain areas. We were both high on excitement and the view on the way down threw more surprises at to what had been hiding in the mirrors (see random photo in gallery which proves my point well). We stopped at certain points to get some photos and soon we were back in Jomson where we had to check out with the trekking and safety police much to their surprise, since we only checked in 2 hours earlier!

 

Then we were back on the road and we headed back on ourselves. After about 3 hours we came to Tatopani (hot spring and good pancakes) and I got the knees in the back treatment so I pulled over. I explained the challenge to Cat and after some eye rolling and shaking of the head and an agreement that she could get a massage tomorrow once we were in Pokhara she agreed. I was also under strict instruction that I was not to go too fast, but to be honest I wasn’t pushing too hard, I was having fun, yes, but it wasn’t the place to make a big mistake!!

 

So we cracked on, we got to the very bad bit of road and other than being very cautious where it was narrow or where we were forced close to the edge by a landslide, or when I had to negotiate my way carefully up a narrow plank where the bridge had give away near the big waterfall, it was a lot easier. I think this is because it’s a lot easier for the bike to drop down big steps that it is to ride up them, after about 4 hours (about 3.30pm) we were back on tarmac and had 85 km to go of twisties and at times gravel roads to get back to Pokhara.

 

I increased the tyre pressure again and the bike felt like a million bucks to handle and ride. We flew back on good fun roads and got a pleasant surprise in the form of the great view of the Annapurnas in places which we had not yet seen at all due to bad weather. It was a great ride back and we got back to Pokhara about 5pm and our same hotel had a room available for us, so we showered and headed out to have a celebratory steak and a beer – pasta and cocktail for Cat!!

Pokhara, Nepal

So we rode from Kathmandu to Pokhara yesterday, on the road which is supposed to be one of the worst in the country, and since the average road isn’t great you can imagine it was a little “fun”. It did take us 9 hours to get here, but this included 3 stops and it taking an hour to get out of Kathmandu. (We got a little lost). The bike is running well and it’s nice to be on the road and moving again. The scenery was good but it was very misty and for this reason it was a bit of a letdown as we knew in places that in the distance were beautiful snow topped mountains but we couldn’t see them!!

 

The ride itself wasn’t too bad, when I say this I’m talking about compared to what I expected - if I had a day like this in the UK I would have gone mental and never ridden a bike again. My pace has slowed on a massive scale, there is so much to look out for from livestock to kids, packs of dogs, other bikes cars, buses and Indian lorry drivers who have been up for 3 days!! Our average cruising pace on open road is about 60 KPH and in corners you’re crawling, being prepared to jam on the brakes and put yourself nicely in the hedge to avoid the oncoming bus(es) or lorry(ies) – both on your side of the road!

 

They do make it a little easy for you by having some interesting horns which normally give you some warning but we saw several close calls yesterday, not to mention the lorry down the mountain side on its roof and the bus on its side that was hanging over the cliff edge having smashed through the concrete wall.

 

But it’s all relative, our pace was down and I was constantly defensive so there wasn’t really any point that we felt in any real danger. We met a fantastic couple from Austria, our first proper bike travellers we’ve seen since leaving Europe. They had ridden together from Delhi, but Tom had been on the road from Austria and his girlfriend comes to join him every couple of months. They were saying that the roads here are very safe compared to India, but the roads in India are better as far as road quality goes!

 

The pollution is hard work, it’s given us both a cough and I’m sure in time we will both get used to it.  We stopped at a great little café on the way to have a pot of tea, there were beautiful butterflies everywhere so I tried to get some photos as I know my mum loves them. There were more colours and sizes than I have ever seen before in the wild.

 

We also got chatting to two Welsh guys who were over here on holiday, one of the guys had family here and had been here a lot, he gave us lots of info on Pokhara and informed us that we CAN get into Tibet as myself and Cat are classed as a “group”. These guys were really cool, retired and just enjoying their travelling, they had lots of stories and we chatted for about 30 minutes.

 

On the Tibet subject, Tom also gave us some interesting news - he is getting though China in December with a guide, they hooked up with other people on a travellers site and split the cost, so it only works out at $2000 for the 2-and-a-bit weeks it takes to get to Laos, which is way above normal budget but only about $500 more expensive than flying and you get to see another country out of it. So we are going to look into this as we would much prefer to do this than fly!!!

 

Once we arrived in Pokhara we noticed it was very different from Kathmandu, it’s more spread out rather than rabbit-warren-y, very hippy and lots of cafés and bars. We looked for the hotel recommended by the Welsh guys but at $55 it was a bit too expensive so we kept looking. We met another guy who took us to his place and he wanted 1600 rupees $20 approx. Cat said we would take it but I was not happy, I got the feeling cos he saw us come out the $55 place he put the price up. It was what we were paying in Kathmandu but nowhere near as nice, so I insisted we look around and in the end we found a fantastic little place for 800 rupees $10 a night with wifi!! Bargain!!

 

In the evening we were both tired but went for a long walk along all the shops to the very end, then turned back and stopped in one of the 20 places Cat had “got to try” J).  The place was busy and the food was actually very good, I’m living on curries in an evening and Cat is trying all sorts but yesterday had a lasagne. After we finished we got chatting to the Australian couple next to us who were involved with sponsoring kids over here. We swapped stories and chatted for ages, they were really lovely and they said would get in contact with us and offered to call Cat’s mum and dad to say they had seen us but we explained to them that we have all the modern technology so we are not out of touch too much these days!!

 

We decided on Friday morning to be motivated and go for a day hike, so we made the plan to go to the World Peace Pagoda Temple on top of the hill overlooking Pokhara and the lake. We left the city and decided to walk the whole way, rather than taking the easy options such as a boat to the other side or a taxi to Damside. We followed a rather vague directional guide on the iphone World Travel Guide app, and came to a local map sign. We both had a read of the map and then in classic comical timing said at the same time, “I think it’s that way” both pointing in different directions! We asked a local passerby and set off into the wilderness.

 

There was a cable bridge over a river with lots of local woman washing themselves and the family’s clothes, and just past this was one of the (but only the first!) biggest of the Nepal tree spiders which are enormous and even made Cat have a small breakdown even though it was a good 6 feet above her head!

 

It was a hard but nice day. We met another couple from Holland, Herma and Berend, and we walked most of the trek with them. We saw spiders, butterflies, dragon flies monkeys and even cows up the mountainside in the woods!! The temple was nice and we spent 15 minutes chilling out there before we headed back down. The trek was pretty tiring as it was very slippy and steep. The walk back was easier as we decided to follow the road which was slightly longer but meant we got to go to the waterfalls as well. All in all it was a nice way to spend a day.


 

In the evening we played pool and Cat cheated so ended up winning, she’s actually very good for a girl and we are pretty evenly matched but yesterday she was just in a cheating mood!! (This is where I point out that Aussies and English play by different rules, and really it’s the English that are cheating… When Player 1 hits THEIR ball first, but throughout the ricocheting of other balls sinks Player 2’s ball, Player 2 only gets ONE shot, because they have already had the advantage. But the English seem to think that’s not quite enough and take TWO shots, even though they got the advantage, and Player 1 didn’t actually do anything wrong.) We had a few drinks in the evening and a terrible pizza with the worst white wine I have ever tasted!!!

 

The last couple of days in Pokhara have been very nice (we ended up staying 4 nights). It rained really badly one day and we spent most the day in the bar eating, drinking, watching the Moto GP and the football, and the following day I went out in the morning on my own and hit some of the offroad stuff while Cat slept off a headache. It was a great ride and involved about 6 or 8 proper river crossings, I was gutted not have had Cat there to play camera man!

 

When I came back we went to our favourite little café and had some coffee and planned the following day. We were told it was going to cost $300 to get the permits for the road to Muktinath; we were also told the road was very dangerous and so it may not be worth us even bothering. We had pretty much ruled it out which for me was a huge disappointment as I was under the impression that the road was hard but passable and as it was so new (only completed in Sep 2010) we would be one of if not the first people on a western 1000 CC motorcycle to get to Muktinath which is nearly 4,000 meters up but is dwarfed by the other mountains around it!!

 

In the morning we got up and packed and went to our little café to have breakfast and finally decide what we were going to do. We ended up eating outside and as we were next to the bike which was fully kitted up we attracted a little attention, the most important of which was from a guy from Holland who had just done whole Annapurna trek. He rode bikes at home and had walked part of the road we wanted to ride, so we had a good chat and he said it would be difficult in places but he thought it was do-able. He also told us the permits were only 2,000 rupees (£17) each not $300. So after talking to someone who knew what they were talking about, we decided we had to have a go as worse case scenario we could always turn back.

Kathmandu, Diwali, and Some Exploring

So the bike arrived as scheduled, and we went down to the Cargo area of the airport in the afternoon but we were told it would not be ready until the following day. We did meet a young guy who was trying to help us out who said we needed to go to the main airport area first to get it released, he also said he would be back the following day to help us out.

 

The following morning we headed to the airport, got the release forms and then went to the cargo area. Sure enough the guy was waiting for us, and not wanting to get ripped off or muck him around I decided to talk money up front with him. He initially asked for 3000 Rupees (about £25) to get the bike out for us. I knew that was way too much (considering porters who carry 2 peoples’ bags up the Himalayas only get 1000 a day!), so I offered him 1000, and after a bit of haggling he accepted.

 

He told us it would take 3 or 4 hours. We entered the customs area (it was 11am) and it was deserted, there was hardly a soul around! We asked him why and what time they open and he said they open when they turn up and close when they have had enough!! So we were left waiting around. To cut a long story short it was a fairly simple process. There was a problem with the computer and we nearly got charged 80 euros we didn’t need to pay, but it was well spotted by the young guy who was helping us out. It became pretty clear he knew everyone and did this a lot and even told us he had another couple who were on a BMW coming to him later in the week.

 

Once the bike came out from the warehouse and before it was even cleared from customs, he got me permission to start putting it back together. I had lots of “helpers” and eager hands “helping me” unpack the crate and started trying to help with the bike, but I had to straight away ask them to please leave it alone and let me do it. We attracted a big crowd and it was at this point we realised Cat had forgotten the bike keys, so she ran off to jump in a taxi and get them. I spent the next hour putting the bike back together and in almost perfect timing Cat arrived as I hooked the battery back up.

 

We started her up to make sure she was working, I paid the unload fee and then we got the carnet and headed outside. I paid our guy 2000 Rupees instead of the 1000 we agreed as he did a great job, got all the paper work for us, did all the running around and saved us a small fortune by noticing the mistake on the forms. The whole process (besides his fee) was only 2000 rupees!

 

We then road back to the hostel and they sorted out parking in the foyer for the bike.

 

That evening we went out for some food. The food so far has been very good, some places are better than others and one of our favourites so far is a small outdoor kitchen with a bakery attached, called Weizen. We haven’t tried the Nepali Dhal Bat or Thali yet (local foods) because there’s so much choice on the menus, but we loved the Momo’s – little dumplings filled with either chicken, beef or veggies with a spicy dipping sauce. We do love our food.

 

The next day we went for a ride to Trusili Bazaar, in the north. Getting out the city was organised chaos and once we were out, the road was terrible! It was basically the size of one lane, but with buses trying to pass each other. Most of it was tarmac but poor standard, with potholes and lots of mud and sand, river crossings and random rocks. It was actually very fun riding but very slow, the average pace was 40kph (30mph) so our 200km day took us 8 hours. It was fantastic though, we got surrounded by a dancing roadblock of colourful village children, who wouldn’t let us pass until we had paid a “toll” and then they blessed us with their coloured paints (it was the main day of Diwali).

 

There were beautiful views and scenery and then we went totally the wrong way to our plan, and ended up on a REALLY rural road which was just rocks and sand, but decided to stop past a small town in a valley near the river. About 6 little kids appeared giggling and excited so we let them sit on the bike and shared some of our food with them, soon the mother and a couple of the fathers appeared, and then we rode all the way back the way we came. It was just an excellent day.

 

In the evening we returned and as it was Diwali, there was a lot going on so we had a walk around town and it was getting very colourful with people painting the floors and hanging flowers outside the shops. There were lights and candles everywhere, and big floor decorations being constructed out of seeds, petals, paints and even popcorn!

 

The next day we had planned to have a chill out day, as I was coming down with a cold, but we were woken up to very loud rave music and whistles, and at about midday our curiosity got the best of us and we headed out to investigate. Right in the main street, blocking the road and all the shops, there was a huge street party and parade going on. Turns out it was being broadcast live on local radio. It was a lot of fun with the locals going crazy, and there was a bike rally where all the guys on the 125cc bikes came riding through the party and then the big trucks followed with passengers dancing on the back. In the typical Nepal way it was organised chaos, party-ers taking it upon themselves to form human barriers to let the vehicles through. It was a great atmosphere!!

 

I was feeling a bit ill and getting a bit grumpy so I decided to head back to the hostel and take some cold and flu pills, and Cat decided to go for a walk to the Durbar Square and see what it was like on Diwali. (Lots more colours and road paintings, and another rave party in the street. I climbed to the top of one of the temples to watch the goings-on in the square and got some great photos!)

 

So now we have both had full blown colds, for the last 5 days we have been in bed drugging ourselves up. I was first to get sick and it was a proper cold, with the sweats, some hallucinating and the whole works, then just as I got better Cat took a turn for the worse but she does seem to be fighting it back better then I was (insert man flu jokes and insults here).

 

As we had to cancel our flight to Everest and now we have basically lost a week we have had to change our plans. We are going to go to Everest base camp still but we are going to go there on the Tibet side as we can ride the bike pretty much the whole way. There were 3 reasons for us changing our minds. The first was losing 5 days really didn’t help as we had a pretty tight plan and really want to see as much of this great country as possible, and trekking would be an added bonus! Secondly we would have had to buy lots of trekking stuff, including warmer sleeping bags, jackets, fleeces and another backpack, which was a lot of money to spend for just 12 days!! And third, we found out we can get to Everest base camp on the Tibet side and pretty much ride the bike the whole way, this is also the far quieter side and the views of Everest are apparently far better, so in the end we decided this would be the best option.

 

So the plan now is to leave to ride over to Pokhara and ride some of the Annapurna Circuit which is apparently rocky roads and mud J - then we head out towards India. We would still like to doing some trekking but 1 or 2 days at a time, not 20 days, and we hope we can get through Tibet and on into China with an organised group (we have now found out that only GROUPS can go into Tibet, but 2 people count as a group, so it will just take more planning that our usual “turn up and see”). So today I have to give the bike a small going over as I noticed that some of the electric switches on the bars were loose.  We also managed to break a clip on the panniers (WE? “Someone” rode a wee bit too close to a signpost and ripped the left pannier off!) so I’m going to try get those fixed if possible by taking them to one of the little workshops here!

 

The guys at our hotel have been really nice, it seems a great shame to be sick in bed but I’ve got to remember that I’m not on holiday, I’m travelling and getting sick is gonna happen, but it does make you home sick!!

 

We had another day out on the bike. Just outside Kathmandu is Boudhanath, the biggest Buddhist Stupa in Nepal. You could go inside it and walk along the roof, and Cat got lost walking around this big one-way circle! (Not lost! Just confused that I couldn’t see the steps to get down, but then realised we hadn’t walked all the way around yet.) We then rode to the other side of the city to visit the Monkey Temple, which as the name implies, is a temple with lots of monkeys!

 

They were really funny, jumping up on people to try steal their food. We saw one actually eating an icecream on a stick, and a young monk boy trying to make his way through the path with 3 more in his hand, beating them off with a stick! There were great views over the city and the whole valley, and we loved watching the huge eagles circling over the trees and the city.

 

We then headed south with the intention of visiting the Chobhar Caves or Chobhar Gorge, and we got on the right road, but neither of these was signposted, so we sailed straight past, and since it was a great road, we continued on anyway. We made it to Pharping, we think, or just past (our map didn’t go that far), and discovered a temple down in a valley so we walked down and had an explore, then turned back and headed for home before dark.

 

On our last day I went and got the clip fixed on the pannier, it was actually a nice way to spend a couple of hours. I first went to Honda who told me they could not do it but a friendly guy there took me on the back of his scooter to meet a guy who had a small workshop almost underneath the building: it was the sort of place you would miss unless you knew exactly where it was.

 

Once there the guy looked over the pannier and started to get to work, it took about 1.5 hours but he replicated the latch perfectly and made a new one, I was so impressed when it came to paying I gave him an extra 500 rupees (£4).

 

In the evening we went for a few drinks, and I got chatting to a guy who owned a huge space on top of a restaurant. It was a great venue, kind of Shoreditch warehouse-y meets Camden rock. I watched as about 30 people walked up the stairs to where the band was playing, looked around this huge space and turned and walked away, it drove me crazy to see and I ended up chatting with the owner telling him how to get those people to stay and how to teach his waiters to be more engaging and how to overcome the big space.  At the end he gave me his card and asked me to chat with him again as at the moment they only had a 10pm licence but they were going to extend to 1am and if they did they wanted someone who understands nightclubs to help out. It was nice to use my brain for a bit. Even if it was simple stuff.

 

We will hit the toad tomorrow after 5 days being ill and being stuck indoors in the hostel for 5 days has taken its toll on us both and we cannot wait to just put some miles underneath us. We are both getting homesick sitting around doing nothing as when Cat and myself have nothing to do generally talk turns to work and how we can make some money or what business we should set up when we get back etc. Then we start looking at houses to rent and cars to buy….

 

I find it very hard to turn off and take time off, it’s not something I have ever had to do. Most of you know we still have our fingers in a couple of pies but not to be out there every day hitting the pavement, cooking up projects is something I really miss doing. It also makes me feel how lucky I am to love my work so much, as I know some of the people reading this hate their jobs and wish they could get away, so I hope you don’t hate me to much for having “the best of both worlds”!!

Nepal - First Few Days in Kathmandu


We arrived after a fantastic view out of our plane window of the Himalayan mountains poking through the clouds. It was a hell of a site and got us both pretty excited! The airport was one of the smallest I have ever seen, but it was pretty well organised, except that the ATM upstairs didn’t work, so Cat had to run around to sort money out (they told me to go downstairs, but that was past the visa and passport control section, so they let me through, then I went through the baggage claim area, and the guy at the bag x-ray machine had to also let me past, and so did the security at the exit doors. And then all of a sudden I was actually OUT of the airport, and had to go into the arrivals hall, with the shops and the taxi touts and other passengers, to get to the ATM! And then I had to get back into the airport (the wrong way through) without a visa or a stamp in my passport! I had to do this twice. Extremely lax security, but what an introduction to Nepal!).


As soon as we stepped out the airport it was a culture slap in the face, people shouting and lots of people offering to help carry luggage, get you a taxi, offering hotels etc. We saw a guy holding a sign with my name on so we waved to him and followed him to a little Suzuki - it is about the size of an old ford fiesta but these death traps are the taxis here. No seatbelts either!



Inside the cab we met the guy from our hostel who was friendly and helpful and chatted with us on the way back. The roads are terrible, especially when you consider that you’re in a major city, bikes, cars, tuk-tuks are everywhere and it’s a hell of a lot to take in.

 

Once at our hostel we were given our room which was basic but clean and at only $20 a night I’m not grumbling!! We went for a walk in the town and to be honest it took me 24 hours to adjust, (I loved it straight away! It’s like one giant Camden Market -cross- astrological/hippy shop!).  I didn’t NOT like it but my brain was taking a while for it all to sink in. The roads in the main area are tiny, there are no walkways so people, bikes, tuk tuk’s and taxis all share the same bit of road, it’s chaos!!



That evening we had some great food and a few drinks, and discovered some cute little bars with £3 cocktails and live music. Very quickly the charm of Nepal sucks you in and you begin to love it. You don’t get too much hassle here, in fact people are very polite. We did some small shopping and started to look around at the various treks you can do: there is a lot to offer and we are going to be here for a while. We had a walk to one of the main temples/stupas and had a look around, it was beautiful but at the same time a little unkempt, I suppose the reason being that it is still part of the community today and therefore it had kids playing on it and it was not such a historical monument.


We had a good walk around and we bought a few bits, I bought some sunglasses for £2, Cat bought a bracelet and a hat for £1. It’s very cheap for the most part, but like most places it’s starting to get the idea that tourists will pay more, so you have to be careful were you buy stuff.


At the moment we have decided to do the Everest Base Camp trek and the Annapurna trek. Things might change but that’s the current plan, we have been told that Annapurna is not what it used to be due to a road being built from about 60% along (12 days in) and that it is very busy with lots of tourists, but this sounds good for us as we plan to do it without a guide and we should then be able to keep our budget down to around 2,000 rupees a day (£18.00). The prices for guides and porters varies so much, we have been told from 300 rupees a day for porters and 500 a day for guides but we have been quoted prices as high a 1000 for porters and 2000 for guides!!


The fact is for most of it you don’t need either, we found some incredible and detailed route books that give you a daily breakdown of what you’re going to see, where to go, how many miles it is and roughly how long it all takes. So we are definitely going to do at least Annapurna independently.


It’s so colourful here, maybe because it’s the lead-up to Diwali (or Tihar as they call it here), but all the shops are bright, there are lights everywhere, and all the bars and restaurants use candles (in case of blackouts)! We had one blackout already, on our first night, but it only lasted about 10 minutes, and we were in a pub so it was all good.

 




There are lots of wild eagles, over the city as well as in the valley, huge birds! We’ve also heard there’s monkeys, but didn’t expect to see any except in a jungle. You can imagine our surprise when walking from the airport to the cargo centre when we came across a whole family of them in the trees right above our heads!



 

The bike should arrive today, no idea who we need to speak to or how we are going to get it out of customs, no doubt it will be an adventure in itself!! Watch this space!

 

Dubai

Dubai has been great. Very relaxing. The first thing we did was take the bike to KTM. I say the first thing: we went the following day after arriving. We also washed all our clothes properly for the first time for over a month, including our bike gear. I was so overjoyed that for the first time in my life I took them out the wash and just sniffed them!! My sister then explained how much we both stank, everything stank, our clothes, bike gear, helmets, everything. So we have spent time cleaning all of it.


Then we found out the good news from KTM – the problem with the bike was just a very very clogged fuel pump filter that was making the bike play up. The manager actually said he wanted to keep it to show people as he was surprised the bike could still run at all it was that bad! We were told the bike would be ready the following day but they could not get any tyres, and were not expecting any tyre deliveries for about 4-7 weeks!!!!

 

My Mum and Dad came over and it was nice to spent a bit of time as a family. We went out to the malls and to the beach, it was good to just relax for a couple of days after what has been a daily routine of simply covering mileage.

 

Whilst dad was here we went to Fujairah which is on the coast, its very pretty and we just spent the day snorkelling and chilling out. We have hired a car to get around, it’s very cheap and so is petrol so it made sense.

 

In the end it was my brother in law’s mate who came to the rescue regarding tyres: there is a company called Seb Sports who specialise in dirt bikes that came to the “half” rescue and had a set of TK80’s. As they were so helpful I’m letting them sort out the Sat Nav rewiring, order me a load of bits including a spare fuel pump filter and seals, and make some brackets for the panniers to carry the jerry can and other fluids. They are in the process of doing the work so I won’t sing their praises until its finished but the guys seem very competent and have a great workshop!

 

We are going to ship the half worn Scorpions to Nepal and try to leave them there with someone, then once we have toured Nepal and India, we’ll pick them up and fit them before heading down to South East Asia. I was losing about 30% of my tyre pressure every 2-3 days and I was guessing this was down to constant changing temperatures and altitudes, but it turned out it had a leaking valve, so we had to replace the tubes. It's not the ideal tyre situation but it's better than only having 1 half worn set on the bike in India, now I should have at least 15,000km worth of tyres – tyres have been an issue in every country, especially the KTM rear. Sorry to bore all you non-biker mates and family, but it’s worth a mention as it might help others on a trip with their planning.

 

So we have been going to the mall, beaches and cinemas, we have done some touristy bits and also went go-karting one afternoon. And we also met my old friend from work Mel who is running 2 fantastic bars on the Palm Jumeira. We chatted for ages and had a few drinks: it seems to be a much easier laid back lifestyle over here. Don’t get me wrong, Mel was busy and running 2 venues is never easy, but not having to worry about the fighting, drugs and general idiots must be a massive plus and make the whole experience a lot easier.

 

We took the hire car to Oman one day. We wanted a 4X4 but they were £180 a day to rent and that was out of our budget, so we decided in the end to just go in the rental car, and try to stick to the “2-wheel drive suitable” roads. So we left as it was getting dark and crossed the border into Oman, we then pulled off the motorway onto a smaller road and about 20k on that pulled off again and found somewhere to camp in the desert. It was nice to feel like travellers again and we just decided to light a fire and sat around chatting, it was pretty windy but it wasn’t cold, the moon was huge and very bright so it made star watching hard but it was a nice way to spend an evening.

 

In the morning we woke and decided to head to Hatta pools, but we got stuck about 4km into a gravel track, and we ended up having to use the help feature on the spot tracker as we had no phone signal! We started to try dig the car out and we did a pretty good job but it was grounded out on a big rock, and we couldn’t move it, then suddenly the phone rang so we managed to talk to Cat’s dad and then my sister who decided to try rent a 4X4 to get us out. As they were organising this, we were still trying and failing to move the damn car. Then after 2 hours suddenly 2 4X4’s appeared, the guy pulled over and opened the door laughing and introduced himself as the rescue squad, and 2 minutes later we were free! We called Jade and managed to get her just in time before she rented the car.

 

So we managed to get back on to the road but we decided to call the trip through Oman a day. The road we got stuck on was not even supposed to be a tough road, just a gravel one. On the way back we stopped at the Big Red sand dunes to hire buggies and had a go at dune bashing. Cat scared herself and impressed me by hitting one flat out that had a sheer drop on the other side, she managed to jump the buggy off the edge and flew out of her seat. Needless to say it scared her half to death but she managed to hold on and I think in the end she calmed down and enjoyed herself a little. I don’t think she enjoyed that as much as she enjoyed flying around the track in the karts though, that she did enjoy!

 

One Friday night we met up with Davina, one of my oldest mates, and her boyfriend Alan, we all went to Sandance festival on Nasimi Beach, at Atlantis on The Palm. It was a lot of fun and it was nice to drink and just relax and have a good time, it was a great place to throw a party on the beach, but it was really warm and muggy so everyone was very sweaty. Also the customer service from the bar staff is appalling, there are lots of staff on the bars, but they are poorly trained and it’s a case of too many chefs so to speak. I was gobsmacked when I paid for a round of drinks (about 150 DHS) gave him a 500 note which he put in the till and then just walk off without giving me my change. I was really angry and then the supervisor was also rude, then finally the guy came back and sorted my change. I don’t think it was him trying to steal I just think they have no idea how to serve well. This is something we have come across a lot in Dubai!!

 

Cat went back to the UK one weekend for her hospital check up, it was not ideal for her to fly back but the insurance company wanted us to pay for everything in Dubai and then claim it back, the total bill was going to be over £2,000 so we decided it was easy to just send her home and get it done on the NHS.

 

We’ve spent a lot of time organising the crating and flight of the bike, with visits to Dubai Cargo Village and emailing various agents. We have had emails from the Indian import office and the Nepal import and customs office saying they will help us clear the bike so we are confident that it's not going to be too much of a problem in whichever country we end up in. We have had a lot of help from www.horizonsunlimited.com, and think we’ve chosen Alta Cargo to ship it from Dubai.

 

The bike was finished and ready while Cat was in London. We have got a HD light fitted in case we have to ride at night, we also got some frames made up to go on the outside of the boxes, this can carry fuel, waterproofs or anything else small and light. They also re-wired the Garmin. They are nice guys but getting work done to a schedule is not easy here.

 

It’s my sister and her husbands wedding anniversary today – congratulations guys!!

 

Being here for a few weeks has given me time to reflect on the trip so far. It has been excellent but from Istanbul we did travel pretty quick so I’m looking forward to slowing the pace down again. I miss the UK too, you guys are not going to believe it but I miss the cold, I love leaving the house in the morning all rugged up and the cold hits your face and bam you’re wide awake!! But I cannot wait for the next part of our journey, India is somewhere I have wanted to travel to for over 10 years and I’m going to do it on a motorcycle!! I feel very lucky sometimes, but at the end of the day anyone can do it you just got to have the guts, thank god myself and Cat found each other because there are not too many people out there that are as bonkers as we are!!

 

So, on Thursday we got the bike packed and cleared of customs and if everything goes to plan then the bike should arrive in Nepal on Sunday. The crating and stuff took all day but I must give praise to Alta Cargo as they were very helpful, I don’t want to give them too much praise until the bike arrives but at this stage im very happy with their service. They even had a guy running around and getting all the paper work done for us which made our job a lot easier, all we had to do was clear it through customs. 


I did get the feeling that everyone was learning as they went along, but I wouldn’t imagine flying a bike out of the country is something they have to do every day. There was some confusion in regards to whether or not we needed an RTA (Road Traffic Authourity) letter, all vehicals that leave Dubai need one, but as it was not registered in Dubai it didn’t need one, but everyone was confused and at one point the police officer we spoke to even suggested we needed to go and register the bike in Dubai! But we seem to have got it sorted, even though we were told they could stop it boarding without the RTA if they ask for it as it boards, the good news is the police said they would make sure that everyone would know it didn’t need it, the bad news was they would not put that in writing for me and put an official stamp on it, so I have to take their word for it which I’m not 100% confident in. Alta Cargo however said they would do their best to make sure we didn’t have any problems, and sort the RTA issue out if there were any questions asked.

 

So we sorted my tool and spares out, I took pictures of it all for those interested, I also took pictures of the bike being broken down and packed with all our stuff. It worked out pretty well: including the crate it weighted 370 KG, and the total cost came to about $1300 so we think we got a fairly good deal!!

 

We are now sitting in Costa coffee in terminal 2 of Dubai airport, Cat is reading on her kindle which she is very pleased with and I'm editing and updating the website. We are both excited and a little nervous. We just received an email from Alta Cargo that the bike left yesterday and is now in Bahrain and is booked on a flight to KTM on the 24th. Fingers crossed all goes to plan!!

Iran

 After two days of rest, we made our way to the Iran border, Cat in full long-sleeves and headscarf and under her bike gear.

 

As we got close, near Mount Ararat, we saw another biker, so I decided to pull over and see if he was ok. He was but he was just stopping to take some photos. His name was Tony and he was from Austria about to do a 1 month tour of Iran. After a 5 minute chat we decided it would be good for us to ride together for a couple of days as we were heading in the same direction and neither of us sure what to expect.

 

As we got to the border there was a huge queue, none of the signs are in English so it’s a bit of a guessing game as to what queues you have to be in. So after splitting up and joining various queues we started to figure it out. It took us 40 minutes to clear the Turkey side as there was a large queue of foot passengers and we weren’t sure if we had to join them, but we did, and of course they don’t “queue” so it’s a lot of holding your position and not letting them cut in from the sides.

 


Once we got to the Iranian side we were pulled to the front and side of the queue, which was for foreigners with vehicles, I guessed. We handed our passports over and the guy disappeared for 20 minutes telling us to sit and wait. Just as we started to worry he turned up with the passports and told us to move on, we then had to get the carnets sorted so we moved up a door to the next area.

 

This area was very busy, lots of people saying they could help us, and this is where Morocco came in handy. I had seen it before, not on such a big scale but it’s very difficult to see who works for the government and who takes advantage of any situation going to get money out of people. The rule of thumb we go for is if they’re not sitting behind a desk they don’t work for the government, this means sitting at a computer, not standing in the same room, wearing a similar suit or standing behind the desk.

 

They took the carnets away and we waited around again, they knew what they were doing as a lot of vehicles from Turkey had to have carnets. So as we waited, a muscle-y looking guy and the guy in the suit approached us and said come with us, I said no I’m waiting for my carnet, they said no problem we will bring it out to you, I said no I will wait, they started to almost apply pressure and I just looked him in the eye and said I’m not going anywhere until I get my carnet.

 


The guy in the suit said I work here, I said I don’t care, you don’t have my carnet, he then gave me a dirty look and walked off and bothered other people. Tony stood beside me, I couldn’t tell if he was used to it or not but having gone through it before I’m not doing it again. So the muscle-y guy hung around and soon his intention was clear, he wanted us to change money with him, which we had already done before we got to the border, he tried to tell us he was an official changer, but who walks around with pockets full of cash at a border?!

 

Once our carnets came back the guy needed to look at the bikes, he came out, looked at them and then the guy in the suit appeared as we got to the bikes, the guy handed over all the paper work and the guy in the suit said something to him and then he asked us for 30 euros! I laughed and said no, he said you must pay 30 euros for help, but I said no way and we moved on.

 


We got out of the border and hit what we thought was a road, thinking we were all done, but then we got to another gate, a big security-looking guy stopped us and asked for our paperwork, caught a bit by surprise we gave it to him, he said we needed assurances (insurance) and we had to walk with him to the other building.

 



So myself and Tony went while Cat looked after the bike. We walked about 200m and then got to an area where there was a bank, as we came into the building he said I want 20 euros, I said no, he said to help you I want 20 euros, I said no so he threw our paperwork back at us and walked off. He was not a security guard even though he was standing at the door of the hut as we approached it!! So we went into the bank and after a lot of back and forth finally got the all clear to leave…………… we were finally in Iran.

 

The world felt different in a big way, you will see we do not have as many photos of Iran as we have of other countries, especially scenery shots and this is because you have to be very careful what you take photos of, you do not want to make anyone think you’re a spy or working for the government. It would be easy to get caught out because there are army dugouts, anti-aircraft missiles, launchers trucks and lots of other military stuff all over the place, right by the road.

 

The first thing we did was decide to get some food, so we stopped at a burger bar, ordered 3 burgers and 3 drinks and it came to about £4 for massive burgers! After a good feed we decided to move on and I wanted to get to Tabriz for the night. We had about 300km to do and I led the way.

 

Once we got to Tabriz it was very difficult to find our way around. My bike overheated and played up for the first time, it had got hot before but never this hot, and it started to flash warning lights so I had to turn her off and cool her down for a bit. We got some help in the form of a local student who showed us where the accommodation was that we had read about. Cat went and looked at it whilst Tony and myself waited with the bikes, we attracted a really big crowd of people looking at the bikes and asking questions.

 

Cat came back and said the place was a total dump but was less than £10 a room, but she said it was really horrible, so we decided to look for something else however we needed to wait for my bike to cool down properly. It was at this point one of the guys who spoke English said he had a kebab house just around the corner (15 meters away) so we parked the bikes outside and went in to get some food. The burgers were good again so after some food and a chat, the student said he knew where the better hotels were.

 

We followed him out the town and got to one of the hotels, Cat went inside and got price quotes, it was about 10pm by this point and everyone was getting tired. It was expensive but our options seemed limited, Tony’s room was going to be about  $80 and our was going to be $120 which was way more than we wanted to pay, but we decided it was fine for 1 night as it was late. We unloaded the bikes and went in, the guy then tried to charge Tony for a double room claiming no single rooms were left, but the place was half empty and why would you quote a single room price 5 minutes earlier if no single rooms were left!

 

Cat was really angry and the guy was very rude and didn’t give a shit if we stayed there or not. So we decided to leave and find somewhere to camp. The student said we could camp in the local park but I was pretty against the idea as I imagined what would happened if you tried to camp in hyde park!! But what I seemed to miss was that it was a very done thing in Iran, in fact camping in Iran is a very popular thing. So once we go to this park there were lots of people in tents camping and socialising. We found a spot and set our tent up before helping Tony and then crashing out. We were all tired and a bit grumpy after a bloody long day and I felt like I wish I had done less mileage!!

 


The following morning we woke about 8am after a much better nights sleep than expected. Tony was also about at the same time so we packed up and got on the road. He told us that at about 4am the police had turned up and hung around for 5 minutes but not that long and they did not bother us so we guessed it was curiosity more than anything else.

 




Today we were planning on crossing the mountains towards the Caspian Sea Coast. The ride out was excellent, the roads in Iran are good, even though the drivers are totally mental - I have now developed a theory that if they drive a Peugeot 405 GLX then they are wan***s!  Anyway we headed out towards the coast, the road was very fun and the tarmac was very good apart from one bit with potholes all over the place, and when we left the motorway there wasn’t actually a slip road, so we followed a truck along a dirt track, down a very steep sandy hill, under the bridge, and back up the other side to join the a-road.

 

We climbed up and down the mountain side following Tony and since most of the signs were only in script, we stopped to ask for directions a couple of times. On one occasion a nice guy came up to us and insisted we take a whole melon each (which we later had for lunch) and with a big smile he said Welcome to Iran!

 

As we moved closer to the coast the clouds moved over the roads and visibility got down to about 5 meters. This lasted for quite a while until we came out the other side and slowly made our way down the mountain. The roads were again excellent with lots of twists and turns, however I was taking it easy as after our accident in Turkey I’m very cautious of people being on the wrong side of the road so I often hug the outside line to leave plenty of space.

 

As we came down the mountain we lost Tony in traffic and after about 20 minutes we came around a corner and there was lots of people in the road, our hearts were in our mouths as for a minute we thought the worst but lucky (well lucky for us) it was 2 cars, one had obviously come round the bend on the wrong side of the road and hit the other, lucky everyone seemed to be ok.

 

We caught up with Tony as he had waited at a set of traffic lights further up. We then decided to head towards a coastal town as there were signs on the map for Hotels. We rode into the town and found a small 3 star hotel, but they wanted 60 dollars a room which was a bloody lot, and more than the locals price of around 40 dollars (Cat could read that on the board) again the place was empty but the guy did not really want us there, so a bit annoyed we moved on. It seems that no-one really wants tourists in this country.

 

We decided to get some food before finding somewhere to camp or another hotel in a closer city. We saw a nice looking restaurant and we pulled over and spoke to the guy, he spoke a little English – odd words, but with Tony’s translation book we were getting somewhere. We ordered some food and asked the price, we double checked then triple checked how much he wanted, using fingers to show the prices - 40,000 for me and Cat each, 30,000 for Tony. We had chicken kebab and Tony just had vegetables and rice. 

 

We had our food and the drinks and they had said we could stay there for 11 US dollars in one of the huts, but I felt it was no better than the tent so I was prepared to just move on, they then said they had some “suites” but for one reason or another Cat could not stay there so Tony went to look and came back and was happy to stay there, even though they changed the price for the suite, now it was 25 dollars.


 I was happy to move on so we handed over our 80,000 rial and went to leave, then guy then came over and said we owed more money. At first we didn’t understand because we had definitely confirmed the price, and reminded him that Tony hadn’t paid his 30,000 yet, so that’s probably what they were waiting for. But he was claiming he had said 70,000 each which was total rubbish and is more than we have paid for food anywhere!!! We refused to hand over any more money and a small argument broke out, we were already on our bike preparing to go and they kept asking for more. Cat started to lose her patience again, and even I was getting to a point where I thought I better either give him the money or leave, so I fired the KTM up and drove off.

 

I was so angry and at this point decided I just wanted to get the hell out of Iran, it’s a shame to say that now, as you will read, but our first 2 days had not been anywhere near as good as we hoped. In addition to not feeling welcome by hotels and getting ripped off, I have missed out the fact that when we filled up with fuel they always tried to keep the change, it’s just constant silliness but we were made to feel unwelcome and always on our guard.

 

To maybe put it in context, if we had lost money to everyone who tried to take it or demanded it in those 2 days it would have come to about 80 euros, a huge amount when you consider our actual expenditure was about 25 US dollars a day including food, accommodation and petrol.

 

So we hit the road and was planning on getting to Tehran. It was 450km away and we weren’t going to get there until 11pm-ish. I pulled over by the road side to adjust the chain as it was making a fair amount of noise (it had developed a tight spot), and pretty quickly we were surrounded by 5 or 6 cars and people taking photos and chatting with us, offering help. The chain fix only took 5 minutes, but it took us about 30 minutes to finish taking photos and leave. It was the first time anything like that had happened and some people had given us their numbers and said to call if we had any problems, which was very nice, but we were still a bit unhappy with the country in general. 

 

After about 80km we got stopped by the police, but all he wanted to do was look at the bike and have a chat before wishing us well. About 7pm the bike started to play up for the first time, getting to about 120kph then slowly dying, then I would turn her off restart her and she would run fine again until but slowly she would die again. I stopped and filled up fuel then the bike ran great again and I was convinced it was just a shitty tank of fuel as I had a similar problem in Turkey.

 

About 10pm we came to a large town called Qazvin, it was very modern looking and Cat could see a large building with colourful lights which we thought might be a hotel, so she looked Qazvin up on the travel app and it said there was lots of hotels in this modern city so we decided to head towards the building using my homing pigeon (Cat’s is a crack addict and doesn’t know which way to go down a one way system). I have now been asked to point out that her butterfly is very good and that it spotted the flashing lights in the first place! Whilst this is true, once we got there it unfortunately turned out to be an apartment block not a hotel, but the city seemed nice so we decided to continue looking for a hotel.

 

As we were looking and waving to people and saying hello to other cars and bikes, a big white 4X4 big American thing beeped me then stuck his hazards on and in English asked if he could help us. We pulled up and said we are looking for a hotel, he said no problem follow me, so we followed him around the corner where we pulled over and he met his wife. We were looking at a dodgy doorway and thinking oh crap this place looks like a dump I hope we are not going to get ripped off again, then his wife came over and introduced herself and said did we want to stay with them? We of course said we didn’t want to put them out, but they insisted and said they had had travellers stay there before, they seemed really nice and genuine straight away so we said ok and followed them.

 

We were still in the centre of the city when we pulled up outside a large building that had 5 floors. We parked the bike inside the garage then got in the lift. We went up to the 4th floor and were then taken up to the “guest floor” which was a flight of stairs above. The place was beautiful and we found out that Ali was an architect and in fact owned the whole building, all 5 floors, and he has his parents, brother and cousin and family on the other 3 floors below.

 

We got changed and went down to their apartment - wow what a beautiful place! They were so friendly and welcoming and we talked about travel and Iran. They introduced us to 2 of their friends and they were very modern Iranians and it was nice to meet people who were real Iranians and see how similar they are to any other successful 30 somethings anywhere else in the world.

 

They then said we should go eat and offered us fast food or traditional, we said we did not mind but traditional was always welcome. We then headed out into the city and came to a large restaurant with tables outside. In Iran, all the restaurants have seating on large bed-type sofas and the food comes out on one big plate and everyone helps themselves, like at a picnic. More people arrived and more food was ordered, we all chatted and ate and we felt a lot better and relaxed and we felt really welcome. After the food they refused to let us pay anything and we headed back to their apartment. We went up into the guest floor onto the outside area and smoked hubbly bubbly and chatted until about 1.30am before we headed to bed.

 


We had a great night, and after a couple of crappy days it made us feel like we might give Iran more of a chance. The next day we got up at 8am and we were a little tired, but they gave us a Redbull which went down a treat and then Ali insisted he drive out and put us on the right road to Tehran.

 





The road was crazy, a motorway but drivers who only wanted to wave or take photos would get so close to us we often had to tell them to back off. We would often overtake a car only for it to come 3 minutes later flying up behind us flashing us and forcing us over to then wind down windows and everyone be waving and taking photos!

 

At about 200km the bike started to play up again in a big way so we pulled in for fuel. We filled up and the guy tried to keep 10,000 Rial (1US dollar) but it was costing us 100,000 a tank that’s about 26 litres for £6.00!!!! We then moved to the main rest area and decided to share some ice-cream to cool down and take a small break. We sat on the pavement in the shade and we must have looked like really poor travellers, all dirty and sharing one tub of ice-cream, that a random guy came over with 2 cold sandwiches for us, said “Welcome to Iran” then got in his car and drove off! Very unexpected but the gesture was just a very genuine and welcome one.

 

So we finished the ice cream and decided to save the sandwiches until our next fuel stop. We had skipped Tehran (didn’t want to deal with the traffic) and were headed for Isfahan. We got on the road and the bike ran well for about 100km then it started to play up, as it would not go faster than 120km and then it would sit at that speed before slowly dying. I would turn it off turn and back on again then I would get 50km, then only 30km and it would slowly get worse. We filled up again about 40km our of Isfahan, and I closed the external tank wondering if it was air getting in from there. The bike ran to Isfahan and started to play up a bit in the town but we soon found a good hotel for a good price about 35 USD a night, and we were able to park securely in their garage.

 

Isfahan was nice, we spent one day just relaxing and one day doing a bit of sight-seeing. We were getting a fair amount of attention but it was a very pretty city. I also called KTM and Rob and talked through the symptoms of my bike and they gave me a few things to check, so I went over the bike and did the checks. I looked to see if all the fuel tanks were open properly, checked to see if the coolant had any oil in, and to make sure there was no water in the bottom of the petrol tanks but everything came up negative and so it was still a mystery.

 

The following day we got the bike ready to roll and left the city. We were a little worried about how far we would get but we were holding out hope that we would make it to Bander Abass the port which we needed to get to in order to get the ferry to Dubai.

 

About 150km in the bike started to play up, we stopped and filled her with fuel and waited about 30 minutes before moving on. This time she ran well for about 100km before starting to play up so I pulled over and filled up again, but this time as we tried to move away we made it about 200 meters before she konked out and stopped running. I turned her off then on again but she just started then as soon as I tried to move away she would die again. Argh crap, my heart was in my mouth, I really really did not want to break down in Iran I would choose any country but this one as getting parts and help was gonna be nearly impossible!

 

We limped back to the petrol station and I started to take the bike to bits. I could see nothing wrong with her and even checked to see if the air filter was blocked or if there were any kinks in the fuel lines. To begin with people stayed out of our way but slowly a crowd of people gathered around, pointing and trying to say things to us.

 

After about 30 minutes a young woman and her family arrived and she spoke pretty good English and started to translate. After deciding to try to hitchhike on a lorry we got a sign made up and everything, but the woman insisted we stay with her and her family in Shiraz which was 130km away. By this point it had been over an hour and a half and so we moved the bike on. She lasted about 60km before dying to the point were I felt I had to move stop, it was not good.

 

The family had been following us and so pulled in behind us. Again they waited with us, offered to buy us food and even when we insisted we were happy to wait on our own they still insisted on staying with us, saying they had nothing to rush home for and it was the Persian way to stay and help. Again in the rest area people came over, one guy offered us some melon and when I said no thank you he looked really confused and I remember you’re meant to accept everything, so instead I smiled and myself and Cat took a slice even though we weren’t that hungry, and 5 minutes after this someone turned up with apples and insisted we take one each as well!!

 

After another hour it was dark and the bike had cooled down so we made the last dash for Shiraz. To cut a fairly repetitive story short, after a couple of stops for 10 minutes in Shiraz we made it to the house of the family. The living room was very pretty and even though the house was not on the scale of the place we stayed at in Qazvin it was a very beautiful family home, they made us feel very welcome and after looking at photos we all sat and ate some food, (on the floor of course). They kept apologising for the food as they were saying they did not have much in as they were coming back from a holiday. But they didn’t realise how much we appreciated being rescued and getting fed as to be honest we though we would be sleeping by the road side, which was not particularly dangerous as in any service station there was always people setting up camp in the evening, but it was not as fun as having a roof over your head and some food in your belly. One thing we ate with them that we really liked was flatbread with soft spreadable cheese and sesame seeds, very yummy and we’ll be making that at home!


 We got about 7 hours sleep and woke about 8am. Myself and Cat knew what we needed to do, so we got straight to it. We needed to get a man with a van or truck and get to Bandar Abbas where we could get the ferry, so we had breakfast and discussed options with the family. We’d had offers the night before to go to an area in Shiraz where they fix bikes and they claimed they could fix the KTM, but being to close to Dubai and knowing that it needed to run for another 30,000km before we get to Australia I decided it was best to try get someone to take us to the port in case the person fixing the bike did more harm than good.

 

They family rang a haulage firm and said it would be about 3.5 million Rial ($300) to take us to Bandar Abbas and that we could leave anytime. Looking back we should have stayed in Shiraz a couple of days and done some sightseeing but we had read on the internet that the ferry went Saturday, Monday and Wednesday so we decided to try get the Saturday ferry. After a chat with the family we confirmed we would go meet the haulage firm and get on the road.

 

As we packed to leave the family brought us a beautiful gift of a prayer written in Persian, this was not the first gift as the night before they insisted we take some posters of Shiraz and various other sites of interest. But the prayer was made out of some sort of metal work in the traditional way, we were very reluctant to accept and Cat made sure she had another one before accepting (as it was the prayer for protection that every Persian family has in their home). Cat was really pleased with it and said she will put it in our house with a picture that was taken of us with the family.

 

We felt pretty bad as we had nothing to give back, so after some thought we decided to give them one of the medals that we got from Levan and Paddy in Georgia. It was a very nice gift as the medals meant a lot to us and it felt nice to give them something so genuine. They seemed to like it, especially as it had our flag on and we showed them pictures of us wearing them, and said she would hang it up.

 

I then went to the garage to pack the bike and I could hear her trying to give Cat more stuff but she flat refused, it’s the Persian way to keep offering you gifts until you refuse. It’s also a weird tradition that if you ask the price for something in a shop they could tell you to take it as it’s worthless, that does not mean help yourself though it means you have to put a value on it based on what you think its worth, it’s a very strange way of bargaining!!

 

After we got the bike packed the kids got a photo with us and the bike, the young boy in the family was really pleased to be allowed to sit on the KTM, something I have let the young lads do in the various countries we have been to if they have hung around enough.

 

We followed the family to the haulage company, and once we arrived the truck drivers were all around the bike and were excited to have such an interesting cargo. At this point something strange happened, we were preparing to pay $300 for the Toyota hilux type truck to take us the 550km to the port, the wife in the family was translating and they were sort of arguing amongst themselves, we thought it was over which driver was going to get the work, or whether they would let us pay in dollars.

 

So we were preparing to pay and the wife said to us “you pay $200.” It seemed like they had got us $100 dollars off, they did not say they had, only that the price had changed, so they must have been bargaining for us! So the driver was selected and off we went to load the bike onto the truck. Everyone was trying to help but I took over and made sure it was secured properly. We then said our goodbyes to the family and left cramped in the truck!!!

 

The truck journey was pretty uneventful; we stopped off everyone 200km and stopped in a small restaurant where we bought the driver some dinner. We arrived in Bandar Abbas at about 7pm and started looking for a hotel, we found a good one pretty quick and as we might be there for a few days paid a little extra to ensure they had wifi and BBC World News.

 

We ended up being stuck in the hotel for 4 days, and there is nothing to do here, it’s really just a big port. We found about 4 website with different info about the ferry, even speaking to different people gave us different answers! And as the weekend here was Friday and Saturday we had to wait until Sunday to get our tickets, we went to 2 places to get the tickets and even that meant lots of running around.

 

We have pretty much been confined to our hotel room watching House or Sopranos on the laptop, most the good websites are blocked, the hotel has a great pool but as woman are not allowed there, I was told by Cat I could go but in the way that says you will pay later if you do!!

 

The hotel service was pretty poor, the girl on reception was very good so we tipped her when we left, but when we got our bill in the morning, the prices for all the food were more than on the menus, this included the coke from the mini bar! Cat was furious as they tried to say there was a price increase whilst we were there but it didn’t make a lot of sense, and even their maths was wrong so when you added the bills up they didn’t even add up to the right figure by their or our maths, so Cat went all accountant on them, got out her pen and paper and gave it all a good going over.

 The guy behind the desk looked nervous and I decided to stand behind her and just nod whenever she referenced my way, in the end they caved in and gave us a 15% discount on the entire bill, which was great as it meant we nearly got 1 night for free!!

 

We got the bike packed and left for the port, it was pretty easy to find and when we arrived it was not too busy. There was a lot of back and forths, and we went to 12 offices to get all the paperwork done, and after 4.5 hours we then had an 8 hour wait in the terminal.

 

We’ve been told this ferry was a real dump and to expect to share our chairs with cockroaches, so you can imagine we were not looking forward to it!! But in reality it was quite fine, the benches were long and cushioned so if you got a whole one you could sleep, and they served and ok dinner, and there were no screaming kids, or cockroaches.

 

It was a 12-hour crossing, but the water was calm so it was easy. When we arrived in Sharjah (the port north of Dubai) it was hot, and again we had to wait to unload, and then do a few more back and forths to clear customs. Couple of hours later we left the port, and just managed to get the bike to Jade’s place (my sister) before it started to play up again. It’s now in KTM getting a proper going-over, and should be all ready for the second half of our trip.

 

Our overall summary of Iran is one of 2 sides - it definitely has a lot of faces. Some of the people here are truly some of the kindest and friendliest I have ever met, on an individual basis, but there is a huge divide between the rich and poor – every time we have dealt with a hotel it has never been a great experience and it does seem to be the way that you don’t always feel welcome. Which is odd as most people are incredible, and I was totally taken back by some of the acts of kindness we were shown totally randomly. We’re very disappointed to have missed out on the last 4 days of sightseeing as I really felt we were starting to get used to the madness of Iran. It’s well worth travelling to but I highly suggest going to a more tame version first like morocco

Charity Ride to Tbilisi

So the next morning we woke up and left Istanbul in 2 groups as the 3 BMW riders had to collect their bikes from the service and were going to catch us up. We rode out of Istanbul as 4 bikes and it was nice to be part of a group straight away, stopping for a healthy Burger King breakfast!

 

The ride was pretty uneventful as far as the roads were concerned and by lunchtime the BMW riders had caught us up. We rode until about 5.30pm before stopping and getting food and drink supplies in a small town where we got lots of attention. The one thing about being a large group is that you stand out a lot more, so we were surrounded by kids and people looking at the bikes. After we left the town we rode about 15 minutes before going down a dirt track and camping in a clearing in the woods. I took charge of fire duty (and Cat took charge of making sure no-one burned the campsite down – you know who you are!!!) and the others cooked food and distributed drinks or collected wood for the fire, it was a good atmosphere and everyone chipped in.


That evening we ended up getting a little drunk and had a good chuckle. In the morning we woke thanks to someone’s phone alarm as they can sleep though an earthquake (no names, but you still know who you are!) and some strange noise in the distance that was getting closer. It turned out to be a curious shepherd with his sheep and goats and dogs, followed by another shepherd about 30 mins later with cows. A couple of us went looking for some dirt roads while the last few people packed but there was not a lot about and even though we found a huge gravel mine we got told to go away by the guy at the gate who was less than impressed!!

 

As we headed toward Georgia the coast road slowly got more interesting, and was still a very good road. I run out of fuel at one point but managed not to hold the group up for too long - the one down side to riding as a group is the delays, it’s not a massive issue but it was noticeable for us as we have been riding for so long as a solo couple. 

 


On one of the mornings we went to try get a trip up the mountain in the cable car, but it was not open until 10am and we needed to get on the road, so we headed back to the hotel to eat breakfast. As we saddled the bikes up and got ready to go, Mark and Paddy presented me with a special award for the continuation of our trip - their piece of hose so I could cipher fuel out of another bike if I ran out again!


 



The chuckling pair enjoyed giving myself and Martin (also on a KTM) grief as they were on the BMW’s, which are admittedly the better bike if you only ride on the motorway, if you’re boring and draw a pension! Anyway that day the roads and views improved even more and we made our way towards Batumi. It was also this day that Sparky ran out of fuel, on a BMW!! And Mark (also BMW) whilst not concentrating turned his BMW into a bowling ball, lucky for everyone he’s not very good at bowling otherwise we would have been in serious trouble!!! (we had all braked for the red light which Mark didn’t see, so he came flying through us with about an inch to spare and cut the red light too!)

 

We arrived at the Georgia border behind the BMW’s, just after Mark’s attempt at 10-pin. We all got the stamps and the bits we needed, but for some silly reason they mucked mark around and he was getting pretty annoyed. I think it was stress and the near death experience he skillfully escaped the previous hour, anyway in the end we got it all sorted thanks to Cat running around with handfuls of passports and paperwork, and the others saw there was one big advantage to having a pillion at borders.


As soon as we crossed into Georgia it was different, lots of people were around and we regrouped. Paddy warned us about the drivers in Georgia and then we moved off as a group. Much to our surprise the drivers WERE as bad as Paddy made out, and probably the worst we experienced so far, cars pushing among us and trying to force you off the road was not that uncommon. After about 100km we reached Batumi: the hotel was fantastic and the city was very beautiful.


 

After we sorted our rooms and had a shower we all met in the hotel bar, Paddy had some champagne already ordered from one of the sponsors Bagrationi. It was really nice and then soon we had a second bottle before deciding we needed to go get some food. We went to a local restaurant and the food was excellent, Paddy ordered lots of bits for everyone to try. We loved the khachapuri (melted cheese bread) and sashlik (roasted meat on a big metal sword/skewer).

 

We also had a couple of bottles of wine and after the food decided to go to a bar. We found a great bar with a live band, that had a fun atmosphere but at the same time we could hear each other speak. We were all drinking and talking and even having a little boogie! After several vodka-redbulls we all wanted to clubbing, but one of my flip flops broke so I was wearing one flip flop and one of Sparky’s socks. Not surprisingly we got turned away from our first club of choice, and had to settle for the “classy” Discorama underneath our hotel.


 We all had a good time as a group but we were surrounded by young pretty girls and older gentleman, it was very strange and then Cat was taking photos of us dancing and got told off by a doorman and was told that in this club there was a no photos policy, so we realised what this club really was!

 The following day was a right-off for some reason, maybe it was the massive hangover! Cat headed out shopping to buy, I’m not really sure what, and I slept most of the day. We were keen to meet Levan (our sponsor) when he turned up but he arrived when we were already in bed.

 

The following day we woke, went to breakfast and saddled the bikes up. We met Levan for the first time and his private security. The plan was for us to follow Levan’s security van so we would not have any problems on the roads. At about 2pm after riding through some beautiful Georgian countryside we came to a stop in a small village. We were amazed at how friendly the people had been, some wishing us luck as we passed, some taking photos and cheering and in some villages it seemed like they knew we were coming through.

 

Levan took us to his ancestral home in the countryside, and we were welcomed by his family members and shown around this beautiful old wooden house and into the main entertaining room where a huge feast was laid out. It was the best layout of food I have even seen, I was blown away, Levan was a fantastic host and he told us about his family history, and his involvement and passion for his country. He was a truly different and inspiring character. The food was great, about 14 people ate and drank and they told stories and made lots of toasts and when we finished it hardly looked like we had had anything to eat even though we were all stuffed.




Before we left, we added flags to our bikes, but most of which broke off before we made it to our final destination. The afternoon ride to Tbilisi had more people on the roads waving and cheering as we passed and we found out we had been on the news the night before as well.

 



As we approached the city of Tbilisi, there was a huge number of bikers and a couple of TV camera crews blocking the hard shoulder and inside lane on the motorway. We were waved in to pull over and approached by lots of people asking us how we were and congratulating us on our journey.  We were told after about 5 minutes rest to get ready to ride into town, and at this point there were well over 120 bikes riding with us, the TV crew and various photographers.

 

It was crazy riding with wheelies and tooting and flags getting caught in wheels (we arrived at the factory with 4 flags and 5 empty flagpoles!). We rode for about 15 minutes before being ordered to the front of all the bikes by one of the camera vans. We soon came to a huge building that was very beautiful and had a fountain out the front, which turned out to be the Bagrationi Champagne Factory. There was a large crowd waiting, there was a stage, drinks and even fireworks went off as we entered, it was amazing! Journalists were everywhere asking questions and lots of people congratulating us. Sparky then borrowed someone’s bike and did a small show and showed how clinical and skilful he is with any bike. We then went inside to be presented with medals, and to give a $10,000 cheque to the charity.  At the end we were all given big bottles of beautiful Bagrationi champagne which we sprayed over each other before drinking!! It was a truly unique experience and the day was not over yet.

 

After chatting with lots of people, taking our photos and having a few more drinks we were then told to go with Levan to the Sulphur Baths. The men were separate from the woman, but this was also an excellent experience. We soaked in the natural hot water before getting a traditional Georgian rub down, we had them privately so we got to have a beer and a good chat. After the baths and feeling very invigorated we headed to Levan’s beautiful steak restaurant - the only 5* restaurant in the city, WOW was this good food, we drank ,we ate, we all had to give a speech and it was another fantastic evening, before Levan walked us back to our hotel in the city after midnight.


The following day we woke late as we mucked up the times and had not changed my watch over since we entered Georgia. We rushed breakfast and eventually found our way back to the Champagne factory to collect the bike, then using my ever helpful skill of just knowing roughly where I am, I found my way back to the restaurant but missed the first 20 minutes of the Georgia V Scotland rugby game, which was meant to be our final group event before we went our separate ways.

 


I ordered a coffee and watched the game whilst Cat went outside and chatted with Claire. After the game we said our goodbyes to everyone and Levan reminded us we said we were interested in going to visit one of his schools for the opening day the following day, but we had forgotten and we could not get anywhere to stay so we decided to move on but its definitely something we feel we would love to do in the future.

 

After we left the group we rode out towards the border on a route Levan had told us to take, the roads, views and scenery were fantastic and some of the best we had done on the trip. Georgia had been a complete surprise and a fantastic experience, every single person we met was so friendly and both myself and Cat have said we would go back to Georgia for a holiday!


 That night we stayed in a small border town in a small motel, the chain on my bike was playing up and I discovered I had a tight spot, so I spent some time fixing it. We had our dinner bought to our room and we had a big room that was very clean even if it was not that modern. Cat really liked it, and it looked like the owners had given it lots of thought, even though it was still cheap.

 



In the morning we headed out to the border and back into Turkey without any problems. It’s the same route our Charity friends look last year and they warned us, but just to let them know, the roads were not too bad, and the last 20km to the border is brand new tarmac roads, much better than the muddy gravel we were expecting! Once we entered Turkey we headed to Igdir, stopping there for 2 days and just relaxing, taking some time off the bike to get prepared for entering Iran.

 

Istanbul - Turkey

Istanbul

 

We arrive in Istanbul to Spormoto, the KTM dealer and importer for Turkey, at about 6am, and it doesn’t open until 9am so we have to wait around. While we are there I put the front end back on the bike and Cat does some of her diary.

 

At about 9.30 a guy turns up and opens the shop. They have had 6 days off so he had a lot to do, but he started looking for my parts and arranged for a company called Kickstart to come get the bike and service it as they did not have a service centre. He said they will be there between 10.30 and 11 to get the bike but as a lot of people had time off over Eid, the roads were packed and he didn’t turn up until 12.40pm. Cat had left as our driver from Denizli was getting a  bit pissy waiting around so she had gone to the hostel, who again thanks to booking.com didn’t have any booking for us, but lucky they did have a room.

 

The news on my end to begin with was not good, The computer was showing one wheel in stock but they couldn’t find it anywhere. They told me it takes over 2 weeks to get a new wheel, to which I replied I could get one in 2 days from the ever helpful guys at the KTM Centre in Hemel as they were happy to send one out. It was at this point I was horrified to hear that in Turkey there is a tax on everything for motorcycles over 250 CC - another 37.5% on top of all the normal taxes and VAT!!!!

 

So even if I could get a wheel out it would get stuck in customs. Mustafa  kept saying “but don’t worry we will sort something” and then carry on working, as if I had known him for years and he had always sorted me out. Haha, I needed to know WHAT we would sort out, and he would reply “don’t worry”, but of course I was very worried.

 

In the mean time other customers were coming in and I met Kemal Merkit, the famous independent Turkish Dakar rally racer, who was very helpful and told me he was off on a rally for a few days with one of the owners of Spormoto.

Soon Kickstart turned up with the van and took my bike to the service shop. Whilst this was happening the owner turned up and found the illusive wheel so that was one problem down. But a new problem had cropped up and they could not find a rear tyre, but again told me not to worry as they would “sort something out”.

 

So that was all I could do today. Very tired from our overnight journey, I asked how to get back to the hostel and was writing down directions when another customer asked if I would like a lift as he was going across the river anyway. He was a Dutch guy who lived in Turkey and had a company there, he was a really friendly chap and he drove me back to the other side of the river and gave me nice simple directions to the area I wanted to be in. I got on the subway for about 4 stops then got a taxi to the hotel before just crashing out.

 

In the evening we got up and went to the main street around the corner from the hostel. We had a few drinks and some food and just relaxed, it was nice to feel like a tourist again after some crazy days. We were still 4 days away from the charity riders meeting us in Istanbul and at that stage we were 90% sure we wouldn’t make it!!

 

On Tuesday we did the touristy stuff – the Grand Bazaar first to buy Cat her Iranian outfit, and get our visa photos taken. We then did the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and the Underground Cistern. We were told the Iran embassy is open all day, but on Tuesday afternoon we discovered it was only open Mon-Fri 8:30am to 11:30am. NOT the only completely wrong bit of the info we got from the “helpful” guys at Big Apple Hostel. (“I am Iranian, I know it is open all day, but not Fridays” “Well, there’s a big sign on the door saying otherwise, so you’re wrong.”) Very annoying to have lost a whole day in the visa application process!

 

We also confirmed details for our Carnet – we had already posted the documents to them from Hungary, but told them to hold off on taking payment until we confirmed we were definitely going ahead. So we called them on Tuesday afternoon, gave them the address for delivery, and tried to pay over the phone. Firstly the credit card wouldn’t work because Barclays hadn’t received the amount we paid onto yet. Then my regular card didn’t work because it was a London transaction and they know we are travelling. Cat had gone for a massage, and had the card reader in her bag, but luckily she walked in when I was still on the phone, and suggested transferring the funds into the still open StreetPR account and paying on that card. Perfect! Should arrive no later than Thursday afternoon.

 

That evening we met a really nice couple and another guy and we all went out for some food together. Paul knew the area as he had worked there a few years back and we had some great food in a real locals café that was dirt cheap!! We then went for a few beers and some shisha near our hostel. It was really nice to spend an evening chatting with good people after our stressful week.

 

So we tried the Iran embassy again on Wednesday. We already had our visa approval number, so we had to fill our applications forms, pay money into their bank (which was a mission in itself because we couldn’t pay in dollars, only euros or lira, so we had to get more cash from the atm, but Barclays had again randomly blocked my card!) and then line up again to hand it all in. We taught Turkish people what a queue – I think it really was invented by the English because no other country does it!

 

After all that, we were given a receipt slip and told to come back Saturday!! This meant it was all over, the charity group were planning to leave Friday and we would not get our visa in time. We also noted that the embassy was not open Saturday so we pointed this out and the guy behind the counter said “No, come before Saturday.” I said “Tomorrow?” he said “No, after tomorrow”. “Ok, so Friday?” “Yes.” What a round-about way to say that!! So the new plan was to pack the bike and leave Friday morning if we could get the visa at 8:30am.

 

After this, we did some more touristy bits and went to see the Topkapi Palace. We met a lovely American woman who attached herself to us in the queue, and it was great to have a third person to wander around and comment on the sights with. It was really interesting to see the Harem in the palace grounds, and the collection of jewels.

 

In the afternoon, everything fell into place with the bike. I went back to KTM center to sit and wait and make sure they were working. (Work looks like tea-drinking in Turkey!). They had taken a set of tyres off a display bike (thanks guys) so I had the rear, they gave it a full service and even a forks oil change to check the condition of the forks, which was perfect! So it was ready and I was able to ride it back to the hostel that afternoon. All in without the wheel which was 540 euros, it cost me 600 including a front and rear tyre, so not too bad, but the accident has put a big dent in our hard saved budget. And on arrival back at the hostel, our Carnet had been delivered a day early!

 

On Thursday morning Cat decided it worth a walk up to the Iranian embassy on the off chance the visa was ready, the worst they could say was no! At the same time I had been on the phone with the charity guys, and they had arrived in Istanbul last night, a day early, so were planning on leaving Istanbul this afternoon, half a day ahead of schedule!! I was on the phone with Alex saying we were not going to be able to make it but we would ride over and say goodbye, when Cat turns up with a big grin on her face - we had managed to get our visa, 2 days earlier than they told us it would be ready!

 

I called Alex back to find out where they were. We packed and checked out of the hostel a day early, and headed over to their hotel! Half way there we had to stop to go to the post office, which lightened our load by 3.5kg. Whilst I was waiting for Cat, Alex called and said they had decided to stay another night after all. So we ended up booking a room at their hotel, meeting up with everyone and having a few drinks and a swim in the pool!! Perfect way to relax now that we had everything in place.

 

That afternoon we took the group to the main area and we had a great meal on a roof top bar, we also walked around the old town and looked at the blue mosque and other areas. In the evening we all headed out for a few drinks, (some had more than others!) and the food was also very good, Martin particularly enjoyed his impromptu Pina Colada Pizza!

 

We had some more drinks and cake on the roof bar for Sparky’s birthday, then it was off to bed (after abusing the hotels high-speed internet to download two more series of House and some movies and new music), as we had an early 8am start.

South West Turkey - The Accident


After about 200km we came to the Turkey/Bulgaria border. We got no special treatment this time and we did find things to be a little backward. You would queue up, get to the front, then be told you need to buy a visa at a different window, so you would do that, queue up again to get the stamp, get to the next window and be told you need to get insurance at a different window… you get the idea. So even though it wasn’t busy and Cat was being very proactive it took us about 2 hours to clear the border. The most annoying thing about the border was that everyone was very nice, and they weren’t purposefully badly organised, they just were!!

 

As soon as we had cleared the last checkpoint, we went to turn the ipod on, and realised that I had left my phone at the other border gate, whilst waiting for Cat to organise the insurance. I was ready to leave it but Cat insisted we drive back, and she convinced the exit border guards to let her back in so she could look for it. It wasn’t where I left it, but luckily the other ladies had handed it in and we got it back no problem.

 

Once we were in Turkey I heard the call to prayer and realised how much I had missed it. That might come as a surprise but it’s something I really genuinely love hearing, such a very mellow, different sound and it gave Turkey a very Morocco feel. In fact now I have been here a few days its very Egypt v Morocco in general!

 

After we cleared the border we had about another 300km to do before we got to Gallipoli. The good news was the motorways and roads in Turkey are excellent and the driving is not too bad, with the odd exception of the odd nutter, normally in a high powered 4X4 - I saw one guy go up the hard shoulder up the inside of a lorry on a 4 lane motorway, I was doing 140 KPH he must have been doing 190 and he came very close to hitting the lorry!!!!!

 

As we came to the coast the roads got very twisty and for the first time in a month we could see the sea! We were both jumping for joy and larking about as it was very hot and the idea of a swim was great for moral on a long day on the bike like that.

 

Soon we reached the Gallipoli spot and had a walk around the beach cemetery, then we road up the dirt track to the main Australian memorial, Lone Pine. It was about 5:30pm, so it was a lot cooler meaning we could take our time without melting too badly!! Once we had an explore we rode a different way out which meant we got to ride past a lot of the other memorials including some of the Turkish ones. It was an amazing place to have had such a battle and you could see why so many lives were lost on both sides.

 

On the ride into the town, Cat realised she had lost my phone. Properly this time. She put it on the pannier to get onto the bike, then forgot to pick it up from the pannier and it must have slid off. But I can’t be too mad because I was ready to leave it behind at the border anyway. I guess it’s not meant to be!

 

As we headed back to the main town it was getting late, so we stopped at a hotel and again got a good deal and again they could park the bike right in front of the doors, so we then headed in and showered before going out for dinner. It was very very very windy but we walked down the sea front to a very big and busy looking sea food restaurant. Turkey is not as cheap as other places, accommodation is not too bad but food, drinks and fuel are not as cheap as we expected – fuel being about £2 a litre!!!!

 

The following day much to my joy we had a big day on the bike but it did include a trip to the ancient city of Troy! We crossed over the Dardanelles Strait before stopping at Troy. It was much smaller than I expected but still very interesting, then we had a big 450km run down to the beach resort of Kusadasi.

 

It was really nice here, I really liked it and it gave me time to catch up with my diary and have a coffee, Cat went to get some sun whilst I caught it up.  Then we went for a nice walk around the bay and relaxed. Then we realised the football was on so we went to a bar and started having a few drinks. It was happy hour cocktails all day so we basically managed to get hammered. It was a lot of fun though and we needed to be hammered to watch arsenal take a 8- 2 whipping by man u!!

 

Obviously the following day we were fairly hung over so we just relaxed and recovered.

 

The day we left we had a long day, stopping in Ephesus on the way out. It was jaw dropping, a massive city of ruins, bigger then anything I thought I would ever see. We spent a good 2 hours walking round but we didn’t take a guide, there were so many people there by the time we left we just wanted to get out of there.

 

After Ephesus we headed to Bodrum to visit the underwater archaeology museum, set in a huge castle so we got to take a big walk round the castle and see all the recovered shipwrecks. It was really interesting but I was very conscious that it was already 2pm and we had 450km to go to Oludeniz, the famous Blue Lagoon of Turkey.

 

We arrived in Oludeniz about 7pm, it was getting dark and the place was packed out. We tried to find a hotel and found out that nothing was available as it was Eid, the festival at the end of Ramadan. We ended up going back toward Fethiye where after much knocking on doors we finally found a hotel about 5 minutes walk from the harbour area, about 9:30pm. Tired and a bit grumpy we headed out to explore and were pleased to find a good restaurant and have some great food.

 

The following day we headed down to chill out at Oludeniz. It’s a very beautiful place BUT as it was the Eid holiday it was packed, packed to a point where you could hardly move between people, but we got some good sun and I swam out to the island and back which killed me and made me realise that the only problem with a bike trip where you’re on the move all the time is that YOU’RE not actually moving too much! But I figure from here onwards food is gunna become more scarce and nice restaurants will be replaced with markets!!

 

We had a nice day, but it was far too busy so we decided that evening over a beer and some more good food that we would move on sooner than we had planned.  So the following day we got up and headed for Pamukkale. We woke late and missed the hotel breakfast, so we found somewhere that did English breakfast and as I hadn’t had one for a month we decided it was a good idea.

 

We only had 250-ish km to do so there was no real rush. We left after breakfast at about 1pm and headed out of the town. After about 70km the roads were being worked on and there were big diversions for about 15km at a time, often onto gravel or sand roads. We followed the signs for Denizli, but soon we seemed to be off the bigger motorway or main road and be on a well signposted but much smaller road. We had taken a wrong turn but as it was well sign posted and we were still seeing signs for where we wanted to go to it was not a big problem. The road kept climbing up and down mountains to about 1300 meters high, the roads were very twisty but good.

 

As I came down a pass there was a good straight bit of road before a right hand turn, the turn was tight so I moved out to look around it as best I could and there was no sign of anything coming the other way. As I moved into the right hand side of the road to get myself lined up for the corner a truck suddenly came into view, but at this point I could only see his right hand side, and to my horror he was on my side of the road.

 

I moved the bike back out thinking I could get past him on the wrong side of the road, he suddenly saw me and tried to correct his road position, I then tried (all under breaking) to get back to the curb again and bam we hit the van head on.

 

I went flying over the handle bars and onto the deck, as I hit the floor and came to a stop I heard Cat scream, so I jumped up thinking Fuck she’s hurt but she was screaming my name as she was worried I was hurt. Turns out being on the back she basically witnessed me summersault over the front of the bike whilst she somehow fell off the side.

 

Luckily we were both ok, adrenaline kicked in and straight way I ordered Cat to take photos, so she did. The bike looked a mess and your brain runs into overtime, there was a bit of oil, fuel and a lot of other liquid running down the road which I thought was coming out of the bike – turns out it was coming from his van with only a small amount of fuel coming out my bike - but the front wheel was smashed in.

 

I was guessing the forks were bent and knew it would cost thousands to fix. The guy got in his van and moved it and I moved the bike out of the road. The police were called and people kept stopping and asking if they could help. A retired policeman stopped and spoke ok English and he helped us out. It was at this stage we found out the guy was trying to say I was in the middle of the road. I was furious, and it took me a while to calm down, but hey ho us bikers always get the fucking blame so there’s nothing different there, I was just glad Cat was ok and I was ok. I was not going fast and lucky neither was he otherwise it would have been a lot worse.

 

The police turned up and started to take statements and ask questions, they got an English speaker on the phone and used him to translate for us. We remembered we had taken photos straight away, so Cat got the camera out (it was at this point we noticed the dent in the front of that as she was wearing it on her wrist.) and the police were not happy - they where throwing arms around and having a go at the other driver in Turkish, he was still protesting but the police dismissed him because they could clearly see his road position from the photos, and the woman he was with started to say oh no oh no oh no. I was still really pissed off and was saying as little as I could.

 

The police arranged recovery of the bike and took us and the bike to the closest town. They asked if we wanted to make a report and then explained that even though they could see we were in the right, in the eyes of the law you cannot move the vehicles from the area, once they have been moved the police take a neutral view and it comes down to insurance companies decisions.

 

At the police station they prepared a report for us and added our photos and theirs to it. They then helped find us a hotel, and got quotes for bike transport to other cities if we wanted it. They were so friendly and so helpful I have to say they were far more professional than most of the English police I have ever had to deal with, yet they had half the equipment!

 

Once we got to our hotel it started to hit home, we were gutted, but it was late so we got some food and just crashed out.

 

In the morning we woke up sore, both on our bodies and emotions, I felt I could have done more to avoid it, Cat told me to stop being silly. It could have been so much worse – we are both walking and talking. We decided to go outside and start taking a proper look at the bike through fresh eyes.

 

I started to dismantle the front end of the bike, and I thought the forks were bent and I noticed the ignition barrel was about half an inch to an inch closer to the dash. But as I took bits of fairing off I could see that it was a fairing bracket and a sub-frame arm which had bent. The wheel came off and I salvaged the brake discs and other bits, I took the forks off and checked the compression and made sure there were no marks of any stress or damage.

 

I then took all the front fairings off and slowly bent the front sub-frame and fairing bracket back into a normal-ish place. It was good news, the wheel was badly damaged but everything else seemed to be useable. I went over the rest of the bike, checking for cracks and leaks but everything looked good so I started her up and ran her for 10 mins. Again went over it and checked for leaks and everything was fine.

 

Whilst all this was going on various people turned up at the hotel to “help”, they all chatted together and asked me questions, they called people and soon a guy turned up in a van and insisted I go with him and bring the wheel. As I expected they could not repair the wheel but they did say they could get me a new one. Situations like this happened several times over the next 2 days, but they kept trying to get me a wheel made for about 200 euros, they didn’t understand that I needed an ACTUAL KTM wheel not a cheap copy!!

 

The following day – very sore - we woke with a mission to get us and the bike to Istanbul. It wasn’t easy getting things sorted as we were in a tiny town, so we started calling car rental companies. The Turkish guys turned up again trying to help – but they always go with the cheapest option and were trying to get me to cargo freight it, and get us on a bus, but I kept telling them no and we were getting a bit frustrated.

 

Then suddenly we started to get call backs from rental companies and one of the hotel owners called a private taxi guy and asked him how much to take us and the bike to Istanbul - he 1200 lira so about £400 but its 800km and with petrol prices at £2 a litre it was a good deal and about £300 cheaper than any other option. So he went off and got the seats removed from the back of the minivan, I took the forks out again and the screen and handle bars off, he turned up about 2 hours later with some car tyres and about 4 guys and we loaded it in - it just fit, with only about an inch to spare!!!!!!

 

So we had a deal, and he came back the next day, we packed our luggage around the bike and set off. As we’re writing this, the sun is setting, we are about 150km in, somewhere in the middle of Turkey, and we’ve just had a yummy lunch by the roadside of homemade cakes, bread and watermelon. It’s nice to sit back and enjoy the view for once.

 

We should arrive in Istanbul about 8am.

Romania and Bulgaria - Greatest road in the world??

 Romania

 So with a plan to head towards Romania and see the Bears cave and Dracula’s Castle we made our way out of Hungary. The road out was fairly uninteresting, a mix of good and bad tarmac, but the funny thing is, well it showed me how oblivious Cat was! As we went along the highway, every now and again in a lay-by or truck stop their would be 1, 2 or sometimes more girls dressed like they were going clubbing in a hot climate. I was a bit confused at first, then it clicked.

 

I then said to Cat, do you keep seeing the hookers on the side of the road? No, Cat said. I said to watch and you will see, so at this point both of us were unsure as it wasn’t HUGELY obvious, but at 11am they had either had a really long night or were open for business. Anyway the next lay-by we came to confirmed our suspicions as the girl was wearing slightly more obvious attire in the form of a thong and stockings and see through top. Cat was gobsmacked and could not believe this was going on, on the side of the road, at 11am on the main a road, and as we went along we saw more and more, I think Cat got a few photos. It is very sad to see once you get over the initial shock!!

 

As we approached the border the girls were no longer at the roadside so we guessed we must have been getting close to Romania. We came to the border point and the guard was very quick to just wave us through on the Hungary side. We hit the Romanian border and the guy stopped me, asked a couple of questions about the bike, and when I went to give him the passports, he said no, off you go, have a good journey!! So again a nice quick border crossing!

 

Soon we found the Bears Cave, after going the wrong way to the entrance and riding right through the middle of the market and stalls!!!! The bears cave was very interesting and is one of the prettiest caves I have ever been to. Plus it’s got Cave Bear bones from back in the last Ice Age (they got trapped in the cave by an earthquake and ate each other – the cave wasn’t discovered again until 1945!) so it actually made for a very worth while visit. Even though the tour was in Romanian, a girl did a little translation for us which helped!!!

 

After we finished the tour we needed to find somewhere to stay as it was getting late. We followed our sat-nav towards our next destination, looking out for a hotel or pension along the road. The options were pretty limited but we saw a sign for a couple of pensions down a 2km road, so we headed that way. We ended up in a fairly decent little place, I think we were the only guests. We had steak and chips and chicken and chips, 2 pints and a glass of wine plus our accommodation for £25!!! BARGAIN J

 

We then moved on towards Bran Castle in Transylvania. We weren’t expecting much as we read in the guide book that it wasn’t that good, but it’s Dracula’s castle so you have to see it!

 

On the way we passed lots of very old wooden churches and it was unreal that they had stood the test of time given their fragile state. We also passed one or two vulgar GOLD churches which I found disgusting when you look at how some of the people in the community are living. They’re not slums but they are still poor.

 

Once we got through the city we soon came to a big mountain range with some good roads, then it led us into the town with Dracula’s castle. We parked up and took our bike gear off and put shorts on as it was a fresh 34 degrees still at 4pm and we headed up to the castle. It was actually a very interesting place, not so much from the blood sucking point of view, although they did have a lot of information about how vampire stories and the Dracula theme developed, but also from it being a very pretty castle. I could hardly fit through most of the doors, which had Cat laughing at me and at one point there was a secret staircase where I had to walk both ducking down and at a slight angle up and my shoulders touched the walls and my head on the ceiling!!

 

The following day, thanks to our travel agent Smurf Tours (aka Gaz), we headed back round to the Transsomething  (Transfagarasan) Highway which was on Top Gear a few years ago and was voted best road in the world.

 

Getting there the roads were anything but the best roads in the world - they were rubbish with huge pot holes and gravel and cars on your side of the road and general madness. They were possibly the most dangerous surface we had ridden on, to the point where a couple of times the bash plate was hitting tarmac and I was losing the whole 21 inch wheel in a pot hole, very dangerous! I did quickly learn to lift the front end a little which was helpful!

 

Once we started to get to the beginning of the highway the roads slowly got better, the views were excellent and by the time we got to the dam area it was fantastic!!! The roads got very good but the surface was very hit and miss so no hero stuff, just enjoying the road and views, and as we got to the mountain pass we were very pleased to find out that a beautiful new surface had been laid so I opened the KTM up a bit and had a little fun: nothing too mental as I only made Cat say wow and let out a nervous laugh twice.

 

It was a lot of fun, once you got to the top you could look down the other side and see for miles: it was a fantastic piece of road easily in my top 3. The ride down was as fun as the ride up and once I hit the bottom I had a big smile on my face that soon disappeared as I realised I then had to get on the boring A roads and motorway and get into Bulgaria.

 

One interesting thing we saw on the motorway was a horse and cart full of logs, broken down with a flat tyre! So we did a u-turn, pulled up next to him, and communicating with sign language, managed to blow up his wheel with our electric tyre pump!

 

Bulgaria

 

Border crossing into Bulgaria was no problem, just drove through both sides, but had to wait about 20 minutes for the river crossing, as the bridge was only one way. We drove over the Danube for the last time and Cat stood up to get photos. It was pretty big considering it was near the end of its run, and we had seen it as just a little trickle all the way west at Donaueshingen in Germany.

 

As soon as we arrived in Bulgaria things changed, it was a very different place. The outskirts of the towns had lots of big grey 70’s and 80’s style council housing that was very run down but once you got into the towns it was very beautiful and had some very pretty buildings. It was already dark by the time we came to a town and found a little hotel on the outskirts to stay. It was a very modern and nice room with WIFI, our own bathroom, and breakfast for about £30, plus the 5 star hotel across the road parked my bike right at the front doors for a small tip!!

 

That evening we wandered into the town and saw it was a lot nicer and busier than we expected. The restaurant we stopped at was busy and even had an English menu, and the menu had just about every food you can imagine on it!! After a good feed we headed back to sleep, and on the way back we could not believe how busy the town was and how many young people were going out drinking.

 

In the morning we woke fairly early and we drove right into the town on out way out it was even bigger than we thought and was a very pretty place with the old stone wall still in tact along with some very old looking buildings including a medieval castle. I had a long day to do on the bike with a little over 700km showing on the sat nav, so it was time to crack on!

Prague and Budapest

Prague and Budapest

 In the morning we loaded up and headed to Prague, pretty uneventful apart from we had someone pull out of a side turning very fast right in front of us, it happened so quick I didn’t even get angry, but I realised if I was 2 seconds earlier there would have been no way he would have stopped and we would be in big trouble. It’s a bit sobering when stuff like that happens to you on a bike and does remind you how vulnerable you are!!

 

We stayed at Belushi’s in Prague, its really really nice, more like a hotel than a hostel. We have WIFI in our room and our own bathroom. In our first afternoon of walking around, Cat managed to order new prescription sunglasses and I got my eyes tested as I have had some spots in font of my left eye, but my eyes are excellent apparently, only my left one gets a little tired but not enough for me to have glasses (thankfully!)

 

So Prague is very beautiful, there are lots of statues, big old buildings and churches and lots of history combined with lots of cafes and bars and a very laid back atmosphere. We did the free walking tour on the first day and it was really good, the Scottish guy we had was excellent so we booked onto a paid tour of the castle for the following day as well.

 

We ate dinner a few times in the main square. One night was at a great restaurant where their menu was a book, with one item on each page and a photo of it!  (CAT) Took ages to decide! We also got to see what the Scottish guy called Europe’s 3rd most overrated tourist attraction, which was the Astrological clock on the hour. The clock itself is really cool, but the chiming on the hour is very overrated.

 

The tour of the castle the following day was also very good, but both myself and cat feel very toured and historied out now!!! The girl who ran it was Australian and had been living there for 20 years!! After the castle tour we went for a drink with some of our group who were also staying at out hostel, but they where leaving that night so we only had one before heading back to the hostel. We had dinner and a fairly early night.

 

The following day it rained all day, so we stayed in and watched a marathon of House episodes on the laptop. The rain cleared up in the evening so we ventured out to the Ice Age Exhibition which sounded cool but was a bit crap then got some dinner and headed back to watch the Karaoke at our bar for a bit!

 

On the Saturday, after 4 nights in Prague, we packed up and headed south, to Budapest through Slovakia. We stopped just outside Prague to visit the Bones Chapel in Kutna Hora . It was also smaller than we expected but pretty amazing: 40,000 skeletons all decorated into different displays. Really creepy and odd!!! It didn’t seem to be that busy until a coach turned up and 50 OAPs got off and started shuffling around, I think we timed it just right!!! After this we headed to Budapest on the motorway, boring but the best way to get to Budapest in a day!! (600km)

 

 

Buda and Pest

 

Budapest was HOT, no air con in our room and it was 38 degrees for the 3 days we were there!! But as we arrived and unpacked we found out it was Hungary’s National Day and they were having fireworks on the river, a bit like London on NYE.

 

We found this out as we were in the main area at the hostel chatting with the others in the common area.  We decided to go to the river as a group, so we grabbed a beer on the way, and then went for a drink after too.

 

The next day we went for breakfast at a great little café 2 doors down from our hostel, I was enjoying a good latte, and the girl from the group last night turned up. She told us she was having a day at the spa baths and get a massage and nails done. I could tell by Cat’s face straight away that she wanted to go and I knew she was wanting a good massage for a while so I suggested to Cat she went with her.

 

So the girls went off on their girly day and I went back to our room, got the camera and went for a 5 hour walk round the city. I really love the buildings and the statues and so I took lots of photos. I came to the main square and there was an Orchestra (a bit like they have at the royal opera house in covent garden square sometimes) so I decided this was a good place to sit and have a coffee and some lunch. After listening to them rehearse for about an hour I moved on and found not far away at the actual opera house there were salsa dancers all over the street dancing. Again I watched for a bit then Cat text and said she was a hour away so I wandered back. It was nice to have a day of just wandering around!!

 

I had picked up a flyer, and the rough understanding was that at some point that night the Hungarian National Orchestra was playing a free concert the square, so about 8pm we ventured down there and It was VERY busy. We wanted to eat, so we explored the restaurants along the edge of the square, they weren’t “cheap” but throw in a free concert and we thought it was a good deal! Just as we arrived at a good one 2 people paid their bill and left and we got a pretty good table with a view of the stage. We had a great meal and few drinks and chatted whilst the music played, all the TV crews were there filming and we came to the conclusion that it must have been due to it being their National Day the day before, and the atmosphere was great!!

 

The only downside to this whole experience was the heat. It was muggy and really hot, too hot to sleep and there was no air con in our room. On the third day, having had 2 crappy nights sleep we just had a day of chilling out watching house on the laptop, and we also decided to was time to move on, for no other reason than it was far too hot!!

 

We have also decided we are definitely going to meet the London to Taskent guys in Turkey. We wanted to ride from Istanbul to Baku in Azerbaijan with them, but I don’t we can get visas for AZ, so we’ll just get to Tbilisi in Georgia. It will help raise some money for charity, plus it will be great to ride as part of a group for a week or so!!

Moto GP - Brno

 Once we arrived in Brno we found the Radka campsite which we had booked in advance, but it was a little “sloped” so we went to others to see if they had space, but all of them were full too we went back to Radka and found some flatish space.

 Its turned out to be great as there is a few English/Welsh/Aussie people camped right next to us, so each night we have ended up having a few beers and sitting around chatting until the early hours. The northern lads we met are really nice blokes and on the first night I think we covered just about every subject you can imagine, they have a plan to do every Moto GP in the world and only have 2 or 3 left to do in Europe before moving onto the further afield ones so we are going to stay in contact and try to meet them in Phillip Island!

 

The Moto GP has been great. Getting our tickets on the first day was a massive hassle, and I was a little underprepared having gone though the same thing last year at Catalunya. I should have known what to expect!!

 

So we ended up having to drive back to our campsite and get the laptop so we could trace exactly who sold us our tickets, and once we sorted that we found a small grey hut tucked out the way between 2 bushes and got our tickets and we were in!

 We went up and sat on the big banking which Mike had told us was the best place to watch from, it is excellent as you can see so much of the track and there is beer tents, food tents and toilets all near by. Friday was not so busy but Saturday was totally packed and the atmosphere was great!!

 

The Saturday we had a great day apart from our taxi ride there which was supposed to cost 400 KC and actually cost 800 KC as we were given an unexpected tour of Brno. We were pretty annoyed but when someone claims they don’t speak a single word of English what can you do!!

 


Lucky on Saturday we bought some beers, a bottle of wine and food from the supermarket so we sat on the banking drinking and having a laugh all day, the atmosphere at Brno is great and the view is also amazing - I got some great photos!!

 

Each night when we arrived back at the campsite we would get together with some of the others staying here and sit around having a few beers and chatting. The whole place was packed out with hardly space for a small tent left!! We met some Aussie guys on Saturday night who gave us loads of advice about biking in Oz, and we’re looking forward to riding out with them in Brissy.

 

Sunday was raceday and we knew it was going to be packed so we got up early and decided I was not going to drink and we would ride the bike there. So we arrived about 9am and it was already rammed busy!! The racing was excellent, but I have to say the Moto GP was a bit boring: the 125’s and the Moto 2 was far more interesting, I’m really getting into the Moto 2 this year!! Shame about Bradley Smith crashing out, but we’re glad Kasey Stoner won.

 After the Moto GP we rushed back to the bike to get away quickly and decided to skip the Red Bull Rookies race, but what we didn’t realise was that the police had put signs up everywhere saying bikers would not be allowed to leave until 1 hour after the races had finished!

 

Well this went down like a poo sandwich and everyone was moaning, they barred the doors and had to get 4 police officers to block the exit. To begin with there was some small protesting and people moaning but after about 30 minutes it really kicked of with EVERYONE beeping horns and revving engines!! Plus 5 or 6 guys at the front were starting to get pretty annoyed and aggressive, but then the chief seemed to turn up and told them to let us out!! I must say the police were very rude!!

 

So I went to start the bike which it did, then looked down and blam petrol was everywhere, not good! So I had to push the KTM out then tried to see where the problem was, after some faffing I started to take the KTM apart and as I removed the fuel tank I could see it was leaking from the main fuel hose, only a small problem really but very annoying!!

 

Lucky we have AA European breakdown cover but really he did what I was going to do, duct tape (or dub tape, for Oli) and stuck a Jubilee clip on it, then I limped it home, it lasted for 5km before it started leaking again but I got it back to the campsite.

 The following day the AA was going to come get the bike and take it to KTM in Brno, but I decided to call KTM and try to explain what was happening. Thanks to the guy who owned our campsite who acted as a translator I managed to tell KTM exactly what we needed over the phone and much to my surprise he said to cancel the recovery and he would come to us.

 

About an hour later he turned up with the new bit of hose and 2 jubilee clips. I had already taken the tank off so he changed the hose over then I said I would put it back together but he insisted he wanted to do it so I let him.

 

Then I asked him how much we owed him with a bit of a gulp, I knew it was a simple job but he had come out to see us so I was expecting him to make it pretty expensive… well it was 300 KC - £12.00 yes £12.00 so I gave him 400 = £15.00!!!

So thanks very much to KTM Brno, that was amazing and we really appreciate your help!!

 

So we thought then our day was done and as we had postponed our stay at Belushi’s in Prague until Tuesday, expecting the KTM issue to take all day, we just kicked back with a movie we had saved on the laptop.

 

About halfway through a girl came running into the campsite said something to us in Czech and we said sorry we are English, she then looked very up set and ran to a couple who where sitting outside their campervan and must have had the same conversation with them before running off, so we paused the movie and thought we better go see if she was ok. So we walked up the road and on the left there was a car parked out the way, and as we walked around we could see she had locked a baby and dog in it!!

 

Bugger! As we turned around, the other couple had also come out so we ran back and got some tools. I was just going to carefully break the window but the woman had a coat hanger, so I got my finger in the door and managed to pull it open enough to wedge a wrench handle in it, then the other guy stretched the hanger out and tried to reach the lock. He had about 10 goes but it wasn’t working and I thought I could see why so I changed the shape of the hook slightly and asked to have a go and bam managed to get it first time much to the young mum’s relief!! 


Then we walked back and finished the movie! That evening we met another biker from Greece, who had been hit up the arse by a car and broke his fuel pump so he was waiting to get his bike fixed. We were going to have a BBQ but it rained really hard so we had to cancel, and we ended up going to the bar round the corner and having dinner there. He talked to us about Greece and where the different people on the different Islands are from, he seemed a bit fed up with Greece but it was very interesting to learn an insider’s perspective!! 

Ukraine, Romania, Hungary

 Ukraine!!!!

 

Well to say the least it’s an interesting place.

 

The roads are TERRIBLE and VERY dangerous, not for any other reason than they are appalling, and they lure you into a false sense of security by being great for over for 10 km then suddenly mid corner they run out and become wacky paving or just a hole group of pot holes. And not small ones either - big enough for you to stand in to the point were lorries and 4X4s are avoiding them. So your speed drops massively, think we were averaging on open roads about 80kph.

 

The border took ages, but people were friendly and looking at the bike and asking as many questions as they could before we ran out of words!!! Once we were in the country we followed our sat nav, wisely choosing to stick to the “red roads” on the map, and not yellow which would probably be sand!

 




There’s not a lot to say, it wasn’t that pretty, some of the building are but Ukraine in most places was very run down. Anyway we were tired, and potholing is a fun but draining sport, so decided to stop at one of the bigger towns on our route – Ivano-Frankivska or something.

 

We found a huge hotel which we thought would be very expensive as it was in the middle of town, and they had two weddings on, but for this 4 star hotel it was less than £50 a night for a both of us with breakfast, parking and wifi included. BARGAIN!!

 

I unloaded the bike and for the first time we got quite a lot of attention. Guests from the weddings and other kids started to gather round the bike and take photos and one lad in particular was very excited and so I put him on the bike for some photos which pleased his mum and family. 

 

After we unloaded we went for dinner at what looked like a supermarket, but lots of people were eating so we joined them. Basically, they’ve got a little cooker with some hot chicken and baked potatoes, and you can buy your drinks and sides from the supermarket, and then eat out on the tables like a picnic. Our half chicken, 3 baked potatoes, salad and 2 drinks cost only £3.00!!!!!!! Haha this country is very cheap!!

 



In the morning we slept in and then went down for breakfast late around 9.30am, did some internet stuff (but forgot to do some banking so now we are broke) then decided to head out (we would hit Romania later in the day). As we got more into the Ukraine, things start to look more “Russian” as Cat called it, especially the churches, in fact the churches are very beautiful and we often slowed down to look and if Cat was not on another planet at the time take some pictures.

 

Again I think we have been a bit spoilt with views and roads, and the ride itself was not that amazing, but we stopped for petrol and filled it up with over 21 litres and was pleased to be asked for less than £20, in fact I believe I worked it out to be £17.50!! LESS THAN £1.00 A LITRE!

 


I was very pleased, but the only problem we had was we literally went to 15 petrol stations trying to find the UA (Ukraine) stickers and in the end we didn’t find one, so we still need to get a UA sticker from somewhere. The other problem was we managed to lose Cat’s prescription sunglasses, but I’m sure we can get some more made up in Prague.

 




On a nice note, a businessman heard Cat asking for the sticker and tried to help her, then he came up to us after and chatted. He spoke good English and was driving a Range Rover Vogue (remember we are in the Ukraine). He gave us a Romanian sticker as we said we were going there next, and he also gave us his business card and said should we have any trouble at all either in Ukraine or Romania or if we ever come back to Ukraine give him a call as he would be happy to help us out. Afterwards he followed us for a bit and once he pulled over make a big point of beeping us and saying goodbye!!!!

 

 

Romania

 

Once we hit the Romanian border we went though the usual border control, they speak no English we speak no Ukrainian/Russian so its a lot of point to stuff and guess work. The border guard liked the bike (Ukraine side) and moved me up the queue and we got past the Ukrainian bit pretty quickly.

 

We joined the back of a long queue for the Romanian side, and the driver in front of me told me to go through. We said no, we will queue because in Poland the guy sent us back, but then all the others in front insisted we move straight past them so I nervously went toward the front. There were 3 lanes but only 2 open so I moved slowly along the 3rd until we got close to the front, then the boarder guard stood up moved the barrier and waved us straight through to the passport control!!! SCORE!!

 


As soon as we arrived in the passport control they guy did our passports while others waited, the customs guy looked over the bike, smiled, nodded and stamped the book thing and then they lifted up the barrier and we were away!! We were so pleased as what we expected to take a good 3 hours took about 1!!

 


As we entered Romania the roads improved straight away. We also came across some very pretty churches and some big houses. We were riding towards the mountains and could make them out like a cloud line. After about 40km we started to hit the odd town and the roads got a lot twister. The roads are not great to be honest, but they not that bad, and the towns are clean and much more modern than we expected. In fact so far we have been very impressed with Romania! People are very friendly and we get a lot of people looking if we stop anywhere at all. The mountains are so pretty and the forests very thick with trees, so it’s very green.

 

As we came over the mountain and down the other side, we stopped at our first hotel of the day (normally we stop at up to 10 to see how much they cost and the quality – mostly influenced by budget!!) But today we chose the first place, it’s very pretty with a large double room and for £20 a night it’s less expensive than a campsite in Western Europe!!

 

The next day started out on nice twisty roads again, but then a thunderstorm rolled in, and at one point, coming down a mountain, we were in fog so dense we couldn’t see more than a few meters in front!

 

At this point I feel I need to big up Rukka and our daytone and sidi touring boots. It pissed down today – heavy, big drops of rain to the point that I was crawling along twisty roads at 15kph and the only reason we did not stop was that there was nowhere safe enough to do so and a big Romanian lorry might run us over!! The Rukka gear kept us 99 percent dry, its excellent! And the boots kept our feet dry so I do feel the need to say that those bits of kit are excellent!


 

It rained pretty much the whole way to the Hungarian border. We had a little stop at the Merry Cemetery, in Sapanta, which has humorous headstones. They are all carved in wood and coloured, with pictures and stories about a person’s life, plus how they died. For example, there are pictures of people getting hit by cars or trains, and one man we saw had a picture of him as a doctor on the front, and on the back had him and his wife, and then a third women nearby with flowers!!! It’s all written in Romanian/Latin so unfortunately we couldn’t understand the jokes and stories, but the pictures were funny!








Hungary

 

As we got to the border the weather finally cleared up, and we were off the mountains so we could see for miles and we were definitely heading towards the sun!

 

We had read in our iphone travel app that the border from Romania to Hungry often had queues of up to 6km long and the Hungarian guards were very strict about making sure you had all the right vehicle documents, including insurance which we don’t have (we have insurance, just not the documents).

 

So we stopped off at a supermarket and got some supplies to prepare for a huge crossing and wait. Well we arrived and there were no guards at the Romanian side, just an empty border post, so we drove through and joined the back of the Hungarian queue. It was definitely not 6km!!! but still a queue.

 

We have learned that often motorbikes do not have to queue as they do not have to go through such big searches as cars do. So as I joined the back of the queue, Cat went to the front and asked if we could move up seeing as we were on a bike. He waved us up, asked for the passports and the bike docs, so we gave them to him. He barely even opened the passports - just smiled at me, gave everything back and said  “Bye Bye”!!

 

And that was it, we were in Hungary!!!!!!! EXCELLENT! So we stopped outside the border crossing and ate our rather unnecessary lunch.

 

But today our luck had not finished there. 

 

As usual, we picked a random route and a random destination, and when we got close, and tired, we put “camp” in the sat nav and followed it to the nearest one. The campsite was off the road about 800m, and when we got to it there was “Biker” written on the road in a couple of places, which is not that rare as bikers often camp, but it turns out this place was privately hired by a Hungarian motorbike group called the Black Dragons, as they are having a biker festival this weekend!

 



We explained that we had found the campsite by accident, knew nothing of the festival, and just wanted somewhere to sleep for the night. Rather than turning us away, they said it’s fine to put up a tent, and when we asked how much, they said for nothing!!!! YAY!!!!

 

Cat went to the shops to get supplies (beer and water) while I set up the tent, and then one of the main leaders of the motorcycle club invited us over to eat with them (they had cooked a huge pot of chilli con carne), so we gladly joined and got talking.

 

Two of the guys spoke English, so we chatted mostly to them and they translated our story to the others. Lots of questions were asked, and again Pakistan and Iran were talked about a lot!! Then they started to drink and insisted we join them - this included doing shots of Jagermeister and traditional Hungarian home brew (50% proof)!

 



The manager of the group was a MASSIVE fan of “‘Allo’Allo” as the only English he spoke was quotes from it. They love it in Hungary apparently and he was so pleased when he figured out that I knew what he was talking about. Also one of the English-speaking guys has family who lived in Perth, and he was blown away when Cat said she’s from there too!

 

They also insisted we stay another night, and they were trying to get us to come back for the Sunday of the festival which we couldn’t do as we have tickets for the Moto GP and we have been looking forward to it for months. They also gave us a Black Dragon plaque which we can stick to the bike and a gift.

 

So to the Black Dragon Motorcycle Club: thanks very much for looking after us, it was a great night and we really really enjoyed it!!

 

The following day we just relaxed – we had slight hangovers!! We watched a movie on itunes and just ate food! I have put on all the weight I lost in Morocco and have added about 5kg in 4 weeks!! It’s hard to eat well when you travel and you tend to eat a lot of carbs which is pretty bad!!  But we also did walk to, from and around the town which is about a kilometre from the campsite…  Anyway!

 



The following day we packed up, said goodbye to our hosts and then headed for Czech. It was a very pretty ride, through the north of Hungary, middle of Slovakia and into southern Czech. We stopped somewhere in Slovakia and had lunch on some straw bales as Cat has never sat on one before, so we rode into the field, found a nice place to stop and sat on a bale to eat our sandwiches!!

 

Poland

The following morning we headed east towards Poland. The roads became a bit rougher as we entered Poland, but not really bad, since I am writing this from Ukraine and these are truly bad roads! We headed pretty much south through Poland, and found a campsite in Jelenia Gora, and were very happy to pay only a quarter of the price we had been paying in Europe. We even had free wifi in the tent so we set up the mac and watched Cougar Town and Mock the Week!!

 

On Wednesday we had a fantastic day riding along the borders of Czech and Poland, dipping in and out of each country for over 400km. The roads where great: twisty and in places tiny, lots of gravel and the odd pothole but very quiet. The villages we passed through were so pretty and it was just great to be on the bike and exploring.

 

Towards the end of the day we decided to head straight to Krakow as we weren’t far away and we wanted to spend a couple of days there. When we arrived we went to about 10 different hostels to find them all full, so we ended up staying in a Holiday Inn, which was pretty nice and not too bad on the bank balance. It was a good opportunity to get all our clothes washed and cleaned including the bike gear, and I also took the opportunity of a nice clean (overpriced) parking space to change the brake pads on the bike and give it a going over with WD40!!

 

The first night in Krakow we were pretty tired having had a 600km day, so we wandered into town for a bite to eat. Neither of us knew what to expect, but we were so pleased, it was so beautiful and I can say now its one of the best cities I have ever been to, I don’t know why but I loved it. We ate some dinner on the first night, but as we were so tired we decided after a small walk around to go crash out!

 





On the first day Cat decided to get the laundry done (we stuffed everything into the large backpack and the sleeping bag strapped on the outside – she looked like she was going hiking!), which took most the morning, and I was given the green light to spend the morning in bed watching TV in my pants!! In the afternoon we did some shopping and went for a good walk around the city, its so so so pretty, I love it, all the cafes are in a square, there’s lots of entertainment and a real mix of new bars and cafes with huge old buildings, monuments and palaces. Cat bought some more trousers she does not need and I raised my eyebrows in small protest but was given the “it’s my birthday next week” speech I know when I’m beaten, however I did stop her the getting the matching top SHE HAD TO HAVE!!

 

In the evening we had a few drinks in the hotel and chatted to the other guests, then went to a few bars. We watched fire-twirling and poi shows and breakdancers, and just wandered from bar to bar on the square enjoying the atmosphere.

 


The following day we went to Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp. I’m not going to blog about it, it was a very sobering day and makes you fell sick thinking about how horrible it must have been for all those people. There really is not much you can say about something like this, it truly highlights the horrors of the war and I’m glad I went and suggest you go if you ever get the opportunity.

 



So on a more positive note – the next day we headed for Ukraine but we missed and ended up close to the border in the woods. Cat had been reading (on the iphone World Travel App) about Ukraine and freaked ourselves out – all the road signs are apparently in the cryllic alphabet, the roads are terrible, and everyone speaks Ukrainian and Russian, maybe some Polish, and no English even in “important” ie touristy jobs. Plus police corruption is rife. So we needed another day to prepare.

 

We found a nice scenic road in the most south-eastern corner of Poland and headed there. The ride there was very interesting with the roads slowly getting worse and my sat nav deciding that we could manage even the most barely used tracks with a pillion and luggage.

 

One road started as gravel and then we came across a big mud puddle. Cat jumped off to walk ahead to see how the track was further up, and she came back with the advice of turning around. Another puddle further up, and then the track split into two barely visible grassy tracks both leading into a forest, and there was a signpost with 20 mins to the village we just came from, and 2.5 hours to the next.

 


But sat nav said we could get through, so I made the call. The track did get worse, and then turned into just flattened grass – we literally couldn’t see where the track went but got some great photos. So to all the Polish kids on dirt-bikes – please stop using the Garmin to upload your off-road routes!!

 



We only had one accident which was a hard fall and I bruised my leg. The left pannier came off but we think it’s got some sort of quick-release so it didn’t break. We eventually came to a gated path leading to a farmhouse, and we could see the tarmac road beyond so we opened the gate anyway and rode through. Apart from that we managed about 13km off road with full luggage!!!

 




We finally found the tourist route, and started thinking about camping, but signs and pictures along the road reminded us that there are bears and wolves in the woods, so wild camping was off the cards.

 

Luckily though, we happened across a very busy and very pretty town and saw a sign to “Tramp” campsite and headed down to find out it was a festival (local polish rock/folk music). So we initially thought tickets and stuff would be out of our price range but luckily we found an English speaking steward who helped us out so much and it turned out 2 festival tickets and 2 people camping with 1 motorcycle came to a massive………………..£8.00!!!!!!! Haha we were so pleased!!!

 

So we bought our tickets and rode into a busy campsite and found somewhere in the middle to set up. We had only been there about 2 minutes and a guy walked over and said hello, and invited us to join him for a beer and a sausage with a group of others around a fire they were having later.

 

The atmosphere was great and lots of people were walking past us looking at the bike and saying hi, especially those on other bikes like harley etc!!  After we got our 5 star tent set up, we went for a walk around to explore. Beers were expensive at around £1.40 a pint!!!

 

We walked around the festival area, it’s no Reading but it was great with a few stalls and a main stage, then we headed into the town which was 2 mins walk away but also had 3 or 4 bars with bands on. There was a beautiful harley there and then there was what sounded like a blues bar so we went inside.

 

This was one of the coolest bars I have ever been to! As I walked in it was a total sense invasion of gothic art, and dark old school rock!!! It was so cool, devil paintings, menus carved out of bone, antlers all over the walls, torture equipment over sculptures of devils with wings and half naked vampires… everywhere you looked had something on the wall and there was no spare space. Plus it had the coolest saloon doors I have ever seen - they were small hairy creatures with horns, totally cool, I wish I could buy the whole place and stick it in a city, you would make a fortune!!

 

So we ordered our drinks in the usual point and hope manner and some of the others around us spoke a few words of English and tried to help. We paid the man with a 100 note and didn’t realise until we had sat down that he gave us 99 change! Now as much as it’s cheap in Poland that would have made our drinks around 25p so I cannot live with that and went back to the bar.

 

With the help of the same polish guy who helped me order, we pointed out, much to his surprise, the bartender error and he realised he had given us 2 £20 notes instead of 1 £10 one £20. So we corrected that and the guy was very thankful for my honesty, but we’re funny like that and feel if we hadn’t done it the next day somehow I would lose a lot more!!

 

The band was not playing until much later and we had just missed a set so we decided to head back down to the festival and get some food. There was a guy cooking the most wicked sausages, potatoes and pork chops in a huge frying wok, so we had that and then decided to head over to the fire area where the guys from earlier in the day had invited us. 

 

When we arrived they all asked us questions, a couple of them spoke great English and so translated for us and the others who had questions about our trip. It was nice to be in a group and be socialising and understanding some of the jokes. We hung out there for about 2 hours just chatting and Cat managed to score some free beer from the bar (no idea how) and then it was time that the band was on in the gothic bar so we headed back there and watched them before having another couple of beers (and another sneaky sausage and potatoes) at the festival and then hitting the sack.

 

It was a really really good night and a fantastic way to say bye to Poland which has been far better than we expected!

 

Berlin

Wow what a place, a great city, very cool, and so much modern history.


Yesterday we did the hop-on-hop-off bus tour, it was a great way to get round the whole city and see some of the main sites, and the guide was pretty ok, alternating between German and English. We got to see the Berlin Wall, where it’s still standing in places, and you can see the plaques of people who were killed trying to cross it: the last was 1989 which is not that long ago really. 


 

We also had a long walk along the river past the craft markets and stopped at the history museum and art gallery which are both beautiful buildings around a park.

 

We then headed for Checkpoint Charlie but first we stopped off at Topography of Terror, which was a big exposition, along a still standing part of the wall, explaining a big insight into how WW2 came about and how Hitler came to power, plus some of the terrible things that happened. It was a big read, but well worth it. I was taken aback at how such a nutter came to rule the country and find other similar nutters to help him execute his plans. I was also surprised to learn how lucky he was at the beginning and that if the previous government hadn’t had issues with corruption then Hitler may never have come to power.

 

We then went to the Checkpoint Charlie museum.  The checkpoint itself is no more than a replica of the original border post, and some touristy guards at a make-shift customs hut who pose for photos, but the museum was started in the year after the wall was put up, and has so much information and history, plus some modern history mostly to do with human rights around the world.

 

So it took us through the history of the wall and how it came to be, the escapes, the failed escapes and the falling of it. The museum was very busy and due to my dyslexia I struggle to read when there are lots of crowds as I cannot concentrate as well so I started to skim over some things but it was still amazing so see how clever some people were and how some escaped using things like home made hot air balloons!!!

 

In the evenings we just hung out at the Belushi’s Bar, played pool and had a few beers and a chat to other travellers before going to bed.

 


So on our final day in Berlin we had a fairly busy one, we decided to go to the Zoo as it is supposed to be one of the best in the world!! And it was great, had some animals I have never seen (polar bears/tigers etc) and as I have been to Africa (thanks Sue and Chris xx)  we have seen lots of stuff but this place has soooo much we were very impressed.

 



Then after the zoo we went on a mad run into the town as I needed new trainers cos mine had fell apart (no Rixxy, they had not fallen apart, they stank, and were stinking up our clothes in the bag!), and we needed a new tent as our one was leaking and mouldy. (That’s what you get for £30). So we splashed out on a pro campers tent which was pretty expensive but we have been camping a lot to it’s worth it.

 

The tent has nearly twice as much space inside as the other one, but folds down to only a little bit bigger than the first one, and most importantly has 2 entrances and we can put just the inside up if its really hot without the rain cover. We also bought a watch which we needed, and Cat bought a pink Roxy hoody which we did not need. Hmmm.

 

The Road to Berlin + 2 Animal Stories

So the last week or so has not been as full-on exciting like Morocco, but we have done some amazing rides, been over 5 passes in the alps, and crossed into 5 countries!

 

We basically sped through Italy to a camp in the Dolomites, then took it easy going off motorway and following the squiggly roads through the Alps.

 

We love the roads around Austria and Switzerland - if you’re one of my mates and ride a bike, or even if we don’t know each other and you have stumbled across our blog, and you’re having dreams of riding abroad then get on your bike and head down to Austria/Switzerland.



The roads are amazing - you have to be careful or they will catch you out - but they are great, not just from an amazing sweeping corners point of view but from a breath taking scenery point of view.

 

The passes so high you have to put on jumpers in the middle of summer and once you reach the top of some you get to play in snow! Yes it costs money to get here but yes you can afford it! Stop going to the ace, buying cakes and tea for a month and you will have the money to do it……… you can thank us after!!

 

The only downside is that Switzerland is VERY VERY expensive: £1.75 a litre for fuel, Cat had to pay a whole euro to pee (she made sure she got her moneys worth though!) and we could not find anywhere to stay for less that £120 per night!

 

We had a great ride through Switzerland, but we ended up riding 50km back into Austria where we found a stunning place for £60.00 a night, and it had the most comfy bed I have ever slept in. We woke in the morning to an amazing view of the mountains and not a cloud in the sky.

 

We had a breakfast, where we sneakily make lunch sandwiches and snuck them out under a jumper before making our slow way to Bodensee Lake in Germany via Switzerland and Liechtenstein.


It was nice to be on the road in good weather but we were both feeling a bit homesick and getting pictures of Wenger was great but left us feeling a bit down in the dumps. So it’s really hit home that we have left and it’s been hard to deal with. We HAVE been having a good time (well cockroaches and dodgy ships aside) and we are enjoying the exploring, but you do miss your bed and home comforts and its starting to sink in that this “holiday” is some what longer then you can initially comprehend!

 

But we spent the day chatting and sorting our feelings out, and then found a KTM dealer near Bodensee, so we put Kellie in for her first service on the road, and spent 3 nights on the lake, chilling out and planning the next part.




We hired push bikes one day and it was loads of fun! We rode about 22km, Cat is amazing I think she should enter the Tour De France next year. (Haha – not quite! But I really enjoyed being able to stop right up close to the fields to see what’s growing, and testing the apples/strawberries to see if they’re ripe yet.) We stopped off for coffee and OJ in some of the coffee houses in the middle of the forest and we even rode on the gravel roads, the cycle network around here is excellent!!

 

The bike came back from service in perfect working order, except for a little scare with the coolant level, but a quick call to KTM in Hemel Hempstead solved the problem (air bubbles!).

 

We packed up and left our campsite around 10am, a little later than planned but hey ho we are in no rush. We headed for our old stomping ground the B500 in Germany’s Black Forest (I know Gaz just broke down and cried at the thought of missing this!)

 

It had actually changed a fair bit in the little over 12 months since I last visited: there were lots of concrete blocks along the verge which I didn’t think was very biker friendly and they had added LOTS of speed limit signs!!

 

We stopped at the pub on one of the corners, and we had a great steak lunch, and then programmed the sat nav with a little help of route selection from our german pub owner and headed north as our aim is Berlin.

 

After a couple of hours we stopped to get some bread rolls and ham and cheese for dinner that night and breakfast. As Cat did the shopping, I played with our route as Cat had been “helping” with a map and we were in a different area than I had planned….

 

We wanted to wild camp that night, but had trouble finding a place that we thought was secure, but did enjoy riding around the fields and farms looking for somewhere! In the end we used the sat nav to take us to the nearest campsite, but we didn’t like them so we went to the second campsite, and just bedded down for the night.

 

The following day started off with great roads and twisting corners and forests, but then the rain caught up with us, and we as we were only 300km from Berlin, we thought it safer (and quicker!) to hit the motorway and get straight there. Unfortunately all our gear was soaked when we arrived. We found a hostel who had no availability, but they found a nearby hostel who had one apartment left. As we got the details, Cat asked if there was a Belushi’s/St Christophers in town, as that would be our ideal choice, and the lady said, Yes, This is the one I am sending you to!

 

So within 20 minutes, we were checked in, our gear spread out in our room drying, and we were in the bar with a beer in our hands!

 

 

James the Country Animal Rescuer:

 

Coming down one of the passes in Swiss, James saw what he thought was a ferret going into a hole by the side of the road. He pointed it out to me and it was a big fluffy tail flicking about.

 

We stopped by the side to get a photo and thought it was weird that it didn’t disappear in the hole or run away, so we got off the bike and we walked closer to get a picture.

 

Then we saw a leg poking out and realised it was a fox, and he had obviously got stuck down an overflow pipe after chasing something! He was fully stuck so we waited until he calmed a bit, then J grabbed his back legs and pulled him out and pushed him forward so he would run away rather than attack us.

 

He ran up the hill and stopped about 10 meters away and looking back a bit confused as to what had happened. We got a couple of pics so you can see for yourself!!

 

 












Bees Don’t Like James:

 

So I’m having an issue with bees.

 

Yes bees. I got stung for the first time in Morocco. On the bike, helmet visor open, bee got stuck between my face and the side of the helmet and stung me on the side of my face, twice! I was ok after I stopped the bike but it was a bit sore.

 

Secondly, in Germany I had popped out to get something for the tent and on the way back BAM one got me again, but this bastard hammered me! It hurt so much I was so shocked, I nearly crashed the freakin bike, my face swelled up, my eye went a bit black: it was mental how much this bloody thing hurt!!

 

So now I’m terrified, riding with the visor shut and if anything hits my helmet I’m over paranoid………. I know what you’re thinking, I was thinking the same thing, at least I wont get stung now! Well I’m not out the woods yet!

 

A few days later I’m riding along, helmet closed, visor closed and what should manage to squeeze at 60mph between the 1 centimetre gap between my chin and the helmet……… you guessed it, another fucking BEE!! I went into panic stations but lucky got it out before it stung me, and before I crashed the bike. The other car drivers around me must have though I was mental!!

 

And if that wasn’t enough, I even got attacked for the fourth time in Poland – a bee landed with a WHACK on my arm, and stung my inside elbow through my rukka sleeve!!

 

WHAT have I done to the world, I ride for 4 YEARS without an incident and now bees seem to have developed the ability to get into every single tiny gap, with super-strength stingers than can penetrate gor-tex! They really have it in for me :(

 

The Ship That SUCKED!!!!

The Ship That Sucked

 

So we decided to get the ferry from Morocco to Italy.

 

I know the hardcore biker out there will be saying it’s not really a bike trip if we get the ferry when we can ride - well we’re not trying to break any records, we’re on holiday and using the bike to get around!


 So we weighed up the options and decided that 10 days and 1500 miles (costing around 600 euro with petrol and accommodation) versus 330 Euro, and quote “not just a ferry but a cruise ship across the med, with a pool, gym, beauty centre, shopping mall, room Magnificent, 3 restaurants, 2 bars and a nightclub” would be a far better way to do the same trip.  So at only 330 euro for our own room we paid up and booked.

 



We arrived at the ferry terminal with loads of time, and just relaxed: we have got good at just relaxing in strange places and 3 hours just flew by.

 

Getting through Moroccan customs this time was a lot easier. Of course, we did have one guy try to rip us off, wouldn’t be Morocco without it! He asked to help us, and got us some forms, but we kept saying “We can do that”. He lined up with Cat at the check in counter and told the man is Arabic what she could have told him in plain English.  He kept asking for our passports, and then we literally had to take the forms out of his hand, and then he said, with a friendly tap on my leg, “give me some money my friend” to which we laughed and said no. He then demanded the forms back, so Cat went back to counter to get more, while I politely continued to refuse to pay him. I think he was swearing at me in his language but at least we’re not 5 euros poorer! We’re getting pretty good at this!

 


So we sat and watched the ferry unload, it was like something crazy from a movie, it was so good I stopped listening to my ipod and sat and watched as overloaded after overloaded van appeared from the “cruise ship”. I had my suspicions at this stage but from the outside everything looked very “cruise ship”. We should have been clued up by the fact that we were boarding from the freight quay instead of one of the eight passenger quays.

 

So after a lot of faffing we got sent on board. First impressions were good: they have a nice lift, and we were greeted by well turned-out Italian staff, and sent to our little private room.

 

But from here it went down hill. We went exploring to see the facilities, and to find the “list of activities” that we were told to look out for. First we came across the pool - well if it’s been open once this year I would call that a lie – netting over it, no water and very dirty; the beauty salon CLOSED and now a junk storage room; the GYM just an empty ROOM; the CASINO is a “D EAM CASI O” and is boarded up (albeit with pretty blue window paper, but closed nonetheless!); the Room Magnificent……. Well if you haven’t got the idea yet then I think you need to go read another blog!!

 


So with the exception of the crappy self service restaurant, 1 bar area and 1 small very expensive restaurant it was all closed.

 

But the truth is it was still a very good deal, even if it wasn’t the ship we imagined. We have played monopoly both days (at which I’m the best [yeah, keep dreaming Rixxy!] ) and we have generally just relaxed. The staff are not helpful for anything beyond basic service; the room light is broken; the men’s toilet is shocking; the WIFI does not work – it charges you then takes 40 minutes to load anything – and if you make a complaint you’re met with an apology but once you try to get beyond that they no speak so much englisy. So what you gunna do?!

 

Anyway into Italy!!

Essaouira

Essaouira

 

After Morocco we headed for Essaouira, The ride was pretty uneventful as it was just 200km of motorway. The one thing we did see a lot of was big lorries that were massively overloaded, so overloaded it’s worrying! Yet as if this is not enough danger, they then have 4, 5, 6 or more guys sitting on the top of the cab whilst the lorry is hurtling along the motorway at 100km/hr!! It’s amazing, if it had to break hard, swerve or anything, they would all be dead, yet it is a regular occurrence!! It makes a mockery of the please wear your seatbelt signs!!!

Still it makes even a motorway ride very interesting, myself and Cat being blown away by each vehicle more dangerous and overloaded than the first. For example how many cows do you think you could fit in a Toyota pick-up? 2…? Maybe 3? How about if I told you 4!! Yes 4 full sized cows, one at the front sideways, 2 next to each other and one at the back sideways, heads and bum over the edge!!!!!!

 

We also saw enough men squished into the back of a pick-up, enough to make us think they might be people smugglers! (but not very good ones, without a roof on the pick-up)

 

Well we arrived in Essaouira on the coast, the first thing we noticed was that it was a lot cooler, mostly because of the sea breeze, so it was a manageable 28 degrees.

 


We had a rough idea of where to go, and we soon found somewhere to park, but as usual we then had to deal with the Moroccan hassle. It’s like walking into a madhouse, everyone comes rushing over and offers you places to stay, and how many nights parking, and do you need a cart? And the little kids with their hands out, of course!

 

But when we insisted on a straight answer for the parking, we were surprised to be told 20dh a day, which is a very fair price so we agreed. Then we were told to go with the cart guy as he knew where our hostel is, but as usual he had no idea and even after we told him again the name, he took us to somewhere different.

 

We were hot and sweaty and Cat was running out of patience, I was trying to stay calm. We are getting used to the silliness that takes place every time we arrive somewhere new, and we try not to let it block our opinion on any city, but walking back and forth in full bike gear is hot and tiring!

 

So after asking about 10 people (and an incident with a probably very nice man but who tried to touch James’ helmet) we ended up at the right place. As soon as we walked in, Mehdi, the manager, was very friendly, showed us to our room which was much nicer then we expected and then showed us the roof terrace, hammock room and the bar/chilling area, and offered us a welcoming beer.

 

Basically, it’s our hostel that makes Essaouira so fabulous. It got 93% from hundreds of reviews, so we booked it straight away. There are several other groups here, mostly from Australia and England, and many are staying for a good length of time so we have made new friends. We like it so much we extended our stay 2 extra nights.

 

And then for the next 5 days we did nothing but relax. Most of the time has been spent sun-tanning on the roof terrace, listening to music, or downstairs in the bar chatting and playing drinking games. We’ve had a couple of big group dinners, and on the Sunday night we all got some free punch because the hostel won an award (not surprisingly!) We ventured out to the beach once or twice, and for breakfast or lunch, and did some shopping (which Cat then had to post home!)

 


We also had time to make some plans. When we leave Morocco, we have decided to get the ferry to Genova in Italy as it’s only 330 euro and it’s just covering the same ground if we ride back through Spain and France again plus it will take a week to 10 days and the ferry take 2 days and in the end it works out a lot cheaper.

 

We have also booked tickets for the Moto GP in Czech Republic on Aug 14 and in San Morino in Italy 3 weeks later, so we are going to have about 3 weeks to travel in northern Europe before heading to Czech, then 3 weeks to travel Eastern Europe and back up through Croatia to Italy for the San Morino GP. Then it’s down Italy and over to Greece, and after that it’s pretty much a straight line to Oz!

 

Country Summary: Morocco

 

So in total, we spent nearly 3 weeks in Morocco. We visited Chefchaouen, Fes, Dades Valley, Marrakech and Essaouira. We missed out on the proper desert and would have spent more time in Marrakech, so maybe we’ll be back one day.

 

Here’s our top ten (in no particular order)

 

1)            Djemaa El Fna – the main square in Marrakech with all its craziness

2)            Beef Tagine with Prunes and Almonds

3)            Moroccan Salad – it’s basically the toppings from bruschetta and tastes great with bread!

4)            Mint Tea and “Berber Whiskey”

5)            Hostel Essaouira

6)            Chefchauoen – the prettiest medina we have been to, with its blue walls.

7)            The occasional very friendly person who will offer to help us or give advice and not want anything in return

8)            The community atmosphere in the evenings – children playing free in the streets

9)            The diverse scenery and countryside – mountains, deserts, great beaches, forests…

10)            Freshly squeezed orange juice every time – without even having to ask, that’s just how they do orange juice!

 

 

And here’s 5 things we didn’t like about Morocco:

 

1)            All the people (and there were a few!) who clearly weren’t “beggers” but who walked up and just asked us for money, and in particular the man who ripped is off for lunch in Midelt.

2)            Entering a new city - so much hassle and too many touts.

3)            Fes

4)            Drivers coming around blind mountain bends on the wrong side of the road!

5)            Litter everywhere – it’s destroying a beautiful country and has made me appreciate how lucky we are to have good rubbish collection in the UK.

 

Overall Morocco was a good experience. It is easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, it has great beaches, beautiful mountains and some great people, the medinas are so beautiful and Chefchauon was totally amazing. The food is great: if you eat smart and only eat at places that are busy then you can steer away from a bad tummy. Marrakech main square is one of the most amazing places I have ever been. I will never forget it, it was like something you read about in a book.

 

I think all in all 90% of the time you are having a great time. The big let down is the

constant battle to protect your money. I don’t mind hassle in markets, I grew up with it myself, but nearly everyday a restaurant will try rip you off over the price of your meal and I’m not talking prices being too high, I mean it being advertised as one thing and them trying to charge you more. They bring a bill over of 180 DHS when you know its 150! Some are sneakier and try say there is a 10% service; a shop will try over charge you for water and all these little things really annoy you and it takes away from what is otherwise a great experience. If I don’t come back to Morocco it will only be for this reason, I have never had it before, maybe we will get it again, who knows, but at times it did literally feel like we were being ripped off.

 

The above said I think I will have to come back, I want to go to Chefchaouen again, and spend more time in Marrakech before going to the desert in more sensible temperatures!

Marrakech!!

Marrakech

From Tinghir we crossed the Altas Mountains, heading for Marrakech. We weren’t sure what to expect as Fes had really put us off big cities. The ride over was great, it was about 200km of flat roads, then just before the mountains we got pulled over by the police, I thought I could have been speeding but I was sure I wasn’t. Anyway it was all good, it turned out the police officer was very friendly and he just wanted to play point and ask us, “what’s that? “ (sat nav) “what’s this” etc………..

 

When we hit the mountains it was more of the same, great roads and big mountains, so I’m not going to bore you with the details, but it was very grey overhead and there were storms all around us - we even hit some rain and a bit of wet roads.

 

As we got closer to the city the traffic increased and the level of sensible driving decreased. In Morocco it seems to be the rule that if you think your car is more valuable than mine it means you are smarter and therefore you get to go in front of me. This was highlighted when a woman (well who else J) over took us, whilst there was a long line of traffic in front of us, on double white lines into the fast lane of oncoming traffic on a bend, I nearly had a meltdown but just braked and let her in. If I was in London she would now have no mirrors and a big dent in her door but I didn’t fancy spending the night in a Moroccan cell so I just laughed it off but it was pretty dangerous!!

 On the plus side Marrakech was nice to ride into, there’s not too much litter and it seems to be a pretty wealthy city. Once we arrived and had settled down we decided to go and explore the city, and we were pleased that it’s a great place!

 

The Market square is so buzzing, it has everything and I do mean everything – snake charmers, monkeys, magicians, there’s food stalls in the middle with great smells and wafting smoke, loads of fresh OJ stands, fresh fruit on wagons, snail stalls, hawks, eagles and so much more, it was SO so so busy, what an amazing atmosphere, and the great thing was you didn’t get too much hassle. YES you get hassle but it’s nowhere near as aggressive as Fes for example.

 

So we just walked around and soaked up the atmosphere, lights, smoke, people gathering to watch the street shows, market stalls, food stalls, such an incredible site and thousands of people, it’s like nothing I have ever seen and it made me think that back in the day I bet that was Covent Garden was like, even though where we were made Camden Market on a Sunday seen like a boring stroll though a graveyard!

 

It also made me think that there is good AND bad about Health and Safety - it can take away a lot of fun and very interesting things but I didn’t like seeing the monkey on chains, and the tired thin horses pulling carts. In fact, myself and Cat both agreed we wouldn’t give money to anyone using animals as they did look very malnourished and a bit sad.


 We then wandered though the souks area and Cat bought some funky aladin trousers. She is a bugger and no longer haggles, she just names a price which she thinks is good and does not come up. The guys tried to sell her the trousers for 500 DHS (£45.00) and she ended up paying 100 DHS (about £8.00). She is hardcore and I’m very impressed.

 






During the day we just relaxed by the pool, it was over 40 degrees so there is not a lot else you can do. Nothing happens here really, some of the food markets open in the morning but the big markets open at about 5pm and get busy from 7pm until about midnight, there’s no 9-5 over here.

 

On the second night, we planned to head to the square again, so we asked for a petit taxi outside our hotel. We know it’s 20, they kept trying to charge 30, so we walked away, they came chasing down the street for 20, but we just ignored them and walked instead. Screw ‘em.

 

We could see the tall pillar of the mosque from where we were, and it was a bit further than we thought, but not too bad a walk.

 

There are loads of cafes around the square with terraces – perfect to sit and drink watch the madness. You really do see a lot, so here are some of our favourites: The fight between local shop owners and a pick pocket they saw working a crowd; The crazy guy, who was the worst magician I have even seen BUT was drawing a massive crowd through just being in the square and making a good 100 DHS an hour – it looked like he was just showing the crowd interesting things like ships in a bottle and swinging statues.

 

There was also the English girl who was crying, not that I take pleasure in that but she just seemed to be being a bit dumb and blonde and her friends didn’t seem to have a lot of sympathy; The kids begging and looking all sad and poor, then getting money out of some fool and sharing a cheeky giggle or showing off to each other; The stall holders arguing over who had the right to sit where; the blind guy who was begging a another blind guy, but has amazing site that could see coins and pick out the smaller ones!!!!!!

 

When it gets dark, the little kids switch from selling tissues to selling these flashy-whirly things that you fling up in the air, they spin and then fall slowly, like a mini neon parachute. It was excellent we loved it and we could go sit there every night!! 

Tinghir, Dades Valley and Todra Gorge

The only downside of the ride to Tinghir was getting ripped off royally at our lunch stop. Not much in major terms – we paid about £13 when it should have been £6, but that’s still double, and the guy was just a slimy bastard – spoke perfect English, asked us about our trip, really “friendly” and then BAM! Double the price! It taught us a good lesson though – not to trust anyone, and to always ask for the menu first!

Other than that, we had a great ride through. There were some beautiful valleys and some mad crazy desert and just a road with RED sand for as long as the eye could see.

 

We passed the place we had originally planned to stop as we were making good progress and it was not that hot. The heat is proving to be a big issue for us - for the next 4 days its 40 degrees or over in the area we are in and this is forcing us to change our plans a bit, and it’s just too dangerous to travel in that kind of heat.

 




Anyway, we came through a beautiful Gorge, all red rocks and high stones, with bright green oases along the bottom but bare earth otherwise. It was so pretty, and then in the middle was this beautiful old Kasbah (old fort) and they had turned it into a Hotel, so we figured as we were already ahead of our planned stop, (and the fact they had a pool!) we would stop and ask how much to stay there. At 500 dirham, which is about £45.00, it included the room, ALL soft drinks, a 3 course dinner and breakfast for 2, which we thought was a good bargain!

 

The first room we went to had a stinky toilet - a lot of the bathrooms here smell a bit I guess because of the heat and lack of proper sewage, but this one was a bit stronger then normal. So when I checked, it did not flush and there was stale pee in it! I was annoyed at first as we had not long got over the rip off by the lunch place, so I was determined to either get a better room or leave, and with no hassle they switched our rooms and were very apologetic and even sent someone to help move our things.

 

We then went to the pool, which was a bit of a cock fest so we did not stay long as we didn’t feel too welcome. It must have been a lot of local people who use the pool too - all the woman sat around in burkas while the men swam and Cat felt a bit self conscious I think. Then we just went and gave the bike a going over, double checked our plans which have changed slightly and then we headed back to our room to relax for a bit before coming down to a decent meal in the evening.

 

In the morning we woke very early as it was already getting hot and after breakfast we were on the road by 8am. The ride was again great with some fun dirt and sand track to have a play on. We even let the tyre pressures down properly and it made a big difference, the bike just drove though the sand even with the extra weight. Then we came to the end of another gorge and there was a huge desert lake - the scenery is amazing, you can see where huge 30 ft deep rivers flow at certain times of the year but at the moment they are completely dry. It’s like something out of a movie and you are just blown away by how much this has shaped the landscape.

After about 3.5 hours and 180km we turned up at our hotel. We felt a bit mucky when we arrived, and a bit pissed off with Morocco in general. We didn’t like Fes, it was too pushy and smelly, and then the guy on the way out ripped us off, so we didn’t have any trust of moroccans at all. 

 

But our hotel was lovely. It had been recommended on several sites, called Hotel Tomboctou. It’s very peaceful here and very beautiful, we have been to the pool twice and we have been the only people there except the cleaners.

 

We had a bit of a nap, and then geared up to go into the town, obviously worried it would be a dump or we’d get a lot of hassle, but actually it was great. We found a decent looking place and asked for the menu, straight away he gave it to us and the pricing was great, so we sat and had a decent meal for about 80 dirhams including drinks. We were not the only tourists there and there was a Chinese couple and another English could turn up as we ate.

 

Another customer, a Moroccan, started asking us questions as he heard us speaking in English, and automatically we have our guard up now, but it turned out he was a really nice guy and was actually living in Amsterdam but came back to visit his family for the holidays. We saw him again the next evening and he seemed a little more “happy” and chatty – now we’re wondering if the restaurant is his only business in Amsterdam??

We found the markets, and it was great to walk around with any hassle – not even any “please to look in my shop”! We met a silver jewellery maker who we bought a couple of bits of for about £25.00 total – I got told off as Cat said we could have got it much cheaper!!

 

We had another fiesta (SIESTA rixxy! – I’m sure you mix up your words on purpose sometimes!), and then in the evening we decided not to eat at our hostel as it was more expensive then town and we had a good experience at lunch. So we headed into town again, it was a lot busier.

 

I really love the sense of community here and the fact that everyone comes together of an evening, and drinks mint tea, and chats, or kicks a football around in the square. It’s a real mix of people, but with very few women in the café and restaurant areas.

 

We met another French-Moroccan who lives in France and he asked if we were looking to eat, we said later and he said there was a nice restaurant 2 minutes away, very clean and cheap, so we went and checked it out and he was dead right, it was also in a great location and meant we could just watch the madness of the town square. Again, a friendly person who just wanted to say hello and offer advice, without wanting anything in return. Our opinions of Moroccans are improving.

 

We have got into the habit of sharing meals, and its working really well so our dinner came to £9 including a tip!! The guy was very friendly told us he did a good breakfast! After dinner it was getting pretty late but we decided to have a walk around the markets, a lot of them had started to close but again really with the exception of the odd shop its a lot of tat really.  The nice thing is we could mostly walk along have a look at stuff and not get bothered every 2 minutes. The people that do say hi are quick to point out they are not local and often offer helpful advice. On the way back we passed a group of lads, one guy must have heard us talking and said something like “Hi mate, English, how you going mate” but just to himself really, so we ignored him and carried on and then he said (also quietly) “well fuck you, fuck you” but we heard it and immediately cat and myself stopped and turned around. Cat glared at them while I said, “Did you just swear at me?” He went red in the face, and scared and he said “er no” and I replied “humm I didn’t think so……….” It was so funny to see their reaction, all his mates gave him so much shit as we walked away,! It’s not that bad really, I was stupid like that as a young kid but I can imagine how embarrassed he was to have to deny it in front of his mates!!

 Our First Off-Road Adventure:

(written by Cat, for those who need this information in advance – Oliver!)

 

We had a great ride for our first off road adventure today!

 

We drove through the Todra Gorge and I got an awesome photo of the bike in front of the full 300m height of the gorge, but I had to lie on the floor to do it and I got a muddy bum!

 

Then we followed a piste which cut over the mountains. At first it was just compact sand, a bit gravelly but easy to ride. From the plains, we could see the switchbacks heading up the mountain, so we lowered the tyre pressure as we started heading up.

 

I completely trust James but when we’re slipping around on sand and gravel on the edge of a mountain with a sheer drop on one side, it gets a bit scary!

 

A lot of the piste was worn away, so we followed the tracks in the riverbed. It was dry, but full of small boulders and very gravelly.

 

At one point we came to some workmen (we had already passed a couple of trucks, they are obviously repairing the road) who had just laid a big pip along the road, but not created a way around, so they moved stones and boulders to create a path for James (I jumped off to photograph) and they literally LIFTED and manoeuvred the bike to help it around the tight corner. Amazing!

 

We got some great shots, and are so glad we did it (and made it!) but it was hard work – physically and mentally tiring – and we were sure glad to see the tarmac after 40km and about 2.5 hours!

 

We drove out through the Dades Valley and Gorge, which was more awesome scenery. You can clearly see from the mountain erosion that they had been carved out by an ancient river.

 

Crossing over gravelling roadworks and around tight switchbacks were nothing now – at least it was on tarmac!

 We saw some really interesting rock formations which James thinks look like melted chocolate. I’m a bit of a nerd so I tried to google how they are created, but I couldn’t find any info except that they are actually called Monkey Fingers.

 

We have decided we really like Tinghir now – it has lots of Moroccan tourists, a great atmosphere and hardly any hassle! We ate lunch and dinner at the same places for all 3 days (best not to experiment too much, we’ve learnt).

 

Our last day was just a full relaxing day – sleep in, have a google, play monopoly, do some washing and just chill out. We met the owner of our hotel who was a 65yo German, very friendly, and talked to us for ages about business and how he’s in the process of selling the hotel and wants to get into trains in Canada! It’s inspiring to see someone of his age still going strong and always onto the next thing.

 

We decided not to go into the ACTUAL desert (Erg Chebbi, the sand dunes) because it would likely be more than 50 degrees and it’s too hot and just silly to risk it. So we’ll save that for next time. But we’ve booked Marrakech for 2 nights, so that will be our next stop.

Fes - It was a bit of a dump.

After Chefchaouen we headed over towards Fes, Morocco’s oldest city and it used to be the capital.  It was a fantastic ride, the roads were great, we had awesome mountain views, then forest, then desert. We drove througb Ketama and weed literally does grow by the side of the road! We took lots of photos, but we honestly got bored of seeing it after a while, it was just everywhere and as far as the eye can see: all over the hillsides, and in every spare patch on ground, even along the curbs of the road.  Anyone would think it was legal!

 Once we arrived in Fes is was manic straight away - we went from breathtaking countryside to a busy dirty city in what seemed to be minutes. In our honest opinion, we found Fes to be a dump. It literally looks like no-one collects litter and it’s just left everywhere.

 

We were trying to find where we were going and a guy on a scooter came up and says “Hey English wow you ride here? Amazing, big welcome to Morocco. Where you staying?” We tell him the name of the place and he says “you are going the wrong way follow me!!”

 

So we follow him for about 20 minutes, but he is not sure of the exact place so we have to stop at and internet café, and he waits. I’m thinking, man this guy wants some money, but we have no idea where we are and he’s saving us a lot of hassle so we don’t mind.

 

Cat gives him the name, but he thinks it’s something else and takes us to a place very close, but it’s a different place, and the owner tells us that our hotel is on the south of the city (we are north), so again off we go and follow him, to a carpark on the outskirts of the Medina (the Medinas are too small for cars/bikes to go through).

 

Straight away the car park “attendants” (sales-guys!) are on us. They are trying to get a price from us for the parking, but first we want to check that we are in the right area. They want 60 dirham a night to park, but that’s like 6 times more than I paid in Chefchaouen so we argue, whilst Cat goes off with a young lad to make sure we had the right area of the medina.


 

In the end I settle for 30 per night but it was a big argument and left me feeling like I had been cheated out of money AGAIN!! But I was happy to pay the scooter guy, so at this point I turned to him who had been with us over an hour by now and offer to  say a proper thank you by getting my wallet out, but he said NO, very firmly and said “I just want you to be welcome in Morocco” before giving the car park guys a dirty look and speeding off!

 

Cat then calls and confirms it’s the right place and only 4 minutes walk (but after following the lad around for about 20 minutes while he knocks on doors and ASKS OTHER PEOPLE where our hotel is!), so the lad comes back with the trolley and we put out stuff in and he takes us to the hotel.

 

By this point the guy running the guest house told Cat parking was normally 20 dirhams a day and the trolley guys normally get 20 as well. So I paid the trolley guy 20 and he had a shit fit about it and wanted more, but I was angry with the parking guys and refused so he got annoyed. But looking back he had gone back and fourth twice both with me and Cat so the next time I saw him I gave him another 20 dirhams, and we explained that when we arrive, the trolley boys and carpark guys all seem the same to us. He seemed satisfied.

 

The Medina in Fes was ok, we went for a walk on the first night. You get a lot of hassle from all the shop owners, and to be honest they all sell the same crap, and it is mostly crap. I’m very disappointed as I expected things to be more handmade and original but Camden market has more to offer and probably at better value as well. But that does not take away from what is a truly old and very unique city, and so if just for this reason it was worth a visit and a walk around.



 On the last day we got a guide to take us around and show us the main sites. He walked us all over the place for over 2 hours and cost us the equivalent of £10.00 - the highlight for me was the tanneries, which we would not have seen otherwise, what an amazing place!! But he was an unofficial guide, and we had one hairy moment when, whilst walking us back to the main square, down a small dark alley, two pretty hefty men start walking our way and our guide suddenly legs it in the other direction!

 

We thought we were going to get robbed, but the men walked passed, and when our guide caught up with us, he explained that he has had trouble with the police for being an unofficial guide, so he didn’t want to get caught again. We don’t mind that really, everyone’s gotta make money.

 

We woke the next morning to a great breakfast from our guesthouse, it was like a mini buffet – just for the two of us! The English guy who owns it was great and as a house it was fantastic, the best place we have stayed in so far: breakfast, laundry done and room with bathroom for just £35.00 a night. After breakfast we packed the bike up before hitting the road again and headed for Dades Valley near the desert.

 

The Karma Cockroach.

This story has three characters – The Wife, a petite Australian who doesn’t like creepy crawlies; The Husband, a big tough guy who will take on anything; and the Cockroach on steroids, at a massive 3.5 inches, who believes in Karma.

 

The Cockroach made himself known to the Wife late one night when she went for a midnight pee.

 

“Hello Wife, I am the Cockroach named Karma.”

 

“Argh! James, there’s a really big cockroach in here!”

 

“So?”

 

Not the reaction the Wife was expecting… “Well, come and kill it. It’s huge! How would it even have got in here?”

 

The establishment was not the sort of place one would expect giant karma cockroaches.

 

“They crawl up drains.” Obviously.

 

After inspecting the shower drain with its tiny holes, “Nope, there’s no way he could have fit up there!”

 

“But that’s what they do, they can squish themselves really small and fit through anything.”

 

“I think you’re confusing them with cats,” suggested the Wife. “Cockroaches have a hard shell which is why they make such a satisfying CRUNCH when you step on them.”

 

“Anyway,” sighed the Husband, “just leave him and he’ll crawl back down whatever drain he came from. Maybe he came up the toilet.”

 

Quick as a flash, the Wife had finished peeing, wiped, flipped down the lid and FLUSHHHHH.

 

The Karma Cockroach was slowly making his way around the bathroom, aiming for the crumbs in the crisp packet in the bin. “Tell the husband he must deal with me tonight.”

 

“Argh! James, please come step on him!”

 

“No, I’m sleepy,” was the excuse. “Close the door and stuff some clothing under the gap so he can’t get through.”

 

So the Wife busied herself with this task, using the Husband’s clothing of course. The door didn’t close properly, and even though the Karma Cockroach was a Giant Cockroach, he could probably still squeeze through if he wanted.

 

 

The next morning, the Wife inspected the bathroom, but the Cockroach could not be found. True, she did not search in every nook and cranny, as she did not want to see what’s actually hiding there, but the Cockroach was not where she would walk, sit or put her hands, so she was satisfied he was not in the bathroom.

 

Before putting their bike gear on for the day, the Wife demanded that the Husband shake out all her clothing, and tip up her boots in case the Cockroach had made a home in them. “Would be the first cockroach I’ve ever seen in a boot,” grumbled the Husband.

 

“Well, you should have stepped on him last night!”

 

 

Karma Cockroach had clearly been watching the antics from a vantage point in the bedroom, and had decided that it was time he lived up to his name.

 

He waited until the couple had just fallen asleep that evening, and slowly creeped up the side of the bed. He decided that the perfect retribution would be to tickle the Husband, so he walked purposefully along the covers pulled up to his chin, and scurried straight across his face!

 

The Husband woke in a panic, grabbed the Karma Cockroach, and threw him across the room.

 

After a couple of moments of heavy panting, not sure if he should wake the Wife, the Husband flicked on the light to see where the Cockroach had gone. And to make sure it WAS the Cockroach, and not some Demon of the Dark.

 

Cat” the Husband whispered. “CAT,” a bit louder. “I’ve found the Cockroach.”

 

From high up on the curtain on the other side of the room, the Cockroach silently mocked the Husband.

 

The Wife was put in charge of watching the Karma Cockroach to ensure he didn’t make a run for it, while the Husband gathered his tools…. a giant wad of toilet paper and an empty crisp packet.

 

Eventually the Husband, after much positioning and manoeuvring, made a grab for the Cockroach.

 

“Ah-ha! I am too quick for you!” sniggered the Cockroach as he raced at Lightning Speed down the curtain and around to the back.

 

The Husband also raced at Lightning Speed to the other side of the room. “I need a better view,” he explained.

 

“Not from 10 feet away” thought the Wife, who by this time had put her bike books on.

 

“There he is!” she exclaimed as the Karma Cockroach appeared on the wall underneath the curtain.

 

“Well step on him them!” squealed the Husband from 10 feet away.

 

The Wife deftly kicked out her left foot and squished the Cockroach against the wall. Ahh, the satisfying CRUNCH!

 

At last, the Husband could swoop in, pick up the flailing Cockroach with his giant wad of toilet paper and empty crisp packet, and promptly flush him down the toilet, claiming victory over the Cockroach.

 

The Wife smiled sweetly and congratulated him on his manliness, “Well done dear.”

 

They both knew that Karma had been restored in the Universe.

Into Morocco and Chefchaouen

Into Morocco and Chefchaouen

 

WOW what a culture shock, maybe it’s because we have only been on the road a week, or maybe no amount of time would prepare you for it.

 

After being waved through the Spanish border, the whole scene changes! Everyone’s cutting in on everyone else, its very hard to see who’s officially working and who’s not, as the border guys outside the hut have small IDs but no uniforms. This one guy gave us the paper work we needed to fill in and then told us what to do, but he was wearing a man’s dress and sandals! He was very helpful and there was about 3 different bits to get through.


 The guards and people directed most questions at me and expected me to fill in the paper work, but normally Cat does it as she is far more organised than I am. But in a muslim country, the man does everything (dammit!). Once you got the paper work filled in you have to wait for a gap in the queue then leap into line as quick as possible. Cat took a photo of the madness and one of the main guards came out of his hut and made her delete it right in front of him!

 The guy who was helping sort everything out told me we needed international insurance and did we have the green slip? We said no and he said we would need to buy it, which was fine because we were prepared for this. We asked if we can buy it on the border (as advised) but he said no, have to buy in the first town… Odd I thought, then he said he would not be allowed to let us in without it and it was very important we have insurance in morocco, which we knew!

 

Oddly though the guy in the border box just looked at all my paperwork for the bike and let us through. The only grumble from him was that we used the photo copy of the V5 and he made me get the original, but I explained we were

headed for Australia and we did not want it to get lost or damaged and he was happy, stamped everything, gave us our green carnet form and in we went.

 

The guy who we thought (and still think) worked for the border people insisted he get in a taxi and we follow him to the nearest town to get the insurance sorted before we could go it alone. So we did that whilst having a discussion between ourselves about whether or not this guy was trying to rip us off. Well we got to the town, went to the insurance place and then the guy we needed to see was not there and was not back for 2-3 hours. So that was the end of that, he had told us we needed it urgently, but then after demanding 20 euros which I reluctantly gave him he pissed off. So we now have no idea whether or not we need this insurance.


(more on this story later…)

Our first town we headed for was Chefchaouen, a hippy mountain town in the Rifs. Well, the ride here was an experience: a bit hairy – slow lorries, people overtaking in blind corners and on the wrong side of the road, sitting up our butts the whole way, cutting up our inside on roundabouts – but there was also great tarmac and awesome scenery!

 




Once we arrived in the town we made it to what we thought was the centre and found a half decent place to stay that’s costing us about £21.00 a night. Our first impressions were just mayhem! Not only people, but donkeys, bikes, cars, trucks, wagons, kids, all over the street, crossing whenever, selling things, shops overflowing… We later realized we had arrived on Market Day, which I think would stump even the well-travelled!

 We struggled to get the bike unloaded in the madness and then I had to go all the way down the street to a private car park, which I have no idea how much it’s costing as I said how much, he said 20 and I said 5 and he said ok - so no idea what’s going on there, lucky 20 dirhams is still about £1.80 so not bad for a day!! (Turned out to be 10 a day…)

 

Cat’s Culture Shock….

 

From the border to the town was about 70km, and I was taking photos and checking out the scenery, and was too busy to think about things, but for me the change really hit home it Chefchaouen.

 

It’s a big enough town to have tourists (it’s also the hashish capital of Morocco) but it’s traditional enough that most women had headscarves and covered shoulders/arms. I felt quite out of place, plus a little tired and hungry, and I think it just sunk in that we were REALLY far from home!

 

The other thing that got to me was how to deal with the men. Since it’s a muslim country, it’s respectful for men not to talk to women, to direct their questions to other men, and I’m not sure if I can say hello or talk to them.

 

I’m naturally very look-up-y and smiley, and I’m normally the one who starts conversations or asks for things in another language, so I didn’t really know what was expected of me; how I should talk; if I COULD talk; if a friendly smile and hello might mean I’m a whore….???

 

So a lot of confusion and I was really glad to get into our room and have a moment in private

 

… As a side note, this bit was written about a week before it’s been posted online, so you should know that we are really settled now. It just a big culture shock and takes a bit of getting used to. I’ve bought a scarf which I wear over my shoulders, and even though everyone can still tell I’m a white tourist, they can see I’ve made an effort and it helps! The friendly men we’ve met are happy to shake my hand, and the no-talking rule gives me a good excuse to ignore men who are hassling!

 

Back to James…

So after we settled down a bit, we decided to get out there and go for a walk. We walked right through the local market, not really sure if that’s what we were looking for, but after lunch at a little restaurant where the young waitress was all smiles and really intrigued to have us, she pointed us in the direction of the medina.

 

We then found the souvenir boutiques, carpet stalls and main square with restaurants, and felt a bit more like tourists again, rather than intruders! Chefchaouen is a beautiful place and we had a fab time the next 2 days. YES you get a bit of hassle, yes they try to sell you hashish, BUT it’s the friendliest hassle I have ever come across, for example:


 

- Boss you want Hash?

- No thanks we don’t smoke

- Ok Boss, Boss have you been here long, if not go check out our waterfall its very beautiful and worth a look, big welcome in Chefchauoen!! 

 

So the first day we had a long walk around the huge rabbit warren that is the medina (Old City). Everything is blue and white which we found out today relates to them keeping mosquitoes away as mosquitoes don’t like light blue!! (I am now going to substitute some of my black tshirts for some blue ones, I wondered why they were eating me and not Cat!). The streets are about 4 feet wide and are packed full of shops selling everything you can imagine.

 

The main square has a few restaurants doing 3 course meals for less than 8 quid and I mean eating some seriously good food!! After exploring for 2 hours we settled on a balcony restaurant called Aladdin, it was about 9pm and it was starting to get busy. The menu was 3 courses for 75 dirhams, about £7.00. Our starters were huge, Cat’s salad would have been a big main course!! She just managed to make it look like she had tried to eat it and they brought our main course out. I had beef tagine with prunes and almonds, and Cat had lemon chicken tagine. Cat’s was good but mine was something else - the beef fell off the bone and it was delicious, both were huge and we could easily have shared one between us so Cat got a few mouthfuls of mine also.

 

The next day was a bit of a repeat of day one, literally! We had been to the internet café the night before and found out we did need insurance as Ebike does not included morocco, and the insurance companies in Chefchauoen only did cars, so we had made the decision to head back to Ceuta (border crossing) to get it.

 

We went back to the same place the border guy took us, but it turns out they don’t do bike insurance either, and we thought surely the border guy would have known that, so we really had been ripped off! But luckily they knew another company in the same town so went to them, and they did it, no problems, for the price we had been told. So really glad to get that sorted, big weight off our minds.

 

We got back to our hotel around 1pm, and then after a quick lunch we had a siesta (still on Spanish time!) and then headed back to the medina around 5pm. We followed a roughly northerly (and uphill!) direction taking photos and looking in the shops until we came out near the top of the mountain and found the waterfall that we had been told to visit.

 

As we approached, a Moroccan lad said the usual Hello, English?

 

-Yes

- Ahh welcome, the main part of the waterfall is up there, if you want a good coffee go there and if you want to go for a nice walk there is a mosque on the hill over there, if you walk that way you get amazing views of the city

- Ok thanks

- No problem I not want anything, but I have a carpet shop so if you want any carpets please get them from me

- OK mate

- Smoke Hashish?

- No thanks mate.

 

We followed his directions to the top of the waterfall, which wasn’t that impressive, but the atmosphere around the pools was very community-ish, with some people washing clothes or carpets, while others played in the water with their kids and some young boys were doing backflips off the rocks.

 

We then decided we were feeling fit, and Cat had read that if you walk up the mountain along the path behind the waterfall they grow a lot of weed and we thought it would be good to get a photo. So we started walking up the mountain towards the mosque, we walked for about 30 min stopping every 5 to take a picture and take in the amazing view of the city.

 

As we reached the stairs of the mosque Cat squatted behind the wall in the shade and a voice shouted out “Oi, fish and chips mate!” I looked up and it was the guy we had spoken to earlier! He said he thought Cat was peeing, haha! He asked us if we wanted to see how they made hash at the farms, and we actually did, but we said we weren’t going to buy any, but would happily pay him for the tour. We bartered him down on the price, and he started to lead us over the mountain.

 

(apologies to the parents who might not want to know about this, so you can skip the next few paragraphs if you want!)

 

10 minutes he said but it was a pretty long journey! Right over one mountain through little footpaths and sometimes not even any paths! He gave us a history talk about the city, a running commentary on the variety of plants that grow and what they are used for, and smell this one boss! After a treacherous walk (great exercise but tricky in flip-flops!) we started to see the odd plantation, then we came towards a small house (a shack, really) and he started to call out in Arabic.

 

A guy appeared out of the house and after a few words were exchanged they took us to his garden past 2 pretty large weed plantations to sit at the table and chairs in the garden by a little stream. The wife came out and bought us some mint tea, and we were told the story of why this guy grew weed - he used to be in the army, for 12 years, but when he got back there was not a lot of work and they needed to support their families, so he grows the 2 fields of weed and they sell it to tourists, mostly other Moroccans from out of town.

 

It was no huge operation, and the guy was clearly not rich. As we chatted the farmer went off and he and his little boy of about 3 bought back some bags, a sheet and a massive bowl - they opened the bag up and it was full of weed, the most I have ever seen, easily!!

 

Then he said, are u sure you don’t want to buy some, cos if you do we have some fresh plants, and you can buy what we make, but if you don’t we will use these dried ones to show you how its made? We said no, we are just curious. So then the process…

 

They laid the silk cloth over the big bowl, put the dry weed plants on top, strapped some tarpaulin around it and began hitting it with sticks. The pollen then falls through the silk and gathers in the bowl below. It was nothing like I expected, whenever I have seen weed it’s been the dried plant and you crush up the plant and smoke that, however these guys told us that over here that’s poor mans weed, and if we wanted we could just take the whole bag full of old plants and seeds with us as it was worthless to them!! The TINY amount of pollen in the bowl was almost odourless and they said it was why moroccan hashish is so famous.

 

We also found out that it’s not technically legal, but the farmers only get fined (about once a year) proportionately, based on the amount they have. Kind of like a tax?

 

Very interesting indeed, we walked back with Mohammed and he took us right back into the centre of town, he only asked for the amount we agreed and was very helpful. It was a real eye opener and we had a great time!!

 

Another stroll through the medina (this place is an endless labyrinth!) and we came across a school performing their graduation ceremony, and were invited in to watch.

 

After another amazing dinner with great views, James bought a fossil pendant and leather chain, and I bought a prettier blue scarf, and now we’re back in our room, planning our Fes adventure…

Rest Of Spain

The Rest of Spain...

 

Electricity crisis averted – we took pictures of the adapter we had borrowed to show to people in stores, and finally they understood what we wanted. Now everything has battery again!

 

We also bought a Camel Pack – very handy and also a great cheek muscle workout!

 

We left Tarragona bright and early and followed the coast south. We ended up in La Pinet, just south of Alicante, and stayed in Hostel Maruja. It was an amazing place - the front felt like something you see on a dodgy movie about mexico, (I think they do actually film movies there), then you walked through the bar and stepped straight onto the beach!! We were literally 3 meters from the edge of the water, so we decided to stay 2 nights.

 

Pretty expensive really at 54 euros a night BUT - and it’s a big but - the food and drinks where very cheap so actually it didn’t work out too bad. In fact a few beers and 2 meals there a day was coming to about 30 euros!! I think it was £1.50 a pint!! 

 

We spent 2 nights here and really did just relax. The first thing we did was strip off and head for the waves, then we had tapas, vino y cerveza, and then siesta of course! The next day was spent by the beach, listening to music and playing cards then went for a meal in the evening at a different restaurant further down the beach.

 

The local English nutter decided to talk to us, obviously very excited to speak to other English people because he just didn’t stop talking! He was nice and normal at first but all we wanted was a few beers, a game of cards and an early night, but we didn’t end up eating until 10pm, and a brucie bonus, the food was way too salty! Cat thought she was being polite and patient, but I was waiting for her to tell him to go away! We’ve now come up with a plan to get out of similar situations in the future!

 

Then we got a fairly early night, but it was a muggy one again so neither of us slept that well, but we got up early and rode the 600kms to Algeciras. It a fairly nice town, we arrived here at 4pm, after a great ride down through the Sierra Nevada, all motorway but the mountains either side really take your breath away!! When we arrived we were very pleased to find a great hostel at 34 euros a night, ensuite, and then even more pleased to find a small tapas bar open where we had a great meal, and 4 glasses of sangria between us for 14 euros TOTAL!!!

 

Tomorrow at 11am we leave for morocco, Cat’s planned a route around the country with must-see sights, we will be taking it easy and staying a few days in each place, and no more massive mileage days for a little while!!! YAY!

And they’re off ……………. Through France into Spain to Tarragona.

So we go to the Ace and meet everyone, Bobby came over to ours first and went picture mad, and took lots of decent pics of us getting ready to leave (Thanks!). At the ace he took even more pictures and Guliano gave us a blow up world map!!

 

Soon it was already 11am and in typical Jetstream style Chris wanted to leave bang on the dot, so we lined up and I thought there were around 10 bikes joining us, but in fact at that stage is was 30!! Not all of them were coming as far as Dover and around 25 made it the whole distance………….just!


 


Even the run to dover was not without its issues!! Ginger (legend for forcing cars out of our way so we could filter, otherwise I think we would still be on the A406) broke his clutch lever off!! Guliano dumped his shaft drive in the outside lane of the M20 and Alex Gold lost a soft chain link!! Haha the most random ride I have ever had with LB and all before we properly set off!

 





My dad finally made it to Dover, only about an hour late, he didn’t take into consideration the traffic at the tunnel!! But sadly my Mum was not there as she had food poisoning. My sister, brother in law and their newborn baby also came. Then we got some food, took some photos, said our goodbyes to everyone, had a sing-along of Waltzing Matilda and then we headed off!

 

By the time we arrived in France we were both giddy and a bit excited and I think we felt a little sick with anticipation. We decided to just head down on the motorway for as far as possible and then camp. We got to just outside Dieppe, a beautiful little harbour town with some nice restaurants and small shops, we set up the tent and got some food before getting an early night.

 

The next day we got up early with the plan of really just hitting some motorway and getting some mileage under our belt – it might seem a shame to just blast through France, but we have been here 5 or 6 times before and we really want to hit Morocco before Ramadan!! 

 

So about 5pm we came off the motorway and started to look for somewhere to camp. It was SOOOOOOO muggy, one electronic sign said it was 40 degrees, and we were both pouring sweat, dripping down my nose and onto the tank of the bike, to make things even more interesting there were storms all around us - we kept hitting wet roads but never met a storm. Lightning was everywhere and then suddenly everything in front of us was black and we were flanked by a beautiful rainbow - I knew if I didn’t stop we were going to get VERY VERY wet, and setting up a tent in the wet is no fun!

 

We found a field with a small wood, we rode in about 100 yards and then set the tent up in there. Accidently really we had an amazing view of the storms over the valley in front of our tent. It was so hot and muggy all we tried to do was cool down, so we sat and watched the storms pass around us and then tried our best to sleep but it was nearly impossible in that heat!!


 


In the morning we woke and it was still hot in the tent, we both stank - haha probably too much info but what can I say! Cat was pleased with her first night of “wild camping” - I think she expected us to be A – killed and eaten by spiders or B – killed and eaten by a crazy French farmer. As neither of these things happened, and after I had “de-spidered” the tent, she packed the bits up and we got the bike ready to go!

 





The plan for the day was to do about 150km on the Motorway before getting off and doing some B-roads and having a good trip through Bordeaux. I told the garmin to avoid motorways and it did that but it also took us through the centre of Bordeaux, bit non-descript to be honest but we were soon out the other side and into the beautiful Bordeaux countryside heading for the far eastern coastal road.

 

Cat was giving me her usual running commentary of what crops seem to be growing and she was also enjoying seeing how much further along they were the further we got south, and discovering that sunflowers all face south. In fact most the farmers were out in the combines, something which Cat enjoyed seeing as she could not believe how big they were when she stood next to one at the Lincoln county show last week.

 

We hit some smaller towns and stopped for lunch. As usual the French waitress claimed to speak no English - lucky Cat’s French is very good now so we always get away with it, but we both agreed that the French are generally unhelpful and a bit moody.  We then headed out onto the far east road which led down the east coast of Bordeaux - it was a lot of fun, good roads, beautiful countryside and good scenery.

 

Cat wanted to get to the sea and there were a few smaller roads that weren’t on the Sat Nav, so we got adventurous and rode down them until we came to an amazing campsite and our first view of a sandy beach.  The weather was cloudy and grey, much cooler that the previous day and it was also very windy so we just had a quick look before moving along, but it would have been great to find this place yesterday when we were looking for a camp!

As we were feeling adventurous we decided to do an off-road track, not a long one, about 2kms. Well you can guess what happened - we fell off, 3 times, nothing massive, just the bike getting stuck, hitting loose sand and then going onto its side. It was hard work getting it out but by the end of it I was getting pretty good, we had to work as a team both picking our way though it and lifting the bike back up once it went over. It took us about 20 minutes to get through it but we did it and once we hit the road again we were both cheering. It was fun but it’s made us realize that we have shed a lot of luggage weight, if we want to go play in sand we need to be based somewhere and go out light for the day!

 

Once we got back on the roads, some of which were on the Sat nav and some weren’t, we followed a general southeasterly direction towards the Pyrenees with the intention of getting into Spain. We got to a town called Oloron It seemed pretty big, it smelt like chocolate (huge Lindt factory!) and we were hungry and tired so we decided to call it a night and stayed in a cheap B&B.

 

We went for a walk around the town and it was half pretty and picturesque and half a dump, lots of empty shops up for sale, and lots of kids riding around on 50cc scooters with no numberplates on. We could not find a good bar but we did find a good Pizza place, so we shared what turned out to be a dam good pizza and some chips before heading back and crashing out.

 

We woke after a well deserved rest as we didn’t sleep too well the night before due to the insane weather. We planned out a great route over the Pyrenees to Spain and put it into the sat nav, Cat had washed some clothes the night before and wanted to go to a laundrette to dry them but as I hate sitting around I insisted we just strap them to the bike and that they would dry. It wasn’t sunny, it was a bit cloudy but I figured it would work!

 


So off we went and as soon as we left the town we were on GREAT roads, massive bends, tight bends, sweeping bends and we were soon climbing up the mountain side. The only downside was the weather was getting rapidly worse and soon we were dealing with light rain, soaking roads and freezing fog!

 

As we reached the top visibility was down to about 6ft!! There were signs for Free Cows (not what I originally thought – imagine rocking into Spain with a cow tied to the back!) and we saw they had been on the road as there were cows pats but we hadn’t come across any yet.

 

As we got to the top there was a tunnel, I though yay blast though it making lots of noise (you know what I mean) - as I came hurtling out the other side there were about 20 cows by the road side, I nearly mooed my pants! Lucky none of them took much notice of the KellieTheMule and we sailed straight past, but I had a quiet word with myself whilst Cat had a rather louder one over the Autocom.

 

Soon we came to the French/Spain border, well we think we did, there was a massive building but there was no one in the car park and we could hardly see so we just carried on and started to make our way down the mountain in the fog! Straight away the roads improved a lot, Spain takes much better care of its roads than France does.

 

On about our 5th corner in I came round the corner and there was about 200 sheep and goats right on the apex of the turn all running across the road! Lucky I was taking it easy so we came to a quick stop and Cat took a couple of pictures. I couldn’t believe it, the road was challenging enough, add in the wetness, fog and poor visibility and then for a chuckle thrown in some animals crossing randomly now and again and all this before I had any breakfast or even a coffee!!

 

Luckily not long after this it started to brighten up and the further we came down into Spain the better the weather got until it was sunny and blue skies! We came to a small but pretty little town and decided to stop for brunch, which was some tapas and a really good coffee – another point – the French make rubbish coffee, the Spanish make far better coffee!! It was at this point I looked at the laundry I had put on the bike to “dry” – not only had it got MORE wet from the rain, it was also muddy from road spray. Needless to say, I did the washing that night, and we ended up having to throw away one pair of underwear because it stank of exhaust fumes!

 

The scenery around the mountains was beautiful and it stayed that way for a good 150kms. It was getting hot but dry hot so it was bearable once you were on the move.

 

We wanted to get to Tarragona, a small town south of Barcelona, to take a day off the bike, get some sun and plan the next 4 days worth of riding into morocco. As we had done some great riding we decided to mix it up between bits of the new Spanish motorway (again which the garmin had no idea about) and the Spanish A roads – both roads have great views and we can comfortably cruise at around 125kph average.

 

Soon we came into Tarragona, a bit bigger than we thought, so we headed through the town and up the coast a bit. Found a small cheap hostel 5 mins walk from the beach. Then we went straight out and had a few too many cocktails and sangria, and today we have just relaxed.

 

Cat loves spain mostly because it’s perfectly acceptable to sleep halfway through the day, and this is fine with me as I can catch up on some work and fill in my diary!!

 

Tomorrow we leave and head south to morocco, 3- 4 days riding along the Spanish costa

Horizions Unlimited

Horizons unlimited – Well it was ok, we definitely took some good knowledge away from it, but it was also a bit daunting. Many people gave us what they thought was great advice, but all of it was conflicting information!

 

There were hard core travelers who have been on the road for 10 years and live in 1 t-shirt and 1 pair of pants; there were Europe-only travelers who like filter coffee and a bacon sandwich every morning; there were people telling us don’t go here and watch out there; and others who said that’s a great place and its easy to get into china…. so really we came away realizing we just need to do this trip our own way and figure it out as we go along, I suppose we have an advantage in that way as we have no time limit! 

 

We also met the most stereotypical Australian I have ever met! (For those who remember Full Frontal, think of “Poiter”) Lucky I have been to Oz and in the most part (like anywhere) the people are great, but this was guy so funny, typical ozzy bloke, telling me all poms are gutless and never haggle (anyone who knows me knows that’s crap), telling us that we got the wrong bike and we should be on a 250 cc or not on a fuel injected bike, then telling us we didn’t need a carnet we just needed to bride the border guards, then he told us we CAN get in china, he told Cat to hide money in her fanny, he was a millionaire and the government were all bastards… all this random stuff!

 

I just sat, lined a topic up and let him talk, because actually as much as disagreeing with someone like this is near impossible, you can learn a lot if you can filter out the bollocks. He did say he got through china and told us how to do it, he also said we could get my fireblade into Australia if we take it in as a track-only non registered bike. Cat nearly made the mistake of disagreeing with him (“why the fuck would you go the Sharm el Sheikh? Bloody tourist trap!”) but thankfully he was obnoxious enough that everyone else in the bar area was listening in to him and starting to ask questions, so at that point we decided to slip away!!

 

Really nice bloke, but I think a nutter (in the good sense). He spoke some truths but tended to miss that fact that he’s been to 80 counties over 25 years, so what might seem second nature to him is the big unknown to us.  He did say to “fuck off” all you have read, and just get out there, travel as light as possible and just have fun. He also said to remember the world is corrupt and for the right price you can get in and out of countries on the borders, and decide weather or not you want you passport stamped. I love the idea of being that brave and we will definitely try to get into China, BUT I’m still going to get a carnet as we’re not experienced enough to take those kind of risks, not yet anyway!

 

We have re-packed again, and yes – we halved our clothing! We have both ditched our jeans and we have cut back to 3 pairs of everything, figuring if we wear everything twice that’s nearly a week. I have decided to leave the spare chain and sprockets at home and get them sent out to me when I need them.  Its odd but looking at our stuff now I think we’re taking less stuff on this trip than we have on some of our other europe trips!

 

The travel plan has also changed slightly, we realized it would be ramadam when we get to morocco in August, so we are going to ride the 1500 miles straight there and do that before ramadam starts. Then head back into Spain and Europe.

 

Last night we had our last ever Papa John’s pizza (and chicken dippers, and garlic cheesesticks, and cheesecake for dessert), then settled down in our sleeping bags, on the roll mats on the floor – with the luxury of cushions for pillows!

 

Jen and Oli came round this morning to say goodbye, and soon we’re going to the Ace to meet some London Bikers who will ride down to dover with us. James’ family, including little baby Martin, will be meeting us at Junction 11 services of the M20 for some lunch and a final goodbye, then we ride onto the Eurotunnel train at 2:30pm.

 

Here we go! 

Getting ready to leave - packing and more packing!

So its Monday 20th June and we are now approaching the 48 hours until we leave milestone. The last few days have been a lot of fun and even more stress, the fact this is going ahead is now starting to really ring home as the house is empty, the bike is ready and we have most the paperwork ready to go.

 

Cat took Wenger to the airport today and he is now on his journey to Australia to be looked after by our good friends Tim and Nikki! – Thanks so much guys and please look after our little boy!! 

 

Rob came over today, and we finished a couple of bits off on the bike and hard wired the Garmin in so we have constant power on the sat nav. We also fitted rear sets to the fireblade and she came back from the Dyno running 173 BHP. 

 

Yesterday we had our leaving drinks and about 20 of our mates came out on a Sunday and joined us for a few too many drinks, I think there was a lot of hangovers at work today - to those that came thanks very much we had a great time, and for those who texted us and wished us luck thanks very much also.

 

So the bike looks great, Rob went over a few bits with me and I’m fairly confident that I’ve got a rough idea of what’s going on. Lets be honest - until things go wrong I’m never going to know what I can and cannot do. But as Rob said today, if I don’t hammer it around then it should be fine.

The fireblade is cleaned and packed away, I didn’t get all the bits I wanted done but I did get most of it done, and in doing so realized I’m never going to ride it on the road again - I love my sports bikes but think they are better suited to the track whichever country I end up in!

 

- On a side note I got my insurance renewal through the post today and they wanted £7760 – yep over 7k!! I did shop around and the cheapest quote I could get was about 1900!! Fully comp or £900 fire and theft!! -

 

We have Dan and Brenda staying with us at the moment, which is really nice. We went to Gaucho tonight, we weren’t going to go but then we decided last minute we might as well, the food as usual was excellent, shame I have such a massive hang over today!! They did also make me the best orange and lemonade I have ever had!! I saw Chris today (Zee Pony) he popped over to say hello, collect some paperwork and of course the tyre warmers!!!

  

Tuesday:

 

So the trip to the dump was more fun that Cat expected, and even though its one of the reasons I love her, she got over excited and in the rush she was in, tried to pull something from the box I was lifting and then managed to hit me in the face with the box!! Haha we laughed it off and she calmed down but was surprised she enjoyed going to the dump so much. – (I loved it! I guess you’re meant to dump it on the floor behind your van, but you can just throw things as far as you want, trying to get it on the top of the pile. So much fun!)

 

With the help of Dan James (thanks mate) and his patient girlfriend Brenda, we manned up and I took down the alarm and the CCTV. Much more simple than I expected, and lets be honest lads any time you get to go on the roof with a hammer, screw driver and other tools you cannot help but get cocky and feel very “working hero”. Dan and myself agreed we could add CCTV Installer, Roofer, and Fencer (after Dan fixed some trellis) to our ever growing CV of amazing skills!!

 

Then we packed the van for going to mum and dads, added 3 boxes to go into our OZ shipping lot, which we will drop off tomorrow, and we have now cleaned and pretty much emptied the house. So we ARE going - that’s right, months of planning, years of dreaming and we hit the roads from tomorrow. We get up early, drop off the boxes at the shipping place then Cat drives the van and I ride the KTM fully kitted up to mum and dads, we spend one night there then head over to Horizons Unlimited Travellers Meeting.

 

We are pretty organized. Well, no, we are not really, but I’m sure we will be ok, I think. Haha god knows, we are both all over the place, to be honest I just want to get on the road and put all this planning behind us!! I must say I cannot believe how much stuff you buy and accumulate over the years, and how much money we all waste, I think you should all go and empty “that draw” you will be blown away at how much stuff you find. We had so much we didn’t use and things we didn’t need, keeping it “just in case it might come in handy one day”.

 

 

Wednesday

 

Today is the day we pack the final bits and essentially start our journey even if it is somewhat slow at first. The plan today is to head up to my mum and dads with the van (cat driving) and with the bike packed – me riding. Tomorrow we head over to Derby where we are going to the Horizons Unlimited meeting for 3 days, then Sunday we will have to pack and leave early to get down to London to meet our landlord and no doubt lose some of our deposit just cos they all sting you for no reason, then head down to Dover to meet some of our biker mates and my parents near a pub for a lunch . Then it’s a one way ticket outta here!

 

Are we fully prepared and ready to leave? Well, I think as much as you can be, there are lots of little things that need/should have been done but to be honest the list is endless and so we have cut our losses and we are off, so now the journey begins………. Watch this space.

Isle Of Mann TT - You should go its great!!

Well what can I say, the TT is literally madness. We arrived in Liverpool at about 9pm, our ferry was not until about 3am and there were already about 30 bikes in front of us, so we queued up and waited. I was looking round the other bikes, and Cat was bored, trying to get me to go for a walk/coffee, then I noticed a BMW F650 GS with a New Zealand number plate: on closer inspection he had ridden over here covering almost the exact same trip we are about to do. So when he came back to the bike we chatted for a good 2 hours, he gave us plenty of tips on places to stay and things to see and also said Pakistan was VERY dangerous and worth avoiding if possible.


 When we were finally moved onto the ferry we noticed how many bikes there were, hundreds, the big KTM just about fitted in and they tied them down with ropes, I have never seen so many bikes in one space so packed together!!




 Once we arrived in the island it was about 5am and not a lot was open so we decided to just go and explore: the island was beautiful and it’s the first thing we noticed. We didn’t really know where we were going but we could tell when we were on the TT course and when we weren’t by the crash barriers (or as they’re better known to us, bales of hay!!)





 We eventually found ourselves going across the mountain course where it was one way and has no speed limit. We weren’t hammering it but we did have a bit of fun, it was quite funny to see the guy on the yellow 959 fireblade’s face as I come past him will a pillion and full luggage!!


 We came down the other side of the course and decided to get some breakfast at a local caff, before heading to our hotel who luckily let us check in early for a sleep.


 Later that day we got up and went up to the start/finish straight and pits. The great thing about the TT is that it’s all so open and you can walk around all the garages. We got to see lots of the bikes including Guy Martin’s, and of course I took a special interest in all the different fireblades and even got lucky and was showed around one of the Padgetts Honda bikes after I asked one of the guys a few questions about the exhaust hanger he had as I had not seen one like that before. It was great atmosphere, everyone was so friendly, a lot of the riders were signing stuff and some of the teams even had BBQs out and were just sitting around chatting. 


We decided to go back to the hotel and then head for a couple of beers before going to watch the evening practice. The first bar we came to was called Sam’s – very “blokey” as Cat called it! We planned to have one drink then move on but we met these 3 ozzy guys, really nice blokes – House, Gordon, and Nick (I think) they come over to the TT a fair bit and we started talking bikes, telling jokes and generally got on with them really well. They also told us about volunteering as Marshalls so we decided this was something which we wanted to do! We then headed up to the grandstand and soaked up the atmosphere, there was a lot of people there even for a practice and Cat decided to play guess the speeds, and was actually pretty good at it.


 After the racing we walked along the Douglas promenade and to the Bushys tent, we grabbed a beer but it was pretty clear that it was not our scene, some people were totally hammered and pushing past you as they could hardly stand, then they started to do a wet T-shirt comp and as good as they are it was just far to messy and we weren’t enjoying ourselves, so we called it a night and head back to the hotel.


 Friday we got up and went to meet a friend of mine Mian from London bikers. He had some bad luck - stuck the con rod through the bottom of his engine on his ZX9r, so he was a little stranded! We had some lunch and a couple of drinks before heading back early-ish as we had wanted to watch the racing at Creg ny Baa.


 Creg ny Baa is a great place to watch the racing as it’s on a corner, and it has a pub onsite and 2 grandstands which for about £2 you can buy a ticket for. It was our first chance to see the bikes on the actually course and soak up some of the real atmosphere. We got a taxi up there so as we sat in the sun we had a few drinks and generally really enjoyed ourselves.


That evening we met with 2 of our other LB mates Mike and Carol at the Charlie Boreman talk. We were a little disappointed in it as they promised to talk about bits which we had not seen on the DVD’s, but it just seemed to cover old ground and I think it was a bit of a money spinner for Charlie.

At the end of it Cat felt really ill - we had been drinking for a few hours but she really did feel pretty sick and it didn’t seem to be the alcohol so we headed back to the hotel which was a shame as we were looking forward to a big night with Mike and Carol!


 Saturday was the first day of racing – we watched some of it from the grandstand (going for Guy Martin, but he retired in the 5th lap), and then moved on to Creg ny Baa for the second race. It was a pretty long day – James had a snooze in the afternoon and then we went for a wander through town and had some fish and chips. The fish and chips was what we wanted from Blackpool! I think we ate it about 3 times in the week, it was that good.


 Sunday we rode down to Peel on the west coast to meet Mike and Carol for lunch and to check out the festivities. One thing we enjoyed was a guy making wooden statues/ornaments with a chainsaw. We investigated the Peel Castle as well, then went for another blast around the course and mountain road. Completely forgot about the free marshalls dinner we were invited to!


 So Monday we marshalled at Braddan Bridge, which was awesome fun! Unfortunately it was also the same day that one of the riders died in an accident, but we learnt so much about the TT and met some great people. Since we were newbies, our job was to stick in the background, and if needed, we would be called forward with the fire extinguisher (James) and the brush (Cat). No incidences on our corner thankfully – and the church ladies were lovely – free tea for the marshalls!


 We had a lazy day on Tuesday, no racing. But the evening had the RAF Red Arrows air display over the bay, and then the motorbike stunts from the White Helmets (professional army team) and the Purple Helmets (bunch of old men in long brown trenchcoats without purple helmets). Both were really clever, but the old men were funny – the penultimate stunt being Wheelie Bin Racing!


It was raining on Wednesday which was a shame, as we had met Mike and Carol at their friend Denise’s house in Crosby, right on the course, at the point where the bikes go past at about 190mph! We were able to see a couple of bikes go past, and had a great lunch, but then they called off the races and postponed them to the next day.

Bugger as the next day was our ferry home, so the best we could do was listen on the radio.  We did some last minute souvenir shopping, and bumped into our original aussie mates from the first day.



We had planned to meet up with some more LBers in Wales on Friday, but then found out James’ card had been cloned in London, and along with still having so much to get organised at home, we decided to pull out of that trip and head straight home.


So if you were tracking us on Spot, you would have seen us blast straight from Liverpool to London!  (if you want to follow our future trips, save this link: http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0zp4SER0v5ZY48M5sUD3iaUkb9n7toUdA - it will be active from Monday 27 June)


Few more changes made to the bike, Garmin 660 bought, got rid of the back box and replaced it with a heavy duty bag for clothing, couple more bits of kit bought, and we’ll be ready to roll next Sunday!

The Peak District, The Yorkshire Dales and The Lakes!

So we left London on Saturday 28th of May, headed up to see my parents in Boston Lincs. We got the bike loaded up and left, I took it pretty easy sitting around the 70 - 75 mph mark the whole way and with no traffic we made good time.

The bike looks pretty mad with all the stuff on as it’s a bike tall bike anyway, so with panniers and a top box plus all the extra bits its looks huge. Saying this it still handles pretty well, even though over 80 mph I get fairly bad wobbles from the front, also on left hand corners sometimes I notice a slight wobble when coming out the corner. So I’m going to mention this to KTM and get then fiddle with my front suspension, I was also thinking about dropping my forks through about 5mm as this will push the weight forward a bit. If anyone has any ideas then drop me an email!!

Sunday morning we left about 10am after a hearty breakfast (as always!) and headed towards the Peak District. We went through Bakewell and had a bakewell tart. Well, I had a tart, Cat didn’t like the look of them so she has carrot cake. We noticed a small sign saying classic motorcycle exhibition, so we decided to go in and check it out. It was great, there were about 50 bikes in total, some old Nortons, BSA's, a few of the first TT winners and lots of bike related memorabilia - we met the owner who amazingly owned all the bikes apart from 15 of them, and even more incredible they all worked and some of the 50-yr-old bikes were still able to go on the road each day!!!!!

We then started to look for a place to stay and chose Eden Tree House campsite in Castleton, for the sole reason that it was next to a pub :-) We then visited Speedwell Cavern, and old mining site, and queued up for over an hour to get inside. The people behind us were playing I Spy and Cat kept guessing the answers. It was very interesting as most of it was filled with water, so we had to get in boats in order to explore it. After the cavern we went for a small ride and on the way back to the campsite noticed a small beer festival at a pub, so we dropped the bike off and walked 2 miles back to it, so we deserved our big dinner!

 
That night it rained hard and we woke to everything getting wet. We chatted for a bit and tried to work out the best plan of action which we both agreed under normal circumstances would be to sit tight until the rained passed but as we only had 3 days to get to the TT and we wanted to do more exploring we decided to pack up and get moving rain or not. So we got the bike loaded, and in itself it was a great test for our packing system, as the only thing that stayed really wet was the tent.

 

We crossed into the Yorkshire dales, and came to a small but beautiful town called Grassington and decided we would stay in a B&B or pub to dry the tent out. We found an old pub right on the square that had a room, was pretty cheap and included breakfast. So we got the bike unloaded and dried our tent by hanging it between the light fittings and curtain rails, with a hair dryer.

The sun was out and the little village was quite busy, but we didn’t do a lot as it was about 7pm by the time we got ourselves sorted. We had a quick look around some of the shops in the square then had some food (the yummiest fish pie ever!) and went to sleep.

 

In the morning we went for a long walk through the fields and along the river. It was totally quiet as it was about 7am but the sun was shining and it was such a nice day. There were loads of baby lambs, baby rabbits, ducks with chicks it was just really nice, not to mention it was set with this beautiful river around this lovely town and gorgeous old mill.

 

We spent some time looking for fish in the river and Cat decided to have a couple of moments of madness - after trying to stroke a sheep she crapped herself as it baaa’d at her when she got too close, much to my laughter! And then she decided to run up the hillside and back!! Was very funny!!

 

Anyway, we had to get moving again, so the previous night we had text our ever faithful friends the Jetstreams (Chris and Julie) and they gave us a good route out and over to the Lake District.  

 

We got on the road and straight away it was looking good and we headed over some amazingly beautiful roads that were wide enough for just one car. We reached the lakes and after a drive around Windemere Lake we settled on a B&B above a pub in Bowness. Really pretty town with cobblestone streets. We had a few cocktails and beers and a yummy pasta dinner.

 

Next day we planned a route (this was the first map we had to buy) which took us to the north over the Kirkstone Pass, passed some more lakes and streams, and down the western/coastal side of the district.  We visited Muncaster Castle which is apparently a very haunted castle, but we didn’t see any ghosts. The original family still live there, and they have really gorgeous gardens, and an owl sanctuary.

 

Blackpool was our stop for dinner but we were sorely disappointed. The lights/decorations in the town were pretty and it really is a big rollercoaster, but the fish and chips was RUBBISH! Poor service too. Blackpool was a bit pants, so we didn’t hang around for long, and drove on to Liverpool and the ferry.

 

We got a bit of bike madness on the way to Liverpool - the autocom had broken so we couldn’t speak to each other, and james’ phone died so he couldn’t even listen to music. But we made it. We arrived about 8pm, and there were loads of other bikers there already, even though the ferry didn’t leave until 3am!

 

We met a biker who had just arrived from New Zealand, following pretty much the same route as us, and he told us his stories and gave us some great tips. He scared us off Pakistan – said it’s ALL under police escort, driving 18 hour days, can’t even stop for water, and your escorts are all amped up with fingers on the trigger, so you can tell the danger is pretty imminent.

 

So we’ve discussed the option of freighting the bike from Dubai to Nepal and carrying on from there, which will probably even work out better, weather-wise, since Nepal was always going to be a “maybe” depending on the time of year we got to India.

 

Next post – Isle of Man TT madness!

Getting Ready For Our Practise Run....

So its Thursday the 26th of May and its exactly a month until we get on the train France bound. We are packing the bike up this weekend for 3/4 days camping in the peak district before heading over to the Isle Of Man TT for 9 days then back to Wales to meet out mates of London bikers for a 2 day wales tour.

Its worked out perfect really as its a chance for us to load the bike to about 90% and test everything before we go. Then we we get back she goes in for a big service and then i go over her with a fine tooth comb with help from my good mate ROB to show me how to fix all the bits im going to have to change at the roadside.

Rob if you read this you are a legend and your help means a hell of alot to myself and Cat. To other bikers who are reading this Rob works at Southern Cross motorcycles, he's an outstanding mechanic and is happy to tell you and show you how it all works! I highly recommend all the guys down there!

The house is organised chaos, but its slowly making sense, when we get back we have a week and a half to get  everything sorted finally and try tidy the house up by giving it a paint so we get that much needed deposit back. All our bills and outgoings where given notice today, and much to the frustration of Cat they all tried to sell her something. Its amazing how bad the customer service is, these people just dont listen - an example call goes something like this - Hello we need to cancel our breakdown cover as we are going on a motorbike trip around the world - we then go through policy numbers and various other bits to finally get it resolved, then at the end the guy says - Can i interest you in our new home insurance cover,  us - well no - he buts in - our rates are very competative..... Cat screams "we are living on a motorcycle, what use is home insurance???!!" haha!!

Im looking for to the TT, the weather does not look great but im hoping it improves. Its something i have wanted to go to since i was a kid, i used to watch it on TV and you would always here stories of the dangers and sometimes the loss. I find it incredible how hard these guys push it such dangerous conditions, it truely blows your mind.  Then as we come back from this my sister is due to give birth, so good luck Jade, i hope all goes well and we will of course be up to see you before we go!!

Thats it for now, i will update once we get to the TT, or if anything interesting happens in between, this was really a test to see how the blog works!




Click here for RSS feed