Dual Thu 28 December 2017

Vuelta ao mundo 1st part

After one year of preparation the day of departure arrived. We leave in a hurry dressed like gypsies, not on a Sunday as planned, but on a hot Wednesday in August. We are wondering how the bikes can keep their balance loaded as they are. Even the top box can’t be seen under all that luggage.
Proud of the project and of the equipment – we certainly are overloaded – we are afraid we won’t be able to keep the bikes on the road.
We are looking at a long journey, crossing 30 countries in 4 continents to finally reach Brazil.
We stop for the first time near the border with Ukraine, a psychological border as well: by crossing it we will leave everything behind us. Our first contact with an unknown language. At the gas station bar, we try to order breakfast. We are served a soup! But it is delicious, and we order another serving. Crossing the border eastward again we do not expect to travel back in time towards new frontiers, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. We quickly travel across Russia; our overnight in a hotel in Volgograd reminds us of the Soviet Union era. It is incredible to think how many people work in places like this, on the brink of ruin, with windows held together by tape, walls with two separated layers of wallpaper, plaster falling from the bathroom ceiling, unhinged bathroom door and loose electric sockets, not to mention the water draining directly onto the floor. It surely is the perfect setting for the sequel of the movie Hostel.

Kazakhstan – Borat. The guard at the border welcomes us with the an “Ok gentlemen, welcome to Kazakhstan!” pronounced with a strange accent that puts a smile on our faces. Everything’s ok up to this moment but it won’t last. We maintained an excellent travelling pace since we reach the city of Beuneu, close to the border with Uzbekistan, more than 5 days in advance. But we discover that our Visa is not right, and we are forced to take a detour for the beach of the city of Aktan on the Caspian Sea. We don’t know what to expect. No paved road nor buildings around us; only a desert of shrubs with a disastrous road. We have a flat on rocky terrain. We must detour due to roadwork and find ourselves riding in deep sand, a real challenge. We fall many times because we are overloaded, our tires run on awful ground and we are not that experienced in off-road riding. The first cracks appear on our Yamahas, the first screws fall off and some parts get deformed. End of the field trip, go with the expedition!
We finally get to Aktan, thinking it was the worst decision of our life. Thinking back now, this road through hell was necessary. Goodbye sand, goodbye rocks, we leave behind the desert of Kazakhstan with relief and cross the border with Uzbekistan.
Now we are riding on the legendary Silk Road
Along it we encounter the cities of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand. Khiva is a small medieval town surrounded by walls and full of architectural beauties. Bukhara is the color of sand where the blue madrasas stand out (a madrasa is a sort of Muslim school where religion and law are taught). Traversing the town’s center on our bikes, with our elbows touching the walls of the houses until we reach the main square, really impresses us. Built on a stretch of water, which makes it special, Samarkand is different, one of the oldest city in the world, with big buildings and wide, intensely trafficked, boulevards.
In Uzbekistan we discover new meanings for the word hotel; we spend one night in an old barn and another on mattresses placed on the roof of a building.
Currency exchange is a different experience too. Money is exchanged in a complete chaos, at the market, in a not completely legal way. If you need to change $ 200, bring a large bag where to store the enormous quantity of local currency you are going to be given.
Despite all the problems we will remember Uzbekistan with fondness.

Not far from Samarkand, a young girl suddenly crosses the road in front of us: one thing is a running dog another a child! At 110 km/h I have to hard brake which causes my front wheel to skid and me to fall on the road. Luckily, everything turns out well, the kid doesn’t get hurt and the protection pads of my riding suit (called dummy by one of the group) do their job. I have to throw away my fabric gloves, the Yamaha earns new dents, but we appreciate how all the rest withstood the fall. The only true problem is the rod of the front suspensions, which we are able to solve with the help of a citizen of Tashkent.
After the incident, we replace the fabric gloves with leather ones.
From Uzbekistan we plan to go to Tajikistan following the Pamir Highway but, due to an insurrection, military patrols forbid us to pass, making us backtrack with disappointment. We change direction and head towards Kirgizstan, since the border with Tajikistan is closed and the next is 600 km away. Here we start climbing the mountains and instead of sleeping in barns or under the stars, we chose the tent.
To reach the first camp, we travel on a 60 km long unpaved road, westward from the Biszkek-Narin road. The first part crosses a picturesque valley surrounded by high peaks. The last 20 km are more demanding with narrow and steep roads, curves and rocks but offers a breathtaking landscape. The off-road experience is growing. When we reach our destination, the Song Koll lake, we are at an elevation of 3055 meters from sea level and the temperature is much lower. We have a little heater in the tent, but it doesn’t work! In the morning we realize it’s no joke and we don other clothes under the riding suit.
We leave Kirgizstan while in the valley of Rash Rabat, where we meet a group of 10 people with whom we will travel across China to Pakistan. We don’t see a lot of China. The province we cross, Xinjang, is really a through road for Pakistan. The true China, as many of us imagine, is the eastern part of the country, or so our Finn friend says. At the border we are searched, all our PCs and HDs are checked, all our knives are confiscated, and we face a bureaucratic battle. We wait for the necessary documents sleeping in the parking lot. The organization we rely on is unprofessional. Our spirits are low.
After five days all the components of the international team are in a very bad mood, but however, we arrive at the border between China and Pakistan. The Border Patrol comes towards us with a happy “Welcome to Pakistan!”. After what we experienced in China, the warm welcome lifts our spirits. The Khunjerab pass is at an elevation of 4693 meters and is the highest paved border point in the world; it was made on the Karakorum Highway in twenty years, claiming the lives of more than 1000 workers. It seems made for us bike riders. We travel along the Chinese part with no problem. On the peak we pass under a stone archway, we are thrilled, we have reached the symbolic place of the trip. But the best part comes on the Pakistani side. After the pass, we say goodbye to the paved road. The KKH (Karakorum Highway) is undergoing makeover and this offers us a further challenge. A few hundredth meters and we find the first detour; we are now flanking a mountain along a big stream. We are disoriented because we never forded a river before, and along this leg we have to do it more than once. Every time we wade across, some of us pull out photo and video cameras to capture those crossing, waiting for someone to fall. Fortunately, nobody takes a bath! These trails with gravel, mud, rocks, sometimes paved, framed by the spectacular KKH, turned out to be a lot of fun.

The crossing of the Attabad lake is another adventure: it formed in 2010 due to a big landslide that blocked the Hunza river, flooding the KKH for 25 km and destroying 6 bridges. The solution is simple: the only way to get on the other side of the lake is to take the ferry. From the water’s edge we get on board small wooden boats with our bikes and while sailing it is better to hold on with one legs to the wooden posts that keep the bikes in place; the ferrymen cheer us with stories of cars that literally sunk and disappeared under the lake waters!
KKH is not the only incredible experience in mountain roads. After escaping trouble in Islamabad by hiding in a hotel and miraculously avoiding being run over by cars and buses on the roads of India, we head for Ladakh.
Ladakh belongs to India and, for a small part, to China, between the Himalayan mountain chain and the Karakorum mountains. The place can be reached through a spectacular road from the city of Manali (2050 m from sea level) to the city of Leh (3524 m from seas level). The road is 450 km long and winds through passes and in some places, reaches an elevation of 5000 meters. This road is the leg I would define “challenge at the highest point on the top of the world” on a two-wheel; in fact, it climbs to 5606 m at the Khardung La pass. The elevations indicated by the GPS is the progressive story of the increasing elevation: 3978 m Rohang pass La; 5030 m Baralacha La; 5059 m Lachulung La and 5328 m Taglang La. The roads twist between colored rocks and deserted, moonlike landscapes, in the typical Indian quietness, going days without seeing a soul. Ladakh is not only an Indian paradise but also a paradise for bike riders, except for the lack of gas stations.
We fill up whatever we have with gas and buy bottles of gas from the locals at increased prices. With the Ténéré we risk, covering up to 130 km on empty!
When we leave the Northern part of India things change again.
The 6-day trip towards Nepal is a nightmare. Traffic rules do not exist, people and animals sleep on the sides of the roads, car and motorbikes come at you intersecting from every direction, without using rear and sideview mirrors. Every intersection is a real chaos. Luckily in Nepal the situation is calmer with regular traffic. Our first flight awaits us in Kathmandu.
We planned to reach Tibet on our bikes through China and up to Laos, but unfortunately Chinese law doesn’t allow entry to groups with more than 5 people of the same nationality. Since we can’t wait for this law to change, we board a flight for Bangkok with out bikes, and from here we head for the Thai islands. Before we reach the first island, the chain of the bike breaks, but, luckily, a man, who is also a mechanic, has an old chain of the same size! After this little adventure, we arrive at our first island: Koh Samui. We couldn’t wait to get here, we are so tired, not only physically but also mentally. We have to do something to recover; we spend a total of 12 days on three islands. Ko Samui and Kho Phangan on our bikes and the third on rented scooters that, to our surprise, are equipped with off-road tires that are perfect on sand.

End of 1st part

Photos and texts: Lukasz Jastrzab