The ‘Great’ Adventure
Here I am supposed to be on some great adventure. I guess this is one of the low highs of the journey across half the world. Getting a visa for countries way off the radar can be so much more difficult then the internet will tell you. Waiting patiently (well let’s face it, patience comes in different forms depending who you speak to) is not my best trait, when I know I could be doing other things… like crossing half the world to get home.
As one wise man in Thessaloniki suggested, there is bigger problems then waiting for an unhelpful embassy to send your passport back to you. Looking at it that way puts things into perspective a little. This is part of the adventure after all.
I wish I had more exciting things to write about – you know, offroading in the mountains, falling into rivers and getting chased by local farmers but my current reality is far from that. This the most time I’ve spent in front of a computer screen, applying for visas, researching border crossings and reading blogs. Bizarre some of the things they’ll ask for in a visa application.
My biggest decision those days was to choose what type of gyros I wanted, and whether I’d drink a heineken or a local beer with it. Funny, because as annoying as the big decisions are to make, I miss making them. Strange, considering I’m whinging about what a pain in the bum they are to make.
I learnt alot about patience in Greece. Everyday I raced down to see Aimilia at the DHL office to get the same answer 4 day straight –
‘Yasso Aimilia, any news on my parcel yet?’
‘Not yet sorry Dutchie, there was a problem at the consulate/courier/airport/warehouse…(you get the point)’
Application after application whizzed by on the computer screen in front of me… Armenia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China, India… all these exotic locations were playing with my head over and over. I was dreaming about the adventure on the pamir highway, the ku tush and the mighty karakorum mountain range… but the reality of it all was that I was still here, still waiting for a passport, trying to spend as little as possible. It did of course give me time to tinker and meet plenty of people.
I practically lived at Nicks shop ‘Motoaction’. First off they went about getting trumpets 20,000km service done. Then upgrading the front fork springs and setting up the new rear suspension they had sorted me with (hyperpro). Then we went through all the spare parts, filters, tools and oils to make sure I had what I needed on the road. Nick decided to sponsor me and loaded me up with virtually everything I needed for the adventure ahead.
Finally, I was able to leave Thessaloniki. I wasn’t leaving much behind, aside from the all the friends I’d made – George, Nick, Kyriako, Julia, Jozef, Taxos, Stelios to name a few… but it was time to go and inside I was jumping for joy. I’d recieved what I’d been waiting for – my pakistani visa was stamped into my passport, and I actually had my passport in my hand, something that I thought would never happen!
On route to Istanbul
The ride to Istanbul was relatively uneventful until I got to the border, where the turkish border guards checked my paperwork at 4 different stations. They asked for my green card (insurance) which was expired, but I didn’t let them know that. I mean, it was clearly stamped on the insurance slip anyway. A lazy wave later I was off into Turkey.
The first thing I saw was a car hit a motorcycle just after the border. An elderly chap avoided getting injured somehow, but the bike looked like it had taken a licking. The driver just drove off without a backward glance. Looks like the tales of turkish drivers had some substance to them after all.
The road continued on, straight, straight and straighter still. Many mosques poked out from the small towns I whizzed past, gradually growing bigger the closer I got to Istanbul. The many shiny mosque domes sparkled in the sunlight and huge turkish flags flew high! I sure knew where I was right about then.
575 kilometres got me to the entry of the ‘highway’ roads entering Istanbul. ‘Highways’ – that’s a joke, it took me an hour and half to go 25 kilometres. From here onward, the turks proved everything that was said about their driving utterly correct. In short, no one gave a shit where or how they drove. That was quite an adventure.
If a driver felt like doing something, they did it, without a second thought of how severe it might be. Tell them they are in the wrong on the road and it’s a war of words for the next 5 mins. What a laugh. This was the first time I actually felt in danger on a road – Morocco was nothing compared to this hell. Bring on India eh?
Zigzagging around the countless yellow cabs, I got to Taksim (the centre of Istanbul) and located my legendary hosts for the next few days, Zeynep and Müjde. A few ups and downs with heavy luggage later, I was eating a delicious homemade chicken and potato dish with the girls, and enjoying some sweet Georgian wine with my first high up view of Istanbul.
Business began first thing in the morning after breakfast. Leaving later then we planned, Müjde and I raced for the Iran consulate, to get my application in before they closed. It was incredibly simple. I turned up, filled an application in, wandered off to pay the visa, came back and successfully submitted it with a ‘come back tomorrow to pick up your visa’. Sweet! Not too bad for someone who had been told by a consulate member that I looked like a member of ISIL!
Over the day, Müjde gave me the grand tour of Istanbul. First it was a stop for some turkish shish and salad, before going on to Topkapi palace and the grand Hagia Sophia and the ‘Blue’ mosque of Sultanahmet. Fountain jets soared into the air at the busy square, and despite all the negative media attention on Istanbul, and Turkey itself, I was having a great time. Definetly listen to CNN if you enjoy bullshit.
Next stop was strolling through the bazaars, both old and new and stopping by the coffee shop for some sweets. No idea what they were called but they were delicious – thin pastry with a sort of creamy pistachio filling. Artery destroying, but too delicious not to wolf down immediately. Knocking off a cup of turkish coffee to boot, we wandered off to the bosphorus strait… where after catching a ferry to the Asian side, I promptly fell asleep. The foot adventure had knocked me out.
There’s a load of things to see in Istanbul and not really enough time to see it all (as usual). I still managed to fit in time for the Galata tower, eating a local fish sandwich for 3 euros down on the docks and finish off visa applications at various embassies across Istanbul. Istanbul was a little adventure in itself when dealing with consulates and misinformation.
The Uzbekistan embassy was a bit strange and a small adventure in itself. I checked the current website for the address which was wrong. I checked the opening times which was also wrong. So the first time I went, I had no idea what to expect – it was closed. ‘Come back tomorrow at 11’ said the guard in sparse english. ‘Rightio’, I thought, at least now I have the right place and time to drop by.
I went back the next day at 10am (I read a recent blog that said it opened at 10am) and I was granted entry immediately. Wandering over to the window at the back I then proceeded to pass my paperwork through the window to the bloke at the desk (who proceeded to tell me I look like ISIL from Syria 😯).
He looked at my paperwork, then at my photos and then at me. He began to cut them neatly to stick them on my application. Very seriously he said to me –
‘You know, this isn’t my job, to cut photos and stick them on your application. I don’t get paid to do this’
Resisting the hook I retorted
‘Oh yes, I’m terribly sorry, I could not find any glue or scissors this morning. I’m sorry for the inconvenience’
To which he looked at me curiously before replying
‘Don’t worry. It’s ok.’
Normally I’d come off with a real smartass comment, it’s what I do. However, it was time to play the game so I was being as diplomatic as possible. The conversation continued.
‘The visa won’t be ready until the 19th of september, 10 days from now’
‘Not even on express listing?’
‘No, it’s national holiday until wednesday next week, so we are closing for 10 days’
So this was a problem – I was planning to leave turkey at the very latest in 3 days, 10 days was going to lose me way too much time. What was I going to do?… then
‘Can I submit the visa application here and pick it up in Iran?’
‘Yes. I told you this. You don’t listen’
(I don’t recall this being said)
‘Oh… I apologise that I didn’t listen that’s my mistake. Would it still be possible to pick up the visa in Iran?’
‘Is the paperwork ok for you, is there something I need to sign?’
‘No, no signing, just for me to sign’
‘Sorry to bother, but can I please check the application to make sure it is filled out and I have signed it’
‘….. here, hurry up’
Taking a look, yeap, there it was ‘applicants signature’ box was empty. So I signed it and handed it back. There was no way I was messing this up.
‘Thanks for your patience, have a nice afternoon’
And with that I wandered back to town in search of a mechanic and some heidenau K60 scout tires for the adventure ahead.
After many emails, facebook messages and forum posts I located a guy that afternoon in Istanbul, the only one carrying heidenau tires. Everyone else only seemed to stock Michelin, Metzeler or Continentals. With much relief he had the exact tires I was after, no organising couriers or anything like that. Bonser!
I turned up at the shop and Serkan from ACR Motorcycles welcomed me with open arms, gave me a tour of the shop and garage while his man fitted my new heidies on. He wanted to help me out a little, so he waived the tire fitting fee and gave me a new set of gloves and a neck warmer for free, as well as a bunch of shiny stickers. Go there for a visit and Serkan will make sure you are well looked after.
All the important stuff done, I relaxed for the last two days, waiting for the holiday traffic to disappear (it was a national holiday festival) and exploring the nightlife with Zeynep. We ended up at Zeynep’s favourite rock bar one night, to swish down a few cold ones and listen to covers of Bon Jovi and Dio. All in all, I had a fun, interesting time in Istanbul, but it was time to resume the adventure.
On route to Georgia
So, it was approximately a 1300km slog to Batumi, the black sea city of Georgia. I left at 1pm from Turkey (getting up at 6am didn’t quite work) and blitzed the highway all the way to Samsun, only stopping for fuel and chai tea. Samsun is approximately 750km from Istanbul, and I ended up getting there around 10pm that same night. I found a cheap hotel room for 10 euros, dropped all my gear upstairs and promptly passed out.
In the morning, after a long sleep, I went in search of an ATM dispensing US dollars. Conveniently enough, I literally went to every ATM within 2 kms, to no avail. I tried asking at several hotel receptions but nobody spoke english or understood my strange sign language. Walking back to my hotel, I peeked around the corner and lo and behold – an ATM dispensing US dollar appeared, 30 seconds walk from my hotel door. Go figure.
I didn’t waste much time that day, I jumped back on the beast, and continued our relatively boring straight un-adventure like highway ride to Batumi. I stopped only twice for petrol, and once for a rogue sheep who had stopped the whole 6 lanes of 2 way traffic. I managed to get to the georgian/turkish border 7 hours later. On approach, there were turk trucks backed up for kilometres down the black sea road.
What a riot! There were people absolutely everywhere, huge lines of strode back all the way onto the road. Lots of shouting and pointing going on. It would be a bloody adventure trying to cross by foot. The huge ute behind me kept trying to run me over, until he realised that a sticky rider underneath his tires probably wasn’t going to help him with the border crossing. Fun fun fun!
The georgian guard was a nice enough fella, and after a few doubtful looks at me and the bike, he called over his mate to have a sticky beak at my paperwork. After answering 5 questions (in english to their georgian) they pulled out the stamp and bunged it onto my passport. Half the adventure is trying to dechipher a foreign language! Bloody beaut mate!
Into lovely Georgia I wandered, never was there a better birthday present that I recieved. 15km and a dark alley later I was inside my little hostel, being poured glasses of Chacha (similar to Grapa), Cognac and handed a bottle of wine to sip from. Not a bad welcome eh?
Coming to you next week – riding trails in the caucasus mountains of Georgia and visiting Tbilisi.