Deciding to go on a
long distance travel through weird and wonderful countries is not something that
usually takes place on a whim; a number of events usually precipitate it. In our
case, the following explain how and why we reached the state where we are on
April 23rd, 2007 – with 2 motorbikes prepared and ready to cross
Europe and North Africa on a 3 month odyssey.
up to the witness stand. Every apprentice needs their mentor, and every knight
needs their Jedi Master. Similarly, every motorcycle traveller needs their Toni.
It’s not often that your work manager can give you decent advice on how to
focus more on global motorcycle adventures and less on corporate computer
rubbish, but Toni is a rare breed of man. In a 12 year period, Toni has managed
to travel from his hometown in Bern, Switzerland to Cape Town, Delhi, Marrakesh,
Ankara, Sudan and beyond – all whilst being employed in a highly respectable
global company! Toni is now happily married, and has resigned himself to
Switzerland until BMW make a suitable long distance sidecar suitable for his
wife and baby boy. But he was only too willing to show us photos and part with
the knowledge that would suitably inspire 2 willing listeners to come up with
their own journey.
Following this in
late 2005 there was a viewing of The Motorcycle Diaries -
the classic 2 wheeled adventure of Che Guevara and his friend Alberto
Granado through South America in 1951. Not exactly the tough as nails, fully
qualified adventurers preparation but hey, the idea had to be planted somehow.
So the seed of a South American motorcycle trip was sown and planning for the
mission started back in January 2006.
Then the documentary
that has spawned perhaps a thousand similar trips - Ewan Mcgregor and Charley
Boorman’s highly organised, beautifully shot and limitlessly funded galavant
around the globe in The Long Way Round. Viewing of this (what could be
called the ultimate buddy flick) will always entice a man and a motorcycle to
abandon all trappings of the daily grind and head to the horizon, towards the
potholes and visa wranglings of far off lands.
The route on The
Long Way Round for the Middle Asia and Siberian sections was fanciful.
Without the help of a large crew and 6-wheel drive trucks it may have ended up
the most well hyped one way trip to Kazakhstan ever made. But for us budding 2
wheeled travellers, there were a few things to take note of:
Pack Light (you wont break your frame on bumpy roads, and you can pick
the bike up when you fall over)
Choose a bulletproof, low tech machine
Travel with a good mate!
It was this
documentary and Toni’s experience that cemented our choice of machine – the
venerable Yamaha XT660. A mere 165kg total weight, and a basic design of 30 years pedigree which, in various
formats, has crossed the globe thousands of times over. Machines were purchased
in February of 2006 and preparations started
Fuel Tank and Luggage
carrying were the main concerns. For this we went to www.off-the-road.de
and bought the necessary pieces. The hassles that were encountered in fitting
the tank and the luggage racks were enough to keep 2 bike engineers occupied for
a week, so don’t think that this is an easy job! The 26 Litre tank in
particular would end up taking a year to setup properly. Rounding off all the
niggles of a backyard workshop manufactured part, and marrying it to Japanese
engineered machinery led Pierpaolo to keep a photo journal of all the extra
“improvements” he made just to get the damn thing to work. He’s up to 10
pages and still counting… let’s hope that we will not wish we had written 11
when it falls apart somewhere on a dusty road somewhere in Dirkadirkastan.
reading, but for the Tech Nerds, train spotters and prospective travellers
amongst you out there, the following items have made it into our panniers for
* Motorcycle Jacket
* Motorcycle Pants
* Undies X 4 (always
clean, couldn’t give Mum the embarrassment if we were knocked down)
* Socks X 4
* T-shirts X 4
* Pants X 1
* Shorts X 1
* Fleece X 2
* Toothbrush and
* Camera, mobile,
* Maps and Guides (My
1989 Lonely Planet for Algeria is a collectors item I hear)
1 of these: http://www.worldwidenets.co.uk/index.asp?function=DISPLAYPRODUCT&productid=24
* Water Purification
as well as the
following, dispensed by my veterinary brother. The idea was to be able to cover
the bare essentials of gravel rash, gut problems (general sickness) or bum
problems (diarrhea). If we come back half Labrador, then I hold him responsible:
* 1 small bottle of SM 23 - the brown dab on for mouth ulcers, rarely
required but a godsend if you have them
* Flagyl - antibiotic called metronidazole for all things
* Cephalexin antibiotic for skin and respiratory infection
* Sterile dressings x 5
* Bandages : "SOFBAN" 7.5cm wide : is a roll of thin cotton
wool, use as 1st layer to pad it , then wrap in "COPLUS " 7.5cm , an
elastic conforming outer wrap.
* Physohex : small bottle of antisceptic
* Nurofen PLUS : super anti inflammatory with codeine , good to relive
pain and inflammation
* Broad spectrum Antibacterial eye drops : just in case.
* Condoms (nice to see some brotherly optimism at least!)
In June and July of
2006, 2 Shakedown trips for the riders and their machines were planned. One to
ride with Pierpaolo’s back to his home North of Venice (2000km), followed up
by a 2 week trip to and around Sardinia. Of the valuable things we learned on
these expeditions, the following stick out
Northern France in June can be as cold and wet as Scotland in December
Plastic bags make great socks in the rain
Smile, and the world’s traffic police smile with you
Yamaha XT660’s are comfy bikes for doing long distances, if a little
After a successful
shakedown, the idea of finalising our rough plan for the trip was at the
forefront of our minds. The original plan was to do a South American trip up the
Andes, starting off in Argentina, then heading up through Chile, Peru, Bolivia,
Ecuador and finishing up in Brazil. January 2007 was the proposed kick off date,
but due to family and work commitments this date was not realised.
So we started off
into 2007 in our jobs thinking “One day, we’ll do a big trip like this, but
I just don’t know when”. Well around March it was thrust upon us that our
current employer would no longer be in requirement of our services, and it may
benefit us to look elsewhere for pecuniary gain…
…which we naturally
took as our cue to kick some life back into the 2 wheeled continent crossing.
And so the seeds of an adventurous idea had sprouted, and suddenly we had just 5
weeks to harvest, and plan what would be the trip of a lifetime.
Looking at the South
America option, this was now unfeasible. The upcoming winter in the Southern
Hemisphere, coupled with the logistical problems and paperwork involved in
getting our vehicles to Argentina in quick time forced us to rethink our journey
What we knew is that
we had around 3 months to take off, and that we should target to do something
amazing – after all, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to do a once in
a lifetime trip.
So we opened
ourselves up to some ideas. The idea of doing a trip to the far East, through
Eastern Europe and a lot of countries ending in –stan, then into Mongolia and
and China was put through its paces. But the permissions and organisation
required to get two guys on their own bikes into China was beyond what we could
achieve in our mere 5 week planning and preparation window.
China was also not an option – trying to send our bikes back at the end of the
trip from the dusty depths of Tajikstan or wherever the road cut out was not
something that I was particularly interested in, and I suspect the Tajiki agent
for DHL probably felt the same way.
OK, so China makes
the Marco Polo journey a bit difficult and ending up in a country called
Blahblahstan is not feasible…what about a trip to India? Its been done before,
but there is plenty of mind blowing countryside and culture on that well
travelled route, and the opportunity of going beyond Turkey and into the mosques
of Iran and the Hindukush of Pakistan was all too appealing. And the only visas
we need are for 2 countries – piece of cake!
Make that a Hestor
Blumenthal duck soufflé, with the added tang of cordite and shrapnel. Our
contact with the embassies in the UK showed that no one could guarantee an
Iranian Visa, and this was the week before 15 English sailors very publicly
enjoyed the free room and board provided by Iranian customs officials.
Then my friend Mike
Summerfield - route planner extraordinaire and a man that sat with my father for
around 100,000 miles in a Jeep surveying long distance rally routes around the
world - started discussing the difficulties one can expect when going through
Iran and Pakistan. Given his route planning background in far flung places, it
usually pays to listen when Mike speaks. But I started going into a haze either
when he was talking about the quality of the fittings in his Iranian jail cell,
or at his witty recounter of the generously munitioned and trigger happy bandits
in the Baluchistan area… its not important really. What did become evident was
that queuing for 10 days on a London pavement, all on the fanciful whim of
gaining a visa that permitted the holder to be a target in a shooting gallery
was probably not the best way to spend our limited time and resources. So our
“India and beyond!” plan bit the dust.
Logistics of moving
the bikes and hassles with Visas in far off lands steered us in the direction of
doing a loop circuit, starting in London or Italy. The idea of going through
Europe, the Middle East and Northern Africa had an idiotic ring to it that gives
these things such appeal.
But it was revenge of
the bureaucrats, and an education in country diplomacy. You want to go to Libya?
Oh yes, that’s nice and easy, provided you have an armed government escort to
take you through the scruffy bits (about 2000 km from diplomatic reports). You
want to go between Israel and Lebanon? Surely you must be kidding! The Israelis
will never stamp your passport with a Lebanese stamp in there. You want to go
from where to Syria? Oh how you make me chortle!!! They don’t stamp anyone’s
passport if they can’t sing the hokey pokey backwards in Farsi, and especially
not when the ink on the Israeli visa is stamped in such an aggressive tone of
All of this made my
head spin and forced me to think. But the one thought that came hammering home
was of the Eurovision Song contest. I surmised that as long as bad pop music
exists, neither Lebanon, Jordan or Syria will be granted an entry in this
competition. And it’s not because they can’t write bad pop music; my travels
around the world thus far have enlightened me to the fact that the over
synthesised warblings of casting couch starlets exist in places where scientists
previously thought no life could exist. That includes Eastbourne.
And it’s a nay to
the hecklers who proclaim they’re not European enough – Israel won the
highly uncoveted accolade of Eurovision winners back in 1998, when Dana belted
out the miss (not quite a hit) “Diva” to wrestle the title back from a
relieved United Kingdom. The fact that Dana later relieved herself later in the
gents trough is a matter completely beyond the scope of this analysis, but it
also proved you don’t even have to be of a definitive sex to enter Eurovision
No, the reason why
Lebanon, Jordan and Syria (aka the Axis of Tabouli) will always be spared entry
into Eurovision is because they will always fail to abide by the golden rule,
and that is “Vote For Your Neighbour”. Greece and Malta know this and, next
to flat pack furniture and getting nude, it’s what the Scandinavian nations do
best. No matter how awful your neighbour’s song is, you must always give them
the maximum 10 points.
Given the schoolboy
antics of border guards along the Axis of Tabouli, I can’t ever see the
Jordanians getting down to the musical offerings of Israel. And could Syria
could find enough tomatoes to throw at both entrants? Eurovision may make bad
listening, but it does bring diplomatic harmony to a world gone crazy. But if
you can’t leave your pride and musical taste at the door, then Terry Wogan
won’t be ridiculing your entry next year.
That’s basically a
long way of saying that obtaining visas to certain parts of this planet requires
a bit more planning then what can be squeezed onto a beermat at your local pub.
Cross off Iran, strike through the Middle East…hmm, the options are starting
to look a bit limited for our big 2 wheeled adventure.
OK so lets cut out
all the painful countries that don’t want to give us Visas, and focus on the
ones that will happily stamp our passports and give us full escort to our
welcoming ceremony in the capital. Whereupon we will be showered with the
adulation of nubile university students, who find unshaven bikers “exotic”.
Well we couldn’t
quite get that route nailed down, but we came up with one that just about fits
the other requirements. Striking a balance between interesting and new on one
side, with pragmatism and ease of organisation on the other, we came up with the
Depart UK / Italy
(back to Spain)
And so The Short
Way Round TM was conceived and born. Think Ewan and Charley, but
without the in depth planning, screen credits, Hollywood looks and glamorous
adoring wives to return home to.
Attention to detail,
route marking and diplomatic knowledge of all cultures being entered into on
this trip is optimistically described as “patchy”, but in the good old
spirit of Italian/Aussie/Pommie comradery we will have a go, give it our best
shot and if all else fails, change sides and reverse our bikes back to the
The only thing
uncertain about this so called plan is the Algerian visa. Organising a tourist
visa beforehand was a painful and uncertain thing, but reports from one couple
who have notched up 400,000+ miles on a Harley crossing the globe say that we
can pick up a 7 day transit visa in Alicante Spain and get to Tunisia quick
As my Lonely Planet
for Algeria is the 1989 edition, this speedy run through the country may be a
blessing in disguise!
So with all the preparation almost complete we are ready to set off… viamichelin.com informs me I have 1,139 km to ride until I meet my travel companion for the next 3 months and 18,000 kilometres at his friends place near Girona. The Newhaven ferry to Dieppe will be my first country crossing of this adventure.