Long Way Home 1

The reality - Sue

March the 24th (2005) did indeed see us leaving Hull bound for Zeebrugge, as we had planned. Our first stop was the Eifel region of Germany, and then North to the Hartz Mountains. The Masurian Lake District of Poland and Bialystok National Park were on the original route, as was Brest (2 hours to complete border formalities) and then the swift crossing of Belarus, to comply with visa requirements. Once into Russia – only 2 hours to cross - we headed due east until we reached Novosibirsk, and then south to enter Mongolia eventually at Tsagaannuur. Formalities at this little-used border post, which is closed on Saturday and Sunday, took us one and a half hours to leave Russia and then 2 hours to complete the Mongolian paperwork.

Crossing Mongolia will remain in my memories forever, as the diary updates tell the sto
ry, and we decided to extend the Mongolian visa we had, before we headed south, 546 miles through the Gobi to the Chinese border at Zamyn Udd.

Despite 2 days of trying to enter China, we had to admit defeat when the Chinese customs officials who saw our bikes on the back of a truck apprehended us. Again, the full story is recounted in the diary updates.

We headed back to U.B. Unfortunately, although we had extended our Mongolian visa, this still did not give us time to ride back and then apply for another Russian visa, before the time expired, so we put the bikes on the local train and travelled overnight back to the capital.

A second Russian tourist visa cost us $264 each, but we were held by the proverbial "short and curlies" and had to use a local travel agent, at the insistence of the Russian officials. They would not accept an e-mailed version of a letter of invitation, or we could have used an English travel company and obtained the L.O.I. for £15 and then another £40 for the visa.

We left Mongolia, for the third time - which was quite interesting, as we had only had a single entry visa - and went back into Russia at the Altanbulag crossing. This took a long-drawn-out 5 hours, but included 2 hours when they were closed for lunch. Six Swiss bikers had been two days at the border with paperwork that was not quite in order, so we considered ourselves fortunate.

A detour around Lake Baikal and then back through Siberia westwards to Novosibirsk, before we headed south to Semipalintisk. Here it was a brisk 1 hour 5 minutes to leave Russia and enter Khazakhstan. Now we had to go through the south east of the country, to enter Kyrgyzstan near Ysyk-Kol Lake and, travelling to the south of the country, we could pick up our original route near the Torugart Pass, where we would have exited China had we been successful in entering the country.

From Kyrgyzstan into Uzbekistan and then on to Turkmenistan, which was the one country where we had to stick rigidly to the given route. We had a 7 day transit visa but at the border -which took 5hours to get through and cost  $188 between us -the border guards told us we could only have 4 days, and we had to be out of the country by then …. or else…… (we later found out that it was no big deal if you were late leaving, just a fine and you were prohibited from  entering Turkmenistan again for 2 years. Wow!)

Crossing the Caspian Sea from Turkmenbashi to Baku in Azerbaijan, we thought we could take time to smell the roses, so to speak, as we had a 30day tourist visa. Wrong! We might have had a 30 day visa, but the customs officials said the bikes had to be out of the country in 72 hours.

I am getting the feeling now that we are being pushed through these countries at break-neck speed, but Georgia say we can stay, at least for 7 days! It cost $14 for both of us to enter Georgia, and the border officials were unbelievably helpful and friendly, ushering us through in 2 hours. Turkey give us 15 days, of which we use 11 to travel from the border crossing at Valle to Erzurum, Elazid, Antalya, and then up the coast to Canakkale.

We head for the Greek border and now, back in Europe, the paperwork is not a problem, just the sheer number of people travelling back from their holidays cause a 3-hour border crossing – and that was short because we crept up to the front on the wrong side of the roped-off lanes, and then crept back into line again!

Macedonia could have a healthy tourist industry, if it wasn’t for the outrageous 60 euros they charge for insurance. The country is barely 200km from south to north so this charge makes it an expensive sojourn. The Territory of Kosovo is next, and a very reasonable 20 euros for insurance. The times to go through the borders now are minimal, half an hour at most, with very helpful officials.

Bosnia Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, they all accept the euro, even though they have their own currencies.  Austria and Germany, a quick 40 minutes into France, and Belgium is the last country before home.

Only a slight detour to the original ‘dream’!



“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity...

The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty”