Two Aussie blokes riding their BMW R1150GSs from Australia to Europe

Tag: riding around the world (Page 1 of 2)

Watch “Malaysia – Episode 2” now

For your viewing pleasure enjoy the first ride outside of our own borders; Malaysia! The logistics of getting our bikes out of customs in Kuala Lumpur and onto the road in a foreign country wasn’t without its hiccups, but we eventually hit the road and headed straight for the Cameron Highlands. After that it was back to the coast for an adventure on Penang Island before making our way to the border to enter Thailand.

We decided to upload this video on Vimeo because we’re sticklers for quality, but die hard YouTubers will find the same video on our YouTube channel

To read more about our time in Malaysia check out our blog post:

Malaysia to Thailand

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A rather dramatic end of the road after 34,119kms

After being stuck in Vienna far longer than expected whilst we tried to finalise settling down, the opportunity to return to London and ride the bike home finally presented itself. Unfortunately Moni decided that she wasn’t able to spare the time to join me, so our original plans of heading north through Belgium, The Netherlands and Northern Germany to catch up with her friends there were made null and void. I decided however to make the most of the opportunity and return to The Alps where I could enjoy the mountain riding – this time without a pillion. It also gave me the chance to catch up with another friend from Beijing, Becs, who’d moved back to Geneva a few years ago.

With views like this, I'm pretty sure you'd be keen to get to The Alps too

With views like this, I’m pretty sure you’d be keen to get to The Alps too

With a tight timeline and The Alps firmly in my sight, my trip across France was again nothing more than a commute. I considered stopping in Paris for the night, but the thought of navigating the bike through one of Europe’s biggest cities just to say “I’ve done it” didn’t really enthuse me, so I steered clear. And so in two days, stopping for nothing but food and fuel, I made it to Geneva.

It was fantastic to see Becs again and she wasted no time in showing me some of Geneva’s eating and drinking highlights – we hadn’t seen each other in four years, and enjoying beers on Lake Geneva really emphasised the cultural differences to Beijing. But The Alps were a stone’s throw away so the following morning I set off to put myself in their midst.

I’d marked a few mountain passes on the map, the first being the Grimsel Pass. After giving the bike a good flogging I stopped at the damn wall of Lake Grimsel to take a break and a photo or two. There were motorbikes everywhere, but one stood out: a brand new R1200GS fully loaded, complete with a spare set of heavy duty tyres. Of course, when you see a big bike in an Asian country it’s not at all unusual to see a spare set of tyres on it. But in Western Europe big bikes and motorcycle workshops are in abundance, so I knew this bloke was heading somewhere different. Turns out he’d noticed the “AUS” sticker next to my number plate and we immediately knew we were on bigger journeys than the other bikers tearing up and down the passes.

The old adventurer and the new with the old bike and the new.

The old adventurer and the new with the old bike and the new.

Ewen was only four days into his trip around the world (check out his blog goinground.me) – he’d left from Cologne in Germany and was planning to spend two years on the road. Heading in the opposite direction to that which we had come, he was enroute to Australia, after which he was planning to skip across to The Americas. After the small talk we realised that we were heading in the same direction for the day and both wanted to smash a few more passes. So with no good reason not to, we decided to ride together.

The Old Girl, at the top of Furka Pass

The Old Girl, at the top of Furka Pass

And smash the mountain passes we did. From Grimsel we next took on the Furka Pass, and that in turn led us to the Gotthard Pass. The Gotthard Pass took us in the wrong direction, but we decided to ride it anyway as that would give us a good excuse to do it all over again in reverse. This is where it all went horribly wrong.

Spurred on by another rider who was undoubtedly on a more powerful bike than I, I was giving the Old Girl everything she had to keep up as we zig-zagged back up the pass. I wrapped the throttle on after coming out of a hairpin and the bike revved in turn – but there was no power to the wheel. Trying again, the engine screamed, but forward momentum escaped me. Needless to say I was a touch disappointed that here, on the first day of what I’d hoped would be several in The Alps, my bike was going nowhere.

Eventually Ewen came back, realising that I was no longer in his rear vision mirror. He graciously offered his help to try and sort it out with me but I refused: we’d only met two hours before, and four days into his journey he didn’t need to be burdened with a bloke on broken bike. And besides, after riding more than 30,000kms across the world I was pretty sure I could sort something out on my own. So I bid him good luck and farewell, and proceeded to push my bike in the opposite direction.

The wonderful thing about breaking down near the top of a mountain pass in the European Alps is that you’ve got a long way to get to the bottom. I rolled the Old Girl no less than 5kms (at quite a pace too) before the hill flattened out and I rolled to a stop. The nearest campground was still 10kms away so I turned her over to see what might happen. Applying the throttle very gently I was able to get some momentum, but if I pushed it any harder than 4000RPM the power disappeared. So ever so gently I eased towards the camp site.

The timing was painfully ironic – I was only 1000kms away from finishing the journey for good, and yet here I was stuck in the middle of Switzerland with a bike that couldn’t ride any faster than an electric wheelchair. Suspecting the clutch to be the cause of my woes, I posted on the Advrider forum to see what others more knowledgable than me thought of the situation. The night’s campsite set me back $45AUD so I wasn’t really enthusiastic about getting the bike repaired in Switzerland; the clutch after all is one of the most time consuming jobs to do on a BMW. I really just wanted to know if people thought I could make it back to Vienna.

I woke the following morning to a multitude of replies to my post on the forum – the internet really is an incredible thing! There were two possible scenarios put forward: firstly as I suspected, my clutch was spent; secondly it could be that the drive shaft was turning inside itself, causing the loss of power. It was proposed that if it was the clutch I might be able make it to Vienna; if it was the drive shaft the bike was going home on a truck.

The fly wheel and clutch plates from behind the starter motor

The fly wheel and clutch plates from behind the starter motor

I pulled the starter motor off the side of the bike to take a look at the clutch, which to my untrained eyes looked fine – no fluid to be seen which could cause slippage. But without the means to inspect the driveshaft myself, I resolved to try riding 80kms to the nearest BMW dealership to see what they had to say on the matter. I decided their opinion would determine my course of action – providing of course that I made it there at all.

To go easy on the bike, I choose to ride under the Gotthard Pass - a 16.9km tunnel - the fourth longest in the world

To go easy on the bike, I choose to ride under the Gotthard Pass – a 16.9km tunnel – the fourth longest in the world

After perhaps the slowest, most nervous 80kms I’d ever ridden I arrived just 30 minutes before closing time. The head mechanic took the bike for a quick spin and upon his return he announced through a thick Swiss-German accent “it’s really bad”. Well, no surprises there.

He suspected it was the clutch and quoted approximately 2000 Swiss Francs for the labour to repair it – near enough to $3000AUD – which is almost what the bike itself is worth. This was all the motivation I needed to jump straight back on the bike and try my luck to Vienna. The first goal was just to get out of Switzerland; if it did come to the point that I needed to call a truck, my wallet desperately wanted to be making that phone call from Germany or Austria – not Switzerland. It was already 6pm, and I had 200kms to ride before the next border – Europe never felt so big! By 10PM I found a campsite just over the Austrian border. No more than two minutes passed after I’d set up my tent before the heavens opened. What a day.

The heavens were still wide open when I woke the following morning – it was pissing down. This was to be my last day on the bike, and what a way to start it. I packed the sopping wet tent in the pouring rain and proceeded to get sopping wet in the process. Over breakfast I checked the map: 650kms to Vienna. Then I checked the weather forecast: rain all day, all the way to Vienna.

Wet and cold and enroute to Vienna

Wet and cold and enroute to Vienna

And so my last day on the bike was spent riding on the shoulder of the autobahn on a busted bike for ten hours in the non-stop pouring rain. Seriously, it didn’t let up even for five minutes. It was the most depressing day I’ve ever spent on a motorcycle. Of course, the silver lining was that the bike made it to Vienna without further incident, and I’m seriously thankful the journey didn’t end on the back of a truck.

When I did finally step off the bike every inch of me was soaked through – my supposedly waterproof gear was saturated; water squished out of my boots as I walked; my camera and passport were damp inside my waterproof tank bag wrapped in it’s waterproof rain cover; the GoPro on the handlebars sat in a small pool of water inside its waterproof case. Under these circumstances it was difficult to appreciate what I’d just finished: 34,119kms from one corner of the globe to another.

Getting off the bike in Vienna for the last time. This photo says a lot

Getting off the bike in Vienna for the last time. This photo says a lot

As stereotypical as it may sound, it was Ewan McGregor and Charlie Borman’s “Long Way Round” that originally inspired me to ride a motorcycle. Their journey was presented as a stylised adventure and it’s popularity spawned a new category of motorcycling complete with motorcycles to go with it: Adventure Motorcycling. Subconsciously it was they who planted the seed for Drew and I more than ten years ago. Commercial hype aside, our our journey was very similar – an adventure. And how lucky I was to share it with my best mate Drew, with my wife Monica joining me at times along the way.

The dream team in Kathmandu

The dream team in Kathmandu

But now, several weeks after the journey’s completion I’m left not with a sense of adventure, but an overwhelming sense of privilege. Privilege that I had the opportunity and the means to complete such an epic adventure. I had health, financial means and freedom from responsibilities like children and mortgages – not to mention an understanding wife! However these privileges I was aware of even before we departed.

As the journey progressed I became acutely aware of a different sort of privilege – the privilege of circumstance. This adventure didn’t require extraordinarily hard work, nor did I have to make extraordinary sacrifices to achieve it; I’m just an ordinary guy living an otherwise ordinary life. But I was born into a life immeasurably more privileged than so many other people. It’s very difficult to perceive this as you go about normal life, especially living in the city that for the sixth year running has been ranked as the world’s most liveable.

It becomes painfully obvious however as you travel through developing countries with little wealth or prosperity. When you’re approached at traffic lights by emancipated child-beggars. As you overtake a family of five travelling together on a 100cc scooter. When you stop at road works and watch women laying tar by hand. When you see rubble piled up on street corners twelve months after an earthquake. When you pass men sitting together in the back of a pickup holding machine guns. When you see buildings pockmarked with bullet holes. After seeing these things, you realise that you really do live a privileged life.

As we travelled through Australia, nobody looked twice at us on our adventure motorcycles. Nor did we score a second glance from anybody beyond Turkey. But in developing countries people showed us real interest – we were different. The interest I’m sure was genuine, but fundamentally it was not us that they were interested in. They were interested in a life that was foreign to them, a life that in their realms of possibility could never be possible – we were exposing them to something that previously had only ever existed on TV or an illegally copied DVD. We were unreal to them.

Surrounded by people in Pakistan who couldn't quite understand what they were seeing

Surrounded by people in Pakistan who couldn’t quite understand what they were seeing

And it is this that I am left with: how truly privileged I am to have completed such a journey. For Drew and I it’s been the adventure of a lifetime, and I hope from behind your computer or smartphone you’ve enjoyed coming along for the ride.

With our sincerest thanks,

Drew & James – The Blokes on Spokes

2016-05-19 at 19-28-01

Western Europe and the turn from West to East – 31,782kms

Wow, how the real world has caught up with us, and fast! Our stop in Vienna several weeks ago opened a big can of worms, aptly labelled “reality”. We tried our best to jam the worms back in again and seal it shut by jumping on the bike and continuing west, but here we are back in Vienna, without a bike. We abandoned it in London to tend to some more reality related business which has taken longer than expected; we’ve since had to postpone our return flight by at least a week. The flip side is that this has provided a wonderful opportunity to update you on the most recent leg of our journey.

My first flight in 21 countries - London to Vienna

My first flight in 21 countries – London to Vienna

The Western European leg itself has been more about catching up with friends and family rather than being tourists. If you look at the map, you can see that for the most part we’d not taken a particularly interesting route to achieve this, but it wasn’t without it’s highlights.

The first stop was St. Gallen in Switzerland to visit Joanne, a former work colleague of Monica’s. Joanne’s husband is Swiss and the family had flown from Australia for a holiday.

Moni & Joanne in St Gallen

Moni & Joanne in St Gallen

Two things can be said from the outset about Switzerland. Firstly, it’s mind-blowingly beautiful; every corner you turn seems like you’ve entered into a postcard.

Secondly, it’s wallet-blowingly expensive; we paid nearly €40 for the privilege of pitching our tent on one occasion. Needless to say we didn’t stick around longer than necessary. We did however meet a fantastic French couple at said camp site who were touring on their BMW K1200. It would be an understatement to suggest that Moni was a little envious of Dominique’s pillion seat on the luxury tourer, and Vincent very kindly offered her the chance to test it out for herself. I suspect, if I succumb to Moni’s requirements of a motorcycle, my next bike might be from the K series…

Our trip towards Germany took us through some incredible mountain roads, some of which were cobbled – definitely a surface I’m not used to tipping the bike over into.

A cobbled 180° hairpin in the Swiss alps

A cobbled 180° hairpin in the Swiss alps

We skirted through the Black Forest in the south western corner of Germany before crossing the Rhine into France to spend the night in a heavily German influenced town called Turckheim. Famed for it’s wine and it’s storks, a good time was had by all.

Unfortunately I’d noticed a very disconcerting wobble whilst riding over the previous two days and I feared that the Old Girl’s final drive was about to give up on me. Without Drew’s expert advice on hand, I put the bike on it’s centre stand to take a short video which I sent to Drew for his appraisal.

He was as fearful as I was and advised that I ride no further than absolutely necessary. Moni and I decided it would be easier to turn back to Germany for some expert advice rather than try our luck in France; Moni speaks German, and being the Old Girl’s birthplace we expected parts to be easier to come by. So back over the Rhine we went to the nearest town with a service centre: Freiburg.

Crossing the Rhine in the wrong direction

Crossing the Rhine in the wrong direction

Freiburg is famed for it’s open waterways called Bächle, which flow through the streets and date back to the 13th century. Strolling around the city’s old quarter made for a pleasant distraction whilst the bike was getting her dose of TLC.

The team at Motorrad Zentrum Freiburg were absolutely amazing – they offered to put the bike on the hoist immediately to inspect the problem. Surprisingly (but thankfully) their mechanic gave the final drive a clean bill of health and suggested that the wobble might be due to my extremely worn tyre. I was hoping to make it to London on the old tyre, but the side by side comparison shot confirms that this was the right time to change it.

So with fresh rubber we were back over the Rhine (again) and heading westwards towards the UK. Disappointingly, northern France was bland to ride through. Towns were small, void of character and often people too. To make matters even less inspiring we were caught in some pretty miserable weather.

Moni sporting some additional weather protection

Moni sporting some additional weather protection

France became nothing more than a commute. It did provide a great opportunity to reflect on what I’d achieved over the last couple of months – originally England was our end goal, and now that we were only a day away the reality of travelling so far across the world was setting in.

We decided to take the shuttle train under the channel to the UK and although this was more expensive than we’d expected (€120 one way), it was certainly an interesting experience. You literally drive into the train and 35 minutes later you drive out the other end in another country! Not wanting to disappoint us, England greeted us with a not-so-warm and rainy welcome.

Inside the shuttle train under the channel

Inside the shuttle train under the channel

We were due to meet my sister in the afternoon, but with a bit of time to kill before she finished work we thought we’d ride by some of London’s sights.

What a stupid idea this turned out to be. London has the worst traffic congestion of anywhere I’ve ridden through in the last 30,000kms. It took over an hour for us to ride 10kms through the city despite the fact that I was lane splitting wherever possible. And of course, once in the city we had to get back out again!

After covering 25kms in three hours in heavy traffic, rolling into Jenny’s street in Shepherd’s Bush felt nearly as good as going for a swim in a pool of beer. And this was almost what I got as Jen showered me in champagne on our arrival. Fantastic to see her again and great that she acknowledged the achievement of riding across the world.

A champion's welcome

A champion’s welcome

A social, non bike related couple of days were spent in London catching up with friends from all over the world.

The social agenda required that we get back on the bike and continue west towards Ireland. Enroute to Wales we stopped in Warwick to say hello to my cousin Rachel and her family. To their father’s dismay the girls took quite a liking to the bike.

My cousin Rachel and her daughters

My cousin Rachel and her daughters

Before we knew it we were rolling off yet another ferry in another country. No time was lost getting straight to the heart of Irish culture: Guinness. After smashing a few pints at the St James’s Gate Brewery we spent a very hospitable night with Mich, a good friend from Melbourne who’d recently moved back to Ireland.

The following day we stopped in at a small town called Shercock to say g’day to “our man” Colm, of Darwin to Douglas fame. We met Colm and his riding partner Ed on the Thai/Myanmar border some 20,000kms ago. Almost by chance, we met again in Pakistan and travelled together as a gang of four across two thirds of the country. It was great to see Colm in his natural environment, on the farm!

Finally, after riding 30,932kms towards the setting sun, we arrived at the journey’s most westerly point; Falcarragh, a small coastal town in the north western corner of Ireland. Here we met Adrian and his partner Lou, two very good friends from Melbourne. They’ve taken a sabbatical to spend some quality time with Ado’s family and it was fantastic to get an insight into traditional Irish farm & family life, even if we could only understand half of what was being said! It’s a spectacular stretch of coastline and we spent a great couple of days taking in all the area had to offer, including of course, more Guinness.

After 5 months and 16 days of travelling west it was finally time to turn the bike around in the opposite direction. With no time to spare we were straight back to London to catch our flight to Vienna where we now sit. Western Europe has been a whirlwind of preparing to settle in Austria, social catch ups and eating up the kilometres in between each social engagement. The real world has started to dominate our thoughts and actions, and sometimes I forget that technically the journey’s not quite over yet – I just need to get back to London to get the bike! It’s also easy to forget that I’ve almost completed a dream hatched a decade ago with my best mate in a share house in Melbourne, 32,000kms away. I think now might be the time to start planning for the next one, and cheers to that…

The best plans are laid over a beer or two

The best plans are laid over a beer or two

Central Europe – a change of lineup and a change of mindset


It was a strange feeling saying goodbye to Drew after literally spending every waking minute together for the last four months. We’d travelled so far, met so many people and experienced so much; together. Of course, the practical part of me (which a lot of people would argue is the most dominant) knew from the beginning that this moment was coming. But that didn’t make it any easier to say farewell.

What did make it easier though was the knowledge that for me, the journey wasn’t over yet. After spending a few weeks in Vienna making preparations for our residency it was out with the old, in with the new and back on the road again. Like it or not Drew has been replaced by Moni, my wife, and two up we’re now making our way across Europe.

This change in personnel has also marked a significant change in attitude for the journey. You can’t channel Casey Stoner when you’re two up, not if you want to stay married that is. Road selection hasn’t been about how many bends it has or how high it’s altitude is, and certainly not whether there’s any dirt we can hit. It has become a delicate balance of practicality; how quickly will we reach our destination vs how much will we enjoy the time on the bike.

And despite the change in personnel, I can’t help but recognise there’s been a shift in the journey that’s totally out of my hands. We’re no longer ‘adventure motorcyclists’ because if we’re totally honest, we’re no longer on an adventure. Travel through Europe is blissfully easy; people follow the rules, road quality is magnificent, food is fantastic, infrastructure functions in a functional fashion, you don’t have to factor four hours to cross a border and you can sit down on the toilet and use paper instead of your hands to clean up after yourself. We’re tourists and we’re on holiday, we just happen to be doing it on a motorcycle.

And we're on the road

And we’re on the road

This transition from adventurer to tourist has been apparent in the way other people interact with us too – previously our motorcycles would attract attention, and when asked what our purpose was people would clearly struggle to comprehend just what was wrong with us.

You can't be sure your tank's really full unless 50 people confirm that it's full

You can’t be sure your tank’s really full unless 50 people confirm that it’s full

Now we don’t stand out in the crowd – nobody seems to notice us riding a bike that’s 13 years old and not straight off the factory floor like most of the other bikes we see (and gee BMW must be doing alright for themselves at the moment). I suspect that most people think the ‘AUS’ on the back of my bike stands for Austria instead of Australia as even fellow motorcyclists don’t engage in conversation with us – it’s all just so normal.

Waiting to board the ferry to Sardinia - we lined up with 10 other bikes, and none of them even said hello

Waiting to board the ferry to Sardinia – we lined up with 10 other bikes, and none of them even said hello

And so it’s with this new line up and mindset that Moni and I have made it two thousand kilometres further west of Vienna. I had organised to spend a week on the Italian island of Sardinia for Moni’s Christmas present, so it was in the south-west direction that I pointed the handlebars. We ate breakfast in Graz, Austria, had lunch in Ljubljana, Slovenia, before arriving in eastern Italy for dinner.

Good to know how far several of our destinations are - overlooking Graz, Austria

Good to know how far several of our destinations are – overlooking Graz, Austria

We’d decided to skip Venice enroute, as we knew we couldn’t take the bike there. The thought of finding somewhere to leave the bike and then unloading all of our luggage didn’t really appeal so we scraped it from the list. Of course, we still needed to find somewhere to stay for the night, and purely by coincidence we found ourselves in a caravan park almost directly opposite The Floating City. When checking in, the receptionist showed us the map of the park and pointed to the bus stop out the front, saying “this is where the bus departs to Venice, and it will take you there in ten minutes”. I looked at Moni and said “dinner in Venice then?”, and before we knew it we were on the bus. What a delightfully pleasant surprise too – we spent two hours walking through the city enjoying the atmosphere before we found somewhere to eat.

The next morning it was off to the Tuscan capital of Florence. The road into Florence crossed a mountain range which made for some cracking motorcycling, even though we were two up. The sound of performance sport bikes echoed through the hills as we descended into Florence – the Italians do enjoy their motorcycling! After another casual stroll through the old town we obliged our palettes by indulging in some more quality Italian food and wine.

We were taking the ferry to Sardinia from Livorno which is 25kms from the infamous Pisa, and it would have been quite rude of us not to pay a visit.

After a night on Livorno’s coast where we watched kite surfers with envy, we rose stupidly early to catch the ferry to Sardinia. Our destination was Stintino on the far north western corner, where we did absolutely nothing but eat, drink and laze on the beach for a week!

All good things must come to an end as they say, but our next firm destination was to be St. Gallen in Switzerland more than a week later. On a whim we decided to spend that week making our way north through France’s answer to Sardinia; Corsica. I don’t even know where to start with Corsica – it’s like Tasmania on steroids, in the middle of the mediterranean! It has mountains over 2500 metres high, picture perfect beaches, world class hiking trails, surfing, kite surfing, diving, sailing – the list goes on. Oh, and did I mention the motorcycling? The place is a motorcyclist’s wet dream and for Drew’s sake I’m sorry to say that it beats Romania for the number one motorcycling destination we’ve travelled through yet. And to top it all off the food is to die for – fantastic locally produced cured meats, cheese, wine and beer make for very happy tourists.

Unfortunately St. Gallen was calling and so it was back on the bike to get back on the boat to begin our mad-dash through Europe to catch up with the dozen or so friends we have dotted in all corners of the continent. It’s tough, but somebody’s gotta do it…

Budapest to Vienna – the end of the road after 26,250kms

Very happy with ourselves as we stepped off the bikes in the heart of Vienna

Very happy with ourselves as we stepped off the bikes in the heart of Vienna

And that’s a wrap folks! For me this epic adventure has finally come to an end, I promised Sophie I would be home for her birthday and although I have missed it by one day I will make her birthday party. I feel naked without my motorcycle, my life as I know it is in a 27kg bag and my bike will eventually make it home by ship, thankfully James and Monica can look after it until then.

What a bike! Brigitta's 17 years old with 170,000kms on her clock and she's taken me 26,250kms across 14 countries without a hitch

What a bike! Brigitta’s 17 years old with 170,000kms on her clock and she’s taken me 26,250kms across 14 countries without a hitch

All 27kgs of my life's possessions for the last 4 months, wrapped up in a $4 gypsy bag

All 27kgs of my life’s possessions for the last 4 months, wrapped up in a $4 gypsy bag

Vienna, Austria (Monica’s home city) was the catalyst for this trip and what a beautiful city it is! Always coming in a very close second to the world’s most liveable city, Melbourne. After spending six wonderful days in Romania I only had three full days to take in Vienna, but with Monica to show me around I feel like I know it and can’t wait to visit again with Sophie. We have many friends and family who now reside in Europe so I can see many trips to come.

The red wine consumed last night has brought on some emotional reflection of our journey. What we accomplished in four months on our motorcycles will only take a jet plane 22 hours. Looking out the window of the plane I can almost pinpoint our journey overland. I’m dressed in my new clothes from Zara in Vienna, upon purchase I noticed it was made in Pakistan and it took me back to the road, riding past huge textile factories producing items for the western world to consume but I’m sure none of the other patrons were thinking what I was…

For us Pakistan has a very different meaning than most

For us Pakistan has a very different meaning than most

Blokes on Spokes was a motorcycle adventure but underneath our desire to ride around the world there was much more to the journey. James and Monica had made a massive decision to leave Melbourne and start anew in Vienna. For myself it was an opportunity to remove myself from our all consuming business and busy life in Melbourne. My business partner Nick and I have been working extremely hard on our business for the past 12 years and I am the first to acknowledge that it has taken a toll on our health and well being. Four months ago I left Melbourne a worn soul: I was searching for something other than the 8-5 slog and have to admit I was concerned that our journey would provoke even further frustration of my work/life balance. In fact it had the opposite effect. The whole experience has been so humbling that I now only feel guilt of how fortunate my life is. I am returning to Australia a new man. I had lost my way in a Western world driven by money and success and forgotten about the most important things in life. Family, love and health come first and everything else second from now on. We left Melbourne in search of good roads, scenery and adventure but I’m returning with no lasting memory of the riding but only of the kindness of people. I am also returning a more focussed businessman; wealth is an absolute privilege in this world and I am lucky enough to have the support and ability to increase it for the future of my children and family.

I cannot thank James enough for the support over the last few years, not only was he my best man at our wedding he was also the brainchild behind our adventure. Months of preparation leading up to our rushed departure proved vital to our success and I will be forever grateful.

Jimmy, on the streets of Malaysia. It takes two to tango, and I wouldn't have made it without his help

Jimmy, on the streets of Malaysia. It takes two to tango, and I wouldn’t have made it without his help

Eastern Europe – Bulgaria to Budapest – 26,000kms


We’d not researched anything about Bulgaria – originally planning to simply transit the country enroute to Romania. This would have been more than achievable, as Google Maps suggests that the 650kms from Istanbul to Bucharest can be done in a little over 8 hours, which has become normal day of riding for us. But a day or two out we thought we should at least stop for the night – after all, when were we likely to visit Bulgaria again? And so it was with blissful ignorance that we crossed the border of Turkey and Bulgaria and officially entered the European Union and our third continent.

People often say how remarkable it is that landscapes and culture seem to change instantly as you cross a border, and we couldn’t agree more. Suckers for the seaside, we took the most scenic route down to the Black Sea and were amazed at the solitude of the place – during our first 100kms in the country we saw only two or three other vehicles. The road was literally overgrown with greenery, a stark contrast to the arid landscapes that we’d grown accustomed to over recent weeks.

Drew, inspecting some minor road damage to see if we can make it through

Drew, inspecting some minor road damage to see if we can make it through

It’s incredible to think that only 26 years ago, communism was the norm in this part of the world – communist era infrastructure can still be seen in their buildings, buses and trams and road maintenance. We didn’t spend nearly enough time to get a solid appreciation of the way of life, but people do seem to have moved along way forward from communist rule.

Passing through the streets of country Bulgaria

Passing through the streets of country Bulgaria

It was also strange to see Cyrillic script printed everywhere – thankfully we had our GPS, otherwise we might not have managed to navigate our way across. After spending our last night on the sea as two Blokes we saddled up and enjoyed a fantastic day’s riding as we pushed towards our commitments in Bucharest.

Back on the highway en route to Bucharest

Back on the highway en route to Bucharest

My wife’s family is Romanian and our sponsor Remedia is also based there, as such Romania was always an important stop on our itinerary. Valentin, my father in law, was watching our progress on our Spot Tracker and met us on our way into Bucharest – we were almost run off the road as he enthusiastically waved us down! He escorted directly to a Bavarian Beer Haus where we caught up over sausages, sauerkraut, and erm, beer. But it wasn’t all about food and drink and our attention quickly turned to more responsible matters.

Making a short presentation of our journey for the staff at Remedia

Making a short presentation of our journey for the staff at Remedia

We were invited to share stories about our journey with the staff at Remedia, and this was followed by an interview for the Romanian television station Antenna3.

Turning heads and cameras

Turning heads and cameras

Not wanting to stop there though, we also made a short presentation at Automobile Bavaria Otopeni, who in return very graciously gave the bikes a much needed service. Emanuel and the team were fantastic to deal with and gave the bikes far more attention than they deserved – if you’re in Romania and on a BMW that needs some TLC, you can’t go wrong to pay them a visit. Really!

"More intensity!"

“More intensity!”

These photos make our bikes look far more glamorous than they actually are...

These photos make our bikes look far more glamorous than they actually are…

...look closely at Drew's indicator!

…look closely at Drew’s indicator!

We did take the time to soak up some of the things Bucharest had to offer which included a walking tour of the city and a visit to the communist dictator Ceaușescu’s palatial residence. It was quite incredible to walk through this simple but opulent home, knowing that whilst occupied, people outside it’s walls were starving.

Ceaușescu began his rule as a popular leader and initially Romania prospered under his stewardship.  His public condemnation of the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 by other communist nations won favour in the US. This led to Romania’s membership in the International Monetary Fund from whom he proceeded to borrow a staggering $13 billion. The debts got out of hand, and determined to reign things in Ceaușescu decided to export everything. Needless to say when you export everything (and don’t import anything) people are going to run out of things to eat, and the once popular leader became the most hated man in the country. Remarkably though, just weeks before he was overthrown and executed, the debt was fully paid off – Romania remains the only country in the world to have achieved this.

With our media commitments behind us and our thirst for recent history quenched we got back on the bikes for Drew’s final leg to Vienna. During our trip planning one of the only roads we’d marked as a ‘must ride’ was the Transfagarasan, which crosses the Carpathian Mountains and was famously declared “the best road in the world” by Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson. With a declaration like that, we’d be fools not to include it on our way west, right? Needless to say we were pretty heartbroken when we found out the road was officially closed still for the winter (yep, we were there in May!) and wouldn’t open until June. We met fellow overlander Florea Ionut (aka Jon, from Into The World) at Automobile Bavaria, and he mentioned that we might have more luck with the Transalpina. Sure, it hadn’t featured on a TV show, but we were assured it was no less spectacular. And that was all we needed; after a fantastic home cooked breakfast provided by our outstanding hosts in Bucharest we were back on the road again.

Our farewell breakfast - there was hardly any food and our stomachs were growling all day

Our farewell breakfast – there was hardly any food and our stomachs were growling all day

And blow me down if Jeremy wasn’t barking up the right tree when talking about Romanian roads. Un-f&^king-believable! We didn’t even make it all the way over the Transalpina either, because it was still covered with a metre of snow! But we had bloody sensational time trying.

We had so much fun in fact, that the following day we decided to try our luck from the other direction, knowing full well that we’d eventually hit the snowline again – we didn’t care, we just loved every kilometre on the roads of the Carpathians. Gorgeous green mountains, fantastic tarmaced roads, picture perfect villages and fantastic (and affordable) food made Romania our favourite country so far for motorcycling. If you like motorcycling, you will love Romania!

But all good things must come to an end as they say, and we needed to continue towards Hungary. My bike was determined to stay in Romania however. The morning of our last day a strange noise was coming from my bike’s alternator belt, and at times like these, it’s always comforting to travel with a bloke like Drew.

Drew, hard at work at my alternator belt

Drew, hard at work at my alternator belt

Initially planned as another transit country, we squeezed a night in Budapest in as our last hurrah as two Blokes – the following day would see us ride into Vienna where I’d be reunited with my wife, and Drew would depart to Australia to reunited with his. A vibrant city with incredibly rich culture and history, ironically we were both so tired from abusing our motorcycles in Romania that our last ‘big night out’ finished at around 9:30PM. History and culture came a boring second place to sleep.

And so, with mixed feelings of achievement and sadness, the two of us saddled our bikes in Budapest for our final ride together on this epic adventure…

Turkey – Twisting wrists and ocean dips

Turkey is our last destination before heading into Europe and it’s no surprise that our spirits have dropped over the prospect of this journey being over. 10 years of talk and 3 years of planning has lead us to this point and all of a sudden it has become reality: in two weeks I will be home with my beautiful wife and back at work. I wish I had some drama to share about Turkey but the reality is that I don’t. No breakdowns, no army checkpoints and no AK47’s here, just a very calm, peaceful country with a landscape to match.

After our massive effort crossing into Turkey we woke lazily in our border town hotel room with no plans. We changed some money and took advantage of the wifi to research a route. We were so far north we decided to head up to the Black Sea, then cut back across the country through famed Cappadocia, onto some beach time on the Mediterranean, before heading north to Istanbul. We needed to avoid South-East Turkey due to the conflict in Syria so this plan worked well for us. Our hearts sank over breakfast as we cast our eyes out to a cold and wet morning – not ideal on a motorcycle but we had confidence we would soon be up on the Black Sea and the weather would improve. Our spirits lifted 10 minutes down the road with the rain gone and the road drying out we were heading north and the countryside was breathtaking.

2,500 metres A.S.L Smiles all round

2,500 metres A.S.L Smiles all round

More snow capped mountains with exceptional roads weaving up, around and even through tunnels maintaining excellent speed to eat up the kilometres. As we worked our way closer to the coast the GPS took us up and over a range of 2,500 metres A.S.L a quick stop for a photo saw us both with wide grins exclaiming how good the road/scenery was and soon enough we were being lead down some small country lanes upon villages.

Not a bad place to be lost

Not a bad place to be lost

The asphalt turned to dirt but after a quick check of the GPS James explained that it was taking us the most direct route north and that it would remain unsealed but would eventually get us out to the coast.  Given it was only 3pm and excellent weather we pushed on but after a sketchy river crossing we decided to head back, we needed fuel and didn’t have any food.

The river crossing that broke us

The river crossing that broke us

First stop fuel and with our new currency in hand we ordered 2 full tanks whilst working out a rough conversion to AU dollar (much easier than Iran’s crazy decimal point placement!) we established that if you halve the Lira you will get the AUD amount. However it both took us by surprise when the bowser finished counting at 170 Lira! Double checking our conversion rate we quickly learnt that Turkey was our most expensive fuel thus far at $2.20 AUD per litre! Bear in mind we had just left oil rich Iran at 0.39 AUD cents per litre. Had we realised there would be such a difference I would have strapped on some jerry cans to get us a few tanks in! Alas we continued onwards to the coast finding a small town 100km’s inland that looked nice and better still seemed busy enough to obtain beer but after scouting out over 7 different restaurants that couldn’t offer us any over dinner we grabbed a six pack and retreated to our hotel room to consume a couple after a big day. A quick Google found that 83% of Turks consider themselves Teetotallers, explaining the lack of Alcohol consumption or availability.

Turkish tank

Turkish tank

Twisting Turkey

Twisting Turkey

The next day we saw the first body of water since Thailand, The Black Sea. Meeting the coast in Trabzon we continued along the coast to Giresun and decided to settle in for the day checking into our hotel with enough time to walk the town and again look for a bar to sit, admire the view and enjoy a cold one. Again to our dismay we couldn’t find one! More streets were explored and we finally found a very small quiet bar with a couple of people drinking beer, we walked straight to the bar and ordered 2 beers! That was lost in translation so we used google translate to which the bartender google translated back to us that it was a religious holiday and no alcohol would be served assuring us that everyone else consuming in the bar ‘brewed their own’. Defeated, we again bought another 6 pack and retreated to our hotel.

Seaside smiles

Seaside smiles

Cappadocia is known for its obscure natural sites including the ‘Fairy Chimney’s’ clustered around the township, Bronzed age homes can be found carved into the valley walls by cave dwellers later used by early Christian refugees. Hot Air ballooning is top of the ‘to do’ list and we had booked a flight a few days out. Luckily the weather was on our side and we spent almost an hour up in the air admiring the landscape quietly amused by our fellow crew spending more time taking ‘Selfies’ of themselves instead of looking over the edge.

Romantic selfies.

Romantic selfies.

Exceptional morning Ballooning.

Exceptional morning Ballooning.

I however spent half the flight searching for possible dirt tracks to explore on the bikes. Upon return to our hotel we stripped our bikes of panniers and weight heading off with go-pro’s in hand to capture some footage. It rained and we both fell off but I managed to jump my my 230kg bike landing with a bang and we got the photo we were after.

James should be a model

James should be a model

The things you see in Cappadocia...

The things you see in Cappadocia…

Turkey’s tourism industry is at an all time low; recent bombings have not faired well with western media painting a very grim picture and although the peak season is still yet to come operators have quoted figures as high as 70% drop in bookings. This has made a very pleasant tour of the country although at times we have literally been the only people dining in restaurants, as a business owner I know first hand how heartbreaking this can be.

The Underground City, Derinkuyu, Cappadocia

The Underground City, Derinkuyu, Cappadocia

We have been unbelievably lucky with the weather over our journey however the temperature on the Black Sea and Cappadocia had us in our sweaters and I was holding on to some small hope of some final days in the sun before returning to a Melbourne winter. I had visions of a Mediterranean villa on the beach with cocktail in hand that was slowly being crushed with cold wet mountain passes on our way south to the coast.

To our delight, once down on the coast the weather improved with a sunset over the water and a dip to wash off the daily grime. We had been surprised at the development and commercialisation of the Mediterranean coast and as we inched our way through city traffic we didn’t know what to think.

The Mediterranean Sea!

The Mediterranean Sea!

But on approach to Olympos 10 km’s off the highway we knew we were onto a good thing, dirt road leading through affordable beachside accommodation with a backpacker vibe. Keys in hand for a bungalow for the night and a couple of beers around the communal fire pit we lay our heads for the night. 

Its 5pm somewhere

Its 5pm somewhere

Waking to a spotless blue sky we struck our luck at a picture perfect Mediterranean day, we walked the 2000+ year old ruins and ended up on a banana lounge on the beach remarkably early and didn’t move for the rest of the day. Watching the traditional wooden motorsailers come and go I proposed a day long boat trip for the following day and soon had one lined up only in need of more crew for passage – luckily for us we found them around the fire pit that night. Sharing a bottle of Cappadocian red wine we met Manouk from The Netherlands on her Silk Road adventure and Rahul from Istanbul. We have met many people over our journey but only a few who we find a true connection with, the following day out on the boat was truly special with exceptional company and countless dives off the boat into a pristine blue sea.

Back on land we enjoyed some dinner and wine before venturing down the road to one of the considered ‘best 10’ hostels in the world enjoying a few more wines.  Nursing borderline hangovers we shared some breakfast the following morning before saying goodbyes, we all needed to move on. It was time for us to head north to the Gallipoli Peninsula via Kusadasi to check out the ancient city of Ephesus.

Gallipoli was high on the to do list for us, it was the location that Australia lost a nation-defining number of servicemen in World War 1 and we felt a true connection upon the visit. With tourism so slow and the natural beauty of the Peninsula it was surreal that so many lives were lost in such a beautiful place. James also spent many hours working on the Australian television miniseries  ‘Gallipoli’, which really put things into perspective exploring the area and memorials.

After a somber day we were off to Istanbul, a highlight for both of us as it is one of Europe’s biggest cities, 19 Million people reside on the banks of the Bosphorus Straight that separates Asia to Europe.

Istanbul is amazing! With our route taking us through large Asian cities it was refreshing to be back such a liberal environment. To our amazement we found 2 other foreign bikes parked on our one way cul-de-sac we were staying and soon met up for a chat with Brad (South African) and Bruce (Australian) agreeing to meet for a beer at 6pm.

Our mates from trailing the horizons Bruce and Brad

Our mates from trailing the horizons Bruce and Brad

We were taken back that neither of the two had ridden a motorcycle before embarking on their world tour starting from Scotland; a credit to them for making the 8,000km journey to Istanbul safely. With three Australians and a South African the beers were flowing and we talked the night away with tales of adventure. Nursing a quiet hangover it was out and about to check out the famed Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and the Basilica Cistern.

James had a friend from China living in Istanbul, Jean-Marie who very kindly invited us for dinner and drinks in his district on the Asian side of the Bosphorus and we appreciated being away from the tourist centre and to feel the soul of the city.

Back at our guesthouse yet another foreign motorcycle had appeared in our street, 5 BMW’s with foreign plates! Martin from Germany, a photojournalist was on his way to Iran only to be denied a visa on journalist grounds, with new plans of heading through ‘the Stans’. More war stories over more beers took us into the night before retreating in our haze of drunkenness to prepare for our early departure for Bulgaria the following morning  – the best way to reinvigorate after a night on the beers was to take ourselves off for a Turkish bath. Next stop, Eastern Europe…

Hammam- yes it hurt!

Hammam- yes it hurt!

Iran – shattering our expectations – 20,111kms

Iran: it emerged like a verdant oasis in the middle of a desolate desert wasteland. At first, it was hard to tell if our opinion of Iran was neutral; if you’ve read our earlier posts you’ll appreciate that our journey through the sub-continent was a real test for us, and this warped our sense of normality. But it seems that we’ve passed the test with flying colours to be rewarded in this fantastic, vibrant country.

We love Iran!

We love Iran!

Iran defied nearly all of our preconceptions. We expected intense heat in arid desert, religious and cultural conservatism, and a lack of modern development; all under the watchful eye of the military. How wonderful it was to have our expectations shattered. Iran is arid but high in altitude, which made it surprisingly temperate – the jagged mountains making spectacular vistas as we journeyed across the countryside.

Every kilometre in Iran has been simply breathtaking

Every kilometre in Iran has been simply breathtaking

It is an Islamic state, where religious dress code is enforceable by law, but we were surprised to see how relaxed women are about wearing their hijabs. Often they only just cover their tied up hair and wear heavy make up on their faces – a stark contrast to Pakistan (an interesting article about women in Iran was recently published on The Guardian). Daily calls to prayer are almost unnoticeable in the background, and few people talk about religion in normal conversation. The people are liberal, relaxed, friendly, and compared to where we’ve traveled, they’re also wealthy. Modern amenities and consumables are found everywhere – the only obvious exclusions are American chains like McDonalds, Starbucks and the like (and as Eddy from Darwin to Douglas would point out, sit-down toilets). The country is spotlessly clean, which was a very welcome change – immaculate gardens can be found almost everywhere which make the cities refreshingly picturesque.

Stopped on the roadside after crossing the border. Note the smile

Stopped on the roadside after crossing the border. Note the smile

Our first two days in the country were an intense push to make it 1300kms from the border to Isfahan to meet Monica and Lucy, who were flying in to meet us for a week of sightseeing. We had been put so far behind schedule in Pakistan that we feared we might not make it time. We were given another military escort from the border town of Mirjaveh and were then handed over to a government representative from the tourism department 100kms down the road in Zahedan. With memories of being a football kicked from escort to escort haunting us we were ready to tell the girls that they’d be sightseeing on their own. It soon became clear however that this far eastern province of Iran is starved of tourists, and all that was wanted of us was to spend some time being tourists. We firmly explained we had another 1200kms to travel by the following nightfall (by this stage it was 3pm!), and we were reluctantly given back our passports along with some souvenir keyrings and allowed to continue on our way.

And finally after nearly 3 weeks of following somebody else’s agenda we were free! Free to travel where we wanted, when we wanted, at the speed we wanted. The road infrastructure in Iran is incredible – double lane dual carriage ways ply through the desert. They are free of pot holes, cows, goats, horse pulled carts and overloaded tractors traveling in the wrong direction. With a speed limit of 120 we quickly realised that we might be able to make it to Isfahan in time after all.

Every corner we turn there are more stunning mountains

Every corner we turn there are more stunning mountains

And make it we did. The intense agenda we’d been following instantly became a holiday, with time off the bikes for sightseeing and soaking up Iran’s incredible culture. Through Moni’s father we were put in touch with Amir, an Iranian who’d lived in Vienna for 6 years. He took us under his wing during our time in Isfahan, he showed us the sights, fed us the food, explained Iranian culture and even took Drew to the dentist.

A fantastic home cooked meal with Amir and his parents

A fantastic home cooked meal with Amir and his parents

Iran’s cultural history is about as rich as they come, given people have been living in the area since 3000BC – it’s one of the oldest civilisations on the planet. There was no shortage of things to see and do. Isfahan was the capital for over a century, from 1600AD and was our base whilst the girls were in town.

After soaking up all that Isfahan had to offer, we got on the bikes with girls and ventured to Shiraz. Shiraz was also once Iran’s capital, and on it’s outskirts the ruins of Persepolis can be found; an ancient city dating back to 550BC

From Shiraz it was the desert city of Yazd we were destined. Unfortunately leaving Shiraz I picked up some dirty fuel which ruined my fuel pump. When emptying fuel from the filter, it came out black with chunks of debris! My last pump gave up 3 weeks earlier in Pakistan, and at $500 a pop it’s not been a cheap exercise. Thankfully we were cautious enough to get Moni to order a new one and bring it from Austria, otherwise we’d still be on the roadside.

Another busted fuel pump enroute from Shiraz to Yazd

Another busted fuel pump enroute from Shiraz to Yazd

With Drew’s skills at play, we were only stuck on the roadside for an hour or so before pushing onwards. Moni had organised a stay in a spectacular family run guesthouse in the desert outside of the city, called Farvardinn – I’d recommend anybody in the area to stay here. Our host, Masoud, told us we should head 1km into the desert to appreciate the sunset over some ruins.

The following day we headed into the centre of the city, famed for it’s mud bricked old town with a labyrinth of traditional laneways zigzagging in all directions.

After dropping the girls back in Isfahan (and another trip to the dentist) we decided to push onwards towards Turkey. The road infrastructure is so good we thought we’d be fools not to make the most of the opportunity to buy a little time for later on in our journey – Drew booked his flight back to Australia, so we now have a very finite schedule to make it to Vienna. Given how safe, clean and sparsely populated Iran is, we decided to camp enroute – the first time since Australia.

Chasing the sun to find a suitable place to camp for the night

Chasing the sun to find a suitable place to camp for the night

A roadside camp outside Qom. This is the first time we've camped since Australia!

A roadside camp outside Qom. This is the first time we’ve camped since Australia!

The landscape changed strikingly as we neared Turkey, the temperature dropping quickly as arid planes turned into rich green pastures. On our final day we road over 1,000kms and managed to cross the border before nightfall – our biggest distance yet. It was the same day we clocked 20,000kms since departing from Melbourne, so we thought it was cause for celebration. We were excited to stay in a country where alcohol is legal again, but sadly for us we couldn’t find any beer in the Turkish border town that we stayed in for the night. The search continues.

We’ve absolutely loved our time in Iran – we didn’t really know what to expect, but our expectations weren’t high. Low expectations are a fantastic springboard for great experiences and Iran’s been one of the best countries that we’ve visited so far. If you’re at a loss for where to go on your next holiday I’d suggest you make it Iran. You won’t be disappointed.

Pakistan to Persia

We’re in Isfahan! It’s Friday morning and James’ wife Monica has just landed. Lucy will join from Jordan later tonight and its a near miracle that James and I arrived at 6:30pm last night. Once on Iranian soil we completed the 1250km journey to Isfahan in 17 hours, through the desert on perfect tarmac with hardly any traffic woes. I could have glued my throttle on at 110km/h. After 2 days in Iran I have finally had time to reflect on the journey thus far and especially Pakistan.

It’s fair to say luck wasn’t on our side in Pakistan but then again Pakistan is not a lucky country. After my last post from Nagar Fort our journey to the Iranian border proved to be the toughest 12 days of our trip so far and I’m pleased to say that James and I are still best mates and we have made it across the most difficult nation on route with no injuries or broken bikes.

Approaching the tunnel in Nagar.

Approaching the tunnel in Nagar.

We left Nagar Fort behind schedule and shortly after taking off on the way to the tunnel we needed to pass through, a member of our police escort stopped suddenly and reversed at speed into my bike! I bailed in time to obtain no injuries with the petrol tank taking the blow, leaving a decent dent in it but luckily not leaking fuel. I actually found humour in the whole ordeal given we were under ‘police protection’. James on the other hand didn’t. His blood was boiling within seconds, giving the police a lecture about mirrors and the like. But this incident was just the beginning of it.

Once at the tunnel the Korean engineer denied passage and would only let the bikes through without us on them sparking a frantic search for a truck to load the bikes onto and take them through within the hour. On top of this I had a toothache that had become bad enough to previously warrant a trip to a dentist in Pakistan who prescribed medication.

Pierre would be proud!

Pierre would be proud!

Further on the journey James’ bike broke down, not once but twice on consecutive days with two completely unrelated problems, the second costing us another day. Our planned route came to an abrupt end in Bhakkar with the police escorting us away from our booked hotel to a different police district for us to become someone else’s problem.

Why won't it go?

Why won’t it go?

After 3 hours we solved the problem

After 3 hours we solved the problem

Discussions between police and army officers took place until 9:30pm until we were escorted to a ‘safe’ hotel with security. Safe, but with no vacancy! A brief standoff took place between us and the police before James and I realised the tension was building. To have any luck at all we would have to settle on sleeping on the dining room floor at the most expensive rate paid since Thailand. To make matters worse, the following morning the police escorted us back to the town they originally picked us up from and left us to continue our journey only to be stopped another 60km’s up the road to be turned around again. Another police standoff this time with our new friends from Darwin to Douglas. We eventually made it to Multan and were finally told the information we had been asking for all day – the path we were trying to take was not possible. We were eventually given the right path to take! It was of course the longest route and under police escort all the way.

Colm, a fellow overlander posing with a policeman

Colm, a fellow overlander posing with a policeman

Hands off the triggers boys

Hands off the triggers boys

Arriving at Rahim Yar Kan at 10pm we set off the following day along with our new friends Colm and Eddie. We put in a massive 16 hour day under police escort to Quetta, the journey taking us through Baluchistan, and the arid landscape and 42 degree heat taking its toll on James. He was throwing up at lunchtime and by 2pm I was trying to arrange one of the officers on our escort to ride my bike so we could put James in the escort vehicle and I could ride his bike. I managed to find the only Pakistani officer in the country who couldn’t use motorcycle gears properly.

Policeman in pyjamas riding Drew's bike, when James was too sick to ride himself

Policeman in pyjamas riding Drew’s bike, when James was too sick to ride himself

We eventually arrived at 8pm on friday night, not ideal given we needed to obtain our N.O.C (No objection certificate) to continue west. We already knew that the police would not process our N.O.C until monday morning but what we didn’t know is that we were not allowed outside of our hotel without a police escort! Hotel Bloom Star became home for the 3 nights ahead and all food and supplies were to be ordered through the hotel management and delivered to the hotel. Amongst food and supplies for the bikes we managed to obtain some contraband… beer! Only 4 Australian blokes would pay $US100 for a slab of beer. Ironically it was brewed in Pakistan.

Riding in the back of a police ute in Quetta with some fellow overlanders to get our government permission to proceed on our journey

Riding in the back of a police ute in Quetta with some fellow overlanders to get our government permission to proceed on our journey

Our only view of the outside world - from the rooftop of our hotel in Quetta

Our only view of the outside world – from the rooftop of our hotel in Quetta

Blokes on Spokes meet Darwin to Douglas

Blokes on Spokes meet Darwin to Douglas

It was nice for some new company along the journey

It was nice for some new company along the journey

On Monday morning we were escorted to the police station to obtain our N.O.C’s and after we had tea in about 5 different offices over 3 hours we finally received the document. We spoke to the head of staff about our intentions to leave very early the following day for Taftan. The border closed at 4:30 pm and by our math if we left at dawn ( N.O.C dictating travel during daylight) we could make the border crossing and continue at least 100km’s into Iran. He assured us that this would be possible and phone calls were made. However we shouldn’t have been surprised that at 5:30am we were all sitting in reception ready to go with no escort in sight. It finally turned up at 6:50am and escorted us 1km down the road to another escort! I think I stopped counting at 10 different vehicles. Some had armed guards, others just a driver with a gun. Every now and again a man with a AK47 turned up on his 70cc Moped.

This district couldn't afford an escort car, so we got a 70cc motorbike instead

This district couldn’t afford an escort car, so we got a 70cc motorbike instead

Must not pass the 70cc powerhouse

Must not pass the 70cc powerhouse

We tried to explain to every escort our desire to travel at 80km/h but when the clock struck 2pm and we were not even halfway, our dreams of making it to Iranian soil were over. I had joined Eddie with a bad case of ‘the runs’ but the final kick in the back was James hitting me from behind at 50km/h on a sketchy stretch of road taking us both down. Luckily the sand that caused the accident also broke our fall and no significant damage was done. Still over 100km’s out of Taftan by sunset we continued on in the dark and 60km’s out at a police checkpoint we were informed that there was a 50% chance of continuing onto Taftan and maybe we should stay somewhere else for the night… Thankfully they took us through and we slept in the Police station/local prison for the night. Across the courtyard were at least 50 Afghani refugees housed for the night. The fact that they seek asylum in Pakistan was a bleak reminder for us at how bad some areas in Afghanistan must be.

Racing the sun to Taftan

Racing the sun to Taftan

Fill her up boys!

Fill her up boys!

I'm sure we can go faster...

I’m sure we can go faster…

...because there aren't too many distractions on this road

…because there aren’t too many distractions on this road

Until it all turned to sh&t

Until it all turned to sh&t

As you can well imagine we were ready to move on to our next country. But after 2 days in Iran with it’s near perfect highways, clean cities and western conveniences I now look back on Pakistan fondly. Yes it was hard, but riding a motorcycle around the globe was never going to be easy. Pakistan challenged us from every angle but we kept pushing on, determined to get through it. This is the adventure and the reason we left the comfort of our own country for. We have just returned from a fantastic lunch with our friend Amir’s family in their home in Isfahan, Iran. I am stuffed full and once again overwhelmed by the hospitality. Isfahan feels European and we can easily tell from here on in things will become more and more comfortable. Pakistan, India and beyond will become distant lands but we will hold on to the experience forever. Before I know it I will be sitting in Vienna waiting a flight home….

For interested overlanders, check out Jimmy’s post on Horizons Unlimited about which roads to take and which to avoid

Pakistan – Police plus politics equal postponements – 16,135kms

As a fairly well travelled chap, I knew very well what to expect for the first half of our journey. South East Asia didn’t disappoint, but nor did it surprise. Once leaving India however Drew and I were both thrust into very new territory – an unfamiliar culture, staunchly religious (and a very unfamiliar religion at that), with a bad reputation in our western media for unsavoury social behaviour.

But we’re both open minded, and we have embraced Pakistan as fully as we could. I kid you not, the people are the friendliest I’ve ever come across (actually, the men are the friendliest I’ve ever come across – I haven’t met any women so am not in a position to comment).  We had expected to keep our distance with Pakistan to avoid getting into any sticky situations, but ironically of all the cultures we’ve encountered on our journey thus far, it’s Pakistan’s that we’ve immersed ourselves in most fully. We’ve done more homestays than hotel stays, we’ve been fed to bursting, enjoyed countless chai tea breaks, and even had fuel bought for us. Pakistanis are hospitable beyond words.

And the scenery is simply breathtaking – the world’s second highest peak, K2, is in the heart of the Karakoram ranges, where the Himalayas, Karakoram and Hindu Kush ranges meet. Descending from the mountains you’re taken through fertile agricultural lands, which is followed by vast deserts that give you the feeling of riding through landscapes straight from Star Wars’ Tatooine. There’s a lot to love about Pakistan, and by rights they deserve to have a booming tourism industry.

But undeniably there is a darker side to Pakistan, the side that westerners are more familiar with. Outside of the heavily populated (and economically powerful) eastern province of Punjab the presence of armed forces in Pakistan is almost overwhelming. Police walk around casually with AK47s or assault rifles slung over their shoulders and 9mm pistols strapped to their hips. The army is no different. Bank security guards carry double barrelled shotguns, whilst men of moderate prominence employ armed bodyguards to accompany them as they go about their daily business. Thankfully we’ve not witnessed anything unsavoury ourselves, and when speaking to locals about the security situation everyone’s very quick to say “there’s no security problem here”. I have no doubt that this is due to the huge presence of armed forces, and as a result we’ve become very blase about being surrounded by men with weapons.

Refuelling under armed escort in Dir

Refuelling under armed escort in Dir

When digging a little deeper in conversation with Pakistani people we’ve come to realise that their plight is a horribly complex one. Oblivious westerners might assume that all these problems relating to guns and armed forces stem from 9/11 and the Taliban’s presence in the region. No Pakistani has denied that things didn’t change significantly for them after 9/11, however the problems go far deeper than that. For more than half a century, Pakistan has been a political football; it began when the British partitioned the subcontinent in 1947, and by all reports they did a pretty average job of it. It’s no coincidence that both Pakistan and India have a province called Punjab, and to this day Jammu and Kashmir are still disputed territories.

Pakistan is resource rich, and located in a strategically opportune spot on the Gulf of Oman. Russia invaded Afghanistan in the late 70’s, and out of their own self interest America sided with Pakistan – this was part of the cold war. But Pakistan also borders China, and China’s might is huge. The Chinese are currently investing heavily in infrastructure in Pakistan, for both resources and strategic military gain. But of course China and America don’t get along so famously, and in more recent times (according to the Pakistanis) America has seen this as a passive threat and have retaliated by supporting India. Incidentally, China is also supporting Nepal after India tried to cut off their fuel supply to force them into political submission.

And we haven’t even touched on religion yet! Pakistan is an Islamic state, and Islam comes in different flavours. Whilst Sunni and Shiites previously got along, it was apparently hardlined Saudi Arabian Wahabis that showed an interest in setting the cat amongst the religious pigeons. Remember too that Pakistan is a nuclear armed nation with a notoriously corrupt government and you can start to understand just what a sticky situation it is. Religious extremists are just the salt and pepper on top.

Of course we haven’t seen any Americans, Russians, Chinese or Saudi muftis – we’re blissfully ignorant of Pakistan’s political woes. What we have had to deal with though is literally dozens of military and police checkpoints. Independent travel by road in Pakistan is arduously slow. There is no way for us to know what road is open, what road is restricted and what roads we’ll be required to travel under police escort. Hour upon hour has been wasted sitting at the roadside waiting to find out if we can proceed, and if you look closely at our GPS tracks, you’ll see all the times we’ve had to double back on ourselves. To make matters worse, the police from one district won’t communicate with the police in the adjacent district – we’ve sat around for hours whilst we’ve waited for them to negotiate amongst themselves what should be done with us. These guys couldn’t organise a root in a brothel and sadly all of this has left a bitter taste in our mouths about Pakistan.

Whilst the world’s superpowers make their sport in Pakistan, the everyday Pakistani goes about normal life as best they can. And the overlander travelling across the country is left to negotiate the roads and the checkpoints as best they can, wondering if Pakistan is bitter or sweet.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a historical, political nor religious expert – this post is a condensed interpretation of conversations with everyday Pakistani people – don’t hold it against me if I’ve misrepresented the situation.

For fellow overlanders looking for a more detailed run down of our experience, check out this post on Horizons Unlimited

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