Massive Cheat

22 06 2011

When I started this little ridie thing, I had a crazy idea that I might be able to cycle all the way home. Except for the obvious bit that was frequently pointed out to me in Europe – the last part between about Singapore and Darwin.

I was doing pretty well until Greece. Every kilometre had been peddled. Then someone turned on winter and the plan started to get a bit wobbly. I tried pretty hard to work out a way to get out of winter without flying, but it turned out to be damn near impossible (without making some rather absurd travel arrangements, such as going all the way back to Venice to take a boat via Syria to Egypt – with accompanying visa dramas). As you probably noticed, I had to cheat to get to Egypt and start the ‘Revolution Route’ side trip. Riding though Egypt during a revolution, which, it has been pointed out to me, it took me a week to notice.

And then the problem of what to do post Iran became a reality. I like the idea of riding through Central Asia, and probably will do it one day. But I couldn’t stand the idea of making a plan, and then arranging all the visas around this. It just didn’t fit (and another reason has surfaced that will become evident in September). So I looked at going through the other options, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Some crazy people are travelling in Afghanistan, but I’m not that crazy. I couldn’t get a Pakistan visa (without flying back to Australia to organise one – and that seems rather silly to me).

So I stressed and bit my nails, read lots of things on the internet and finally decided that one part of Pakistan didn’t sound too dangerous, at least relatively. And it sounds like it is possible to get a Pakistani visa at the border with China. So I crossed my fingers for the Pakistan visa, got my Chinese visa in Tehran, and tried to work out how to get to the far west of China. I failed to find any decent option on the internet, but through blind chance (while at a diplomatic function at the Norwegian Embassy) I was told about a direct flight to Urumqi on a Chinese airline (by an Italian Architect).

Long, long, long story short I got a plane ticket and enjoyed my last few days in Iran. Louis and Lysanne, a couple of Quebecois cyclists doing something similar to me, helped me out no end by arranging a (very small) bike box and a place to crash in Tehran – while I watched lunar eclipses and ate watermelon and ice cream, although not at the same time, in Yazd.

L, L & I spend the better part of a day and a half solving the puzzle that is packing three bikes into boxes that are far too small for them. Some cursing, much gnashing of teeth and at least one stupid mistake on my part when removing the pedals and the bikes were packed away. Poor Frankenbici had all manner of bits pulled off him for the packing. It’s the first time I’ve had to remove the forks (and pretty much everything that can be removed) to put a bike in a box.

I tried to send some winter clothes home but at the post office I had a change of heart, when I decided I didn’t have any confidence in the post and besides they wanted to charge me an arm and a leg to post 3kg home. So L, L & I had a final kebab and I re-packed my bags one final time.

A taxi, which had been generously arranged for me by our host, Sasan, came to pick me up to take me to the airport. The driver took one look at the bike box and the big bag holding the panniers and decided he didn’t need the job. There followed a comical few minutes while the bike was loaded into the ute, unloaded, and we stood around while the Iranians, err, discussed the situation. The bike was again loaded into the ute and we drove around town for a few minutes. I was at  loss as to what was going on, but there was much shaking of heads and it appeared I wouldn’t be getting to the airport this way. Sasan had come with me, and somehow he arranged another taxi which did take me to the airport. I’d left plenty of time, so there was no stress – at least for me, but I did end up leaving Sasan somewhat stranded. Thankfully the last few minutes in Iran didn’t go smoothly, otherwise I might have taken away a different impression of the country. Although the check-in at the airport went far too smoothly, they took my bike and allowed me my 35kg of luggage (while I was almost bent double with my carry on bag).

And then the massive cheat began. I flew from Tehran to Urumqi in far North Western China, leapfrogging 4 countries, several serious mountain ranges, and a whole bunch of cyclists who are more hardy than myself. Somehow a 4 hour flight took from 11pm until 7am – that’s what you get when China is on a single timezone.

I got to Urumqi, a new country, a new language and a new currency without a Yaun in my pocket. I tried to get some at the airport, but the money changer was closed. I couldn’t take a bus or taxi, because I had no money (there’s a hole in my bucket…). So I took the obvious option – put the bike together. I had quite an audience of Chinese taxi drivers, but I managed to get it all back in one piece (despite it being 4am in my own personal timezone, and having  slept for about an hour).

I rode into Urumqi city, blearily looked around, had breakfast and then tried to find the train station. A gazzillion people had the same idea. One of the harrowed ticket agents managed to tell me that there was no train today, the cost of the train, and indicated by a surprised expression that the bike wouldn’t be welcome. So I went off to find the bus station. Found it, and despite only really being interested in the timetable, found myself on a sleeper bus about 15minutes later.

25 hours on the bus later and I’m in Kashgar. The end of the world – at least the end of the Chinese world. To the south is Pakistan (and then a left turn to India), and a border that all reports say is open and issuing visas on arrival. All non verified, unofficial reports. But I’m here now and I’ll go ride up the ‘hill’ and check it out in a day or so. I hope they let me in, there are some big mountains to see between here and Islamabad. Some really big mountains (I can’t wait!). Karakorum Highway, here I come!

The next case of visa stress will be India before another cheat – there doesn’t appear to be any way of getting out of India without flying…

Now, aren’t you glad I didn’t have time to write a blow by blow account of Iran?



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: