Tour d'Afrique - and then some

Discussion in 'Epic Rides' started by Asianrider, Sep 11, 2010.

  1. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

    Joined:
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    120
    Well, 2 months on the road already and here's the start of my RR. I'm stuck in Georgia, with a shitty weather that hinders my plan to go to the mountains - I'm talking about Georgia in the Caucasus, mind you, not the birth place of Coca-Cola. So why not share the start of my trip. Here's the plan. It starts in Marseille, France (I'm Swiss but live - was living - in France), and it reads clockwise.

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    Unlike most people "doing" Africa from here, and although I'm just 5 minutes away from a ferry to Africa, I'm not jumping for it straight away. Instead, I want to ride some countries that I've always wanted to visit. The Balkans, the Caucasus and the Arabian Peninsula. So this is going to Africa - but much more.

    Also, I'm starting in summer, not the best time to cross north Africa. The plan is to follow the seasons with the Balkans in summer (hot but good weather in principle, then Turkey (probably too hot in the low plains, OK in the higher altitudes) and the high passes of the Caucasus toward the end of the summer, before hitting Iran and the Arabian peninsula in fall/winter when the temperature is more bearable.

    I'll be going solo. Last trip was with a buddy, and it turned out that we split after 6 months, and the solo part was just as great. So let's avoid the awkwardness and be on my own. But as it turned out, I would be joined by a girl-friend riding pillon for one month, so that's also a nice open possibility.

    About the itinerary, there are a few difficulties added, but should be doable. I'll need a carnet for Iran, but I can afford that and I definitely want to go to Iran. On the other hand, I'll give Egypt a miss, with their extortionate carnet fees, border difficulties, escort and mandatory ferries. In this plan there will be 2 sea crossing: the Persian gulf, from Iran to Dubai: there is a regular ferry line, it's been done already. And the infamous gulf of Aden, from Yemen to Djibouti. Yemen itself may turn out to be tricky, by the time I get there, the situation may be completely different from now, so this I will have to manage when I get there. But Yemen may be the highlight of the trip as well.

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    About the bike: I bought a brand new F800GS, with all bells and whistles. the last trip (see link in the sig for the blog) was on a Tenere, but it ended up requiring a fair bit of mechanics which - let's face it - I'm not really good at. So I'm betting on a robust bike that will get me a good way through the trip before it start to require some heavy work - Insh Allah.

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    By "bells and whistles" I mean the dealer threw in for free the whole package: board computer, ABS, central stand, etc.. I don't care about the first one, a bit worried about the second one, I guess only the central stand will be really useful. I'll find out if that was a mistake. On top of that, I've added a extra fuel tank (20 liters, from Touratech), expensive but pretty convenient in those remote places that I plan to visit. And a pair a Caribou cases and rack, departing from my theory of only using soft luggages for robustness. But I'll be alone, so it will be useful to be able to lock some of the more expensive items. Again, no experience with it, so it's a gamble.

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    As usual, way too much stuff. I ordered some knobbies to start with - but then changed my mind and decided to use the road tyres as long as possible, so I've accepted the inconvenience of carrying the tyres with me.

    As it turned out, I changed them in Istanbul, to make room for my girl-friend on the rear seat. But I could have bought tyres in Istanbul so that was really unnecessary. And maybe too early, or too late, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

    For those who read French, this trip's blog is in my sig. For the rest of you, I'll post the (rather uneventful so far) story and photos here.
    #1
  2. IKIGAI

    IKIGAI Been here awhile

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    This looks to be quite an adventure and I'll be following along with keen interest.

    I am curious about your Africa East coast portion, in particular, the Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania portions. I have family based out of Uganda, and would like to explore some of the east coast portions of Africa and will have lots of questions for you about routes, border crossings, currencies, fuel, etc.

    If you could, please let us know what you are taking along for personal/riding gear (boots, helmet, clothing, camping) and how it performs for you.

    Good luck and a safe ride!
    #2
  3. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

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    Sounds good. I'm subscribed. Particularly keen to hear how the pre-Africa part of the trip goes... Turkey & Iran for instance. Take time to take pics!

    There are several bikers in Tanzania with lots of accumulated wisdom (wait, a wise biker? that's an oxymoron). Anyway, drop a line if you have any questions on route planning etc. or stop by Dar es Salaam for a beer :beer
    #3
  4. Frgich

    Frgich Been here awhile

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    This one should be interesting one, especially the Yemen part, can't wait to get to that part of the trip :thumb
    #4
  5. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    Gosh, time to catch up with the thread, I have to make do with the crappy Iranian connection.

    So off I went direction the Balkans, where I had some hopes to find interesting roads and friendly people. I did in fact find both. It started with along leg across southern France and northern Italy (18 euros for a night in a camping, you know why I didn't stay). I quickly crossed Slovenia, giving the motorway a miss to avoid the mandatory vignette, and a quick stop at a biker's place in Croatia, to catch up with him. But Croatia is too touristy for me, so I headed inland for Bosnia, where I could stay at a another friend's place.

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    The problem with Bosnia is the heavy police presence, with many speed traps and speed limits that are difficult to follow (hmm.. where did the town end, is it still limited to 40 km/h?). Otherwise, the people are very friendly, and eager to go out and buy you a beer - or more. I didn't do any offroading though, mosty because the weather was yucky, but also because there are still landmines left in some places.

    I left Bosnia for Montenegro by a small border post to avoid the coastal road and Dubrovnik - again, too crowded. I ended up above the Kotor fjord, with the storm looming over it. This fjord has a very small road running around it that is very enjoyable.

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    This area is pretty touristy, though, and so a bit expensive (note that Montenegro is using the Euro, so that's convenient but doesn't make it cheaper).

    After a night in a campground and a quick visit of Kotor, I took the very scenic roads above Kotor, beautiful scenery with nice hairpins.

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    I was then heading toward the mountainous inland, on small but very nice roads. The scenery is alpine, beautiful and people are very welcoming, even offering me the village's main hall for sleeping and parking the bike. Highly recommended. Sorry, no offroading either.

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    Time to move to the "piece de resistance", Albania. I meant to go to Kosovo, but the border post I had picked was in fact closed. After a very nice night at a farmer's in an alpine meadow, I chose a hidden border post that is not sign posted, so I had to ask the locals for the "granitsa". I think I woke up the border guard in his siesta, as I was probably the only "customer" for the day. The border formalities were quick and easy, and the tar just vanished once I stepped into Albania. In fact, they were grading the road on the Albanian side, so no car could get through, and I just barely managed.

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    This thing is, on the Montenegro side, the roads are pretty good, it could be Austria or Switzerland. But once you cross the border, you end up in a high valley (Vermosh) where little or nothing had been done to make the roads usable by a vehicle - as opposed to horse carts. The people are very hospitable - although communication is difficult, some Italian may help.

    The descent to the coast was very tricky, the roads are really steep with big rocks all over the place. I crossed a group of Polish ATVs who should have had much fun, but on a big, heavy bike this was much work. Witness the first fall off of the trip, all right.

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    But I wasn't content with it, so I went back straight up to Tethi valley. Again, the mountains are pretty steep, and they made almost no engineering effort to make it passable for vehicles, so it makes for a very bumpy ride - but beautiful nevertheless.

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    At Thethi, I decided to keep going and do the full loop -looking back I think it was too much work, if I had to redo it I would trace my way back on the same road. I took me the best part of the day in mostly 1st gear, sometimes 2nd, to make it through without breaking the bike or the baggage.

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    Back on the coast, there is a "normal" road, mostly tarred (lots of road building), but also a lot of traffic and many radar-wielding cops. I just followed the locals and slowed down where they did.

    There was one very enjoyable stretch of gravel, though, leading to Barja Curri. Not very long, but nicely graded so lots of fun. A bit later, my stomach started to complain about the local food, and I had to stop to get it out - and I'm not making this up - just a few kilometers before this village:
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    On the last day, I took a very small and winding road (called "scenic" on my map) which led me to Ohrid lake and the border with Macedonia. When I say "winding", that's in a very annoying way: they just put tar on the existing horse cart tracks and made no effort to straighten it up even slightly. So it's got very sharp bend with uneven tar, usually blind so you don't know if you will face a truck, a drunk driver or a bunch of goats getting out. Not very enjoyable unfortunately.

    But the Albanians are really nice people, although not really into biking at all, except for a few antiques.

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    Macedonia: I won't say much about it, I crossed it pretty quickly. More of the former Yugoslavia kind of organization, roads, language, food and beer.

    In summary, the Balkans are a very nice place to go on a motorbike. The "adv" from ADVrider isn't quite there, but there is nice roads and scenery, friendly people, little border and police hassle and quite cheap beer (1 euro) and petrol (1.1 euros) so highly recommended.

    Next post: Turkey. Yeah, I crossed Greece in 1 day, not so friendly and too expensive. I was done with Europe.

    PS: the photos are geotagged in the picasa albums, and the route I followed is there.
    #5
  6. Navel

    Navel Omphaloskeptical

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Galicia, Spain. Exiled in Madrid.
    I´m in. BTW I like your approach to gear testing :rofl

    (stolen from your blog):

    <object width="400" height="225"><param name="allowfullscreen" value="true" /><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always" /><param name="movie" value="http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=13621723&amp;server=vimeo.com&amp;show_title=1&amp;show_byline=1&amp;show_portrait=1&amp;color=&amp;fullscreen=1&amp;autoplay=0&amp;loop=0" /><embed src="http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=13621723&amp;server=vimeo.com&amp;show_title=1&amp;show_byline=1&amp;show_portrait=1&amp;color=&amp;fullscreen=1&amp;autoplay=0&amp;loop=0" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowfullscreen="true" allowscriptaccess="always" width="400" height="225"></embed></object><p><a href="http://vimeo.com/13621723">P'tain merde, ma moto toute neuve!</a> from <a href="http://vimeo.com/user512886">Laurent Bendel</a> on <a href="http://vimeo.com">Vimeo</a>.</p>
    #6
  7. BusyWeb

    BusyWeb Adventurer

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    :clap
    #7
  8. zadok

    zadok Been here awhile

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    Western Australia
    What an amazing adventure you have planned. All the best for it.:clap:D
    #8
  9. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    I'm late with my stories, I'm almost out of Iran, but before that was Georgia and Iran. What a change from Turkey during Ramadan: the first night I stayed in a small village and I've been treated with vodka and "wine". At least that's what they call "vino", but that was easily the most awful wine I've ever had. Many Georgians brew their own wine, but very few know how to do it properly. But the welcome is very nice, and the bottles eventually were emptied after many long toasts.

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    That's pretty much a mandatory experience in Georgia, where people are very keen to know you and drink with you.

    The border crossing between Turkey and Georgia (Vale - Posof) is very easy, there's not a lot of traffic, and the only problem was to find the guy who knew how to process the bike in the Turkish customs computer. On the Georgian side, it took just 2 minutes and I got a free 3-months visa. Nice. On the down side, I was immediately reminded of the terrible state of the roads. Just like most ex-soviet republics.

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    The country has tons of churches and monasteries to visit, but really, my plan was to get directly to the mountains for some serious riding. That was a good idea because I had about 1 week of great sunshine before the weather deteriorated and pretty much threw me out of the high roads. That was early September, and as I learned later, they've had 2 months of solid sunshine previously. Too bad.

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    The first trip was the loop to Svaneti, a high valley in north-west Georgia. I decided to do the loop counter-clockwise, so starting at Lentekhi with the really hard pass that most people don't get to, descending then on the usual road. Finding the head of this road wasn't that easy, and a policeman was kind enough to lead me around the roadworks, and in fact I had zero problem with the police in Georgia, they mostly stay out of the way.

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    Quickly after this last town, the tarmac disappears, as the road goes up a long valley across small villages.

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    The gravel isn't that good, it's difficult to pick up speed as there are often deep potholes that are best negotiated in 1st gear - or risk to break something. But the scenery is beautiful.

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    No risk to get lost, as there's really only one road. But it's nice anyway (and it's in English).

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    Eventually the roads gets steeper, and the scenery even more impressive, with 5000m peaks in the background.

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    The farmers were picking up hay in the high meadows. They had finished and were preparing the picnic, so of course I was invited to eat a khatchapuri (cheese pancake) and drink some chacha (the home-brewed alcohol, ranging anywhere from 20 degrees to 80 degrees).

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    That was really difficult to refuse, but I quickly departed before I had too much. The road got worse here, with pretty tricky spots.

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    The chacha hit me back a few klicks further on as I had my first fall off, on a pretty steep stretch with big round and wet rocks. Very tricky even when 100% sober.

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    No biggie, but quite painful to pick up the loaded bike my myself. I had to be more careful. The road was getting higher, closing the 3000m mark. I relaxed on a flatter stretch with innocent-looking puddles when..

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    This time I could have avoided it, there was a narrow stretch of grass that was passable. But who could have expected the big hole inside the hole ?

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    With wet feet I attacked the last steep and tricky stretch, without incident this time, and reached the (flat) pass.

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    Ushguli was right below, and that's also the last village reached by people who don't drive a 4x4, so there are a couple nice (if not cheap) guest houses.

    The next morning I went down the (much better) gravel road to Mestia, and had my first real accident in one of the villages: a dog ran after me (as they all do), but because the road was so bad there, I couldn't outrun it and it took a good bite at my leg. I didn't fall and got away without much bloodshed, but those white shepherd dogs are huge and really nasty. I had a few more encounters, but never that close. Watch out, they love the bikers!

    Yes, it wouldn't have been so bad with motocross boots, but for this trip I'm riding with hiking boots, and I still don't regret it.

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    No big deal, I quickly reached Mestia, the region's main town, which is pretty awful: they're building a lot of new tourist infrastructure, and it's a mess.

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    From there on the road was being rebuilt in concrete, which is too bad for us riders, but unavoidable if you want to get the tourists up there. Hundreds of cement trucks were going up the road. Fortunately, a few kilometers down I found a wonderful flat valley with a natural mineral water spring where I could pitch my tent.

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    The next day I was back to Kutaisi, closing the loop. A fantastic road for offroading, not to be missed if you get there.

    Next on my list was Kazbegi. The road to get there is asphalted, so not so interesting. But the highlight was the ride to the monastery at the foot of the Kazbeg mountain. Fantastic sight.

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    Unfortunately, that's when the weather turned to crap, and that was the last of my mountain roads. I got a rain check for the Tusheti (north-east Georgia), so I have an excuse to come back.

    That was probably a bit late in the season, so I headed south to Armenia.

    PS: is it possible to embed a video ? here they are in case:
    Svaneti and Kazbegi.
    #9
  10. AZ_ADV_RIDER

    AZ_ADV_RIDER Demons In My Helmet

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Land of Sun, Sand and Thorns
    I'm totally hooked - Great pics!
    :lurk
    #10
  11. stef25

    stef25 Been here awhile

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    Jan 9, 2007
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    Brussels, Belgium
    Very cool looking trip. How do you feel about riding through Niger ? Can't wait to see the pictures.
    #11
  12. Dr LC8

    Dr LC8 ...soon or later

    Joined:
    Jul 4, 2005
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    970
    Location:
    Manchester...but from Rome!
    It sounds already a great trip!:clap

    Good luck and keep us up to date:wink:

    Ciao

    Nic
    #12
  13. tmotten

    tmotten Lefthand ride Dutchy

    Joined:
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    Calgary
    Any issues with bandits in the Svaneti area?
    #13
  14. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    120
    tmetten,
    what with the bandits, where did you get this from ? are you talking about Suzuki bikes ? because there aren't any in Svaneti, at least none that I could see or have heard of.

    Laurent
    #14
  15. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    Osadabwa,
    I'm looking forward to seeing Tanzania. Will I be able to get new tyres when I get there ? I'm not keen in carrying a spare set all the way through Africa..

    Thanks for the invitation. Cheers,
    Laurent
    #15
  16. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    Apr 27, 2010
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    120
    Stef,
    I don't know yet if I'll be going to Niger at all, it'll depend on the situation at that time, which is a long way down the road.

    Laurent
    #16
  17. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2010
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    120
    I had a last beer in the last Armenian village and prepared myself mentally for the border formalities. I didn't need to, the entry in Iran from Armenia is a very pleasant experience, everything goes smoothly and professionally. Funny enough, only the Armenians customs wanted to have a look at my baggages.. the Iranians couldn't care less, the cars would unload and x-ray the baggages but I didn't bother and nobody cared. I quickly found somebody to stamp my carnet in, changed some cash and off I went. Nobody asked for insurance or requested that I bought one, unlike what happened to this French dude who crossed from Turkey.

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    I quickly found a chaikhana where I had a nice tea and a chicken kebab, reminding me I was in Azerbaijan province, so culturally close to Turkey. I love it, but I would find later that these places become harder to find as I go into persian Iran, because the Imams don't like those places.

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    The weather wasn't that great, so I avoided the mountains and went to Tabriz, then southwest to the Kurdish province near the Iraqi border. I took the secondary roads, which means the English signs disappear. As I don't read farsi, I struggle a little to find my way, but luckily everywhere you go the scenery is great.

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    The roads are amazing, so much better than in Turkey, Georgia and Armenia. Indeed it's even better than the French roads. Add when the road isn't surfaced, it's usually nicely graded so a lot of fun.

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    The same can't be said about the driving of the Iranians. Expect the worse and then some. But you get used to it, it reminded me a little of India. At least this guy didn't try to overtake me.

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    Did I mention that the Iranians are incredibly friendly ? Everywhere I go, I got invited for food or for sleeping. Arriving in Kurdistan, near Howraman, I met these 5 dudes riding on 3 bikes, among them an old but trusty Honda cg125, and a new and fancy Iranian-built Farah 200.

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    I stopped and with their little English found out they were heading to Howraman too, so they told me to follow and lead the way for 3 days. They showed me the way, cooked for me, and even let me use their ration card for cheap fuel.

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    Yes, you can get cheap fuel anywhere at 0.40$/liter. That's pretty good, but the locals do get 60 liters per month at 0.10$/liter! Now that's cheap. Unfortunately for them, the government wants to get rid of it and even the raise the price to 50c. Ouch. (Diesel is 0.05$/liter but what do I care).

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    Howraman is amazing, we did a loop through very steep mountains, from 500m to more than 2000m, with views over Iraq from the passes. We also took some very good gravel roads that brought us down in the valley bottom for a nice swim in the river.

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    You can camp wherever you want, or you can ask locals for shelter, of a mix of both. Having the Kurds guys with me of course made it a lot easier to get around. I will upload the GPS track if anybody is interested.

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    The altitude meant it was never too hot, just great for riding. Indeed, the whole west of Iran, including Shiraz and Esfahan is around 1500m high, so at that time of the year (October), the temperature never goes above 35 at noon, and a nice 20-25 toward the evening. Just perfect. On the other hand the east half is occupied by low-lying deserts and the temperature there is still too hot, easily over 40 degrees.

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    I have a kebab on top of the pass, the cook making use of an old Iraqi bomb.

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    Some more switchbacks

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    and I'm heading toward Shiraz and Esfahan for some tourism. Pretty nice, but no need to talk about it here.

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    In 2 occasions I got to sleep in a mosque; people I really laid back about it and it seems customary to do so. One night I was led to a fuel station's mosque when a party of Iranians joined me, and even brewed tea on the nice carpets. No biggie. You even get the tools to do some.. hmm..??

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    Ouch. Shia ain't doing it for me.

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    That was the 30th anniversary of the "aggression" of Iraq, the 8 year Iran-Iraq war. Some posters were pretty gross, but I liked the one with Saddam Hussein and the phrase: "We didn't fight. We defended". Nice propaganda.

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    I also met this nice dude who built his own chopper, complete with fake twin cylinders, a toy fan blowing on the (real) 200 cc cylinder and a car wheel on the rear. Almost unridable but pretty damn fun.

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    The same guy found some booze on the black market to show us they can have everything. Pretty disgusting, but that's ok for the bragging rights.

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    I wanted to get a glimpse of the desert, so I went east toward Kerman, and then to the Kaluts, a very scenic part of the desert.

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    I set up camp in the middle of those great looking rocky formations and had a great night under the stars. The riding was a bit rough though, not much fun as you have the choice between bumpy hard rocks or soft sand, too much hard work for me on this heavy bike.

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    After 3 weeks I decided to go to Bandar Abbas and find out about the ferry crossing the Persian Gulf for UAE and Dubai. On the way there I found myself blocked at a military checkpoint. I had veered off on a secondary road, if I had stuck on the main highway I probably would have reached Bandar quickly. But there the militaries insisted for me to wait for an escort. Several escorts in fact, as I was handed over to a police station, who brought me to the next police station etc.. so it took me a whole day for 350 km. But they were friendly all the time so I didn't mind, it was just a small inconvenience and meant to be helpful.

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    In Bandar Abbas we joined forces with Sean on his vespa and went through the mountains of paperwork needed to get the bike on the ferry. It's a ro-ro, you can just ride the bike onto the deck, but it is much more complicated that it needs to be. I guess the Iranians don't care about making it easier for tourists.

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    Finally, after 20h of running around offices, 14h of crossing and 400$ less in the wallet, I was in Sharjah, UAE.

    Guys, Iran is awesome, if you can, go there! Fantastic people, cheap living, great roads and tracks, very easy to get around without hassle from the police or militaries (except in the far south-east). It wasn't for the Carnet de passage, which makes the trip pretty expensive, it would be the dream destination.
    #17
  18. Frgich

    Frgich Been here awhile

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    916
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    Europe-Croatia-Zagreb
    Thanks for the update :thumb
    #18
  19. Grouik

    Grouik Bike & Beer

    Joined:
    Nov 22, 2009
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    Belgium
    Thanks, I appreciate :clap
    #19
  20. Bluebull2007

    Bluebull2007 Adventurer

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    Feb 1, 2008
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    Location:
    Oviedo, España
    Awesome stuff! You are going to have an epic trip allright.

    If I may suggest: Get a set of bearings for your rear wheel while you are still in the world. you won't find them again until you are in South Africa. The rear wheel bearings on these bikes sometimes picks up premature problems.

    Also, perhaps reconsider getting some offroad boots. Ive had my loaded 800 on my foot and had I been wearing hiking boots, my trip would have been over.

    Looking forward to the rest. :clap
    #20