You can get into any country you have a visa to. And that is what we plan. We've been planning it for ages, and yet the Russian visas remain somewhat elusive. Every day another issue pops up about it: who do we get an invitation from? Just what day are we entering? How much is it? For reference, these questions have tricky answers that go something like: A hotel, or uni, or business who sells visas; About 17 July (or 18?.. 19?); and a lot. Like 400 Euro. I think. That is not finalised. I'll report back.
The last week or so has been characterised by packing unpacking, repacking, cleaning, examining every single object we own, deciding its fate and expunging. The expunging was the most satisfying, the cleaning the least. When you move into a rental house its clean, and as time goes by, entropy ensures it doesn’t stay that way. And then, the day you move out, it is the cleanest it could be and you don’t get to enjoy it! I hope the next tenants appreciate that. And so with the help of our friends, Richard, Rachel and Tim, we cleaned, and packed. We serviced two motorbikes and packed and cleaned. And we’re pretty grateful to not only see our old mates, but also to enslave them, paying them only with the last of our dry food-stores turned into dinners of left-over couscous and lentils with rice.
As d-day (departure day, not the other one), drew closer, we found we had some things to get rid of that were proving difficult. We had three motorcycles, and we needed two. We had three top-cases and we wanted none. They were listed on leboncoin, a website you go to hock things you need to get rid of, but really, our items never received much attention. Then we received good news in the form that someone was interested to buy a bike! They would come and see it on d-day (Thursday). At 5pm! No, that’s too late! Theresa talked them back to 3.30pm - this should give us time to sell the bike, to d-, and get in 4 hours of riding before sunset.
It was d-day. It was sunny, things were packed, cleaning was being finalised, in short: everything was perfect.
Let me introduce some characters for this story: there is Sophie; the nephew; the mechanic mate; Tim; me (Mat); my brother (Tom); and Theresa. Sophie, the lady who sold us all our motorbike insurance is lovely, helpful, and charming. And it turns out her nephew (the nephew) is the one interested in the bike. Sophie, the nephew, and the mechanic mate were coming this afternoon to see the bike. Excellent. Now to ditch 3 top-cases. Tom, my brother, wants a top case, and so I stuffed it with things to give him, and it was ready. I’d give that to him in Savoie in two days, our first “stop” on the pre-trip trip. This France-Germany leg being the pre-trip to the trip from Wildeshausen-to-Tullera. One down.
The second top-case would hopefully go with the bike we were hopefully going to sell this hopeful d-day afternoon. One left. Tim, my mate from way-back-when was visiting on his motorbike, he would ride with us to Savoie. And he didn’t own a top-case. Bullseye. I talked to him, he talked to me, eventually, after showing him some useful features of the top-case: the locking mechanism, the little red plastic flap which concealed the perfect compartment for your essential paperwork: insurance, proof of bike ownership etc., Tim decided he could use the top-case, but that he would have to post it to his house in England because he couldn’t attach it to his bike immediately. So he took it, boxed it, and posted it to ol’ blightey.
3.30pm. T-minus an hour or so until we leave. We just have to convince the nephew to buy the bike (probably take a too-low price), then get on our bikes and go. We talk. These things sometimes take a little while in - it’s better to get to know someone before you buy their bike, and so we talked. It took a couple hours, but eventually, the nephew talked down a few hundred Euro-bucks and we agreed: the bike was sold. We can get going any minute. Grab the paperwork, fill it out.
Get the paper work Mat! ..
The paper work. The insurance paper, the proof of ownership! Sign it!
Remember the top-case with the little red flap that hides the perfect compartment for paperwork for your bike? Remember Tim, only a few hours ago solving a problem by taking that top case and posting it to England? Remember when I took out my paperwork from behind the little red flap? No?
The thing is, you can’t sell a bike without proof of ownership, and you can’t provide proof of ownership if you posted it to England that morning. So the bike sits in Engomer even now.
Sophie, one of the loveliest people you will ever meet, and who you should all go and meet, and buy her insurance, knows for a fact that we own the bike: she has copies of our proof of ownership. She has seen it and stamped it. Sophie now convinced the nephew that the bike is still a good idea to buy. She says Tim can post the paper back when he gets home to England. That I can sign it, wherever I am, and post it to her. That she will give the paper to the nephew, and that he will transfer the cash, and that the sale should go ahead! How I owe Sophie something good. I don’t know the last time you managed to pull a stunt like post your proof of ownership to another country on d-day at the critical hour, but the corticosterol levels rise rapidly. This brings blood-pressure issues, and if you are standing near enough to Theresa, there is the distinct possibility you will also be posted to England, and with no return address.
Things are sorted. And the next thing you need to know is we got on our bikes after emotional good-byes to Engomer, to Florence, Heloise, and Thibaut. To the cat and we set out, around about 6pm.
At around about 6.15pm it rained.
We stay on the bikes until about 7 or 730, and stopped for dinner and cafe gourmand. An hour! That’s not nearly enough, we need to get to Savoie tomorrow to meet people: my brother, our friends. We have a decline to be in Savoie tomorrow afternoon. So we put the wet socks back on, gear up and are determined to ride to Carcassonne before quitting. Out we go into the rain. The sun has set. The Yamaha won’t start. Theresa pushes it, and off we go. About 2km down the highway I realise my headlights don’t work, and we stop to sort it out. I know the way to Carcassonne but I can’t go first: I can’t see. Tim has the twat-nav to the rescue, and we tell it: avoid motorways, take us to the heart of the Cathare!
Tim leads, me second, Theresa third. I can see the road ahead in Tim’s light, and I can see around me, to the sides, from Theresa’s light behind, and a big Yamaha-shaped shadow in front of me. It’s only 2 hours to Carcassonne. But with the rain and the vision, we took four.
It was a wet, sorry trio that squelched into the cheapest hotel in Carcassonne, demanded three beers and slept the sleep of the tired, wet and self-pitying.
Next installment: day 2.
As you might guess, a lot has happened since our last post. I finally handed in my PhD (woop woop!), and 2 days later flew to Moorea (Tahiti, French Polynesia) to collaborate for a month with the wonderful Suzie Mills. There were tiger shark encounters and dance shows and swimming in water falls and amazing Mahi-Mahi and the kind of relaxed science you need after finishing a 4 year thesis. Of course this interlude happened right in the middle of trip preparations, so now the race Is on.
There are a million pieces of paperwork (international drivers licence, Russian visa) to sort out and of course we have to sell/ throw out/ give away most of our possessions. On top of that Mat had the ingenious idea to sell one of our lovely BMWs and exchange it for a 16 year older Enduro: a Yamaha Ténéré.
This happened because the greatest dilemma we have faced so far in planning this trip was how to get the motorbikes into Australia. Aussies are a little protective of their border and unfortunately just sneaking in would require building some kind of float and getting across 3000km of ocean..and I’m pretty sure that would land us in a retainment camp in PNG. Officially Mat (being Australian, lucky duck) can import one motorbike. Selling the other one somewhere in south-east Asia might have been possible but of course highly illegal and Mat’s not a great passenger (back seat driving..), so only having one bike to get across Australia would have been a pain. But we figured out he can import several bikes if they are older than 1989. The day after I got back from Tahiti, after 45 hours travelling and with a 12 hour time difference, we tracked to Rodez and picked up our new old bike. We like it a lot, it’s quite different from the beamers but I think it’ll do a great job. And having two very different seats to swap around might do our bums a world of good.