June 06, 2009 GMT
Chennai to London

About to start my journey, riding solo from Chennai, India to the UK. I'll be travelling through India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Europe over 3 months. My bike is a Suzuki DL650 Vstrom 2008. Its currently being shipped to Chennai from Auckland NZ. I'm leaving Auckland on 14 June and will spend a couple of days in Kuala Lumpur before getting to India to pick up the bike which is due to arrive on 18 June (hopefully!).
Right now sitting here in Auckland at the start of winter with a head cold, its hard to imagine the conditions that lay ahead. I'm told to expect heat in the 40's and lots of rain, it being the monsoon season in India.
After all these months of planning, research, and anticipation I now have 7 days before I leave.
Kia Kaha

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 03:17 AM GMT
June 07, 2009 GMT
The Bike

The Bike.JPG

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 01:16 AM GMT
June 13, 2009 GMT
Auckland - Malaysia

Just one hour before I leave to catch my flight to KL.
I would just like to thank all those people who have phoned, texted and emailed giving me their best wishes and support.
I have tried to keep this trip low key (as much as you can) and have shied away from leaving parties etc.
Your support has been I must say,unexpected and quite overwhelming.
Thank you all
Kia Kaha

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 10:10 PM GMT
June 17, 2009 GMT
Malaysia

Arrived in KL, 30C temp. welcome after 14C in Auckland.
Stayed in nice hotel and didn't venture far from shops and swimming pool.
2 nice days just relaxing and looking forward to getting to Chennai and starting the trip proper.
Got a surprise when checking in at the airport, I was 8kg over the limit and was charged heavily for it.
Quick 3.5 hour flight to India

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 12:14 PM GMT
Chennai

I need to point out that this is, I think, my 4th trip to India and I love the people and the country,what I had forgotten was quickly realized on boarding the plane in KL.
I thought that the flight would be half empty, but that idea changed as soon as the call came to board.... a mass of Indians charged for the gateway to get on the plane blocking the doorway as stewards tried in vain to take control.
Oh yes that's the India I remember.
Arrived in Chennai at 22.30 temp 30C. The usual hassles getting processed (us passengers were all greeted by staff wearing face masks, slightly unreal experience.
Anyway I have been here 2days now. 40C during the day,hard to get used to but I expect it to feel cooler once I'm riding.
The bike, well it has been here for a week and hopefully I will have it cleared tomorrow. Its costing me twice as much to clear as it did to ship from NZ and believe me I had to go to several agents and haggle hard to get it done.
You want the bike... you pay...
Amanda would be amazed at how calm (on the outside) I've kept.
Today I got the compulsory third party insurance (had to pay for whole year, only need 3 weeks)
That took me about 5 hours but was a very interesting experience. You get a great insight into Indian culture just watching your paperwork moving from one person to another. I reckon unemployment is virtually nill here
Food is fantastic, hotel Paradise no thats its name, I've nicknamed the owner Basil,traffic is chaos, the heat & dust, well I'll have to get used to that.
If I get bike tomorrow plan to head out early next morning

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 12:45 PM GMT
June 19, 2009 GMT
Chennai

Great news after a incredibly trying day I have my bike
The details of my day are too long to go into right now, I will do later
I'm shattered and am going to bed.
I'm heading off tomorrow early morning.
Finally after all this time and numerous frustrations, I'm about to get underway...

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 04:30 PM GMT
June 20, 2009 GMT
Chennai to Vijayayawada

First I promise to mention clearing the bike yesterday.......
No surprise it took all day, getting security pass to go into secure customs warehouse, meeting customs officer and all his helpers, locating the bike crate, then opening it.
As soon as the crate was opened at least a dozen workers all gathered round poking and playing with every part of the bike. This is something I'll have to get used to.
Anyway after about 6hrs I had the bike assembled and rode out off there.
I left Chennai at 8am to head off to highway N5 but of course all the directions to get out of Chennai had me going all over. Finally at around 9am I got on the road and then just had to go straight as the road goes all the way to Calcutta.
I was hoping that riding in this heat would be abit cooler and to be fair it is but you still feel like you are riding in a furnace. I had to keep my visor down as it burnt my face. I even rode with out gloves as they were too hot but were protected by my handguards. Fantastic to finally cruising through the country side but you can't relax for a minute. The traffic my god, you can't second guess anything. The N5 is a 4lane highway (2 each way) but it's nothing for you to come across a truck coming down your lane on the wrong side of the road.
I had my first misshap early on, I went to stop at a roadside Chai stop and as I pulled in I misjudged the width of the bike with the panniers on and wacked a tree which left the pannier lying on the ground and me trying to keep the bike upright without dropping it. Luckily I had some spare small bolts on hand and managed to replace the rivets which had been pulled out. Lesson learnt.... its bigger than you think!.
Anyway I'm so pleased to be on the road. Did about 480Km today, not too bad.
Vijayayawada (you don't get a more Indian name than that) is actually a very nice city with a large river running through it. Much less hustle than Chennai thank god.
Just one more thing, every time I stop I get mobbed by are crowd within seconds, I even took to stopping in a layby with no one around. No different, they stop either in their car ,on a bike or scooter so there is no getting away from it . They just crowd around asking same old same old, where you from?, how much is this bike? (I now reply "why you want to buy it"), where you come from? where you going. I'm thinking of getting leaflets printed!!!

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 05:03 PM GMT
June 22, 2009 GMT
vijayawada - NAGPUR

trying tocatch up and i"ve got little time till internet closes
rode from Vijay to Hydrabad lovely city and stayed the night long ride on bumpy road
today I rode from Hydrabad to Nagpur long way ( keyboard won"t do numbers)
Had everything great bit of motorway then the most terrible road you could see
Also had major rain storm with very strong winds luckily I was coming into small town so took shelter< captured on video > stopped for about half hour then it stopped as quickly as it came
Great great days ride best yet
At one point stopped at rail crossing with barriers down waited for about ten minutes so I asked a driver "is train coming" no train was reply " why are barriers down" security he said "security for what" train he said "is train coming" yes train coming!!!!! go figure
Sorry about writing mistakes keyboard has mind of its own THATS INDIA
Have had little things stolen small tripod out off tank bag and would you believe a special bolt which holds my hand protector to handle bars WHY what would they do with that annoying but not spoiling my time having brillant time riding and scenery is fantastic

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 04:39 PM GMT
June 25, 2009 GMT
Varanasi

Rode from Ngapur to Katni stayed night and left at 6am for the approx 500km to Varanasi.
My worse day so far, for the first time I started having doubts whether I can actually do this. India is in the middle of a heat wave, monsoon is late, water is scarce (people have died fighting over it) and there is civil unrest in Delhi and other parts of the country all over water. Google it....
It is sooo hot, official temp. in Varanasi yesterday 45C my thermometer gave up and 50C now longer works (yes it was in sunlight but so am I)
Then there are the roads, the bike (I'm thinking of calling it Vincent cause every one asks... price) is taking a pounding and I was concerned something was going to break. The lock on my top box broke through the vibration and I don't think I will be able to get it repaired.
Finally arrived in Varanasi and booked into nice hotel with AC and a pool!!! My treat to myself. After swim and good night sleep I am feeling confident again and will spend today stripping down bike and giving it a good check over.

Kia kaha

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 06:28 AM GMT
June 28, 2009 GMT
Agra

Hi all,
Left Varanasi 6am yesterday morning for the trip to Agra (650km) was going to do in 2 days but wanted to put myself and the bike to the test in prep. for long distances I will have to do especially in Pakistan. Have to say road was very good, 2x2 lanes so not really a good indication. Anyway it took me 10hrs mainly because I had to take frequent breaks around mid day. I don't mean to go on (but I will) the heat is incredible it's getting hotter as I go north. I tried riding with out my vented summer gloves, big mistake the top of both hands are now really burnt and sore, going to be a weird suntan. However it was pleasant without them.

What was really frustrating though was that once I hit Agra it took me oine and a half hours to get to my hotel (not booked Dave O). I knew I was within a km or two away but was directed (again) around in circles. Asked rickshaw drivers but of course they want to take you to another hotel where they get a commission. Pissed me right off as I was bloody cooking in all my gear with no air movement to cool me. I think it was the first time that I really lost my cool, no pun intended.

I felt ok after the ride but I have since noticed that the bike is going through a bit of coolant for the radiator, don't think it's a leak just working hard.

Hotel is budget type but clean and tidy and AC, can't go without it. Nice owners and good security for the bike, most important!.

Went to the Taj Mahal this morning. I still believe it is the best most beautiful man made monument in the world. The setting is amazing, in fact it was built (1600's)high on the banks of the river so they would only have the sky as a back drop.
You just do not get the detail in photo's you have to get up close to see how intricate it really is.

Anyway enjoyed the morning, no crowds there as I remembered from last time I visited.

So my friends, assuming there is someone out there reading this. Actually this reminds me.... where are all the european (read white) travellers gone. I met only one guy in Chennai and he was french/Australian and a brief conversation with a kiwi girl. I then saw no one till I got to Varanasi, 2 spanish ladies and another english couple. Seen a few a Taj but no conversations. I'm going to go totally mad if I have to keep talking to myself inside my helmet. Anyway....

It's back behind bars again tomorrow morning. Heading to Delhi, only 200km then heading on up (north) towards Pakistan border. I can't wait to do the KKH (google it) I think this will be highlight of trip and some cooler temps. Still a long way to go before then.

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 11:26 AM GMT
June 29, 2009 GMT
Delhi

Namaste
Agra to Delhi is only 200km on 2x2 lane road so I left early to arrive before it got too hot. Didn't allow for traffic (probably busiest road in India) and took longer than I hoped.
Had my first accident... while I was stopped waiting in traffic a car braked too late (I assume, I didn't see him) and wacked into my right hand pannier knocking me over onto the cars bonnet, bike went down but ok, only battered the pannier all out of shape. Actually pannier saved me otherwise would have hit my right leg. I was not hurt at all but (sorry Amanda) I lost it and abused the prick. Of course crowd immediately gathered and they were shouting at the driver also, I picked myself and the bike up and got out of there. Bit of drama.
I got hotel in Phrahganj the back packer part of Delhi not very nice (hotel is ok)
Lots of europeans gone native. Streets are very narrow, dusty & dirty, cows walking about and shitting everywhere. Anyway lots of character you might say.
Amanda and I stayed here once and I don't think see was impressed.
Managed to take damaged pannier off the bike and jumped on cycle rickshaw to find somewhere to get it fixed.
NOW this is the wonder that is India. We went maybe half a km and I noticed some guys making sheetmetal trunks so I asked if they could fix it (fix? fix?)
No problem, $NZ2, hammers out, 15 minutes later almost as good as new. Well not quite, you may remember this is the pannier I attacked a tree with. Anyway the lid fits and it bolts on to the bike ok, try that in your country!! (oh don't like the look of that sir! etc)
Everyone says rain is coming so getting out of delhi tomorrow heading north (always north). Rain should make it cooler but it could also stop me in my tracks.
Someone asked in email, what do you do at night,? well I do this blog, normally take a good walk, have dinner, do my washing, read and to bed about 9pm as I usually get up at 5am to leave. It's a full on day really especially including time behind bars. Not complaining. What an experience.....
Kia kaha

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 03:35 PM GMT
July 03, 2009 GMT
Chandigarh / Amritsar

It's been a few days since i have been able to get on the internet.
Stayed only one night in Delhi and headed to Chandigarh, wow what a fantastic city.
It was built after partition and is beautifully designed big wide tree lined streets set out on a grid, it's the only city so far where i haven't had to ask for directions to get to my hotel. even though I only stayed one night i had a good look around before I left. Lots of gardens and sculptures, very modern as are the people also I couldn't get over how quiet the city is compared to others (no traffic noise).
Arrived in Amritsar 2 days ago, I have always wanted to visit the Golden temple here (couldn't in 1984 as Indian army attacked sikh militants held up in temple...Mrs Ghandi's sikh bodyguards killed her). Anyway I have been to the Temple, fantastic experience and yesterday went to the famous closing of the border ceremony at the India/Pakistan border crossing... think ministry of silly walks. Very interesting time crowd chanting and dancing, qreat time had by everyone. Took Video and stills. A few people have asked why I'm not posting photo's one reason is that internet cafes here don't want us to download and also it takes a bit of time to edit and upload. I intend to make a DVD of video and stills on return and will give to those who request it.
I spent yesterday servicing the bike (oil change, topping up fluids etc) in prep for crossing into Pakistan tomorrow morning.
Information is pretty limited here on the situation in Pakistan at the moment, I was hoping to catch up with bikers coming from Pak.but I haven't seen anyone. The hotel manager tells me that no one has been there for some weeks.
I understand that apart from Lahore internet access is pretty limited so posts may be not as regular.
Really looking forward to the KKH and a new country for me as I have never been there before.
Will post when possible
Kia Kaha

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 09:09 AM GMT
July 05, 2009 GMT
Lahore Pakistan

Here I am in Lahore, feels like dark side of the moon as far as communications go.
I had a very easy crossing of the border, very quick got carnet (bike passport) stamped out of India and into Pakistan no problems. No one even bothered to check my luggage.
I have now been in Lahore for 2 days and must say that I'm pleasantly surprised, Lahore is probably the most liberal and cultural city in Pakistan. The locals are very friendly and I am often invited to sit down and have a cup of tea.
I'm staying in a hotel near, get this, Charing Cross! which is on The Mall (for my friends in England) and today being Sunday most of the shops are closed.... strange for a muslim country, normally closed on fridays.
The first major difference you notice after India is the food. Here it is meat with every thing and still have to say that the food is still one of the highlights of my trip. the other difference is that all food is eaten with out utensils so it's a bit hard for me as I'm a natural left hander.
I had a good wander through the old city this afternoon, very colourful and a lot of people about, masses of stalls set out selling everything imaginable, had a great time just sitting at a tea stall people watching. Re the tea, back home I never drink the stuff, hate it, but here it seems to be the drink to have in this heat (same as India). However I have lashed out today and brought myself a small jar of nescafe coffee.
News on other front not so good, it looks like I may not be able to do the KKH for reasons I won't go into here but needless to say I'm pretty p.......... with the situation. The information I am getting is very limited re routes I can take is vague and can't seem to get up to date info from other bikers. I have posted on website but it appears that few are here at the moment, I certainly haven't seen anyone else on a bike, in fact europeans are pretty thin on the ground although there are about 8 in this hotel (the main foreigner place).
I will have to make a plan tonight re route to take and will set off tomorrow, looks like this may be a quick trip through Pakistan. I had planned on at least 2 weeks but looks like it could be shorter.
Thanks for your emails of support.
Kia Kaha
(Maori, Be/Stay strong)

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 01:00 PM GMT
July 12, 2009 GMT
Pakistan / Multan

Hi, we have contact......
A lot has happened since my last entry so I will go back to when I left Lahore and continue in a series of brief entries and then give my final impressions on Pakistan as a whole.
Had to make a tough decision and gave up doing the KKH not for security reasons, it is safe to do that route.
I headed of to Multan (recorded highest temp. of any city in the world) Lovely riding (390km) down through Punjab very green and is the food bowl of Pakistan. Arrived in Multan late afternoon and spent 3 hours trying to find a hotel that would take a foreigner (I know now what it was like to be coloured) The issue is security If they take me then they have to put up with police guarding me.
Finally got a room near the railway station and whilst I was talking on the phone to Amanda my personal security guy turned up and showed me his automatic gun and explained that if I go out he will protect me, a taste of things to come....
Don't get me wrong I appreciate the effort that the police put in to guard me but it severly limits your ability to interact with the locals. Probably the point me thinks...
Multan (and every other city onwards) is very conservative compared to Lahore and my presence was not what you call, well recieved, by most locals.
I spent the whole night in my hotel room.

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 01:03 PM GMT
Pakistan / Sukker

Left the next morning for Sukker (478km) and again a great ride until about 75km outside of Sukker when I picked up my first police escort. To explain, escorts are a bit like the pony express. The police take your passport and you follow them for around 30 to 40 km when the next escort will take you onwards. Again I appreciate the efforts by the police to take care of me, but oh so slow!!! sometimes only doing 40km/hr. I actually joked with one english speaking officer that at this speed someone could walk up beside me and attack me and I'd rather take my chances at 120km/hr. Can't be done, you have no idea how frustrating this was to get, including waiting around for escorts to show up!!
At least the police know what hotel will take me, big plus, they dropped me off and we arrange time for escort the next day (I quickly learnt to say 1 hr before)
Stayed in hotel room all night.

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 01:18 PM GMT
Pakistan / Quetta

The trip (409km) to Quetta will go down as one of the most differcult so far.
Escort was late and when it turned up sooooo slow, even had 2 guys on moped pass us. Leaving early was important because I was about to cross my first desert (Kachhi Desert) and I didn't want to arrive in the middle of the day, I did!.
The trip started ok but from Sibi onwards was tough, dirt, gravel, rough roads and the heat (crossing deserts in the hot season...doh) The Bolan pass about 100km from Quetta was bike/rider breaking, heat, dust, and rough and by this time I had already done a full days ride and I was knackered. I kept saying only another hour then I looked at my speedo and realized I was only doing 40km/hr another hour later I would say "only another hour" and on and on it went.
Finally arrived at hotel Bloomstar (bikers stop) shattered, great hotel with garden and great food (did I mention the food?)
Stayed 2 nights to regather thoughts and strength, gave bike a service.
Have I mentioned the bike (suzuki DL650 Vstrom), I have to say I'm amazed at how much punishment it takes and (touch wood) it hasn't given me any problems. I constantly worry take the suspension is going to give up or I'm going to break it. If that happens here... game over.

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 01:37 PM GMT
Pakistan/Quetta to Taftan

I had always been concerned about this part of the journey as it is the only route to the Pakistan border (Taftan), it is all desert, runs adjacent to the Afganistan border and is well known for it's security concerns. I had intended to join up with another biker to do this but of course no one here.
I set off early with escort again slow going (what can you do?).
Beautiful scenery although very stark moon like landscape. What was a bit worrying was that after about 50km the escort disappeared (they were following me). Great that I could put some speed on but a little nervous at the same time.
The road to Dalbandin (half way) was again very rough but with long straights that stretched out to the horizon. I remember feeling very remote but at the same time peaceful as it seemed I was the only one out here. The feeling reminded me of when I sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in the 90's. Then out of the haze a truck would appear coming towards me to break my trance. Even though it was hard going I enjoyed this part of the trip. Then escorts reared their head again but this time it was worse because I had to take an armed soldier on the back of the bike. I was not happy with this and argued about it as I didn't want the extra weight on the bike as it was hard on the suspension. I ended up giving way as I thought what is more important, the bike or my life?. This situation continued with changes in soldiers until about 100km out of Dalbandin where I was to break the trip and spend the night....NOT SO! I was virtually run out of town by the escorts, no place to stay here! I was now bloody angry, it was very hot and dusty and I was tired and wasn't sure I could make Taftan before nightfall. Still I had no choice and filled up with gas and headed off. One bit of fortune was that the road from Dalbandin was a lot better and I could make good speed. Escorts continued then I just refused to carry a passenger and rode off. I know that I have said previously that this was my hardest day but No this was! I was so dry when I finally reached Taftan after 12 hours I could hardly speak. The icing on the cake though was that there were no rooms and ended up just sleeping on the grass out side the customs hall at the border. I was angry, damn tired, covered in sweat, covered in dust and hadn't eaten since breakfast. Great last memory off Pakistan!!!

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 05:53 PM GMT
Pakistan / Summary

What can you say?, Pakistan has problems as we are well aware. My personal belief is that they will get worse before they get better. I had a great time in Lahore apart from one incident which didn't concern a local. The scenery was fantastic, from the green of the Punjab to the isolation of the deserts. Did I enjoy Pakistan? well alot of the riding was very hard but that is why this is my adventure if I was shooting down motorways it would be boring and I had expected it to be hard, maybe not so hard. So from the riding side it was adventurous. BUT here's the thing.... To me visiting a country is about meeting locals and interacting with them and getting to know their culture. Apart from a few occassions this was not possible as I was shut up in my hotel room. I spent practically the whole time alone, most of the Pakistanis I did converse with were very friendly and generous. I had expected to meet up with other bikers but there are none here.
The security issue has dominated the whole journey and is a great shame.
Would I do it all again?
NO!! not until Pakistan is more stable. The dangers were real, most of which you won't hear about in western media, a bomb went off outside Quetta while I was there. (Google it.) The news was full of incidents on a daily basis and not just in the Swat Valley area but all over the country.
I accept the risks of riding and possible accidents but this was too high a gamble for me to repeat.
I accept some on the horizons unlimited community won't like, or agree with my views but thats my experience and I'd advise them to take a different route.
Wow!! most unlike me to offer an opinion.

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 06:31 PM GMT
July 13, 2009 GMT
Iran /Bam

Easy border crossing into Iran. Welcome welcome everyone says.
Still had security to and from Zahedan all the way to Bam, but I'm told that is all over with now.
Zahedan felt like I was still in Pakistan, couldn't leave hotel even to go across the road to get some food. Police were called and they escorted me. Another tough ride through the desert but at least the roads are good.
Was only going to stay one night in Bam and head to Kerman and Shiraz, but hospitality at my guesthouse is fantastic, taken me around the city, fed me and generally made me feel at home, so staying another night. Only one more day in the desert tomorrow.
Bam was devistated by an earthquake 4/5 years ago tens of thousands died and 95% of the city destroyed including the ARG ancient old city went there today and saw how they are rebuilding it to original spec. mamouth task i'd say and will take decades.
Just one last comment on Pakistan, I read my blog and I give the impression it was hell all the time, it wasn't.

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 01:03 PM GMT
July 15, 2009 GMT
Akbars Guesthouse Bam

As I mentioned previously I intended to only stay in Bam for one night, I have now been here three.
This is more for the Horizons Unlimited community but I just want to give them some up to date info on Bam.
A lot of overlanders seem to bypass Bam altogether when heading to or from the border and stay in Zahaden (bad choice).
Bam, even though still recovering from the tragic earthquake of 2003 has a lot to offer and despite what you might read in Lonely Planet has no security issues.
I spent time walking around the old city (Arg) and saw the aftermarth of the tradgedy that happened there, the city is over 2,500 years old and is a Unesco heritage site and people came from all over the world to see it. It is still worth a visit to walk around and see how they are rebuilding to original specifications.
I can highly recommend Akbars Guesthouse to stay. Akbar and his son Mohammed run this place in such a laidback but efficent manner (as you like). When I arrived the first thing I was asked was "have you eaten would you like some food and chai?. They are currently rebuilding total 17 rooms with bathrooms and air con. There is secured parking and beds laid out in the courtyard so you can laze around in the shade. Both speak excellent English and for the overlander can offer the following services. Great home cooked meals, mechanic, tours (in and outside Bam, desert tours, and broardband internet. They have also assisted me with getting sim card, third party insurance and changing money. I know that this may sound like a paid advertisment (it's not) I have just been so impressed wth their hospitality and want to recommend to others looking for great value acommodation. Details, email: mr-panjali@yahoo.com Tel (98 344)231-48-43
Mobile: (98) 913 1444 148 enjoy

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 04:51 AM GMT
July 18, 2009 GMT
Iran / Kerman

I was sorry to leave Bam I was so relaxed after Pakistan and had a good time there.
The trip to Kerman was to be my last stretch of desert, alas more to come. I left early in the morning to get a good start before the sun got high. I also thought that I had the last of escorts but the local police gave me company out of town and for about the next 50km. Not bad as they keep a good speed, then they just waved me on and that's the last of them.Arrived in Kerman hot and bothered so lashed out and stayed in my best hotel yet $US45, including dinner and breakfast not bad. I'd say 4 star and bloody nice it was too. Room service, large bath (first since I left, no I have had showers!) and all international news channels. I lay in the bath for at least an hour bliss.
Didn't really see much of Kerman but I understand that they make pretty good rugs there.

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 08:25 AM GMT
Iran / Shiraz

The ride to Shiraz, 580km, was one of the best so far (i've probably said that before), the scenery was unreal sort of semi desert / arid with mountain ranges, valleys and huge salt lake beds. For weeks now I have ridden long straight roads which stretch out to the horizon but this time I had mountain passes to cross and lots of twisties (bends, for non bikers. We love twisties.) It took a bit of getting used to as the bike felt quite light in the front end with the weight on the back and I had to be a bit cautious to start, but once i got the feel I was chucking it into those corners. I may have to play around with tire pressures to get the bike set up better.
I haven't mentioned it before but it is surreal listening to the I Pod whilst riding here, especially Pink Floyd when you are in the desert and so isolated from everything.
I put the music on random for the ride to Shiraz and had everything from chill out jazz to Led Zep (who put them on the pod?) anyway it was great. I feel like I've done the hard countries first and are much more relaxed.
Shiraz (shame none of the namesake Red stuff)is a mid size city (say Auckland) and laid back. I arrived on Thursday afternoon & sadly yesterday being Friday everything was closed so decided to stay another day.
Click "MORE"

Shiraz is quite liberal as opposed to some city's here so I thought I could give you the low down on fashions.
For you more mature ladies, black is still in vogue, loose fit is popular... tent shape most common.
For the younger ladies, jeans or light trousers with a light 3/4 coat over top is good of course you have the head scarf but I had noticed the teenagers wear it set back on the head showing about 4in of forehead.... young rebels
As for the young men, Jeans t shirt or shirt but everything has to be tight, I mean skin tight. If you wear a shirt have at least the top 2 or even 3 buttons undone to show off that hairy chest and chain. Think 70's and while you are at it get some gel in your hair. Lovely.
Just before I go here's an example of how the Iranians respond to me and I'm sure all other travellers.
I stopped for a rest on my way to Shiraz and was getting some shade under a tree, the normal amount of people stopped and took photo's of my bike (everyone has mobile phone) any way I was sitting under a tree and there was a family opposite have a break, the man came over and we exchanged pleasantries and then his son came over with a big plate of sliced water mellon and other fruit for me to eat. This is normal here I've had numerous other instances similar to this, its great they really want you to enjoy their country. In fact I'd go as far as saying that they are insecure about how the west perceives them. They feel their rep abroad is unjust and they are right! Oh bloody politics........

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 09:14 AM GMT
July 21, 2009 GMT
Iran / Yazd

Lonely Planet suggests "don't even think about going to Yazd in hot season"
Red Rag... So now I have been here 3 days.
The ride from Shiraz again was amazing oh the scenery (it really is a shame that its so hard to download stills from my video, I have tried too slow internet)
Yazd is supposed to be the oldest city on earth (over 7000 yrs) surrounded by 2 deserts, I know I keep saying I am going to get out of the deserts.... It may not mean it is twice as hot but it is trying. I was invited to go for a free trek in the desert with one of the guides who works out of the hotel here, are you kidding? I'm not going out walking in that with out a huge umbrella and water tanker..I declined.
I am staying at the Silk Road Hotel (said to be the best budget/midrange hotel in Iran LP) I won't argue it is very nice, lovely traditional courtyard in which to lounge around in the evening. Very relaxing which is why I have decided to stay an extra day. There is a fantastic bazaar in the old city which is pretty easy to get lost in but great fun trying to find your way through the maze. The alley's are hemmed in by 3m mud walls which gives you the impression that the place is virtually deserted but in fact the population is over half a millon.
Yesterday I gave the bike a service. I changed the oil even though not really necessary as I'd only done about 3,500 km since the last, but hey oil is cheap here.
It was quite interesting trying to get the right oil though not know the words for synthetic, semi synthetic or mineral oil in Fazi language, let alone 20W50 grade.
Still we managed to make ourselves understood as always and whole job took little over an hour.
I've discovered a new Iranian delight, icecream, I thought that we did pretty good icecream in NZ but I have to concede that their icecream with carrot juice on top takes a lot of beating. I know...carrot juice? but yes it is amazing. Either that or the heat has got to me. I did try an icecream in a cone but not really suitable as you have to eat it so fast before it melts all over your hand, no time for licking.
Tomorrow I head to Esfahan then on to the cooler mountains beyond Tehran.

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 08:25 AM GMT
July 25, 2009 GMT
Iran / Esfahan

Lonely Planet (LP) describes Esfahan : "Iran's masterpiece, the jewel of ancient Persia and one of the finest cities in the Islamic world". Now I definitely don't agree with LP all the time but I believe they have got it right this time. What an amazing place. Beautiful palaces, bridges, mosques and the stunning Imam Square. Not since the Taj Mahal have I been so impressed by architecture!. Esfahan is also quite a liberal city which makes life just that bit easier and people from all over Iran come to visit which makes for an interesting mix and also means that they are geared up for tourists, more than any city I have visited here, the down side is that it pushes up the price of hotels.
My hotel was over priced and the owner was a sleeze, who got my back up as soon as I arrived. I have been pretty calm this whole trip but the old me (Mr angry) came out with this guy which was a shame, nothing major just small things like plumbing not working (it's so hard trying to clean your teeth when the water is intermittent and when it does come you have to be quick to catch the dribble. Hence 20 minutes gone by..AAh!!) I did try to move hotels but it just became too much hassle and left after two days.
I spent early evenings in Imam Square where families and courting couples gather with their rugs to have a picnic (Iranians just love Picnics, everywhere, city parks and all over the country side) I shot a lot of video and chatted with locals on the grass (bad idea) had some very interesting conversations. They are so preoccupied with their image in the west, well who can blame them!!.
Sitting on the grass was not wise I stained a muscle in my back (done it before) and it has been giving me jip ever since making riding quite unpleasant as I struggle to get in a position which doesn't hurt.
I really enjoyed Esfahan but after 2 days it was Friday (holiday) so I decided to make the big push to Chalus on the Caspian Sea. The route would take me to the outskirts of Tehran where I would detour to Karaj and ride the beautiful Karaj to Chalus road which goes up into the mountains.. Oh yes finally.. cooler air, windy roads... fantastic, just one more day of desert riding!!! (well 5-6 hrs till I reach Tehran).

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 03:09 PM GMT
Iran / Esfahan to Chalus

Got up at 6am to hit the road and apart from the back (as mentioned) had an enjoyable ride cruising at around 130km/hr on long straight roads, actually toll roads which motorbikes aren't allowed on (Iranian) got stopped by police a couple of times but no problems (they really only want to look at the bike) and was waved through all of the toll booths..they didn't know what to charge and also the Iranians are just like that with foreigners.
I was dreading hitting the motorway network on the out skirts of Tehran (pop. 15 million) as their reputation for crazy driving is well earnt. I never intended to visit the city, too much hassle, nothing to do with politics. As it turned out I shouldn't have worried, in on one motorway, first sign I saw was posted to Karaj, Quick left turn and I'm on my way. How easy is that!!!. Well one thing I have learnt on this trip is ying and yang. There is an up side and down side to absolutely everything!
Click "more"

Being Friday the traffic was heavy as this route from Karaj to Chalus (160km) is incredibly popular with the locals from Tehran as it gets them up into the mountains and the cooler air and of course the picnic. But no matter it was around 2pm and I figured that they would all be heading back in a couple of hours anyway doh! I was stopped again by the police and asked where I was headed and got a curious look but was waved on anyway. There was a bit of a traffic jam getting out of Karaj onto the hill road and a driver said to me "no matter after 3pm it won't matter" or words to that effect. What??? I thought, is he talking about? Now you can see that this is all leading to something, it's obvious, but why didn't I see it coming, all the signs were there I just ignored them. After a 500km ride all I wanted to do was to get up into the cool air (I've been waiting for weeks, actually since the trip started to get out of the heat) and get to my destination.
The Sting was that at 3pm they close the lane from Karaj to all traffic so that the traffic coming back from Chalus uses both lanes. BUGGER!! about 35km out of Karaj the Police put their hand up "Stop" you can go no further! I asked what time they reopen my lane and was told Midnight!!
I looked at my options... I could go back to Karaj but there are no real hotels there, I could go back to Tehran and get a hotel there, or I could wait until midnight and ride to Chalus in the dark (not a good option on a very tricky winding road.
I decided to ride back about 10km to a restaurant I had passed earlier and figure out what to do. I sat there watching the traffic for hours as none of my options were appealing to me. I just couldn't believe how many cars there were coming back it was like the whole 15 million from Tehran were on this road. In the end I took no action and as it got dark I had no options left but to stay where I was. I got chatting to the owners of the restaurant and they agreed to let me sleep in their garden after closing time (Midnight!!) So I just sat there for 8-9 hrs watching this endless stream of cars (half in my bloody lane) go by. There was some entertainment though as there were numerous near accidents as 3 cars tried to fit into 2 lanes and there were actually 2 cars that spun out and hit the concrete barrier on the sharp corner 50m up the road. So I just waited and waited, it reminded me of the Pakistan border where again I was hot, tired, sweaty and dirty and just wanted to sleep. Soon after midnight I did, I just laid out on the grass and in no time I was unconscious.
Next morning woke at 7am feeling awful, I would have given anything for a shower after sleeping in my riding gear. After a cup of tea headed off for the short (yeah right) 160km to Chalus. Loads of traffic all going my way and they are bloody suicidal drivers (dare I say worse than India) they have no idea of safe braking distance, pass when road is clear, or Hey matey I may not be a car but I'm using this tarmac as well, I was forced off the road a couple of times by cars passing me with oncoming traffic. The scenery was stunning but I was too preoccupied with staying alive to really appreciate it. After 5 hrs I finally made it to Chalus only to find it wasn't very appealing so moved on to Noshahr (Nowshahr) a few km up the road. Found nice hotel (bath!!!!!) so I'm settled in for the night, after servicing the bike. Tomorrows another adventure

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 04:32 PM GMT
July 28, 2009 GMT
Iran / Rasht/Tabriz

Forgot to mention that whilst servicing the bike in Nowshahr I managed to have a wee accident when I put the bike on the stand it landed on my big toe and with 200kg of bike on it I was not happy. Anyway got to use the first aid kit for the first time.
Leaving Nowshahr I headed all the way around the Caspien Sea coast. What a waste of a good coast line the towns which line it were tatty and unappealing which surprised me because Iranian flock here for holidays. So with no nice place to stay I carried on to Rasht where I stayed for one night.
I have to say though that while the towns weren't great the scenery was! After crossing the mountains to Nowshahr and since the scenery has totally changed from the Deserts (well it would wouldn't it) It was so nice to see the sea again after so long and also the greenery, not seen since the Punjab in Pakistan weeks ago. This area in fact is like the Punjab as it is the food basket of Iran, rice paddy fields and grain crops abound.
The weather here is cooler if you can call the mid 30'sC cooler. In fact just before getting to Tabriz it looked like it was going to rain and when I got a few spots on my visor I stopped to put my jacket on but it proved to be a passing shower, My first shower in 6 weeks or so. I am in Tabriz at the moment ready to break to the border with Turkey.
I know I have mentioned it before but the driving here is madness. I've seen numerous accidents and on my ride to Tabriz I was going through a small town when this car going in the opposite direction suddenly mounted the small lane divider toppled a couple of small tress and skidded to a halt in front of me. I was more shocked than anything else. I mean this is just crazy. I still can't understand how this happened. traffic was light and ok there was a slight curve in the road but you couldn't call it a corner. But you see this type of thing a lot, people run off the road for no reason it seems.
Anyway as I said, I think tomorrow will be another long day behind the bars as I make for Turkey I just hope the border isn't busy as I have to make for a town on the other side.
See you there!

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 04:54 PM GMT
Iran / Summary

Wow Iran exceeded all my expectations. The people are generous and fantastic hosts
It is such a beautiful country and the towns and cities I visited all had a rich cultural heritage and many sites worth seeing. Some of them take your breath away. The scenery is diverse as you can get. I know I spent a lot of time riding through deserts but that doesn't mean that it's just barren with nothing to see it has it's own beauty, it's just that the roads are dead straight and it's just bloody hot.
I really loved this country with it's long history and culture which dates back thousands of years.

Highlights : The people. Laid back in Bam. Yazd the city in the middle of 2 deserts.
Shiraz the liberal young city and Esfahan for it's architectural brilliance.

Lowlights: Drivers, drivers and drivers (they scare the hell out of you)
Also closing roads in the middle of the day!
Yes there may be some political issues but I think there is a movement for change especially amongst the young people. People in the west need to understand that Iran still suffers under oppressive UN sanctions. Even though it has some of the largest oil reserves in the world, petrol is rationed!
Would I visit Iran again???
Damn right, But I think I would come in the Spring next time and not the hot season

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 05:29 PM GMT
July 30, 2009 GMT
Turkey / Doğubayazıt

İ hope you apprecıate thıs as İ was just about to fınısh thıs entry when the power went down and lost what İ had wrıtten so here we go agaın.
After 2 nıghts ın Tabrız (İran) İ headed to the Turkısh border, 250km.
Great rıde doıng such low km and the scenery was fantastıc especıally as İ got closer to the border and snow covered (peak) Mt. Ararat came ınto vıew.
Goıng through a border ıs always ınterestıng but thıs tıme ıt took a lot longer than usual. Fırst I had to waıt ın lıne for about an hour (people pushıng ın) to get my exıt stamp ın my passport. I hate havıng to do thıs fırst as if there ıs a problem wıth my bıkes carnet de passage I am ın lımbo as I have not yet entered Turkey and İ only have sıngle entry to İran. Then had to go through the process of gettıng the carnet stamped out. Thıs was tedıous as İ had to go backwards and forwards gettıng a sıgnature here and a slıp of paper there, seeıng 4 or 5 dıfferent people. A warnıng to others (bıkers) a guy from the Netherlands was caught wıth a fake carnet (for hıs car) and was havıng all sorts of hassles, They are on to these fakes and spotted ıt straıght away. Fınally got every thıng sorted, no search and was let through to the Turkısh sıde. Fırst stop ımmıgratıon who ınsısted İ needed a vısa (whıch İ dıdn,t have) İ ınsısted not! A polıceman took control and after advıce told ımmıgratıon that NZers dıdn,t requıre vısa. So wıth entry stamp ın passport İ went through carnet process agaın, thıs tıme much easıer. got that stamped ınto Turkey. Then purchased my thırd party ınsurance (10 US dollars, 4 months) İ had to show my passport at a couple more check poınts, agaın no search, and then İ was on the road ın Turkey 3 hours after arrıvıng at the border. The whole process ıs a bıt frustratıng but you just have to keep calm and go through ıt step by step.
I stopped ın the fırst town İ came to Doğubayazıt (yes you try to pronounce ıt) where İ stayed last nıght and am spendıng another day. It,s a nıce relaxıng town maınly servıcıng trekkıng etc Mt. Ararat. Small enough to walk around and has pedrestrıan? only maın street whıch ıs nıce for a change.
The two thıngs İ notıced straıght away was how expensıve everythıng ıs compared to what İ,m used to (my god Petrol prıces) welcome to (almöst) Europe. The other ıs how much cooler ıt ıs, guessıng İ would say ıt,s about 30C and at nıght got down to the mıd 20C. Last nıght İ had to put on a long sleeve shırt and shoes and socks as ıt was so cool, the fırst tıme ın over 6 weeks, not that İ,m complaınıng. We are at altıtude though so İ expect ıt to get warmer as İ move on.
I am thınkıng of headıng East (ısh) to Erzurum tomorrow as thıs ıs a popular stoppıng off poınt for bıkers to pıck up theır İranıan vısa. I am hopıng İ can meet up wıth them to get ınfo for my route. I stıll haven,t seen any bıke sınce a brıef encounter wıth 2 bıkes at the Iran / Pakıstan border. Where ıs everyone???
The lonelyness of the long dıstance bıker.... I always wanted (and planned) to do thıs trıp alone as I want it to be a personal journey and challenge but İ had expected to meet up wıth others doıng the same thıng, thıs hasn,t been the case, İ,m really surprısed by the lack of others doıng thıs trıp albeıt goıng ın the opposıte dırectıon. Contact even wıth other tourısts has been mınımal there are just not many about. I get weary of the same old questıons asked by locals....
Where you from? How much ıs bıke? Whats your name? Are you muslım? etc etc.
Oh Well...
After Erzurum there ıs reportedly a lovely scenıc route through mountaıns to the Black Sea coast. I may take thıs route....we,ll see
As for my health, my toe ıs healıng, thankfully ıt ıs on my rıght foot whıch uses the rear brake (used less often) and not the left whıch changes gears. My back ıs stıll gıvıng grıef but not so bad, İ need to get off the bıke to let the muscles relax for a few days thıs wıll probably happen once I get to the coast.
There you go up to date, I,m goıng to save before İ loose ıt agaın.
Kıa Kaha

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 12:19 PM GMT
August 02, 2009 GMT
Turkey/NotThe Black Sea

Hı team İt has been a few days since İ made an entry on the blog but İ have done some hard riding getting a few Km,s under my belt. İ ended up going in the complete opposite direction İ had initially planned to go. Fröm Doguhayazt İ headed down to Lake Van (323km) A very scenic ride especıally once İ got to the lake side, Thıs lake is huge and the water a very pretty lıght blue, great riding as the road followed the shoreline for over 200km, deserts? what deserts. İ stayed the night on the far western edge at Tatvan. The next day İ planned to leave early but mısplaced my keys and İ spent over an hour searching for them. İ do have a spare set hıdden on the bike but still didn,t want to abandon them, turns out İ had locked them in one of the panniers (padlocked) First time this has happened. Anyway dıd another long day in the saddle (570km) to Gazıantep a very nice progressive city (saıd to be like Barcelona). Thıs was a long hard ride as their was a lot of road works and dıd a lot of miles on gravel which the bike handled quite easily, just got in the rıght gear and used the power to keep her on a straight line. İ have to say İ really enjoyed it as it was the first long distance on gravel İ,ve done, the only problem was the dust and İ was losing about 30km every hour. Thıs part of the country ıs home of the Kurds and in the wınter is snowbound hence repairıng all the roads in the summer. Slept easily in Gaziantep then today İ rode another 517km to Göreme ın Cappadocia (do try and google it) Thıs small town is the reason for the bıg push west, İ have been searching for a place to rest up for a few days and this is it. Göreme, what an amazıng magical place. İt really is a shame İ can,t download pıctures for you. (to repeat myself: İ am usıng a small HD digital camcorder which also takes still pictures but trying to seperate the vıdeo from the stills takes a huge amount of time and İ got better things to do in the evenings, like sleeping!) Anyway Göreme ıs a small village (town) pop.2100 and ıs surrounded by thıs volcanıc lunar type landscape wıth towerıng faırytype chımneys and honeycomb clıffs. A lot of the hotels here have cave rooms dug out of the clıffs, (not mine, İ,ve gone slighty more modern, and got a great deal, my bargaining skills have come good) İt is hard to describe but it is a stunning place and İ intend to chill out here for a few days.
Clıck 'more'

Now for a few ramblings, some of the thıngs İ thınk about while riding.
Petrol!! bloody hell ıts expensıve İ,ve spent over 300 dollars NZ already ıt works out like 3.50 NZ per litre. After all the tıme ın muslim countrıes and no drınking my fırst beer ın Turkey was a bit of a disapointment didn,t really enjoy it at all, not a very nice taste and not game to get into the Raki just yet or the wine for that matter.
Road condıtıons (surface) İran so far takes first prize for excellent tarmac. As expected India gets the wooden spoon, mınd you some of the new roads they are buildıng are 1st class and they are investing a lot. But İ will never forget the bike breaking potholed roads İ encountered nor will my body for that matter.
İ forgot to mentıon that while travelling through Iran there was a cresent moon for the most part seemed very fitting at the time.
Most useful things İ brought wıth me or thıngs İ couldn,t do wıthout: 1) ipod 2) palm throttle device which lets me rest throttle hand sort of cruise control 3) ear plugs, allows me sleep through early morning call to prayer.
Most useless things İ brought with me or was going to bring: 1) GPS in the end didn,t buy 2) cool/wet weather riding gear doh! (did bring) 3) camel bak (water backpack) dıdn,t buy would have been too heavy and uncomfortable to wear use bottled water.
Wıshed I had brought : 1) the wıfe 2) more money 3) A 1000 decıbel horn, actually İ asked the bıke shop to fıt an extra 2 horns but they didn,t. bastards.
Kia Kaha

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 05:56 PM GMT
August 06, 2009 GMT
Turkey / Antalya

Spent 3 wonderful day's in middle earth (goreme) and was then wanting to get back on the road.
Yesterday I had the most glorious ride (617km) from Goreme to Antalya, beautiful plains and to finish a fantastic mountain crossing down to the south coast. The mountain section especially was great as there were a lot of sweeping corners (twisties) to throw the bike into. About time I wore out some of that rubber on the edges of my tires as they are getting "squared" off by all the long straight roads in Iran. I was thinking as I was riding (wow multi-tasking) that back home I would look forward for days to a 300km ride on the Triumph and here I have been doing it every day (almost) for the weeks. Apart from the few hassles it has been heaven. I have had to put in the big Km's here as the country is so large, but when you have such wonderful scenery it's no chore. I really noticed the rise in temp. as I came off the mountain section, back up into the mid 30'sC. My objective now is to go along the coast (300km) then bypass Izmir and try to make Istanbul on Sunday,(today's Thursday)early morning to try a beat the normal chaos of that city. I really hate going into big cities on the bike as I am trying to navigate a new city and trying to keep myself safe from the other traffic at the same time.
A quick word on Antalya, I'm staying in the old city, very nice but rip off hotel prices and expensive food. Saying that it is beautiful but more of a package deal type of place. Only staying one night.
I have met another biker here at last!! (wow only took over 11,000km) He is from Portugal and we are going to ride together today and maybe part of tomorrow as he is going to Cesme to catch the ferry to Athens.
I think I talked him to death last night as I've had very little contact with Europeans since this trip started (there are a lot more tourists now I'm in the south again). Saying that he hasn't appeared so far this morning so maybe he's hoping I leave without him..... surely not!

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 07:54 AM GMT
August 07, 2009 GMT
Turkey /Olympos/Kas

As I saıd previously İ only stayed one nıght ın Antalya but Luıs (the bıker I met from Portugal) and I decıded to take a easy rıde up the coast to Olympos only an hour away. It was great rıdıng wıth someone else after all thıs tıme but I soon realısed why I was adamant from the begınıng that I was goıng to do thıs trıp alone. After a late nıght prevıous we had arranged to meet at breakfast and leave at a perfectly cıvıl tıme of around 10.30am. This is quite unusual for me as I try to set off early around 6 or 7am especially if I intend to ride a long distance. I woke as normal around 5am so I went for a walk along the sea front and watched the sunrise. At 8am I had breakfast and at around 10.am Luis surfaced for his breakfast as well. Well at 1pm we were still there at the hotel while he dithered around, having a shower, sending an email & packing. He's just that sort of guy!
Surprising though was that fact that I was more amused rather than agitated by his lack of urgentcy. Anyway we did have a great ride so much so that we missed the turnoff for Olympos and we had gone an extra 20km before we realised (Luis was guiding using his GPS unit) so we had to back track.
Olympos was quite surprising, a lot more people than I thought there would be. after lunch we headed to the beach (pebble) for a swim (my first in ages) and stayed until almost sunset. We then got or accommodation which was unusual as all the rooms were log cabin or tree houses. The place was crammed full with packpackers and I knew that my ear plugs would come in handy that night!
The next morning (mid-morning) we headed to Kas where we spent today. A very beautiful laid back coastal town. Again we missed a couple of turns (GPS) on the way, but after arriving we sorted out our hotel, had some lunch, and then went for another swim. I guess it sounds like I am having a real lazy holiday but really these sort of days are very rare, and it all changes tomorrow as I have to make some big km's towards Istanbul. We shall have a farewell dinner tonight before going our seperate ways as Luis goes to Cesme to catch a ferry to Greece. He has invited me to ride with him to Portugal but I will be taking a different route.
A quick note: I stated in a previous blog entry that one of the things I'm glad I didn't bring was a GPS, unless you have excellent maps (like from "smellybiker.com") they can be next to useless. I do better with my map and compass!. aye captain!
Big day tomorrow, another long day behind the bars
Kia Kaha

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 05:27 PM GMT
August 10, 2009 GMT
Turkey / Foca

I had a late night farewell diner with Luis as we were going or separate ways in the morning. We ended up having a few beers to many and as a result I left far too late to make the 7-800km ride to Istanbul. As a result I only did about 350km and headed for a little town on the coast Foca which is just north of Izmir.
A very picturesque fishing village which has turned itself over to tourism like most of their type in Turkey. A very scenic ride once off the main highway. It was quite relaxing walking along the shoreline after dinner taking in the cooler air.

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 07:32 PM GMT
Turkey / Not Istanbul

When I was planning this trip I always had in mind that I would decide on my route through Europe once I got to Istanbul. Well I aren't going to Istanbul. I made this decision yesterday after considering a number of factors. I'm happy with the decision, however there is one problem. I was going to buy all my maps and guide book for Europe once in Istanbul.... I have managed to print off some pretty scratchy one half page maps from the internet but lack any real detail. I take back what I said about GPS!
I stayed 1 night in Foca and headed for Cannakkale. It was a tough ride only around 400km but I had very strong head winds, sometimes side on which was worse as it buffered me on to the wrong side of the road at times and I was riding at a constant angle leaning into the wind direction. Then the wind would get under the peak of my helmet and snap my head back. I arrived very tired and with sore arm and neck muscles.
Stayed one night then got the ferry to the Galipolli Peninsula the next morning.
I visited Anzac Cove and other memorials, where thousands of NZ and Aus died in a futile attempt to climb up the huge cliffs and defeat the Turks. It was very emotional being there also when Turks saw from my bike that I was a Kiwi and came up and shook my hand. I must say the turks have done a great job of preserving the whole area and they treat it with a lot of respect.
Anyway... I rode on and have now crossed the border into Greece. Easy crossing except I was releaved of 100 Euro for third party insurance (1 month) bloody hell!!!
At the moment it's just a matter off heading west (and stop when I hit the sea, (Greece- Italy) and hopefully I can source some good road maps. Route may depend on them. Proposed route at this stage is Greece, Albania,Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia ..... haven't thought past there.
Also not having a guide book makes life that much harder (people like to slag off LP but they are bloody useful after a long hard ride and you just open the book and choose a hotel and check it's location) If I do find one in a shop here it will probably be in Greek, my best bet is to find a traveller who is heading to Turkey and swap for mine.
Tomorrows another day and I will have too push on, hotels expensive, petrol cheaper than Turkey, thank god.
Anyone know anything about Albania?!!!

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 08:26 PM GMT
August 11, 2009 GMT
Greece / Thessaloniki

Hi just a short update:
Entered Greece and spent the night in Alexandpoulis (check spelling) which is 40km from the border.
Got up early again and left by 6am to Thessaloniki, I had intended to ride further but I had to stop and get my rear brake pads replaced. They were almost worn down to the metal. While I was at it I had the oil filter replaced and changed the oil. All these jobs should be the last till I finish. Also brought some more chain lube as I finished my can yesterday. Whole lot came to 120 Euro!! (XXXXXX) Was going to replace front brake pads at the same time but they should last out ok, I'll keep my eye on them.
As I write It has started pouring with rain bloody unusual sight, first on my trip apart from a quick but intense downpour in India. I think I will go and jump in the puddles!!
Still heading west

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 06:18 PM GMT
August 14, 2009 GMT
Turkey / Summary

Hi all, before I update blog I just want to give a summary on Turkey
Got to say I really enjoyed the country It was a journey of contrasts from the Kurdish south eastern corner, to Cappadoccia (the real middle earth, a great highlight of the trip) to the southern coast (great beaches) and to finish it with a memorable visit to Galipolli.
I know I keep going on about it but, the only negative was the price of fuel, probably my biggest expense.
The people are friendly and no touts to hassle you. On the whole the roads were great apart from the loads of gravel in the southeast, this was mainly due to the harsh winter there and they have to repair the roads in the summer.
The scenery was amazing in parts and plenty to keep me interested, gone are the long straight desert roads of Iran.
The accommodation was pretty good as well and pretty reasonable price wise.
The food was fantastic (true for the whole trip) but did have a few to many Kebabs!
Lots of vegetables and loads of cheese. Breakfast in hotels always consisted of boiled egg, cheese, tomato and cucumber and at least a half loaf of bread. I ate far to much bread.
So yes I really enjoyed Turkey, it was a lot easier travelling than all the previous countries. It always felt that I was on the home leg and with that the realization that my trip will soon be coming to an end.....not sure I like that
Would I visit Turkey again?
Yes and next time I would make it to Istanbul.

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 04:26 PM GMT
Greece/Meteora/Vikos Gorge

While in Thessaloniki I managed to buy a book of maps for Europe (not a great scale) and the Lonely Planet (LP) for Mediterranean Europe (in English). LP doesn't cover all the countries I want eg Austria Switzerland Germany but does cover the Balkin countries Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia which I wanted. I may end up going through the top of Italy and France, both covered.
From Thessaloniki I rode to Meteora, an amazing place you all would have probably seen photo's of (or even seen in movies) it is where the magnificent late 14th century monasteries are perched atop enormous rocky pinnacles, it is one of Greece's most extraordinary sights (to quote LP). I agree it was absolutely stunning another highlight of my trip. I spent a few hours there before riding on to Monodendri a small village in the mountainous Zagoria region. It also just happens to be on my way to the Albanian border. The highlight here (actually there were two) is the Vikos Gorge with it's sheer limestone cliffs and it's (dry, being summer) river bed 1000 metres below another incredible sight.
The second highlight was the hotel I stayed in. Archontike Zarkada, with it's grey slate architecture was outstanding value (35Euro) for what I would class as 4 star so I decided to stay 2 nights. I had a lovely room with a balcony over looking the mountains, it was great, as was the food served in their restaurant. On the second day I got my walking boots out (first time) and went for a walk into the valley, very nice apart from the heat. I also meet a couple of nice Australians, it is possible... (brother & sister) and spent some time chatting with them in the evenings.
This came up in conversation.... It was observed that Turkish women tend to be a bit broad a beam (big bum to you) and the Greek women tend to be on the rather larger side in the breasts dept. Just to re-assure that it was not only the women we observed, we also commented on the fact that both Turkish and Greek men tend to be on the rather hairy side, actually quite an abundance of body hair it was noted.

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 07:12 PM GMT
Albania

Well I didn't know anything about Albania before arriving here, and still don't know a lot except to say it's a bit like the wild west!.
I entered from Greece this morning after a few minor issues at the border(visa?, not required I said).
After getting cleared I headed off into the unknown, except I have known this before... India... shocking roads. One pot holed lane going through winding mountain passes is not fun especially when the locals consider that lane to belongs to them!
For the first 2 hours I only managed 75km so I knew I was in for a long hard day. Once through the mountains the road opened up to two lanes but with more potholes than before. I've said it before about my bike, it just keeps on taking the punishment. I'm always concerned about the suspension braking or a fork seal leaking when it takes this sort of beating, not to mention the old fellow riding.
I ended up covering 301km by the end of the day (65km to border) and are spending the night in a coastal town of Durres. I am not going to hang about in Albania, ex communist state so you can picture the bunker type architecture. I hope I can make it to the border and get into Montenegro tomorrow.
Finally the other thing in common Albania has in common with India is that every one stares at you, only their stare feels a lot more sinister. I'm not lingering.
Talk soon

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 07:34 PM GMT
August 17, 2009 GMT
Montenegro / Croatia

God it seems like ages ago since I was in Albania...
I had a interesting chat with a Albanian / Canadian guy on my last night in the country, I asked why if the country is so poor how come there are so many flash cars being driven around? The answer 2 reasons: organised crime and (related) most are stolen from other European countries. You see GB plated BMW's and Audi's everywhere the "owner" just can't take it out of Albania.
Seems ages ago since Albania
Rushed through Montenegro, 2 days, small country and quite nice. A lot more friendly and nice roads.
Have been in Croatia now for two days, and struggling. I feel quite fatigued (mentally) and just can't seem to put in the miles that I'm used to doing. I'm getting tired of the daily routine and even though I know I'm on the last leg of the trip I just don't feel motivated. Will give myself a good talking to tonight and back to normal tomorrow I'm sure.
First night in Croatia was in a small town just before Dubrovnik, nice and relaxed. Took the ferry to Dubrovnik old city (this was the problem, I was thinking on the ferry that this is the first time I was being transported and I wasn't doing anything, ie not riding, and it felt great, in fact I fell asleep. It dawned on me that for months I have been going through this routine everyday and here I was just sitting there not having to do a thing. Not very articulate I know maybe I'm starting to lose the plot.)
Anyway the old city is so beautiful, shame about all the expensive resturants and designer shops. The whole coastline is very scenic and can understand why croatia has become a big draw for tourism. I am staying tonight in a small fishing village about 50km from Split. Have to get my skates on tomorrow.

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 05:34 PM GMT
August 18, 2009 GMT
Croatia / Zargreb

What was the last entry all about??
Sometimes I have tough days....
I got my A into G and rode over 450km to Zargreb the capital today, just what I needed.
What a great city, most tourists give the city a miss and head for the coast, which is probably why this place is so cool. Very pretty and only about 280,000 people.
Reminds me a bit like Wellington, size and feel, not the weather. Temps ever since I left Turkey have been in the 30's maybe a bit hotter on the coast.
I made an interesting entrance to the city, trams run along the side of the road and sometimes you have to follow them. Then I realised that there were no other cars around me and I was following the tram along tramlines into the centre of the city which is a no vehicle zone and ended up in the main square getting a lot of strange looks from the locals, bloody tourists!
A couple of observations: Croatian beer is probably the best I have tried, very nice. The Albainian, Montonegro, and Croatian national flags are probably the coolest around. Aren't Italians posers, Maybe it is just the tourists, there are thousands here. The woman dress like they are going to a ball in the middle of the day and the men are just as bad. They probably think Kiwi's are scruffy unshaven and lack good manners!
Tomorrow I head into Slovenia, another day another country. I have arranged to meet up with some people from Slovenia I met in Bam in Iran (god that seems like ages ago) they were travelling into Pakistan and India by 4x4 so it will be interesting to hear their experiences.
Later

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 04:16 PM GMT
August 22, 2009 GMT
Slovenia

Hi Team
I have had the most brillant time in Slovenia, I was very well looked after by Petra, you couldn't hope for a better host. We had lunch together and in the evening she had invited a few of her friends around for drinks. All were "overlanders" so we had a very enjoyable evening comparing stories of our experiences over a few glasses of wine. Petra asked how I was feeling riding all those km's and I told her I was fine but would like to find somewhere where I could get a massage. She happened to have a friend who does massage so she arranged for me to have one the next morning. My back has never fully recovered since Esfahan (Iran) so it was great to have an expert sort it out for me. I felt great afterwards.
After the massage I had arranged to meet with Igor, whom I had met the night before at Petra's, he also has a motorbike so he was to take me on a tour of northwest Slovenia. At this point I have to admit that I knew nothing about Slovenia, but first impressions were that it is very similar to NZ. Very green, lots of trees and farm land. This was quite a surprise since it was the first green country I had been in since I left home, (not the deserts of Iran or the rocky terrain of Turkey and Greece). The other thing is that Slovenia is motorcycling heaven, Igor took me up into the mountains, incredibly beautiful and great roads with loads of twisties. We left at 10 am and late afternoon we stopped at a river and went for a swim, then early evening we had a trout meal at a trout farm which was superb. We ended up arriving back at Petra's at 8.30pm after doing over 300km, great day but a bit of a busmans holiday.
I had the most fantastic 2 days in Slovenia thanks to Petra and Igor and would suggest to other bikers to check out Slovenia, you will love it.

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 05:24 PM GMT
Italy / Dolomites

I forgot to mention that in Zagreb I lost my Ipod, bloody annoying as I really miss having music while riding. You may remember that I put the Ipod as the number one thing that I brought with me on this trip.
Ok so now I'm in Italy, I have decided to go to the Dolomite Mountains to play. Again motorcycling heaven, you can tell just by the amount of bikers here, loads of Italians, Austrians and Germans. Most of you will know that this region is also famous for it's ski fields. Really is stunning, the scenery is fantastic and of course you have those beautiful mountain passes with loads of hairpin bends. I had originally intended to stay my first night in Cortina d'Ampresso but the hotels were full and the ones I could get a room wanted €150 a night! so I had to backtrack to the previous village (still not cheap). I met two Swiss bikers at the hotel and we spent the evening together chatting and drinking some vino (the house red is so cheap. They gave me a copy of motorcycle routes through the Dolomites which take in all the good mountain passes and I spent the day riding as many as I could. Great, great day but I knackered. Tonight I am staying in Bozen (Bolzano) and have lashed out and brought a tent, sleeping bag and mattress as the hotels for the rest of my trip are going to be expensive. If I camp (not my forte!) for three nights it will have covered the cost of the gear so not a bad deal. Now I just have to find the campsites!. Actually the swiss bikers told me that I would meet a lot of other bikers at the sites and that they are very well equipped with showers and even food is available (I'm not into camp cooking!). So we will see how it goes.
Really enjoying this part of my travels
Kia Kaha

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 05:52 PM GMT
August 24, 2009 GMT
Austria

Hi team
I have just spent the most wonderful 3 days riding the mountain passes of Italy.
I did a ride today that had 39 hairpin bends as the road reached up to 2700 metres it was fantastic so much so that I rode back down and did it again!
When I planned this trip it was all about Asia, India Pakistan and Iran and I hadn't any expectations of Europe at all. I thought I would just blast through Europe and that will be that. I am so glad that I sat down and with the advise of others (Petra & Igor in Solvenia) I have taken the time to enjoy some of the most fantastic motorcycling I have ever experienced. Us Kiwi's think that NZ is a great place to ride (it is!) but wow Italy and the Dolomites with all those high mountain passes has just blown me away!!
I have had to take to camping and got a very good tent in Bozen (Bolzano) I spent my first night roughing it last night and because my mattress is only 3cm!!!! I had to take to some cheap vino to assist my sleeping.
I actually did 3 countries today Italy, Switzerland back into Italy and are now camping in Austria not a bad days riding!!!
I intend to go into Switzerland proper tomorrow before making another big push to England. Hard to do as once I hit England my great adventure will be over.
I was talking today with a journalist from an Italian motorcycle magazine (noticed my NZ plates on the bike) who wanted to know about my trip and will write an piece about my journey, had to pose for photo's (hate that) I've got his card so we will see what happens.
Later

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 05:18 PM GMT
August 26, 2009 GMT
Germany

Hi All
Been another great few days (well except for today...rain)
I left the mountains of Austria and headed to Switzerland where of course there are more mountains. Headed to Zurich, wow what a beautiful location on the lake. On the way I had to go through a series of tunnels with the Altberg being the longest, 14km, of course I ended up sitting behind a great big lorry all the way belching out it´s diesel fumes, I thought I was going to pass out.
I surpassed my record of entering countries in one day. I started in Austria then Liechtenstien, Switzerland, Germany, back into Swiss then back into Germany. Does doubleing? back count???
I ended up camping on the edge of the Black Forest. As I was heading for the camping ground a huge black cloud appeared right in the direction I was headed.
I got to the camp and was erecting my tent as the rain started and a German, next door, gave me a hand to get it up before I got soaked. We managed just in time as the heavens opened.
It rained all night and this morning I had to pack up tent in the rain, must have looked stupid in all my wet weather riding gear including helmet. Mind you it was early and not many people awake.
I rode through part of the forest area and by the time I got to Heidelberg I had enough of the rain and stopped for lunch at a cafe which just happened to have a hotel next door. Even though I wanted to make further KM´s I reckoned that fate had stepped in and I couldn´t resist and booked in. A bit more expensive than I would have liked, so pulled out the magic card as paying that way seems less painful.
A comment on German roads.... I know why the Autobahn has no speed limit. That is because all the other roads (well the ones I was on through the forest) had a 80km speed limit, and of course being German they stick to it. Such good roads, what a waste of good tarmac. So after riding along at such a pace you need the autobahn to release the frustration of going so slow.
A comment on German toilets.... (if you don´t want to know about my bodily functions look away now..... I bet no one has!!) Riding a bike for 8hrs or more a day plays havoc with the body. I tend to eat little during the day and try to have a good meal in the evening. Sitting on the bike for extented periods gives you a bit of wind. So when I stop to refuel or for just a break as soon as I get off the bike and walk around I feel that I need to use the toilet, this is normal I guess and was never a problem up until I arrived in Germany. The reason is that they charge you to use the loo, ok only 50cents but thats a dollar in my money, Heres the thing, I pay my money and go and sit down only to fart!! some beauties I can tell you, but technically I feel I should get a refund but who do you ask??? and did I actually use the toilet?. You could argue yes but I left no deposit so no, I was only browsing! . The other thing is the great way when you flush (why do I flush, habit I guess) a arm comes out and washes the seat. That was probably worth the 50cents the first time I saw it.
Talk soon

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 04:21 PM GMT
August 30, 2009 GMT
Germany

Had a great afternoon in Heidelburg walking around the city,very laid back and nice sights. Had a good nights sleep on soft bed, a joy after camping. The next morning headed off to make some big km's and push on towards England.
Getting out of the city was straight forward enough but I had to navigate a series of autobahn interchanges around Mannhiem to head northwest. I realised that this could be an issue so before I left I wrote down road numbers & destinations and so as not to lost. Just before Mannheim I was to turn off to avoid going through the city but on approaching none of the exit signs gave my destination and I ended up in the city. What followed ended up being the most frustrating 2 hours as I was given the wrong directions (three times), got continously caught up in the bloody stupid one way systems (everyone knows that these are a total waste of time and are only there to steer you away from where you want to go!). For the first time on this journey I was swearing out loud inside my helmet and totally losing my rag, how hard can it be... I'm here (I think...) and I need to go here!!!
One guy told me " oh its easy you do a U turn and see that overbridge you take that and you just follow the road straight". I look and see that there is no on ramp to the overbridge so I would be stuck on a dual carrage way (wrong direction) and after looking at my compass realise that even if I could get on the overbridge it would take me straight to Heidelberg! Idiot!! By using the compass and pure luck I finally managed get myself on the autobarn I was looking for. Mannheim will be for ever etched in my memory. I really can't put into words how frustrating it was.
(by the way Rose I noticed Mannheim is twinned with Swansea Wales).
Germany is the only country I have been in where I found it necessary to have to write down place names and road numbers. Their road signage defies logic (so un-german) for example if you are in England you would have a sign saying A20/M20 Folkestone Ashford London. In Germany you will get a sign saying for example Koln and then 20km up the road it will say Frankfurt and you think I haven't got to Koln yet what happened am I on the right road.
Sorry to go on, but it was annoying.
Before I knew it I was entering the Netherlands and searched for a camping sight indicated on my map in a small village. I asked at a shop if they knew where it was, I knew I was close and on the right road. The owner said he had never heard of it and was really agressive, screwed up my map and told me to go! Wow whats his problem. I carry on up the road for about 500 metres and there it is on the right. Beautiful location in orchard and the lady owner tells me to help myself to as many apples and pears as I want and also takes me into a greenhouse where she is growing grapes and gives me a huge bunch. Had a real nice night camping there in lovely surroundings.

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 08:32 AM GMT
Netherlands / Belgium

Left early the next morning as I wanted to make Calais and get on a ferry to England. The weather looked not to good so put in warm liner in my jacket (first time) and it wasn't long before it started to rain so had to stop and put on wet weather gear. Rained for a couple of hours and it was definately getting cooler. The worst thing was the wind, I was heading into a southwest gale (I later found out it was the tale end of a hurracane) and it was making riding really differcult and hard on the body.
Had a quick ride through the Netherlands (easy road signage!) and entered Belgium and headed for Brugge. Wow what a beautiful city center! took loads of video and photo's. Stopped for a quick snack and headed on towards the coast. The riding really started to get hard as the wind was still picking up and it got to the stage where it was getting dangerous as I was constantly getting bufferted across the road. In fact just before the French border I met a couple of other bikers at a gas stop who were not going to go on as the riding was so hard. Here I was thinking I'd have a easy cruise to England but no, my last days ride after all those Km was turning out to be as hard as some of hardest day's I've had. Riding in those conditions is really tough on the body as you are always braceing yourself against the gusts. The worst part was sometimes a gust would get under the peak of my helmet and suddenly wrench my head back putting a huge strain on my neck. After battleing these conditions I finally made it the Calais and the ferry port. I was concerned that maybe the ferries wouldn't sail but they were and managed to purchage a ticket (€75!!) on the next crossing. The announcement on the ferry was that there was a strong gale blowing in the channel and that it would be an rough passage and so it proved to be. Quite a few people were sick so I headed up onto the top deck out side to enjoy the fresh air. After a delay of about 30 minutes waiting to dock we arrived. I had been concerned that maybe I hadn't secured the bike properly but she was still upright and so I unstrapped her and rode off the ferry into England.

Posted by Ross MacDonald at 09:33 AM GMT
 
 

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