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Motorcycle world tour
Motorcycle world tour
50,000 kilometers home
Many dream of the great journey, the trip of a lifetime. At some point it will be time to get the job done. Or let it be completely. A travel-crazy couple from Bielefeld decided on the former ?? and took a 15 month break to drive back to Germany from New Zealand.
Auckland Airport, New Zealand, 10 a.m. local time. After two days on the plane, Tanja and I landed on the other side of the world. From here we want to ride back to Bielefeld in the saddle of our old Honda Africa Twin: roughly 50,000 kilometers. We spent three years preparing for this adventure, gave up the motorcycle six weeks ago in the port of Hamburg by freighter, and said goodbye to our families with a heavy heart at Frankfurt Airport. And now it should actually start.
First of all, the Honda has to be freed from the box and assembled. We’re nesting with Kerry, a 40-year-old former Dakar mechanic and motorcycle globetrotter who, after many busy years, has set up a rustic motorcycle shop in this city, New Zealand’s largest. But a few days later, even the most exciting rally stories and the relaxed lifestyle of Kerry and his friends can no longer hold us. We finally want to be on the move!
North course. Solitude begins just beyond the city limits and we encounter what New Zealand is famous for. Wind, meadows and sheep on the way to “Ninety Mile Beach”. There the twin flies playfully at 100 km / h over the wide, despite its name, “only” 55 miles long sandy beach along the troubled Tasmanian Sea. After that, you can only go south. Past scenic gems such as the Tongariro National Park with its three imposing volcanoes or the steaming geysers of Rotorura in the heart of the North Island. This journey could not have started better.
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50,000 kilometers home
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The Stuart Highway takes you 3000 kilometers through the Australian outback.
By ferry we get to the larger South Island, the interior of which is even more lonely. The Honda rolls for hours through a gently undulating, brownish steppe landscape, until at some point the snow-covered New Zealand Alps appear. The vastness of the landscape is impressive – the distance to the next village is 80 kilometers. But as soon as we meet someone, we are amazed at the great interest that people show us and our trip. People also seem to be curious about news from “good old Europe”, the Internet and satellite TV.
We shift down a gear, let us drift. Time? Hardly plays a role anymore. This corner of the world is too fantastic to just zip through. Fjords, above all the Milford Sound, rainforest, glaciers, the mighty Mt. Cook – nature that leaves you speechless. Only after four months and around 12,000 kilometers do we hit the ground again in Auckland. The 16 year old Honda receives a thorough inspection and a new set of tires before being shipped to Australia in a crate.
Sydney exceeds all expectations. The metropolis casts a spell over you with its ports, great buildings and friendly residents. But the expensive city life strains our budget far more violently than expected: Due to a strike by the dockers, the release of the Honda is delayed by three weeks. We had not expected that.
Finally mobile again, we set our sights on Brisbane and cross over small highways between the coast and inland through a surprisingly green landscape that we would hardly have suspected in Australia. The Karuah River Rally was also new to us – a cozy meeting in a clearing in the middle of the forest, to which around 300 enduro riders had come. In the course of the evening we get to know motorcyclists from all corners of the country. There are invitations hailing, plus lots of route tips.
In the middle of the bustling market somewhere in Southeast Asia.
1000 kilometers further west we cross the Charlotte Pass in Kosziusko National Park – at 2000 meters the highest navigable point in Australia. The almost alpine atmosphere does not want to fit into the image of the endlessly flat desert continent. Only after Adelaide does Australia present itself as one usually knows it from travel guides: red, dusty and borderless. We shimmy through the outback on the 3,000-kilometer Stuart Highway. Past the 869 meter high Uluru, the sacred mountain of the Aborigines, which was called Ayers Rock until a few years ago. All land around this stone monument is now again in the possession of the Australian Aborigines. From their point of view, the mountain cannot be climbed. They reluctantly tolerate the fact that countless travelers do it anyway. Heavily impressed by the mystical aura of this area, we follow the highway further and further north. The plane that will take us to Southeast Asia is already waiting in Darwin, the most remote city in Australia.
Kuala Lumpur. Of its 1.5 million inhabitants, this metropolis is simply called K.L. called. It is home to a wide variety of cultures and religions, and countless mosques, churches and temples are in the immediate vicinity. Only 39 percent of the residents of Kuala Lumpur are Malays – the majority of the population are Chinese. Strolling through the claustrophobically narrow Chinese market is an absolute must.
You hardly feel less pressured in traffic. Far too many vehicles struggle through the street canyons. It is also incredibly hot and humid. The Honda fan runs continuously. Nevertheless, we somehow manage to find Sunny Motosikals, who runs a motorcycle workshop on the outskirts of the city. Sunny is an institution among world travelers: the 50-year-old Malay and his two sons are gifted two-wheel mechanics, and the Honda urgently needs new steering head and wheel bearings. Of course, Sunny has all the parts in stock. Because the Malaysian mainland is not very spectacular with the exception of the picturesque Cameron Highlands, we find ourselves at the Thai border just a few days later.
The tourist destinations Krabi and Phuket far down in the south of the country look like something out of the catalog. The Honda rolls at most in third gear through sparse palm forests, past pineapple plantations and along the white beaches. We feel like we are in paradise, trundling leisurely northwards with interruptions for days, finally arriving in Chiang Mai.
This is where the Mae Hong Son Loop begins, a spectacular loop through the far north-west of Thailand. The track is really tough. An estimated 1000 curves, countless small passes, tropical forests, spectacular waterfalls, villages whose markets offer exotic foods such as beetles, spiders and snakes. But the closer we get to the border with Burma (Myanmar), the more often we notice the huge refugee camps. Thousands have fled to Thailand for fear of the terror of the military dictatorship in the neighboring country, and are living in poor camps under miserable conditions. With mixed feelings we are aiming for our next destination: Laos.
The “Switzerland of Asia” – this designation fits. And not just because Laos is a small country. But because it goes for hours through an intoxicatingly beautiful mountain world. If the water buffalo were not occasionally trudging stoically over the winding mountain roads and palm trees dominating the view, you could truly imagine yourself with the Swiss in the Alps.
For ten days we let the unique flair of the former royal city of Luang Prabang on the majestic Mekong sink in before we head further south. One of the stages runs out of gas for the first time during the journey – in the middle of the jungle. Fortunately, fuel is sold in a nearby wooden shed. Half an hour later, the Honda stops working again. The reason for the sudden end? This time undetectable.
An eternity later, the twin can be found on the flatbed of a minivan, which appears barely larger than a VW Passat and is already occupied with 14 (!) Passengers. The fact that we also get a place on the loading area with our luggage borders on a miracle. Likewise, that the car does not collapse.
In Savannakhet, the third largest city in the country with 65,000 inhabitants, a smart mechanic quickly recognizes the cause of the defect: Diesel sloshes in the tank instead of gasoline. Obviously, the bubbling exhaust sound of the twin reminded the gas station attendant of the ubiquitous little tractors.
Further to the south, the Mekong widens enormously and thus forms the beautiful water landscape of the “four thousand islands”. On one of the larger islands we try to acquire something of the enviable, peaceful lifestyle of the Laotians – and take a vacation from vacation. Sleep in, write letters, sort photos and bring the website up to date.
The search for a border crossing to Cambodia turns out to be a very nerve-wracking undertaking a few days later. There is no paved road or signs, instead there are endless possibilities to get lost in the maze of clay slopes. Finally, the post consists of two crooked wooden shacks in the middle of the jungle. The entry into Cambodia takes barely more than an hour.
Via Phnom Penh we aim for the largest religious site in the world: Angkor Wat. Around one million people lived in the more than 200 square kilometers large temple complex between the 11th and 13th centuries. The peculiar atmosphere of this complex, which seems to have grown together with the jungle, is more captivating than the admirable Khmer architecture. There is an eerie constant humming in the air, and involuntarily everyone starts to whisper. A feeling is spreading like we only felt before at Uluru in Australia.
The plane takes the Honda in the storage space to Kathmandu in a few hours. The rapid change is troubling us. After a total of six months in the Southeast Asian jungle, we land in the middle of the highest mountains in the world. Even the capital is already at 1,400 meters and it takes a few days to get used to it. Many times we wander through the fantastic old town, which is almost crammed with Hindu temples, Buddhist stupas and other shrines. The pulsating liveliness inspires. Only the kitchen is not necessarily a hit, no comparison with that in Laos, Thailand or Cambodia.
Ultimately, this small country cannot hold us for long. As much as Nepal is a destination for mountaineers and trekking fans – the few roads offer hardly any opportunities for motorcyclists. Pokhara, idyllically situated on a lake, is the next and last stop on the way to India.
We drive the Honda into higher and higher regions along the main Himalayan ridge. The Tibet-like Ladakh with its endless mud slopes and deep water forts demands everything from us and the machine, but also offers unique mountain landscapes and a deeply impressive Buddhist culture. The selfless hospitality of the Sikhs in the golden temple, the endless view, the silence on the highest passes on earth – these are experiences that outweigh a lot that would otherwise be difficult to endure. Above all, the lack of distance and disrespect of many Indians is almost unbearable. The persistent, aggressive begging, the same, unflavourful food, mineral water that is not clean even in bottles and provides two weeks of antibiotic therapy. India is not one way or another. India is all at once and never easy!
A long-cherished dream is coming true in Pakistan: the Honda rolls uphill on the Karakoram Highway. This name alone caused wanderlust at home, as this route is one of the most spectacular sections of the historic Silk Road. Although the journey over the 900-kilometer section up to the Chinese border no longer turns out to be a life-threatening expedition, the trip is still an adventure. Here and there, avalanches of debris block the narrow route, which was blasted into the granite with extremely winding turns, and the other road users – above all the drivers of the brightly colored delivery vans – are characterized by their extreme ruthlessness. In return, the grandiose high mountain landscape with its isolated side valleys provides unearthly beautiful panoramas. The formerly feared warriors of this region now live mainly from trade. Tourism does not yet play a major role, but is growing from year to year.
After ten days we reach the Chinese border at over 4700 meters above sea level. Unfortunately, this is the end. China is still very suspicious of individual travelers and keeps the border tightly closed.
Only two weeks later we find ourselves in the blistering desert heat in southern Pakistan. The road towards Iran leads straight through Balochistan, an area where tribal feuds and kidnappings are still the order of the day. But the warlike, proud Baluch apparently have no interest in two motorcycle tourists on an aged Africa Twin.
Crossing the border is like a culture shock. The image of Iran, which is always conveyed by many media, as a reactionary and underdeveloped terrorist paradise does not fit what we see and experience. The country has an almost perfect infrastructure, the petrol stations are ultra-modern and even in every desert village, no matter how small, there is a satellite telephone. The education system also seems to be excellent: as soon as we stop somewhere, we are spoken to in near-perfect English. And in the next breath you are invited to tea or dinner. The extremely self-confident demeanor of women is particularly striking – unthinkable in Pakistan, where women and girls are practically not allowed to leave their homes and are kept hidden from strangers.
Unfortunately, the visa only allows a ten-day stay in Iran – a country five times the size of Germany. There is just enough time for a short stop in the two fantastic cities of Isfahan and Yazd. An oriental fairytale world like from the Arabian Nights. Especially in the dark, when the large mosques are effectively illuminated. You could spend days here. But there is no choice – for the first time during the trip we are pressed for time and are forced to rush to the next border.
Only in Turkey can we stroll as usual again. We comfortably chug past the highest mountain in the country, the 5,165 meter high Ararat, down to the Mediterranean coast and further west. We calmly enjoy the good tourist infrastructure and the Turkish hospitality and prepare for the final spurt. A ferry takes us to Greece, another to Venice. Shortly before Christmas we passed the Brenner Pass with strange feelings in the stomach area. And then suddenly it is there, the day of my return. It’s indescribable what rushes through your head after such a long time on the road. A mixture of contradicting feelings, a cocktail of sadness and longing for the distance on the one hand. On the other hand, we are infinitely happy to be home again, to meet friends and family. It was a long 15 months for them. On the other hand, it sometimes seems to us that we’ve only been on the road for a few weeks.
A trip halfway around the globe is hard to beat in terms of impressions, but it requires an enormous amount of preparation.
Duration of the trip: 15 months; Distance driven: 50,000 kilometers.
In addition to a passport, which must be valid for at least six months after the planned end of the journey, as well as a vehicle and driver’s license, a Carnet de Passage is required for this route. This is available from ADAC against a deposit. Info: 089/76760. A green insurance card helps at least around Europe. Copies of all documents, ID cards or bank cards you are taking with you should be safely stored in your luggage. Digitized copies should also be archived online. Most visas can be issued at the respective borders. Exception: Iran. If you want to enter there, you have to contact the embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, phone 030/843530. Further country information, entry regulations and security warnings can be found on the website of the Federal Foreign Office: www.auswaertiges-amt.de.
Whether the bike is to be transported by plane or ship depends primarily on how far the destination is and how big the time cushion is. As a rule of thumb, the farther the destination, the cheaper (as a rule) the freight is. The Honda was shipped from Hamburg to Auckland by sea freight forwarder “In Time”. The transport took five weeks and cost 700 euros. Info: In Time (Olaf Kleinknecht), phone 040/50751013, www.intime-ham.com. The English-language website www.horizonsunlimited.com is a real gold mine for information about freight forwarders and experiences made (!). A detailed service report on worldwide motorcycle transport by air or sea freight with many useful tips and the most important addresses can be found in the MOTORRAD issue 1/2006, which can be reordered by calling 0180/53540502442. Or in the hot off the press Unterwegs-Spezial 2/2007, which is now available at the kiosk.
Online banking is a boon for long-term travelers. It is easy to manage accounts at home via an internet cafe. Make sure you have sufficient transaction (TAN) numbers! In the so-called First World countries, EC and credit cards are sufficient to literally get cash anywhere using an ATM. In countries without the appropriate infrastructure (there are only two ATMs in Laos!) You should always stock up on enough cash and have an exchange reserve in US dollars on hand.
If you are planning a long-haul trip, you should obtain detailed information about any vaccinations that may be required in the travel literature as well as with a travel doctor (the local health department knows addresses). The following vaccination protection is proposed for Southeast Asia: hepatitis A and B, tetanus, diphtheria, polio and rabies (for India). Malaria prophylaxis (Lariam or Malorone) is an essential part of the first-aid kit. Detailed information can be found at www.fit-for-travel.de (tropical medicine at the University of Munich) and at www.osir.ch (information center for travel medicine, Switzerland). In addition, you should definitely take out long-term health insurance abroad, such as the one offered by the ADAC. More detailed information on health while traveling can be found in MOTORRAD 12/2007.
The authors of this report let the German motor vehicle insurance exist for the entire period of the trip in order to avoid problems during the return journey through Europe. They deliberately decided not to take out international car insurance. In many countries you can or must take out your own insurance when entering the country. In addition, the experiences of other travelers with international policies are often very disappointing if the worst comes to the worst.
The travel guides from Lonely Planet are hard to beat in terms of their information density, especially in Southeast Asia. Another tip are the books by Reise Know-How. Anyone planning a similarly complex long-haul trip should definitely take a look at “The Handbook for Motorcycle Travel” during preparation. Author Klaus Demel is a proven (long-distance) travel professional and provides countless information on equipment, loading, health, repairs and many other topics including driving technique. Published by Motorbuch Verlag, price: 19.90 euros. The website of the authors of this report is also a good source of information: www.enduroreisende.de.
From Reise Know-How there are very good maps of Cambodia, India, Pakistan and Iran. In New Zealand and Australia you can get excellent maps free of charge in the numerous branches of the automobile clubs on presentation of an ADAC ID card.
Travel time: 15 months
Distance covered: 50,000 kilometers
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