Greece – Service award of the century

 

Greece is actually one of the few countries on my trip where I have actually been before. Furthermore, it was EU territory and fact is having been where I have been, EU feels like home and from now on, border passages would be easy peasy. Thank God for that.

Being rather cheerful when entering Greece it soon however, slowly transformed into some kind of melancholy. I realised the trip now went into its last phase. It was soon over, I felt I was almost back in Sweden which is a really weird perspective since on any bike trip when you are in Greece and going back to Sweden it’s still a long way to go. Just not if you come from Hong Kong I suppose.

Being on the road like this puts your mind in a very special state and probably even more so if you ride on your own. That state of mind was at least for me extremely pleasant. My whole life I have been working like a dog, most of the time with my own business. Work has occupied my whole existence and for various reasons it has been impossible for me to escape. My ex wife says that if there was a study made on me I would have all the conditions labelled with letter combinations ever invented and then to top it up a few more never seen before. Maybe she is right, maybe not. Im too old to find out and don’t really care. Being on the bike is different, the stress level is way down and there is something meditative about it. Sure there are days with very difficult riding or grinding days where I ride for 14 hours in a day even though it might be raining non stop. But still my mind was in that different, good place. A place that only saw as far as the end of the day as opposed to being used to plan and worry years ahead.

Now, getting closer to everything familiar I felt my brain slowly starting to change its hole rhythm and focus. Not that it went to work mode but it sure was gradually preparing for it. Ever since I entered Russia I had truly enjoyed the fact that I had no more border crossings that I needed to reach on a certain date. Somehow now having reached Greece, that didn’t really work anymore. Too many references from my regular life forced my regular state of mind on me. There was nothing I could do about it really. Well, I figured I could fight it just a little bit with a swimming pool, calamaries and beer. Not ready to give up just yet.

I got all that at small town by the ocean, Alexandropouli. A quiet tourist town where I guess the peak season had just passed and it was now slowing down. For the first time on my trip I spent a couple of hours by a pool with a book and a beer. It was truly lovely but also an odd feeling. I was so used to being on the bike and now I somehow felt a bit guilty for not being out there. How strange is that? Evening came and I had a good dinner at a local taverna and a long walk. It wasn’t too bad but I have to admit I looked forward to being back on the bike I the morning. I had an itch.

A big hotel breakfast and away I went. The plan was to get to a town called Loaninna. I asked a friend, who is from Greece but she had never heard of it. I picked it simply because it was well located on route up towards Albania.

Bike driving was good, the roads were nice, the weather great and the music in my helmet kept me company. Days like that hours just pass by. I reached Loaninna early afternoon. It was such a picturesque little town situated by a big lake. I drove around in the town trying to find the hotel that I had booked the evening before on some website but I could not find it. Eventually, with a little bit o help I realised the hotel was not in town at all, it was on a hill top on the other side of the lake, interesting. It took me another 30 minutes plus to actually get there on the winding road up the mountain. There it was, a small family run hotel with maybe 6 to 8 rooms overlooking the lake.

I checked in to my room and opened the balcony door which was facing the lake. Even though it was warm outside it was no longer the Asian humidity, it was European dry air. I had a shower and went for dinner. Only problem, the hotel did not serve dinner. Damn, I was starving, I didn’t even have lunch. I basically never had lunch during the biketrip, only a snack. Hmmm, all I could do was make some of my freeze dried stuff. Not what I had planned for but I was simply too tired to go back to town. I had to sleep early because I needed to get up early. I knew I would have a tough day driving the day after. I planned to go from Greece through Albania and into Croatia in one day.

I woke up at around 6 and got all my gear on and went to check out. I figured there would be no way I would get any breakfast this early. I was wrong. I was so so wrong. The husband and wife who ran the hotel responded to my question about breakfast and said they would give me the best breakfast ever. It was truly truly a treat. Homebaked Greek sourdowbread, an omelette made from their own chickens with feta cheese and those wonderful, wonderful Greek tomatoes. Well, you simply have to have one in order to understand why they are so good. Greek cheese and loads of fruit topped the whole thing off and I was in heaven. But it wasn’t the food that made me most happy, it was that couple who ran like crazy between the kitchen and my table to serve one dish after the other and everytime they stopped by to drop something off they chatted a bit. I have never, before or after, experienced that kind of hospitality. We are all so used to American handbook hospitality that I suppose is ok. Have a good day is nicer to hear than go to hell. This was however genuine, they did everything they possibly could and more in order to make me feel good about my stay even though they knew I was about to leave and most likely would never come back. They simply wanted to give me a great experience. I will never forget that. They were masters at what they were doing simply because they really truly cared.

Stomach full, time to get going, long day ahead. Fact is even though I drove through Albania from south to north I still know nothing of the country. I just kept going and only stopped to get petrol. There was simply no time and I had not scouted Albania particularly well. My plan was to get to the Adriatic coast before nightfall. Only experience worth mentioning was at the border crossing where a few women, who were begging for money, tried to pull my wedding ring straight off my finger. Now that made me uncomfortable.

Don’t get me wrong, Albania is nice to drive through, views are nice, roads are good and people friendly but it didn’t stick, maybe because I was focused on getting far that day, my tunnel view was too narrow. Eventually I reached Montenegro which actually only leaves me with one memory. It was the only time during my long trip where I needed to take a ferry – excititng indeed.

Just in time for the sun to set I reached the little camping site in Croatia. It was no luxury but who needed that. A beautiful view over the Adriatic sea was just outside the tent. Only problem, again there was no food, I had two beers for dinner and passed out.

 

Tattaaaaaaa

 

Georgia on my mind

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It was a beautiful summer morning with blue skies and only a few random scattered clouds. Perfect biking weather and not too hot. I had showered so didn’t smell too bad, had a good hotel breakfast buffee and was ready to head out over the Caucasus. Funny, just learned recently that the word Caucasian comes from Caucasus. If your from west of Caucasus you are a Caucasian and East, well, then I guess your not. Today, not really a particularly significant term for identification. The mountains looked beautiful from my hotel room like a long never ending dragons back of scales where the highest peaks were snow clad. That’s where I was heading, going across, to Georgia.
But it wasn’t really without a little bit of worry. I had read on various sites online that there is a risk I will get refused to enter Georgia. There is definitely some tension. On the other hand there were just as many sites that claimed it was no sweat. The border to exit Russia was approximately a two hour drive and then another 30 minutes of drive in no mans land before the Georgia border.
Fact is while planning my trip there were definitely certain countries and places I was looking forward to visiting, places I had imagined was going to be highlights. Pakistan was absolutely one as was Burma, parts of India, Kyrgyzstan and maybe even more so China. I have spent a lot of time over the last years in China but it was mainly work related and honestly more often than not in rather depressing environments, the vast industrial parks. Thing is my wife and consequently my daughter are Chinese so it was very important to me to find beauty in China. I really wanted a different perspective of the country that is so close to me. Georgia was very far from that list. My knowledge of Georgia was honestly zero. It was a small country I had to pass through to go from Russia to Turkey. Georgia was kind of in the way and hence I had no expectations at all. I just needed to drive through it as swiftly as possible but just like in the case of Laos of which I had basically the same preconceived ideas, I was so so wrong.

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Georgia and Laos turned out to be the hidden gems of the trip and when entering Georgia the gem was wrapped in the loveliest weather ever. The road on the Russian side up the Kaukasus foothills was a joy to drive. Winding but still open with an amazing view of the mountains as well as the big wide stream the road was flanking. Not a dull turn, not a dull stretch. I felt good, I felt free.
Getting through the Russia border exit was time consuming due to a lot of vehicles but once it was my turn it went relatively fast. What takes the most time is for the customs to check my luggage but honestly I cant say they were particularly committed to the task. During the hour or so I had to wait for my turn I had a chat with a fellow motorcycle rider. A guy from Poland was doing a tour through Russia and planned to round the Black Sea. I really appreciated the chat. I hadn’t met a rider since China if I exclude a Harley gang in India I rode with for a few hours. This was the first adventure rider since China. We shared experiences from the road and it was in a way nice to know that I’m not completely insane doing what Im doing. A lot of things had happened during the preparations of my trip which kind of led me to believe that what I was doing maybe wasn’t particularly intelligent, that my extreme drive to finish what I started had narrowed my perspective so much that I’ve become nuts. However, that is another story I won’t tell here and now. The upcoming book will deal with that one.
Once through Russia customs we split up and I didn’t see him again. I do hope you enjoyed your trip and got home alright mate! The ride up to the Georgia border which was located at the highest location of the mountains was dramatic. Dramatic in the same way as Pakistan had been just not as tall, more modest but equally beautifully sculptured.
The Georgia border crossing was easy, no traffic, took five minutes to cross and only friendly faces. It somehow feels different when you are met by people dressed in border uniforms rather than military in camo and barbed wire. Coming out on the West side of Kaukasus it was now time to slowly start the decent. Driving down the mountain took basically half a day. I rode through a landscape that looked more like Sound of Music than Sound of Music, if that makes any sense. The mountains were rounded and covered in grass. Not that it wasn’t steep, It was definitely steep, just very organic, soft and friendly.

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I stopped at a lookout point to rest and admire the view. An old man was selling fruit. Among other things he had peaches that were so big it was ridiculous. They were like big grapefruits. I bought two. That was enough for lunch. Just biting into these two peaches gave me the same sensation as the first time I ate a Japanese pear. Not quite on par with the Kazakhstan melons but close. The taste was so fresh and light and they were so full of juice I soon had it all over me, I only knew one way to eat that peach and that was like slob, but that was OK. Later on, I passed a few ski resorts, closed of course since it was summer, but then again, I didn’t have a clue Georgia had ski resorts but I guess now I know. The drive down the mountains was great. It didn’t go to fast since the road was really winding with sharp turns and traffic easily built up behind trucks and tractors making overtaking tricky. That didn’t matter though. The view was so nice, the weather so pleasant and the air so crisp I didn’t mind the slow speed.
My goal of the day was to reach the capital Tbilisi and late in the afternoon I arrived at my hotel. It was a really nice little boutique style hotel and from what I had seen so far of the city I realised I cant leave in the morning, I need to explore for at least one more day so I immediately booked the room for one more day.

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After a shower and a change of clothes to t shirt and shorts I decided to go out for a walk. I stopped at the first sidewalk café I could find, ordered a capuccino and just took in the atmosphere of the city. It had boulevards like Paris, hills like Lisbon or Rio, Old quarters like Barcelona, restaurants and bars like London or Amsterdam. Tbilisi has got it all. Some of that I didn’t realise until later but It kind of felt good to just go on making comparisons so bare with me. In a sense Tbilisi is almost like a cartoon city or a fairy tale place. Its like someone imagined it and draw their own fantasy only its for real.

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The day after I left the motorcycle and just walked for hours trying to discover the city. I didn’t know anything really about Georgia so I tried to study up a bit while having lunch at a sidewalk café and found out, among many other things that wine making was an old Georgian tradition so I decided the evening should be dedicated to investigating if it was true. I really enjoy a good glass of wine and hadn’t had a glass in almost two months. Indeed it was true! Via internet I located a small winebar not too far from my hotel. It was owned by this amazing guy who had made it his call to promote Georgian wine and food. I spent several hours in his little wine bar tasting one wine after the other and eating Georgian tapas. Well actually I wasn’t in the wine bar, I was sitting outside at one of his two outdoor tables. What an evening it was. 20 degrees, a beautiful city, brilliant wines and food and when I left after this absolute orgy he charged me 30 euros. When I was about to leave he said I should go to this other bar for a drink, as if I needed more, and listen to this jazz band playing. I did just that, sat outside, listened to the jazz band with a cold beer, think I had had enough wine actually. I slept like a baby that night.

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I woke up in the morning and felt that there was much more to do in Georgia but I was on a schedule so time to start riding. I decided however, to not wait too long before going back to Tbilisi and Georgia. I really want to bring my family.
Next destination was Turkey. And the ride to the border wasn’t particularly long, roughly three hours. I figured Turkey was almost EU so the border crossing should be really simple, yeah right.

Tattaaaaaaaaa

Kazakhstan – Huuhaaaaaaaa

 

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The young man who seemed to be interested in using my head as a baseball was actually not quite as bad as I first had thought. He actually just tried to get my attention and sell me an insurance for the bike. That is mandatory in many countries so I didn’t have much choice but to follow him.
There was one gravel road which stretched through the small border village and it looked like all other border towns I had passed during my travels, depressing, worn down and very temporary. The insurance business was located inside a tiny old camping trailer and it was quite obvious that the small space was not only used as an office but also as a home for at least two people. Anyhow, it all went well, they took a bit of my money and gave me a nice looking insurance policy with lots of colourful chops on it. The coverage of the policy would require significantly better skills in the Kazakh language for me to understand so I just tucked it away, smiled and got back on my bike.
It was really hot, around 37 degrees and all time spent off the bike, in all my gear, was rather tormenting and I was actually sweating in a way that was almost comical. My pores were pumping out sweat like a punctured garden hose and getting the bike up to speed was the only way to cool myself off. Having stops to handle paperwork or passports or checkpoints or whatever was usually extremely painful and the only thing that kept me sane during these times was my camel back which I filled up with 2.5 litres of fresh water every morning. Without it I would have been in serious trouble.
My expectations of Kazakhstan as opposed to many of the other countries I had been driving through were not very high actually. I expected a lot of flat land driving without much scenery. I actually expected Kazakhstan to be quite tough. Was I wrong on that one. Kazakhstan was far from that, Kazakhstan wasn’t tough it was super tough, but it started out nicely.
I stopped at the first open gas station to fill up. The owner was extremely excited to have me fill up at his station and called all his relatives over so that each and every one of them could have their photo taken sitting on my bike. They were happy, they laughed, smiled, pretended they drove my bike, it was a party! A very enjoyable one except for the fact that I was, again, sweating badly. I seriously needed to get back on the road to cool down. Eventually all photos were taken and I must admit that after all it was worth the loss of around 1 litre of body fluid to see the excitement in their faces.
Anyhow, I got back on the road, which actually was a very good road. Excellent tarmac so I could keep a good speed but it was getting late and I needed to start looking for a decent camping spot. It would be my first night in the tent and I wanted to make sure I had enough time to put the tent up before it got dark, especially since I hadn’t really practiced putting it up and didn’t know how long it would take. I was driving on the highway along the border to Kyrgyzstan and eventually found a field worth investigating for camping. After 30 minutes of off road driving I found a good spot for my tent and started to get my camp up and running.

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It didn’t take long until I had a group of maybe 10 horses surrounding my camp spot. Hmm, I must admit there was a bit of a moment there with the horses, us being out there roaming the wild. I know, it was silly but it was truly nice. 15 minutes later their owner, a really cool looking cowboy or more like a chapas, came riding up to me. He was obviously extremely amused by this motorcycle dude and his gear which was maybe not quite as much “one with nature and the horses” as he thought. He asked who I was and what on earth I was doing there, in the middle of the field, in the middle of nowhere. Not in an unfriendly or hostile way, no he was just very curious and even though he spoke no English he managed to invite me to spend the night in his tent, which was a much bigger one of a more permanent kind not too far away. He thought it was a better idea for me to stay with him but I had been looking forward to camping after all these weeks in hotels so I said thanks but no thanks. He still wanted to show his generosity and gave me a melon he had in his saddle bag and then he rode off with his herd. I was starstruck. I was so impressed with this guy who felt so genuine.

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I sat in my camping chair, watched the sunset, and ate some freezedried rations, macaroni bolognaise I believe it was, tasted divine. The melon i saved for breakfast. I actually don’t like melons but this one was absolutely wonderful. It tasted like concentrated sunshine. I bought many melons after that but none even came close, It was a very special melon. That night I slept like a baby.

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Morning came and time to break camp and get going. I hoped the cowboy would come back with his horses but I only saw them far off in a distance. I got up on my bike and started driving back across the fields towards the highway. When I was getting close to the highway a police car suddenly comes driving towards me on the field. It was a bumpy ride for them so I wondered what serious business they might have out here with me. It turned out they only wanted one thing and that was to take a bunch of photos and selfies with me. They are to this day the biggest smiling police men I have ever met.

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After my encounter with the Kazak police I went back up on the highway. Good highway but extremely uneventful and the further north I got the more uneventful it became. It became a desert. Old sea bed from what once was the worlds fourth largest lake, Aral. Drained by the former Soviet union and now just a never ending flatland of sand. It was even actually very difficult to find good spots to camp at. I do not like to put my tent up where it is easily spotted from the main road. Not that there was much traffic on it but anyway. It was all to flat and I did not want to travel too far off from the main road since if something happened to the bike or me I would be in serious trouble. There was nothing out there except an occasional camel. Also, finding petrol was hard. There were gas stations alright but hardly any of them had any petrol. Most of them had closed their pumps. I had to be really attentive and visit every single petrol station no matter if I needed it or not. When I could I filled up everything I had including an extra five litre water bottle I tied to the bike.

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Kazaksthan was hard, hot and hard. The open desert, no people and a straight road that was just going on and on was tough mentally. Its like the infinity openness somehow becomes claustrophobic. It also made the riding rather tedious. Without the music in my helmet I would probably have gone nuts.

 

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But then the monotony broke and the shit hit the fan.
I had been looking for a good camping spot for many miles and I had eventually found one. Not good but OK. Only problem was that the riding over there was through really deep loose sand so when I got there I was sweating like a pig. Getting the tent up was also a bit of a challenge since its hard to make the tent poles stick in loose sand. Well, after a while it was up and I was sitting in my camping chair watching the sunset and texting my wife, telling her Im OK. It was something I had promised my wife I would do every day to keep her from not worrying.

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I got up early at 06.00 and packed the bike since I knew I had a long ride ahead of me. I was literally in the middle of nowhere and with the conditions that had gotten much worse lately I knew it would be a tough day to reach the next town. I also knew there was supposed to be a gas station just 20km ahead that I needed badly. I also needed to keep going since I had a fixed entry date into Russia.
I got on the bike and headed for the road when I realised something wasn’t right. The wheel did not spin in the loose sand. I just kept giving gas and nothing happened. My first thought was that it was the anti spin that was playing up so I turned it off but no change. However, with a lot of effort I managed to get the bike back on the road but once there it would only do 40 km an hour. Damn. I really had a problem, the clutch was giving up. In 40km an hour I drove to the petrol station. There was no town, no nothing, just a petrol station placed on top a big sand dune. The last outpost for the next 450km. There would be 350 km to go back so that was not an option. I decided I would do the 450 km in 40 km an hour but it was a bit scary and It was 37 degrees hot. I filled up every canister I had with petrol and was just about to leave when I realised, what if the issue with the bike gets worse and Im stuck out there. Thinking twice isn’t always so bad and I made a decision when I entered my first real difficulty on the trip to always chose the safe alternative. Now I was about to do the exact opposite. So, I took three breaths and went back into the gas station and talked to one of the guys there who spoke a few words of English. He could arrange a towtruck to take me the 450km, no problem. The cost was equivalent to Euro 200 in Kazak currency or Euro 2.000 equivalent in USD. I only had US dollars so I suggested to him that maybe he calculated the cost a bit wrong. He responded I should take it or leave it and eventually I agreed. Paid him, but only equivalent to the 200 Euros and he was happy and then told me the towtruck would come at nine o’clock tonight. It was 08.00 in the morning. I had to wait for 13 hours. But if that’s what I got to do then that’s what I got to do. I sat down on the ground next to my bike and started feeling sorry for myself.

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Everyone who came to the petrol station to fill up of course came over to me. I didn’t mind the occasional company but all I could say to make them understand was to point at the bike and say kaput. Some gave me food, some gave me drinks and one family even drank some vodka with me and gave me a bottle. I think they thought I needed it. I definitely agreed and happily accepted the gift. What else can one do at a petrol station, in the desert in 37 degrees heat, 450 km from the nearest town, a broken motorcycle and nobody who speaks English, but to drink a bit of vodka.
At 22.00 the tow truck, or actually what used to be a tow truck, arrives. After some engine maintenance and filling of oil, which the truck seems to crave more than diesel, we hauled the bike up and started our 450km long journey. The tow truck, which was in size like a small pick up truck, had absolutely no suspension and could only do maximum 55km/h before it starts jumping around on the road like a tennisball. A reasonably scary all night ride through the desert. The driver, who of course didnt speak English had a recipe for staying awake all night which wasnt too successful but it included nonstop smoking, drinking coca cola and nonstop listening to his USB stick with ten Kazak songs over and over again. I didnt know the Kazak songs to be honest but there was an 11th song which I knew and every time I heard it I understood we were about to listen to yet another round of repeat. The song was Daddy Cool by Boney M. I never want to hear that song again, ever. Do you hear me, never!

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Unfortunately his recipe for staying awake wasnt too good and he fell asleep many times at the wheel during the trip and I needed to wake him up. I made him stop so we both can get a bit of sleep before riding the last four hours into our destination. 10.00 in the morning we arrived to Aktobe and I needed to find a motorcycle maintenance shop. Internet is a blessing and relatively quickly we found a place. A repairman was there and after some work on the clutch for about 45 minutes the bike was as good as new.

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I was so so happy, so so relieved. I booked an hotel and as soon as I got there I had a shower and went right to sleep. In the evening I went to a really nice steakhouse and had some good food and a beer. Might have had a whiskey as well coming to think of it. Slept like a baby that night and woke up ready as ever to go back and conquer the roads.

I had two more stops in Kazakhstan before entering Russia, Uralsk and lastly Atyrau. Uralsk was a nice city so coming to think of it I must admit that even if Kazakhstan was really hard and most of the time not so exiting and when it was it wasn’t the kind of excitement I was interested in, it did actually end on a positive note. My memory of Kazakhstan is not all dark. People were most of the time as everywhere else exceptionally nice and actually they seemed grateful I took the time to visit their country. It actually reminds of when I one day, while driving in the desert, had a car pulling up next to me and asked me to pull over. I did, and so did the car and a whole family, with 3 children jumps out of the car. The family came up to me with big smiles on their faces and wanted to shake my hand and take some pictures. They gave me some home baked bread and a bag of grapes. They were worried I didn’t get enough to eat in the desert since there is not many places to get food. It was a good moment, a very good moment. We laughed, took pictures and spoke to each other in languages we didn’t understand but it was fine. We kind of understood anyway.

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It’s a tough land to cross but a great people to get to know.

Tattaaaaaaa

China revisited, the worlds highest bordercrossing

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The nature of Pakistan, of which I had huge expectations, turned out to be way, way more exciting than I ever could have dreamed of. To explain to someone what it was like and actually making the person you are talking to understand is virtually impossible. It is just too different. The only thing I can think of to compare with is to land on a different planet, say Mars, and go on a long drive with the space vehicle. What I mean by that is that you are inside of that experience 360 degrees, not standing at a platform looking at a scenery with some form of civilisation behind you. You live that experience, day after day after day and each day around every single bend your jaw drops in awe over what you have in front of you.

Our planet is so overwhelmingly beautiful and along Karakoram highway it doesn’t stop but keep on presenting new extraordinary pictures around every bend but there is an end to everything. Even though Karakoram Highway continues to Kashgar in China the magic stops at the China border. Not that the beauty of the nature doesn’t go on into China but the Chinese government is not too interested in having visitors in this part of the country and they are quite clear in telling you so.

The last outpost in Pakistan is the small town of Soest. Again, this is one of these border towns that have nothing going for it. Its ugly, everything is temporary or at least appears to be. Everybody is just passing through and cant wait to get out. At the eastern edge of town is a gate that opens at nine thirty in the morning. Even though there is another two hour drive to the Chinese border, this is the Pakistani checkpoint and customs. Having heard that the border crossing on the Chinese side could be tricky, I decided to be first in line to leave Pakistan A mission I accomplished by starting customs and border crossing procedure at 08.30. At 09.30 I said good bye to my friends at Karakoram bikers and headed towards China. The two hour drive to the border was if possible, even more beautiful. The mountains were even more steep and the stream running next to the road roaring wilder than before and even though I already was at a high altitude I started a serious climb. I went from 27 degrees heat up to zero degrees and snow. Up to the border crossing Kunjerab at 16.700 ft. As a border crossing it proved to mean absolutely nothing. It is just a monument showing the geographical border really. Once having arrived at the peak and the big arch it turned out to be closed for…………….lunch. Guess border staff needs a bit of food too huh and how could they know the Pakistani border opens at 09.30?

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Waiting at this altitude, almost 5.000 meters makes you realise that climbing Mount Everest is not about climbing a mountain, it is about overcoming the conditions you are in. The mountain is the easy part. Even 5.000 meters makes all kinds of physical activity exhausting. One other experience you get from spending time at high altitude is that you sleep poorly and dream the weirdest kind of dreams. Lack of oxygen makes your body having difficulty getting into the really deep sleep and instead put you in a limbo where screwed up dreams flourish. Then you wake up and remember the whole thing and start questioning your own sanity.

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Anyways, a two hour wait later the Chinese military came out smiling, well fed and opened the gate and let everybody through after a simple passport check.. This was a bit too easy, there has got to be more to it and, yes there was, of course there was. About 1km later was the next checkpoint, a big military one. After a long wait, maybe an hour, they decided it was my turn and they started to go through my luggage. Not one of those relatively thorough checks you get at some airports. No no, this was hard core, this was high end checking where they went through everything, and I mean everything. They spent at least 30 minutes just with my cell phone, to check all the apps and all my photos and of course the same with my camera and my laptop. Not impolite, not unfriendly in any way, just meticulous. Why do they need to look at all my photos. Even from years ago?

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When I was done at the luggage inspection and got out to the parking lot where my bike was it had started snowing. It actually put a smile on my face because now I had experienced all kinds of weather on my trip. I was also relieved that it was time to move on. I was approved, or so I thought. An officer came up to me and said I need to have my bike scanned. He showed me the never ending line of trucks waiting to enter the scanner and told me to go to the back of the line. See when I arrived at the checkpoint the scanner staff were not yet in place so I just passed by. Consequence, go back and wait for at least three more hours, I would be last in line to get out of the check point. I went up there, talked to the police and asked if it really was necessary and finally found one who would say no. Probably because his English was bad and he didn’t really get what I was asking him. I went back to the parking lot was a assigned a spot by the military and was told to wait. we first had to wait an hour for the actual border to open and then wait until all vehicles from China had crossed into Pakistan which took a few hours and then they put me in a convoy with two cars to do the two and a half hour drive to the third checkpoint. Lovely!

The third checkpoint in Tashkorgan looks more like a regular border crossing without military. When we arrived they were not yet open, of course, we were told they were having dinner. Another hour of waiting and then the customs and passport people arrived. This place looked and functioned much more like a regular border crossing and was relatively efficient. Once through the gates my first thought was that now Im going to have something to eat and something to drink. After all it was 6.30PM. and I hadn’t had a anything to eat in almost 12 hours. But, they were not done with me, not in a longshot. They decided to impound my motorcycle for some document crosschecking which had to take place the following day. However, the actual administrative process with impounding the bike was tedious, to say the least. Paperwork, X-ray scanning weighing and a never ending discussion where it should be parked kept me with the customs until 21.45. They promised I would get my bike back in the morning providing my documents checked out ok. I went to my hotel which was only a five minute drive away and before checking in I ran into the restaurant, which was about to close since it was now passed 10.00 pm and begged them for a beer, water and some food. Some lovely people, who turned out to be the owners, presented me with the biggest tray of sweet and sour pork I have ever seen, I was suddenly in heaven. My day was without comparison the worst I had had so far on my trip but that tray of food and a beer just made my day.. Not physically but mentally it was on the verge of driving me nuts and I am actually used to cross China borders, something I have done at least once a month for the last 15 years but this was something else. Exhausted with a belly full of sweet and sour pork I made sure to call my wife and tell her I was OK. I do that every night so that she knows I’m OK. 30 seconds later I passed out, not in bed but on bed.

I got up at 08.00 and contacted the import agent, yes you need one of those to get anything across the China border, and asked them if I could go pick up my bike. Their response was of course, no, not yet. We will call you soon. At 14.00 they called and said it would take more time. At 16.00 I went to the customs and waited one hour before I got the message – Not today. Now I had had enough. I got seriously pissed off and said xxxxx xxzxxsx zssx! Well, that triggered them and evidently Chinese customs officials can get pissed off too. Eventually I said I will now leave the place, leave the bike and fly home to Hong Kong. Time was not really on my side since two days later they were starting a muslim festival which means the borders close for 5 days and I did not have 5 days. I had to get the bike out the same day. I started walking off the premises and by God it seemed to work. His face was still fuming red of anger but suddenly he started using up his entire arsenal of various chops on my documents and five minutes later my bike was released. Yippie.

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It was now 19.00 and I was happy to leave. Well maybe not just yet…… I went to the gas station in this very odd city of Tashkorgan. It is quite modern but seems somehow desolated. Rather ugly, not much to see to be honest. Anyways, at the gas station I went up to the pump and was waiting for some help when a guy came and informed me that I can not buy petrol unless I have a petrol permit from the police. Now, that’s a new one isn’t it. Off to the police station, wait another 45 minutes for a permit and then back to the gas station where they after hesitation allowed me to buy one litre at a time. I could not fill at the pump. Had to do many runs. It was now 20.30 and I could finally leave for Kashgar. I had a long drive ahead of me, actually too long considering the hour but I really had no choice. 350 km approximately.

I arrived my hotel in Kashgar after midnight, exhausted and super hungry. Upside was it was a really nice Radisson hotel with 24 hour roomservice. I was in heaven. A shower, a bathrobe, a beer, a call to my wife, some food and a bit of TV and the knowledge of the day after being a day off, doing nothing but site seeing slowly turned my tired grumpy mood to a feeling of pride of what I had accomplished. Maybe, for the first time on my trip, did I reflect on what I had done and what I had seen. I now only had one more Visa country left on my trip, Russia, and no more bike permits were needed, that is provided they would let me out of China. You see, the reason behind my planned extra day of staying in Kashgar was actually for the processing of my exit documents. Getting in is tricky but once you are in they don’t want you to leave.

Day after I went went siteseeing in Kashgar which was a big surprise. Kashgar is very much influenced by Arabic culture, Arabic architecture and even Arabic language. Fact is, all public buildings have the name of the building in both Chinese as well as their own simplified version of Arabic and islam is probably the biggest religion. The old town of Kashgar is actually a very beatiful city. Lots of nice buildings, carfree streets and a level of cleanliness that is not far behind Singapore. Very unusual for Chinese cities which can be a lot of things but clean aint one of them. The only thing that I found a bit annoying on my otherwise wonderful stroll around the city is that the presence of police is extremely high. Every streetcorner, and I mean every streetcorner have two to three policemen on post. It touched me as absolutely ridiculous since the town is so quiet. They say it is not a stable part of the country. Separatists are supposed to be highly active in the area and that is the reason for all the security. As you know China have since long banned both Facebook and Youtube but in this area they have also banned Whatsapp. In 1934 in the battle of Kashgar the Hui army massacred a large number of Uyghurs (locals) and ever since there is some instability. As far as I know the last attack took place in 2015. In a sense I can absolutely understand that there is some tension though. It doesn’t feel like you are in China and to run a part of a country that is ethnically, culturally and religiously different must be extremely hard for the Chinese government.

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I learned a lot that day, maybe more than anything else that China is a huge country, or actually it isn’t a country. It is a huge multi facetted area containing many cultures, ethnic groups, languages, religions etc.

In the afternoon I contacted my agent who declared that all paperwork had been done and that I could leave according to plan tomorrow. Thank God, I had to get out before the festival or my schedule would go out the window. Day after I get on my bike and head for the border. Im there when they open and it is completely empty, well almost empty. No other people are trying to cross, only me, but I do manage to find a few staff at customs and about an hour later all the paperwork is done. Im ready to head for Kyrgyzsthan, or thats what I thought. My papers are OK. Now it is all about letting my bike out. They send me over to another customs depot where the trucks gets declared and here I have to spend three hours before they finally say they wont let me leave. By that time I am so pissed off, pardon the language, that I tell them that Im leaving (this routine had worked before so might as well give it a go). I say I’m taking a taxi to the airport in Urumqi and will fly back to Hong Kong. I ask them to contact me when they are done. My bike is parked right in front of the border gate. I ask them to take of my bike and start walking away. I get about 300 – 400 meters when a car with 3 guys from the customs stop right in front of me and begs me to go back. They promise to process my paperwork. It takes roughly 2 minutes for them to process everything and less then five minutes later Im on my way to Kyrgyzstan. Im puzzled, what was it that was so hard and suddenly became so easy?

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I would be lying if I didn’t say that I was extremely relieved to leave that part of China. I will never go back. It was made very clear that I was not wanted and they make your visit extremely painful. It is up to anybody to make their own decisions but knowing what I know now I would never take that route out of Pakistan. I love many parts of China, my family is partly Chinese and what I experienced on my drive in South China will be a memory I will cherish for the rest of my life. Whereas the northern China part without doubt was the most hostile and uncomfortable experience I had on my trip.

 

 

India – A galaxy far far away

 

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For the few sorry souls following my blog you know that I try to alternate the language between Swedish and English but as you probably also noticed, my two last texts are both in Swedish. Even though my English isn’t all that bad it is so much easier to find a decent way to communicate in Swedish. When I write in English I just feel that my texts are really boring to read, dry and yeah, boring. Now, because of that, I have put myself in a really tight spot. This new text must really be in English and it’s the most difficult country to write about – India. Fact is, even in Swedish it would be a tremendous challenge to write something that well describes what I experienced in India. But its my own fault so, here we go…………

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India is not one thing, it is everything. Amazing, Crazy, Horrible, Ugly, Beautiful, Friendly, Intimate, Sticky, Dirty, Generous, Racist, Delicious, Poor, Challenging, Disgusting and definitely Adventureous. It is everything, like their food spicy and fragrant. Well India is extremely fragrant and extremely spicy, everything is to the extreme. Some good spices and some really bad ones and no matter which one it is, it is really heavy and on the verge of being too much.

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Now, India is a huge country and I can hardly speak for all of India also I didn’t spend enough time to really get deep into the society so take this for what it is, a bit superficial.

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I entered India from Myanmar at a border crossing in the far northeast of India into a town called Moreh. It is a town that God forgot. A small town which kind of gives me a feeling of one of these small towns in a western movie, the last outpost. A town where people for various reasons never intended to stay but somehow got stuck in. Everything therefore seems kind of temporary, not really finished. I can of course be completely off track on this one. Actually, I don’t know what people think of their little town. It was just my feeling when entering. Just like in the westerns there was one muddy main street with one max two story buildings on each side containing small hole in the wall shops. A place I would not want to spend one night in. Poverty is ugly.

I saw a small medical office ran by Doctors without Borders – What tremendous heroes they are btw!

Anyway, I had to run around to various offices in the small town to get my passport and all my bike documents stamped so I guess I spent three hours there all in all before I set off again. Just leaving the town made me feel so relieved, its really hard to describe. Really don’t have any reason to, pople I dealt with were very nice, it was just the feeling of the town…………

 

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My plan for the day was to go to Kohima. Looked like a pretty decent distance, not to hard and Kohima had ok hotels. But its hard to judge traveltime sometimes. Roads are not always, well roads. Anyhow the trip started with a number of military checkpoints where I got questioned about why on earth I wanted to come to India. Every checkpoint took time and one in particular that was really weird. I got taken aside into a shed by the commanding officer at the checkpoint. A huge guy, my own age, maybe slightly younger. Big black moustache and a crew cut. He was probably close to two meters tall and his face looked like it had been carved from a block of granite. So he fitted the part and the camo gear for sure. He started interviewing me about my bike trip, where I had been and where I was going. Then he started asking me about my family and also started telling his life story. After a while he looked me in eyes, took my hand and asked me if I wanted to go and eat rice with him. Now, that was just a tad awkward. I answered that I appreciated the proposal but that I really had to get going. After around ten seconds which actually felt like an eternity he finally let go of my hand and said I was free to go.

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It rained and rained and rained. The roads flooded but were not super bad. However, this was in the mountains, the area of the Nagas, the Hill people, so the road was narrow and had millions of turns. Once I arrived Imphal, the first real town I was thinking really hard on whether I should move on to Kohima or not. I figured it would take 1.5 to 2 hours to get to Kohima but I also knew I probably would have to ride the last hour in the dark and I really try to avoid that, especially if I have no clue what the roads look like. I finally, after very long negotiations with myself, made the decision to stay in Imphal, to play it safe. I honestly think that was one of the most critical decision I have made on this trip.

 

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When setting out on the road to Kohima the day after it turned out to be an absolute nightmare. It took me five hours. The worst road I have ever ridden. If I would have tried that the day before in the dark I honestly don’t think I would have survived it. There would have been nowhere to stop, there was no people. I was completely exhausted when I got off that mountain. Totally drained but so grateful I didn’t attempt it the day before. Heavy rain had caused an innumerable amount of landslides. Mainly small ones but a few larger ones. Driving through each and every one of these mudpits were an absolute challenge and honestly the tarmac parts in between were so full of potholes the entire road looked like North Korea had been using it as a training ground for nuclear missiles. Honestly I don’t know if that is considered on or off road driving, all I can say is that is gives me no pleasure whatsoever, it is just hard on both me and the bike. That day I continued on to Guwahati where I found a decent hotel, a shower and passed out completely.

 

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Next day was much less eventful. The really bad mountain roads were now long gone and driving was quite pleasant. I spent the night Siliguri where I spent almost two hours trying to locate the hotel. The rain was so bad I could not see a thing and there was no one to ask. When I finally arrived at the hotel they reminded me it was monsoon period now. No shit, could have fooled me. Now I have been in Asia during the rainy season many many times and I can tell you the Indians, they are the ones who really mean it. Well, actually that means in the north eastern part. The further west you go the dryer it gets really. Anyway that is my, again superficial, analysis. However, I do think there is some truth to that since this is also the area where malaria is present and somewhere around midway of the country the malaria disappears.

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The following day I had a hard time finding a good destination which would provide a reasonable length of travelling. Tent is out of the question in these parts, at least for me. There is simply nowhere to put it up which would provide me with any form of privacy and in India riding a motorcycle you are an absolute magnet of attention. I decided to go to Daramshala of which I really knew nothing. Early on in the morning my foot started to hurt, my left foot and the pain was getting worse and worse everytime I switched gear until when I was starting to approach Daramshala and had to switch gear with my heel instead. I figured the travelling across the mountains had been rough and my foot is just tired and need to rest a bit. Daramshala was not a nice town. While driving to the hotel in the centre of the small town I could see that parts of the town was flooded with water. Up to maybe half a meter in the worst places. Town was all but nice. Hotel was bad. Really bad. There was no food to get so I had one of my freezedried portions in the hotel room and decided to sleep with my clothes on and get up very early in the morning to leave town before it wakes up.

 

When I left in the morning the entire town was flooded. It had rained all night heavily. Now there was a constant flooding of 30 to 60cm of water everywhere. It was early. No one was out except the cows and even they had taken their refuge into whatever elevated areas and shelter they could find. In a way it looked a bit amusing but it wasn’t, not really. This was just a week or so before the big floodings in India.
I thanked my lucky star for having a tall bike and drove out through the town and was so relieved when I finally reached the highway. Only problem was, my foot hurt even worse now. Every gear change was with my heel which is I suppose doable but not very efficient, at least not when I do it. To add onto that problem, today was the day I was supposed to enter Nepal. To go up into the mountains with narrow roads with lots of turns means very active driving and lots of gear changing. I stopped at a gas station to fill up, opened my little medicine cabinet and started popping some anti inflammatory pills I had brought while considering what to do. Nepal – not Nepal, Nepal – not Nepal, Nepal – not Nepal. I finally decided not Nepal. I cant do it with my foot in this condition, its too painful. Anyway, I would be more than happy to go there some other time with my wife instead. So, once that decision was out of the way, only one decision remained, If not nepal, where the hec do i go?

 

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Actually Nepal was something I really had looked forward to and so far India and I weren’t really buddies. I looked at the map and recalled that someone had told me Varanasi was the place to go to. It was a long trip but within reach. I decided to go for it and hoped it would be nice because I had decided to take the next day off and rest my foot.
I arrived late. It was dark already. I was tired. The hotel was great! They had room service, a beer and a whiskey (previous hotels in India didn’t serve alcohol at all). That was just what I needed. Well that and one long shower with lots of soap. I slept like a baby, woke up the next morning ready to explore. My foot was still hurting but medication was starting to work. I could feel it.

 

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Now here is where my feelings towards India changed. Varanasi is without doubt one of the most remarkable places on earth. Entering the streets or more precise the area close to the river is literally like arriving on different planet. It is by far more remarkable and jaw dropping than if I would have landed on planet Tattooine or whatever its called in Star Wars. The strangest characters, well on level with Jabba the Hut gather together with thousands of Indian pilgrimages who have come to Ganges river to cleanse themselves from sin and to burn their deceised relatives. The cleansing is about bathing in the holy water and for the really, pardon the language, hardcore ones have a few drinks of it. To witness this is like watching an enormous theatrical performance with 20 or 30 thousand actors. It is so different and so massive and so overwhelming that it at first is hard to digest as being for real. Varanasi blew me away!

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What a day it had been and India was suddenly the most exciting place on the planet.
It was time to move on further west and now it was quite appearant that the standard of living was getting better and better as I got further west. Rain disappeared and travelling was easy. I had made an appointment to have my bike serviced in Delhi, they have a Triumph dealership there. Lovely guys took care of my bike for a day and made it look brand new. Its like it had been to a spa or something.

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Since I had cut Nepal out of the equation I now had a few days left before I needed to cross the border to Pakistan and decided to head up in the mountains towards Kashmir instead. I decided to go to Daramshala where Dalai Lama lives in exile. Now that was an absolutely brilliant decision if I may say so. The drive up the mountains was absolutely stunning, (now my foot was much happier to switch gears again) and the two days I spent in Daramshala were truly magnificent. Interesting, Daramshala is actually turning into a copy of Tibet. They are making a new Tibet. Souvenir shops are not selling Daramshala T-shirts, they are selling Tibet T-shirts. Really remarkable and it all of course revolves around the monastery where the Dalai Lama lives. The town is exploding, new hotels are being built everywhere and backpackers are coming from every corner of the world.

They even built a cricket stadium among the clouds. Divine sport it is

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But, now it was time. Time to cross the border to Pakistan, the one country where most people said, are you really going to go to Pakistan? Do you really dare to go there? Isnt it dangerous?

 

Tattaaaaaaa

Cambodia – My first Milestone

 

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First, let me start with the worst. Cambodia is, along with many other countries infested with corruption and Cambodias for sure got it bad. So many payoffs to so many people for absolutely nothing. In order for me to execute my trip, enter the country with my motorcycle I have had to pay out more than USD 300 in total. For absolutely nothing. This is not only humiliating to me but also to Cambodia and its political system.
I am well aware of the fact that it is not only Cambodia, loads of countries out here in Asias got the bug. I am convinced that corruption is one of the biggest factors preventing nations from obtaining better living conditions for their people and actually, I have become a part of that system, a supporter of it, for agreeing to pay, for playing along the shit rules some people have created to give themselves benefits they are not entitled to. I would have felt so much better if I could have given 300 dollars more to the Childrens Village instead.

 

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Having said that, Cambodia is amazing. Coming back again after having been here in January the first time felt really good and assured me that my decision to help SOS in Siem Reap was a good one. First time I arrived in January I felt weird waiting in line at passport control at the airport. My knowledge about Cambodia was very limited and besides the history around the Pol Pot regime and the enormous genocide that took place, the main piece of information I had ringing in my head was that of all western pedophiles going to Cambodia to live out their sick fantasies. So when I stood their, in line, a middle aged white man, alone, I felt everyone was looking at me, thinking, there is one, one of those pedophiles. It was a very surreal and uncomfortable feeling. I know I put that on myself but I can imagine that the feeling is very similar to the feeling people get who are racially discriminated. In my case it was self inflicted, I think. But it was a healthy experience because it gave me a taste of something I am so so fortunate not having to deal with.

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This time I entered with my bike from Laos in the north. Border crossing is always extremely tedious and took 4 hours at the Cambodia border. It was however, the first big milestone on my trip. It was here my fundraiser was. Cambodia is a small country and roads are good so I had no problem going all the way to Siem Reap on my first day. I dumped mine and my sons bike at the Childrens Village and passed out in the hotel. Day after I needed to fly to China and then Hong Kong for one week of work. There was no way around it but it was ok, I had it planned for some time. I must admit it did feel a bit strange, I was just getting into this nomadic biker life and suddenly I had to put my other face on, the work face. Bonus however was that my wife and daughter joined me back to Siem Reap for a few days of holiday together. It was an amazing few days and I was very proud to bring them to the SOS Village and show them what I was fundraising for. I think also for my daughter it was a good learning experience, living a very privileged life in Hong Kong. It was good for her to bring clothes and toys and give to kids who in spite of being fortunate to be at the Village really didn’t have much.

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Cambodia is a lovely country, definitely worth a visit. Siem Reap is out of this world and if there ever was a spiritual place on the earth, Siem Reap is it. Do Cambodia together with Laos. That’s a brilliant combo. Do that instead of another Thailand trip. Yes, Thailand is nice but this is really something different and you have already seen Thailand.

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Family left and I got my gear back on. It was time to leave Cambodia and its amazing people. I really don’t want to give a message about bad people in Cambodia talking about corruption. I see that as a really bad disease. The Cambodian people I have met have been extremely friendly, extremely generous and exceptionally pleasant to be around. Frankly I am already looking forward to go back there in November or December to present the results of the Fundraiser to my new friends at SOS Village. I really hope I can bring them good news. Make them happy. They deserve it.

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Cambodia is small so only a couple of hours ride to the Thai border. A border that used to be friendly and easy to cross but Thailand is radically changing its attitude towards foreigners. Next blog on that one

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CHINA – Midnight Express

Day 1

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Having finally passed the final barrier, China customs into Shenzhen I got a chance to meet up with the guy who had been helping me out over the last year with my motorcycle plans. Bing had certainly given me a lot of grey hairs during the process but that wasn’t his fault, it is China and I know it far too well. I have never met a person with so much appetite for life, and food, as Bing. Always with a huge smile on his face giving his favourite comment to basically everything ¨I love it!¨. He is like a glass of ice cold sparkling lemon water on a hot and humid summers day. We had a lot of those days. In other words a great guy to have around. I loved it.
Task number one, have my sons motorcycle transported to the forwarding company for shipment to Laos border. We took off, me on the bike and Bing in the car. Once there we handed over the bike to some dudes on the street but it seemed OK. It is like that in China, I have gotten used to it. However, forwarding regulations stipulates that the tank must be empty from fuel and the tank was actually almost full. Only way to get it out was to hose it, meaning suck some of it out through a hose and then let it free flow. Its not very tasty actually so I tried to offer the forwarding guys that if they did it they could have the fuel. They scratched their naked bellies and concluded that they had already had lunch and figured they would get the fuel anyway which of course was right. With the words, I love it, Bing offered himself. Then the guys started building a crate, we got the transportation docs and off we went in Bings car.
Once in the car Bing revealed the big info. He was nervous (don’t think he loved that one actually), there was a problem. I am not allowed to drive the motorcycle in Shenzhen, Dongguan and Guanzhou districts. Somewhat of an issue since we needed to go through all three of them, a drive of approximately 4 hours. We went to a restaurant nearby that I often visit and ordered some lunch. I was hungry, a lot of things had happened that day. It was three o clock in the afternoon and I was starving. So a bit of energy intake and we needed to come up with a plan. After a lot of food and a lot of talks the plan was – Lets make a run for it but improve the odds of not getting caught by the police as much as possible. After some scouting online we found out that the major part of traffic police gets off the shift at 8.30 in the evening so we decided not to leave until after that. Smart huh……….

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8.45, we are about to leave from the parking lot, bike has been started up and lights on and immediately the police shows up. Bing had parked his car illegally. Quickly I kill the engine and the lights of the bike hoping they wont see me. Bing got fined and lost points on his license (he definitely didn’t love that) but they didn’t see me. That was a close call and the bike hadn’t even gotten out of the parking lot yet. Did I start sweating? Nah, a dash of perspiration maybe, well a big dash actually. Ten minutes and lots of heavy breathing in a paper bag later we took off. Even though it was quite late traffic was heavy, as it always is in this region but it went not too bad except when I was almost out of Shenzhen and I saw a couple of police cars having pulled over another motorcycle driver. They saw me too and one started to follow. I tried my best to get ahead in traffic and hide in front of bigger vehicles and Bing did his best to slow traffic down by driving slower in his lane. Eventually they got tired of the pursuit and let us go. Actually I think we reached Dongguan city limits and they were not interested in following there. The remaining part of the trip was rather uneventful and we eventually reached Foshan outer permiter where bikes are actually allowed and I could breathe like a normal person again. Somtime around 01.30 we reached our destination and it was the end of the first day.

Day 2

Goal is Guiping and it was a long beautiful ride along the river. I could finally start enjoying my time on the bike. First day was simply too much of everything. This was also the day when I started on my new eating regiment, breakfast a protein bar and lunch Oreo cookies. This became my everyday diet. Not the best but it did save a lot of time during lunch and breakfast, yeah well, Chinese hotels outside the bigger cities actually very often don’t serve breakfast and if they do its, fish. I must admit, I cant do fish for breakfast. Protein bars for the win.

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Day 3

Long ride considering the not so smooth Chinese roads. Please bare in mind that bikes are not allowed on the highways in China and I was not going to get chased by police again, I was going to be a good law abiding citizen, or so I thought. Anyhow, this day we actually stopped for lunch, I had to, Oreo cookies can only do so much and I had 460 km of bad roads to travel meaning 12 hours in the saddle. We found a small roadside restaurant and had a gigantic tray of fried rice, enough energy to get me all the way to Sweden. The restaurant was ran by a very sweet lady who I of course could not talk to but who cares, we managed anyway.

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A few hours later it started raining heavily, I could not see a thing so I had to stop and a break was needed anyway. I found a small convenience store that sold drinks, chips, ice cream and laundry detergent. I seeked refuge in there. Once inside I found an older lady, her daughter and her grandson. The daughter was working inside the shop, doing the stitches of baseballs. Technology have come a long ways but to sow the stitches on baseballs is not doable yet, it requires manpower. I started talking to them and she said it took about 30 minutes to stitch one baseball up. For this she got paid 1 yuen per ball (there are about 8 yuen in one Euro). Dear readers, is that OK? Is that really reasonable? But then you say, well in China she can buy much more for that amount of money. Hell no, she cant buy diddely squat for that. She makes 10 balls a day and get 10 yuen. As far as I am concerned that sucks. She should get paid much more and the consumers of baseballs should appreciate the craftsmanship and be prepared to pay a reasonable amount of money. Now, lets get things straight, I am not a socialist, I am all for a market economy, but that requires two or more, somewhat equal in strength parties, engaging in a business deal. This was nowhere near that. This was all about using people for unreasonable money. When one party is really weak and have no choice, market economy doesn’t work because the stronger party will utilise the other partys weakness as much as possible.

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Sorry, I lost track there for a moment, the rain eventually stopped and I needed to get back on the road and so, late but in one piece, the goal for the day was reached, the town of Baisse. Now, for those of you who are not used to travel around with a motorcycle I can only say that the feeling you have in your body when you reach your destination is very similar to a day out sailing or hiking or 36 holes on the golf course or whatever, a kingdom for a shower, a meal, a beer (well actually the beer before the meal) and then pass out inbetween some clean sheets. I did just that.

Day 4

The goal was Yanshan. A town roughly 320 km away, should be a pretty soft day of riding compared to previous days but it didn’t really work out that way. After 40km that took me 3.5 hours on a road which was so bad that if I ever wanted to invent the worlds most useless road, I would send my research and development team to study that particular road. The road was so hard and bumpy from broken pieces of tarmac that I constantly had to swallow my kidneys and liver down. They wanted to get out of town. On top of that, once I got the info that this Olympic quality crap road is soon to be over it all came to a giant stop. The road had suddenly turned into a giant lake. Now I am not really too afraid of trying some water out with my bike but this was different. At the edge of this newly developed lake was two brothers, two Chinese guys who also were out on their adventure bikes but aiming for Lhasa in Tibet. Well, not on this road they wont. They had already tried the depth and said we need a James Bond kind of bike to cross this one. Solution, go all the way back, another 4 hours, on that thing they called a road. Well it turned out there was another solution, there was a way for a motorbike to sneak onto the highway. Brilliant idea except, yes, bikes are not allowed onto the highway and secondly we didn’t know where that place was. The locals knew, but they wanted some, lets say consultancy fee, to point us in the right direction.

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Well I decided to join forces with the Chinese guys, one whom I cant remember the name of and the other whose name I will never forget. He presented himself as, Nice to meet you, I am Superman. Yes, nice to meet you to, I am Green Lantern. Apparently his real Chinese name translated to Superman, so the guy was actually ligit. Who am I to make fun of his name huh. On our way back we bumped into a local who was willing to assist with some directions free of charge and after some really nice dirt trails around the mountain we finally hit the highway. Yes, we were free, the bikes were doing 110km, not super speed but compared to what we had been driving it was lightning fast. The three of us joined forces and things were looking up. I remember I thought we might make it to Yanshan after all. He He, suddenly I see one of these welcome to signs. Every city in the world have it nowadays from Sweden to well yes China. This particular one read, Welcome to Baisse! Ohhhh noooooooo, we had gone in the wrong direction on the highway. If Superman ever was a Superman his superpower was not sense of direction, that much is for sure. Having realised their mistake they immediately felt really bad and insisted on buying me lunch. I didn’t mind, I was hungry. Another plate of fried rice. Dessert, two Oreo cookies. What do we do now? Where I needed to go the only approved road for motorcycles was flooded. Hmmmmmmmm. We agreed that the only solution was to run through the payment checkpoint to the highway when a car passes the gates and just go. Why do I end up in these situations all the time? I was going to be a law abiding citizen. I wanted to be a law abiding citizen. But it wasn’t possible. Oh well at least I was fed so if I ended up in jail I would at least not starve for another day, so lets go for it. I positioned myself in the middle thinking that the first guy can see if it works and the last guy is the guy getting caught. We went straight through 4 paytolls like that. Now that’s adventure motorcycling! Once the highway ended we needed to stop anyway because the sky had just decided to drop all the worlds available rain reservoirs straight on our heads. We found some cover and waited. After a short while when it had cleared a bit Superman, who was the only one speaking English, declared that they were tired, they could not go any further today. I said, as far as I am concerned I have a destination, a goal and that’s where I will go. I told them they were weak and that I would text them once I reached Yanshan. Boy that was tough, I really had to push myself. But I got there. Tired, in desperate need of a shower, a beer, a meal and A bed…

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Day 5

Next stop Kaiyuen. Honestly the motorcycle riding in the Yunnan province should be on the list of the most beautiful places to visit in the world. To describe a landscape is very difficult, especially in a language I really don’t feel comfortable writing blogs in so pardon me for that but if I should in any way try to describe it it is like riding in the alps with the exception that all the mountains are completely covered in green vegetation, bamboo, palm trees etc etc. Its also 95 per cent humid and 34 degrees but sitting on the bike riding its not a problem that is until you stop. With the goal to hit the Yangshang terrace rice fields (on Unescos world heritage list) the day after I started my altitude climb up to 1.800 meters.
In the evening I went to a small Chinese BBQ place. There are plenty of those where you go and look in their fridges and pick something you can identify its origin of and have them put it on the grill on the street. Darn good I must say. I chose this particular place because the owner spoke a bit of English. He accompanied me during my dinner and at one point I asked him, since he took a lot of pictures of me if he maybe wasn’t used to foreigners in town. He responded that sure he was, three years ago there was two guys from Africa visiting.

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Day 6

Finally at the rice fields and was it worth the trip. Was that worth the trip??? Holymoly, it was an absolutely fantastic experience. This was so important to me for many reasons but maybe foremost since my wife and daughter are Chinese (well my daughters half but you can figure that out) and I have travelled the big cities and the industrial areas in south China for many years now and I don’t like it. It is ugly and bad. I think I needed something really beautiful from China that I could relate to my wife and daughter and I got it, plentyfull to be honest. I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the Yunnan province and motorcycles roads that would all fit on the top ten list.
The evening I spent getting a footmassage with cupping. I have had a lot of foot massages but never with cupping before. Im not going to tell you what is so if you don’t know, look it up. It was really cool!

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Day 7

Mongla is the goal now. Not far from the Laos border. This is where I will pick my other bike up from the forwarding company, if that has worked out…… and I will also get a riding buddy driving the other bike to Luang Prabang in Laos. It’s a smooth ride to Mongla, not too far and good roads. I arrive around 13.00 and go straight to the forwarders warehouse. Sometimes the Gods are with you because my other bike arrived 30 minutes earlier and so did my riding buddy. Piew, was the word. It seemed to work out. We got the bike out the crate and it looked whole and healthy. I started it up and my riding buddy gave it a test ride. He didn’t speak any English at all, well except he could say BMW 1200 GS. I guess that qualified him for the mission. Well, me and Lee, we managed to communicate somehow and found an hotel and a meal. Through google translate I found out that this was the first time he was outside of China. This was huge for him. Ride bikes he could but travel, maybe not. Oh well, I thought he was a cool dude and figured things would be allright. Actually they almost weren’t.

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Day 8

Only 50 km to the Laos border. Plan was to pass quickly and get ourselves to Luang Prabang that very same day. I had my eyes set on a nice hotel and some western food. That is except bloody Oreo cookies.
Getting out of China was actually quite smooth and having heard that Laos border is very easy I thought this was going to be a piece of cake. No it wasn’t.

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Tattaaaaaaa

An unforgettable nibble

 

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There is really no doubt in my mind that the trip we are about to embark on will be not only an adventure but also something that hopefully will make us more knowledgable and smarter, something that will benefit us for the rest of our lives.  Im not trying to say that we are completely out of it now, Gustaf has lived in London for almost 7 years now, ever since he graduated from High School, and me, myself, I have lived in Hong Kong since 2005. I guess Im saying it just because of that, because I know how much I have learned from living abroad and having had a travelling life. Not that you dont learn things from staying local, its just different things. The more we learn the more complex things tend to get, its like when we have just scratched the surface of a subject, we have a brief moment of feeling that we have knowledge. Its kind of being a teenager and having the feeling of knowing what life is about. Then we wait a few years and suddenly the world is not simple anymore.

 

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Sorry, I just drifted away from the topic of this blog, I do that sometimes, sometimes deliberately and sometimes without even noticing it. A personality flaw that at times can be annoying.  What I was trying to get at when I started drifting away in my text was that we are very well aware of the fact that this trip is a huge ego thing, so big I honestly thought it would never happen except in my head. Maybe because of that feeling of one in a million did we actually realise what  an enormous (I was about to write tremendous but Mr D. Trump kind of tortured and executed that word so you have to settle for enormous) privilege it is.  Just getting the opportunity to do it and then to be able to accumulate the funds (which is not unsubstantial) is equal to winning a lottery, We therefore felt that we have to try to do something good at the same time To do something for some who havent had the same luck in the lottery of life as us.

 

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We decided on a fundraiser for children who have had a really bad start in life – who had nothing. SOS Childrens Villages aims their focus on just that, creating a home environment, security, health care, schooling etc for kids with no parents or families with no means to take care of their children. SOS have a village in Siem Reap, Cambodia and we took the decision that that would be the target of our fundraiser. We will do all we can to raise Euro 50.000 for these Cambodian children.

 

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However, if we are going to put in all the work required, we need to see the village and meet the kids. To meet the people who work there and hear their stories would be crucial to our success, at least thats what I tell myself. If we furthermore could get an idea of how the money will be used it would make it even easier to reach the goal.

After a bit of emailing back and forth I finally boarded a plane for the 2.5 hour long flight between Hong Kong and Siem Reap. The emailing was important since the villages are very protective of the children and every visitor must be fully aware of the rules that apply.

I arrived Friday afternoon at Siem Reap airport and must admit it was with a cocktail of emotions. I was really excited to be there and about going to the SOS Village but I was also a bit anxious since Im not really the best guy with kids. Im a bit awkward and its not me sitting at birthday parties with three kids on each lap singing kids songs. I dont have that ability.  I am much more comfortable holding a speech in front of a couple of hundred grown ups than keeping 10 kids entertained.

 

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Anyways, what was left of the Friday I spent finding my hotel and get hold of a tuk tuk driver who couold take me to the very famous Angkhar Wat. It turned out you really need a couple of days to see it all and I had like 3 hours. But, what an amazing (again not saying tremendous) 3 hours! Fact is I dont particularly enjoy travelling alone, I have done that through work way too much already but here I completely lost the concept of time and space. Well, I wasnt completely alone, Mr Sayon, my eminent Tuk Tuk driver and guide made sure I would get to see as many goodies as humanly possible before the sun set. Churches, temples and cathedrals are normally not objects that I spend time on, I often find them intimidating, threatening and giving off a scent of power and money that is everything but pleasant. Angkar Wat however, is a magical place with beauty and mystique that cant be explained. It needs to be experienced. I am not of a religious nature, I am not a believer, but even though parts of Angkhar Wat was packed with tourists, there was a calm over the entire space which is very difficult to explain but it just made it extremely pleasant to be there.

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A dinner on pubstreet with all the drunk backpackers served as the absolute contrast to what I had experienced earlier. I found a restaurant, ordered a pizza (i know I know but I was too tired and too hungry to go local food) and observed the drunk backpackers walking around in their shorts and flip flops challenging each other in either drinking more cheap shots or feasting from the food stands serving BBQ hairy spiders (hairy and big like hamsters) snakes or xl size bugs. Sometimes its great to blame vegetarianism.

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Saturday morning 10.00, meeting at the Childrens Village. The hotel helped me find a tuktuk driver who new the location.

I sat and talked for quite some time with Soeut, the director of the village and Nhan his assistent. We talked about everything from how they came to work there as well as their challenges and rewards. We talked about the kids and how they came to live there as well as their future prospects. I also described our fundraiser, what we aimed to achieve for them as well as the challenges of the motorcycletrip and that we will be back to see them on the actual trip to Sweden. Soeut likes motorcycles so I of course offered him to borrow one of our bikes. Im sure we will have a great time.  Soeut said he feels a bit like the kids father. Many of them dont have one and kind of adopt Soeut. SOeut and his staff always stay in touch with the kids even after they have grown up and left the village and in some cases they have come back to have their wedding at the village. Its their family.

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We sat on the patio of the main adminstrative building of the village. It was surrounded by the 14 houses where the kids are living. Up until now though it had been really quiet. Not a sound from the houses. But suddenly there movement and noice, not loud noice, more controled. funny.  A stream of kids in school uniforms walked past  by us and in the different houses. It was lunch and resting time. Rest for the smaller kids, chores and homework for the older ones. In each of the 14 houses there are 10 kids in ages from 3 to 15 who lives together with a ”mother”. I must admit I was a bit scared of what I would see when visiting the village. Scared it would be heartbreaking cus thats another thing I aint too good at. For these kids who have had a really shitty start of their life where the only thing looking worse is the prognosis of their future, SOS have come really far in creating th best possible environment.140 kids now have a place and a plan supported and aided by SOS all the way through university.

The school have approximately 400 students in all ages from kindergarden through High School. That means that approximately one third comes from the village and two thirds from villages in and around Siem Reap. Primary reason for going to this particular school is poverty.

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100 percent of the costs for running the village and the school are covered by donations. The funding for the village is done by SOS Sweden.

Soeut and his team now have an idea of helping an additional 300 kids in the Siem Reap area who all live under extreme poverty and who because of that dont get a chance to go to school. They have parents but their situation at home is such that it becomes very difficult due to the parents being away from early morning to sometimes late at night which means that they usually needs to go with their parents during the day rather than go to school. Soeut beleives there are between 600-700 children in the area who are in this situation. The plan is to try to half of these children with health care, school uniforms, food and a bicycle (so they can drive to school).

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Right now they dont have the money to execute the plans but with a successful Pops & Frog fundraiser these plans can be set to work and we, all of us, who in any way have helped with gear or money can be proud of ourselves doing something for someone who really really needs it.

So, of course you should be in on this! Send us an email and we will get back to you ASAP

Feeling The Fun

wp_20160928_21_49_01_proPops & Frogs adventure will be well documented and reported. There’ll be text to write, pictures to publicise and videos to edit. The bar has been set fairly high, hence we where in need of some new equipment. The following gear has been acquired:

Camera: SONY A7S
Lenses: SONY 18-70, 70-200
Recorder/Monitor: ATOMOS Ninja Blade
Stabilizer: ROXANT
Tripod: Manfrotto
Helmet Camera: GoPro Hero 4

Once upon a time, a long time ago, in a Northern Monarchy far, far away I had grand plans of becoming a photographer, to take pictures that would make an impression on history. I was incredible consumed by images from LIFE and National Geographic, and it was wanted to do with my life. Until I convinced myself that I didn’t have what it takes.
So I quit and sold my camera, the lenses, all the equipment for the darkroom and chose to never look back. Since then I’ve been photographing with a lack of patience and dedication. Doing it because taking pictures have on occasion been expected, rather then being motivated to take actual great pictures. The result of which has been on par with the dedication.
Sure, I felt the surge to go above and beyond on occasion  but they where far and few in-between. So when the digital revolution happened I was hoping to feel some kind of urge to get back into it, but nothing, and the pictures where getting even worse. I mean, now you could snap photographs nilly-willy, and I guess that’s exactly what I did.
But, I feel excited that I have the opportunity once more to capture some really cool images, and with the system camera I feel the call once again. I want to take good pictures again and also try doing some filming. It feels exciting but also not entirely uncomplicated. For even if the act of taking the actual pictures builds upon the same old foundation, the whole digital post-production is completely new to me. But I will do my utmost to master the tech and our new gear. A lot of practice and a handful of youtube tutorials will hopefully get me somewhat up to speed, I’ll leave it up to you  whether I’ve succeeded.

Tattaaaa

The true freedom machine

 

 

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Sitting on the airplane on my way back to Hong Kong after an extremely intense two day visit to Siem Reip, Cambodia to prepare for my fundraiser. But even though it was only two days it was still an unforgettable trip and honestly, I don’t even like to travel on my own. I don’t like having dinner by myself in a restaurant. How the trip was and the SOS Childrens Village and all that will be in a separate blog.

This little blog is about the motorcycle. The motorcycle we rarely talk about in our part of the world, the rich part. Here the motorcycle is a hobby, something we  bring out of the garage when the weather allows it and have fun with. Yes, of course, there are people who use their bikes a lot more than that like all the people driving their three wheeled Piaggios to work every day in Paris, but I do think you understand what I’m trying to say.

In Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Bangladesh etc etc the motorbike is an absolute necessity and probably the single most important technical piece of equipment in order to obtain economic development, even more so than the cell phone or the computer. Public transportation is limited and people need to get themselves, on bad roads, to work, to school, to hospital when needed, to see relatives, shop for food, go find a partner or whatever. In this part of the world the motorcycle transports people not only from one place to another but even more importantly helps taking them from poverty to a more secure life with better work, food on the table and school for the kids.

Even though the roads in these countries outside the cities towards the villages a lot of the times more resembles chocolate mousse than tarmac, it is not enduro bikes they are driving. Usually it is 100 – 125cc scooters, often automatic or semi-automatic. Honda and Yamaha are quite frequent and can be bought locally for around USD 1.000-1.300 brand new. Not too bad with western eyes but of course huge for a family that makes USD 150-200 per month. I have owned a 100cc Honda Click myself for 8 years now. Cant say I ride it on a daily basis but that bike is extremely reliable and dirt cheap to repair. Honestly I dont think I have spent over USD 150 in repairs in all 8 years combined. The only thing that is a problem is the quality of the innertubes which brakes just looking at them. Only comfort is that they are ridiculously cheap around USD 1.5 a piece, including the job to switch. My Honda have also been badly tortured by all the members in my family who wants to learn how to drive a bike (which is basically everybody). The bike has gone through these painful sessions without any complaints, always ready to serve. Its like a dog which, when you dont really have time for it and it doesn’t get to go out as much as it should, it still loves you.

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So when the western image of freedom motorcycles, especially a Harley from Easy Rider becomes the symbol. I must protest and say that the real freedom machine is a Honda Click.

Age determination is not that hard

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Reading column after column in the Swedish press regarding the difficulty of determining age. And I feel it can hardly be as complicated as they are proposing. Medicine has placed me within the group i belong to and that didn’t seem too hard.

1. Whenever I’ve been out running for the last 6 months I’ve experienced pain in my calf irregularly. It came and went until finally it was time to make a visit to the doctor and get a diagnosis. He quickly diagnosed a ruptured calf as an award for my running. Yeah that’s what one wants, tough to argue you’re a youngster with a diagnosed ruptured calf. I remember when I was young and my mother and her friends where bemoaning calluses, where did they go? The ones that where cured with special plasters that looked like tiny donuts. Oh well this is the old man’s age, the time of the old mans ruptured calf.

2. As if that wasn’t enough I managed to damage my achilles tendon during thaiboxing training in Thailand while sparring. Of course the first comment was that this was a dam middle age issue.

So my age is not something you have any issue determining. Old man is tattooed on my forehead and can be scientifically proven by more than one symptom.

The achilles heel was so damaged that i can now proudly display two screws in the heel bone and two clamps in the calf. I guess that’s what happens to old men… The rehab will take time but my goal is to be back on my bike to drive distinguished gentlemens ride the 25th of September and it looks as if that will be possible, but I’m not telling my doctor. He doesn’t like the idea and would much rather I take it easy because of my age.

In any case, no matter heel tendons or ruptured calfs I don’t see any difficulties in going forward with our trip next year. The rehab should be long done, my Robocop boot thrown away and the crutches a mere memory. Maybe I can even start thaiboxing again, because you’re only as young as you feel, right ?

On me

picMy name is Gustaf and while I’m most certainly a Svenungsson from Sweden I’ve lived in London for the last 5-6 years where I’m studying programming and do music.

In my ignorance I believe most people go on an adventure because they want to see fantastical vistas, eat exotic food, meet people or escape the day-to-day routine. However, what is truly exciting about an undertaking such as this for me are the music possibilities – well that and a little of the “the great outdoors”…

There is a brilliant opportunity with this journey to record the sounds and music of places one wouldn’t have access to normally and create a virtual library, I mean how often do you read about the music of Bhutan or actually hear it? By quite some distance that’s why I decided to join in on the trip. As a passionate fan of music it’s an amazingly exciting opportunity to hear music you wouldn’t have otherwise heard of and learn. As a programmer and hobbyist mixing/recording engineer it’s a way to show off sounds and music most people would’ve probably never heard of otherwise.

Now granted before we get to that part of the trip I actually have to learn how to ride a motorbike. Which for various reasons I’m technically not allowed to do in Sweden right now. Instead I must apply for a license in the UK where I’ve lived for the last 5 years. I find it be quite bizarre. How every country on the planet appears to think they have the most dynamic, sensible and well put together bureaucracy it’s obvious that there’s still a lot left to do

Of course none of this will be very easy, or go exactly as planned. It will be arduous and complicated but with enough planning it just might work. Now since my experience with a motorcycle consists of riding scooters and watching the Great Escape I must admit to being ever so slightly nervous.

Route

Paris April 4, 2016

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When planning a route from Hong Kong to Sweden there is one major choice that needs to be done – north or south of the Himalayas. In all honesty it didn’t take too much dwelling to decide that the south was the way to go. The following countries will be visited by Pops & Frog on the way to Sweden:

Hong Kong, China, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet, Kazaktstan, Azerbadjan, Georgia, Armenia, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Göteborg – FINISH.

Alternative route:
A. Kazaktstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Azerbadjan
B. Greece, Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Sweden

For some of these countries we do not expect too much hassle but for a few, acquiring  the necessary paperwork will be a challenge. That and a few other matters are the reason we have to start our project more than a year ahead. Bhutan (the country who doesn’t care about GDP but follows a happiness index instead) is very tricky since they have a cap on the number of visitors they allow to enter each year. Furthermore, they do require a guide to go with you all the way until you leave the country . . .
Tibet is similar but the worst case is mainland China. In order to handle the administrative work we will hire a part time assistant. An add will be placed in Jobs DB Hong Kong next week. (We will of course post it for you to follow). Fact is, no matter how good the assistant is there’s a risk the route will have to be altered due to permits, the political situation (warzones not being our forte) as well as which fundraiser will be chosen since we definitely will visit the project on our way. Currently we are rather focused on finding a project in either Bangladesh or Nepal.

During the trip we expect to find nightquarter in everything from the tents we will bring along (one tent each) to basic places where you really need the sign on the facade to identify it as an hotel. We also hope to every now and then find a nice place with clean sheets, hot showers, TV news in English, yummie food, a glass of wine and a couple of craft beers. We do not plan to be a survival show trying to diet on eatable roots and tea boiled from sewage waters that’s been filtered through a pair of used underwear. We will be travelling on a relatively tight schedule which forces us to plan carefully and a menu of freeze dried food and protein bars will definitely  be preferred to hunting shrubberies for eatable (horribly tasting) vitamin packed berries.

What we are really trying to say is that we want to enjoy our adventure, not just survive it. We want to enjoy the nature, the people, cultures, each others company and the bikes . . .

Every week until we reach our goal in Sweden we will write about successes and setbacks in our project. Partly because we enjoy it and partly because we are narcissistic enough to believe there is someone out there who would like to read it without getting paid for it. That is except grandma who doesn’t count. Hopefully it can be a little bit fun reading and also inspire others to set out on adventures of their own. Most likely there will be an equal distribution of dos and don’ts.

Please remember, we are not experts, we did not win Paris Dhakar, we are not trained Navy Seals, actually Frog can’t even drive a motorcycle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . yet