Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Beautiful Laos

We rode up to the border of China and Laos on the last day of our Chinese visa, perfect timing. Now how would this all go, what would happen to our vibrating toothpicks?? They asked for the papers on the Chinese side and we presented the receipt and another piece of paper that simply said how many gears the bike had and other particulars, useless really but we had to give them something, and again it worked, we received our exit stamp and rode out of China, now to get them into Laos.

We made it into Laos!

The Laos side was so so pleasant, I had forgotten how friendly these people are, such beautiful people, they stamped us in and asked for the bike papers, we again handed over the receipt of purchase, written in Chinese remember, the customs guy looked at it and said I cant read this and we both replied well either can we, he laughed and waved us in, holy shit we now could ride across Laos to Thailand on our Toothpicks, we were not happy because we love riding them we were happy to the fact that we did not have to back pack and we could ride that bit further, it was only Thailand now that remained the question, could we actually ride all the way to Bangkok?

The Plain of Jars

Images of Laos

We had at least 10 days to get to Bangkok before we would be reunited with our trusty great Honda's which we loved more an more every day with every kilometer on the Toothpicks! So some time for a slower pace, some Beer Laos and relaxing along the way. But of course when one has such adventure and the pace slows the mind gets thinking, instead of taking the nice normal road all the way South to the Thai border we decided to take a track through the jungle and of course its still the rainy season, what the hell why not. After visiting the plane of jars, which are huge rocks carved as jars on a plane, title explains itself really we set off into the jungle and of course it started to rain. And again what lay ahead were things I had never done, we started to have to cross rivers and the more it rained the higher the rivers swelled and the faster they flowed, one crossing my Toothpick was actually floating away as Dirk and I hung onto it tight not letting the current wash it down the river, other rivers we had to use Bamboo rafts to get them across. It was pouring so hard it was impossible to see but our toothpicks just slowly picked their way through the mud until one huge river were about half a dozen people already were sitting under a little hut, the river was to swollen and two deep. So we waited all under the hut, the locals said maybe three hours and it will drop, OK we have time. We waited about an our and on the other side of the river more locals arrived on their own little scooters, got off and 5 of them carried the bikes across the river, well if they can we can, we asked for their help and we all carried the 2 toothpicks across the river, with a round of hand shakes we were off again.

Steady she goes captain.

Another crossing, wide one this time.

Carrying the bikes across the river.

It may have a cheeta on the side but its far from fast!

Time for some fun, Sunik circle work.

Then came the muddiest road I have ever been on in my life, plus remeber there we were on Chinese 150cc's with three people and loads of luggage, mud so deep that the road was completely impassable for anything at all but we poked along mud hole by mud hole and eventually came out the other end, again we made it across another country on the toothpicks and the adventure was priceless, people would pay huge money to even attempt what we did, what a time we had.

The Mud caked onto the Toothpicks!

So with 3 days before our Honda's would arrive in Bangkok we were at the Laos Thia border, so after one last night in Laos we tried Thailand with our toothpicks.
We carried the bikes onto a small boat and crossed the Mekong river to the Thai side and then carried the bikes up a very steep flight of stairs, was quite a struggle but a few onlookers saw it was not easy for us and helped out. The Thai officials were lovely, they never said we could not bring them in but needed to find out what to do, after about 2 hours the paper work was done and again we were allowed to ride in Thailand, that was it, great I would be able to achieve what I always wanted and that was to ride a bike every inch of the way, yeah it was not the same bike but still a bike, besides I already had one bike stolen so whats it matter if it was a few bikes. I was so happy that we exited the customs compound and I looked left then right and all was clear well so I thought, Thailand is back to left hand drive and its been a long time for me to drive on the left, I pulled out looked up and there almost in my lap were to girls riding a scooter, I swerved sharply only just missing them, wow concentrate Robbo I thought, need to just get to Bangkok!

So by the time we hit the road to Bangkok it was about 1 pm, it was 700 k's to the capital and we would reach it in 2 days. We let the sun set on us so now it was already dark and I think we had similar thoughts lets go until we can't anymore. Then it rained and rained, so since now we were wet we thought lets go all the way that way we do not have to get up the next day and put on wet clothes, one thing is for sure we have determination, any normal person would have stopped along way back, either that or we are stupid, maybe its the later!! It became cold, soaked to the core, so here we were in Thailand breaking the number one rule of all the travel, riding at night and not only at night but in the pouring rain an freezing bloody cold.

We stopped for some fuel and were both shaking from the cold, hardly been able to move and both needing to go to the toilet we again had a similar thought, standing there already completely wet we just went to the toilet, it was so so warm, arrhh!

We pushed on all night, my clutch was slipping so badly that at times I could only get 60 k's per hour from the toothpick then with steady throttle control it would take about 10 k's to get the speed up to 90 again, plus when the rained stopped the engine would heat up and the clutch slip more but when it rained the engine cooled and the clutch slipped less so the faster I could go, bit crazy but of course the harder it rained the harder we went! With my tinted lens I had to ride with it up all the night, how I saw I am not sure, over taking trucks squinting through the mist until I popped out the other side, yeah maybe we are stupid actually.

We rolled into Bangkok at 1 minute to 1am, we made it, straight to a pub for a celebratory drink, we bloody did it, amazing, we rode the toothpicks from one side of China to the other and all the down Laos and onto Bangkok. The next day we got word that the Mother ship and the Old Girl had arrived early to Bangkok so off to the airport we went to be reunited, was it a great sight to see the boxes they were in and even a better feeling to open them up. It took us all day to clear the paper work and a few hours to put them together to ride them into town. The first time I hit the starter and head the rumble of the faithful V-Twin gave me goose bumps, what a sound. Riding off was a bit strange, wobbly, as it felt heavy, but boy when I screwed the throttle it felt like I was going to launch into outer space, out the airport terminal we went turned onto the highway and into it, I screwed the throttle hard, gave the handle bars a slight pull and up on the back wheel it rose, a bunch of Thai taxi drivers all pointing and hooting, we roared our way into Bangkok city, wearing flip flops, shorts and T-shirts, again it was exciting to have them back. We did it!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Race Through China

That's exactly what it was, not a ride but a race and boy was it crazy to say the least. With my mother ship and Dirk's old girl as he calls it sitting in a container in a yard somewhere in Ulaan Batar we bordered the train bound for the Chinese border for the second time in a week. The train journey down was an interesting start to an adventure of great proportions, the mongols sell 8 tickets to a compartment that only has 6 beds! And of course the mongols sharing our compartment were wise to this hence the reason they all claimed a bed the moment we bordered, great it was going to be a long 15 hours south. After sitting on the hard seats for what felt like an age, eating noodle soup and having some old crusty Mongol man try to lay a kiss on me I had had enough and found refuge and a place to lay in the luggage rack over head, rock hard but I think I managed to get an hour or so sleep. As the the train rattled along in the night I thought about how it was only a week ago I was just out there wrestling the mother ship through the Gobi Ocean and nearly freezing to death, maybe this train option was not such a bad way to go after all!

So there we were back at the border, as we exited Mongolia again I wondered what would unfold would our plan work, Chinese officials were slightly confused wondering why we had a cancelled entry stamp into their country only a week ago, we waited a long time before they finally decided we were no great threat and let us in, Ok step 1 down next was to find our new transport. Into the town of Eronhot we began step 2 and that was to buy a Chinese motorbike! The first shop we entered would be the last, bingo we had found what we were looking for. We picked out 2 brand new Sunik 150 cc motorbikes. The first one Dirk took for a test ride and they are a little different to the Africa Twin, well a lot different, for starters the gears are all down and then its possible to go from top gear to first in one motion, not used to the new gear box system Dirk was flying down the road with speed and went from top to first, the motor screamed a cry of stress and the bike came to a stop, hmm not good, back into the shop with it and it would not start, we quickly decided we wanted another one, that was one destroyed already! So after picking another we eventually had them ready to go. After my short test ride all I could think is this thing is a death trap, all the way across China on this!

Preparing to race across China.

The Vibrating Toothpick
So off we set on our new buckets of shit, no rego, no number plates, no licence, just a bit of scribble in Chinese that was a receipt, what were we doing? We made it out of town about 3 k's and the first problem, Dirks bike was leaking fuel, so we headed back to the shop and they replaced the carb for him. Take 2, away we rode this time making it about 5 k's and again another huge fuel leak, back again, this time they put two fuel filters in for us and cleaned out Dirks new carb as it was full of crap. By this time it was to late to try another attempt, we were defeated for the day and got a bed in a hotel, tomorrow we would try again to leave Erenhot for the third time.

Brand new nothing had fallen off yet, but that was only after 5 k's!
Now the biggest problem we had was the fact that we only had a visa valid for 16 days, not the usual 30 days China usually give, they only issued us with the period that we said we would be there for. In the beginning we thought it would be enough but in time it would be a problem.
So the following day saw us get out of town and across the plains of Inner Mongolia, the roads perfect, long and straight. Wow the bikes what absolute heaps of shit they were, 0-80 in about 1 minute, cruising speed of about 70-80 and viabrate, I could feel the fillings in my mouth rattling loose as the whole bike vibrated beyond belief, that's how they then became known as "The Vibrating Toothpicks"
They vibrated so much that even on day one things started to fall off and not work but there was nothing we could do about it as something new would bounce down the road, what did we expect only paying 563 US dollars a peice, we just pushed on and after a few days we thought all we will be left with at the end is a frame and motor! The first few days saw us pass through an industrial belt of China and mining area, I became depressed, the pollution was horrendous, all I could think is this world has no hope at all, the air was so thick with pollution that it made you choke, the world had just seen China on centre stage with the Olympics but I am sure no one ever thought of what else gos on in China, I really had a negative feel for the country and just wanted out. Every day there was something new, one night we went into a restaurant which was so full of smoke I again nearly choked, but the people lovely, they gave us some beer then took photos of us with their entire family, wives, kids, husbands, then when it came to the bill they insisted we don't pay, nice, then back to the hotel for a shower, so here I was in a open bath room washing myself and I turn around to see a China man taking photos of me on his phone, after telling him you cant do that he took another, hmm strange people as well, maybe he has never seen something as big.........that's my receding hair line of course!!
Always some on lookers, and the hotel I had my nude photos taken!
We arrived in the city of Xi'an, with a quick trip to the Terracotta warriors we pushed on. With our small sight seeing out of the way we pushed the toothpicks hard, talk about lost in translation, it was at times impossible to ask for directions, we would pronounce a town our best Chinese 100 different ways but still they could not understand us. Then the traffic it was crazy they don't look to cross the road as a pedestrian, they don't look to turn left or right, they simply do not look what so ever. On one occasion were flying along Dirk in front of me and there was a truck in the middle of the road going the same way as us, often we would overtake on the inside as it was safer, as Dirk got closer to the truck it decided to vear to the right, Dirk ran out of room as he tried stopping on a machine with not the most best brakes in the world, the truck pushed him right off the road, then where was I to go, I grabbed the brakes hard but it seemed to not do a thing, I needed to stop and stop fast, nope no chance as I slammed into the back of Dirks bike, with the typical crunching noise that goes with indicators and tail lights smashing. We just stood there and laughed our heads off! Another mishap that I laughed my head off with was Dirk was following a Honda civic along a rough road and the car stopped in front of him suddenly to slow for a bump but Dirk could not stop in time again due to the brakes been rubbish, he hit the back of the car denting the bumper, his bike went down but he was ok, but the amazing thing was as he hit the car the car also went over the bump and did not even feel or realise that a bike had just slammed into the back of it, it drove away, I just laughed in my helmet thinking we were about to get in some trouble now. Also the seat foam on my bike became so compressed that after the first hour in the saddle every morning I was sitting on the frame, so now the vibrations really went directly to my spine.
We entered one city and our first problem with the police, a traffic cop stopped us, hmm shit here we go I thought that was the end of our China attempt, an on looker spoke some English and told us we had no plates and needed rego papers, quickly we replied with a few small stories, we said we were told that we did not have to rego our bikes for 30 days after purchase and that we got this permission from the traffic police in Beijing, it worked, then the licence issue we pulled out our International ones which mean not a thing in China and the cop knew this, again we said we got permission from the traffic cops in Beijing, amazing it worked, he let us on our way. Would we make it accross China I thought, seems like I thought that very question alot??

Safe parking in the Hotel.
Time was of the issue so we started trying to get on the expressways which of course do not allow bikes on them. We would approach the toll booths pick a lane and go for it, flying past the booth with a Chinese person yelling out and blowing whistles at us, then we would slip past the boom sometimes not enough room, I smashed my mirror a few times clipping the boom, but the going was good on the expressway that's for sure, and then to get off it we had the same story dodging boom gates and officials. But then of course we pushed our luck to far, one toll we flew through there were two policemen standing there but we flew past leaving their screams disappear behind us, on we went pushing the toothpicks hard, vibrating like hell until 20 minutes later in my mirror the police car appeared, pulling along side me with sirens blaring and one of the cops screaming into the load speaking, shit this was serious, we pulled over and they hoped out, one cop coming at Dirk with a baton, screaming like hell in Chinese with a very mean look on his face, time to play the only card we had up our sleeves, the dumb white man card, off with the helmets turned the situation in our favour once they saw we were not Chinese, the baton was put away and the aggressive look put away as well, they seemed stumped, you could see them thinking shit what now they are not one of us! One tried some English explaining we could not ride on the expressway, of course we knew but after a while we said, "Oh you mean we cant ride our bikes on here?" Meanwhile the other cop was now taking photos of us on his phone, great looked like we would get out of this one. So know here we were riding down the expressway with a police escort, lights a blazing, all the way to the next exit. Once off and some more photos, hand shakes all round and big smiles, away we rode, laughing again. Of course down the road we went until the next entrance back onto the expressway, straight back on we went, seemed we would not get in to much trouble so why not!!
By the time we made it in the south, my blinkers stopped working, my front fairing bounced down the road, head light popped off, uses a litre of oil every 3 days, there fore smokes like hell, clutch slips like nothing else and I started getting punctures, I loath punctures!

Making it to Xi'an, about half way.

Road side snack.

Maybe more your taste, dog anyone?

We reached the city of Kunming in the south with 3 days to go therefor manged to have a day off, to get our Laos visa and get a hangover from a night in a jazz bar, we needed it to say the least, the question remained still would we be able to get the bikes into Laos if they last the remaining 700 k's to the border.
On the road to the Laos border the scenery turned into the jungles of South East Asia I know, and the humid weather, I felt again ever so close to making it home, familiar territory soon, having travelled to Laos 5 years ago when I first left Australia, shit I have never been back since not even for a visit, but here I was approaching the border on a bike that 15 days ago I doubted would never make it, one thing is for sure it did not look like it did a few weeks back but we had done it, step 2 we crossed China on a 150 cc Chinese bucket of shit, what a challenge it was, everyday full of excitement. Also China for me was amazing, in the beginning I wanted out, I was disappointed to see what I did but it was not all like that, it was completely the opposite, very beautiful, mountains, very green, rivers and streams winding everywhere, I was quite impressed.

Its hard to write the events of every day in China, each day was an adventure in itself and I would need for ever to tell it all, put simply it was crazy, we did it and there was never a dull moment, for Dirk and I it has become normal life-pulled over on a Chinese expressway a place not meant for bikes and as for the bikes, well they covered 5000 k's in 15 days, they did alright, maybe they aren't that bad after all!