Nepal, hidden treasures

Nepal, wow! And we haven’t even seen the best parts yet I think. As Klaas hit the asphalt just before we entered Nepal we couldn’t do a trekking, which was high on our wishlist.
And also our week of reflection in a nice and quiet place was not meant to be.
But Nepal has enough to offer to still have a nice time for the 30 days we had.

Crossing the border from India was pretty easy. After we had crossed the Banbasa Barrage over the Kali river we had to search a bit for the right offices. But nobody wanted us to open any bags, or asked difficult questions. The Nepal immigration office, where we had to buy our visa, also functioned as a money exchange. That was convenient. The first stop after we entered was the IME office, to buy a SIM. While I was arranging this, Klaas took out his rear wheel. The rear brake had started to make a lot of noise since the crash in India. Crossing borders makes you hungry, so with the wheel back in place and being able to get online again we had lunch at the neighbours. Our first samosa, triangled fried dough with a filling.
After all this we rode to the tiger’s den. We’d found a beautiful, peaceful ecolodge at the edge of Bardia National Park. The Mango Tree lodge would be our holiday spot for the next week. http://www.mangotreelodge.com
The 19th of November we didn’t do much. We slept long, had breakfast around lunchtime, enjoyed a book while sitting in the sun with shorts (that was a long time ago!) and in the evening we played the card game Kwatro at the campfire. With a beer. That had also been a while ago.

Doing “nothing” can be so nice! And yet the day goes by pretty fast. In the evening of the second quiet day, again at the campfire, we had a chat with our host Rajen about Nepalese culture and religion and the like. It became a bit creepy, because he told us about exorcism and taking over someone’s body, which he had witnessed. About the pleasing of spirits who can’t cross and have all kinds of demands for the relatives through witch doctors. And last but not least, about snake bites and venom suckers. Which is still believed to be the cure.
We would go into the jungle with him for two days. I was curious what stories would be told at that campfire…
But the two day safari we were going to do had to wait another day. Rajen wanted us to have the best possible experience and didn’t think that would be possible with twenty other people at the campsite. So we had a third quiet day at the beautiful garden of the lodge and I was happy to walk around with my camera. Trying to “catch” some of the huge butterflies. I failed.
For the late afternoon we were invited by Rajen to join dinner at the house of his mother-in-law. Her husband had died 20 years ago and they had to do a ritual to keep his spirit happy. Afterwards they would kill a goat and have a meal with the family. Luckily, when we arrived, the goat had already become a meal. Blessed by the mother-in-law, she put some yellow rice on our foreheads, and with her wish that we would see tigers tomorrow, we came back to the lodge.

Instead of a lazy day, we had to get up early the next morning. Breakfast at seven, loading the jeep at eight and leaving shortly after. It was only a short ride to the national park. We were dropped off together with Rajen and a park ranger, Mahendra. The other guys took the jeep and started preparing camp and dinner.
Because Klaas was still in pain from the crash, we had a somewhat adjusted program. We only had to walk short distances, then we could sit down and try to spot animals. The jeep would come back a little later, so we could go to the next spot. This would be the plan for the next two days. The first day we were really lucky. We’ve seen a crocodile, rhino, python, colorful insects, a monkey every now and then, a jackal, peacocks and some other unfamiliar birds, and a lot of deer. Apparently five kinds live in the park. We saw three and heard the fourth while staring over a wide piece of land, with a river flowing through, close to our campsite. Rajen and Mahendra became focused immediately, because the call we heard was because a tiger came close to this deer. Unfortunately we didn’t see one. Yet.
At the campsite the guys had prepared well. They collected wood to make a few campfires, to keep the animals away. They put up the tents and made our beds. They cooked a three course meal! And we had cold beers. It was a relaxed and fun night. Luckily without any frightening stories. Once again we heard the call of the deer pretty close by, but by then it was already dark…
The next morning we went back to our viewpoint over the river. While we sat on the lookout for tigers, breakfast was brought by one of the guys. I like camping this way! No cooking, no dishes. Just the fun bits.
After a while we left for the next spot. We sat for a long time when we heard we had to be there a little longer. The guys had taken the jeep to break up camp, but the jeep had broken down and they were waiting for a mechanic. Bummer, lunch was in that car too! But thanks to modern technology, Rajen was able to call his brother-in-law, who also happened to be in the park. He brought us lunch.
And thanks to all this waiting and staring through the binoculars we were rewarded by a swimming tiger! Rajen jumped up, ran towards us and was really excited, saying “tiger, tiger!” and pointing. I didn’t know where to look, so I asked where? Finally he said, “In the water!” and then we saw it too. It was crossing the water and had to swim. This apparently was very unusual for this time of year, because of the lower temperatures. Once again, we were lucky.
The car was still having problems, but time had come for us to leave the park. So we decided to collect our stuff and started walking. Every time we heard a car we hoped we could get a ride. Finally we got the call that the car was fixed and they were headed towards us. We found each other and went to pick up the boys. They’d been waiting at a watch tower with all the camping and cooking gear. Now we had to drive back, with all this stuff and eight people including the mechanic. It was a fun drive and we only had to stop once. Because one of the guys lost his outside the car dangling flip flop…
Back at the lodge, we had an entertaining evening. First we had dinner with four Dutch students, who did research in the area. Later at the campfire we had nice conversations with a befriended family of Rajen. One of their boys worked in Portugal and was visiting his brother and parents. Together they were traveling in Nepal.
After another calm day at the lodge we had a party in the evening. People playing guitar, singing, dancing and a lot of fun.
On the morning of 25 November it was time to say goodbye to Rajen and the others. Almost all day we rode through, or alongside national parks. A lot of green. And a lot of warnings for elephants, leopards and tigers. We didn’t see any of these, but we did see some crocodiles in and next to a river. And a wild boar with two kids.
It took us two days to get to Pokhara. A little outside the city we found a nice place with traditional clay houses, in between the high concrete buildings. Our first mission was to check out a yoga retreat centre. It was within walking distance from our accommodation. But it didn’t feel right and we couldn’t get there with the motorbikes. So we decided to leave it and try to find another place later. The rest of the day we enjoyed the Phewa lake views, fresh juices and walked around in Pokhara city centre.
Why do people come to Nepal?? To see those massive white giants of course. But it wasn’t our time yet.
We decided to rent bicycles and explore Pokhara for a bit. First stop was Devi’s fall, on one side of the road. The river goes underground at this waterfall and at the other side of the road they build a temple inside a cave. So that was stop number two. Not really impressive, but nice to see. After lunch we went to the International Mountain Museum. This was interesting. A very diverse museum with information about (the first) climbing expeditions, materials they used then and now, but also nature and life of locals and much more. The part that I think was most impressive is about a mountain cleaning expedition. It’s ridiculous how much trash they brought down the mountain. Empty oxygen tanks, empty gas (cooking) tanks, tents and all kinds of other climbing material.
On our way back we bought new mirrors for my motorbike. Even the non-repaired one had fallen off now. We had dinner at a Korean barbecue restaurant and enjoyed an Everest beer. At least this way we could look at the mountain…
On Sunday 30 November we wanted to exit Pokhara and visit the World Peace Pagoda. We had been staring at it for a few days now, standing on top of a hill above the lake. Being higher up, we hoped to see a little bit of the Annapurna mountain range.
We packed our bags, checked out and started riding. Pokhara was still quiet, although a little more than the other days… At one of the bigger crossings we were stopped by the police. It appeared it was election day and we weren’t allowed to go out of town until after five o’clock. What?? Why didn’t our joints smoking lazybones host tell us? I grumbled some angry words while turning the motorbike around. When I looked up I was totally amazed by the view. There they were! These amazingly looking white peaks in a beautiful blue sky. Wow! I forgot everything else. My new mission was taking pictures of this wonder.
Klaas was a little more sane and we took a right turn at another crossing. After talking to the police officers they let us through. I took some pictures and we continued towards Kathmandu. It was really special, riding at almost sea level, seeing those 7000+ meter high giants for real and in my new, vibration free mirrors all day long. That evening we slept in a bamboo hut next to the river. Sounds idyllic, and the beautiful colours of the sunset reflecting in the water were. But unfortunately it was disco night for the local youth.
We arrived early in Kathmandu the next day. We walked around the city, with its impressive old architecture that survived the 2015 earthquake. But we have also seen a lot of damaged or collapsed buildings. Everywhere you look in the area, people are still rebuilding. A lot of buildings still stand only because of support beams. It’s an interesting city to walk around, even though there’s so much traffic and motorbikes parked everywhere.
I liked the old building style of the houses, with the small doors at the bottom where little shops are hidden. And you stumble over the Hindu shrines and (Buddhist) temples.
On the morning of 2 December we got up early. We thought we had booked a guided food tour, a walk through the city and in the meanwhile try different local dishes. But somehow there was a misunderstanding with a special twist. Two guys took us to Durban Square (durban means palace). We walked in between the temple ruins, still standing temples and saw the palace of the king. And the guys gave us lots of information. After a while it became clear this wasn’t what we expected and we ate breakfast somewhere on top of a building, overlooking the square and surroundings. Unfortunately again no mountains because they were covered with a thick layer of smog.
After breakfast we walked to the house of Kumari, a living goddess. I didn’t know much about this yet and was excited to hear she would make her appearance at the window today. How many people get to experience this in their life? To see a living goddess? I must say I’m not a believer of any god, and I’m amazed more and more about the, sorry to say this, crazy rituals people make up to honour their god(s), or declare normal things holy. In Hinduism they have 33.000.000 gods! Having said that, apparently this was our lucky day. After waiting for a few minutes, a 6 year old girl appeared at the window. I was in total shock. I’d expected an adult woman… Our guides told us her feet can not touch the ground, so she’s carried everywhere she goes. Not that she goes out a lot, only on certain occasions. And she does not go to school, but receives education in the palace. Let’s hope she gets her first period soon. It is believed that the goddess vacates her body than, and she can start her next life.
After visiting a museum about the consequences of the earthquake, our guided tour was over and Klaas and I finished the walking tour we’d started the day before. In the afternoon we treated ourselves with a 2-hour deep tissue massage.
After a quiet day at the hostel, doing some small jobs on the motorcycle, applying for the Myanmar visa, walking around in the Garden of Dreams and eating pizza with a beer we left Kathmandu the next day.
We know things don’t always go as you expect or hope, but it has been proven again this day. Good things and less good things happen and sometimes even in one day.
Our first mission of this day was buying oil. We have reusable air filters, they suck up dust, so it doesn’t get into the engine. They needed cleaning badly and after, a new spray of oil.
We asked at several (work)shops but nobody had even heard of the stuff. While Klaas was trying at another shop, I “guarded” the motorbikes. A man came towards me and we started talking about our motorbikes and the journey. He showed me his beautifully maintained 1947 Royal Enfield. After a while I asked him if he maybe knew a shop where we could get the oil. He started thinking and then he told me he would go to Thailand the next day. So his next question was: “for how long will you stay in Kathmandu?”. We talked some more and he offered to see if he could buy the oil for us in Bangkok. I asked Vivek why he would do this for a few strangers and he told me it was an honour for him to be able to help us. He was impressed by the fact that we came all the way from The Netherlands on the motorbikes to visit his country. And he knew where The Netherlands are, he’d been there working for a few banks and his wife had done some voluntary work in our country. It’s a small world…
Next on our action list for that day was visiting Durbar square of Patan, just south of Kathmandu. It’s pretty similar, lots of temples, lots of Chinese people, but a lot of miniature wood carving too. Impressive.
After lunch we left for our week of reflection somewhere in the hills of Nagarkot, east of Kathmandu. Klaas found a nice looking website, contacted them by phone and we were optimistic and enthusiastic about this place. They told us to look on google maps for the right address. Obviously we didn’t prepare well enough, because when getting closer there were four locations with the same name. About eight kilometers apart, in mountainous area, with not very good roads. The place wasn’t to be found at the first two locations. The frustration grew, while the sun had started to set. After some difficult telephone contact and vague instructions, we decided to look for another accommodation for the night. By that time it was already dark. We ended up in Bhaktapur where we visited another Durbar square in the evening. Because the websites (yes, there turned out to be more …), telephone numbers, locations and offerings of the company were unclear, we decided to leave it for what it was. Disappointing, because I was really looking forward to a week of meditation, walking and eating healthy in a mountainous area with beautiful views on these magnificent mountains (if the clouds would finally leave again).
So now what?? Our plan for a week had disappeared. The next morning I woke up with a headache, feeling like I was going to be ill. We didn’t want to stay where we were and we didn’t have a new plan yet. We checked out and went to a cafe around the corner for breakfast and some inspiration. In the end we decided to first find a spa and after look for a place to stay closeby. Around lunch time we arrived at an apartment in North Kathmandu. Nobody was there but a friendly neighbour called the owner for us and we were allowed to park the motorbikes inside the gate. The house wasn’t locked, so we could also choose a room and put our stuff inside. Another strange thing at this place, the room wasn’t cleaned yet… So we took the sheets from another room and put it on the bed ourselves.
Afterwards, we walked to the spa. I was feeling better than that morning, but was still looking forward to this day of indulgence.
When we came back to the apartment we met the owner. Friendly guy, and after we asked if it was possible to do laundry the monkey came out of the sleeve, like we say in Dutch. His wife was on holiday in Japan and he didn’t know how to operate the machine. We drank some tea together in his apartment and I explained to him how he could surprise his wife when she came back (read, how to operate the washing machine). We went to bed early and I was really looking forward to the next day. A day where we wouldn’t have to do anything else but relax.
So that’s what we did. Sauna, head- and shoulder massage, a facial with yoghurt, rice, honey, lemon, cucumber and some other funny natural things (Klaas had a hot-stone massage), and again sauna. It felt so good to finally be thoroughly warm again. Even though it didn’t freeze, temperatures weren’t that high, houses aren’t heated, or well isolated and restaurants leave doors and windows open…
On Saturday 7 December we made some new plans for the next few days. We put some chairs outside the freezing cold house, in the sun and started thinking. I didn’t feel like we were making the most out of our visit to Nepal, while I had been looking forward to visiting this country for 20 years. Because Klaas didn’t want to and couldn’t hike, I decided to go by myself. First we found a nice place on top of a hill where Klaas could stay for a few days without being bored. I could do a hike there. Than I found another hotel where I would stay one night and do another day hike.
I felt energized again and just before sunset I decided to get on the motorbike and visit Swayambhu Maha Chaitya, a Buddhist monkey temple overlooking Kathmandu. I enjoyed being on my own again for a while and was looking forward to some more of this in the next few days. The temple was crowded with people and monkeys, but I liked walking around at my own pace, with the camera. When I left I got treated with a beautiful pink orange mountain top in the distance.
We left Kathmandu again, for Dhulikhel. On top of a hill south of this town we had a beautiful view on the surroundings and finally saw the mountains again. We didn’t close the curtains and from our bed we watched the sunrise the next morning. We could also see the birds of prey floating around. Amazing.
That morning I took my camera, water and snacks and started walking. Via small villages and through the hills, towards the monastery of Namobuddha. It was so nice to do some exercise again. And at the same time watch the village life of the Nepalese from close by. I was greeted regularly with a friendly namaste. The monastery was a nice and quiet change from the noisy Hindu temples. When I came back to the hotel I’d walked about 20 kilometers.
The next day I left Klaas behind for another adventure on my own. I went to a hotel close to Nagarkot, a little above Dhulikhel. Hoping for an even better view of the mighty mountains. The ride to get there was a challenge. I turned around regularly, if the trail became too difficult. I didn’t have Klaas to help me lift up the motorbike! In the end I decided to take the long way, which was mainly tarmac, but still quite an amount of sandy roads full of stones. Finally I arrived at the hotel. My first impression wasn’t the best, but I came for the views. Fortunately first impressions aren’t always the right ones. Almost immediately I got into conversation with a couple (American/Thai woman and Nepalese man). When it became cooler and darker a campfire started and people came from everywhere (3 young Nepalese couples, a Japanese man and an American from El Salvador, Andrew). It was a pleasant evening with nice conversations and we all danced to get warm.
In the morning I woke up early, peeked through the window to see if it was worth it to get out of bed for the sunrise. I decided not to and closed my eyes again. After breakfast, with my book outside on the terrace, I started walking along the road until I reached a nature trail. I enjoyed the silence the forest provided. After a short break in the sun I walked back up the hill along the road. Back at the hotel I ate a pancake and chatted a little more with Andrew. He’d also walked and was enjoying a soup. Then finally, just before I had to go back to Dhulikel the clouds started to sink and we could vaguely see the contours of the white giants on the horizon. Because I still had to climb the unpaved, really bumpy hill in Dhulikel I wanted to be back before complete darkness, I had to leave. But I failed. I got lost, was really enjoying riding a curvy road through the forest, which ended in a sandy path. This wasn’t the way I came the day before… Luckily I was able to turn around the motorbike without dropping it. Big plus was, I could do this nice road again! Big disadvantage, I had to climb the hill to the other hotel in darkness anyway. But I made it, without any trouble!
The next day I gave my body some rest. And put pictures of Pakistan online. And the 13th we descended our nice and quiet hill. We had an appointment in the Hyatt Regency in Kathmandu! Vivek had given us a phone call. He’d found the oil we needed for our air filters in Bangkok and was attending a conference where we could meet. So we did. We were allowed to walk to the hall where he would be. All business people of course, chic buffet, white tablecloths. We arrived with our muddy feet wearing a dirty wet rain suit with a runny nose! I felt a tiny bit underdressed. Yes, it rained that day. Quite a lot. Fortunately I was able to keep the motorbike up straight on the slippery mountain path that morning…
We talked for a while and then we left with the plan to ride a beautiful mountain pass. But because of the continuous rain we decided this could wait another day. We found a nice homestay outside Kathmandu, where we got spoiled with milktea and popcorn. Dinner was homemade and grown in their own garden.
Rain was gone the next morning, a little sunshine came through the clouds and we continued over the Tribhuvan Highway. It was still slightly muddy and also a bit bumpy here and there. So we were careful in the corners. But the views were rather nice. Even the white peaks showed themselves for a while. They’re so high up in the sky, I caught myself a few times, looking for them too low on the horizon.
We climbed to 2500 meter altitude and it became quite cold. Only 6 degrees Celsius, brrr. We saw a mixture of pine forest, terrace agriculture and loads of small villages where we crossed the lives of the people. Fires were lit to stay warm, the dishes, clothes washing and often even showers are done at the central tap on the street, with ice cold water…
And we grumble if we don’t have hot water in the hotel again… At least we can shower between four walls, without the whole neighbourhood being able to watch you. And every passerby.
Talking about that, they often use solar water heaters here. Is very handy! Hot water when it was hot outside that day and cold water when temperatures are low. Works a bit the same as motorcycling. In the summer you melt away from the heat of the engine. In the winter you don’t feel any of that warmth as long as you ride…
We were moving eastward again and after getting help from another friendly man, finding some Buddhist prayer flags for us, or actually for a friend at home who can use some support, we left Lahan and crossed the border to India again on 16 December.

Nepal gave us a mixture of Hindu and Buddhist culture, friendly and interested people and I walked through the small villages to see the everyday life in the countryside. We rode some beautiful winding roads in the green jungle like hills where, instead of goats and cows, we saw a lot of monkeys.
We have to come back, when the skies are more clear, and we are fit enough to get higher up on these impressive white giants.

Originally posted: February 24th 2020

Nepal, hidden treasures Meer lezen »

Iran, country of mixed feelings

Here I am, sitting on a couch, two countries away from Iran already, thinking about a way to start writing about it. Iranian music playing in my ears. One of the things I really liked about the country. Same with the sound of the language. Luckily there was much more to like and love, but unfortunately I also felt a lot of unfairness and sadness while we stayed there…

The first day in a new country is always intense. Will the border crossing go well, what will the people be like, will we be able to change or get money, how do they drive, and there’s usually the question, where will we sleep tonight?
It was already dark when we arrived in Bojnurd. Iran is famous for their driving style, so we weren’t too happy to ride in the darkness. It was like riding at the fair. Apparently it doesn’t matter which color your headlights are and if they flash or not. We’ve seen red on the front, blue, purple and green on the front-, or backside. Small or big, one, two, three, a whole cord or nothing at all. And they like to come really close. Which I don’t like when we ride eighty kilometers an hour.
So when we rang the doorbell of the Overland in Iran guesthouse of Mohsen Qomi, we were tired and hungry. We knew about this place before we left home, because of a Facebook group Mohsen started. I had promised him our leftandride sticker for his collection. And once you make a promise… But nobody was there. Now what?
A friendly neighbour was about to help us when we decided to try and call Mohsen. Luckily he answered the phone and would be back within fifteen minutes.

It turned out to be a good choice to stay at his place. Everybody knows in Iran women don’t have the same rights and possibilities as men. And because I didn’t know much about it yet, I was a little nervous moving around in this country. But as soon as we entered Mohsens property, he made us feel at home and I could be myself. No need to cover my hair, no long sleeves.
He had one other guest, Felix from Germany. A young guy with a Honda Africa Twin. We talked about all kinds of things and I became a little less nervous. Mohsen took us shopping
because I needed a hijab and something to cover my behind and in the evening we went to a restaurant for dinner. Even though I was dressed a bit more like the local people, we still drew quite some attention with our blonde (grayish) hair.
One day I worked on the motorbike for a bit. In Ashgabat we took it apart to weld the frame, but with reassembling the guys didn’t have the patience to let me tell them where all the cables should go. So I had to correct that to make everything fit properly again.

Iran is a big country and we wanted to spend about three weeks of our time here. So staring at a large map on the wall we decided, with the help of Mohsen, which route we would follow.
After leaving our marks behind and taking pictures we said goodbye to Mohsen and Felix the next day. Getting out of the city was quite an adventure in itself. We still had to get used to the driving style. Once outside the city I was glad to be able to breathe again only to find out we had forgotten the charger of the laptop. Bummer, now we had to go back and risk our lives again…
But we survived without accidents and it turned out to be a good thing we forgot the charger.

Our plan was to ride to the clouded forest, nearby Golestan National Park, and camp for one night. But we wouldn’t get there before dark, because the sun sets at about 17.30hr.
So we ended up in a nice, traditional guesthouse in a small village. We have again drawn some attention, especially from children. About ten gathered around the motorbikes when Klaas went inside the gate to ask for a room. The lady of the house cooked us a delicious meal.
Three more great things about Iran, hospitality, food and fantastic traditional accommodations.
After breakfast we took off and headed towards the mountains, towards the forest. But the road we took was a little too adventurous for us. Good thing we didn’t go here yesterday. When we were turning the motorbikes around, close to a gas installation, one of the guys working there asked if we wanted tea. They were doing maintenance and just finished their lunch. That was a nice treat.
After we went back to the main road and had to ride back to take another road over the mountains. While climbing the temperature went down and visibility became less. Until we reached 2300 meters and the sun started shining again. We had some beautiful views of the green hills around us, with the big white duvet floating in between, and the blue sky above. When we descended on the other side of the hills, the landscape was completely different. It became drier, browner and more hot.
We still wanted to camp and went for a reservoir lake between the mountains. With only 15 minutes to go before sunset, we stopped along the road to check the map for the right turn. Another thing Iran is famous for, people love to help you. A car stopped next to us and it was obvious this man wanted to help us. Except we didn’t have a problem and we didn’t have much time anymore. But he insisted, even though he barely spoke any English. He called a friend who spoke a little better English and Klaas spoke for at least five minutes with him. We couldn’t get rid of them and I saw the sun set on the horizon. Finally they understood we didn’t need help, or accommodation and we wanted to sleep in our tent. Great, now we had to find the lake and a nice camp spot in the twilight, and pitch our tent in the darkness. But we succeeded and had a nice and quiet evening in beautiful surroundings. Which we only saw the next morning, obviously…
On our way to Isfahan we had to cross a desert again. Luckily this time it was only 37 degrees Celsius. The desert was completely empty, not one dry bush, or camel. Just dried out cracked soil. In the distance some mountains.
Riding through a village we were stopped by a police officer. He couldn’t tell us why he stopped us, but he wanted to see our passports. We had to park the motorbikes in front of an office, outside the gate. I didn’t trust this guy at all. Once inside the gate another guy joined him and they started searching Klaas his pockets and tried to search mine as well. I pulled away and told him he had to explain first why we were stopped. Eventually there were four of them and none could explain to us why. The funny thing was, the guy who had stopped us, now sat mumbling on the side, like he had been punished.
Still they had our passports. In the end they made us fill in some registration form, took pictures of our passports and visas. Then we had to ride our motorbikes inside the gate, so they could check our license plates. Why not walk the 20 meters…? Luckily after 15 minutes of nonsense they gave us back our papers and we could leave without having them asking for money or anything. But still. It took us a lot of time and we hoped we wouldn’t have any more experiences like this.
That night we slept in a traditional clay village in the desert, on top of a roof in some sort of dome. We could park our motorbikes inside in what looked a bit like a living room. Except for the fact there were pebbles on the floor. I like the saying “when is the last time you did something for the first time?”. Well this night it was two things: smoking shisha and showering with salty water.

Our arrival in Isfahan was another good experience. Again I was stressed and frightened riding in the city traffic. But once we arrived at Nargol guesthouse this all disappeared. We felt welcome and at ease straight away with these people and at this peaceful place. But first we had to park our motorbikes… Just look and see for yourself…
Friday in Iran is like the christian Sunday and we were invited by the lady of the house, Forouzan, to share lunch with her and her husband Amir, her parents and brother Poriya. We’d planned to stay here for a few days anyway, so we said yes. Unfortunately her parents didn’t speak much English and our Farsi was limited to saying thank you, please and bread. But we felt at ease with each other, showing videos and pictures and with the others speaking both languages, we got to know each other a little better. It turned out it had been her father’s birthday a few days before, so we went to get cake and flowers in the evening as a surprise. They even made Klaas and I dance to Dutch music…
On Saturday Forouzan dropped us off at the large (Imam) square of the city center. A very persistent but funny guy talked us into his carpet shop. He gave us tea and told us all kinds of things about the handmade carpets. He even showed us how to make a small package of it, so we could take them on the motorbikes. Or even better, we didn’t need the motorbikes anymore, he had flying carpets with gps. We thanked him and went to the mosque. After walking around for a bit we had a short conversation with a clergyman. He asked about religion in The Netherlands and the differences. So I made it clear to him that women have free choice in my country, I can decide which clothes I put on my body and I do have the possibility to ride a bicycle, horse or a motorbike. Unfortunately it wasn’t really a discussion and I think he wasn’t really hearing our answers.
After walking around in the huge bazaar for a while we took a taxi back to the guesthouse. I badly needed a haircut and Forouzan would take me to a salon. This was a nice experience, mainly to see that, even though it was behind closed doors, women could dress the way they wanted and also have short hair. Meanwhile, Klaas relaxed at the guesthouse and had a nice talk with Poriya. Back at the guesthouse we baked and ate pancakes with Amir and Klaas and had nice conversations until it was time to go to bed.
On Sunday, after a breakfast full of love, it was time to go to church. Isfahan has an Armenian neighbourhood with the Vank cathedral and a museum, which we both visited. It was nice for a change to walk around in an area with a more European feel to it. But we had a tight schedule that day, so we didn’t lounge in one of the cosy looking cafes.
After having Beryani for lunch (a flat bread filled with minced lamb) we visited the palace Chehel Sotoun. This one is famous for its 20 wooden pillars which reflect in the pond in front of it. But we definitely chose the wrong time to visit, with the sun right behind the building and too much movement in the water. But still, it was nice to see a different style of decoration (no blue tiles) with mirrors in the ceilings and colourful paintings on the wall.
All this looking around made us thirsty, so we went to Azadegan teahouse. This place is stuffed, it looks like a bazaar. Iran is crazy about saffron, so it was an easy choice to take saffron ice cream. And because alcohol is forbidden they get creative with juice. We chose some distilled (according to the menu) colourful drink with chia seed. They love rose water by the way. We drank this a lot as well, with water, ice cubes and sugar.
We’d had a bit of a rest and it was starting to get dark. We had one last thing on our list for today. The Zayandeh river runs through Isfahan and some interesting bridges cross it. During the evening they are nicely lit and underneath some of them people gather to sing and make music together. It got crowded with all the people having picnics near the bridges. Nice atmosphere.
Back at the guesthouse we finished the day with some more talk in the yard and a delicious cup of saffron tea.
On the second day of Octobre we took a day off. Relaxing in the garden, doing a bit of reading and website “work”. We were served a delicious lunch and in the evening we ate falafel together with Amir and Forouzan. We felt good around these people, so we decided to stay another day. This day I had another Iran experience, which I would feel for a few more days after… I went to Hamam with Forouzan and her mom. We had fun together and it was hard to say no to her mom’s offer to have dinner at her house the next evening and say goodbye to her. It was time to move on. We had one last dinner together with our new friends, or as they like to say, family. And in the morning, after eating breakfast with a stone in my stomach, it was time to hug them goodbye… We finally got on our motorbikes, exchanged one more hug and were about to leave. Then Forouzan explained to us that, according to tradition, they would throw water behind us for a safe journey. How nice, we could definitely use that in Iran!

On the way to Shiraz we went. We spent the night in Yasuj, had a look at Margoon waterfalls the next day and arrived at another guesthouse with super friendly people, Mehi and Mahmoud. Hence the name: Friendly Hostel. We also met Rogier again, whom we had met in Azerbaijan before, and had dinner together.
The next day we explored Shiraz together and again we had dinner with Rogier and two other Dutch guys, Tom and Mark, who also stayed in the guesthouse.
On Saturday morning Mahmoud took us to the Pink Mosque. We thought we were early, but unfortunately we weren’t the only ones. After a quick walk around the place we jumped into his car again and went to Persepolis and Necropolis. As an official guide Mahmoud knew a lot about it, had a nice way of sharing his knowledge with us and the virtual reality glasses made it all the more real. Back at the hostel we again had some interesting conversations with Mehi and Mahmoud and watched a football match on television. Until recently it was completely forbidden for women to go to a stadium for a football match. Unfortunately somebody had to die first to change this a little bit.
After exchanging a few hugs again, we left Shiraz the next day to go to Abarkuh and walked around a 4500 year old cypress. Again we stayed in a really nice traditional guesthouse, where we got treated with kebab by the owner. They had a meeting with other guesthouse managers from the area.
I had been thinking about it for a few days, but that day I decided I would go back to Isfahan, back to my new sister. This would be my only chance, as we were going to Yazd, which was closer to Isfahan again. I booked two bus tickets, one for the next day and one for the day after. And I texted Amir to tell him about the surprise. I was excited. He told me it would be their wedding anniversary and he would wait for me for dinner. Luckily they eat dinner at around nine, so that would be perfect.
It was only a short ride to Yazd. Forouzan had told us about another nice guesthouse, Tarooneh hotel, so that’s where we went. We could park our motorbikes in the hallway, I had a shower, kissed Klaas goodbye for a little over 24 hours and took a taxi to the bus station.
After five hours of driving I arrived in Isfahan, and just before nine I took another taxi.
It happened to be the slowest driver in Iran. He even stopped for minutes along the highway to look on the phone for directions. I was biting my nails by then, because I knew a hungry family was waiting for me. Except they didn’t know. Luckily I knew the labyrinth of the neighbourhood by then, so I told the driver where to go and ten minutes past nine I finally arrived at the door of Nargol House.
The surprise was successful and we spent some valuable time together. That evening they had already decided they would not let me go back by bus, they would come with me, we would surprise Klaas and they would also spend the night in Yazd. So the next day after lunch at Forouzan’s parents home we got in the car. On the way we visited a 400 year old caravanserai and we were able to see different rooms, the restaurant with a 400 year old table and even the roof. With the sun starting to set we had some nice views.
We arrived in Yazd, only to find out Klaas had gone out for dinner. Great, but of course, he didn’t expect me back before midnight. Now we had to go and look for him. Part of the surprise gone. But we found each other in the end and luckily he had not eaten yet.
The next day we had our personal tour guide in Yazd, famous for its wind towers. It’s an inventive system which causes air flow, to keep the houses cool. Amir had studied for a few years in the city and knew where to go. We had a fun and relaxed day together and they decided to stay another night. Inevitably we had to say goodbye again the next morning, which was even harder this time. We made it “see you again”. Somewhere, somehow, someday. Again some water was thrown after us when we took off.


We made it safely to Meymand. Mehi from Shiraz told us about this ancient rock house village. The houses are hand-dug, and some have been inhabited for 3000 years already. After we changed clothes in our cosy “room” we got tea and freshly harvested pistache served in the restaurant. And we met the other guests, a young family of three from Lithuania. Together we got a walking tour through town from one of our hosts. They originally came from Tehran and decided to completely change their lives and started the guesthouse. I guess they succeeded in that.
We saw a Zoroastrian fire temple, a bathing house with a museum, a mosque and we climbed up the hill to have a good view of the village. While walking around we learned about the way of life of the people here. They move with their cattle and the seasons to higher or lower grounds. None of the houses has a shower or toilet, they (and us) all use the general one.

When we wanted to leave in the morning, finally we were quite early for a change, Klaas noticed the fuel bottle of our stove was gone. We had asked if it was safe to leave the bags on the motorbikes and they assured us with a “Yes, we have camera surveillance.”
Bummer, this is really inconvenient, because the bottle belongs to the stove and now it would be useless. It would be difficult to find another one around here.
But our host started making some phone calls. First he wanted to see the videos of the camera’s. It was a Friday, so nobody picked up the phone. He called the head office, but it would take a few hours to get the right person. Meanwhile, the Lithuanian family was waiting with us to pay their bill and leave, and a German woman joined us for a chat. Not all conversations with people we meet are interesting for us, of course, but this one got better and better. When I told her what we were waiting for, she asked me “Is it a red bottle and does it look dangerous?” Yes! She had seen some kids walking around with it the night before and a man took it from them.
Our host had a clue, good thing it was a small village. He called the man, who told him he gave the bottle to somebody else. He called the somebody else, who kept the bottle in his house, only this man was not there. But he called his son and after a few minutes a small motorbike arrived with a guy and our red bottle. Amazing.
We shook hands, let people take some more selfies and left for Kerman. Along the way we went to see the Rageh canyon.
Our trip towards the Pakistan border had started. From now on it wouldn’t be too much fun anymore, just functional riding. In Bam we visited the citadel, just before sunset. This was quite an impressive site, because of its size. Our last stop in Iran was Zahedan. We could already see quite a difference in the way people dress and we hardly saw any women in the streets. I didn’t feel comfortable, but our host told us, the people dress traditionally, but think modern. That afternoon I started thinking about our few weeks in Iran. I would have loved to stay longer, but seasons don’t wait for us, so we want to move on as well.


We left Iran with mixed feelings. It’s a beautiful country in terms of nature, the ancient and rich culture, the music, the sound of the language, the delicious food and its sincerely friendly people. This is the country you get to see if you look through the eyes of the bus tourist.
What made travelling in this country intense is all the conversations we had with different people, who didn’t choose to be born in a country with such strict rules. People who have to spend their lives in a kind of open-air prison. They can not dress the way they want, not behave the way they feel like, not do the things they dream about.
We talked about the frustrations and stress they face every day, because of everything that is forbidden. They can hardly build on anything. Before they realise, what they thought they had, evaporates before their eyes. Even their own home is not always safe and the “rules” can change at any time, without a given explanation.
It must be so difficult to live in these circumstances, without a solid base you can build your life on. Without the assurance of having a more relaxed life in the future. An unfair game of power is going on. And all they can do is live by the day, and hope that something will improve during their lifetime. All we can do is hope with them as hard as we can.

I didn’t sleep well for a few nights. Feeling sorry for all these fantastic people. Knowing we had to leave them behind. But I also felt some kind of guilt. Us poking their eyes out with our adventure, enjoying the country they hate so much. Me as a woman on a motorbike, riding around in a country where women are not allowed to do this. Once again it made me realise how lucky I am I was born in The Netherlands.

Originally posted: November 14th 2019

Iran, country of mixed feelings Meer lezen »

Kyrgyzstan, expect the unexpected

No power. We’re in the capital of Uzbekistan and the power went down. Already for half an hour. Nobody really seems to care. It’s a normal thing in Central Asia. One of the normal things around here.
As normal as not having a toilet inside your house. Or running water. And without running water, also no hot shower of course. And when they do have running water inside the house, there’s no guarantee it will be hot anyway. Or the pressure will be enough to get wet in the first place. There you are, completely ready and naked to step into a warm and firm jet of water. Or that’s what it’s like in your fantasy. You open the tap, hoping for the water to be warm quickly. And nothing happens. At all. Bummer.

Ah, the lights went back on. And so did wifi. I’m surprised how often we do have wifi. Sometimes even in places where they don’t have a fixed phone line. Everybody owns a mobile phone. It’s funny to see the shepherds on their horse or mule, with dirty old clothes, looking like they came out of another world, but talking into a smartphone.

About a week ago, we were still in Kyrgyzstan, we did a hike and afterwards I wanted to take a shower at our guesthouse. In theory this was possible, because they built a small bathroom with a boiler in the garden. Especially for the guests. Next to the toilet, somewhere in the back of the garden. They dig a big hole, cover it with planks, or sometimes concrete, with a small hole in the middle to aim for. They build some kind of walls around it, with available material, and a roof, and put a bin inside for the paper. And with a little bit of luck they provide water, so you can flush. Or wash your hands. I’m still not sure what to use it for… It’s either in a lemonade bottle, a kettle, or a plastic watering can.
Back to the shower. It crossed my mind to try the tap first, before taking off my clothes, as I was already getting a little bit cold. But I didn’t and so I got a bit disappointed soon. I didn’t shower the day before and could use one. So I put my clothes back on and told the hostess no water came out of the tap. She was surprised and apologised shamefully and told me to wait 10 minutes. I thought she had to turn a switch or something and I had to wait for the water to get warm. I did have to wait for the water to get warm, as she put a kettle on the stove. When she came to get me she was carrying a bucket with a really big spoon inside and we walked to the shower. She put the bucket inside the bathroom and finally I understood this was my shower. I asked to be sure and was laughing at my own silliness.
But, I have to admit, I enjoyed this experience. In the end I was clean and warm. And as I didn’t know how much water was available, I only used half the bucket, which the lady was pleasantly surprised about. I told her smiling “cheap shower” and she apologised again.

Kyrgyzstan, land of nomadic people. Land of shepherds and yurts and horses, cold water, lakes and mountains. Lots of mountains. And they all look different. And amazing.
Monday the 12th of August we entered the country. Our hostel in Osh was close to Dolce Vita restaurant and so we (still with Bert and Roberto) spoiled ourselves with pizza, pasta, steak and white wine that night. This was delicious after weeks of old bread, noodle soup and lots of tea, cola and water.
Unfortunately Klaas was pretty ill the next day so after buying some fresh vitamins in the supermarket we pretty much stayed in the room the rest of the day. To our surprise Friedrich showed up that afternoon and in the evening he took us out for dinner as a thank you to Bert and Roberto for getting him through Bartang Valley safely. It was a fun night, except for the fact that Klaas was in bed.
We could use some more rest after the Pamir Highway and I didn’t mind having another quiet day at the hostel. I created order in the photo chaos on the laptop and in the evening we went out for dinner with four other motorbikers. It was another fun night with good food.
But then I got bored. We still needed a map of the Stan countries and I went to look for it, armed with my photo camera. Osh isn’t a really inspiring city, but in the end I took some nice pictures in a park. And I didn’t find a map.
On Friday Klaas felt fit enough to go to the garage for the maintenance we had planned. We both got a new rear tire and fresh engine oil. We did some cleaning and greasing and socialized with the other travelers who were working on their motorbikes. In the evening we met most of them again at Dolce Vita.
We were about to leave Sunday morning and start to enjoy Kyrgyzstan, but the evening before Klaas saw my tire was put on backwards. Silly mistake, I should have checked at the garage. On Sunday the garage was closed, so we had to wait until Monday. Bummer. I tried to make it a useful day after all by gluing the soles of my motorcycle boots. They had let go in the burning Tadzjik sun.
So finally, after a week in Osh we started to put our stuff on the motorbikes, but this time I didn’t feel well at all. We still went back to the garage and while they put my tire on the right way, I got rid of my breakfast. I felt slightly better afterwards, so we took off. We drove until Jalalabad, where we knew the asphalt would soon end. We found a place with a really big garden and got treated with fresh fruit and green tea. In the evening we had a nice conversation with the owner of the house. He’d worked for a Swiss company and spoke English very well. We learned some more about the country and their traditions.

The next morning we had to climb the 3000 m Kaldamo pass. We really enjoyed the fantastic wide and mountainous views and tried not to hit any sheep, goat or cow along the way. We succeeded and spent the night in the tent in a river valley.
This day I expected to see asphalt. As I wrote somewhere, we travel to expect the unexpected. But sometimes you just don’t! Boy was I disappointed. And mad. The washboard road was even worse than Pamir. The motorbike bounces in all directions and the vibrating sounds travel through your body towards your ears. You can’t see clearly either and that’s not just because of dust. The rear wheel loses grip all the time and just turns around without accelerating the bike. To make it even worse they put gravel on the washboards. A nice and thick layer, which makes you feel like you’re riding on ice. The front and back of the bike seem to completely try to find their own way. And that’s quite scary actually. And it drains the energy out of you fast, if it lasts too long. From the corners of your eyes you see fractions of beautiful pictures, but all you really see is ridges and gravel.
So we had no choice but to stop and catch our breaths every once in a while and to enjoy the views. Finally we made it to Baetov at the end of the day.
On Thursday the 22nd we went for Tash Rabat. Again over an unpaved pass, some dry river beds and gorgeous surroundings. At one point, riding standing on the pegs, I felt something slightly touching my hand. I thought it was weird for a rock to jump up that high, and saw the handguard was still in place, and my phone as well. It took a few moments to realize my mirror was also sick of all the bumps. Klaas was so kind to go back and try to find it for me. And he did. After a visit to the 15th? century caravanserai Tash Rabat and dinner, we made ourselves comfortable around the stove in our yurt. Trying to read was rather difficult though, as the moths really liked the lighted screen of my e-reader and turned the pages before I wanted them to.
After breakfast and some talking with Polish guys on motorbikes we left for Naryn. Luckily this was an easy ride and in the afternoon we made an appointment for Saturday, at the CBT office. This is short for Community Based Tourism and they have offices all around Kyrgyzstan. They function as a tourist info centre and also help to get the money to the right people by organising tours, selling locally made souvenirs and helping to arrange accommodation.
But the Saturday morning also didn’t go as expected. We heard a lot of no’s.
It started with: “Did you sleep well?” NO. Nice breakfast? NO. We saw body massage offered on the message board of our pension. So I asked if it was possible that evening. NO. And because CBT had phoned if we could stay at this place, let’s ask if we can for sure stay two nights. Good thing we did, because the answer was NO. And we had to leave for our appointment in five minutes. Now what?
We packed our bags and could leave them to pick them up later. So finally a yes. Now let’s hurry to the CBT office. Only three minutes late, I wasn’t really surprised to not see our taxi yet. But there was a girl in front of the office. “Did you book horse riding for today?” Yes we did. NOt possible today. Because a lot of rain fell that night, the waterfall and river would be too big and dangerous.
Luckily this CBT has wifi and real coffee, so we sat down inside for a while. In the meanwhile they had booked us a new place for two nights, and I downloaded a citywalk. A guy from the office took us to our new place and from there we started the citywalk. We learned a few things about the city, which was nice. And I repaired my fallen off mirror. In the evening we ate a really good shashlik in a yurt.
On Sunday morning, back to CBT. Again, our booked ride wasn’t possible, because it was still raining in the mountains. But this time they offered us an alternative and after a cup of tea we left for a small village in a valley at about an hour drive. When we arrived the guide was already there and he went to get horses from all corners of the village. We climbed our horses and took off, together with a young guy who came with us in the car. He was our translator and every now and then he told us something about the country, or environment, or Manas, the country hero. We had lunch next to the river, between the trees when a wedding couple arrived. We had to take pictures with them and have some of the traditional bread, but I’m not sure they really liked it. In the afternoon we were spoiled with soup, tea and sweets in a yurt camp, where the son of our taxi driver had his wedding party.
On the way back we had a different driver with a different car. He stopped twice to check on his front right tire and by the third time he finally decided it was leak. It appeared his spare also didn’t contain enough air, but luckily a flat tire is no exception in this area. Soon enough a car drove by with a pump. And we made it back to Naryn safely and before dark.
Monday we left Naryn and went to Son Kul lake. Looking for some quietness and fresh air we climbed another pass, which was quite difficult. Steep, rocky with a lot of loose stones and about 50 switchbacks we made it without dropping the bike. I was proud of myself. It was hard work, but I’m finally starting to learn I guess. We drove about halfway around the lake and found a nice place a little up the hill, to put our tent. In the distance we could see the horses drink from the lake in the setting sun. Amazing. Colours started changing and I walked around a bit, looking for nice pictures. “Spying” on the nomads and the cattle around the smoking yurts.
After a silent night and a quiet morning with a book I left for a hike into the mountains. I really enjoyed it. Cows and horses all around, a cowboy here and there. Being on my own again for a little while, enjoying the environment and finally, after deciding I climbed enough for the day, my book. I had just put away my camera and laid down to start reading, when a really big bird of prey came circling right above my head. I noticed because I could hear the wind flow over its wings. So it was quite close by, probably to see if I would be a nice afternoon snack. I quickly and carefully tried to get my camera from my bag, but of course the bird took off before I was ready.
The next day we left the wonderful lake and after four hours of off-road riding we hit the asphalt road and went to Bishkek. We chose a hostel and got a dorm room where I thought I recognized a diary lying on the floor. These shiny things are getting popular is what I thought, because it couldn’t be Martina’s, could it? She was in Mongolia?? Apparently she wasn’t anymore as we bumped into her a few minutes later. What a coincidence! So we enjoyed each other’s company for the evening and she left to fly home in the middle of the night.
In Bishkek we had some visa missions. We had already applied for the Iran visas and had to pick them up at the embassy. This was an easy job. We took a taxi, I covered my hair with a towel, we got a piece of paper, had to walk to the bank to pay, had to walk back to the embassy and half an hour later the visas were in our possession. Now we could apply for the Turkmenistan transit visa. Because they want to be sure you leave their country, you have to be able to show evidence of your transit plans. And so we did on Friday morning. We took another taxi, were allowed inside a gate, handed over some forms and photos at a small window, got another form to fill in, and a bill to pay at a bank 2 km from the embassy. We went back to the embassy, gave all the papers they needed and now we had to wait. For a week, or two. Nobody knew. Maybe we had to get the visas in Tashkent, maybe we could take the email confirmation to the border. It changes all the time…
As glueing my motorcycle boots failed miserably I had to look for an alternative in the afternoon. The motorcycle shop I went to told me they order their boots in Europe, so that didn’t help me much. Luckily someone we met before told me about a good outdoor shop and they had a nice pair of hiking boots in my (small) size.

The 31st of August was Independence Day in Bishkek, and Azema from the hostel organized a day with traditional food preparing, Boorsok (bread) and Plov (rice and meat) and tasting Kumis (fermented mare’s milk) and Maksym (fermented grains drink) and of course Vodka. In the afternoon we went into the city, to see some parks and after dinner we went to see a concert and fireworks at Ala Too square. It was a fun day with the mostly French speaking other guests and Azema’s friend who came to help with translation.

After five nights in Bishkek it was time to get moving again. We drove about 200 cold, but interesting kilometres and ended up in a motel in Suusamyr. Where they put on the generator to have some light in the evening. Again, no running water, no heating, and no inside toilet, but this time, some kind of sweet red wine. Which did the heating job for a while.
Via a few detours and a hike in a walnut forest in Arslanbob we eventually ended up in Osh again. At first we weren’t going all the way back to Osh, because we wanted to go to Tashkent more directly. But because of some neighbourly issues they closed several border crossings between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, or they’re only open for locals or travelers on foot or by bicycle. But now I was happy with this detour. When riding into town, slowly with all the traffic, and hot, my engine started to stutter and stalled a few times. After a little cooling down it was fine again. So we went to Muztoo (garage) again, to get our air filters cleaned and oiled.
A week after we applied for the Turkmenistan visa we arrived in Tashkent. We didn’t have email confirmation yet, so we waited for a little while and explored Tashkent a bit. We visited the bazaar, which is always interesting in a different way, and also the train museum, which Klaas really liked.
Thursday the 12th we received good news when Klaas called the Turkmenistan embassy in Bishkek, they approved our visa application! Yes! Happy about this, because now we can finally go to Iran, without having to take planes, trains, boats or whatever to get out of the Stan countries.
So we left Tashkent and went to Samarkand where we had some parts for the motorbikes delivered at Bahodir hostel by our friend Kees. We were welcomed back with big smiles at the hostel, but they didn’t have our package. Now what?
We knew by the tracking code it had to be in Samarkand, so the search started. First online with DHL, but that didn’t help me much further on Friday night. On Saturday morning I phoned the post office, but the answering machine said they were closed. So I got on the motorbike and went to the office anyway. I already knew where it was because it was the same office from where I sent a birthday present to my niece Sophie, a few months ago. When I got there I had to wait for a while, because the lady behind the counter was preparing a package. I thought she was done when everything was in the box, but I was mistaken. She went back into the storage room and came out with a piece of cotton cloth. She fitted it around the box and again went back into the storage room. I could hardly believe my eyes when she came back and had sewn the cotton, put the box in it and sewed the open side by hand! When the wax stamps had to dry, she finally put her attention to me. I showed her all the information I had on the phone, tracking code and my name and things like that. She told me the package was still in Tashkent. As her colleague was walking around with carbon paper I don’t think I need to tell you she didn’t have a computer on her desk to put in the tracking code. But I definitely wanted her to try a little better. When I started to think I wouldn’t get any further here, since my Russian is only a tiny bit better since I left home, she picked up the phone and started talking. In the meanwhile I was desperately trying to find the address it had been sent to, I forgot to note this down. But then I heard my first name and the street name I also recognized. She started smiling and at that point an English speaking man came in and explained to me I had to go to another office, which was new and not on the map yet. They would wait for me, because at one o’clock their lunch break would normally start. I was happy the package wasn’t in Tashkent after all, said many thanks to the helpful people and hurried to the edge of town. After a little search in the area, two schoolgirls pointed me in the right direction and when I entered the small building another lady started smiling while saying my name. After showing my passport and signing a small form I got the parts and at 1.02 pm I was back at the motorbike. Funny detail, apparently tonight someone from the post office (on a Sunday night??) handed over a piece of paper at the hostel saying where and when I could pick up the package. No need for that anymore.
Yesterday we got the email confirmation from the Turkmenistan embassy, so nothing will keep us in Uzbekistan any longer. It’s time to move on and add some new countries to our already long list! On to new and unexpected adventures. But not every day…

Originally posted: September 16th 2019

Kyrgyzstan, expect the unexpected Meer lezen »

Iran or no Iran? That’s the question.

The last blog ended in Göreme, Turkey. Wow, that seems like ages ago. It’s only been three weeks! I’ll tell you what happened in the meantime.

After Göreme we took an adventurous route north-east. While climbing the roads narrowed and the asphalt got worse. Clouds packed together and the sky became darker. We reached a small mountain village and lightning started flashing. But still no rain. So we continued. The views were stunning, but the road turned to gravel and got me scared a little bit. Not much time to enjoy the view either, as I had to pay attention to the steep and short curves. The storm was chasing us and the gravel was getting deeper and harder to ride. At one point, Klaas had already passed a difficult bumpy, washed away part, I stopped and took a few breaths, to collect some courage. Then I left. I was almost at the end of the bad part, but I was watching the rocks I didn’t want to hit, instead of watching where I did want to go. The front wheel hit the rocks and the steer got pushed to the left. The bike fell and so did I. I knew this was going to happen… Now my mirror had broken, my windscreen was in pieces, as was the lid of my tool-tube, my phone had jumped out of its mount and was lying face down on the rocks. Things were shattered all over the place and to make things worse, it started raining cats and dogs. 

I shouted at the bike, to Klaas and to myself (pay attention to the order 🙂 ). “What the hell are we doing? We don’t have the skills to do this”. I even said to Klaas, let’s put up our tent here, I’m not going to move any further today. Of course this was nonsense, being in a storm, on a rocky mountain, we should get the hell out of there. Luckily Klaas remained calm, as usual. So we picked up the bike, bits and pieces, Klaas rode the bike back over the bumpy part, we put on our rain gear and went down the mountain again. You can watch an impression of this ride on https://youtu.be/rvzQYeMW_pI 

This day we had ridden 200 kilometers, but only moved 76. I licked my wounds at a hotel. Luckily nothing essential was damaged, neither on me, or the bike.

The next morning we took a safer route, a beautiful mountain pass again with nice curves. In the afternoon, looking for a campsite, we met Norbert, a German with a BMW F800GS. We ended up in a pension together and talked all evening, drinking çay (tea), instead of beer, which wasn’t available. After breakfast we said goodbye. He went to Georgia and we went to Trabzon Moto Garaj, to try and get a replacement windscreen. Because without my hearing would be gone by the end of this year. 

The guys at the garage were very helpful. I got my windscreen and they also put some other pieces back into place on mine and Klaas’ motorbike. In the afternoon we visited the Hagia Sophia church, built in the 13th century, and just before dark we put up our tent in the garden of a rafting company. 

Thursday the 20th, the day my niece Isa became a teenager, we aimed to camp in Hatila Valley National Park, near the border of Georgia. We had read this was possible, but when we arrived at the entrance, after a whole lot of switchbacks and climbing about a kilometer in height, the guard told us this wasn’t possible. Now what? We didn’t like Artvin, the village we came through on the way up, so we continued towards Georgia. Almost immediately I regretted this decision, because of roadworks. I don’t mind a little gravel anymore, but this was quite a thick layer and it went on and on. Being disappointed the camping didn’t work out, this didn’t help to get my mood back. After a while the surface improved and so did our speed, but there weren’t many sleeping possibilities. We ended up in a small family motel, when the sun had already started to set. 

After mom approved Klaas and me sleeping in a double bed (are you married?), the boys helped carry our luggage to the room and mom made us a delicious dinner, which we ate in the garden. And we managed to make a phone call to congratulate Isa on her birthday.

Friday we cruised through the Turkish mountains, over another pass of about 2500 meters and we took the gamble of another short (15 km) off-road ride. In the middle of nowhere, with wide views over the valley, we cooked our previously bought dinner for lunch. https://youtu.be/7fEj0W_OFOY 

With our stomachs filled up we went for the Georgian border, which was an easy one. 

In Akhaltsikhe we stayed in a guesthouse, as campsites are getting more scarce. We took a short break, because we’d been riding five days in a row. It shouldn’t start to look like work right? And we had time. 

Initially we weren’t planning on going to Georgia. We wanted to go from Turkey to Iran right away. But just before we left home Iran started enforcing an old law which meant motorcycles over 250cc couldn’t enter the country (we have 660). While in Turkey we had read messages of people who did get in and things might change within the near future. Our visa wouldn’t run out until July 9th, so we took a detour and kept our fingers crossed.

Heading east we visited some castles, monasteries and churches, which we jokingly have started to call “a pile of old rocks”. It’s kinda funny, because they’re all called the biggest, the first, the oldest, the most special of the town, region, country, or even the world. I always wonder, how do they know?

Longing for some rest in nature (that’s why we went to the national park a few days earlier) we went up the Georgian Military Road, also called Stepantsminda. It was supposed to be a beautiful road towards Russia, into the Caucasus mountains. It was also the most important route, which meant it was quite a busy one. And people were in a hurry to get away from where they were. Sometimes I wished I didn’t have mirrors, so I didn’t have to see what was chasing my tale. 

But we made it alive, without damage and indeed the route became more impressive with each daredevil that raced by us. We stayed at a campsite in Kazbegi, and each morning we opened our tent we had an amazing view on Kazbek mountain. One of the highest mountains in Georgia and 5047 meters above sea level.

We stayed for a couple of nights and did a hike to the Gergeti Trinity church. It was a beautiful hike into the mountains, in the company of a dog. She joined us in town and walked with us all the way up to the church. Later we understood it wasn’t because she liked us so much, but because she had a lot of friends up there. 

On the way down from Stepantsminda we had a few turistic stops. In Sno we watched some giant sculptures of faces. We have no clue if these are old or new and how they got there. Not really impressive. Further down the road we stopped at Gudauri view point. It’s a friendship monument between Russia and Georgia. I wonder what this is worth now, because the day we entered Georgia, riots took place in Tbilisi. Demonstrators think Russia has too much influence in the Georgian government. 

When we returned to the motorcycles, we got our first interference with the police. A cop with a smug face was handing out parking tickets. We missed a sign and weren’t allowed to park next to the road. Luckily the fine was only € 3,- per motorbike, so our budget is not ruined.


In Georgia we went from left to ride and north to south. We’d seen forests and mountains, now we were headed for the desert to watch the David Gareja monastery. Another pile of old rocks and it’s also partially built inside the rock face. The ride took us way longer than expected, the last 15 kilometres was a bad road. The actual monastery didn’t impress me that much, but the view of the surroundings all the more. While getting closer, everything went from green to yellow, with 50 shades of brown, orange and purple. On the way back, the sun started to set and the colours got even more intense. https://youtu.be/paUFztVKilA 

In Udabno we found a hostel where we could pitch our tent. At the bar we found Stefano, an Italian cyclist we passed by and waved at on the way to the monastery. We drank beer together and had nice conversations about travelling and life. Klaas and him were kidding about who would be first at the Pamir Highway. Maybe we’ll meet again someday, who knows?

The next day we went east again. Lagodekhi was our next stop. A national park with a campsite close by. We couldn’t find the campsite, so we went and asked at the information centre of the park. Inside was a really friendly English speaking guy, who told me it was his life mission to help make tourists happy, because once he was pointed in the right direction by a London bus driver. I wish my mind worked that simple… He spoke a lot about safety when camping and about the facilities of the centre. He showed me around, we could camp in the garden and use the toilets. It took me at least half an hour. In the meantime Klaas was getting soaked because of a rain shower while guarding the motorbikes. 

All I asked was if he knew where the campsite was. So I tried again: “Do you know where this campsite is? We need a shower and here is no shower”. He took me outside and started explaining. It didn’t make things more clear, but some park rangers were taking a break and offered to show us. So I thanked the guy and promised with a smile we would be back the next day for a hike. 

We followed the guys in the car and after a bumpy forest path, through water, mud, and over rocks and roots we were finally at the campsite! We’d been really close before. 

Then we started to take a closer look. It was a beautiful quiet spot, on the foot of the hill, in between trees and a stream running by. Perfect, except for the fact that nobody was there and everything was locked! No, why!? 

We needed to make new plans and we ended up in a guesthouse again. We didn’t do the hike either, because we could only stay one night in the guesthouse. Our next plan also seemed to fail at first. We got up real early and went to the farmers market. I’d been looking forward to this ever since we came into Georgia and we’d been stretching our visit until Sunday, the day the market took place. 

It was only a short ride, of about 15 kilometres, but the closer we got, the more rain started to fall from the sky. And I wanted to take my time walking around and take some pictures. I was already getting cranky again… Now what? It was seven o’clock in the morning and we didn’t have breakfast yet. But this time I was determined. We put on our rain gear and started walking. With the camera. Only a little while later the sun started to show itself and the rain stopped. Yes! 

The market was a real spectacle. They sold everything. Clothing, shoes, beds, carparts, fruit, vegetables and herbs, pigs, fish and birds and a lot more. The place was loaded with overloaded Lada’s, vans, horse carriages and motorcycles with sidecar. It looked like an ant’s nest, where everything was moving, carrying stuff and trying to get somewhere else, preferably using the horn.

We walked around for a few hours, took pictures, ate breakfast and bought lunch and then left for the Azerbaijan border. Our visit to the market became successful after all.

We arrived in Asteriya hostel in Shaki around one o’clock where we immediately were invited by a Polish couple for lunch. Ruslan, the owner took us for a short walk and we were shown how to make Qutab. It’s a pancake filled with meat, herbs, or cheese. We all chose one with meat and one with herbs. We also got traditional tea. The Polish couple spoke Russian with Ruslan, the Polish man explained to us in English and Ruslan used Google translate to speak with us in English. It worked and we had a lot of fun together, even though we only just met.

The second round, they asked if we wanted more and we all chose herbs again. Afterwards we were asked by the restaurant people why we didn’t choose meat. It was supposed to be really good and they didn’t understand our choice. Funny, because we did like the meat, but because of the lack of vegetables lately we chose different.

Then Ruslan got us a taxi, probably a friend of his, and we all crawled into an Opel Astra station wagon. We barely knew each other and there we were, four adults piled up together in the back seat. On the road to who knows where. Then the cops showed up, doing checks at a crossing. Seat belts at the front seats were suddenly fastened and we had to hide a little bit. How?? All we could do was laugh. We passed the cops safely and went further, on a bumpy road, into the mountains. We ended up at a surreal forestry place. We were welcomed by papa Smurf and Smurfin, standing on top of toiletry buildings near the gate. It was a garden with different terrasses, we saw bridges and dolphins. We could walk around until our tea was made and we were called by a guy who took us to a building, while screaming towards it. A girl came out, told us to take off our shoes, and then she showed us around. It looked like a hotel, and they took us to the top floor. There we had to pose on the balcony, in front of a wonderful view. And so we did. We smiled and were polite, but all the time we were thinking, what do they want? We already have a place to stay?

We thanked them and told them it was a beautiful place and then we left for tea. 

When we went back to the hostel Ruslan told us we had to split up into two taxis, because of the cops. A few hundred metres before the crossing we stopped and we were put into a different car. Our driver liked to race, so we were back at the hostel in no time. In the meantime we started fantasising about newspaperheads, of a Polish couple who mysteriously disappeared in Azerbaijan. We didn’t really have a clue where we’d been, so what to tell the investigators?? Luckily this wasn’t the case, as they showed up at the hostel not long after we did.

In the afternoon, two Dutch cycling girls showed up, together with Ian, an English cyclist. And we met Rogier, a Dutch guy travelling with a Landcruiser with a rooftop tent. 

Lucjan, the Polish guy, said to me jokingly: “We now have backpackers (themselves), cyclists, motorcyclists and a car driver. What will be next?” I told him it would be someone on a horse, but I was wrong. A Swiss couple showed up, with quite a big van. Together we went to see local guitar players at a “festival”. It only lasted half an hour, I was just getting in the mood. But afterwards we had dinner together and it was a really fun night. Who would have thought, when we woke up that morning at six o’clock, we would have such a fun day?

The next day we did necessary laundry, even our motorcycle gear and the inside of our helmets. In the afternoon we visited a Caravanserai where we had lunch. During the “silk road period” these were places where the traitors and travellers could rest their camels and themselves. In the evening we had dinner together with Rogier, and Ruslan showed us how to eat Piti. Not my favourite meal by the way. It’s an earthenware pot with soup, you can see the fat shaking on top of it. After eating the broth with bread, you have to cut the fat through the leftovers, which is (sheep)meat, peas and potatoes.

On the second of July we walked to the Sheki Khan summer palace where we took a guided tour. Impressive how much attention they put into the details. Making the building took 2 years (from 1797), decorating it took 8 years!

In the afternoon, again we were taken by Ruslan. This time with a French cycling couple, and Rogier. He took his own car, because he would go to Georgia afterwards, and we got into two taxis. We had kebab lunch (different kinds of grilled meat) at a duck lake (although I heard and saw more frogs), about a half hour drive from Shaki. Rogier knew he had to go get diesel, but he didn’t have many Manat’s left and wanted a gas station where he could use his bankcard. So after two stops we continued to the restaurant, where the others were already waiting for us. When we finished lunch he tried to start the car, but it wouldn’t go anymore. Bummer. Now we had to go get diesel first. Luckily we had the same race driver as two days before and within half an hour Rogier was good to go. 

We said goodbye to each other and the next day it was time for us to say goodbye to Ruslan. He promised to send me Halvasi (typical Sheki baklava like cake) for the whole family once we get home. 

On the way to Baku we first passed the French cyclist couple and a little further we saw Ian and his girls again. We filmed each other and had a short chat. https://youtu.be/C9f1TQxnSGw

In Baku we stayed within the walls of old town. It was like a labyrinth and I had fun walking around and trying to find my way to the supermarket in the morning. 

Getting closer to the Iranian border, we stopped and had a look at the petroglyphs and mud volcanoes of Gobustan. On the 7th we tried to get into Iran via Astara, but they refused to let the motorbikes in, so we went back to Baku. At this moment (10-07) we are almost ready to go to the ferry which will bring us to Kazakhstan. We’ve been waiting here and phoning the harbour twice a day. Today they told us to come. It might still take until tomorrow before the ship leaves, so we’ll probably sleep in the outdoors tonight. All part of the adventure I guess. 

Originally posted: July 10th 2019

Iran or no Iran? That’s the question. Meer lezen »

Turkey and a bit of Greece. Twice.

It’s about time we tell you a little more about the progress of our journey. We are in Turkey since the second of June. In Greece we didn’t do anything special. We took some nice winding roads through the mountains and enjoyed the Greek food. And we bought a GoPro.

We entered Turkey at Ipsala and rode to the ferry of Gelibolu-Lapseki. When we were about 2 kilometers away from the ferry we had to wait at a traffic light and I saw a man on a scooter coming from the left. I think he caught my eye because of his flapping, curly, grey hair and big mustache. I liked his appearance.

When our light turned green, I suddenly saw the traffic jam on the other side of the crossing and I realized it would take a while to get to the ferry. As out of nowhere this long haired man on his scooter was next to me, asking “Feribot? Feribot?” First thing I thought was, “What do you want? I don’t have Turkish Liras yet.” But he asked once again and I said yes.

“Come” and he waved his arm. So we turned around in the middle of the crossing and followed him through all kinds of narrow streets and alleys. A few minutes later we were in front of the traffic jam. And after he spoke to some guys we were allowed to come through to the ticket office. He shook Klaas’ hand and waved me goodbye. Within 10 minutes we were on a moving boat, as we were the last few to enter. Good first experience in Turkey!

In Lapseki we found a hotel where nobody spoke English. Google translate makes life a lot easier. And a little less adventurous… We went out for a late dinner, because of Ramadan. We had delicious kebab and köfte while we watched people walking or driving by, in preparation of their dinner. Singing from the mosque and a loud bang at the square were the signals for the people to start smoking again and enjoy their meal, or a cup of tea. When we came back at the hotel, the ladies of the reception, and a few other people were having tea and watching a funny show on television. They asked us to join them and so we did. It was a little awkward because we couldn’t really speak with each other, but again a nice experience.

Heading towards Pamukkale we went south, again via bumpy minor roads. And we stayed a few nights at a campsite next to the ocean. I was totally prepared for a swim the next day, put my bikini on after a cold shower. And then it started pouring rain. I had to put a jacket on, as my nose was starting to get cold. But at least I could tell my dad I wore my bikini (which I had mistakenly locked up in the storage box and had to go get out the night before we left). Instead we used part of the day to figure out how to show pictures on the website, in a nice way. It’s more difficult than you’d think. But we’re working on it.

To cover some distance we took the highway towards Selçuk. Where we stayed at a really nice place, called Atilla’s Getaway. It is close to Efesus, which we visited the next day. But not after we cooled down in the pool! Efesus is an impressive Roman harbour- and trade city of at least 3500 years old.

In the evenings we ate together with the other guests, what ‘mama’ cooked for us. It was really nice. And we sat at the campfire later on with marshmallows and nice stories and travel experiences to tell one another. The first night we were in company of two elderly British couples, whom were traveling Turkey by themselves, a Belgian woman who lived in Turkey for 20 years already and took a brake, and a family of three, with their son who lived in Ankara. He was an American Turk, she was a Puerto Rican with a Chinese / Russian name. Can you believe it? The next evening a French girl joined Klaas, me and the family. The others had left. She asked us if we had already met crazy people. Not really luckily, just a few crazy drivers. But we did have some funny and other nice experiences along the way.

The very first day on the road, we were having tea in the afternoon, in Germany. The lady of the cafe asked us “Wohin fahren Sie, Niederlande?” (Where are you going, The Netherlands?). I answered “Nein, Asia”. “Aah, viel Spaß” was all she replied with (Have fun).

Riding through a small village in Romania. People watching us, surprised looks, what are they doing here? Children stop riding their bicycles and try to make us use the throttle a little extra, or they just wave at us. Garmin send us up a curvy road. With a dead end. At least, that’s what I’m thinking. Don’t want to do 30 km off-road at the end of the day, being tired and hungry already. And without being sure we even reach the campsite. So we turn around and go back to the main road. Seeing the same people watching us again, like we’re some sort of attraction passing by. Then we see a horse and carriage with a family in it. It seems like they just came out of a movie, some 50 years ago. And all of a sudden the roles turned around and we’re watching an “attraction”.

We saw someone walking his cow in Romania.

We also saw the Connexxion city bus to Almere at a shopping centre in Romania.

In Timișoara, Romania, we stayed at a hostel. The host, Raul offered us a local drink, which his father had made of plums. Klaas en me took the glasses, looked at each other and said “Proost!”. Raul started laughing and told us not to use that word in Romania again, as it means stupid, or idiot…

An outdoor showering experience in Romania: standing on a wood pallet, in between four chipwood walls. Which barely reached my shoulders and started at my knees. My underwear and towel hung over them. No other place to put them, hopefully they would stay dry. It felt like people walking on the road up the hill, could see straight into the cubicle. I felt naked. Which I was. When I was done showering, I quickly dried myself off, hoping not to get cold. Carefully balancing not to get my feet in between the wooden planks. I pulled my underpants from the wall to put it back on, but it got stuck on a splinter. In the meanwhile, I was enjoying myself. I just had a really nice hot shower with one of the best views from a “bathroom” ever. And I felt lucky to be there.

Having dinner in a historical village in Bulgaria, a VW Golf passes by, with two goats standing in the backseat, looking out the window.

In Greece we were trying to get lunch in a small village. The waiter was painting the terrace and he told us kindly the cook wouldn’t be there for another ten minutes. We know Greek ten minutes, so we ordered fresh orange juice and waited. And waited a little more, enjoying the shade. It took about 15 minutes before he brought our drinks. Then the guy asks us, “Would you like a Greek salad?” Yes we would like that. To our surprise, he asks, like he doesn’t know what goes in the Greek salad: “Do you want tomato, do you want olives, do you want feta?” It took a while, but we had a good salad with toast and it looked really Greek.

Riding in Bodrum, Turkey, getting overtaken by a scooter, the driver says to me: “Zo, jij bent een eind van huis!” (Wow, you’re a long way from home).

A Turkish man was trying to convince me with a smile to change my motorbike for his scooter. I kindly rejected his offer.

Back to the story. In Selçuk I started thinking and asked Klaas, when my dad (and his brother and wife) was going on holiday and where he was going. Because I always forget the useful details. It turned out to be Kos and he would arrive the next day. Looking at the map I saw it was only a day’s drive away. We started looking into ferries and thought it would be fun to surprise him. So I send my sister a message, if she had more details for us and she send me his flight number. We decided to ride to Bodrum and see if it was possible to get a ferry. Garmin took us on the fast route to Bodrum. Something went wrong, because we ended up riding about 20 kilometers off-road. And I mean really off-road… We could have turned around of course, but after 3 kilometer we decided to move on. We kept climbing and climbing and I felt like we were on top of the world. Unfortunately I also felt really down to earth one time, as I dropped the motorbike in a really steep, sandy, rocky hairpin. Luckily everything, including me, stayed in one piece.

Because of this detour we weren’t able to get a ferry that day. The next morning, after extensive border controls and registrations, we arrived on Kos and went for their apartment. Luck was with us as we saw them standing at a bicycle rental, on the side of the road. We hugged and talked for a while, until it was starting to get too hot to stand still. We agreed we would meet again in the afternoon and Klaas and me explored the island together. In the evening we had a few beers together at their apartment and dinner at the oceanside. The next day after lunch we said goodbye to each other and wished them a happy holiday, as Klaas and me had to pack our stuff to be at the ferry on time. We were waved goodbye by the side of the road and again at the ferry. It was really fun to see each other.

The next day we went towards Pamukkale, again in Turkey, as this was on our wish-list. Let me tell you a riddle now. My motorbike has a gas tank of 15 liters. Klaas’ motorbike has a gas tank of 22 liters. Guess who had to help who with an empty tank?

Riding towards Pamukkale we were in need of a gas station. When three were about 15 kilometers away, we stopped by the side of the road, because one of the motorbikes was short on fuel. But no worries, we still had some gas in a little bottle we use for cooking. We were on the move again. Happy we were going to make it. At the first gas station, they told us they were out of fuel. Across the road was number two, also out of fuel. ”Go one kilometer, they have gas”, they said. Okay, we can make that! And we did. But number three also ran out of it. My navigation system and the lady at the gas station told us the next one was going to be in 20 kilometers. One of us was definitely not going to make that! We took of anyway. Only 8 kilometers before the next station Klaas his bike quit again. Yes, finally I had the chance to use my expensive 2 gallon Rotopax gas tank, which was a bitch to mount to the luggage rack (thanks Erik, it’s still holding!)!

I passed Klaas, told him through our intercom headset I’d be back. Fingers crossed I would find fuel, because my tank wouldn’t let me go that far anymore either. Lucky bastard as he is, I also passed something else. In between the gas stations there was 20 kilometers of almost nothing. Maybe a tree, or some bushes for a little shade. But there it was, something that looked like a bus stop! Shade and a bench to sit on while his fuel was being fetched. I was still within reach to be able to tell him and he only had to push the bike about a hundred and fifty meters downhill to get there. Within half an hour I was back with a full gas tank and a full Rotopax and we could return to the gas station together to fill up completely. And I got an ice cream out of this.

On june 11th we got up fairly early and went to see Pamukkale before breakfast, as we thought it would still be kinda quiet. We were wrong… Loads of busses and people were already there, putting their feet in the water and posing for the cameras. It was entertaining to see, but not as beautiful as we thought it would be. In the afternoon I hid in the tent for an enormous thunderstorm, trying to read my book and keeping the water out of the tent at the same time. And Klaas was trying to find a garage to get his broken spoke replaced… He hid at a gas station and got tea and popcorn. The next morning he got an appointment at Nur Motor in Denizli, where they fixed his wheel.

Then we took of towards our next thing on the wish-list, which was the famous Cappadocia and the hot air balloons. It was a really boring ride, but in the afternoon we were rewarded with a beautiful, curvy mountain pas. We had to ride careful though, as lots of cows were walking on the road and they left souvenirs behind as well. The next day we reached Panorama camping Göreme and they chose the name right! Sitting in the open lounge, we can look out on the village, with the strange shaped mountains in which they build houses and churches.

Friday we got up at 4.15u to watch over a hundred hot air balloons take off. At first we didn’t see much, but we could already hear the fans buzzing. All of a sudden I saw these bulbs lying everywhere. And I mean everywhere! It was an amazing show to watch, with the gas burners lighting up different balloons all the time. And then the first one came off the ground and then the next, and the next. We couldn’t keep count. With the sun rising the colors appeared in the landscape and it got more and more beautiful.

At a little before six o’clock we went to bed again, trying to warm up. We slept a little more and later that day we explored the village and the open air museum on foot. And we both got a much needed haircut. Klaas got a real treat, with not only his head done, but also his beard, neck, ears, nose and eyebrows!

Yesterday we had a quiet day at the campsite, enjoying the view every now and then, while trying to get some pictures on the website. Wifi didn’t really work with us though.

This morning we were rudely awakened before six o’clock, by two hot air balloons and their passengers, which landed almost on top of our tent. Or so it felt.

And today we were on the road again, on the way to the unknown…

Things we noticed:

  • Romanians like the Dacia Logan hatchback
  • Turks like the old Fiats and Renaults and cardboard police cars
  • There are a lot of storks in Eastern Europe and Turkey, and I mean, a lot!
  • Cats and dogs are also far from extinction, as are ants, which like crawling on and in our tent and bags.
Original post date: June 16th 2019

Turkey and a bit of Greece. Twice. Meer lezen »

The departure

Hello to my first blog ever! I bet you all expect some adventurous story about the trip so far. Well, I’m gonna have to disappoint you right away. People say the hardest part of the thing we’re doing is actually leaving. Well, been there, done that! Although of course it didn’t go exactly as planned. 

We decided to go on this trip for about a year and a half ago. Since then we’ve been thinking, reading, buying, selling, adjusting and talking about it. In the back of my mind I have had this voice telling me: “Do this now, so you don’t have to do it the last minute!” 

So I did. And even though emptying the house took a little more time than anticipated, and work on the motorbike was never done, or so it felt sometimes, all was going well. And the 1st of May 2019 was slowly getting closer. 

For the last five weeks we didn’t have a house to live in anymore, as we ended the lease contract and we lived with my father. Luckily he was on holiday when we moved in. If he would have seen the house then, he would have died from a heart attack. Because we still had loads of things to sort out. What tools to bring on the bike, and which to use for the last adjustments? So let’s just bring them all, including the workmate. Which clothes to wear the oncoming year, and which on our wedding day? Things that still needed to go to our storage box, bags we needed on the bikes, tyres we needed to change, food and herbs from our kitchen, and so on. Oh, and we still had to sell two cars and a motorbike.

But the pile grew smaller as the date came closer. On April 12th we both had our last day at work. We were spoiled by our colleagues, with presents, surprises and some good fun in a pink dress. The 14th I had my bachelor party (Klaas had already had his two weeks before), which was also good fun, again, although partially, in the pink dress. 

I think by then we had just arranged the catering for the party. Which was the 19th, and also at my dad’s house. He wondered out loud every now and then: “How can you live like this, doing everything at the last moment…?” In our minds it was all at the right time! First things first, then on to the next. 

On the 15th we had a workshop at a jeweler and made our own wedding rings. The guy wasn’t there at the time of the appointment, due to some emergency. But as I said to Klaas, “I’m not going to leave without the rings!” And we didn’t. It was a relaxed and fun day, with beautiful results. 

Then three whole days with nothing planned, before the wedding- and goodbye party. Yeah right. Of course there was some shopping to do, a hairdresser to go to, a small job on the bike in between and sleeping. Because I didn’t want to be exhausted on “the big day”. Which wasn’t the 19th by the way, because this had to be May 1st! 

Still, the 19th was a great day. It started with blue skies and high temperatures. By the way, I’ve never had any thoughts about my wedding day, but if someone would have told me years ago, we would go by train, from the place I was born, I would have laughed at them. But that’s how it went. And it was fine. 

When we made the appointment at the city hall, the guy told us not to expect too much from the ceremony. But we had a nice lady and she made it fun. Afterwards we had lunch with our witnesses and nieces. All was relaxed and gezellig. And sunny!

Back home there was wedding- and goodbye cake, made by my sister, and prosecco and decorations and a little later family and friends and Thai food. We had a great day, even though we had to say goodbye to most people for a whole year! I still couldn’t imagine.

Only 10 days left for departure! On Saturday we cleaned the house, not really worth mentioning, but on Sunday, Easter day, we took two bicycles from the shed and went for a ride. It was still really nice weather and it felt so good to do something normal. We ended up on a terras and sat there for a while. Doing nothing, but enjoying ourselves. 

Sadly, on the second day of Easter, we went to Antwerp to say goodbye to a great guy who went skiing with us a few years ago. He passed away on May 1st. I’m glad to have gotten the chance to know him. I’ll never forget his passion for life. And the way he went down the slopes dancing and singing.

Days went by and I can still hear myself saying to Klaas: “I want to be completely ready the day before we leave. I don’t want to have to do anything that last day.” 

Surely it didn’t happen that way.

On Saturday, the 27th of April, I went to our friend Erik, after a bad night of sleep, which I blamed on the nerves. Even though I didn’t really seem to have them.

Erik helped me adjust the windscreen, which still made too much noise around my ears. And he welded a brace to keep my fuel can in place. So far, so good! But then, things started to change…

On Sunday we would pack all our stuff to the bike, take a nice route to Drenthe (in the north of The Netherlands) and stay a night at a campsite for practice. Where on Monday Albert would give us an off-road training and take a look at the load of the bike and the adjustment of the shock-absorbers.

So, we did pack our stuff on Sunday. Only it took forever! We still had to sort out some things, what to bring and what not. Then I put most things in one bag, in which almost everything actually did fit, and I was left with two almost empty side bags. Rearrange!

Then we had to put everything on the bikes. By the time we were ready to go I was so tired and stressed. We still had to drive for at least an hour and 45 minutes, on the highway, and we didn’t have dinner yet. And the thought of having to unpack the tent and all we needed for camping, which we all just hung on to the bike… I didn’t see it happen. 

We left at seven thirty in the evening, drove for half an hour and stopped to eat. But the restaurant was already closing up. Bad luck. On to the next restaurant. They did want to feed us. We booked a bed and breakfast and just before final check-in time we arrived, at five to ten. 

When I woke up the next morning I felt like I had a hangover, but without the drinking. I’d rather stay in bed than do anything with a motorbike. Let alone ride in the mud…

But we had an appointment at ten and we still needed to ride 45 minutes to get there. I told myself, just keep breathing, get through this day and then you’ll have some rest. The training was fun and useful. It gave me a little more trust about handling the bike in off-road situations.

On the way back, we went by Klaas’ parents house. I was shivering and had to fight to keep myself awake on the motorbike. We kept the visit short and back home it took about half an hour to get warm again in a really hot tub. Bummer, I was getting ill. Bad timing!

And indeed, on the day I turned forty, April 30th, I was shivering with fever and couldn’t do anything but lay on the couch. Departure was delayed for sure…

Still in the evening, my brother, his daughter and her mother, my sister and her eldest daughter and a good friend came over for my birthday and to say goodbye for real now. My friend showed us a presentation with pictures of the 19th and pictures of previous adventures with friends and family. And a lot of people had a nice video message for us. It’s great (and a little emotional as well) to see we’re loved and will be missed by so many people. Thank you all! We’ll miss you too!

Wednesday I was still ill and Thursday it went a little better. We brought the last bit of the pile to the storage box (and luckily found my bikini, which I had mistakenly put in a box) and went out for dinner with my father. It was a good night. 

Friday morning, May 3th, I was still a little shaky and coughing a lot, but we had decided to leave anyway. Erik came our way, to ride with us for a few days. And my sister with both daughters came to wave us goodbye. 

So, that was it. We were finally on our way! We didn’t finish our list of things to do. But they seem less important once you’re on the road. And other things we can still do anyway. Like building an interesting website. It will grow, like the journey will grow on us, I guess. 

At the moment we’re in Budapest. It’s raining and cold. Perfect moment to write a story. So far we went through Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia and now Hungary, mostly via curvy roads and a few bumpy ones. It still feels like we’re just on any other holiday. But we’re still on quite familiar ground. Soon this will change and I’m looking forward to a little more adventure and new experiences. 

Originally posted: May 5th 2019

The departure Meer lezen »

Scroll naar boven