From Italy to Mongolia.
The goal is to travel around the world from Italy eastward on our motorcycles. To start, my good friend Matteo and myself are planning to ride 15000 Km from Italy to Mongolia. The following year we will attempt to ride from Mongolia to Vancouver in Canada. To see what we have planned for the 2nd Segment, please visit "2nd Segment of our trip around the world"
. Our intended route for the first segment is below.
The idea came to life after finishing a great book from an Italian Author named Tiziano Terzani called ” Buonanotte Signor Stalin”. It is a fascinating journal on the changes of the old Soviet republics after the collapse of the Communism system in those region.
We will try to document the journey the best we can. We will be writing in english but keep in mind we are both Italians therefore be prepared for many grammar mistakes.
For a Good Cause.
Matteo and myself were trying to find a cause that would help us “keep going” and find a mission for the trip. Travelling on a motorcycle alone is a great experience but sometimes it can be a little selfish and you wish you could do more. For this reason, we decided that we would try to put together some money through friends and family to help a non-profit organization present in Mongolia. “Amici dei Bambini” is an organization that looks after abandoned kids in those rural areas. Upon our arrival, we will present a check with all we were able to gather, to one of the structure residing in the area of Ulan Bataar.
Ai.Bi. is active in Mongolia through 3 structuresresiding in the area of Ulan Bator
An endless desert
Mongolia is a very large country with the lowest population density in the world: a territory which is four times as big as France is home to only 2.5 million people.
Its territory consists mainly of steppes and, to the south, of the Gobi Desert. The only city of average size is the capital, Ulaan Bataar.
36% of the population lives below the threshold of subsistence. Outside of the large urban areas, the majority of the population participates in subsistence herding. The country enjoys a continental climate, with hot summers and very cold winters, when temperatures can reach -50°C.
The child abandonment emergency
According to UNICEF’ 2003 figures, there are 78,000 Mongolian orphan children between 0 and 18 years of age. In the capital city alone there are more than 20 reception centres that try, first of all, to recover the children’s documents, without which the children are but shadows without a future, and to provide basic services.
Poverty, unemployment, alcoholism are the main causes of child abandonment in Mongolia. Degradation and destitution oblige many families to abandon their children.
Street children have become a true emergency: thousands of them flood the streets of Ulaan Bataar. During the cold winters, many shelter in the city’s underground areas, next to the heating pipes.
These are the “invisible” souls: with no identity documents, no possibility of social, health or educational care services, these children are at constant risk of being captured by child traffickers.
Since 1986 Amici dei Bambini has been working to support children living in institutions all over the world and to fight against the abandonment emergency.
"Amici dei Bambini" operates in Italy with a national office and 9 regional offices spread throughout the country.
Ai.Bi. also operates withdevelopment project in 25 world countries in Eastern Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia.
Amici dei Bambini has been operating in Mongolia through development co-operation projects since 2005. They focus in the Ulaan Bataar area, where there is a higher concentration of abandoned children and street children. Amici dei Bambini has been supporting a day-care centre in Mongolia for children with severe mental and physical disabilities, this activity has been extended to other structures:
1) the Sanatorium child clinic:
this is a former infant care hospital that has been transformed into a reception centre for orphans, social orphans or children from distressed families. It hosts 75 children between 1 month and 4 years of age. The project’s main goal is the improvement of social services offered by this institute, in an effort to define the legal status of the children cared for herein, in order to succeed in bringing them back into their families of origin or in introducing them into a substitute family (foster care, tutelage, national adoption and, in case, international adoption). A social worker pays visits to distressed families, offering parent support, to facilitate the children’s return within the family.
2) Amagalan Centre:
this structure welcomes 30 adolescents between 14 and 18 years of age. The majority of the children has always lived within the institute. For these children, who are too old for adoption, Ai.Bi. supports the activities of the informal care-giver association called “A good idea”, to facilitate autonomous actions towards their occupational and social integration.
3) Kindergarden 58°:
this is a public structure caring mainly for social orphans and minors from distressed families. It hosts about 85 children between 3 and 6 years of age, mainly coming from the Sanatorium child clinic. The specific goals of this project are the strengthening of the child protection services for children entrusted temporarily or permanently to the institute and, whenever possible, the placement of each child with an appropriate family. A team of two social workers pays regular home visits to distressed families, providing parent support to promote the return home of the children. To this aim, training and consulting activities are available for the families, to promote responsible parenthood. This structure is supported also through donations of toys and educational materials.
4) Strengthening of social care services for the children in Ulaan Bataar:
this is a three-year project that has started full operations in 2010, is co-financed by the European Union together with local institutions, the Ulaan Bataar university and other international and Mongolian NGOs. This project’s main goal is the improvement of the quality of and access to social services for the children and distresses families.
The activities of the project shall include:
The training of local professors and other operators,
the opening of a Social Services Specialty School
investigation and support activities for at least 150 institutionalised children
training and support activities for 80 foster families, as well as support for the temporary care of 50 children
support activities for at least 100 families, to prevent child abandonment, campaigns to involve public opinion in the issue of child abandonment.
Ai.Bi. Associazione Amici dei Bambini and AiBi Inc. shares the same mission: to give back a family to every abandoned child living without parental care.
I finally arrived in Italy. The weather is perfect, the lemon trees and flowers are out. It is a beautiful day. Do I really want to go I ask myself ? The answer is yes so I tried to arrange and balance the luggage on the bike for the first time. The bike just came out from the dealer for a major tune up and looks brand new. This won’t last very long. I am sure. We are trying to keep the overall weight to a minimum but it is impossible. I haven’t ridden a bike for a few month now and I hope I will get used to the weight I am carrying. Boy is this bike heavy……!!! Matteo is still organizing his stuff in Voghera (IT). We should meet in Ancona to board the ferry in the morning.
After months and months of planning we finally met in Ancona to board the ferry for Greece and start the trip together. The motorcycles are already having a love affair. As soon as we were on board we started having a few beers to celebrate the departure. The boat arrived on time in Igoumenitsa (GR). We traveled toward the border with Turkey making it across at 8 PM. A total of 700Km in one day. The plan is to travel long distances in order to reach Georgia as soon as possible. A lot of ????? from there onward.
Another long day today. From Kesan to Gerende about 600 Km non stop. We departed Kesan at 10 Am, as of course, for the people that know me well I lost my shoes and had to buy another pair. Turkish shoes this time. Honey this time you will love them. I promise. While I was busy buying my shoes, Matteo was approached by the local Iman. He received an Islamic Rosary and a beautiful blessing. Wonder Why ?
At about 3 o’clock in the afternoon we met Ricardo: a brazilian rider that has done the karakum desert in Turkmenistan in 2009. He said that the desert is hell on hearth. There is no gas for at least 550 Km and the heat can reach 40 C. It’s not safe to camp and the road is horrible. He recommended us to leave for the desert at 4 AM to avoid the heat. Ricardo said he fell so many time due to the sand. It is a very fine powder. I let you imagine our state of mind riding after the meeting with Riccardo. We are still quite far from Turkmenistan so we will write about that when we get there. For now we have found a beautiful bedroom in Gerede where we will spend the night for an early morning departure.
Another long day on the road. Getting really close to Georgia. Today we had our first encounter with the black market. We were in need for some Turkish Liras and only had some dollars to buy gasoline and food. We asked directions for a bank and we were taken to a jewellery store instead.
After exchanging the money we traveled at about 3000 feet all day in a beautiful country side until we finally made our descent toward the Black Sea. We will stay in Persembe for the night and tomorrow we should cross the border with Georgia.
The Black Sea
Left a little late this morning. At the first fuel stop we were stopped by the owner of the gas station that wanted to introduce his friend to us. There was no way we could get out of it. When you travel on the road you learn not to fight DESTINY so we accepted patiently. We had to drink 3 cay (Turkish Tea) each before we were allowed to leave.
We were so late that we had to speed a little to reach the Georgian Border. Surprise Surprise, we were stopped by the Police for speeding. Matteo’s beard once again saved us and we did not get a ticket but just a warning.
GOOD BY TURKEY. I love Turkey.
Surprisingly enough we were able to cross the Georgian border without problems. At 6 PM local time we arrived in Batumi ( 1st town in Georgia ). A coastal town where during the Soviet era people used to come for holidays by the Black Sea.
Pretty tired tonight so it’s time to relax with a good Georgian beer.
We departed Batumi at 9 am heading toward Tiblisi. The road we chose for this leg was a smaller road that runs along a narrow valley going through the villages of Khulo and Akhaltsikhe. The first 60 Km the road is in OK condition but the remaining 120Km were a nightmare. The driving condition, due to the fact that our bikes are quite heavy, was pretty challenging. The average speed was 25 Km/Hour. The road was climbing from sea level to 2025 meters above sea level to a Pass named Goderdzi. We found even snow at the top. On the way down the mud due to the melting snow was so challenging that I dropped my bike a couple of times. Today’s journey reminds us that arriving to Mongolia is not going to be an easy trip.
Finally at around 8 Pm we arrived to Akhaltsikhe exhausted. In the main Square of the town we met two Italian riders that are on their way back to Italy after spending two weeks between Armenia and Georgia. We found a cheap room to share among the four of us.
Pass Goderdzi 2025Mt.
Surprise - Surprise
The Georgian Valleys.
Road from Khulo to Akhaltsikhe
Our room-mates in Akhaltsikhe. Bruno and Mattia from Italy
Left early morning from Akhaltsikhe direction Azerbaijan. The road was defiantly better than yesterday along a beautiful valley with many old castles and monastery. At noon we finally arrived at the border with Azerbaijan. The entry was smooth but we still had to wait for a few hours. Of course we had to pay some extra dollars for some “ administration” fees. As we get out of customs we are obliged to change some money at the black market. We were surprised to learn that 1 Manat (Local Currency) is equivalent to 1 Euro. On the other hand gas is only 0.50 per liter. From here we start our long journey to Baku but after about 100 Km we were stopped by the Police, claiming we were speeding. As usual in these kind of situations Matteo and myself pretended not to understand the reason he pulled us over. The “debate” lasted for about an hour. He wanted 150 Euros and we were able to get out of the situation without paying anything. We then continued are trip toward Baku but at this point we were late in the day and decided to stay for the night in Agdas. Before getting to to Agdas we had the opportunity to visit the mausoleum of the famous Azrbaijany poet named Nizami drinking a good cay (tea) with the local Police.
Dinner in Agdas was based with a great pita bread stuffed with some sort of vegetables and delicious lamb cutlets. The only problem was that the taxi driver set at our table eating practically all the food. He did not speak a word of English. Needless to say we went to bed right after dinner.
Tea with local police
A typical entrance to city
Today is the first day that Matteo and myself feel all the kilometers done so far. We are both pretty tired but need to get to Baku early, as we have no clue on how to board the “Cargo boat” to Turkmenabashi in Turkmenistan. Once arrived in Baku it took us an incredible amount of time to find the port from which the boat should depart. For anyone that wish to do the same itinerary we advise to ask directions for “Denize Vagzali” which is port in Azerbaijanis language. As soon we found our directions we were escorted to the customs and had to go pay for a ticket in a totally run down office. The price asked was astronomical and therefore we did not agree to it. It took us literally two hours before we were able to pay a more reasonable price. A good skill of negotiation is required in these countries, as it is part of the culture.
We were told to go back to the port with our tickets and documents at 11.30 PM to do the final procedures to board the boat. As we were told that there was no food on the boat we went to the market to buy some groceries for the boat ride.
Finally at around 3.00 AM we were told we could board the boat but when we were screened from Turkmenistan immigration I was told that I could not depart because I did not have the letter of invitation from the Turkmenistan immigration office. Matteo on the other hand was fine. He had his. I told them that my letter was in their system and I was told from the Turkmenistan consulate in London that such letter was not required. They just needed to check from the office in Turkmenabashi (Arrival city of the boat) but they refused to do so. After just about 24 hours with no sleep at the customs docks I can let you imagine our state of mind for the denial of boarding the cargo boat. At 6.00 AM we check in the Araz Hotel without our motorcycles. They were confiscated by the customs Police since they were already registered outside Azerbaijan and therefore could not get back in the country. With our moral close to zero we still try to make a couple of phone calls with no success.
We wake up at around noon with a lot of doubt about being able to go to Turkmenistan. Being Sunday there isn’t much we can do. We still decide to make our way to the Turkmenistan Embassy in Baku to see at least if it existed since the phone number we had did not have an answering machine. We took about 5 taxis in total to try to locate the Embassy. Every taxi driver when we showed the address of where we wanted to go seemed to know its way around. They had absolutely no clues. We finally found the Embassy but the Police at the front gate told us that it was closed and to come back the next morning at 9.00. We were released by the fact that the Embassy existed and seemed well organized.
The following morning we wake up at 7.00 Am all ready with our belongings hoping that since my letter of invitation was in their system it would be just a matter of printing it. We couldn’t have been more wrong. We get to the Embassy and we are told that there is no Consul but only the Ambassador and he does not take care of this kind of matters. At this in front of the gate. We were not even allowed to go inside the Embassy. My last resort was to call Natasha which arranged all my Visas for this trip and explain her the situation. She was able to get in contact with the Minister of Foreign Affairs in London and after another 5 hours we finally received an email with my letter of invitation. Exhausted but relieved we jump in a taxi to go back to the port where our bikes were waiting for us. The good news is that there was a Cargo boat ready for departure the same evening. WE ARE OFF TO TURKMENISTAN.
Our boat to Turkmenistan
On the Caspian Sea
Once arrived in Turkmenabashi at about 10.00 AM, we were finally allowed to put our bikes on land to start the very long and exhausting customs procedures. After a long wait of about 3 hours we were told that they were ready for us and the comedy started. We had to go through so many controls and had to pay so many times fees that we were not aware of. Patience was severely put under stress but Matteo and myself knew that we could not fall for it and stayed calm.
At around 4 PM we finally cleared customs with much less money and a bunch of useless paper work. We headed toward the first city named Belkanabat where we rested for the night.
Tukmenistan must have the worse roads I have ever seen in my life full of holes. The scenery on the other hand was pretty amazing with desert on one side and a Mountain range with Iran on the other. We arrived in Ashgabat at around 5.00 PM and tried to locate a place to stay with an Internet connection. We realized that in Turkmenistan Internet is really limited and were not able to find one. The city of Ashgabat is a modern city build almost entirely with marble buildings and fountains. We found the city pretty vibrant due to the fact that it was the end of the school year. Lots of young people on the streets celebrating. We decide to go for dinner at the local bazaar where we each had some delicious soup and some grilled chicken. By visiting the local bazaar we notice that we are finally in Asia. The people’s facial expressions and features are gradually changing.
According to our plans today is a big and difficult one. We have about 650 Km to go in a hot humid desert. Matteo doesn’t feel good today. He thinks that the soup he had the night before made him feel that way. The roads are not getting any better, in fact they are getting worse. We have to pay close attention to the roads as it is not unusual to find holes big enough to crash if we were to drive into them. Approaching the Karagum desert the heat becomes a challenge for both of us. We have to push ourselves to arrive in Turkmenabat, last city before the Turkmenistan – Uzbekistan border at 8.00 PM. The experience of Turkmenistan has been overall great but we realize that the infrastructures for tourism are not yet ready. The following morning we drive toward the town of Farab to cross the border toward Uzbekistan.