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Old 11-12-2010, 01:27 PM   #31
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Location: Stowe VT
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If only I had the time to do something like this. I will live through you and subscribe.. Thanks!
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Old 11-13-2010, 03:43 AM   #32
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Location: Stuttgart, Germany
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didi madloba

In Georgian it means 'many thanks' and indeed, many thanks for your report.

The church you visited at Kazbegi was the Tsminda Sameba church, I was there in 2006 and spent about 2 1/2 months in the Republic of Georgia primarily in Tbilisi but I did make it to Kazbegi as well as Stalins home town of Gori.

Great pictures, made me miss my time there with my Georgian friends. Loved the Katchapuri and the Chacha kicked my ass! That is some mean stuff! Did you get to try some of their real wine from the Saperavi grape? Pretty good actually.

Looking forward to the rest of your report, safe travels.
Stephen Aki
Chesapeake, VA
2012 BMW F650GS
99 Kawasaki Drifter 1500
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Old 11-13-2010, 03:56 AM   #33
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Visa run

I'm getting a bit ahead of myself with this post, because I haven't caught up with the last part of my trip. I'm sitting here at Starbucks in Muscat, Oman (free Wifi). So much for the adventure.. but on a trip like this, the breaks in the capitals are a must, to sort out the visas.

Until now it's been pretty easy, the only visa I had to plan in advance was the Iranian, and it was a breeze. All the other countries needed no visa or I could get one at the border. Even if Oman had just hiked the price of their visa from 7 to 20 rials (40 €), mere days before I crossed the border. Damn.

But for Yemen it's a different story. They've stopped issuing visas to tourists without support from a travel agency (even though I had a report of somebody getting one in Djibouti without questions asked). You need to hjave somebody sort out the authorization from the foreign affairs and interior ministries in Sanaa, then send the papers to the embassy where you pick up your visa. I got in touch with this travel agent who assured me I can't ride on my own and they need to send a pick-up to the border to load my bike and bring it to the capital (3 days away). That was disappointing enough, but then to add insult to injury he wanted more than 1000$ for this. That was just insane.

Meanwhile I tried the other solution, the transit visa through Saudi, then the ferry from Jeddah to Port Sudan (so I would have to secure a visa for Sudan too). Reports on the internet shows that it is very unlikely to get one from the Saudis. I managed to find a contact in Saudi who could write me a letter of invitation, so with a glimpse of hope I headed for the consulate in Dubai, a huge complex in the diplomatic district.

I ran into the most obnoxious and unfriendly people I've ever met in an embassy (and that's saying a lot). They wouldn't even talk to me; in fact they had outsourced the whole process to a private company who would gather the necessary papers and forward them to the consulate. But that company had instructions only to deal with UAE residents, so they flatly turned me down. Maybe I should have tried the proper embassy in Abu Dhabi (the capital), but I was running out of time, I had to leave for Oman for a holiday with my girl-friend (more about this later). I would try my luck in Muscat.

Then I got lucky: after some more research I went across this post by Margus on HU who was doing the same route and after much work had found one agent in Yemen who would do the paperwork without requiring to hire an escort. Now we're talking business. I contacted Mohamed and he said "no problem, just send me 300$ and I'll do the work". Ouch again, but less ouch. This was clearly my best option so far, and I felt I could trust the guy since Margus posted that he had just entered Yemen and was riding to Sanaa. So I sent the 300$ (a long story itself, Wester Union wouldn't do it since I'm not an Omani resident; Money Xpress did it but the money arrived 20$ short..). Note that Margus paid 200$, so the inflation is pretty bad in Yemen..

Now 2 weeks later, after another visit to the embassy, I'm told that the papers would finally arrive tomorrow and that I would be able to pick up the visa right away. I haven't been drinking coffee all this time, even though it's the preferred drink of Omanis, I had a great time around the country (stay tuned), but now I really need to move on.

Muscat is a pretty expensive place to stay (20€ minimum for a hotel room). Plus, there's the big Eid holiday starting on the 15th, and the country's 40th anniversary on the 18th. Everything will close down during this time so I have 2 days left to sort it out.

I will then have a quick (!) 1000km ride on the highway crossing the desert to Salalah, which all Omanis rave about, and which sits close to the Yemeni border.

If AQAP and the Yanks don't turn this country into their new playground, that is. Inch Allah.
2006-2007 Mongolia - Pamir - India - Nepal
2010-2012 Caucasus - Middle-East - Africa
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Old 11-13-2010, 05:29 AM   #34
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Damage report

I've now clocked 23'000 km on the bike, and about 19'000 km on this trip, in 4 months. I'm happy to report that the bike has been running great until now, in fact just 3000 km back in Dubai I would have reported almost a perfect score, but I had to deal with a few problems recently.

I had the 10'000 km (8'500 km) service done in Istanbul, nothing to report there (except a hefty bill, but I need to keep the warranty running..). I also dumped the street tires and put TKC 80s on.

I had a minor crash when I tipped the bike trying to get back to the road on a very steep shoulder. That's where I bent the right-hand side pannier rack (Caribou cases). The thing is, one of the attach points on the right hand side, under the frame is through a 15cm long bolt. It's ok to hold a downward force, but when the whole weight of the bike acts laterally on it it can only bend. I haven't fixed it because it still holds and I'm afraid of making it worse by undoing it, and it's not easy to find a nice big long high quality bolt over here. I just had a welding on another point that was cracked. Oh, and the pannier latch bent as well, but I had a spare.

Then in the middle of Iran, on a gravel track in the middle on nowhere, the bike started to stutter and then stopped, as if running out of gas. I was thinking about my options and remembered the problems about the fuel pump controller. But when I opened the tank it made a suction noise: the breather hose wasn't doing its job. What a relief, I was back on the road in 2 minutes. I haven't researched the fault since it hasn't happened again since then.

Also in Iran (about 16'000 km) I noticed a slight leak on the left-hand side cylinder, at the valve cover gasket. Not too bad, just some sweat but still, for a 6-month old bike, that's pretty bad quality control if you're asking me.

In Dubai I went to BMW again for the 20'000 km service. I had the valve clearance checked and the brake fluid changed (I bought it with a dark fluid int he read break, as often reported, now it's back to normal). I asked them to change the gasket under warranty, but they had to order it and that would take 2 weeks. I didn't want to stay that long in Dubai so I gave up, I can live with it. I also discussed what looked like splashes of coolant on the cylinder, I noticed it in Iran but it hadn't happen again and the coolant level didn't move. They hadn't a clue.

I think those guys don't see a lot of bikes (there aren't a lot to begin with in UAE), and lack experience. Is it a coincidence that problems started to happen right after I left the workshop ? probably.

The brake pads were 2/3 gone so I bought some spares to change later on. I changed the tires again (the rear TKC was gone after 12'000 km), putting Karoo T instead.

The front rim has a nice dent, I had heard of the weak stock rims, so I0m not surprised but it's no problem so far. I haven't tried to bang it back in, I would probably make a mess of it.

So a pretty good picture really. Then in Oman, maybe 1000 km later, in a pretty tricky mountain road that I was doing in 1st gear, I noticed the bike overheating. It had never happened before, even in Albania where I rode in 1st and 2nd for long stretched and it was warmer than here. I had to stop a few times to cool it down. But as long as I kept the bike running at a fair speed, it wouldn't overheat. So I kept going for a few 100s km until I got back to Muscat. It was fine on the highway except for a somewhat higher fuel usage.

The radiator never got hot, even when the fan was kicking in, and the fan didn't help the overheating (read light on the computer). Note that the temperature gauge is a joke, it always shows about 2/3 whatever the real temperature, until it flashes when it overheats. So obviously the water wasn't circulating in the radiator. I hadn't read about a weakness in the water pump, but I was prepared to head back to Dubai (450 km away) for a chat with the BMW mechanic, but I first looked up the forums, where I found the instructions to bleed the coolant (thanks PackMule!).

Hello BMW, if that's something that happens all the time, why not put the instructions in the manual ? Anyway, I bought some coolant and it did the trick: now the radiator it's doing its job and the fan is blowing hot air on my pants.

Finally, almost simultaneously I had a blown headlamp and the 2 rear turn indicators stopped working (LEDs, so no blown lamps). I didn't mind the blown bulb, in fact there is no way to turn off the headlight and that's quite annoying as everybody is flashing their light at you because in these countries it is considered very wrong to drive with your lights on during daylight. But the indicators are more annoying, it adds to the safety while driving in the traffic. I had planned on those being the first parts to break after a crash, so it's not such a big deal, indeed I got rid of them altogether on my Tenere. That's probably the harness since both went off at the same time. Heck, with this central computer, I'm not sure I want to try and figure out what's wrong..

That's about it. No problem with the battery so far, and the chain and sprockets are running strong, no adjustment yet.

Oh, one last thing about the Touratech tank: it's doing its job fine, the only problem so far is the lid: it's leaking when the bike is tipped, and at the same time it has given me some trouble opening the lock. Lock ? why do you need a lock when there are quick release on the fuel lines sticking out from it.. in fact it's those quick releases that worry me most, but so fat they're doing fine. The tank also acts as a protection for the radiator when I drop it, which has happened a few times already.

I just hope I will be able to say as much when I reach Capetown! (next BMW dealer)

2006-2007 Mongolia - Pamir - India - Nepal
2010-2012 Caucasus - Middle-East - Africa
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Old 11-21-2010, 09:10 PM   #35
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Very nice, so far. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 11-22-2010, 12:01 AM   #36
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Congratulate Laurent
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Old 11-22-2010, 10:54 AM   #37
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Location: Oviedo, Espaρa
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Yep the cylinder head gasket is problematic on many 800's, but its not a major worry, just keep an eye on your oil level, nothing more to it, until you get the chance to replace it. Its quite big job, but not too hard.
Dreaming of Dakar
Everyone has a max speed, 90% of that max speed is much safer and easier, and if that 90% speed isn't fast enough at Dakar, you enter the snowball. - neduro
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Old 11-22-2010, 02:46 PM   #38
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uh... i'm in...

- Hey people, don't eat yellow snow

Honda Dominator
-Montenegro ride
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Old 11-29-2010, 08:35 AM   #40
Asianrider OP
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Joined: Apr 2010
Oddometer: 120
A long way south

Ok, so this guy preparing my visa still couldn't send out the papers to the embassy in Muscat, and I didn't want to face spending the week-end in town. So I left fro Wadi Sahtan and Yasib, and camped out in a great place at the foot of the Jebel Shams.

The dirt road that climbs the face of Jebel Shams to reach Yasib is pretty steep indeed, I measures 500m in 2km, that's 25% average.. not for the faint of the heart for sure, but great fun.

Back in Muscat on Saturday, I was told that there was no electricity in the foreign ministry and they couldn't send the papers. Right. Maybe some of my 300$ could buy them a UPS ? finally, the next morning I got the visa in 1/2 hours and I left for a pretty boring 1000km ride across the desert down to Salalah.

As you can see, the routing is quite unnecessary.. you just need to stay awake and on the right side of the road, a pretty nice blacktop almost all the way.

And splurge at the few restaurants on the way.

I left a bit late due the the visa issue, and didn't push it to 160 km/h like all Omanis, so I camped mid-way in the sand next to an oil pump station, or something like this.

Suddenly you leave the desert, and you find.. grass!

A bit burnt out, the monsoon rain have long finished, but enough grass to feed thousands of camels and.. cows, happily mixing together. Quite a change from the rest of Oman.

I visited a shrine with a nice cemetery.

Watched the Omanis walking their camels..

.. or killing them in front of their porch, because that's what you're supposed to for Eid. But do they need to leave the guts on the side of the street ?

I found yet another dream beach to pitch my tent, 80 km or so before the Yemeni border, to make it there early enough.

The rest of the pictures are on the album.

2006-2007 Mongolia - Pamir - India - Nepal
2010-2012 Caucasus - Middle-East - Africa
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Old 11-29-2010, 09:59 AM   #41
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With the visa in my passport, the crossing of the border was pretty easy. No money asked, except for a 4€ insurance (I gave the rest of my Omani rial change, 3€). No carnet asked, one less thing to take care of when I leave.

The road follows the coast, pretty easy, some nice beaches but I wanted to get to Hadramout pretty quickly. There's about 600 km from the border to Mukhalla, the turn off to Hadramout, but with the border crossing I stopped overnight in a hotel shabby little town. Everything was closed (Eid ?), no restaurant, I just found some bread and cheese and made myself a sandwich.

The next morning I left early and reached Mukhalla around noon, and went straight to the tourist police to find out about the security situation on the road inland to Wadi Hadramout. Rumors is that AQAP is active there, in fact the Bin Laden family comes from there. I waited an hour while they were making a few calls, and I was told (by a Kenyan who could translate in English) that I was free to go on my own, no escort needed. Cool, so off I was for 400 km to Seyoun.

The road goes up onto a very dry plateau, with the wind in my back so it was not too bad. There were military checkpoints every 50 km or so, where I showed my passport. The policeman there then called Mukhalla on his cell phone to find out what he should do with the funky biker. He was given the OK and I could ride on. After 200 km or so, the road dips into Wadi Hadramout, and as the sun was setting I drove through a breathtaking scenery, dotted with old villages made of mud and brick.

So beautiful that I spend quite some time snapping pictures after pictures.

But now it was getting pretty late, and even riding hard I still had 100 km to go when the night fell. I didn't feel like riding at night, but then there wasn't much of a hotel. But the big advantage about riding without an escort, is discretion. Yes even with a big bike. I found a nice spot behind a big rock, hidden from the road and the villages, rode there without lights and pitched my tent for an excellent night.

The next morning I rode out while it was still dark, before some nosy villager spotted me. I also wanted to watch the sun rise over Shibam and boy, was I not disappointed.

Shibam is beautiful, and currently totally void of any tourists so I had a blast wandering around and drinking chai with the locals. It is entirely preserved and all the tall buildings keep their original, centuries old style.

I enjoyed it enough that I spent 3 days there, riding around freely without escort, and without any problem. Actually, the only problem was trying to take a picture of the women working in the fields with their straw hats.

As soon as I was taking out my camera, it was like I was throwing a grenade, they all screamed and ducked behind the crop.. amazing, what do they fear, you can't even see their eyes ? But I didn't want to get in trouble with the husbands or brothers of course..

I also visited Wadi Do'an, which is a gem by itself.

Dozens of villages against the side of the wadi, all really amazingly well preserved.

Friendly people

and nice food

How much better can it get ?

The inland road to Sana'a is a definite no-no, so it was back to Mukhalla, which is pretty dull but I could find a hotel with safe parking. I went back to the tourist police, knowing that an escort is needed for the very dodgy road to Aden. There was just a guy there, he told me that there was no problem, I should just ride off on my own. Hmmmm.

There wasn't much I could do, so the next morning I rode out of town to the first checkpoint, 20 km away. There I was stopped and they told me to wait 10 minutes. All this happens entirely in Arabic and gestures, I couldn't find anybody who spoke any English at all. But after one hour of waiting, as expected a police pick-up arrived to escort me. Ok, let's go then, there are 600 km to go and I didn't want to ride at night.

We made good progress at a nice speed, and stopped mid-way for lunch in a shabby, dusty town where locals walk around with AK-47s. The cops (6 of them) tried to make me pay for lunch but I politely refused. Although I didn't want to piss off my guards, I also knew that they should be fed by the police, not by me.

In fact they handed me out to the next escort, a group of 4 guys armed with AK-47s in a Toyota. We left for the next half of the trip, with time enough to make it before sunset.

The advantage of having an escort is that they drive in front of me, and allow me to pass through the dozens of checkpoints without stopping. But then one of these checkpoints was a bit different: only 2 guys in civil. They passed through without stopping, but the guys were waving their AK-47s to me: usually in these cases you stop, but the police pick-up in front of me hadn't stopped, so I rode through. I slowed down a bit looking in the mirror how pissed the guys were, and the cops did the same because they suddenly stopped and went around, asking me to wait there.

So they started to discuss with the 2 guys, while I waited about 50m away. Soon joined by 5 or 6 more villagers. Then they motioned me to join them. Following was 15 minutes or so of arguing between the locals and the cops. Some of the locals showed me the way to the village, asking to follow them. I calmly but firmly resisted them, showing them that I would stick to my escort. Finally it was decided that we all would go to the village, with the agreement of the cops.

I explained them that I wouldn't leave my bike on the road, and that I wouldn't let someone else ride it. Reluctantly, an armed guy jumped on my baggage and lead me to a dry river bed and we all sat under a tree, joined by the police, still chewing their qat. They brought a mattress and offered me some tea, while the cops were placing dozens of calls on their cell phones. Which was good news to me, because I knew that the police HQ out there knew about the.. incident.

Two hours passed, wondering how long we would be help captive and what the police would do about it. I'm sure it would be pretty bad PR for them if there was another kidnapping so they had to do something, but would that take hours, days, weeks ?

Finally, after 2 hours they told me to get on the bike and to go. meanwhile the road back to the main road had been blocked by rocks and wooden branches, which we got around easily, and after loading some guy on the car we were back on the main road. We were not alone though, there were 2 more police cars and 3 military pick-ups with mounted machine guns, and scores of army people all over the road.

An officer came to me and gave me a nice "mafi moushkileh", no problem! Right.. he couldn't speak a word of English either, but I understood that we better get the hell out of there. So off we went with 2 cars in front and 2 behind, at 140 km/h and forcing our way through the next few check points for the last 100 km or so to the start of the highway to Aden. There I got a handshake from the top officer and I was off for the last 50 km or so as the sun was setting.

Looking back to it, it all went pretty well. The police didn't start a fight, which would have been pretty stupid in an area where obviously the police ain't got not control over. They talked their way out of it without anybody being hurt and in only 2 hours, so that's not too bad. I'm just surprised that they went through the local villager's checkpoint without stopping, and then went back to discuss.

A few days later in Sanaa, I was interviewed by the head of the tourist police. He wanted to know what I thought about the incident. Wtf ? He tried to play it down, apparently very concerned about any bad press the country could get. I asked him some details, but he was pretty hazy in his explanations, I didn't understand if the guys got something in return or not.

In any case, this has nothing to do with AQAP or any other terrorist cell. They were in conflict with the government over god knows what, and thought a tourist may get them something in return. For those who don't speak arabic, this could be pretty boring:

Now I'm in Sana'a trying to get the visas for the rest of the trip, before heading for the red sea to load the bike on a boat for Djibouti. Keep you posted.
2006-2007 Mongolia - Pamir - India - Nepal
2010-2012 Caucasus - Middle-East - Africa
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Old 11-29-2010, 12:50 PM   #42
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SS. '98 BMW F650 / '06 WR250F / '07 KTM 990 Adv
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Old 11-29-2010, 11:31 PM   #43
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I bet you felt concerned ... not understanding a word while 2 groups of armed men argue and you the main subject.

Brilliant report so far ..........
'03 Aprilia ETV1000 Caponord
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Old 11-30-2010, 06:39 AM   #44
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oh hell yes I'm subscribed!
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Old 11-30-2010, 11:16 AM   #45
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What a great RR Thanks for showing a part of the world I will most likely never get to visit

Life is good, even in adversity!

Yucatan | Chiapas | Belize 1 | Belize 2 | QRoo | Guanajuato
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