Some facts about our Italy – Samarkand Motorbike round trip in 2014. Hope that the few details may be of help in organising your own adventure. For any inquiry, just email me: email@example.com
Italy – Samarkand Motorbike Round Trip 2014
18 May – 19 Jun, 2014
13200 (more or less)
BMW R 1200 GS, MY 2010
Umberto Straccia (me) and Maria Pia Nuti (my wife), on one motorcycle
I used a travel agency (YOR srl) in Rome for VISA applications. For Iran, Turkmenistan and Russia an invitation letter has been required. For Russia, a health insurance is required (see below). Turkmenistan Visa was a nightmare. Had to apply in Paris. No web site, rarely answering emails and phone call. I used a travel agency (Action-Visa) in Paris as well. Eventually, after 4 months of work, I got an invitation letter from the embassy in Paris, via email (a pdf). Printed it in colour, and in Mashhad (Iran) I went to the Turkmenistan Embassy from which I got the Visa on the passport within 30 minutes.
Health Insurance, destination World, issued by Allianz Global Insurance, Motorcycle insurance with green card (covering IRAN as well). Some others (for sure Turkmenistan) have been bought on the border, if I didn’t forget to buy one. No clue what they did cover, however. Luckily, I didn’t get involved in any accident.
2 hours, not so easy, an English speaking man popped up helping me, without it I hardly may be able to get through (cost 20euro). Wife had to put a scarf on her head.
4 hours, nightmare, will remember for a while.
3.5 hours, tedious, had to smile even if I didn’t want to.
4 hours. Terrible. 2 border crossings were closed. Had to search a 3rd one, another 80km away. We got into Kazakstan at sunset driving to next village (70km), with animals on the street and crazy drivers. Pay attention.
1 hour, easy, but … the Russian officer took my temporary motorcycle importation document, which has been released at the Uzbekistan-Kazakistan boarder to register my motorcycle’s plate number. He didn’t give it me back: he told me the bike is registered in the Russian computer system, no need to carry the doc further. Terrible mistake. Don’t believe them.
4 days. In principle, easy to pass, but the Russian officer now asked the temporary motorcycle importation document! Moreover, it appears that the bike was NOT registered in the Russian computer system…. at least this is what I understood. After several days of discussions, I got managed to get a fax from the Uzbekistan-Kazakistan boarder witnessing the entry of my bike.
1 hour, easy.
Having a map helps once your navigator fails, which will fail or will be imprecise for sure at least once. I took all the maps from Reise Know-How.
A good navigator helps, makes life easier in the
country side of remote areas. Though, going through big cities I went through in Iran, Kazakstan and Russia, where the level of detail isn’t that good, was a nightmare. Nevertheless, I have a Touratech‘s version of the Zumo 550 from Garmin. Concerning the maps, you can rely on those provided from the OpenStreetMap project. Specifically, there are some places on the web from which you may download directly maps (called OSM maps) that you can install into Garmin’s Basecamp and then into your Garmin device. I used the Garmin Openstreet Map to download a map for Central Asia to be installed into Garmin’s Basecamp, which then allows you to transfer the map to your Garmin device together with your daily trips. I also used JaVaWa GMTK, to load multiple OSM maps into BaseCamp.
I used Google maps to figure out my daily trips, which then I’ve copied manually into Basecamp. Personally I preferred this two step approach rather than doing it directly in Basecamp.
Satellite phone with emergency button, laptop, 5 liter water canister, 7 liter spare fuel, puncture kit, various workshop tools, spare motorbike lamps, 2 liter motor oil.
Were I got through, I found red gasoline only. No problem with the motorbike.
There were difficulties to find some fuel station. Watch out for people selling fuel in water bottles. Use filter. Don’t take the chance to run out of fuel, otherwise ask local people to find someone selling fuel.
Watch out for the distances. Sometimes it may take some km before you get into another town (200/300km).
Often, I had to pay in advance for the amount of fuel to take. Another approach is to give more money than required, fuel the tank, and get back the rest of money.
I’ve made a colour copy of all my docs and also stored them on USB pen and Dropbox. Given the above mentioned bad experience, I suggest also always to make a picture of the docs that you gather on the road, in case you loose them.
I took euro and dollars with me. Plenty, distributed over me, my wife and various places on the bike. In Iran, Turkmenistan, Kazakstan and south Russia, I hardly found a place to pay with credit cards. Change money at bank, if you have time (but, I Voronezh, Russia, I even was not allowed to get into a bank). So, watch out for ATMs. At the black marked you loose money in exchange for sure. Before you leave your home town, write down all currency exchange rates, between euro, dollars and the foreign countries you are going into. Also note down the exchange rates among neighbour countries currencies.
Be sure to have stored in your phone, paper and in electronic format on USB pen and e.g., Dropbox.com the complete addresses of your embassies in the countries you are planning to go through. Also note down, opening hours, and emergency phone/mobile numbers of your embassies, so as the emergency numbers (if any) of the foreign country.
Be always friendly. Remember, police man and soldiers at borders or at control posts are not in holidays as you are. Police man are kinder that military officers. Sometimes they just are looking for an excuse to get some money. Don’t take the chance of a discussion about ethical principles if all is about 10 dollars. Sometimes it may become harsh, as it happened to me in Turkmenistan, where an officer at a control post wanted my and my wife’s wedding ring (blocking may arm) to cross a bridge. Be calm, but have a firm voice. I noted his name (all military people have a name on their dress) and answered: “Mr. Dimitry, I will call now my embassy in Asgabat, if you like you may discuss the matter with them”. It worked.
Iran & Woman Dressing
An issue for foreign woman in Iran is: how should they dress? The easiest way to answer is an picture of my wife: while travelling on motorbike she always had a helmet underwear in case she wanted to take off the helmet, in towns she took jeans and long slave shirt. Going into into a Mosque is hardly possible. Though in Mashhad, asking at the entrance, allowed us to get into the Imam Reza Shrine, but with a local, very friendly, guide of the Shrine. In general, Iran was quite a surprise as the people were incredibly friendly. In the country side you often get stopped on the roads to drink some tea together. Take the time if you have it.
We got a Transit visa, so no guide and, thus, we were alone. We didn’t feel comfortable at control posts and in Mary there is one hotel only, which I didn’t know about: Hotel Margus.
Officially, you are not allowed to camp. In fact, the hotels provide you a document stating the days you have slept there. Check carefully the days that no error occurs (it happened to us, but no problem to get a new one from the hotel). Keep them safely and make a picture with your phone. Once you leave Uzbekistan you may get asked to provide evidence of them, covering all nights you have spent in Uzbekistan. It happened to us, but we were ok :-).
Asking about Help
If you are asking someone to bring you somewhere, always ask in advance how much it will cost. Remember, it will happen that you forget to ask and then you have to pay much more. It will happen for sure.
Often bad in Uzbekistan and in South Russia. In Kazakstan, overall ca. 80km, of ugly gravel roads, which may cause some headache for a fully loaded two-up motorbike