Maybe I can’t break the habit of blogging. Maybe these photos through the windows of the Namsan Tower observatory are just too appropriate for me to resist. Seoul seems mind bogglingly huge at ground level, from up here it’s just incredible.
OK, so this blog is going to go on holiday while I do. A couple of days in Seoul, a few days in Tokyo, 5 days in Vancouver. It will resume when I (hopefully) pick up the bike in Vancouver and get back on the road.
But I couldn’t resist posting this picture of a bike courier, Seoul-style. And I thought I was carrying a lot of stuff!
Notice how, even with a load like that, he’s still filtering past the traffic. Spectacular!
Public transport sucks. That’s the only way to see it. I’d rather be fixing a puncture in a thunderstorm than hanging around a ferry port. It’s all been quite easy, but there’s so much waiting and carrying luggage. Will have more of this with flights soon, not looking forward to that. Let me stick all my gear on the back of the bike and ride, it’s so much more enjoyable. Still, I’m in Korea. Have only seen the inside of the ferry terminal, but I’m here. Mobile phone doesn’t work over here, cash machine won’t accept my card, but I’m in Korea!
The truck arrives, and there’s a nerve wracking moment where I have to ride onto a pallet and sit there on the bike while it’s raised up to the truck bed by a fork lift. The bike is strapped down and I ride along to the crating company.
Wendy rings and drops the bombshell that she doesn’t take cards, so I’m going to have a panic job getting hold of enough cash. Arriving at the crating company I’m a bit disappointed to see that another Kudu expeditions tour is here in front of me. I’m at the back of a queue of 7 bikes, so there’s no chance I’ll be done in time to get to a hotel early and organise cash.
It’s amazing watching the crating guys hand build made to measure crates for each bike, but I wish they’d do it faster. The Kudu boys must have money to burn. They’re all on BMWs with all the gear and have paid a fortune to the organiser. And, they haven’t had the full experience. If you let someone else do all the organising, route planning, and you just follow along, then I think you’re really missing out on the experience. Even worse, they’re in a group of 15 so they have very little interaction with the locals. Even with one other I had less interaction than I do on my own. I wouldn’t do it their way, not even if I had their money. Usually when I arrive somewhere I stand out, it’s unusual, a rarity. Kind of spoils the impact when everyone’s already just seen 15 bikes go through….
I didn’t expect to be at the back of a queue for crating but I also didn’t expect to be here so early. The crating guys get on a roll, helped by having 5 identical bmws to do in one go, and suddenly my bike is on a pallet. The Kudu boys help lift the bike while I remove the wheels. I’ve already dropped the bars, removed the mudguard, mirrors, number plate and hand guards, and it packs down pretty small, which is important for the shipping cost. Packing in my panniers and other gear turns out to be easier than expected too.
I feared I’d either be here all night or have to come back tomorrow but by 10 it’s done, and as another unexpected bonus of having the Kudu guys around, I share their taxi into town. Thanks Ian and co, you made things a lot easier for me!
Then I’m at the hotel, and any worries about getting cash evaporate when I get in the luxurious 18th floor room with a stunning view over Seoul with huge video advertising screens and neon lights. It really is a totally different world and a very new experience for me. I just hope I can sort out paying for the shipping and still have time to go to Tokyo because I think that really will be an amazing experience.
Very early start. Bike stops before even leaving the hotel car park, till I remember I turned the fuel taps off while it was parked. Then I nearly run out of petrol, forgetting I only put in 10 litres last time, not the usual 20, due to a translation cock up. And then I get lost trying to find the right road in the dark, and start to worry that I’ll miss the ferry.
No need to have worried at all, as I end up 3 hours early and have to sit and wait for the office to open. While I hang around, I notice the front wheel is quite buckled and has loose spokes. Then I see that the rear is even worse, and though it gives me a problem to solve in Canada before I can ride anywhere, I’m really quite relieved to have made it to the ferry port.
This is really the end of the outward part of the journey, I’ve done all the riding I need to do until Canada, so I’ve made it, just. I’ve been so close to disaster with the frame breaking and now the wheels on the verge of collapse, but I’ve made it. All the preparation has paid off, and I can surely get the wheels sorted out in Canada. They won’t last long if I don’t.
Getting on the ferry is slow, but easy, interrupted by an inquisitive young korean who seems utterly astonished when she finds out what I’m doing, and fetches more people to talk to me. By 5 I’m in my cabin, and glad I bought first class as economy means sleeping on the floor sharing with about 20 koreans in 2 square yards.
The ferry is much better than the caspian sea ferry. They exchange currency, have a shop and a restaurant. There’s a TV in the cabin but it’s entirely undecipherable. I get the impression Kim Jong Il has died, but it’s not clear, then there’s a rocket launch that they seem quite excited about. Dinner is 5000 won. I have no idea what that is, which coincidentally is all I can say about the dinner. It smelled fishy, but to be fair I don’t smell great in biking gear that’s been damp for weeks.
It feels very odd to be leaving Russia. It’s the end of the big challenge, the rest won’t be anything like what I’ve just done and where I’ve just come from. I’m looking forward to the next stage, but what I’d really like to do right now is go back to Tajikistan and begin again from there. I wonder if I’ll have an opportunity to ride in scenery like that, on roads like that, ever again. Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia. They were very, very special places to ride a motorbike and the memory of those experiences will stay with me for a long time. It’s hard to imagine anywhere else ever matching it.
This is supposed to be a blog about riding a motorbike round the world, so I’m always a little unsure whether I should post something on days where I haven’t really done very much to do with that. It’s been more like a day off. OK, I’ve spent the day doing practical things like sending postcards and trying in vain to get foreign currency so I can pay for all the various charges at Zarubino and Sokcho. All the bank staff have just said “Nyet” with typical Russian bank staff brusqueness, and every “Bankomat” just said something obtuse like “Device not supported” or “System not operation” (sic). Bought some socks though!
It’s hard to keep up with current affairs on a trip like this, so this is probably old news but I turned on Russian TV and saw Usain Bolt run the 100 metres in 9.58 seconds, which is by far the most interesting thing today.
I had planned to ride down to Zarubino and camp there overnight to be close to the ferry port, but it was back to the usual rain this morning so I decided to stay and will be off very early in the morning instead, hoping that nothing too serious goes wrong on the way.
That’s all. Pretty dull. I’m hoping tomorrow is equally uneventful and that there are no dramas with customs or ferry procedures etc. Fingers crossed. Hope it’s a bit drier, too. Slightly sad to be leaving Russia, I’ve really enjoyed it here, but also looking forward to completing the next major milestone of the trip.
This is a shot of the Golden Horn bay. Pretty dismal today.