Bee-bee certainly picks her moments… The first time she broke down was in Russia when the alternator died and the battery ran flat leaving us stranded across a railway line!
Last weekend she again threw her toys from the pram at the most opportune moment!
On Saturday prior to leaving for a family camping trip she refused to start. The car was packed, the fridge was loaded, the batteries were charged, she turned over, but just refused to start. On closer inspection I noticed the glow-plug warm-up light wasn’t coming on either. After a few checks with the meter and a quick visit to the Hilux Surf Forum I diagnosed the problem as the Electronic Control Unit (ECU). Hopefully. It seems that it’s a common problem with at least two other people on the forum suffering the same fault this year. As it’s Bee-bee’s 20th birthday this year I’m wondering if Toyota have programmed a self-destruct sequence into the ECU!
So with a little white hire car in place we headed off camping with my nieces while Bee-bee missed out on all the fun, sat inactive and sulking on the driveway. The trip was planned to not only spend time with family but to also road-test all our kit prior to setting off again.
The ECU has now been sent to the highly recommended ECU-Doctor. With a car our age these kinds of parts are not available new anymore. Buying one from a broker is risky, so the best course of action is to get the ECU repaired and remapped. The ECU-Doctor can diagnose and confirm the suspected fault, repair it and offer a 12-month guarantee in the process. Let’s hope I’ve diagnosed it correctly and that he can work his magic on Bee-bee’s brain!
We leave in 80 days and are pleased to launch our new website and new plan. Bigger, bolder, brighter (yet naturally still in Bee-bee) the new 800 days promises to valiantly continue our overland adventure.
Setting off from England on July 21st, we’ll weave our way down through South-Eastern Europe; Belgium, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania, Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey and Cyprus (phew!). By early 2015 we should be venturing into the lesser-travelled Caucasus region through Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Crossing the Caspian Sea by ship we’ll arrive in Kazakhstan and pick up our original route through the ‘Stans and Iran before voyaging into Asia.
Let the 80 to 800 days countdown begin…
As far as overland expo’s and festivals go, it’s not very often we find ourselves in the right place at the right time. So imagine our delight when we discovered that the Adventure Travel Film Festival (ATFF) was only one day away and then to discover it was located just 30minutes down the road! I nearly wet myself with excitement. Unfortunately due to the late notice (and lack of funds) we could only attend on Friday evening. Our ‘for one night only’ attendance didn’t dispel our enthusiasm for the event and excitedly we hit the road.
On arrival we were welcomed by the naturally charismatic, overalled and recently named ‘Overlander of the Year’ by Expedition Portal, Austin Vince. Austin’s warm welcome set the tone for the evening.
Austin however is only one half of the organising duo. Lois Pryce in her own right is a truly inspirational woman. Between them they have accomplished some great achievements. Austin was one of the first Europeans to traverse the Zilov Gap by motorcycle and reach Magadan after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This amazing feat predates Ewan and Charlie’s ‘Long Way Round’ trip by nearly 10 years. Lois is an accomplished writer, banjo picker and in 2003 rode a little Yamaha XT225 from the northernmost tip of Alaska to the southernmost tip of South America, solo!
Clearly both Lois and Austin have a penchant for the vintage; this is reflected in Austin’s love of 70’s overalls and Lois’ love of historic expeditions and vintage British motorcycles. Something Emma can relate to as her late Grandfather (also a well travelled inspirational man) had three exceptionally clean Vincent’s; a Black Prince, a Comet and a little 45cc Firefly.
This was the 3rd annual ATFF and it’s clear that Austin and Lois, along with an army of volunteers, know how to throw a party. The camping ground, full of adventure bikers, cyclists and a few overlanding 4x4’s was home to the 700+ crowd for the weekend; obviously, the audience sharing the same authentic passion for adventure as the organisers.
Lois and Austin’s love of retro is also reflected in the appearance of the vintage cinema bus. The bus is a slice of cinema and automotive history, a truly unique vehicle.
The festival is complimented with a schedule of workshops, seminars, displays, trade-stands and cooking competitions and demos. We attended Louise Wilson’s ‘Blogging from the Road’ presentation. The seminar was aimed at blogging virgins, albeit we managed to get a few new ideas to improve our own blog and website. We had the chance to have a little chat with both Louise and her partner David, you can download the interview here.
Of the 15+ films that were screened over the weekend we only managed to catch Gaurav Jani’s very Indian ‘One Crazy Ride’. A tale of overloaded motorcycling camaraderie through the uncharted ‘roads’ of the Himalayan state of Arunachal Pradesh, in north-eastern India. The film is a touching story of brotherhood (and sisterhood) in the face of unforgiving terrain.
On our return home we decided to purchase and download a few of the featured films.
Tom Allen’s incredibly life affirming and at times raw and introspective ‘Janapar’ is an emotive story that gives the viewer a real insight into the struggles faced by solo long distance bicyclists. Beautifully shot, edited and with a well-crafted soundtrack this tale is more than just a travel film, it is a good old-fashioned love story that never fails to move!
An unexpected late addition to the program was a talk given by an unpaid Ben Fogle entitled ‘The Accidental Adventurer’. Like many people attending I was unaware of the extent of his achievements. This quote from the synopsis of the book with the same name highlights some of his greatest.
“He has rowed across the Atlantic, walked to the South Pole, run the Sahara and skated across Sweden. He has encountered remote tribes-people in deepest Papua New Guinea, caused a Boeing 747 to dump £100k of fuel before making an emergency landing in Sao Paolo, and been mistaken for Prince William on numerous occasions.”
Despite his Royal doppelgänger I think he missed the irony in denying he was posh as during his talk he “poo-pooed an idea” and “had blisters on his bottom”. Despite my internal sniggers, Ben Fogle has an endearing character and is a great public speaker. After hearing him talk I had a newfound respect for him. We also missed a great photo opportunity with him as I was in the queue for the burger stand!
On its own admission and to its credit the ATFF is by no means a big Hollywood affair, I’ve certainly never heard of long-drop compost toilets in Cannes! And that is what makes this event so great. The 5-point manifesto states one of the aims of the ATFF is to bring together the adventure travel community. This criteria is certainly met.
The festival has undoubtedly inspired us to think more about increasing and improving the quality of our own films. Our time back in the UK will give me a chance to catalogue and edit the hundreds of hours of footage we’ve shot so far. Maybe we’ll see our names in LED camp lights at next year’s event!
Incidentally if you missed this festival you don’t have to wait a year before the next one just hop on a plane, jump on your bike, paddle your canoe or fire up your 4x4 and head to the Australian or U.S. leg, the latter being part of Overland Expo. If not, see you next year in Dorset!
Our second monthly update in Gallery Magazine can now be viewed online, this months theme for issue #7 is Miniature. You can view it here and also catch-up on issue #6 if you missed that one too.
... or face-to-face with an entanglement of red tape for not just one, but three central Asian countries.
We decided to apply for our Russian, Mongolian and Kazakhstan visas from the UK before we left to allow a few clear months of bureaucracy-free motoring. Good plan; more time in the wilds of Siberia. Bad plan; a month behind schedule while our passports go back and forth between central Asian consulates and agents.
A visa is essentially an authorization by the government of a country granting you eligibility and permission to travel there, mainly in the form of a stamp in your passport. Visa types vary massively; tourist, business, transit, student, employment, diplomatic (marriage?) they can be single, double or multiple-entry, vary in validity and duration and cost anywhere from nothing to over £200. A Russia visa is the highest-priced in the world, costing 3 times more than the next expensive country. Then there are the ‘support documents’, the additional paperwork that a government requests along with your application form. The best advice is “know before you go”; check out any restrictions on countries you plan to visit here.
The first step in obtaining a Russian business visa is the ‘Letter of Invitation’; impossible to get independently as it comes from Moscow and is written in Russian, so you need to pay an agent whose speed in obtaining this depends on how much you pay them. The Russian authorities want to see 3 months bank statements (verified and stamped by your bank) with a minimum balance of £3,000. We had to state that we do not have dangerous mental afflictions (!) and we have no skills in firearms, nuclear explosives or biological substances or have a military background. For Kazakhstan we needed to provide a hotel booking confirmation, despite the fact that we don’t need to stay there or even visit that particular town. Kazakh officials want to see a cover letter explaining why you want to visit and outlining your itinerary. Only Mongolia wanted to check we were insured!
Rest assured this is by no means a moan; as British citizens we are fortunate enough to possess a passport which allows us huge freedom to travel to most countries worldwide, globally we rank 5th in facing the least restrictions. Check out the Henley Visa Restrictions Index to see how your country ranks in ‘travel freedom’; the Danes and Swedes are onto a winner but spare a thought for Nepali, Pakistani and Afghan citizens who rank bottom when it comes to visiting other countries. We Brits are incredibly lucky in this regard, something we generally take way too much for granted.
After a month’s wait we are relieved to know that all 3 of our visa's have been granted and we are now only 24 hours away from our passport being released from the last consulate. I may be tempting fate saying this, but next day delivery of our passports should see them back in our eager hands Tuesday morning to be quickly packed in the car and heading East before the sun sets. We’re finally off and are sure to encounter much more visa ‘fun’ along the way.
For more detailed information about Visas for Russia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan visit our 'Logistics' page.
For me, Lush was a natural choice (literally) when it came to all things soap-like. Although we are travelling without access to ‘normal’ bathroom facilities, that is no reason to let personal hygiene slide! However, as most of our time will be spent camping in the wilderness we are conscious of ‘treading lightly’ so don’t want to leave any nasty chemicals, artificial bubbles or plastic bottles in our wake. In addition, bottles of liquid shampoo, soaps and moisturisers are heavy and every extra gram makes the car heavier and less economical.
Our shampoo, conditioner, hand moisturiser, soap and even deodorant are all solid bars; no water as an ingredient means no preservatives and no packaging (minimising waste). Each shampoo bar lasts between 80 and 100 washes and barely weighs anything. Our deodorant does not contain aluminium to block pores (most anti-perspirants do!) using gentler elements to minimise sweating. ‘Dream Cream’ contains Camomile and Calamine to soothe sunburnt or ‘stung’ skin in addition to moisturising. Toothpaste tubes cannot be recycled (taking over 450 years to degrade!); we use solid ‘Toothy Tabs’ which weigh 5 times less and come in a recycled cardboard box. Our seaweed Sea Vegetable soap contains sea salt and antiseptic lavender oil (to banish ‘nasties’) but will not leave horrid chemicals on the ground when we wash ‘al fresco’.
We like companies with strong environmental and ethical values; Lush does not test on animals, everything is hand-made with fresh, fairly-traded ingredients (and they don’t even advertise their products). It’s good value too- with most expensive face creams you pay more for the supermodel who tells you how ‘great’ it is than the actual ingredients. Through careful choices like this we can be clean and smell nice for 800 days whilst minimising our impact on the planet we are exploring.
Visa processing times continue to keep our itchy feet on British soil; the good news is that we have been granted Kazakhstan and Mongolian Visas and are just waiting on Russia now. For all our planning and painstakingly precise lists there are still two big logistical questions before we hit the road; will it all fit in and will it all work? With bonus time on our hands we set off for 3 days camping on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset. Designated as an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’, this peninsula boasts the highest number of native wild flower species in Britain and is home to all seven of the UK’s reptile species. The weather has been gorgeously sunny throughout England over the past couple of weeks; we chose Burnbake Campsite, a quite woodland spot as the location for our overland overhaul.
Space was pretty much maxed-out as we drove off which has provoked some thought about how we can reduce our equipment to allow a less crammed-in carload. The majority of our possessions are organised into 13 Wolf Boxes which stack together and allow us to store and access our equipment easily and methodically. These have also controlled what we take with us; both Andy and I have limited ourselves to one box each for clothing and one for personal possessions. Throughout our travel trial the boxes were shuffled and re-packed, with some items being relegated as superfluous and others being added to a new list.
Our rooftent is now a boudoir of luxury with new duvet and bedding, we have also fitted foam camping mats between the mattress and the fibreglass base for extra insulation when we venture close to the Arctic Circle. We fitted DIY hole-punch peg eyelets to the bottom of our awning walls to fix it securely to the ground and stop the sides flapping about in the wind.
Some kitchen Feng-shui presented us with an efficient work area for food preparation; the industrial-lino-covered tailgate has already proved to be an excellent work surface. Our pristine Coleman dual-fuel burner stove was taken out of the box and (following careful reading of instructions- it runs on petrol!) was soon cooking up our first outdoor cuisine. Despite being limited to just 2 boxes our kitchen has pretty much everything; including the kitchen sink (collapsible, of course).We were keen to see how long our ‘house battery’ would last before needing a re-charge; impressively, for the 3 days we were there our fridge ran constantly at 3⁰C, we charged laptop and camera batteries, and had lights underneath the awning and in the rooftent at night (with 25% power remaining when we left!).
Our ‘2 second cabin’ lived up to its name when bursting out of the bag (mastering the art of folding it back in took slightly longer). This lightweight, compact 1m x 1m tent is ideal for use as a shower, washroom, toilet or changing tent. The adventure Hammock had its first ‘stringing-up’... following this our productivity noticeably decreased; nothing is more relaxing than swinging gently in the dappled sunshine with a warm breeze and only background bird song. We can’t wait for some of the shine on our new equipment to be replaced with dust and mud but in the meantime it’s reassuring to know that we’re well prepared for the journey ahead.
Following a perilous crossing of the English Channel for the first stage of our journey, we took shelter in the bay of Weymouth for a second weekend of ‘waving off’ and general adventure partying. It was lovely to spend time with family and friends who travelled to the South Coast, especially my sister Clare and boyfriend Leighton who flew all the way from Dubai.
With friends scattered around the country it was a great chance to spend the weekend together and catch up. Friday night was spent old school ‘Butlins’ style at the Riviera Hotel complete with staff cabaret. This was followed by (too much) drinking and dancing at the legendary 24 hour Dorothy Inn on the seafront. Saturday we gathered at Ma and Da’s for a BBQ (five types of sausage no less) and stayed up until the small hours chatting around the fire pit in the garden under the twinkling lights and bunting in the gazebo. Sunday’s wouldn’t be complete without a big, fat traditional roast and we all headed to the Ship Inn, with lunch followed by an epic skittles battle, boys v girls. For those with stamina, the drinking carried on at The Spyglass followed by a blow-out curry back at the house.
We would like to thank everybody who made the effort to travel down and spend the weekend with us, it was a wonderful send off and we hope that over the next 800 days we will meet up with friends and family on our travels.
Emma and I have a monthly double page spread in Gallery Magazine. Each month the magazine is set with a theme, this months being 'Gluttony'. We are incredibly lucky in that we can write and design the article as we plan to subsidise our trip to some degree by working from the road. I'm a part-time graphic designer by trade so can freelance from anywhere around the world as long as I have the occasional internet signal. You can read the on-line version of this months Gallery Magazine HERE. Our article is on page 42/43.
Emma and I are sat on the ferry, watching St Peter Port harbour disappear into the distance. We have officially set sail (from Guernsey at least). We marked this occasion by having a serious weekend of partying with our friends and family on the island.
The last year has been spent so intently focused on working, planning and fund-raising that our social life’s had taken a bit of a backseat. It was great to catch up with friends and have one final blow out.
The weekend saw us celebrate at The Townhouse in Guernsey where we threw a ‘Russian Prison Tempempory Tattoo Party’. The idea was that when we are arrested in Russia we’ll know what to expect when we are thrown in jail. Everyone made an effort and we had all the fun whilst many of our friends played DJ sets. Carnage ensued as various shots got necked in short succession.
We’d like to thank all the people that came down and helped us celebrate in style, especially those who travelled from the UK just to wave us off. We’d also like to thank Sam Jarrold, Andre De Carteret, Paul Mason-Barney, Liam Gleeson, Dave Clyde, Pete Galliot and anyone else who may have played records.
We also had a slightly more civil affair the day before we left with close friends and family. The carvary at the Imperial Hotel took a battering as we devoured plates of Roast Beef. It was a little sad to say goodbye for the final time, but it’s nice knowing many of our friends and family are willing to come and visit us on our adventure (although once they’ve seen the toilet arrangement they might change their minds!).
The next two weeks are going to be fairly intense with the last of the car jobs taking priority alongside the final red tape fiasco and our Weymouth leaving party.