Travel by motorcycle to the East
Here I am, under the coconut palms – with my rear end that’s practically flat after the last 15,500 km I rode on my trusty 2005 Suzuki V-Strom 650 over the past two and a half months – as I write a bit about what I’ve been up to travelling around Asia the past 890 days.
My trip towards the rising sun that started on May 8th, 2015 now ends at its second stage with a stop in Goa, India. A few months to recharge my batteries (and possibly my wallet) and then I’ll plan the rest of my trip.
As I Depart
I still remember that distant Friday, May 8th 2015, when I said my goodbyes to my family and left on my own with a nautical compass pointing east mounted onto the dashboard. After a few hours, I arrived in Croatia. I opened up my tent with tears still wetting my helmet from the emotion of having actually made my dream come true. A dream that I had been planning for eight years when, then and there, I realized I hadn’t brought a single camping accessory with me… except for my camping stove. A few curse words later, I had a good laugh and ended up eating beans in a can, using my aluminum cup as a spoon … Not a bad start! I crossed the Balkans in two weeks, visiting some of the cities that have marked the history of the 1990s and that today still bear an incredible load of humanity. I was moved when I stood in front of the bullet-riddled houses in Sarajevo, and really got into the heart of my trip when, after spending a few pleasant evenings with friends I met through couch surfing, I traveled alone to Skopje in the middle of the night without ever feeling that I was in danger, even if in those days there were still strong uprisings in Macedonia. The whole world was on my side.
After about four thousand kilometers, in the midst of a multitude of cultures living very close to each other, I arrived in Turkey. That’s where my life changed, permanently.
Turkey: I Was Supposed to Stay Two Weeks but …
I ended up staying fifteen months. I would never have imagined it, yet, from the very first day, I met wonderful people along the way. I travelled throughout the country, covering nine thousand kilometers in fifty days. I visited every remote corner of Kurdistan, riding just a few kilometers from the Syrian border and the regions under the PKK without any problem. Actually, I was always put up by local families.
Once I visited all that was east of the Armenian border, I was supposed to reached Trabzon, retrieve my spare tyres, what I needed for inspecting and servicing my bike, and my visa for Iran, then be on my way to Georgia, but nothing went as it was supposed to. There was something I had to get done. I knew it, but I didn’t want to admit it, and so, without even realizing it, I found an excuse and went back to Istanbul. Thanks to the friends I made along the way, I started taking a paragliding course at Tekirdag, on the Sea of Marmara. This was another one of my dreams over the years, which finally came true. I quickly established a great rapport with everyone and began to live with the club members, learning the art of flying and helping them out in their daily chores, living according to the rhythms of nature, in a village in the mountains overlooking the sea, isolated from civilization. A magnificent lifestyle, that changed my body and mind.During those months, and not without difficulty, did I finally understand what I had continued putting on hold: this epochal journey and the choice of a radical life were incomplete without the person I had dreamt of experiencing all this with, but from whom I had distanced myself the months before I left for this trip. Despite everything, she was still there dreaming of a future together, just like I was. So, when I finally made up my mind, and I asked her if she would come travel with me, she gave up a safe, steady job and joined me in Turkey to experience the madness of this trip I had undertaken, without a final destination.
That madness didn’t last too long. In August 2016, my one-year residence permit in Turkey expired, and we were forced to make a decision. Money was running short. What were we to do? It seemed to be the end of our trip towards the land of the rising sun and the beginning of a sad return to the west. It was after a painful farewell to my Turkish “adoptive family”, as we were traveling to the Greek border, that I had to stop. We were both quietly sobbing in our helmets. Neither of us intended to return to our previous lives. So, we decided to toss a Turkish lira. Heads (reason) we return home. Tails (heart) we go east, who knows where to. Three tosses. First: tails. Second: tails. We looked at each other, with tears in our eyes, and all she said was: “Ok, let’s go”. I reversed and unleashed everything that the magnificent Suzuki V-twin engine could give us, heading back to Istanbul, and then further east.
We arrived in Georgia without the proper equipment, without a Carnet de Passage, visas, money, and without our rain gear… but we were happy. We spent about a month there, meeting fabulous people and making lasting friendships, traveling in the Caucasus and testing my loaded bike and its new Heidenau K60s in Ushguli, off road, on very demanding terrain. It turned out to be the perfect ride. Above all expectations! However, winter was just around the corner and it was already late in the season to travel further on, since it snows in autumn in Armenia and the passes to Iran are closed. So we decided to leave the bike there and return to Italy to work a few months and reorganize our trip to Asia.
The Middle East: Cultural Varieties and Breathtaking Views
The winter months in Milan exhausted us, and if I had had a good alternative, I would have avoided them willingly, but at least they helped us organize our next trip. Having serviced the bike after it spent months parked in Kutaisi, we left Georgia in June of 2017, heading south. We crossed Armenia and its endless valleys and mountains, enjoying the freedom and tranquility that the country offered, sleeping in tents almost every day without ever feeling uncomfortable. We also visited Nagorno-Karabakh and then entered Iran – Persia – the cradle of civilization. A truly unique place that I would recommend visiting, whether or not on motorcycle, because of the boundless hospitality of the Iranians, their great architecture, the importance of the country’s history, which is clearly perceived wherever you go and, of course, for their delicious food. A country we promised to return to because a month is just not enough to visit it all and because we left behind too many friends we must see, again.
The distances in the Middle East are vaster and greater than they are in Europe, and the environment is much more extreme. Summer was in its fullest aridity when we faced the scorching Dasht-e-Lut desert, where I experienced one of the most incredible events of my life: paragliding at sunset over the dunes, and where we left most of the strength and energy we needed to cross it and reach the border of Pakistan. The many nights we spent in a tent in the desert, under the infinite sky of stars, and even more nights couch surfing with extraordinary people, have made Iran an absolutely unforgettable destination.
It’s for Your Safety!
“It’s for your safety” is what we kept hearing during the most difficult part our entire trip, the one in Pakistan. When we reached Mirjaveh, the last Iranian crossing point, we set out across the border, and fled just in time from the Imam of the town, who were becoming a bit too intrusive. Crossing the border into Pakistan was rather simple. However, despite it being morning, we were forced by the Levies, the police in Baluchistan, to stay overnight in Taftan and wait for an escort. This was the beginning of a two thousand kilometer trip covered in ten days under an armed escort 24/7. Pakistan itself is not a really dangerous country because it is very controlled and because tourists are forbidden to access all the sensitive areas. Nevertheless, safety for them is never enough and, for almost the entire trip, we were forced to follow motor scooters or old and polluting Toyota Hiluxs driven by policemen with Kalashnikovs.
Only in Lahore were we finally free to continue alone, and we decided to visit the Karakoram, so that at least we wouldn’t leave this country thinking it was the worst in the world. It worked out because as you go north, things start to change, and the nature you encounter is wonderful, with mountains over 7000 meters high and pristine valleys, but the Grand Trunk road (GT road) is truly horrible and, at such a high altitude, we really sweated it out. We made great friends we’ll never forget here, as well. However, at the end of the day, once out of Pakistan, I can’t really say that we’re looking forward to going back!
The Soul of Asia
At the beginning of September, we arrived in India, the fifteenth country we visited on our trip. We went through Wagah, the only border open with Pakistan. An almost deserted border, since neither Pakistanis nor Indians are usually allowed to cross it and, judging from the registers, only a couple of over landers cross it per week. In Amritsar, the first city after the border, we suddenly felt as if we were in a different world, full of contrasts and spirituality, dirt, scents, dreariness, and bright colors. A world that makes you both uncomfortable and relaxed at the same time.
In all honesty, we were frightened by India before arriving but, once we got there, we were overwhelmed by its energy, and we tried to seize the best of every moment. A few weeks ago we were in Ladakh, a Tibetan gem in one of the regions of Indian. A magical place that offers a moving experience to all travelers who set foot there and where we became great friends with some of the locals.
Forced by the persistent winter to keep moving south, we ended up in the chaotic city of Delhi, before spending a week in Rajasthan, and finally arriving, after 36,500 kilometers of travel, to the tropical sea of Goa, where we decided to spend the next few months relaxing, working where possible, and organizing our trip for 2018.
The bike deserved a good cleaning, needed to be entirely serviced, the clutch replaced (we almost covered 90,000 kilometers), new tyres were needed, as was a well-deserved respite…
This trip, this way of life, is becoming a cure for madness towards which classical western life had naturally led us. I don’t know where we’ll end up going, and I actually don’t care to know. We’ll figure it out in due course. Now all we have to think about is enjoying the tropics, looking eastward, with a smile on our faces, and our imagination reaching beyond the horizon.