Category: Sydney to Oslo

A story within a story

It’s a human story – the founding of a friendship

It is usually true that one story hides another and in this case it’s very much the case. The original one starts in Turkey back in 2009 on our Sydney to Oslo adventure. It was a clear autumn morning and the skies were blue announcing fine riding weather. As we typically did, we took down in two lots our gear from our hotel room in central Istanbul, first our gear that packs into our panniers then returning to our room to collect our valuables, riding gear and checking that we hadn’t left behind any of our affairs. On the way out, we checked out and made a break taking advantage of the lack of Sunday morning traffic to navigate out of Istanbul in direction west-north-west towards Greece. Although looking extremely clear earlier, the weather was starting to turn with strong gusts of wind sweeping us across our lane on the freeway and grabbing our helmets, trying to flick us off Francois. The gusts were so strong we could lean against the wall of air while riding. Then all of a sudden Francois began to stutter, at 120km/h*, like he was running out of fuel. I had to slow and pull over to the emergency lane as Francois began to stall at 100km/h creating a potentially dangerous situation. Clutch in, rolling down the freeway I just want to make it another kilometre to the rest stop coming up. Changing down to forth gear and letting the clutch our to restart Francois, he coughed and splattered and failed to respond. Now my mind was flying through all the possibilities, battery, fuel, impossible because we had more than half a tank, then what?? Bad batch of fuel perhaps. With the hazard lights on we started to roll into the freeway rest stop. Now I was almost certain that we had a fuel pump failure. Indeed I had just a matter of days earlier been reading about this known problem. And yes all the symptoms seemed to fit. Off the bike, there was no buzz from the fuel pump that typically pumps fuel as the contact is switched on. The battery was fine, lights and starter motor turned over just nothing else. So I proceeded to check my box of tricks for a piece of wire to act as a jumper to bypass the Fuel Pump Controller. With only one piece of wire I had to cut and strip it to create a jumper for both wires… the first problem; there were three wires! Which ones do I need to jump… ok no big deal I’ll just look at my smart phone which has  the wiring diagram, to figure it out. I change over the memory card and realise immediately that was the memory card that had a virus and was erased back in India. So now I need internet connection to search for the details. Unfortunately, there was no hope of finding the internet on the side of the freeway some 70kms from Istanbul, we were surrounded by fields of wheat and sunflowers and the truck stop had a very understocked grocery store which also served the odd hungry customer with a small restaurant. It was so windy even the metal garbage cans that weren’t attached began rolling around pushed by the wind. My attempts to bypass the Fuel Pump Controller (aka FPC) were in vein, all I managed to do was drain the battery by creating a short. Now with no hope of fixing Francois, there was no option but to call for help.

Breakdown in Turkey

Loading Francois onto the tow truck

After about a three hour wait our tow-truck showed up and gave us a lift back to Istanbul and the BMW dealer. As is was Sunday and getting late, we decided to head back into town and make the most of being without Francois, to stay in an inner city budget hotel which didn’t have any parking but was close to the Galata Tower and main pedestrian strip. We were determined to turn this breakdown into an opportunity and not let it ruin our trip. In each problem or breakdown is an opportunity waiting to be explored. The next day I returned to the BMW dealer and Arja explored central Istanbul. Whilst waiting for the dealer to open another traveller on a GS, by the same make and colour as Francois pulled up. He had a lot of stickers on his bike and was obviously from Spain with the capital ‘e’ on his number plate giving his nationality away. I said hello and began to chat, the rest is history, well it is the story actually. That Spanish motorcyclist was none other than Miquel Silvestre who had just come from Central Asia and was heading to Syria and Jordan. Since our encounter in Istanbul we have keep close contact and have helped each other out on several occasions. Miquel introduced us to several of his media contacts and hosted us in Madrid during our visit in March 2011.

GS Riders Pascal & Miquel having a cold one in Istanbul

One of Miquel’s contacts was the media agency that is now responsible for BMW internationally and it secured us an interview with a very kind and friendly person (who of course we can’t mention here). Nonetheless our story has been since published by various English motorcycle press. For that and for your time and collaboration we’d like to say thank you.

Our full story by BMW can be read here

Interview by BMW – Riding2up (PDF)

BMW Motorrad International

We’ll add links to other sites that publish our story as well. If you find one, please let us know or just post a comment here.

Extreme Couples – Arja Pascal & Francois


* The maximum permitted speed for motorcycles on all roads in Turkey is 70km/h. This antiquated law doesn’t take into account larger cyclinder motorcycles. It is one of the biggest political issues for motorcyclists in Turkey. Even though the speed limit is restricted for all motorcycles to 70km/h they are still permitted on freeways, curious really. The reality is that motorcycles as other vehicles are not controlled for speed regularly on freeways in Turkey so this higher speed, keeping up with other traffic, is generally tolerated. Needless to say that it would be far more dangerous travelling at 70km/h on a freeway with cars travelling at 120k/h or faster.


It’s quite surreal to now be in Oslo ten months after we set out. The truth is that it has gone quite quickly and although we have met many people and have many tails and stories to tell the trip was in the end far easier and better than we could ever have hoped.

It is now that we’d both like to thank everyone who has help us, encouraged us, supported us and sponsored us along the way. It’s been especially fantastic to get feedback to our stories and know that people have been continually following us on our way through the tough times and the high times. It is very reassuring when we were both down to know that people were waiting for updates and news from us. It kept us going and made our trip more meaningful.

The most common question by far since we arrived has been ‘What next?’ and with good reason, we’d both love to keep going but the winter is quickly setting in and with both of us needing work we’ll certainly be occupied with job hunting until Christmas.

That said we have more trips on the horizon and even more than ever we will be needing the help and support of sponsors so spread the word and let anyone that might be interested know who we are.

Ride to live and live to ride.

Ride on ride strong.

February 20, 2009

At 7.30am the there was another sort of changing of the guard which concluded by the Chinese flag going up to the sound of the Chinese anthem.

Arja tried to cross to look for some food for brekkie, she was sent back and told the border didn’t open until 8.30am.

Well at least we had coffee and Mandarins, and once past 8.30am Arja went back to the border to cross and was told that she could not go backwards and forwards and needed to enter China.

We more or less decided this ourselves. When an officer came to ask us of our intentions regarding staying on immigration lawn I simply said that I didn’t know and that it was upto customs to advise once they had completed the paperwork. The response was that customs was now open and I should go across and talk to them, so I was allowed into China to speak with customs and it was time again to badger the officer we spoke to yesterday. This was a slow process as the customs officer made a phone call to perhaps an english speaking friend or colleague and put meon the phone. I entered further negotiations with the lady and made it clear that at no point had we ever been advised by a Chinese embassy abroad that we required 4 official docs and that it was ludicrous that customs didn’t know what or how to obtain the documents.

The ultimatum ‘we will cancel your Visa and stamp if you don’t enter China today’.


Francois impounded at Chinese Border

We got permission to store Francois for upto 10 days behind the immigration but we had to enter China leaving the bike behind. This was what I had feared and was far from ideal. So with no other choice left to us we crossed into China without Francois and checked into a hotel.

Now in China we decided to allow ourselves a small Kingsway beer and fried rice for lunch topped off with disco dancing waitresses! No they weren’t at all out of place in this dead-end backwater.

Back to customs and our english speaking customs officer Zong Gui who by now has befriended us or taken pitty on us, either way he has been a great well mannered acquaintance showing nothing but interest and making helpful suggestions. Such as going to Jinghong 3hrs away by bus to find a travel agent willing to perform the necessary paperwork. We considered this and as wwe worked through the pros and cons of leaving the bike at immigration we soon realised that we would be spending at lot of time and money to little or no effect. The decision to leave the border and head back to Laos cutting our loses and continuing on our motorcycling adventure without China was now made. We would leave with our heads held high and our nerves intact knowing that we gave it the best attmept possible. There were no other realistic alternatives then returning to Bangkok and flying over or around China and Myanmar.

February 21, 2009

Arja said in reference to the Chinese customs that they were “Insular, abhorrent, treating foreigners as morons.”

There is not much to say apart from the fact that we didn’t make a smidgeon of progress in terms of temporary importation.

February 22, 2009

Emotional we left China collected Francois and rode to the Laos Boten checkpoint. The Laos post was empty when we arrived as we just got in front of the Chinese tourist coaches lining up to leave Chinese immigration. We completed the application for a Visa on Arrival and had that stamped into our passports then we paid the fee and moved across one window to complete the arrival/departure card, just as we moved to the empty immigration desk the coach full of Chinese tourists banked up behind us. This was annoying as the immigration officer also needed to stamp my Carnet. He took it looked at it and I said it was for my moto, he walked off and consulted a colleague, when he came back he told me to go around the back of the building. So I walked around to be stopped by another officer asking what I wanted I said I needed the carnet stamped and he said go back. At this stage it was clear no one really knew what to do which was annoying as I was here only 2 days earlier and it wasn’t this much trouble. I ended up going to each desk around the building wasting a good half hour until I was back at the first window. By this stage I couldn’t see the officer due to the hordes of people cramming the immigration window. I used my height as an advantage over the shorter asians and held up the yellow Carnet over the top of them and in clear eyeshot of the officer should he look up, it worked. He waved me to his colleage in the next window and I motioned for him to take it and spoke in a loud authoritative voice saying that I had seen everyone and you now need to stamp it for me. The Carnet was stamped in a matter of seconds and so I returned to Arja who had escaped the now stifling heat and was under the awning of the immigration building. As we mounted the bike I remember how we had needed to walk around immigration and join the truck over the otherside and mentioned to Arja that she might need to walk around. She didn’t like this idea and was keen to get going due to the heat. As we approached the border guard wasn’t happy and started waving his arms as if to say we needed to go to immigration. I understood and told Arja to show that our passports had been stamped and we were fine to go. He checked only the photo page and told Arja to go walk around she was infuriated at this point with the instruction being the straw that broke the camels back and she snatched the passport back and shrugged her shoulders in disgust. I said very loudly not to take it out on this guard, it was only his job.

China has highlighted for us how we are quite green around the edges making poor decisions that have impacted our expenditure adversely. It is easy in hindsight but if we didn’t try we would’ve died wondering, so it’s money spent and time to grow and move on as there are certainly more mistakes we will make along the way to Oslo.

The road down to Huay Xay.

Back in Laos and heading towards the Thai border town of Huay Xay, there were many rubber tree plantations that had replaced the tropical rainforests, and not unsurprisingly were many landslides that destroyed significant portions of the road. Testament to the adverse impact of errosion and land degradation due to deforestation and poorly managed natural resources.

Pascal was noticably distressed about the whole Chinese fiasco and took out his agression on an oncoming 4WD that was cutting in on our lane by punching his rear view mirror in. The sound at combined spead of approx 100km/h was a loud smash of plastic. The 4WD suddenly slammed on their brakes and Pascal speed off.

The Chinese border with Laos at Boten / Mohan

February 19, 2009

At this point we had just crossed over the Laos border at Boten and were legitimately stamped out of Laos heading for the Chinese border post of Mohan. We were now more than ever in the hands of our truck driver and the border guards. This was the very moment we had been having nightmares about, not knowing if we would be let into the country with our bike or turned away.

We went to immigration and filled in the arrival/departure cards almost shaking with nerves and handed over our passports. We sat and waited for about 15mins and when they came back our passports hadn’t been stamped. Our Chinese truck driver had blabbed in Chinese about the bike and told immigration officers I didn’t know exactly what was said but soon understood when I asked and the officer said that because of the bike they wouldn’t stamp our passports and that we had better speak to customs first. The officer said that if customs was ok with the bike that they would then stamp our passports. So we proceeded to the customs desk under an umbrella by the roadside. The customs officer didn’t speak english and it was unclear what he wanted exactly until he had an immigration officer translate for him. What he translated sounded quite positive as the customs officer had said that although we weren’t able to take the bike into China because we needed four official documents, an import permit and guarantee, army permit for all provences we wished to travel in, traffic police permit, registration papers and chinese drivers licence it would take at least one week to organise. I asked how much it would cost the officer I think understood but dismissed the suggestion, this was my only attempt at a bribe. Further discussions took place as we tried to negotiate for transit of our motorcycle, which was not working at the time, through China and not to ride. Our attempts to argue this point were responded with even though we wanted it as lugguage it was still a motor vehicle that required the necessary permits. The immigration officer then translated that he was sorry and our motorcycle could not enter China and would have to go back behind the border line into no mans land. This is because meanwhile our truck driver ha driven into China over the border and parked in front of the customs office, we now had to move it and we were given the option of returning to Laos or getting stamped into China but the motorcycle had to stay in no mans land. So we went back to immigration to have our passports stamped while the truck driver moved the truck. I didn’t particularly like this but thought that at least it was one step closer to being in China so we got the immigration stamp.

Post Unloading

Francois just unloaded off the small truck which we had tried to use to cross the border

I started to go about getting Francois off the lorry with a few planks of wood that had served the nearby constructions as scaffolding. The planks were long and thin and full of nails. I chose carefully and turned the planks with the nails downwards or bent the nails down with my boots. The slendor planks were about 4m long and it took four of them to carry my weight waking up the makeshift ramp to the truck. Dispite Arja’sprotests and cries of concern I went about the task of backing Francois out of the truck. The back of the truck was at least 90cm high and any loss of balance backing down the rocking plank would be very bad news. As I moved the motorcycle into position inside the truck with the help of our driver and a friend of his it was clear we had our hands full with the 230kg beast. I needed to back the rear wheel of the bike up the slight downward slant of the truck and up onto to the planks, this was tough and I only managed when both men pulled to assist. Once on the planks we procariously backed it down assisted now by gravity. When the font wheel was on the planks I had to get out of the truck, this was probably the worst moment as I was off balance and unable to hold the bike properly, this would’ve been a near impossible task alone, but the two men helping the bike was steady. The closer to the road the easier it was to handle the weight and by this stage Arja had almost vomited due to nervous anxiety at the thought of Francois falling from his perch on the flimsy planks. This didn’t happen and after getting the bike on its side stand and sitting down I realise just how anxious I had been too as I had the shakes and happily accepted a smoke to calm my nerves.

Immigration Inspection

Immigration officials inspecting Francois

Given we were now stamped into China but our bike wasn’t we saw no alternative but to camp sur place, where we were and make a stand. We were literally in front of immigration office, which conveniently had a patch of lawn and water for us. So after resting and having mandarins and watermelon offered to us by our driver we went about setting up camp on Chinese immigration lawn.

5pm the immigration closed and there was a changing of the guard and the Chinese flag was lowered.

At 8pm the border closed for the night and immigration office shut.

The night was cool and condensation formed as soon as the sun disappeared. We had our instant noodles and ovaltine which made for an enjoyable dinner on the steps of immigration. We had little idea of what the next day would have in store for us, would we be able to somehow cross over now they had discovered our true intentions?

December 8 2008

After a slow morning we headed further into the  Cameron Highlands to Birchang in search of strawberry farms and the famous tea plantations. After wrestling Francois through the public holiday traffic (Muslim holiday Hajid) we only just saw the turnoff to Sungai Palas and Boh Tea estate. The steep narrow windy road was extremely picturesque and slippery due to the moss and leaves. Extra care was needed and the sounding of Francois’ horn on blind corners proved a cautious measure that paided off on several occasions. At the Boh tea house we were waved on by the security to continue past the parking lot directly up the hill to the café and lookout, this sort of treatment is common for motorcyclists in Malaysia and something that could be learnt in Australia.

Aside – not only do motorcyclists get special treatment but they don’t pay tolls, parking and have the right to park on footpaths if the motorcycle parking (which is everywhere) is fully used. There are of course many more motorcycles here in Malaysia than Australia but the proportion is not as high as in other asian countries.

Pascal Filming

Pascal filming the locals harvesting tea from the undulating tea plantations

After the tea house we went to a strawberry farm and vegetable garden to look at the typical food of the region and how it’s grown. No real surprises except for the Malaysian apple (as it was called by our impromptue Bangladeshi tour guide) the size of an apple but in the shape of a roma tomato with a light green/yellow skin and light orange flesh which tasted more like a mini rock melon than an apple.

December 9 2008

Our alarm sounded at 5:30am intended to get us up and out the door for the sunrise over the highlands from Mt Birchang standing at 2018m. After a couple of false starts and a lot of difficulties in overcoming our laziness we made it out the door to a chilly morning. Halfway up the mountain we took a wrong turn and ended up following the muddy goat trail through tiny small farms until the road deteriorated so much we turned back, convinced that no tourist bus or 4WD would come this way, so back down we went still in pitch black and eager to find the right assending road before sunrise. We finally made it and joined five chinese tourists at the top of the lookout tower where it was a very cold and windy wait for the sunrise. The weather was more reminiscent of Europe than the tropics. It was well worth the cold early wakeup and the morning scenery is breathtaking. It fortunately is one of the few pockets of rainforest that hasn’t been cleared for palm tree or tea plantations.

Sign our petition against Palm Oil plantations that destroy rainforets.

After breakfast we checked out of Father’s Guesthouse and headed to Ipoh via the ‘new’ road which wasn’t marked on our map. It was a piece of motorcycling paradise lined by stunning views and cool tropical mountains the road was wide, in excellent condition and barely any traffic, except for the odd diesel truck or bus. I got covered in soot and when we stopped for lunch I wiped my face and all the black soot from the exhaust of the trucks came off on my hanky, disgusting!

Kuala Kangsar Mosque

The team infront of Kuala Kangsar Mosque in the Royal town

After lunch, we continued on our journey to Kuala Kangsar (the Royal town). We were both really hot and bothered so we crashed at the tourist information centre and enquired about accommodation for the night. A nice guy booked us a double room, but unsure about whether we wanted to stay, we headed out in search of the grand mosque. We took a happy snap of its golden domes and then drove down to the riverside for an afternoon seista. We ended up staying the night and found the town to be a very homely and friendly place to be away from the typical tourist traps of Malaysia.

Sunday 7/12/2008

We’re writing this update from Pascal’s iPaq connected to WiFi in the comfort of our room in Tanah Rata a small tourist centre in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia. Apologies if there are typos or missing text…

The first day on the road

Well it felt like a long time coming, and even though we have managed to fit in a lot over the past couple of weeks, there is nothing quite like hopping back on the bike and going for a spin, which is exactly what it felt like – except that we’re in Malaysia!!

Before setting of on our first day of riding we were sent off by all the wedding guests staying at our hotel in KL, the obligatory photos, some video footage and a couple of small wheelies  along the hotel driveway to mark our departure.

We were lucky guests to the extremely ornate wedding of our friends Phil and Elisa

It was a relatively hassle free ride along the A-road highway (not the boring freeway where you don’t see anything) for about 200kms and a quick roadside lunch stop in Bidor before heading up the mountain road to Tanah Rata. Malaysian drivers have an annoying and sometimes dangerous habit of cutting corners and running wide, this isn’t such a problem as most of them drive quite slowly, give way to other traffic and have well maintained vehicles (ie. Good brakes) which won’t be the case for other countries we’ll be travelling through. Best to keep our wits about us and that’s the main reason for not wanting to ride too far today, even just 200kms on unfamiliar roads can be very fatiguing.

Undulating hills of the Cameron Highlands are covered by Tea Plantations

It truly felt great to hit the road and have the importation all behind us now (even if it isn’t the last of the red tape it’s a start – only 24 more countries to go). I think that the reality of the dream has now started to set in as we come to terms with the idiosyncrasies of travelling on the road.

After an ordeal getting Francois out of customs our first day on the road was very memorable and fantastic to be on the bike again.

After we left the wedding party we headed north along highway 1 on our way to the Cameron Highlands and Tanah Rata to escape from the oppressive humidity of KL and the lowlands. At the local steet (night) markets at Tanah Rata we bought ourselves a noodle dish, somewhat resembling a padthai with flat rice noodles stirfried in a massive wok with bean sprouts. We later found out that they were in fact quite spicy like a lot of malaysian food and that the chilli sauce served with the noodles wasn’t necessary for our sensitive palets.

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