Monsoon? What monsoon?

As we left the chaos of Mumbai, we were hopeful for the weather. During the two days we had spent acclimatising there had been hardly any rainfall; a few light showers, but nothing to warrant worrying about. As we hit the road on Sunday, we were excited. Excited to see the rest of this incredible country and hopeful for the weather. Maybe we had timed our arrival just right?

We headed first back down to the southern most point of the city, the end of the peninsular where the Gateway Of India is, where a short ferry would take us to Mandwa or Alibag. After a couple of hours of battling with the crazy traffic, and getting caught up in some huge festival procession for Ganesh, we eventually made it to the most touristy spot in the city. As George went off to collect the ferry tickets I had a crowd of at least 30 people around me within seconds, taking pictures and asking, "selfie please, Sir?"

George returned with a problem. There were no ferries running between these ports, as it was still monsoon season. We looked up at the midday sunshine. What monsoon?! There had hardly been a drop of rain in the two days we had been in Mumbai. The idea of catching this ferry was to avoid leaving the city island to the east, to then spend an entire day cycling in a westerly direction back to the coast; therefore possibly not counting towards our world record total. This however looked to be our only option. So with this decided, we headed back north, basically in the direction we had just come.

A few miles up the road we met an Indian road cyclist who was headed in our direction. His English was excellent and he kindly agreed to guide us up towards the bridge that would take us to New Bombay, where we could exit the city and follow the coast south. After some risky highway cycling, we made it to the bridge and crossed into New Bombay.

A little later in the day, very close to our destination of Panvel where we had booked a hotel a motorcyclist pulled alongside us and asked all the usual questions of "where are you going?" "Where are you from?" etc. And then he asked us to join him for a drink. So we obliged and pulled over, expecting a nice warming cup of masala chai. As we sat down, the gentlemen who had asked us to join him said "right then, whiskey or beer Sirs?" And proceeded to order himself and his friend a bottle of Indian whiskey. We enjoyed a beer and some snacks with him whilst he told us of his friends who had moved to England and even phoned one of them and handed the phone to us for a chat! Afterwards he led us safely to our hotel, which turned out to be only around the corner. Although the first day hadn't gone exactly to plan, we still put it down as a success.

Our friendly motorcyclist friend.  

Our friendly motorcyclist friend.  

The following day the rain came. As it did the following day as well. The showers were sporadic but always enough to soak you through, and the dry spells always seemed just long enough to dry you out. Okay, maybe the monsoon is still here! Trying not to let the rain dampen our spirits we pressed on. Until Monday afternoon, when disaster struck. We had our first puncture. We had cycled over 4,000 miles, on all terrains, all the way across Europe, Turkey and Georgia without a hitch before this day. As we started to repair the inner tube, the guy who was running the restaurant we had just had lunch at insisted on helping (he turned out to be a fairly proficient bike mechanic, as I think many Indians are). He refitted the inner tube for us, we put the bike all back together and we were away again. No more than 2 hours later however, the same tyre had gone. Because the inner tube wasn't in straight, it had pinched at another point and had another puncture. We replaced it with a brand new inner tube, and headed to the first hotel we could find to get some sleep.

 

Puncture #1.  

Puncture #1.  

The following two days ran smoothly as could be, another 150 miles under our belt and we were feeling good again. The rain didn't even bother us at this point, we were flying! And then, bang! Just 10 miles short of Malvan, our destination for the end of the day, possibly the loudest bang either of us had ever heard. The rear tyre had gone again. And this time in spectacular fashion, a huge tear in the sidewall of the actual tyre and an inch rip in the inner tube itself. Not knowing how far we were from a town, let alone a bike shop, we rudimentarily fixed the tyre as best we could and put a new inner tube in. After only a few minutes, even in the middle of nowhere a crowd of locals on scooters and tuc-tucs had gathered around us and they informed us there was a bike shop no further than 1km away in the next town. With this, for the good of the new inner tube we decided to push the bike into town and sure enough we found the bike shop straight away. We purchased two new inner tubes and a new tyre for the grand total of 350 rupees (approx. £4). We then looked for a hotel and left the fitting till morning. What a day it had been!

At the top of our biggest climb so far in India, 750 metres above sea level.  

At the top of our biggest climb so far in India, 750 metres above sea level.  

After a poor nights sleep in the damp room we had been given, we fitted the new tyre as best we could, hoped and prayed and crossed our fingers and toes that it would get us to Panjim, Goa where we could pick up some decent tyres and give the bike a bit of a service. Panjim was 75 miles away on the coastal road, and in all honesty, we weren't hopeful for this tyre. We slowly progressed however, 10 miles down, 20 miles, 30... Before we knew it however it was dark, and we were only about 15 miles short. We pressed on into the darkness, through little Goan resort towns and along the seafront (which was luckily mostly street lit and made it to our destination just after 10pm. What a feeling! The little replacement tyre had made it to Panjim! Hurrah!

Today we are taking some rest and relaxation and giving the bike a bit of a spruce. Then, we head south on to Kerala and the southern tip of the country.

Thank you for reading!

John

Monsoon? What monsoon?

As we left the chaos of Mumbai, we were hopeful for the weather. During the two days we had spent acclimatising there had been hardly any rainfall; a few light showers, but nothing to warrant worrying about. As we hit the road on Sunday, we were excited. Excited to see the rest of this incredible country and hopeful for the weather. Maybe we had timed our arrival just right?

We headed first back down to the southern most point of the city, the end of the peninsular where the Gateway Of India is, where a short ferry would take us to Mandwa or Alibag. After a couple of hours of battling with the crazy traffic, and getting caught up in some huge festival procession for Ganesh, we eventually made it to the most touristy spot in the city. As George went off to collect the ferry tickets I had a crowd of at least 30 people around me within seconds, taking pictures and asking, "selfie please, Sir?"

George returned with a problem. There were no ferries running between these ports, as it was still monsoon season. We looked up at the midday sunshine. What monsoon?! There had hardly been a drop of rain in the two days we had been in Mumbai. The idea of catching this ferry was to avoid leaving the city island to the east, to then spend an entire day cycling in a westerly direction back to the coast; therefore possibly not counting towards our world record total. This however looked to be our only option. So with this decided, we headed back north, basically in the direction we had just come.

A few miles up the road we met an Indian road cyclist who was headed in our direction. His English was excellent and he kindly agreed to guide us up towards the bridge that would take us to New Bombay, where we could exit the city and follow the coast south. After some risky highway cycling, we made it to the bridge and crossed into New Bombay.

A little later in the day, very close to our destination of Panvel where we had booked a hotel a motorcyclist pulled alongside us and asked all the usual questions of "where are you going?" "Where are you from?" etc. And then he asked us to join him for a drink. So we obliged and pulled over, expecting a nice warming cup of masala chai. As we sat down, the gentlemen who had asked us to join him said "right then, whiskey or beer Sirs?" And proceeded to order himself and his friend a bottle of Indian whiskey. We enjoyed a beer and some snacks with him whilst he told us of his friends who had moved to England and even phoned one of them and handed the phone to us for a chat! Afterwards he led us safely to our hotel, which turned out to be only around the corner. Although the first day hadn't gone exactly to plan, we still put it down as a success.

The following day the rain came. As it did the following day as well. The showers were sporadic but always enough to soak you through, and the dry spells always seemed just long enough to dry you out. Okay, maybe the monsoon is still here! Trying not to let the rain dampen our spirits we pressed on. Until Wednesday afternoon, when disaster struck. We had our first puncture. We had cycled over 4,000 miles, on all terrains, all the way across Europe, Turkey and Georgia without a hitch before this day. As we started to repair the inner tube, the guy who was running the restaurant we had just had lunch at insisted on helping (he turned out to be a fairly proficient bike mechanic, as I think many Indians are). He refitted the inner tube for us, we put the bike all back together and we were away again. No more than 2 hours later however, the same tyre had gone. Because the inner tube wasn't in straight, it had pinched at another point and had another puncture. We replaced it with a brand new inner tube, and headed to the first hotel we could find to get some sleep.

The following two days ran smoothly as could be, another 150 miles under our belt and we were feeling good again. The rain didn't even bother us at this point, we were flying! And then, bang! Just 10 miles short of Malvan, our destination for the end of the day, possibly the loudest bang either of us had ever heard. The rear tyre had gone again. And this time in spectacular fashion, a huge tear in the sidewall of the actual tyre and an inch rip in the inner tube itself. Not knowing how far we were from a town, let alone a bike shop, we rudimentarily fixed the tyre as best we could and put a new inner tube in. After only a few minutes, even in the middle of nowhere a crowd of locals on scooters and tuc-tucs had gathered around us and they informed us there was a bike shop no further than 1km away in the next town. With this, for the good of the new inner tube we decided to push the bike into town and sure enough we found the bike shop straight away. We purchased two new inner tubes and a new tyre for the grand total of 350 rupees (approx. £4). We then looked for a hotel and left the fitting till morning. What a day it had been!

After a poor nights sleep in the damp room we had been given, we fitted the new tyre as best we could, hoped and prayed and crossed our fingers and toes that it would get us to Panjim, Goa where we could pick up some decent tyres and give the bike a bit of a service. Panjim was 75 miles away on the coastal road, and in all honesty, we weren't hopeful for this tyre. We slowly progressed however, 10 miles down, 20 miles, 30... Before we knew it however it was dark, and we were only about 15 miles short. We pressed on into the darkness, through little Goan resort towns and along the seafront (which was luckily mostly street lit and made it to our destination just after 10pm. What a feeling! The little replacement tyre had made it to Panjim! Hurrah!

Today we are taking some rest and relaxation and giving the bike a bit of a spruce. Then, we head south on to Kerala and the southern tip of the country.

Thank you for reading!

John

Welcome to Mumbai (Bombay)

So after five days of travelling, four flights and endless hours spent waiting around in airports (including a couple of days spent with George's family friends in Abu Dhabi) we have finally landed in country number fifteen, India.

image.jpg

Before we had even walked through to arrivals our bike box was there, ready and waiting. Phew! What a relief it was to see that tatty looking cardboard box sitting there on a trolley. Within 15 minutes or so, the bike was rebuilt and reborn and we'd gathered a bit of a crowd. Unfortunately, something was wrong. The front chainring/cog had been bent in transit and wasn't running true, meaning the chain came off with every revolution. After some rudimentary hammering and banging with inadequate tools for the job, we decided to walk the 2.4km to the hostel and tackle the problem in the morning. Not exactly the start we had hoped for in India!

Our slightly battered bike box after 4 flights.  

Our slightly battered bike box after 4 flights.  

 

Nothing quite prepares you for the assault on the senses that occurs when you arrive in this city. As soon as we stepped out of the airport one is instantly hit by the noise, the colour, the smell and the chaos. Every bit of road is filled with vehicles, from tuc-tucs to open sided buses and more taxis in one place than I've ever seen. Equally every bit of pavement is filled with people making or selling something, from fruit and veg sellers to vendors frying samosas or cooking up sev puri, every bit of space is utilised. The walk from the airport to the hostel was slow because of how incredibly busy all the streets and roads are but it gave us a wonderful taste of Mumbai.

image.jpg

After checking in and a quick change of clothes we headed out to find some food. We've been told one of the specialities of Mumbai is pav bhaji, a thick vegetable curry of sorts usually served with butter and a bread roll. The guy running the hostel recommended somewhere and it did not disappoint. Washed down with a couple of glasses of lassi, we were very happy bunnies and ready for some shut-eye. It was now over 30 hours since we had left Abu Dhabi, with not a lot of sleep in that time.

India truly is one of the homes of street food.  

India truly is one of the homes of street food.  

The next morning I go in search of a cash point only to realise that the streets around where we were staying must have been quiet the night before! It was a new level of madness. More food and drink vendors had popped up, the roads were even busier, it took me nearly 20 minutes just to cross the road!

After breakfast (a sort of chickpea dal with potato cakes and lots of chilli), we tinkered with the bike and got it back to a rideable state. We then headed to the south of the city to do some sightseeing, leaving the bike we took public transport, which was an experience in itself. Anyone who has ever complained about commuting in London should come here and try these trains! They are so tightly packed with people, we worked out, that unless you jump off the train whilst it is still moving, you're never getting off because of the amount of people who push their way on at each stop. It's a difficult system to get used to as we missed our stop the first time because of it!

The Gateway Of India.  

The Gateway Of India.  

We spent the evening planning our route out of the city and the coming few days. We are now going to be cycling south towards Goa, following the coast and down to the southern tip in about 10-12 days time.

Vegetable samosas by the side of the road with a mint and coriander chutney.  

Vegetable samosas by the side of the road with a mint and coriander chutney.  

Mumbai has been an incredible introduction to India and we cannot wait to see what the rest of the country has in store for us. Keep following and sending us your support! It really does keep us going!

Thank you for reading!

John

One thousand miles of Turkey.

We left the city of Istanbul on Sunday July 24th, rested, refuelled and raring to tackle the next stage of the adventure: taking our newly changed route, crossing the mountainous region of Turkey along the Black Sea coast and in to country number 14, Georgia.

Our honorary Turkish grandmother on night two out of Istanbul wearing my cycling helmet, which she was fascinated by.  

Our honorary Turkish grandmother on night two out of Istanbul wearing my cycling helmet, which she was fascinated by.  

 

From day 1 of this stage we were hit by some of the steepest and most unrelenting hills as we climbed our way inland from the Bosphorus strait. We then spent the coming days following the coast, hopping from seaside town to seaside town, dipping inland wherever the winding and unforgiving road did so. We quickly came to realise that because of the terrain, our previous target of 100 miles a day was distinctly unrealistic. We were maxing out at 60 miles or so, meaning progress felt slow to say the least. The people we have met along this part of the journey have by far been the most friendly, generous and welcoming of the entire journey, which has been the saving grace of this whole stage.

 

Our first taste of this generosity came on our first night out of Istanbul. We pushed our way through a tough day of cycling the hills in 35 degree heat to make the seaside town of Şile by nightfall. After asking around a bit we found the person with the authority to allow us to camp on this particular section of the beach, which didn't prove too difficult. After a few minutes the same man came back to us and said, "If you like, you can stay indoors. I have an apartment." He then proceeded to let us stay in his apartment overlooking the beach whilst he went out for the evening and stayed in his caravan. Kindness and generosity of this kind continued, however so did the relentless hills and heat.

One of the incredible roads through the valleys in the Balck Sea coast region.  

One of the incredible roads through the valleys in the Balck Sea coast region.  

Another real boost to our morale came on Friday, when we met a group of four cycle tourers, near the town of Araç. Two were from Bulgaria and two from the UK (one even from Norfolk, might I add!). They had started their journeys separately as two pairs but had joined forces when they had met a couple of weeks prior to bumping into us. It was so refreshing to be able to converse in English rather than in sign language again for the first time in a while, not to mention comforting to know that there are other mad people out there on similarly crazy journeys. Although our onward paths are now in different directions we would love to one day catch up with Tim and Jess, Ivan and Todor, to share a beverage or two and hear about the rest of their adventure.

From left to right: Todor, Ivan, George, John, Tim and Jess.  

From left to right: Todor, Ivan, George, John, Tim and Jess.  

Two days later and we were back on the coast, joining up with the relatively new E70/D010 at Samsun. To say this road was a cyclist's dream would be the understatement of the year. A perfectly flat, impeccably tarmac-ed road with a huge hard shoulder following the coast for over 300 miles? Yes please. We have now crossed the border into Georgia and are in the city Batumi, where we will take a rest day and explore this fascinating little coastal city.

Path through Georgia - The enlightening path.  

Path through Georgia - The enlightening path.  

Now that we have conquered this incredibly tough stage, a whirlwind thousand miles of cycling, India and Southeast Asia awaits. Next, because of the visa issues already discussed we fly from Tbilisi to Mumbai to start the Indian leg of our journey, where we will follow the coast down to the southern tip and then back up the other side to Kolkata.

Thanks for reading!

John

Conquering Europe, Asia awaits.

Leg 1 complete, just in time to make our own Brexit from Europe.

 

Once again it has been a while since we wrote a blog, and as in the past an apology is due. Discipline has been a hot topic of conversation between the saddles and when it comes to taking time out to write on this blog, certainly more discipline is needed.

 

Just two weeks a go we were crossing the Danube and leaving it for the last time, it had acted as our guide from Vienna, through Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia and finally Romania. Though we would not be seeing it to the sea, but instead leaving its banks in search of the flattest route across the Balkans, the vast range of mountains tearing across mid Bulgaria.

 

Romania had proved tough, not just another country we spouted off on our ever extensive list of European countries we had to cover before the excitement of Asia began, but a challenge we had not prepared well for. Crossing the Serb-Romanian border was pleasant and easy, welcome back into the European Union.

 

A privilege we take for granted in Western Europe is the ease and freedom we have to withdraw cash in almost every town and village we pass, Romania was a far cry from this and 25 miles without an ATM and only Euros, Dollars and Dinar in our wallets meant we had to dig in, battling the heat and hunger of the afternoon. Our grace came in the form of 5 fine gentleman of Pristol, congregated around the vine sheltered entrance of the village shop. Their kindness was refreshing, and so was the water they bought us. 2 loafs of bread and a half a kilo of pâté later, we were rejuvenated and it wasn't long until we were able to extract some fine Romanian Leu.

The shop in Pristol, and our kindly donated loaf.

The shop in Pristol, and our kindly donated loaf.

Apart from the night time hazardous occupation of burning fields close to polyester tents, Romania remained trouble free; desolate but trouble free. We learnt our lessons and stocked up on money, food and water, not much could stop us, not even the enthusiastic dogs.

A short ferry brought us across the Danube and into Bulgaria, a country we had been warned about a few times in Romania, one remarking it was "full of mafia, don't go there", but isn't that what everyone says about their neighbours!? I for one wouldn't trust a Welshman as far as I could throw him!

Taking a ferry across the Danube, leaving Romania. 

Taking a ferry across the Danube, leaving Romania. 

The first 15 minutes disproved their worry, as we bared witness to a rather casual affair. No more than a scuffle in a lunchtime cafe left one man bleeding at the gut and another wielding a machete. At least the Mafia would have done a cleaner job. Onwards we went, passing through the old Tsar strong hold of Veliko Tărnovo. Perched at the foot of the Balkans, a grand city still holding onto its splendour amongst the valley entrance. Climbs awaited us, our first serious vertical challenge, heads down and feet pumping we made the summit ready for a cruising descent to the Turkish border.

Jumping the queues we crossed the border to Turkey and celebrated in Edirne with the most pleasant pigs intestine sandwich one has ever unknowingly had (Kokoreç if you would like to google it). We camped up and enjoyed a warm evening in the tent. Blissfully unaware we enjoyed breakfast the next day, just grabbing wifi to feed our narcissism and see how many likes our last Facebook post received. This is when we became aware of our unpleasant situation, without knowing we had been lucky to cross the border last night before an attempted military coup took place in Istanbul and Ankara. It seemed like not a soul cared in Edirne, but following the advice of the FCO and to keep our mothers happy, we booked ourselves into the nearest hotel.

24 hours passed, and it was like nothing had happened, even the television stations were showing repeats of the scenes from two nights before as they struggled to make any sense of this peculiar situation. We couldn't wait like lemons and had to crack on, no news is good news right? We jostled the frantic roads of Istanbul and made it safely to the Galata region of the city, business was as usual, but unfortunately for the punters the tourists weren't. This left us with the keys to the city and we fell in love, Istanbul we shall return, but first we have to tackle the Black Sea Coast.

nb. We have been attempting to acquire an Iranian visa through the planning process and during the ride but have come thus far empty handed. Therefore we have had to change our route and we now head to Georgia, via an adjusted route to avoid Ankarra as advised and take a route planned with the team at the bike shop in Istanbul.

Possibly the best bike shop since the UK?  

Possibly the best bike shop since the UK?  

All the best, 

 

George

Update: Recent Military Coup in Turkey

Some may be aware of the attempted Military Coup that took place last night, 15th July 2016, in Istanbul and Ankarra.  

 

We entered Turkey in the early evening of yesterday and reached the town of Edirne before sun fall, where we camped on the outskirts and entered the town this morning. Since finding Internet and reading the news we have following FCO advise and booked into a hotel for the near future while we monitor the situation in the Istanbul and the capital.

 

Istanbul is a 2 day ride from our location, around 155 miles, and though this will slow our progress and add time to our record, we feel this is the most sensible and safest option we are presented with currently. 

 

We will update this blog with any more information we receive on the situation.

 

George and John  

 

News Source:  http://www.bbc.com/news/live/world-europe-36811357

Route change - Budapest to Istanbul

After advise from cyclists in Budapest and Vienna we have decided to follow the Danube through Serbia towards Bulgaria and Romania, rather than take a northern route through Romania as shown on our map. The reason, a lot fewer hills! But don't worry, we're still on track for the record as we're covering very similar mileage in the an eastly direction.

 

Yours, 

George and J