Benka Pulko » Motorcycle travel story

Motorcycle travel story by Benka Pulko

Fake Ferry Ride Robbed in Oman, Unwelcome in South Africa

June 2001

To check out what the South Africans would like me to be and posesed before I would be allowed to enter their precious country, I swung by the South African High Comission in Islamabad. Being told I would need a visa I returned next day with the filled up form, a photograph, the photocopy of sufficient funds, insurance and international driving license.
Huge surprise, as until the next day they had changed either their minds or the low and told me the visa was surely not required for Slovene citizens. Traveling for quite some time have tought me a simple golden rule (that does not necessarily work out all the time...) not to trust anyone completely, especially if they are governmental officials, bureaucrats, customs or any other "paper dealing" people.
So I requested the letter stating whatever I was told. The letter was issued and off I was, keep adventuring (not even aware to what extend...).
After my bike was taken care by BMW Doctor Waheed in Rawalpindy I was off to Karakoram Highway. Not to forget to mention for all those who would need to deal with the Doc, be aware of his unreal value imaginations. He promised to finish the work in two days and after 16 days my patience ran out. I wanted the bike NOW!
The last strew on the camels back was his unrealistic price of 500 $! Took my bike and paid 200$ (which is what he usually earns monthly anyway; the negotiations took wasted 2 hours, a lot of bull..... talks, and persistence of my Pakistani friend and myself). Now I can easier understand why majority of Asia is moving so slow toward the progressed life. Beating each others price, socializing, drinking a tea while negotiating is waste of time for my taste but an important social event.
Karakoram Highway all the way to China was just spectacular. If those kids wont practice their national sport also on me ( I was warned by the numerous bikers before that the local kids love to stone the passing by bikers on the way to Gilgit) all would be just like a dream. Well, even the stone witch hit me into the face, right into the helmet through the open visor, was like a dream - fast, unpredictable and unexpected.
Iran was a surprise on its own. Magnificent roads, dirt cheap petrol and significantly less traffic than in the previous countrys made my life on the road good again. Well, in a way. Too good roads and non educated drivers are indeed a very dangerous combination. The dangerous ones in India are the bicycles (actually people on them!) and the truck drivers, in Pakistan and Bangladesh that trophy goes to bus drivers, but in Iran the black winners are the wreckless drivers of the privat cars.
In Kerman the situation was remarkably bad. While in the crowd mess traffic of the town, impatient taxi drivers, somebody hit the pedestrian and kill the man on the spot. As I was approaching slowly, I have seen all the happening (also the brainfree pedestrian who walked into his own death without having a look on any side of the road!). Slowing down (the only one!). By the time I reached the spot of action, the local observers rushed to him, lifted him from under the car and placed him cold dead on the road, straight in front of my bike (by that time I was forced to stop). Extremely unpleasant scene, dead man just inches from your front tire. Unfortunately very memorable moment, still roaming and scaring my mind occasionally.
Iran was just not that bad (vailwise), as I had been told. My little red underhelmet cap from Roadgear (that keeps my hair excellent on the spot and the sweat in a little washable cloth instead of in the helmet itself) was enough. Nobody ever told me I should cover more/better/different. Most of the time I had a feeling I was being treated like a half man and that was absolutely great. Even in the cases I removed the cap and forgot to replace it, there were no hard time for me or bad feelings on the other side.
Iranian are absolute champions in hospitality. Yes, there have been many, many remarkably friendly people on my way, but nothing like the Irani warm hospitality, totally dedicated to the guest who can never do anything wrong, is accepted with deep respect and great admiration no matter how loud he or she may blow its nose, step with the shoes on the precious Persian carpet or take the offered food too fast, not knowing that refusing once or twice would be politer.
I can never thank them enough for teaching me about a life secrets of respect, sharing with me rich knowledge and answering to all the numerous questions.
My time in Iran was truly remarkable, in a way like that one in Pakistan, but more intensive. I do not remember crying while leaving somebody on the way behind, nor that anybody has been taken to the hospital missing me too much. That was Iran.
People aside, I have never on this journey felt closer to Slovenia. Lots of Slovene products here on sale, too. Most welcome of all - the food is incredibly similar. Easy to imagine me piging out on outstanding Iranian rice, kebabs, super trouper egg plant souses, safrani spiced dishes, freshly roasted pistachios and outstanding sweets. The consequences of culinary enjoyments from Iran have reminded with me...
The most painful experience of Iran was the fake "ferry" ride from Bandar e Abbas to United Arabs Emirates. Fake as the end of the ferry ride (in UAE) I found out the Airway bill was filed for my bike, never being given to me but to the captain and the trip took 18 hours instead of promised 8! It was a regular cargo boat which takes the passengers along.
Endless hassle and unnecessary expenses before the bike was released from the port of Sharjah. Emirates welcomed me with all those flashy sights of the western, developed world, with great roads and absolutely FABULOUS traffic! Such a blast to be after over a year in the place where people have a clue about the rules off the road! I took advantage of the luxurious fact immediately and rode around Dubai, Abu Dhabi and other places for hours and hundreds of kilometers every day, instead of walking or taking public transportation, as was the sad case in most of the Asian cities.
What stroked me on the first site was the number of Indian ex-patriots here. Unbelievable how well they can drive!!! May not be completely true, as Guzzi Mike wrote in one of his reports from India, that a hot weather in India may couse the brain damage so therefore no one is able to master from manoovering their vircles there properly.
In Gulf area was those days hotter than ever can get in India. 46-48 Celsius degrees in a combination with over 80% of humidity is almost unbearable. But drivers, even those from Subcontinent behave extremely well. So! The smart Arab authorities do not recognize any driving licence from Asia whatsoever (European, American, Canadian, Australian international driving licenses are accepted), but rest of the outsiders must obtain the driving school. Smart and successful!
Very first time I could not stand wearing my riding gear. The boots, Dainse armor and always good BMW helmet were absolute maximum I was able to wear. I tried my beloved Darien pants, too, but the black goretex almost melted on me (in Baluchistan desert, on 50 Celsius degrees) and I ended up using nappy rash cream to get my butt going again...
Do not want to waste the time with description of the hassle on Omany - Emirates border. Just a complete mass! Oman itself was not what I expected. Poorer than The Emirates, less developed, very clean, the same hot and humid, with good roads, not much traffic, wonderful Beduins, great scenary and the same high number of imported cheap labor from India, Pakistan and Phillipins.
Oman served me with the very firs robbery of my bike on this whole trip. All the boxes were ripped off, locks broken, all was taken out, thrown was laying around the bike when I arrived on the spot at 4.30 a.m.ready for a cool morning ride.
The best part of the robbery was the odd feeling I had late in the afternoon the day before happened. After I moved all the usual stuff to the room I returned to the bike and took with me whole top case full of the camera equipment, the computer, GPS, all the cords and the backups on the CDs, most of the clothes. All that stayed in the boxes were the tools, spare cables, tubes, riding gloves and pants, sport shoes, spare oil and the chain set, box full of medications, little camera tripod and the documents.
The final score was not that bad indeed. Beside the damaged boxes and ripped off zippers on the Aerostich tank panniers (still in fantastic conditions after 3 and a half years of hard usage) was missing just a tripod in a cute, colorful folder. Altogether worth 13$.
Was I lucky? Was listening my feelings? Or was just Benkas luck again?
Dubai airport. The bike is ready to be put on the same plane as I will fly with to Johannesburg. For 700$ including airfare, crating and all additional expenses. After a smooth and organized procedure I was released all went well. The bike was on board and I took a taxi to the terminal. We will be laving in a couple of hours.
Check in brought a huge surprise - can not be except on the flight as I need a entry visa for South Africa and do not have it in my passport. I almost feated in front of the counter! Pulling out the letter from South African High Commision did not help much. Calling the telephone number for the immergences on South African consulate in Dubai did not work, as the fricks were holidaying.
Needless to say I was furious to death and no less determined I wont leave the consulate before I do not have a required visa in my passport. Waiting from 6 a.m. in front of the door they were positively warned on their arrival I was ready for a battle with no chance to lose this one. And they were right. No hassle, no troubles, accepted their mistakes and issued a visa in one short hour. Not much questions, just a sorrow. Fair enough they did not a single argument to lean on. Just gave them instruction that I want one single visa for duration of 6 month, multiple entries, no charge. It was accepted with the smile on the secretarys face and warm wish that I should have a pleasant stay in her country.
I better do! I have deserved it after so many troubles caused by the highly disorganized, probably illiterate people that South African authorithy let working and present their country.
Very curiously ready to explore the very last continent of the globe.