Monday, June 10, 2013

Meeting the World Travellers and their Words of Wisdom

As I have mentioned in my first post of this blog, Master Goh and Samantha often host overland travellers and arrange for meet ups/sharing sessions with aspiring overland travellers. When Master Goh and Samantha were preparing for their round the world trip, they did not have anyone to turn to for guidance. Now, they want to help others achieve the same dream without going through what they did.

In the past two years, I have met these overland travellers who have shared some invaluable tips. I have linked their travel blogs to their names, do check them out. May require Google Translate.

Mark and Sanne
They have travelled from Australia and they are vegetarian. I asked them how they managed to get food. They learn the local words like vegetarian, no meat, eggs is ok. It usually gets the message across. Sanne told me, "Many people will try to talk you out of it (this trip). Don't let them."

Helle and Bea
We chatted over some home-brewed banana beer by Master Goh. People are generally nice and friendly. In Ukraine, one fellow could not stop talking to them even though they clearly do not understand Ukrainian. In places where language is a barrier, one can use picture books available to communicate with people by pointing the picture. Mosquitos in Siberia are huge. They bite through clothes. Forget about insect repellents.

Jannick
The Ang Moh! I wrote a post about our meetings and send off in Malacca. He shared with me the pros and cons about air freight and sea freight for our bikes. Air freight is faster and more expensive, sea freight is slower and cheaper, even cheaper if you can get other overland travellers to share one container. He actually met Bea and Helle in Russia and they shared a shipping container from Vladivostok to Bangkok.

Sea freight takes weeks or even months depending on distance. Although one may be paying less, he or she may end up paying more for living expenses while waiting for cargo to arrive. The route he took from Switzerland to South East Asia does not require Carnet - from Europe to Far East Russia, Vladivostok and then to Bangkok. He suggested I can ship my scooter from Singapore to Vladivostok and start from there. No need to pass through China that requires US$100 a day for escort, no need for Carnet. I can continue living and working in Singapore while my scooter is on transit. Then, I fly to Vladivostok to receive the cargo.

The roads in Vladivostok and the Trans Siberian Highway are good. There, he met two Korean girls travelling with their maxi scooters.
Thomas and Andrea
Seasoned travellers and camping experts who Master Goh and Samantha met in South America. This time round they were backpacking in South East Asia. They shared that South America is pretty good for camping.

When I mentioned that I may wish to start my journey in Brazil. Thomas advised to start in Chile. One of the major port there is Valparaiso. It is the least corrupted country in South America, a place that I maybe be able to get accustomed easily and pick up some Spanish. They did not face a lot of trouble with getting their cargo through the custom over there. Whereas in other South American countries, dealing with authorities can be met with extortion attempts. If that happens, just act dumb.

When I asked what he thinks of a woman travelling alone, Thomas held up his hand and fiddled the ring on his ring finger.

"It is ok. See this ring? Men see that you are married, they tend to leave you alone."

How about getting sponsorships for the travel? Thomas laughed it off. There are many people in Germany doing it. It is not easy getting sponsorships. Just work, save and go for your trip which is what they have been doing. Sponsorships come with obligations.

I have intention to work as I travel if I ever run out of money. I thought of taking up Teaching English as Foreign Language (TEFL) course so I can teach English anywhere. The course is $5,500, not sure if it is worth the investment. Dr Iau told me that his friend who speaks English like him, failed. It is not as easy as it seems. Being able to speak and write is one thing, being able to teach English to non-native speaker is another thing. Samantha said that maybe I can take up that course in another country, it may be cheaper there. And then I found out about this English Teaching Program in Chile.

"Do you speak Chinese?" Thomas asked.

"Yes."

"Spanish."

"Poco poco. (A little.) I just started learning."

"Maybe you can work as a translator at port or something. There is a lot of trading between Chile and China." Chile and China have free trade agreements.

Mario Iroth
I met him back in March. He embarked on a 3 months ride around South East Asia to raise fund for orphanage in Cambodia. He is from Bali and met Jannick when he was there.  I received his call early in the morning saying that he is in Johor Bahru and has trouble bringing his Kawasaki KLX 150 into Singapore. He had to leave his bike in JB and come in by bus.

In order to drive a foreign registered vehicles in Singapore, the vehicle owner have to apply for a International Circulation Permit (ICP) at Automobile Association of Singapore which is located at River Valley and buy local third party insurance coverage. That means, he or she has to leave the vehicle in JB and go to River Valley's AAS for the ICP, then back to JB, ride the vehicle into Singapore. It is no surprise all the travellers I met leave their motorcycle in Malaysia and came in by bus.

For more details, you can check out LTA's website on the procedure.

When I first met him, he was waving wildly at Bugis Junction's taxi stand to get my attention. I pillioned him to Wheels & Wieners to have dinner together. I gave him a T-shirt and he gave me an emblem from his old Vespa.


He was really chirpy and excitable. I guess it is his very positive attitude and outgoing personality that gained him all the help and sponsorships for this trip. He took 6 months of leave as a Villa coordinator to prepare and go on this trip. He was travelling without GPS. I asked how.

"I use maps and I ask people for directions."

That was the reason why he wears a flip-up full-face helmet. He thought it is impolite talking to people with the face covered.

Mario also shared his plan to ride around the world in 2015.



Leo and Nat
Master Goh and Samantha met Leo during Christmas 2008 in South America. He worked with Compass Expedition, leading bike tour groups in South America. Leo travelled from Germany to Singapore with his Argentinian girlfriend Nat on Honda African Twin.

He gave tips on finding a camping spot - somewhere you cannot be seen. When I asked about vermins at campsite, he said, usually, it is not an issue but always wear covered shoes when walking around campsite especially at night.

I told him about starting the trip in Vladivostok. He seem to have a bit of reservations.

"I suggest you take the route that Goh and Sam did. Get used to travelling first before to go to places where it is very different." He told me that the towns in the Siberian can be quite far apart. There is nothing there. He did not take shower for many days while he was travelling that region.

"The men there are really tough," he said as he flexed his arms, "Their winter is -40 degree celsius. They live in harsh climate, chop woods, hunt, you know. But they have really good heart. "

He suggest I can contact motorcycle clubs there and they will be willing to assist.

"But you know, they do stuff. However, if you are a guest, they take care of you," he said.

"What kind of stuff? Illegal stuff?" I asked.

"Yeah, stuff like prostitution."

I told him, I intend to go there during Summer if I start there.

"They are many mosquitos during Summer. They are big like this," he pointed to the lime in my Teh O Ice Limau.

Which season is the best to travel there?

"I think autumn is the best."

Both Leo and Nat also mentioned about acting stupid when facing corrupted police.

Susanna and Peter, Miro
Susanna and Peter travelled the American continents with their DR800 motorcycle many years back. This time round, they have been travelling with with their T-rex truck for 1 year 1 month. The travel took them to Ukraine, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Laos, around Southeast Asia. Master Goh helped them with the towing from Malaysia to Jurong Port for the truck to be shipped to Australia. Sharing the shipping container is Miro's Volkswagen Syncro. Miro's wife went back for a while and will be joining him later in the trip.

We met up for drinks at People's Park hawker centre. Joining us was also Uncle Charlie, who is setting off to South America with his wife on his GS1200 next year. Miro and Uncle Charlie had a lot of common and shared a good chatter. They are of around the same age, and both are or will be travelling with their wives. Uncle Charlie's wife need a good deal of convincing for their travel to South America.

From left clockwise, Wei Jie, Samantha, me, Susanna, Peter, Miro and Uncle Charlie. Master Goh the Photographer.
Some people do not understand why I worked my ass off to the extent of holding two jobs, working more than 12hours a day. Susanna do. She also worked day in night out almost everyday to raise fund for her travel. Motivation to achieve a dream is what drives it. If you think that those who can afford to travel are only rich people, think again. Mario is a Villa coordinator, Jannick was a carpenter, Master Goh is a landscapist. There are people who forgo luxuries of owning a home or material goods or building a career so that they can use the money to buy their travel experience.

Susanna shared that she returned home from a trip being a different person while her friends have been the same, doing the same thing before she left and after she return. Relationship with family and friends always seem to be closer after a long trip. It made her appreciate little things like a warm shower in a hotel.

When asked about the difference between travelling with a motorcycles and a truck, other than the obvious of being protected from elements of the weather, Susanna said that she felt closer to people when she was on motorcycle as compared to truck. On a motorcycle, she camped, stayed in hostels, and was more exposed to the locals and other travellers. The truck is their home, they hardly stay in hostel or hotels. They just park in somewhere quiet or with permission of landowners and just sleep in in the truck. They saved on accomodations.

I asked them to guess the price of Singapore cars like what FF6 actors were asked. When we told them that Toyota Prius cost US$140,000, Peter exclaimed, "What? I can travel for 10 years with that money."

Being truthful all the time do not really help. Susanna said she usually does not lie but she tell strangers that she is married to Peter when they are actually not. Sometimes they have 2 children, sometimes they have 3 children. If she said not married, more questions will come. "Why?" So at times you got to lie to avoid more questions.

When someone asked how they came to America from Switzerland, Peter said, "We took the highway from Europe to America." Oh really??!!

When strangers asked where you are from, where you are going, do not tell them the total truth, say that you are meeting your husband at blah blah blah. You got to learn to say No. If you are uncomfortable about a situation, learn to say no and leave. Always trust your gut feeling.

Like what other travellers said, her advice to handling corrupt police officer is to act dumb.

"It always work. They asked me questions, I just speak German. I never pay any bribe money in South America."

"Never give them your original licence, only give them the laminated copies."

Samantha added on her experience while she was in US. The highway has a minimun travelling speed and they were travelling too slowly. A police officer pulled them over and furiously hurled a string of ranting about how slow they are and if the highway belongs to them.

When they revealed their faces to be Asian, he asked, "Do you understand English?"

They shook their heads. Before police officer vomited blood, he returned to his car, slammed the car door and drove off.

When I asked Susanna about Vladivostok and Russia, she said, "Russian are very nice people." And about drinking culture there.

"If you see anybody drunk, just walk away. Don't go near them."

On GPS, Peter said, "Ahh... Garmin is just out to take your money. We don't use GPS. We use applications on our iPhone. That is what I feel." They recommended a few apps. Ok, I can save a few hundreds.

Samantha and Susanna suggest that I get my camping gears in Santiago, Chile. The ones in Singapore are way overpriced. Camping is a pretty common activity there. There are outdoor gears sold in shopping malls and even supermarket. The varieties are even wider.

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