All posts by Reijo

Pakistan Karakoram Mountains

Now this is a trip I look forward to with great anticipation! Flight to Islamabad June 1st 2022 and an adventure ride on the Karakoram mountains at the western end of the Himalayas, northern Pakistan.

Pakistan

Officially the name of the country most of us know as Pakistan, is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and it is world’s 5th most populous country with some 227 million inhabitants, world’s second largest Muslim population. Neighbors include culturally similar India, Afghanistan and Iran. Other neighbors are China and Oman (maritime border) and it has coast line along the Gulf of Oman and Arabian Sea.

Pakistan is full of history and ancient cultures, too much to go through here.  Most will remember from several movies and tv series that Pakistan was part of the British ruled India and partitioned as the current state of Pakistan from India in 1947.  Pakistan is a Muslim state and religion was a key driver in its foundation, separating the population mainly from the Hindus in India.

As an interesting note, there is / was also East Pakistan or Pakistani Bengal, which is today since 1971 the country of Bangladesh by the Bay of Bengal next to Myanmar in the eastern NE corner of India with Indian Assam, Sikkim and Meghalaya in the north. You can read about my rides in Assam (Nepal-Bhutan blogs) and Myanmar in other posts on the Someday-site.

Skardu. Photo Salman Mushtaq

Karakoram

Per Wikipedia: The Karakoram is a mountain range in Kashmir spanning the borders of Pakistan, China, and India, with the northwest extremity of the range extending to Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Its highest peak is K2 is the second highest peak in the world at 8,611 m in Gilgit-Baltistan controlled by Pakistan.

The Karakoram has eighteen summits over 7,500 m (24,600 ft) height, with four of them exceeding 8,000 m (26,000 ft)

Karakoram extends into a popular adventure biking destination in Ladakh (controlled by India) and Aksai Chin (controlled by China).

Our Ride

We start from the capital, Islamabad and head north as the map above shows, touring close to China and Afghan borders. Our highest roads will take us to around 5000 meters.

Karakoram mountains. Photo: Salman Mushtaq

Weather will have extreme variations. Pakistan has been suffering a heat wave recently, which we hope will be subsiding before our trip. However, we expect to experience  from Islamabad heat of 45c/50c to freezing  -3c on the mountains.

Pakistan has also had its fair share of political troubles but now the country is moving “from terrorism to tourism”. Although Salman, our man in Islamabad just posted:

“Pakistan have political issue. May be Long March on your arrival in Islamabad. Don’t be scare. Feel it normal”.

This trip will be an adventure!!

 

 

 

Colombia

Colombia

What comes to mind when you think about Colombia? For the adult generation it is most likely drugs (Medellin cartel and Pablo Escobar), coffee and FARC in that order. For the younger ones it may be the singer Shakira and world’s highest paid TV-actor (2019) Sofia Vergara.

Escobar jail

While planning my ride in Colombia, it was clear that the country still greatly suffers from its drug infused past and is struggling to change that image.

While Colombia today is much safer than in the past, US travel advisory states: “Reconsider travel to Colombia due to crime. Exercise increased caution in Colombia due to civil unrest, terrorism, and kidnapping. Some areas have increased risk… Violent crime, such as homicide, assault, and armed robbery, is common.  Organized criminal activities, such as extortion, robbery, and kidnapping are widespread. While the Colombian government signed a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) terrorist group, some dissident groups refuse to demobilize.”

Great encouragement indeed for adventure travel in Colombia!

Local police was well respected

On the other hand, the problem locations are well identified and only covers certain parts of the country. The internet is also full of praise by the motorcycling community. Some even calling it today “A safe haven for motorcyclists”.

Perhaps I should find out myself!

This time we were be a familiar group of riders, most of whom I have earlier been in many other exotic places. Our ride took place in March 2022 and started from Medellin, which most know as the town where Pablo Escobar founded and run the Medellin Cartel, and eventually died 1993.

Our ride took us to some fantastic places and like its people, also the landscape is fascinating. Highest mountain Pico Cristóbal Colón is 5730 meters high and the area we are riding was truly mountainous.

Medellin from my hotel window

Medellin

Our starting point was the famous city of Medellin and we would be heading geographically east and south of Medellin for our ride. The city itself is a popular tourist destination and a very lively place indeed. It turned out that our hotel was just at the party district and entertainment was guaranteed. The city however, also has a very rich history and great sights to visit. Botero sculptures and museums and churches to mention a few, not forgetting Pablo Escobar museum, parks, etc. After listening the tour guides, it is still a bit unclear who the biggest villain was, the corrupt police and politicians or the drug lord. Views vary.

These days Medellin has done a lot to abolish its image and public transportation is one of the shining examples. Metro system and most notably a gondola system taking people up and down the steep hills around the city, allowing easy access to the whole town for work, education and entertainment. This system has been adopted in many cities around the country, we noticed on our rides through some of the cities.

Gondola to the houses on the hills
Mural on a wall

Medellin is full of street art, mainly murals.

Three Kinds of Roads

To begin with, the area for our ride was very mountainous and therefore all roads were full of curves and bends. Great start!

For a biker, there were basically three kinds of roads. Firstly, some fantastic smooth and clean tarmac stretches that were used also by heavy goods traffic. These roads can be very congested and the only way to move forward is filtering through the traffic and lane splitting. Particularly as there were several roadworks and lines that were miles long. Hitting an open stretch of road, high speed cornering and smooth riding was a hoot!

Curves ahead!

The second type of roads were also mainly tarmac but as many areas are geologically unstable, the road could have sinked or risen suddenly for more than 30 centimeters or as often the case, could be missing any proper surfacing at all. These may come as a surprise or there could be a speed limit of 20 or 30 km/h giving indication that something strange is ahead. For obvious reasons these roads had a lot less heavy traffic and were quite entertaining to ride.

Wooden foot bridge, passable by bike as well!

The third and the road we used the most, was an unpaved mountain road that was often really hard to ride and just full of rocks and steep inclines and declines. With slippery deep mud in the middle, as it rains a lot. Average speeds around 20-30 km/h. A stretch of 100 km could take more than five hours to complete including mandatory drinks breaks.

Rocky road
Muddy road (Photo Tomi Ranta)
River crossing

Temperatures varied a lot from 35c and sunshine on one side of the mountain and 10c and rain on the other. Mountain roads climbed to 3000 – 3500 meters and views over the forming clouds were amazing.

Continue reading Colombia

Dracula, Bears and Angels – Faaker See, Transfagarasan

Note! A short compilation video at the end of post! Click here for shortcut.

Way down to Faaker See

Approaching Austria and Faaker See (Lake Faak) in Corinthia

Rode down to Faaker See / Klagenfurt am Wörtensee in Austria perhaps too eagerly. Well, it was 1200+ km but I wanted to cross the distance quickly. After all it was only a transfer ride to get to where the action was.

After the 1200+ km ferry sailing, I was ready to get on the bike! I left Travemunde around 10PM in the evening and having spent the day doing nothing but sauna and jacuzzi between meals, I did not want to go straight into a hotel but decided to do a little run towards Austria. This little run turned into Leipzig 450 km later for a few hours sleep. Eating the miles is easy on a motorway but less fun, particularly at night.

Note to oneself and a top tip for the others: Do not take shortcuts at night, no matter how tempting it may seem!

Villach

I have done the run to the alps several times before and did not really expect much from the transit through central Europe. But when traveling overland, I can feel the anticipation growing to see the scenery change rather suddenly from the flatlands of Europe to the majestic mountains and alps. Always a tingling sensation in my body.

Klagenfurt

My plan was to visit the European Bike Week in Faaker See and to continue my ride south-east towards Transfagarasan in Romania.

The bike week, like many other events, had suffered from Covid-19 but now there were apparently again some 100.000 bikers congregating at Faaker see in the Austrian region of Carinthia. Strick covid measures were in place, but it was all done in very relaxed atmosphere as much as the pandemic could allow. Access to main areas and attractions were controlled and after proof of covid vaccinations using the EU covid passport, one got a wristband to avoid constant re-checks and was free to move about. With the EU covid passport life was simple when visiting restaurants etc outside the rally area.

At the main rally

A chance reunion and a dinner with a good friend on the first day made up for the tiring ride and meant that I had good company for at least a few days ahead.

Kari and me
By the See

Bears at Transfagarasan, Romania

Austria is always a great country to visit but eventually it was time to continue on. We actually found a third friend to join our team and while my two friends had plans to ride north, I managed to convince then that while we were so close by, we should all go and ride the Transfagarasan mountain pass. Since it was only two days away!

Steak tartare being professionally prepared

We eventually decided to stay overnight in Belgrad and as luck would have it, our hotel was right next to the bohemian quarter and some great restaurants. Catchy music by local bands and the best steak tartare I have ever had, prepared by the no 2 tartare chef in the country. Yes, they do run competitions! And preparing the steak tartare is a show in itself!

On the top of Transfagarasan pass

We were really lucky and the weather was clear and sunny and Transfaragasan was really beautiful that day! To top the experience, in the afternoon, on the southern descent, unbelievably we saw bears no less than nine times on the road. One even with a cub!

Bear at Transfagarasan

When on a motorbike, stopping next to the bears to take picture is a bit unnerving compared with those who were sitting in their cars. Some cars even threw snacks for the bears, apples and such. What a great and rare experience, truly memorable!

Continue reading Dracula, Bears and Angels – Faaker See, Transfagarasan

Uganda Tour June 2021

Riding in a national park

Getting there feeling welcome

Arrival beers at Via Via Entebbe – Linda kindly opened the bar for us!

Our ride in Uganda started with a flight to Entebbe on Lake Victoria, just outside the capital city Kampala. This time it was two friends Jussi and Pade and myself. Late arrival to our hotel Via Via Entebbe, where the very helpful Linda re-opened the bar for the thirsty travelers. Immediately we felt welcome to Uganda!

Pearl of Africa

One of the reasons why Uganda is called the Pearl of Africa is the fact that it is green in large parts most of the year. Arriving just after the rainy season, we got the best of the lush green landscape. A point of interest is the fact that some of the 1940’s Tarzan films, starring with Johnny Weissmuller were filmed next to our hotel at the National Botanical Gardens with their rainforest providing the backdrop for the films.

First day sightseeing at Lake Victoria

Rains earlier had been substantial and Lake Victoria was now 1,5 meters higher than usual, causing some local flooding disturbing some resorts and swallowing popular beaches. But now the weather looked good.

Our route

It was very hot on arrival but as most of our tour would take us higher, also some cooled air was expected, though we were right on the equator. Located on the East African Plateau, Uganda’s average altitude is 1100 meters (3609 feet) above sea level making it generally cooler and greener. The general landscape of Uganda slopes towards South Sudan in the north and our route would cross through to Lake Albert and continue round the south.

Getting ready and on the bikes

Posing with my bike for the tour – Honda XR400

Our bikes on this trip were Honda xr 400’s, which were ideal for the rough terrain and manageable also on transit stretches. We had the best possible expertise planning our trip with Maxime Van Pee drawing the route. Maxime is Captain of the National motocross team, he is 6 times national champion and 3 times east African Champion. A well-known figure in Uganda, we found on our tour. Continue reading Uganda Tour June 2021