So I had set off to pedal most of the way to Iran along the Black Sea coast before heading back to Istanbul via Bus once i had received confirmation of my LOI’s (Letter of Invitation) to get my visas. With my LOI’s almost 2 weeks late I began to worry. Why hadn’t I received them? Was there an issue with getting visas for this part of the world at the moment? Through being fed titbits of information by locals and the odd evening I had access to the internet. I began to research and ponder my route through Iran and Central Asia into China.
And I made the decision to head back into Europe.
The reasons ? Firstly there are the growing tensions in the Middle East and North Africa. OK, so at the moment there are no major protests in Iran or the ‘Stans’ that I’ll be pedalling through but there is the chance of major protests in the coming months. The idea of travelling through rioting countries is pretty exciting but in reality it could be potentially dangerous. There’s no point in being reckless for the sake of it.
Another reason is the wait for visas. In total I have been waiting for various visas for 4 months. That’s quite a long time, especially on limited funds. Although (enforced) wintering in Belgrade had its benefits, it also ate into my funds quite substantially, leaving my account balance quite badly in the red. The LOI’s for this set of visas, in particular the Iranian LOI, is almost 2 weeks over due – and that’s without waiting for the actual visas (which could of course only take a couple of days… or a further 2 weeks) which means more waiting…and more money.
Another reason was that a cyclist I had met, Justin from Belfast, had an Iranian visa issued in Istanbul, pedalled to the Iranian border and was refused entry. When I asked him why they had refused him entry he just shrugged and said “Not a clue! They just kept saying no entry”. He was heading back to Istanbul to speak to the Embassy about it. So what if I eventually got my visa and they, for seemingly no reason, refused me entry also. I can’t afford to apply for a visa for Iran (and Uzbek and Turkmen) for them to be of no use.
So over a period of several days I began to think of heading back to Europe and after lying in my bivi bag in the back room of a petrol station after numerous tulip shaped glasses of warming Cay, I made my decision. I would head back to Europe and explore other options.
So now I have to make another decision. I have managed to come up with 4 options. Each has pros and cons.
Head through Russia and Mongolia. This was, as some may remember, the original route before I was delayed for 4 months due to a incident involving a car. Travelling through Russia means I get to pedal through a country I’ve wanted to visit for a few years but the major drawback is having to wait for the visa (possibly 2-3 months) and then there is the cost of a 6 month or 12 month visa..
Switch the expedition’s direction from Eastbound to Westbound. I could double back on myself and pedal back through Europe to Spain/Portugal and try to find a crewing position on a yacht heading to the US (or in the general direction). The pitfall of this plan is waiting around in Portugal for a boat heading west, which could be as long as 2-3 months which requires more cash.
Africa. I could pedal towards Spain and find an eco friendly way to cross to Morocco (kayak?) and head down the West of Africa. Africa was never on the cards as a continent to pedal through (on this expedition) and then there is the question of getting from South Africa (which is the logical end point, if pedalling this route) to South America.
Head home and restart the expedition again in a few months. Not an option, I particularly like but I may just have to bite the bullet. This option would allow me to raise some more funds and organise a crewing position across the Atlantic or apply for the relevant Russian and Mongolian visas. Some people may of course think of this as failing….
What are your thoughts? Any advice tips? I know some people out there may tell me to just go for the original option but I’m pretty certain of my decision to not head through Iran right now.
So what’s the immediate plan? Well, i pedal back to Bulgaria and then i’m heading into Romania and then maybe a little further north as i explore the possibility of Russia.