In January 2016, the US congress introduced a new law, effectively immediately, requiring anyone who had visited either Syria, Sudan, Iraq or Iran since 2011 to apply for a special visa to enter the US. The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) was no longer relevant, whether you had obtained it prior to this new law or not and we could no longer enter the US under the visa waiver program. As we had travelled through Iran in 2014, this applied to us. Having first responded to their 9 page questionnaire, with 156 fields to complete including whether we were terrorists or going to the US for the purposes of prostitution, we booked an appointment at the US Consulate in Sydney and had our interview last week. The security check, requiring us to leave everything behind except our wallet took the longest amount time, especially as I had a tiny pen in my wallet. The security lady was not happy with me, especially when I couldn’t think what metal object I hadn’t taken out! Anyway, the whole process including the actual interview took 40′. A breeze. The interview itself entailed just 2 questions and we learned about the guy’s father’s passion for restoring old Triumph motorcycles!!
Anyway, the interview took place at 8am Wednesday and exactly 2 days later, our passports with new US visas were hand delivered to us at home. We opted for a 5 year visa, valid 90 days per entry. Fantastic.
The other win we had since our last blog was getting our 2nd Australian passports, valid for the maximum 3 years allowed for 2nd passports. That will make getting our visas a little easier.
So how’s the visa spagetti going? This is what it looks like:
Uzbekistan, which had announced abolishing visas as of 1st April 2017, decided to defer this until 2021, so we now need a visa again.
The rules about obtaining a Carnet de Passage (CDP) from the UK have also changed: The RAC in the UK had stopped providing the service, so we started liaising with ADAC in Germany, and looking into another one, TCS, in Switzerland, but I found out last week that a new organisation in the UK is providing CDPs so we can no longer use ADAC. This time, we only need a CDP for Iran and the prices involved in obtaining a CDP are quite steep. With the cost of the LOI, the visa, the trips to the consulate and the CDP, is it reasonable we wondered, for such a brief visit? Our time frame, to make it to Vladivostok before the cold weather comes, means that we can only spend a few days in Tehran to visit several friends – no time for too much sightseeing like last time. So I started liaising with someone well known and recommended by motorcyclist travellers in Iran, Hossein who can provide a CDP at the border for you at a cheaper rate. But the duration of the CDP and cost depend on which border you enter Iran from… We had planned on entering from Turkey, but the CDP through Hossein is only valid one week – way too short to cross the entire country and spend time visiting friends. So via Armenia it will be.
In the meantime, I started the process of getting a Letter of Introduction (LOI) for Iran – the first step in getting a visa for that part of the world. This is a piece of paper provided by the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to a tour agency working on your behalf, for a fee of course. The problem I encountered this week was Australian government regulations preventing financial institutions sending money to Iran or for matters relating to Iran… Another thing to work around…
So have we got our route worked out? No more than we had a month ago as all still depends on Turkmenistan and whether they’ll grant us a transit visa. Before we can apply for that, we must have the visas for Iran and Uzbekistan ones. But if we don’t get, it will mean we can’t go to Iran, so that visa will be a waste. See what I mean about this spagetti?!
And just to add a bit of excitement, my service provider in the US has migrated my business site and emails to another server and I have been tearing my hair out with that for weeks now. ‘Nugh said on that.
Some excitement of a different kind. I know we will faced with many opportunities of eating mare’s products such as mare’s cheese, mare’s yogurt and milk in Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia. Mongolia’s traditional beverage is airag, fermented mare’s milk. How will I survive with my bad lactose intolerance. Time for some research. I found out that the reason I can eat plain yogurt is because the enzymes in yogurt break down the lactose for me. Maybe I’ll be ok with airag then I wonder, if am ok with yogurt?!?! I decide to try over-the-counter lactase. If it works, I can take that while in Mongolia especially. So I gave it a try at home. I start with a lovely creamy chocolate mousse, taking 2 lactase tablets just before eating my desert as per the instructions. I was totally fine, up to 10.5 hours later – normally I react 8 hours later. Then it was touch and go, but I did manage to keep it down. I am very happy and keen to try the next test. I give my body a week to recover. A week later, time for something usually lethal for me. Something with cream and lemon. I decide to take the tablets 10’ before the ‘test’. I lasted 7 hours before being horribly sick. It took me 36 hours to recover. That was a complete failure. Rats… Another reason to perfect my Russian and Mongolian. I have prepared 2 A4 pages of various words and expressions in Turkish, Georgian, Armenian, Russian and Mongolian to help me out.
We are slowly ticking items off our list of things to do. A very exciting one was to find new boots – I did not fancy going through rain or crossing rivers and having wet feet as I did on our last RTW trip. After much research and trying several different models, I settled on a pair of Sidi Adventure 2 goretex boots. So comfortable!! And with much better support than the old boots.
Our pre-trip fitness regime includes a couple of walks a day and a weekly trip to the Gold Coast’s Main Beach for some boogy boarding – a fun way of getting your arms and legs a bit of a work out.
Suddenly, we have just 5 weeks before we leave. Still so much to do, most importantly Anthony’s annual heart check up – it is 8 years today that he had his heart attack while riding a motorcycle in Bhutan. We will forever be grateful we rode our motorcycles around the temple 3 times to cleanse our sins – a clean sheet, so only got a small zap from upstairs… followed by a quadruple bypass that was life changing.