The day before the first day

Blogging takes place at the end of the day. Mostly this is good because it allow a time of quiet reflection on the days activities. I won’t say the day didn’t start well, but it dragged along. However the last couple of hours has been sensational.

For avid followers, you will be pleased to know the tyre issue has been resolved, or as resolved as it is going to be. The tyre place 1$ recommended we go to yesterday, and did go to, could get our tyres by 11am this morning, at an unknown price. It was around a half hour drive away, several toll stations and just a whole lot of hassle. We spied a similar looking tyre and mechanic service centre not too far from us, only a km or so, so headed back there this morning. He gave us a price, and estimated the tyres would be delivered in two hours. We agreed, watched and waited, whilst other tyres were swapped onto matching rims, bought oil and a filter, and topped up the power steering – a new leak!!!, and a bit over two hours later, drove off with two new mud terrain tyres of the right size. This size is pretty unusual in Malaysia and the price showed. Still cheaper than Australia.

I’m very happy to have done this. Tyres are my thing. They are not to be trifled with, or taken for-granted. Readers, have you checked your tyre pressures lately? Have you looked carefully at how much, or little, they are bulging at the bottom? Does it look normal? Is there enough tread for your next expedition – to the shops or the desert?

Moving on; The middle of the day was a bit of a lost cause. We thought, somehow, that the final briefing was at 2pm. By the time we realised no one else was around, there wasn’t enough time to do anything else really, so we rested up in our room.

By later in the afternoon the activities warmed up. We met the renowned Bee, Thomas’s PA, Alina and 1$ again and many of the rest of the crew and participants. Thomas had invited a group similar to the SES in Australia, along to participate in the opening ceremony of his new shop where he presented them with equipment as their sponsor. Streamers, confetti, a big red ribbon – it had the works.

Inside I chatted to one gent and the topic got onto him being Christian in this Muslim country and some of the fears they have of more structured control of the expression of his religion. We shared our views on extremism of all sorts.

Eventually the briefing happened, with brief introductions of participants, allocations of cars – we are Number 10 – and our passengers. We’ve got Grace and her two young boys. I’m sure it will work out okay, but I would be more reassured if I didn’t hear them crying in the hallway just now…. πŸ™
Ah well, noisy children can travel on the roof rack, it’s the Australian way.

There will be 64 people joining in the convoy at some stage or other. Many leaving and joining at different places. It must have made organising a nightmare. I’m still not quite sure if we will need sleeping mats. It’s not chaotic, just tonnes of people to organise and stuff to do.

Later:
Just been down to the convoy parking area, all lined up almost in the hotel foyer. Don’t they look a treat! 15 cars I think…. Given I am #10, I must follow #9, everywhere. Time will tell how this works with so many participants.

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Days off in KL #2

At breakfast this morning, up on the top floor restaurant – included in the 120RMB bed fee – we came across Peter and Geoff, Australians from Melbourne who are also joining the expedition.

For a few hours we sorted stuff our into the car – for example, removing the heavy clothes for cold weather from our backpacks and storing them in the car so we don’t have to lug them into the hotels. Apparently in Bangkok we are staying at the Marriott…..

Jacob bought some new boots from Thomas’s Explorer shop, pretty much like a Mountain Designs or Kathmandu store with specialist hiking and climbing gear for sale, and outdoors gear. I bought a microfibre towel, in case the ones at the Marriott aren’t to my liking….. πŸ™‚

One city Shopping mall, next to our three month old E.City Hotel

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We buddied up with the Melbournians for the rest of the day, and found our way to the local supermarket. It’s very visible from the hotel, like the fuel station, but also like the fuel station, it takes quite a negotiation of the road system to get their. Unfortunately the hotel exit (four star hotel) goes past the rubbish collection depot, which permeates ones senses, all of them for a short while whilst driving past. We get used to the interesting mix of such things in KL.

Jacob and I bought drinking water, the others bought their goodies and we met at a Korean restaurant for lunch. Large bowl of tasty rice, beef, veggies for 25RMB – about A$8. Good value indeed. Again, the language barrier is present, but worked around and all works out fine.

After a bit of arranging we drove to Port Klang and met 1$ and his wife Alina. 1$ had arranged the receival of the shipping for my car, and Alina was the Russian ground contact who helped us with our letters of invitation for getting into Russia.

The port area has a completely different character to the modern clean areas around One City hotel, or central KL. This was outside 1$’s office.

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And this is my first dash cam video upload. No, I wasn’t thinking id use this bit of footage when I was frustrated about the situation regarding tyres.

1$ was particularly impressed by the power of our GTurbo powered Landcruiser. He commented that on one long hill on his normal route into KL, he would always have to drop back to 4th gear, sometimes 3rd. The GTurbo pulled the car up the hill effortlessly in 5th, such is the advantage of a well designed turbocharger and correct fuel and tuning setup. Thanks to Graeme from GTurbo who sponsored the Landcruiser for this trip.

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What he was not so impressed with was the AT, or All Terrain, tyres that shod our Landcruiser. He described the bad conditions on the Road of Bones to Magadan with river crossings, roads washed away and other conditions that are new to us. Whilst these tyres would have been okay for the Australian conditions they are marginal in these conditions.

We visited a tyre shop of his recommendation and found the Chinese owner very happy to help us out, but he couldn’t provide the large 285/75/16 tyres in Mud Tyre tread pattern until tomorrow late in the day. And they were going to cost well over 600RMB each. So 6 of them was a pretty major outlay. I am really reluctant to reduce the tyre to the more standard 265/70/16 as fitted to the other vehicles as it reduces the rolling diameter by some 2 inches and means the engine revs more for the same road speed. Even now, I could do another gear to change into for highway cruising, so taking it back to standard would be hard to contemplate.

In the end I have decided to keep the tyres as we have them. I might get some changed around so the best rubber is on the road, and the situation can be reassessed in Nanjing or Dalian by Brian when he arrives there.

1$ will also arrange for a two way radio – the ones they use in Malaysia are different to the UHF we use in Australia. And our lack of long range fuel tank was news to him too. Not sure how that will impact things on the latter stages of the trip in remote Mongolia, but there is always the opportunity to carry it on the roof rack if really needed. He would have liked a high lift jack point on the front of the car too… Sigh, I wish these things could have been conveyed to us, or addressed by us months ago, not the day before the trip departs.

Anyway, it is what it is. Tomorrow is our last day of finalising things before departure. It will all happen, somehow.

Edit later:
Tonight we found an Indian Malaysian 24 hour restaurant the One City complex, but away from the highly glitzy and Westernised section in the photo’s above. Thomas suggested this was a good place to go, and indeed it was. Despite confusion caused by our total lack of Indian, or Malaysian, and the waiters total lack of English, we both had a great meal of… um what was it?
πŸ™‚ Of Course I knew what it was.

It was fried rice with chicken, they called it Nasi Goring. That was an Indian word I knew, so we had two of those. No menu to point at, just gesticulations. A thumb to the mouth is drink. Fingers to the mouth are for food. Iced tea, water, Nasi Goring. Good sized serve. 17 RMB. Not each. Total. Nice – πŸ™‚

The waiters shyly came to ask us questions, no doubt drawing the short straw on who would have a go at English. State, Country??? Easy to answer, and with a smile, everyone is happy.
And the night manager came over to chat to us, in fairly good English. He asked Jacob for some Aussie money to remember us by. A $20 note was produced and viewed, but quickly put away. Later Jacob took back a $2 coin, and the manager was keen to have him as a friend on Facebook.

And so an evenings entertainment was had for all concerned.

And as Jacob mentioned on the way to dinner. This feels like a safe place. Not only around One City with the plentiful uniformed guards that blow whistles to gain attention and salute visitors with a smile, but all over. There are no hagglers, only seen one beggar, and even in the port area where we created an interest, but never negative attention.

Days off in KL

Took some photos for you today.

Our first monkeys.

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Seeing these were a bit of a surprise.

But first things first.
We thoroughly enjoyed our full cooked breakfast that comes with our hotel room. Something like $40 I think it will be, for both of us. Great value. Jacob continuing to explore the varied tastes available, although finding his mouth filled with many strands of shaved ginger instead of one strand of it might make him a little more cautious for a while.

Thomas had lent us a GPS Navman to help us get around. We fuelled up – learning that if you want to fill up a huge Aussie 4WD, you need to put your credit card into the machine first, otherwise people come running around and suggest we pay them 100RMT cash. This we did, and it nearly filled the empty tanks. Fuel is cheap too, about $0.80 I think. We found our way into the city and found one carpark that had a height limit of 2.1m, just enough for us to slip under. We went a few floors up, only just being able to get around the corners that were designed for much smaller cars and found a few cars to park beside, for company for the day for the car….. .

Using an app in my iPhone, once we got outside I set it to mark our position. I’m not using any 3G data so can’t rely on online maps as I do in Perth. And the surroundings were very strange indeed. Due to the haze, there is no visible sun, and being so close to the equator, it’s not in the north or south sky, so orientation is difficult. Brian has sent me a link for an app that contains off line mapping, which might come in very handy, along with the GPS.

However the road system is slightly chaotic and the GPS struggles to differentiate at times. We did do a little exploring, hilariously finding ourselves lost in the same street in the city twice even though we were heading first into then out of the city.

We suddenly found ourselves in familiar territory, the place that Thomas picked us up yesterday. We got hold of a map from the information desk and found the botanical gardens were nearby, the next problem was to work out how to get there. The information desk girl said, just catch the train to Kuala Lumpur station, were were at KL Sentral, which sounded easy enough.

Then the first ticket queue of the day. After five minutes or so of waiting patiently in line, which is something Malaysians seem to do well, Jacob pulled out his 100RMB note to pay for the tickets. The girl frowned and gave him 98RMB back, and a couple of token to put into the machine.

Then, ever resourceful Jacob figured out the underground rail map, and got us onto the right platform and we travelled our one train stop. About 500m I think. At least we knew how to do the train thing then.

We found the Butterfly gardens, and figured it might be a nice place to escape the humidity.

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Further wandering around the gardens we found the biggest covered aviary in the world, but didn’t go in. Some of the places, in fact many, were closed due to a Muslim festival at the end of Ramadan.

The haze is inescapable.

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Art Gallery of Islam. Unfortunately closed. Clean and well tended, smart and interesting buildings are everywhere. As well as plenty of rubbish in the streets, old dirty places.

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Waiting for more train tickets. The queue moves slowly. The ceiling is low. There is no air movement. It’s not pleasant. AND this is a public holiday, heaven knows what it would be like during a normal business day.

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All those above are of the precinct around the Petronis Towers. They used to be the tallest buildings in the world until the Burj in Dubai overtook it. All stainless steel, they are some structures indeed. The shopping malls in the precinct are all the world top end brands of jewelry, suits and trinkets.

AND a pretty nice playground.

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He would have really really liked to spend a lot of time here!!!

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Couple of other thoughts.

Malaysians have always tried to be helpful to us. Even when the language barrier is there, which it often is, we have been helped out, and resolved any query or issues.

Being a Muslim nation means the vast majority of women wear hijab, and we saw one ‘female only’ train carriage. It’s more moderate approach to Islam means we’ve not yet seen any women with the full heading covered Burka and they are quite happy to drink alcohol. Being part of the Commonwealth means they drive on the same side of the road as Australia, their power points are the same as the British, and their food is diverse interesting and tasty, as well as being much cheaper than I had expected.

There are many many new very fancy looking buildings, both commercial and residential. There are also run down areas of poverty. Not too many though. There was one guy we saw cutting the grass in a garden with hand shears. It’s only a little spot, but we’d have a whipper snipper in there and the job done in moments.

Perth to Kuala Lumpur

Well well well. What HAVE we done?

After an incredible unsociable rise at 3:30AM on a Sunday morning, all of headed off in Christopher’s wonderful Ford Focus, complete with a squeak in the dash – sorry Chris, had to mention it.

Thanks heaps to the intrepid souls who came to see us off and remind me that I really did need to go after chatting away over coffee. We actually cut it a little too fine. In the bold print on the bottom of the boarding pass it says the boarding gate closes 30 minutes before the flights scheduled departure. Air Asia passengers take note!

We got through Customs, then Security, then walked swiftly to the gate to see the attendant holding a two way radio up to her mouth to make that call – ‘Would the following passengers PLEASE …’ When she saw us, she put the microphone down and we were ushered through; last on the plane. Oooops.

Then we sat for twenty minutes, in a 2/3 full plane contemplating the next few hours.
Flight was uneventful, though another tip for Air Asia passengers is to take plenty of water on board. They don’t offer you any. They might have given us some, or paid for it, if we had asked, but none of the niceties of being offered water as on other carriers. Having said that, the staff were professional and courteous, patient with the English speakers who could only speak one language.

Nice new huge airport at KL. Although there was plenty of walking up and down ramps, apparently cheaper than escalators, and no travelators to ease the long walks. After a long flight, this walk was welcomed. We collected our bags, found the Skybus and had an hour long coach ride along various freeway system before we found our way to the Sentral KL. There waiting for us was Thomas, our tour leader. And up the top of the stairs was a very different looking Green. Covered in Expedition stickers it looks a treat with it’s big roof rack, twin wheel carrier, lifted suspension, and quite at odds with the little sedans and motorbikes of KL.

We jumped into Green, aka the Aussie Invader, and drove with ease through the traffic. Merging is done smoothly and safely, if only with 30cm to spare front and back. Having a decided weight and size advantage sure helps too. The humidity in the city is fine, which is fortunate as the Air Cond has leaked all it’s gas out in the last couple of weeks. There’s a significant haze over the city. Pollution, haze, humidity, who knows. It really hampers the views.

Thomas led us for 30km to the south west sector of the city and we drove into the forecourt of a very plush new hotel, that could very well be four star rated. πŸ™‚ Called the eCity Hotel, http://ecityhotel.my/home/, it’s got free wifi, yay, and is part of a major multi storey shopping complex. It’s called a green building as they have avoided costly air conditioning bills in the public areas by clever use of water sprays and ventilation.

This is our home for the next four days, and it is a very good start to the trip indeed.

We’ve both got a good feeling about the trip, it’s all going smoothly.

One thing forgotten so far – an Aussie power board. We’ve got the convertors, only one outlet plug to suit our stuff. I had thought I’d put one in the car, obviously not. Photos tomorrow when we get stuff sorted.

We’re away ….

Long story short – we’re flying tomorrow morning, Sunday July 27th departing Perth at 6:50am. In 24 hours, Jacob and I will be walking through those blue arches at Perth International Airport. Quite an achievement getting to this point. πŸ™‚

In my last post, the tragic destruction of MH17 was still fresh news with the immediate and long term future very much up in the air. Our passports had been sent to the Russian embassy in Canberra, the very place diplomatic sanctions may well have been applied and staff expelled from our country for the misdemeanours of others on the other side of the world. Fortunately cooler heads have prevailed; our Prime Minister has toned down his initial posturing and left the work to the Foreign Minister, who by all accounts has done a great job and represented our nation well on the international stage in this time of sadness anger and political volatility. And most importantly to our plans, the officers of the Russian embassy have not been expelled and were able to process our visa applications promptly as requested.

Revisiting the week. On Friday, I posted the passports, our visa applications and $720 to pay for expedited processing of two business days. I used Australia Post Express Post Platinum, a $15.60 ultra premium postal service that is supposed to be overnight guaranteed from Balcatta to Canberra, and with tracking. The tracking showed the parcel had arrived in Canberra and was delivered on Monday. On Thursday morning, there was no record of the return package being posted, so I phoned the embassy.

Man with deep voice and strong Russian accent answered in Russian…. gulp.
Good morning Sir I said in my most friendly voice.
A stern ‘good morning’ was the reply.

I said I was hoping he could help me locate my visa applications.
‘When did you post them?’
‘Friday and you received them on Monday’
‘How do you know?’ the gruff voice asked.
‘Australia Post tracking’
‘I never trust Australia Post tracking he says. Name?’

After a little while of further exchanges he was pleased to announce that they had been approved and posted yesterday, Wednesday. We were best mates by the time I hung up, with him no doubt being pleased they had complied with the two day processing and whatever happened from here on was not his problem. A good conversation in the end, just a little daunting at the start.

The relief was amazing. Our Russian visas had been approved!! Along with our Chinese visas, and our Mongolian visas, this has been quite a saga. it meant the trip was happening. With all their different requirements; our determination to get the applications right the first time; it all being very new; and relying on the tour organisers to give us all the information we needed in a timely manner; and the need for some reason to give itinerary information that was not entirely accurate – it’s been quite a process. Now to wait for the overnight delivery. I’d have them by 10:30am.

Later in the day, my last day at work for several months, the relief was sullied by my friendly Australia Post delivery NOT bringing our passports back. And what’s more, there was no tracking information appearing on the Post website. Where were our passports. The Russian embassy said they posted them Wednesday. On the back of their assurances, I booked flights for Sunday. But with no tracking I had no clue at all as to where they were.

The week before Australia Post, a company I worked with for 15 years so knew their internal processes fairly well, had delivered the Mongolian visas back from Canberra in two days. I knew the local delivery centre had scanned the item around midnight when it arrived there and it was delivered the next day.

Would this happen with the passports this week?

To distract myself, I went off to the GP and had my Hepatitis top up injection – just to add to the certainty of an uncomfortable sleep. And our 32 year old fridge is making much louder noises than it has for the last few years; so knowing I was leaving soon and in a while Cass and Chris will be looking after the house, I got focused on researching new fridges. Don’t you love spending an extra $1300 just before a huge trip that is draining a hole in our reserves!! I recalibrated the power consumption meter I’ve had on the fridge for some time so it gave me useful comparative information and was quite shocked to find it has been using over 1300 kw/hr of electricity per annum. The new one is rated at 500 kw/hr. Now my solar cells might actually keep up with daily demand a little better, and we will save several hundred dollars a year in power bills, beauty. What’s more, we’ve bought one with a freezer on the bottom and it will be marvellous being able to open the top fridge door and see everything close at hand. No more bending down to see what is on the top shelf. This is disastrous for the kids though, who hide things on the top shelf they don’t want me to eat…. #rubbinghandswithglee

Anyway, sleep I did, and I was VERY relieved to see this on Friday morning. It meant I knew where the passports were and I could trust our local delivery procedures to work. Phew.

The BEST little red van icon ever
The BEST little red van icon ever

And sure enough, later in the morning, the package was delivered to my workplace. AND all the details were correct!

Oh, and whilst this has been happening, the car, remember the car, has been on it’s own journey across the ocean.

Tracking Greens trip across the oceans
Tracking Greens trip across the oceans

The long break in Singapore was not meant to happen. Someone delayed some paperwork somewhere along the lines. Urgent emails kept me distracted whilst waiting for news on the Russian visas. Now it’s arrived in Port Kelang, Kuala Lumpur and, 1$, our Malaysian shipping agent has not called me and asked where the keys are. This is all good.

Pretrip hair cuts have been had. Banks have been notified of us being overseas. Doggies have been taken on a nice walk around the lake, packing needs to be finalised and moved from piles into the backpack. Packing lists would be helpful here….

Reflecting on achievements to get to this point; I’ve learnt about:

  • The time and financial cost of making rushed purchases when choosing a vehicle for a specific purpose
  • How to remove and sell a landcruiser petrol engine – after getting it running right.
  • How to remove the body off a Landcruiser with a forklift and get a diesel engine going that had been someone else’s nemesis.
  • How to reconfigure the electrical harnesses in a car that started life with a petrol engine and now has a diesel
  • How to apply for engineering certificates to ensure ADR (Australian Design Rules) compliance when relicencing as a modified vehicle
  • How to troubleshoot and resolve engine cooling issues two weeks prior to shipping a car overseas, and to resolve a major electrical issue the night before it was due to be loaded onto the container.
  • How to get a car shipped overseas in a container.
  • Did you know there was a difference between a Bill of Lading and a Waybill? Seems to make a difference to a car being released and it being held up…. Not quite got my head around the complexities of overseas freight just yet.
  • How to apply for a Carnet De Passage en Doune, or passport for the car, to enable it to be driven overseas.
  • How to apply for an overseas driving permit
  • How to have six injections in one go for travel vaccinations
  • How to apply for visas to three countries that are very different to our own
  • How to book up train travel on the Trans Siberian train after working out a schedule, and book accommodation in Russia to suit.
  • Not a bad list really.

    And in addition we’ve needed to do all the normal stuff of getting our own passports renewed, buying airline tickets based on an itinerary that we had to work out; working with another family to get our arrangements sorted; and working full time for the first time in decades. No one gives me any sympathy for this last point…. !

    So it’s been quite a journey really, and we’ve not even left Perth yet.

    And all of the above pales into insignificance when you consider how much the fine people at 4×4 worldexplorer.com have had to do. All the hotel bookings, all the route planning, dealing with the questions of 45 people. Thanks Bee and Thomas and the team.