Progress report March 2002.

Taking around 9 months and covering over 22,000 miles through over 20 countries - this motorcaravan expedition to China is a major undertaking by any standard.

At least three groups of Silk Route club members have made the journey before, the last occasion being in 2000 when there were 17 vehicles in the convoy. In 2002, 8 vans are on board, 5 from the English-speaking world and 3 from France, the first international expedition.

From the UK are the vans of Stewart and Warburton, the Barkers, Brooks, and intrepid lone vanner Maureen Middleton. From Canada, and aiming to (almost) circle the globe, are the Hunters.

From France are the Clerissis, Cortades, and expedition coordinator Andre Bertrand with his wife Ginette.

Planning for this journey began in 2000 whilst the 2000 group were still on the road. Insufficient numbers were committed in 2001, so planning continued and the trip was put on hold. By the association AGM in November 2001, it was clear that at least 9 vans were seriously in business and so the pace of preparation hotted up.

Below, we've summarised some of the issues that have been and are being tackled, and the focus is on the work of the English-speaking group of travellers.

Departure and Route.

For the English-speaking outfits, departure will begin in mid March when Carl Hunter drives across Canada and the USA to ship his van from Baltimore to Europe. The UK outfits will set out in late March and early April. All these outfits plan to meet up in Turkey, probably at Istanbul, before taking a novel route through the Caucasus to Baku in Azerbaijan and then across the Caspian Sea. Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan follow and China is entered at the Turugart Pass.

The French will start later, following the route taken by their compatriots in 2000 - through north central Europe, Russia, the Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Both groups will become one whilst in China, and it is expected that everyone will follow the same route back towards western Europe - from Nepal, through India, Pakistan and Iran into Turkey. The vans are expected to arrive home towards the end of the year.

China - Contract with an agency.

Entering and travelling round China using a motorcaravan is fraught with difficulty unless one has a contract with a Chinese agency, a key element of which is that the group is accompanied by a guide throughout.

The 2000 contract has been used as a model in negotiations with two agencies - I&S who took the 2000 group, and CC who are based in France and work closely with CS based like I&S in Beijing. Lengthy discussions have taken place with the two agencies to improve on the terms of the 2000 contract (though it was largely sound) and to strike a deal on price/costs included in the price. At the time of writing, the negotiations are reaching a finale and a choice will have to be made on which agency to choose. The final cost of the contract per van looks likely to be around £3,500 for 90 days. This cost is likely to include English and French speaking guides, organisation of all formalities including visas, driving licences and number plates. But the travellers will have to find the cost of fuel, food, entrance charges.

Close contact has been maintained between all participants during the negotiations to ensure everyone has their say. Email has proved of inestimable value!

Visas.

The route chosen by the English-speaking group has proved a visa minefield.

Visas are required in 11 of the countries to be visited in addition to China. Visas cannot be obtained whilst at home for 3 of these countries because the length of the journey means they will be invalid before the countries are reached, so these visas have to be picked up en route. In the countries of the Caucasus and in the 'Stans', Soviet rules continue to apply, with hoop-jumping compulsory. The biggest problem is the obligatory 'letter of invitation' which is a simple requirement for the hotel-based 14 day package holidaymaker but problematic for we nomads with no fixed abode and a requirement for some timetable flexibility.

Negotiations are well advanced to secure a deal with a central Asian agency to arrange visas for most of the countries and it is likely that they will be collected in Istanbul. One other country will be traversed on an easily-obtained-at-the-border transit visa, and another in London at the embassy of the most flexible of the countries in the region.

Preparing the vans.

Preparation of individual vans is, well, pretty individual but all the 'anglophones' have been much involved in this, some for over two years.

The Barkers and Brooks have had the advantage of very similar vans (Mercedes 709D and 811D) and have been swapping notes for many months. They have worked on a joint spares kit and will take only one example of some spares.

Stewart and Warburton have built a motorcaravan on a ex-German army Mercedes Unimog chassis.

Carl and Mary Hunter only bought their base vehicle two months ago and will pick up the converted unit this week - so the cross-continent trip to Baltimore will be their test flight!

MM has a coachbuilt UK motorhome which has been given a number of upgrade like an additional battery.

All the party have had to ensure they have CB on board and excellent fuel capacity. In three cases this has meant a new or additional tank.

Travel and Vehicle Insurance.

Personal travel insurance for this type of journey is not difficult to find - on the Internet. A number of insurers offer long-term policies to 'far away places' at a cost of around £200+.

On the other hand, adequate vehicle insurance is impossible to find in the UK and the outfits have not been able to take advantage of French policies which are restricted to those based in France. A decision has been taken to purchase third party insurance at borders wherever possible and to work hard to include similar insurance for China in the contract.

Carnets de Passage en Douanes.

The Carnet is an essential document in some of the countries en route, e.g. India and Iran. It is a 'passport' for your van, a promise to pay import duties in the event that the van is left in (and therefore notionally 'imported' into) one of the countries. The Carnet is obtained from a motoring organisation.

As a result of September 11, it was thought that we would be unable to get a Carnet for Pakistan. But a slightly more settled international situation, the maturity, solidarity and solvency of the group all played their part in securing the full cooperation of the RAC and Carnets are now arranged.

Health.

Considerable discussion has taken place amongst the group on health issues - jabs, which medicines to take, the need for exercise, clean drinking water. The anglophones will take with them a communal medical kit as well as personal medicines.

Clive Barker (Coordinator for the Anglophones) and Les Brook

Home - This page last changed on 2002-03-03.