The problems begin

Day 3 – Friday 2nd August – Istambul to Bishkek (3740km – by plane)

I did not get a wink of sleep in the 5-hour plus overnight flight to the Kyrgyz capital – we were crammed together in a 737 with barely any more room than a low-cost flight and as I stepped down the flight stairs into the scorching heat everything had a dream-like quality. The airport was small, it looked more like a regional airfield than the international airport it was, consisting of only one runway we had to backtaxi on and a single terminal building without any fingers. On the tarmac, a couple 737s from Eastern airlines, a cargo 747 and an Ilyushin Il-76.

We got our passpaports stamped without hassle – the country offers visa-free entry to EU citizens, changed some money and met the guy the hotel had sent to pick us up. There was one thing we needed to do before, though – go to the Tajik embassy to sort our visas for that country. We could have done that online from home, but the e-visa is only single-entry and we wanted to try and get a double-entry one at the embassy so that we could reenter the country after going to Uzbekistan without having to worry for a second online application to be accepted while on the road. Unfortunately, the guy there told us that they only issued double-entry visas for business, so we applied for a regular tourist one. We would have to apply for a second one online while in the country. It was Friday morning and the guy told us that they were closing for holidays on that very same day, but as a special favour he would process the visas and have them ready by that same afternoon.

There are some places scattered around the globe that are little havens for the few crazy ones of us that decide to see the world from a motorbike, and the hotel was one of them. This was the point where AdvFactory sent the motorbikes to from all over Europe and there was an atmosphere of excitement about the coming trips in the air. The courtyard was packed full of motorbikes, some ready to go, others still half assembled, others proudly wearing a layer of dirt waiting to be shipped back home, and there was talk everywhere about places to see. Some people giving advice about the routes they had just completed, others talking excitedly about their destination – Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, China, India, Mongolia, with sunburnt faces, and grease under their fingernails. We found our bikes and our luggage, unpacked, had a well-deserved shower and then went out for a meal.

In the afternoon, after a nap to make up for the sleepless night in the plane, we took a cab back to the Tajik embassy to collect or visas. The ride there was an adventure in itself – the car was a crumpling old Lada with an engine that had a habit of cutting off while in the middle of crazy traffic and the driver did not speak a word of English and did not seem sure about where we wanted to go but it did not matter, it was all part of the adventure. The real problems started when we got to the embassy. The guy there told me that there was a problem with my passport, that I had less than six months before its expiry date. I felt the blood drain from my face.

‘That’s not possible’ I told him. ‘It’s November 2020!’. I handed him the passport again and pointed at the date. ‘Ah, yes, yes, sorry, it’s the other one’ he said. We looked at Mark’s passport and sure enough, it expired in less than six months. It was only by a few days, but it was enough for the visa to be denied, even though he had had no problem obtaining an online visa to Turkey or entering Kyrgyzstan, and there was nothing we could do about it there.

We went back to the hotel crestfallen and started evaluating our options. There were a lot of suggestions by the people there – contact a Spanish embassy to renew it, apply for a visa online, doctor the expiry date on the passport, a British guy even offered to photoshop his own e-visa with Marc’s details. Mark had his wife start pulling strings from Spain regarding the Spanish embassy and we tried to apply for an online visa with a different expiry date. The problem was that the system asked for a picture of the passport as well, so if someone checked the picture in person, they would see that the dates did not match. Someone suggested sending a photoshopped version of the passport with a different date, but the first picture had already gone into the system. We tried to cancel the application, but the system is very poorly designed, and it was now stuck awaiting a payment we did not make. There was not a lot more we could to about it, so we went out for dinner with the guys from AdvFactory and got drunk on unfiltered Kyrguiz beer.


Got the Russian visa!

The most difficult one is done! In fact, it has been much easier than expected – money obviously helps… This one was supposed to be complicated, as I needed a multi-entry business visa, which meant I had to be invited by a Russian company, but I just paid for an invitation letter and to have all my paperwork done through Central de Visados Rusos, in Barcelona, and they sorted out everything with no fuss at all. In ten days I had my visa! Now I can enter and leave Russia as many times as I want from July to December.

Since I had got my passport back and still had an hour before going to work, I decided to start the process of getting my Mongol visa. The Mongol Consulate in Barcelona is not far from the offices where I got the Russian visa, so I took the bike and went down there.

They are located at the end of Rocafort street, near Paral·lel, and their premises could not be more different from the mansion in Pearson Avenue.

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2013-04-23 10.24.49You walk through a dark and damp entrance hall on the ground floor of a typical Eixample building to an inner court where there are a few small houses, among which is the consulate.

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The girl there was much, much nicer than the staff at the Russian consulate and after going through the paperwork she told me that there would be no problem to issue a tourist visa, but that it was still too early, as I will not be reaching the border until late July or early August, so she advised me to get any other visas I needed and then go back.

So, on the the Kazakh visa, then!

Russian Visa and the Russian consulate

I have read a lot about Russian bureocracy in all the adventure travel discussion forums I have visited, so when I started looking for information on the kind of visa I would need to enter Russia multiple times on a motorbike, without exact dates of entry or exit, hotel reservations or letters of invitation, I already expected a certain degree of difficulty.

After reading about different types of visas, requierments and companies that do all the paperwork for you, I decided to try and do it myself in order to save a few euros, so I went to the Russian consulate on Barcelona.

As you would expect from such a country, the consulate is not an office on the second floor of a building in the center, but an impressive mansion in the high part of the city. Their web site clearly states that it is impossible to visit it without an appointment, so I logged in and filled in the necessary information to get one. The system turned out to be rigidly Russian: the only option available on the list of reasons to visit the consulate is ‘visas’. I guess you need to be somebody and know the right people to visit the consulate for any other business. I got an appointment for a Thursday morning, and when the day came, I went there hoping to get first hand information on exactly what kind of visa I needed for such a trip, and if whoever was there was nice enough, maybe some information on border crossings, state of the roads, etc. How wrong I was!

The entrance to the front court of the building consisted of a two-door cage system, with security cameras, an intercom and a burly security guard who was letting somebody out and quickly closed the door behind her as he saw me approaching. When I reached the first door he blurted out something in Russian and I told him I had an appointment (in Spanish, of course, my Russian is non-existent and if the guy is stationed in the Consulate in Barcelona, I expected him to understand the local language…) and he said ‘name?’ I gave him my name and ID number and he proceeded to check a printout he had on a folder. He nodded and pressed a button that let me through the first door and into the cage. I had to wait for the first door to close and then somebody opened the second one from somewhere else. He pointed at the main entrance to the mansion and said ‘left’.

The arched door opened into a roomy entarnce hall, where some people were sitting, apparently waiting to be called. The door leading from the hall into the building was open, and I caught a glimpse of some people on desks and guys in suits walking around. I was wondering whether they also had had to make an appointment through the web site and how they had managed to get some other option than ‘visas’ on the menu when the voice of the security guy saying ‘left’ again brought me back to real life. He was behind me, pointing at a smaller door to the left of the hall. I walked in and found a small room with a couple of tables to fill in forms on and a tiny window to the right. It was obvious that the rest of the mansion was not accessible to mere mortals.

There was nobody queuing at the window, so I walked to it. Behind bullet-proof glass was a bored looking soviet civil servant stamping visas. He raised his sight, saw me and said ‘papers?’ I started explaining my story – travelling on a bike, entering several times into the country, no invitation, blah, blah, and I think he was overwhelmed by the sheer number of words I was wasting; everyone I had met so far in the building seemed to use only one word at a time. He said ‘they’ll inform you’ and pointed behind me. I turned around hoping to find a smiling young Russian girl sitting behind an information desk, but there was no one else in the room. I looked at him and he pointed again. This time I realised he was pointing at a notice board on the wall where there was a poster advertising a company called Central de Visados Rusos which arranged visas. I had seen other companies online, and several people had recommended using Real Russia, but I wanted to avoid paying a company to do the paperwork if I could do it myself. However, it was clear that was all the information I was going to get in the consulate, and the offices of the company were near my home, so I decided to go and see if they could shed some light on how to get the visa I needed.

There was no security guard on my way out, so I approached the first door and pressed the button on the intercom. Someone barked a few words in Russian and I replied ‘I want to get out.’ The first door buzzed opened and I walk into the cage. Once the first door had closed, the second one buzzed. I pushed it, but it would not open. I waited for them to unlock it again, but it refused to move. There was nobody in the front court and I was stuck in between doors. Great. I pressed the intercom button and asked to be let out again. The same voice yelled something in Russian and the door buzzed again, but it refused to open, no matter how hard I pushed. I was starting to feel a bit stupid trapped between doors when a woman walked up to the door from the street, said something in Russian to the intercom and the door buzzed one more time. She pulled it effortlessly from the outside and walked in, as I took the chance to leave that charming building.

I did find the smiling young Russian girl I was hoping for in the visa company. She listened to what I wanted to do and explained that the only multy entry visa for Russia is a business one, the tourist visa only allows people to enter the country twice in a period of one month, a business one allows multiple trips over a period of three months. She said that it did not matter that I was not going to go there on business, I only needed a letter of invitation from a Russian company in order to obtain a visa. When I asked her how I would get one without contacts, she smiled, handed me a form and said ‘we provide them for 50€’.

It was becoming clear that I was not going to be able to do the whole application process myself, and on top of that, they were the only company that the Russian consulate in Barcelona had officially approved to handle visa applications, and I still had to apply for the visas for Kazakhstan and Mongolia, so I decided to save time and use their services.

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After having my picture taken, taking out travel insurance in one of their approved companies, filling in a request for an invitation letter and the form downloaded from their website and making sure my passport didn’t expire in the next six months and had at least two consecutive blank pages, I finally handed in all the paperwork needed this week, and by Tuesday next week I should have a multy entry business visa for Russia.

Travel insurance

It’s now only three months to departure and this week I wanted to start sorting out the visas, since each application will take around 10 days and I want to make sure everything is ready on time.

I decided to start with the Russian one, the most difficult, as I need to get a business visa. Apparently, tourist visas only allow two entries to the country, and I need three over a period of three months, because I’ll be entering the country from Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Mongolia.

However, before I apply for any visa, I need to get travel insurance, since all consulates ask for a certificate to prove that I have travel insurance for the duration of the stay in their country. I checked out prices and coverage with different companies, and in the end settled for Europ Assistance because the price was fair, the coverage reasonable, it is on the list of insurance companies approved by the Russian consulate in Barcelona and last but not least, their offices are around the corner from my flat.

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So now that I have my insurance and three separate certificates (one for each visa), I can start the process. I have already completet and downloaded the application form fo the Russian one, so if I have time tomorrow morning, I’ll get started on it.


The Consulate of Kazakhstan in Barcelona exists!

A month ago I started gathering information about the visas and all the paperwork they would require and visited the consulates in Barcelona. I need visas for Russia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. I got all the information I needed in the consulates of Russia and Mongolia (more on that on another post), but I went to the consulate of Kazakhstan on three separate occasions only to find it closed, no matter what time or day.

Fortunately, today has been a very productive day and I have found a phone number for the consulate. I called this morning and they are indeed in Barcelona, but only receive people by appointment. They can issue visas, but they do it through the consulate in Madrid, and charge 120€ for the service. If I get the paperwork to Madrid myself, it will only cost 35€, so I’ll take advantage of the fact that my sister lives there and I have friends regularly coming and going between Barcelona and Madrid and try to do it myself.

In the meantime, I have downloaded these very official-looking forms:

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