Shipping the bike

Lots of people ask us: "Where did you ship the bike from?". We tell them that we rode the bike, by road (paved and unpaved) - all the way from home to here.

This is half the truth. Overland travel around the world is always constrained by the vast amount of water we have on this planet, and which has to be crossed to arrive at your next destination.

Unless your bike is an amphibian, you will have to cross water by using some sort of 'other means' of transportation. Choices have to be made in different types of vehicle transportation and in therms of waiting time, money spent and the various expedition companies that are on offer.

Here's a summary of where we did this and how (in order of the route followed on this trip). Read more about our Route here.

1) Nepal - Thailand (by air)

Arriving in Kathmandu, the process of transporting a bike is easy. We chose to use the services of Eagle Export Cargo that is family owned by the brothers Suraj and Sudan. They will measure you bike, build a wooden crate around it (in the compound at the airport), do the paperwork for you and send your Loved One on to the next destination. Be aware that what influences the price of flying, is limited to the crate building, the dimensions of the crate (front wheel in or out?) and the weight of the whole package. Read more about our visit to Nepal (In Dutch, use Google Translate for other languages).

2) Thailand - Laos (by river)

The border of these two countries is marked by a big river called the Mekong. We crossed into Laos at Huay Xai using this big ferry that also carries huge trucks to the other side. Read more about this river crossing in Thailand here.

3) Multiple times in Laos (by river)

This South-East Asian country is fun to ride in, even picking along some dirt roads on the side. When arriving at the river delta called the 'Bay of Thousand Islands' one has to use a boat to cross the wide and fast running river. Ferries are usually not expensive but the smaller rigged sort of boats - are cheap and adventurous. Make sure the boat is strong enough to carry your big bike. Once the wood under your side stands cracks, your metal mule will be lost into the water for good. End of trip. Read more about our Laos adventures here.

4) Malaysia - US (by ocean)

Besides flying a bike, which is expensive, but then again, much faster and usually less troublesome at both ends at the custom's - shipping by container ship is the next best option. We used Aseantex in Port Klang, Malaysia. This family business is run by brothers Mohammed (aka '1$') and Abul. 1$ is a respected world wide traveler on motorbike and knows what he's talking about. Be aware that the price of freighting is calculated by the dimensions of the crate (that will be stored in a container) - NOT the weight! So, unless you make sure the crate is as small as minimally required, you know the price is right.

Opposed to what we expected, getting the bike through the US Customs and out of the warehouse in Long Beach, California, is easy. Unless you have enough patience and deep pockets. In the US we were charged an extra 200 USD for x-raying our cargo, 70 USD for storage and 50 USD for removal of the enormous crate and disposal of the wood (probably in the worker's home fire place).

We did not regret this decision, although California and Arizona appeared to be unusually cold in December. From the US it's an easy ride down to Mexico. Read more about Malaysia here, and about the US experience here.

5) Baja California - Mexico (by sea)

When it was time to depart from our beloved Baja California (the place where our Baja Twin derived it's name from) we did so by boat. There is a huge ferry called 'Baja Ferries' that has frequents the Straight of Cortez to Mazatlan.

It takes about 12 hours to do so and a nice cabin will make this trip comfortable (if booked out you will need to find a seat at the movie theater amongst the beer drinking and belching truck drivers). Riding of the boat is as easy as riding on it, just like any where else. Read more about the Baja Twin in Baja here.

6) Panama - Colombia (by air)

If you get to make it to this part of the world, you will learn that the Panamerican Highway stops right here, in the jungle of Southern Panama. Crossing this stretch of land called 'Darien' is impossible unless you fly, ship, charter a fisherman or dig a long tunnel in the ground.

The second thing you will realize, is that you ended up in the best kept scam on the planet. Asking around for quotes at the transport companies and you know the prices are unreal. Services from auspicious captains of 'fun boats,' are as expensive and a waste of money as it is to fly with one of the few cargo airlines that will 'help' you do it. But you will have to any way.

We decided to fly. The 'cheapest' company is Girag which is a very experienced option as well. We did not regret it as the process was quick and easy. Dropping off the bike in Panama City can be done a day before the flight - collecting the bike in Bogotá, Colombia, can be done the following day, right next to the airport terminal. It takes some patience to get the paper work done, but once the Girag officials  handed you out the original airway-bill in return for your pink copy, things are sorted out like a breeze.

You will need to book a passenger flight yourself. If you do so, consider buying a ticket to Cartegena (via Bogotá) instead and stepping off the plane in the capital (hand luggage only). This might work out cheaper we heard. Read more about Roemer and Lisan in Colombia here.

7) Uruguay - Belgium (by ocean)

My mother (Roemer) waves us Welcome Home from the beach of Dishoek, when we passed by on the Grande Togo Grimaldi Lines, 60 km before disembarkment in Antwerp.
How great is that? (Photo Rien Bosman)

If you want to avoid the 'sudden dead syndrome' of arriving at your homeland by plane - after a multiple months long trip - try embarking upon a slow freight liner.

The only way to do this between South-America and Europe, is offered by the Italian company Grimaldi Lines. We experienced this smart option. That is, the ships are truely unique, being built for loading containers as well as vehicles (cars and trucks). You can drive onto the deck from the edge of the docks, via an impressive yellow bridge that is as flexible as a giant's big arm.

On the up-side, this way of expediting your wheels, is an operation without the paper hassle that comes with shipping by plane of container. You just contact Grimaldi HQ in Palermo by email, and once your the payment is done, you find that riding your beloved motorcycle, RV or motohome, is a short time ahead. The 26-days (or more) onboard are a infinite time of relaxation and riding the bike off to the European main land gives the feeling of having done all the 15.000 kilometers the old-fashioned way.

No less is true. To begin with, the date (and time) of embarkment is not in the least 'vague,' and 'yes,' there are schedules that predict the departure times of various ships of a particular voyage, but in our case it was delayed every single day (and so will be in yours) after the initial departure, for a period of seven days. Even on the day of departure (whilst you find yourself checking -in and out- of the hotel for the x-time) the exact time of embarkation is difficult to get a confirmation on.

Finally on the boat, boredome kicks in no sooner than after three days. Mind you, this way of traveling ain't a 'cruise'. If you are lucky, you will have fellow-passengiers, but all other people are employees, supposed to be working. Our ship was built in recent years, that means not a lot space for crew and leisure, hence not a lot of space for passengiers. In fact in this corporate urge for efficiency, it doomed upon us that, submitting ourselfs upon this 'ride,' means you are like a 'pain relief,' paying customers that compensate for Grimaldi's total costs of labour, food and drinks (btw. the trip fare is expensive and has gone up by 10% every year, for both passenger and accompanying vehicle).

During the voyage, we gladly had a very good cook that made us wondeful 4-course meals, twice a day. The Fillipino crew and Italian cadets were extremely friendly. We had two enjoyable BBQ's on board. The captain / master was friendly as well (upposed to tirany stories from other travellers) and informative and let us visit different areas of the ship, like the engine room and the bridge. We participated in a man-overboard and an abandon ship drill which made us feel we are safe onboard even in emergency situations.

Finally we arrived at our destination (we chose Antwerp) a lot sooner than the online Grimaldi schedule had forcasted us, which gets us to the last down-side, you really can not trust arrival times of these ships at all (in case you need to count on them). Or at least, ground personnel are not that accurate with providing data that you can plan your travel around.

Conclusively, we did not regret this trip but unlike the elderly couple from France that travelled with the South-America - Europe bound Grimaldi for the fourth time, we will probably not do this again. We don't have to, Grimaldi also operates as a roll-on-roll-off (RORO) without passengiers accompanying their vehicles.