We made it! And more impressively, all our kit made it too!
We arrived at Beijing Capital Airport in the early hours of Friday morning, having flown direct from Edinburgh and flush with confirmed jobs for when we return home. After a slightly nervous wait our luggage and mountain bikes appeared in the terminal and, at first glance, appear in tact. And so we headed through to meet our guide….which some of you are probably thinking is not our usual style….
To drive your own vehicle in China requires you have a guide in your group, which for us means having a guide in the car for all our exploits until we reach Mongolia in a few days time. Having posted Giles to China we also had all the customs processes and vehicle and driver licensing to do. Complex at the best of times, and near impossible in a completely alien country and language. For all of this we have employed the services of NAVO Tour, the industry-leading self-drive tour specialist for China, whose delightfully cheerful guide Yingchu was holding up a sign for “Wild Michael” as we bundled our way into the arrivals hall at 5am.
Cue the most whirlwind day we’ve had for while. Bikes and big luggage left at the airport we jumped in a taxi, on a fast train (350 kph fast), a metro, and another taxi, to arrive in Tianjin Port, the closest port to Beijing, a couple of hours later. Our aim was to get as much of the customs and licensing processing done as possible before the weekend, but with little hope of managing this until Monday. First stop – go and see Giles and try and get him out of customs. We had had various communications with NAVO about some items of electronics in the vehicle which could cause problems, so we were a little nervous what might have been removed. In the event, the container was still locked when we arrived. We opened it up, connected the battery, pumped up the tyres and drove him out of the compound without anyone uttering a word about the contents. We don’t know if this is normal, or we just got lucky, but we were free, delighted, and heading to the closest diesel pump for a drink.
Next up, licensing. Of him, and us. This was in Tianjin City, a short drive away without any checkpoints, hence fine to do with an unlicensed foreign car and severely jet lagged drivers, apparently. This would be the slow part and might take all day and more. Whilst Yingchu went in to the Chinese equivalent of the DVLA, we went to sleep.
She appeared again an hour later saying they needed to speak with us. Hmmmm….. We were shown into a board room and sat opposite a very stern looking policeman who, with the most severe look on his face, said (via translation) “first, welcome to China)! As we both cracked grins to rival Freddie Mercury the atmosphere relaxed, and we received a brief course in the rules of the road in China. These were mostly sensible and included things like not to hit scooters, bicycles, pedestrians or police, but at no point, in any context, gave any clue regarding rights of way. Having now driven here for a couple of days, we are none the wiser.
Vehicle licensing completed with a drive through an inspection bay it was time for us to become legit. Once again, we were told we might as well wait in the car. This time Yingchu reappeared with instructions that we must visit the local hospital, which was a little alarming. Even more alarming for Mike was the test for colour blindness, given the subtleties of some shades can leave him a little confused… Having had no clue what was on Cas’s charts he was grateful to recognise some vague patterns on his. A quick photo, for which Mike had to slouch considerably to get into the frame, and we were off to a series of rooms, all with barely discernible differences in function, to finally obtain….a certificate of health for driving. And so back in another taxi to the DVLA, for another hour and a half wait, before finally, and quite miraculously, becoming legally allowed to drive! Achieving this in a single day was without doubt due to the tireless perseverance of our guide. We now plan on spending a couple of days in and around Beijing before heading for the border…