The Visa Run

On arriving back from our wonderful trek we received the news that it was not going to be possible for us to go back through Myanmar to China. There had been an uprising by an ethnic group in Shan Province and as a result of this no permits were being issued to transit through that section which was next to the Chinese border.
So now what to do? We had two choices. Ship the truck from India or drive it through Pakistan to China. The only problem was that Pakistan would only issue a visa to British citizens in London unless they were residents of another country. The shipping option did not look attractive, we didn’t want to ship and the routes and timings weren’t ideal either so we took the decision that I would drive the truck through Pakistan. Gilly and the girls would fly over from India and meet me in China.
So as soon as we got back I booked flights to London for the following day. We had been told by the visa company that dealt with all visa applications for Pakistan in London that a visa usually took 2 weeks to issue but could be longer. So it didn’t make sense booking return flights, I would just have to book them as I went.
The following morning I said goodbye to Gilly and the girls. It was really hard as we have spent the last three and a half years all together so going away was a real pull. At least they were in a nice spot just outside Pokhara with friendly local people and everything they needed close at hand.
The first flight was Pokhara to Kathmandu on a little prop plane. It was only a 25 minute flight but it was to cause untold problems. First we were told all flights were delayed because of flight congestion at Kathmandu! Then we were told our plane had a mechanical issue and an engineer was coming on a flight from Kathmandu. When he arrived he promptly proceeded to kick the front wheel, then pull at it before declaring everything as being ok. It didn’t exactly fill you with confidence.
I had allowed over 5 hours between flights at Kathmandu but we were been further and further delayed. Eventually 5 hours late we took off. But the 25 minute flight ended up taking over an hour, again because of flight congestion over Kathmandu. The views of the mountains on the flight were wonderful but to be honest I was too busy looking at my watch to enjoy them. We eventually landed at the same time as my flight to London via Mumbai was due to leave.
I dashed between the domestic and international terminals in the hope my flight had been delayed but to no avail the desk was already closed. Ok I was travelling very light, I had an iPad and a credit card I just needed to book another flight. The only problem was there was no wifi in the airport and my SIM card chose just that moment to expire. So off I trooped to find the Oman Airways office as I knew they had a flight out later that evening. At the office they told me they only dealt with operations and didn’t sell tickets. For that I would have to go into town. They kindly provided me with the address so I flagged a cab and dashed into the evening rush hour. Fortunately the ticket agency was still open and they were able to get me on the flight leaving that evening that would end up arriving at Heathrow at the same time as my original flight.
There was just time to grab something to eat and sort out cancelling the flight I had missed before it was back to the airport.
Fortunately things got a lot easier from then and it was a smooth flight via Muscat to London. On arriving at Heathrow I jumped straight on the tube to head over to the visa company and submit all my documents. Everything was in order but when I asked how long it would take I was told at least 10 working days and possibly longer, not a good sign.
Since I would be waiting around and as I have 2 passports I thought I would jump on another flight and head to Spain to see my parents. So first I jumped on a bus to Gatwick checked into the airport hotel and booked a flight for the following morning. It was my birthday but not much of a celebration just me, a burger and a pint of bitter in the hotel restaurant.
The next days flight to Spain went smoothly. After not having flown for nearly 9 months I had now taken 5 flights in 4 days. I used to fly a lot for business but can’t say I have missed it.
I spent a lovely week with my parents in Spain. The weather was good and we just relaxed apart from taking a few walks.  


It was so nice to see them. We took the opportunity to catch up with some friends as well as enjoy some wonderful Spanish cuisine and a good old Sunday lunch.


The day before I was due to fly back I received a text saying my passport was ready to be picked up. Fantastic and after only 8 working days. So as soon as I landed at Gatwick I caught the train over to the visa office where I received my Pakistani visa. Result.
As it was the start of the Easter holidays and as I had already arranged to go and visit my sister and family I caught another train to the South Coast. We had a lovely weekend catching up as well as eating and drinking well.  
On the Saturday evening we popped for a few pints in the local pub followed by a curry, just how I remember a typical Saturday night out in England. Then on Sunday we went over to some of their friends for a lovely afternoon and evening. Rob, Gill and their kids were great hosts and cooked us a lovely meal as well as keeping us well watered.


But it was time to get back to Nepal and Gilly and the girls. Nick my nephew kindly drove me back up to Heathrow to catch my flight back to Pokhara via Bangkok and Kathmandu. It was going to be a long time on the plane.
Whilst it was not great the family been split up for 2 weeks at least we now have a route out of the sub continent and it was great for me to have the unexpected opportunity to catch up with everyone in Spain and England.

A Short Trip Home

On a trip like this there is one thing we all miss, seeing family and friends. So it was with great excitement that we jumped on a plane in Kuala Lumpur and popped back to the UK for a couple of weeks. The official reason was that the girls needed new passports, the UK passport office only issue small passports for children and with all the visa stamps we will need over the next year they will soon be full. Malaysia seemed the best place to leave the truck and it had been a while since we had seen anyone, so we were all keen to get back for a while.

Our first afternoon back was so quintessentially English you couldn’t have made it up. The rather surreal effect was even more pronounced as we had been up since 2am with jet-lag. My sister Clare and her boyfriend Noël took the girls and I out for afternoon tea at Wimborne St Giles’s Village Hall. We whizzed down single lane country roads bordered by hedgerows to arrive in the pretty village. Nestled amongst picture-perfect thatch cottages we enjoyed delicious cakes prepared by a local bowls club, washed down with lashings of tea. As we wandered around admiring the ancient village on the Shaftesbury Estate, it seemed a world away from tropical Malaysia we had left the day before.

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Wimborne St Giles

Steve and I started the working week with a day trip to Newport in Wales for the kid’s passports. Apart from having to go in person for the express service, it was all relatively straightforward and they arrived a week later. Steve also had to renew his HGV licence which needed a medical, which was far easier to do in the UK. As the forms had got lost to us in the post, we did a quick 120km detour to hand in the application personally.

Even I was happy to be woken at six early one morning, as Steve shook me awake to tell me that Thailand was going to process our truck entry permit application. Hurray! We had almost given up hope that we would be able to pass through Thailand and have had a stressful 6 weeks lobbying the authorities and coming up with alternative plans. We are now just keeping our fingers crossed that there is no hiccups in the paperwork.

We had some rather more alarming news from Asia the next day, we heard from another traveller that the hotel we had left the truck in had burnt down! A few emails later we were immensely relieved to learn that although the main building had indeed caught fire, the area around the back where we had left the truck was supposedly untouched. The hotel is now closed but they said we can retrieve the truck when we get back.

It was wonderful to be back staying with my Mum and near the rest of the family. The whole McDermott clan got together one day. All the nephews had shot up since we saw them just over a year ago, when we popped back while shipping from South America to Africa. My brother Courtney and his partner Charlie were due to have a baby in the second week we were back. Unfortunately for us, my soon-to-be nephew is far too comfortable where he is and still hadn’t been born when we left.

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The girls had an absolutely fabulous time at Grannie’s cooking, sewing, playing with all the old favourite toys and generally being spoilt. There were sleepovers at Auntie Clare’s; individual days out with Grannie and Clare to a farm, cinema, forest and historical houses; and lots of fun. It was no wonder that they both said they wanted to stay longer.

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We spent a day with old friends from Prague, Victoria and Paul, who were back visiting family in Winchester. Alisha was delighted to see Mimi, her old classmate, again and all the children got on like they hadn’t ever been apart. We got to immerse ourselves even more in England’s history as we explored Winchester and the kids dressed up as knights, queens and soldiers under King Arthur’s round table in the Great Hall.

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The second week was centred around seeing Steve’s family as his Mum and Dad flew over from Spain to stay at his sister Jo’s house. We went over to Southampton to see them everyday. We were all impressed to see Matt’s (Steve’s nephew) new racing wheelchair and hear about his exploits on the track. It was wonderful to see everyone and catch up in person, FaceTime on the iPad doesn’t make up for actually being together.

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Southampton

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A year seems a long time away, that is how much longer we plan to be on the road driving back to Europe from Asia. However, we did have one detail we wanted to get into place before we return-Alisha’s schooling. After 4 years of being in a “class” of two, we didn’t want her return to more formal schooling to be too much of a shock, so have explored lots of different options for her. Especially as she will be going into Year 8, the second year of Secondary School, when we return. Part of the problem is that we don’t know what our lives will look like when we return back. It has been nearly 20 years since we have lived in the UK and the girls have never lived there. We visited 3 local schools and she had to take 3 hours of difficult exams for the one she most liked. Thankfully we heard the next day that she had passed the exams and they wanted to offer her a place. It is going to be a big change for her from homeschooling to go to a very academic, quite traditional, independent all girls school but that was what appeals to her most and we think she will rise to the challenge. Being younger, Lucy is less of an issue at this point as there is a small primary school in the New Forest village we have a house in. She is currently keen to stay homeschooled, which would mean we would not have to arrange anything in advance.

As the two weeks drew to a close, we were very sad to say goodbye to everyone. Being away for so long enjoying other cultures and scenery has made me look with fresh eyes at our English history, culture and scenery which has been wonderful. As we got the flight back to KL, with our Thai permit hopefully being processed, we were ready to start driving through Asia.

There’s no place like “Home”…….?

When you are a constant nomad where do you call home? 

This question has been on our minds this past week and a half as we returned to the UK but to be honest such philosophical thoughts took took second place to having a great time with family and friends.

There was lots of eating, including my Mum cooking us a “Christmas” dinner (yes I know it’s May) complete with turkey, stuffing, mince pies and Christmas pudding. She knows the best way to Steve, my brothers and nephew’s hearts is through their stomachs. 

 

We fitted in 2 curries, 2 fish and chips, 3 roast dinners, baked beans and lashings of marmite…..all the things we’ve been missing.

We timed it right to catch up with my brother and his family for Sunday lunch on his birthday. 

 The paparazzi have nothing on the McDermotts

We hardly saw the girls as they caught up on girlie times with sleepovers with both our sisters. They ended up with a much needed whole new wardrobe thanks to Steve’s sister and his family. They spent days and nights with my sister building fairy houses in the wood, making cuddly toys, having tea parties and generally having a magical time.  

   

    

The bluebells were out for a wonderful walk with Clare, my sister. We went to our beloved New Forest and walked whenever we could in the forest just a few hundred metres from my Mum’s house. It was wonderful to have a proper talk with my Mum and Clare, FaceTime is great but not a proper replacement for actually seeing them.  We also went to Wilton House so the girls could see an English country house, after studying English history. It also brought back lovely memories, as it was where Steve and I had our wedding reception nearly 14 years ago.

  
   
 

  

   

  

 It was amazing how tall and grownup all our nephews and niece had become while we were away. 

     

Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to see many friends but we did manage a few local ones. We also met for the first time with fellow travellers and Bocklet truck owners: Marcus and Julie (www.tuckstruck.net) who we’ve been communicating with by email for the last couple of years. They’ve just completed a year in Africa and are heading to South America, serendipitously they were back visiting his parent’s just 10 miles from my Mum’s house. It was a little bit like a blind date when Steve and I walked into the pub having never met in person. We were so busy chatting and exchanging information that lunch turned to dinner and we eventually left 9 1/2 hours later, we didn’t even drink as we were driving. 

It has been great for all of us to get a bit of space from each other, as you can imagine living together 24/7 in a small space is very stressful at times. The girls went off separately with my Auntie Clare and had special time with Grannie, while Steve and I went our own ways for somethings. 

For South Africa we needed the girl’s original birth certificates which were stored somewhere in the garage at our cottage in the New Forest. The house is rented out long term so we didn’t see inside. We bought the place about 5 years ago when we lived in Prague to rent out and for us to use during the holidays. It was a an emotional purchase for me, I had always wanted a place in the New Forest close to our families and especially when we lived in Moscow I felt we needed somewhere for the girls and I to call “home”. A 17th century thatched cottage, maybe was not the most practical choice but I love the place. It was interesting to see after nearly 2 years away I felt quite different, it still is very special but I wasn’t as emotionally attached as I thought I would be.  

All the while we were still waiting to have confirmation that the truck was actually aboard the boat to South Africa, not still sat at the port outside Beunos Aires. At last we got the email but there was a possible, exciting complication for Steve. He is a passionate Middlesborough supporter along with his family and most of his UK friends. The team had a chance to be promoted to the Premier league if they won a play off game on Monday, the day we were planning to fly out. All plans were on hold until the semi final play off game finished. Once Middlesbrough were in the final we quickly booked a flight that allowed Steve to go to the game and make it to Durban just in time. Steve then spent 3 hours in an online queue to get tickets. He was ecstatic that he was going to see them play, he was taking Nic his nephew and was going to catch up with all his old friends at once. I was really pleased for him, it’s not often Middlesborough get to Wembley. 

We had a great night catching up with some of Steve’s oldest friends in London, the next morning the true fans set off to Wembley. 

 
  

   

  The girls and I used the time to do a quick sightseeing bus and river tour to London to finish off their “History of London” homeschooling topic that they have been doing for the last few months. It is amazing that having been to so many capital cities around the world they have never been to London. Apart from the sight seeing, they were sweetly excited to see black cabs and red double-decker buses. Alisha checked every red post box carefully for the monarch initials she was so thrilled to see one from George VII and Queen Victoria’s reign.   

     

   

  Yep, that’s more fish and chips in front of Tower Bridge

Unfortunately Middlesborough didn’t live up to their enthusiastic fans expectations and lost 2-0. It was a sad party who met us back at the house, before we jumped into a taxi for the airport.

We still are not at all sure where we’ll settle at the end of this life changing trip. The girls, having been born but never lived in the UK see it as the “mother country”. A place of loving relations, interesting history and where they can make themselves easily understood. For Steve and I after nearly 2 decades as expats, where do we feel most is “home”? Good question! At the moment the answer for us all is definitely “the truck”.