Travel tips – The crossing of the Atlantic Ocean for two sidecars

Version française disponible ici. 

The adventure starts from the travel preparations. We need to think about our future daily life. Make choices and concessions which will draw the main steps of our adventure.

This begins with the choice of the means of transport and then the potential itinerary… 1 year and 7 months before our departure, each member of the team did a brainstorming to know which country they would like to cross.

Quickly, the ideal itinerary can be drawn. We wanted to discover South of America, from the North to the South, before to reach Asia and to go back to Europe. We needed to do some research to know the administrative constraints for travelling with our own vehicle. Quickly, we identified major difficulties to cross some countries of our future adventure:

  • In China – It’s mandatory to have a Chinese driving licence and to be accompanied by a guide from the government during all the crossing of the country.
  • In India and Iran – It’s mandatory for both countries to have a “Carnet de Passage” which can be delivered by giving a deposit of 150% of the vehicle value.
  • In Russia – It’s impossible to import a vehicle by the sea and to leave the territory by the land.

We needed to adapt our itinerary again and to agree together about the plan. We will go alongside the Western coast of South of America before to reach a country at the North of Europe, bordering with Russia. Therefore, it will be easier to enter the country and to access the manufacture of the Ural sidecars in Irbit, a little village, one of the aims of our trip.

Once the route drawn on a paper, we just needed to find a way to ship our sidecars from Europe to South of America. After some research, there were only two possible solutions: by the sea or by air. Maybe faster, and probably safer, the option by shipping our sidecars by cargo plane has been quickly eliminated due to the expensive cost.

Therefore, we kept the maritime option. Here again, there were two possibilities:

 Crossing by RoRo:

The word RoRo is coming from “Roll-On, Roll-Off” meaning “go in, go out”. The crossing is done on similar ships to ferry boats. With many access ramps, you can load your vehicle on one of the decks for all the crossing. If your vehicle dimensions doesn’t match with a container dimensions, this is the unique solution to ship your vehicle by sea. During the crossing of your vehicle by RoRo, it’s recommended to privilege a shipping company allowing passengers on board. Your presence can avoid thefts during the stopovers. Plus, travelling on board means the adventure begins, even if it’s not a cruise!

 Crossing by container:

The second option is to load your vehicle in a container. This one can be private or shared with vehicles of other travelers to lower the shipping costs. The crossing is done on a container carrier. The size of the containers is standard for making piles like a “Tetris” game during the loading on the cargo. There are 2 container lengths: 20 foot and 40 foot. The height and the width, 2,30 metres each (inside the container), is standard.

Once the decision made to ship our sidecars in a private container of 20 foot (matching perfectly with the length of our sidecars, one behind another), we needed to choose the shipping agency which is here named “freight forwarded”. This one has an intermediary role between us, individual clients and the cargo. He is responsible for the vehicle loading, plus the relationship with the maritime transport taking care of the crossing and the unloading of the container.

Each freight forwarder doesn’t offer the same ports of departure in Europe and the ports of landing in South of America. We compared each choice for the crossing. The ports of departure were not a major factor, but the constraints for the port of arrival and the date of departure of the ship were the priority factors.

In these conditions, as we wanted to travel on the Western coast of South of America, we quickly looked for shipping our sidecars to Cayenne, in Guyane. The main advantage of this port was the possibility to do the administrative tasks in French, our native language (with this option, we needed to pay the dock dues, a French tax for the imported goods in the overseas regions to privilege the locale production. It’s possible to be exempted with a certificate of change of residence). Firstly, we were reassured for having the opportunity to make the procedures in French, so we naturally wanted to choose this port. But, to reach Colombia for the next step of our trip, we needed to cross the Suriname and especially Venezuela where the geopolitical situation started to be unstable. Finally, we chose the port of Cartagena in Colombia, by the Caribbean sea.

By reading blogs and travel websites, the Wave-VS company was standing out. We wanted to start our trip in South of America, around the 1stof September. 6 months before this date, we contacted for the first time Rachida, one of the managers of this French company based in Uruguay.

Wave-VS has been created in 2008, they ship camping-car, motorbikes or 4×4 by cars. The company offers an all-inclusive service. They are in charge of the the maritime shipping, the customs formalities and the port operations before the vehicle pick-up at the port of arrival.

We just needed to agree on a date of departure and to book our flight to Cartagena in Colombia.

Fos-sur-Mer (France) -> Cartagena (Colombia)

To prepare our vehicles at their best, before the container loading, we packed and divided our belongings in the different cases of the sidecars. Each item had a specific space, each corner was used and we already made concessions due to the space available. We put everything on the floor for making the inventory of each item which will be in the container. From the nail clippers to the tent, all our belongings were recorded in a file that we forwarded to Rachida, our contact at Wave-VS.

Once the sidecars loaded, we went to a farm, next door, for the weighing of the vehicles with and without the cases. 370kgs without our belongings and 500kgs with everything.

Ready for the travel, we prefered going to Fos-sur-Mer without riding our sidecars. We crossed France, from Vendée (western French county) to the Mediterranean coast with one of them in a trailer while the other one was in a van.

On the 3rdSeptember 2018, we arrived at 9am in front of the warehouse of a company in contract with Wave-VS. Rachida gave us all the information, but we were not too sure about the process. This early hour was also the arrival hour of all the staff. We have been invited by the handling team to share the first coffee of the day, in the entrance hall. We showed our documents to the person in charge of our case. She checked all the references. Once the administrative tasks done, we have been invited to enter in the warehouse with our vehicles. After riding between the containers, the printed inventory was quickly checked by the agent in charge of loading the sidecars in the container. He advised to remove the fire extinguishers that we hung in the front of the sides. It was time to break-up! We left our sidecars with the keys on ignition, in this loading area, without being able to see the loading in the container and with the hope to see them again, safe and sound, on the other side of the Atlantic ocean.

The departure of the boat was scheduled on the 7thof September 2019. The estimated time for the crossing was 18 days. By choice, we decided to take a flight landing in Colombia before the estimated day of our sidecars in Cartagena. Therefore, we were able to start the administrative formalities before their arrival at the port.

Upon our departure in Nantes, on the 18thof september, we hoped to see our sidecars around the 25thof September. But we didn’t find a solution yet for the second shipment between South of America and North of Europe.

We landed in Bogotá on Wednesday 19th of September after a 13 hour-flight. We indulged ourselves with 4 days to discover the Colombian capital and to get used to the jetlag in this new country. We met our Colombian friend Liseth, we had the chance to meet her three years ago in England. She kindly offered her help for the long customs formalities that we will need to do.

On the 23rdof September, we managed to take our flight at the airport of El Dorado. In spite of its dreamy name, our dream almost stopped there…. Indeed, at the boarding desk, our digital boarding passes haven’t been accepted. We needed to find a solution to print them. We ran through the terminal of the airport to find a little shop. We didn’t have that much of time left, plus the stress was higher than the speed of the internet connection in the shop… Finally, we managed to reach Cartagena and the Caribbean coast in the evening.

From Monday morning, we (the five of us) started the administrative formalities together. We met Julio in a small office of the SLS (Supply Logistics Solutions) society, without any decorations and only two seats, a desk, a computer and a printer. We followed him to the next street to go to a sollicitor’s office. We signed some paperwork to give authority to Julio to manage the importation of our vehicles.

On the Wednesday 26th of September, Julio contacted us and asked to both main riders of the sidecars, Emilie and Julien, to meet him at the customs of the port (DIAN – Dirección de Impuestos y Aduanas Nacionales) to sign some new paperwork. It was the supposed date of arrival of the sidecars, but he still didn’t have any information about the day of their arrival. He also asked to both riders to subscribe to an insurance to be able to enter in the port. He also asked for yellow safety vests. Finally, we found two jackets in a little shop selling equipment for cars after many hours of research. About the port insurance, we got one with “Seguros del Estado”. Their offices were on the last floor of the “Bancolombia Cartagena” building, with a view over the “Plaza de la Paz.” The knowledge of Liseth about her country was very helpful!

On Friday 28th of September, we heard from Julio that our container has just been unloaded in the port area. Finally, only Julien accompanied by Angel, a co-worker of Julio, was authorised to see the container opening. Both sidecars were unloaded and in perfect conditions with all our belongings. But, it was not over ! The sidecars were not authorised to go out of the port without a new signature on a paperwork from the DIAN and the vehicle insurance.

On a Friday afternoon, with the weekend coming, we went again to the offices of  the insurance “Seguros del Estado” to get the precious SOAT (Seguros obligatorio de Accidentes de Transito), which is the equivalent of the third-party European insurance covers. The offices were supposed to be closed at 3pm on a Friday afternoon. But thanks to the negotiation skills of our friend Liseth, plus the kindness of the ladies at the reception, we finally obtained the precious paperwork sent from Bogotá at 5pm and we left the insurance offices at 6pm. However, no news from Julio to collect the sidecars at the port.

It was only the following day, on Saturday 29thof September, at 12:40pm that Julio called us. We met him at 1pm and collected the sidecars with the autorisation for taking them out of the port. We finally did the first kilometres of this road trip!

We contacted again Wave-VS in November to plan the next shipment of the sidecars from Montevideo in Uruguay to Riga in Latvia. 6 weeks before the departure of the ship, planified on the 7th of March, we confirmed to Rachida the dates of the transport we wished.

Montevideo (Uruguay) -> Riga (Latvia)

On Wednesday 27th of February, the following day of our arrival in Montevideo, we visited the offices of Wave-VS, located in the historic town-centre. Rachida was waiting for us to sign some documents for loading the Ural in our private container.

On Friday 1stof March, it was the big day, the side-cars were loaded in the container. We went to the offices of Wave-VS where we met Nicola, the agent in charge of the loading. After some safety checks, Nicola asked us to wait for him in a parking lot, just the time for him to take care of the logistics. When he was back, half an hour later, we followed him and crossed the port with our sidecars to reach the loading area. A driver and his truck, with our container on the top of it, plus a forklift driver and his pallet truck, were waiting for us. It was there that we assisted to the loading of our vehicles, tied up with some orange straps. The gate was a bit capricious. Thanks to the pallet truck, Nicola managed to close it and to seal the container before to load it on the trailer of the truck.

The time to say goodbye to all the team and with the helmet under the arm, we left the port by foot…

Asia is waiting for us!

Epilogue: the crossing time was estimated to 40 days. This time was perfectly respected. During the unloading at the date given, Mikael, the agent contracted by Wave-VS had a remarkable professionalism. Thanks to him, the vehicles were out of the port area, the day we met him. Then, we enjoyed following his Victory motorbike to enjoy the treasures of Latvia, on the asphalt of the National Park of Gauja.