This morning I have taken the decision to delay the trip until 2021 at the earliest due to the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the fact that I can no longer get travel insurance due to the FCO advising against all travel internationally.
I had already bought travel insurance that was due to start on May 1st 2020 however, since the FCO now advise against all travel that insurance would be useless and provide no cover whatsoever as it clearly states that if the FCO advise against travel it would become invalid.
Based on this I have had to cancel the insurance policy and get a refund thus making it impossible to travel.
This is probably not a bad thing looking at how the Coronavirus is panning out globally at the moment.
To say it’s frustrating is an understatement as I will now lose the £538.00 spent on getting my Russian visa as they are currently refusing to extend the visa for next year. Hopefully this stance will change but, it’s highly unlikely.
So until then it’s a case of continuing with the social lockdown that is currently in place in the UK and staying healthy.
Since I’m delayed going on my adventure due to the COVID-19 global pandemic I thought I’d use the time constructively to cover some of the things I’ve been doing during my preparation that I haven’t blogged about yet.
Whilst investigating GPS solutions for the trip it soon became obvious that Garmin don’t really cover the entire world when it comes to maps for their GPS devices, especially the Garmin Zumo 350LM that I have and use regularly on my bikes.
So I started to investigate the Open Source alternatives for mapping and soon discovered that Open Street Maps can be compiled into the correct format for the Garmin series of devices.
Having worked in IT all my professional life I’m am somewhat of a techie and have a good understanding of Open Source Software and how to apply it to everyday needs.
Open Street Map is an Open Source project that has been going for a number of years now. Originally started by Steve Coast in the UK in 2004, it was inspired by the success of Wikipedia and the predominance of proprietary map data in the UK and elsewhere.
The Open Street Map website provides a fairly simple user interface to select and generate maps based on squares. For most travellers the easiest way to get the mapping information is to select the country from the drop down lists, enter your email address and then click the “Build my Map” button.
This will generate two emails, one to confirm that the request has been received and how long it is going to take to generate your map and then a second email detailing the link where the ZIP file containing the image files can be downloaded from.
This is the easy bit!
Once you’ve downloaded the ZIP file containing the .img image files you need to use a tool to convert them to Garmin GPS compatible format.
Since I’m an Apple MacBook and Ubuntu Linux user I will show how to generate the Garmin compatible files using Linux tools.
If you’re using a variety of the Windows Operating System please have a look here for the details on how to do this. It does appear to be much more complicated!
Using a Linux Terminal window unzip the ZIP file and list the contents as shown below.
Once the files are unzipped you need to generate the gmapsupp.img file that Garmin GPS devices require to interpret the map data. This is easily generated using the mkgmap tool on the command line. Default installs of Linux don’t have this tool installed and so you will need to install it using the following command:
sudo apt-get install mkgmap
Once installed you are ready to proceed by issuing the following command:
mkgmap –gmapsupp ./*.img
As you can see above, once the programme has run you will have the necessary gmapsupp.img file ready to go into the Garmin folder on your device SD card. Note that the folder must have an uppercase G for it to be recognised by the device.
Once the Open Street Map is on the SD card it will appear on the device under the “myMaps” menu item as shown above. The maps are always called OSM Street Map and not by the country name. It’s also worth nothing that you can only have one gmapsupp.img file at a time in the Garmin folder on the SD card as you cannot have two files with the same name.
If like me you are going on a trip and need to have many countries stored then the best thing to do is create a folder structure and keep each country gmapsupp.img file in a separate folder, then all you will need to do is copy the appropriate file into the Garmin folder for each country as you move around.
If don’t have the facility to generate these files yourself please contact me on social media and I’ll happily generate the files for you.
As I’m writing this article I’m watching the update emails come in from the FCO website detailing border closures and states of emergency being declared by most of the countries I need to transit through in order to get to my goal of visiting Mongolia.
So far, Czechia and Slovakia have closed their borders to UK citizens. Georgia and Azerbaijan have put in place tight controls on people entering the country if they’ve come from the UK or via Germany including no access at all during March/April.
Mongolia has closed it’s borders with Russia completely meaning there is currently no way in or out of Mongolia as the borders with China are also closed. If you do manage to get into Mongolia currently there are strict travel restrictions in place to stop the spread of infection since Mongolia currently doesn’t have a single case of infection.
The ‘stans are also now starting to limit access to their region of Central Asia.
As time goes on, more and countries will declare states of emergency and close borders. President Macron of France is considering this at the moment which, if it happens will mean the only way out of the UK to the EU mainland will be via Hoek Van Holland, which is also currently under threat.
So what does this mean for my trip?
Well, at the moment there is no point in me going anywhere as I can only get as far as Germany and then I’m stuck. Each time I look for an alternative route the country I am looking to transit via closes their border or limits access to those that are not from the UK or other infected countries.
I am now looking at leaving the UK at the beginning of May instead of April, I’m hoping this will allow time for the peak infection to pass and for countries to relax travel restrictions such that I will be able to transit my way to Mongolia and back.
This has meant that I’ve needed to move the commencement date of my travel/medical insurance which I’ve been able to do with ease and am now looking to move my ferry crossing with Stena Line.
After almost 2 years of planning and preparing for this trip this is deeply annoying and indeed frustrating to say the least. I just want to get on and go now, everything is ready.
If it turns out that I cannot go in May then it will mean I will have to cancel the trip for this year as the weather window will no longer be viable for such a trip. Lets hope it doesn’t come to this!
Today was the day that I went to the big city of London. I’ve not been there for a while and generally it’s a place I try my best to avoid after working there for far too many years.
My first port of call was to visit Timo Taal at the Almont Group visa agency to complete the paperwork and pay for the visa (See article below about Almont Group). It was great to finally meet Timo as we have conversed by phone and email many times but never face to face. I soon had all the paperwork done and headed off to the Russian Visa Application Centre to give my biometric information.
Upon arrival I was welcomed by big burly Russian gent who gave me a numbered ticket and asked me to take a seat in the waiting area. 30mins later my number popped up on the screen and I presented myself to the young lady sat behind the desk. She diligently went through my visa application forms that had been prepared by Timo previously and confirmed all was good. I then gave my biometric information as requested and was on my way. All done very politely and efficiently.
One thing I did notice during my time at the centre was the number of people turned away because of paperwork issues. This made me realise that it is well worth getting an agency to do all the paperwork in advance as they know exactly how to do things correctly, first time.
Since it’s not a cheap exercise, over £500 for a 12 month multi-entry visa, it is worth getting it done right. Hopefully by the beginning of March 2020 I will have my Russian visa ready for the trip.