Posted from Barnaul, Altai Krai, Russian Federation.
I’m delighted to announce that since the last blog we’ve managed to get going again, but lack of time and internet access has prevented me from posting an update till now.
So here we go…
Thursday 16th August to Monday 20th August
Just spent the days hanging around really. It was far too hot to go out during the day, so it was early morning walks, retire to the room and then out again in the late afternoon for strolling around and having dinner.
The highlight was being invited by the hotel owners to join them on the Sunday for their Eid-al-Fitr (breaking the fast) dinner to mark the end of Ramadan. Of course the main attraction was the national dish of plov (rice, meat and carrots, with the ubiquitous oil), all washed down with copious amounts of vodka. I rolled off to bed rather the worse for wear, but surprisingly woke with a clear head the next morning.
Tuesday 21st August
At breakfast we met a lovely group of Italians who were on a sightseeing tour of Uzbekistan. They invited us to go with them in their minibus on a tour of various sights outside Bukhara. This was a great change from our usual routine and we spent a lovely morning in their company.
The afternoon was brightened by the arrival of the bike’s valves, and once the hotel owner’s relative, who was a mechanic, had fitted them to the head, Kevin was able to put the bike back together. And it worked! So a celebratory meal with the Italians was called for, followed by an early night so we could be ready for the off.
Wednesday 22nd August
After breakfast we loaded the bikes and said our goodbyes to the Italians (who we hoped to meet in Samarkand that evening), and our kind hosts at the Hotel Porso.
Our journey was shortlived as Kevin’s bike ground to a halt with the same mystery problem as before. After a little experimenting it turned out to be a faulty CDI unit, but as we were carrying a spare we were on the road again after an hour.
Two losses today: my motorcycle trousers (which were strapped on the back of the bike) and Kevin’s Tilley hat. Fortunately Kevin saw my trousers fall off and retrieved them. The hat was never found.
We rolled into Samarkand, and were delighted by the view of the Alai mountain range as we entered, a relief from the endless desert plan. It was also noticeably cooler, especially in the evening. Our stay was to be the Hotel Caravan Serail, in a very pleasant setting but marred by the demands for money upfront for everything, from the room to the bottled water in reception. The room was not as nice as the one we had stayed in in Bukhara – we had clearly been spoilt! Just after we arrived we made a short excursion on foot to the Registan, which was well worthwhile.
Thursday 23rd August
We had a fairly early start, heading off to the Kazakh border at Chinoz, near Tashkent. For those following this blog for some tips, do note that this is the only multilateral border crossing in the area, the other two north of Tashkent being for locals only.
At our lunch stop we met up with Antonio, an architect from Rome on a tour of the area on his Yamaha XT660Z Tenere, who was heading west towards home once he had crossed into Kazakhstan.
We arrived at the border at 2:30pm and the crossing took us about four hours, plus the one hour time difference, so it was 7:30 by the time we got into Kazakhstan. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, we passed a car abandoned in no man’s land between the two borders.
We couldn’t find anywhere suitable to stay, so we camped in the steppe near the border.
Friday 24th August
We woke early ready for a quick start. Kevin adjusted my suspension, raising the bike a few inches. This had two effects, stopping the bike grounding out and allowing it to rest on its side stand more easily without the risk of toppling over. And why was it grounding out? Because the rear shock absorber was turning out to be on its way out, but that’s another story. And while all this was going on a local goat herder came over, interested to see what we were up to.
It was a cloudy morning and it started drizzling not long after we set off.
We stopped for breakfast of pasties and tea at a cafe near Saryagash, and after a further 150kms or so riding onwards to Shimkent, we said our goodbyes to Antonio, who was heading west whilst we were continuing east.
The roads were generally quite good at this point, with a concrete surface on which we could maintain a fairly constant speed. Nearing Qulan as night was approaching, we started looking for somewhere to camp. This was a problem as the terrain was flat and dusty, so we turned up a side road, looking for somewhere suitable.
At this point I went round the back of some houses, but couldn’t find a spot to put our tents. As I was turning the bike round I stopped for a moment. A young woman came out of her house to see what I was up to, so I asked if there was somewhere we could put up our tents. She readily invited us to set them up in the family’s garden, which we gratefully accepted. They insisted we join them for dinner, which we did with thanks. We chatted to each other, each in our own language, embellished with much waving of hands to get our message across. whilst relaxing I was plied with copious amounts of tea (which I was later to regret). So it was off to bed, the father having first chained up the family’s guard dog near our tents, apparently for our security. This was not as good an idea as it seemed at first glance because the wretched animal spent the whole night growling and snarling at unseen creatures, which only prompted the father to come out waving his torch to see what was causing all the mayhem.
So what was there to regret? Well as you can imagine after all that tea, I woke during the night, needing to relieve myself. With the dog making a racket at the slightest movement I thought it would be a good idea to make use of Kevin’s three empty aluminium flasks, which he no longer needed and had conveniently left next to my tent. I ended up using them all at various times in the night, rather then venture out across the yard to the outside toilet.
Saturday 25th August
We woke at 6:30am and prepared to leave. As we packed up, I emptied the now brimming flasks into the outside toilet pit. Our movements woke the family up, so they prepared breakfast for all of us. Breakfast finished we said our goodbyes, and as we mounted the bikes the father noticed the flasks near where my tent had been. Kevin pushed them towards him and said they could keep them, adding that they were brand new and had never been used. The family each picked one up and turned them over in their hands, unscrewed the stopper and started sniffing them curiously. One of them even tipped the flask over and looked up in surprise as the dregs splashed out. Kevin looked surprised too, as he had no idea what I had used the flasks for. Yet another sharp exit was called for and hurriedly I got us both on the bikes and headed off as quickly as we could. I only explained to Kevin why we had had to leave so quickly when we stopped for fuel later on in the day.
Later that morning we ended up getting stopped by the Kazakh police at one of their random police controls. Their radar gun had picked me up apparently doing 36km/h in the 20km/h run up to the line. I was invited into their hut and shown the evidence, at which point the policeman said there would be a punishment (he used the word strafe in German). I held my left hand out, palm down, and after a second I smacked it with my other hand and said, ‘ I’ve been a very naughty boy’. Jokingly, I held my hand out again, at which point he smacked it and after a second said, ‘You can go now’. I’m definitely trying this at home!
It was late afternoon by the time we arrived in Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan. We headed for the Valentina Guesthouse at 62A Zhabayev Street (Grid: N43.19046 E76.80082) in the outskirts. Sadly it was fully booked so we headed off to our second choice, the Grand Aiser Hotel in town.
This turned out to be a disappointment as it was overpriced at $200 for the night, but we had little choice as it was getting dark. Insult was added to injury with dinner costing $100, and as our credit cards didn’t work in the hotel for some reason, we ended up having to pay cash.
Sunday 26th August
After paying a visit to the Ascension Cathedral (apparently the second tallest wooden building in the world) we set off towards the Russian border. Annoyingly we got snarled up in the Sunday market traffic and thereafter went the wrong way. This meant we were travelling the slightly more arduous eastern route, but the roads weren’t too bad, the views lovely and the temperature pleasantly cool.
We ended up in Taldykorgan and made for the hotel, which turned out to be a Grand Aiser too, but much more amenable (although we were warned there was no hot water). There was a wedding going on with a traditional band playing.
Monday 27th August
Being as it was our fifth day in Kazakhstan we were obliged to register with the tourist police. We finally found them not far from the hotel (Grid: N45.01751 E78.38695) and the process didn’t take long, fortunately.
We then set off and it was a lovely day – beautiful views and good roads. It was a little colder and I almost needed my jacket on! There were a few spots of rain, but they didn’t persist.
Tuesday 28th August
It was cool and raining when we woke, but dried up quickly.
Spoke too soon – the heavens opened and it rained solidly all day. I put on my full kit – no more armoured shirt and thin trousers for me for the rest of the trip! We were both soaked by the time we arrived in Semey. It was dark and unfortunately we got separated and I couldn’t find the hotel. Luckily Kevin found it first and we finally met up and booked in and tried to get our clothes dry.
Somehow Kevin lost his underpants today, as well as his sunglasses. Well he won’t be needing his sunglasses again, but he’s now down to his last pair of pants. Nice.
Wednesday 29th August
After a 110km dash for the border (and at a drink stop we notices my rear wheel had buckled from a serious pothole the previous day) we crossed in record time, less than an hour in total. It was an hour ahead, but we drove furiously and arrived in Barnaul as it was getting dark. The Hotel Barnaul beckoned, a Soviet era monstrosity, but at least it was clean and warm.
We met up with the guys from Team Khantiki Tours and had drinks and something to eat at a local fire-engine themed restaurant called Pozarha. I guess we’ll be convoying with them from now on. Got to bed at about 1:30am.
Thursday 30th August
A general rest day getting ready for the final push to the Mongolian border and Ulaan Baatar.
Fuel consumption – Still about 90mpg
Problems with our bikes – Numerous and mounting, but still plodding on. My bike is rattling and now has a buckled wheel to contend with.
Total distance covered – we passed the 10,000km mark on 29th August
Posted from Bukhara, Bukhara Province, Uzbekistan.
So you think we’ve dropped off the radar? Well we have and we haven’t. Since we left Khiva on Sunday 5th August, Kevin and I have arrived in Bukhara, but got no further, due to our clutch problem. So read on.
Sunday 5th August
We had an early breakfast and set off for Bukhara. It was a 398km ride, of which we had been warned 80kms would be on extremely poor roads. Petrol stations were conspicuous by their absence, and as we were travelling through the Kyzylkum (‘Red Sand’) Desert we were forced to fill up at a roadside petrol stop early on to ensure we had sufficient fuel. These stops are nothing more than people selling black market fuel of indeterminate quality out of plastic bottles, but needs must. And to be fair the bikes seemed to run okay on it.
Before filling up, Kevin tinkered with the clutch, and as he was doing so a group of motorcyclists, all on Yamaha XT660Zs stopped to offer help, Ian from Devon, Neil from London, and Nacho, an Argentinean now living in France. We managed to get going again, but the roads took their toll. Kevin, who was riding my bike at the time, had a crash at speed when he hit a rut, spinning him off in a cloud of dust. The only damage, apart from injured pride, was a bent crash bar and a broken spork (my food/cooking pannier bag took the brunt of the tumble). Neil also had a burst tyre from a giant pothole. The cover was split and things looked bad until a passing lorry driver patched the tyre up sufficiently well to get him to Bukhara.
Kevin’s bike also broke down twice, with a mystery ailment which has yet to return. The second time this happened it prevented us from reaching Bukhara as it was getting dark, so we were forced to camp at the side of the road with Neil and Nacho, who had kindly stayed to assist. We shared our food and slept fitfully with the lorries roaring past all night long. How they dare to travel in the dark with the roads in the state they are, is anybody’s guess.
This was probably our worst day to date, in terms of distance to be covered, with the temperature in the high 40°Cs, the road conditions and the state of the bikes.
Monday 6th August
We woke fairly early and after packing everything away rode the bikes carefully to Bukhara.
Our hotel of choice was full, but we ended up across the road in the Hotel Porso, which has actually suited us better as it has a locked garage area for our motorbikes, which has proved a godsend.
Kevin got straight online and ordered the replacement clutch parts, an oil seal and a new piston. The piston had seized slightly a couple of times en route, and clearly we had an oil delivery problem due to an oil seal that had been damaged in removing the clutch cover so many times to carry out repairs. (Note: do not leave home without a Motion Pro Trail Tool set. I have yet to see such a useful tool, and considering its size and quality, it’s a must-have for any adventure biker).
Tuesday 7th August to Sunday 12th August
Not a lot’s happened, as we’ve just been hanging around, following the progress of the parts on the internet. We’ve seen all the Madrassahs and tried the local restaurants. It’s just very hot and boring, so the days are spent in the shade, or sleeping in the air-conditioned room.
The highlights have been:-
- Tormenting the local boys, who persist in trying to get commission through introducing you to local hotels. We allow them to lead us to our hotel, whereupon they get a flea in their ear from the owner, who lets them know in no uncertain terms that we’re already staying there. The boys also press you for British coins to add to their ‘collection’, so I usually start by asking them for Uzbek coins for mine. This backfired once as a small boy dutifully tuned up at the hotel one evening, clutching a handful of Uzbek coins for me.
- Kevin ordering a plate of jiz and chips at the Saroy, a local restaurant. I am starting to get worried as he seemed rather too eager for my liking…
- Purchasing a local Bukharan camel’s wool rug for my friend back home, Alan Holland, and arranging to have it shipped. As my wife will tell you, I like oriental carpets, and it’s always a pleasure for me to sit in a carpet shop with a knowledgeable owner, examining the stock and bargaining over your final choice.
- Walking the streets with the satnav to add to the mapping of Bukhara on OpenStreetMap. This is actually quite interesting, and I hope I can add to the knowledge base of OSM when I return home.
- Repairing the La Cucaracha musical airhorns on my bike. Sadly they failed before we set off from Birmingham, and this has cast a shadow over the trip so far. It turns out it was only the relay, so we’re up and running – yaks beware!
Monday 13th August
Late afternoon the hotel owner received a call from the local Post Office to say the parts had arrived. A moment of great joy! We rushed off to the Post Office by taxi and collected the parts. Kevin spends the rest of the afternoon fitting the new clutch and piston.
We celebrated by having dinner in an Italian restaurant, the Bella Italia, down the road.
Tuesday 14th August
Sadly our joy was to be short-lived as in refitting the timing chain Kevin had got the timing marks wrong. We discovered in the morning that on turning the engine over the previous afternoon the valves had hit the piston crown, bending them irreversibly.
This meant having to order new valves, so another week’s wait is in view. The hanging around seems rather like a life sentence in Hades without parole, if you ask me. Groundhog Day springs to mind.
Wednesday 15th August
A trip into the newer part of town was called for, especially as Kevin insisted he needed to buy a pair of trousers. I’m not sure whether this was because he’d lost his old ones or had had an unfortunate accident with them following his earlier consumption of the jiz and chips.
On the street afterwards we met a gypsy woman who was fortunate enough to own a fortune telling bird, by the name of Vasiliy. Vasiliy works his magic by first touching his client (read: his owner drags his body up and down your clothing after she stands him on your head) and then selecting a rolled-up ‘prophecy’ from a cup. It is my lucky day! The hotel owner kindly translated it and next Wednesday I am to have some good news. Or marry an Uzbek girl. Not sure which as the bird doesn’t write too clearly.
Fuel consumption – Nil
Incidents with Showers – 0. This is surprising, given the number of showers taken to relieve the boredom.
Hours spent watching Aljazeera on satellite TV – 21
Online books read – 3
Bizarre meals eaten by Kevin – 1
Great Kit 2
Garmin Zumo 660 Satnav with OSM Mapping. I loaded it with my pre-planned routes and we’ve not once needed to use our maps. How good is that?
Pure Hydration Water Pack This is invaluable, and I mean invaluable. I have used their 3-litre armoured reservoir and inline filter assembly in my Kriega R25 rucksack since we set off. As soon as it got hot our requirement was up to 10 litres of drinking water a day. I have been safely drinking the water from random taps in hotels (and the Caspian sea ferry) and have not had a bad stomach once. And you can’t get a better recommendation than that. My only gripe would be that if you’re wearing a full-face helmet you need to ensure that you have the cranked mouthpiece (like on Kevin’s). Mine has the straight mouthpiece and I have struggled drinking from it with my helmet on. Stopping for a quick drink is no major inconvenience though. See their website here.
Tilley Hat Keep this in your bumbag so you can quickly pop it on at borders when you’re waiting in a queue in the baking sun.
Motion Pro Trail Tool This has been described as “Unquestionably one of the finest lightweight all purpose tools ever designed. One of these and a Leatherman will dismantle 80% of all motorbikes in minutes.” I agree. Get one and be amazed.
Victorinox Swiss Tool Spirit + Ratchet This has been a godsend. It does everything it says on the tin, feels good to own, hold and use. ‘Nuff said.
Quechua 2 Seconds I Tent A joy to fling open at the end of a hard day’s riding when you have to camp in the wild. Only £29.99? You must be joking…
Babywipes You may laugh. Don’t. They clean your hands. And face. And motorcycle parts. And your helmet visor. Oh, and your bum.
Posted from Khiva, Khorezm Province, Uzbekistan.
This next instalment of our adventures takes us through Turkmenistan to our first Silk Road City, Khiva, in Uzbekistan.
Tuesday 31st July
We woke at 7:00am and for a supposed 5-star hotel (read: low 4-star in the UK) had a poor breakfast – watered down juice, no proper bread, and no eggs. Well I think there were eggs but the waiter couldn’t tell me how they could cook them, so I went without in the end.
This was to be our first foray into the desert, going north some 500kms to Dasoguz near the border with Uzbekistan. Turkmenistan is a forbidding place, mostly desert, and with a surprising dearth of petrol stations that needs careful planning if you are not to run out in such a hostile environment. We filled up just outside Ashkabat when we set off. There are only two filling stations to be found between there and Dasoguz, over 300 miles away. Just to assist any poor souls in need, they are to be found at Grid: N38.76160, E58.48437, and N41.73667, E58.68480.
Travelling mile after mile through sand and scrub in temperatures reaching 46°C, with the odd camel for company, we finally arrived at our intended overnight stop near the Darvaza (Derweze) fire crater in the middle of the Garagum desert. (The turning off the main road is at grid: N40.19415, E58.41329). The area is rich in natural gas, and whilst drilling in 1971, Soviet geologists tapped into a gas-filled cavern. Unfortunately the ground beneath the drilling rig collapsed, leaving a huge hole from which poisonous gas began escaping. To avert an environmental catastrophe, the Soviets thought it would be a good idea to set the gas alight. The crater hasn’t stopped burning since.
And this is when our first major problem arose. My bike quickly got bogged down in the sand and the clutch burned out. And we weren’t carrying a spare. Fortunately we managed to pull the bike out and get it back to the campsite, and decided to try and get a temporary repair done in the morning. In the meantime we went to the crater as night fell in local 4x4s – local drivers appear at dusk and regularly take people up there. Be warned, don’t attempt it in anything other than a 4×4 or you will get stuck. An amazing experience and I’m glad we made the effort. I would have felt like Michael Collins on Apollo 11, otherwise. All that way and not being there at the finish!
Wednesday 1st August
Woke at dawn and went with the Lithuanian team (who speak Russian) to a local roadbuilding outpost. They did a temporary weld to the clutch plates and Kevin then refitted them. In the meantime Team 2vagabondsandayak took some of my luggage to lighten the load – we agreed to meet them at our proposed stop, the Meros B& B over the border in Khiva.
After many hours of tortured riding we finally arrived at Dasoguz, the border, at 6:25pm. The boredom was relieved by the regular police stops. I amused myself, as soon as I realised they couldn’t speak English, by telling them about how my mother was a martyr to her piles and bunions, that the Queen’s corgis were eager to cock their legs on their shoes, as well as asking them why they had been posted to such a remote hellhole with no shade, no water and who on earth did they think they were going to capture there, as only a lunatic would consider such a journey?
Sadly the border had closed for the day at 6:00, but one of the border guards kindly led me to a local hotel, the Uzboy, where we could stay for the night. It had positively the worst beds I’ve ever encountered, but the food was okay, fortunately.
Thursday 2nd August
We returned to the border at 8:30am for an early start, and were across, surprisingly, by about 11:30am. Uzbekistan seemed normal compared to Turkmenistan, less surreal and with real people and houses bordering the roads, if you know what I mean.
Note: Turkmenistan is full of Toyotas, in Uzbekistan the Daewoo seems to be the weapon of choice.
We arrived at the Meros B&B in Khiva, and fortunately there was a room available. I had keen to stay there ever since I read the book ‘A Carpet Ride to Khiva’ by Christopher Aslan Alexander. Read it if you can (only available from Amazon, I think), a charming book and a moving account of a young British guy who works for an NGO and who helped set up a carpet workshop in Khiva to provide local employment and resurrect the traditional art of local dyeing and weaving.
So, the gameplan now is to get the spares required and to repair the bike. They are not available locally as the nearest Yamaha dealers are in Russia, so we have arranged to have them sent by DHL from the UK to Samarkand, our next stop but one. We can take our time in getting there as we don’t expect the parts to arrive before 14th August.
Friday 3rd August & Saturday 4th August
So,two days of rest, just enjoying the beautiful and atmospheric Silk Road City of Khiva. ‘Nuff said.
Oil consumption – just a bit of topping up. The bikes seem to use less oil if ridden at anything less than flat out.
Fuel consumption – still about 90mpg
Breakdowns – 1. Not terminal, but a real pain.
Incidents with Showers – 0
Items lost by Kevin – 0. Kevin didn’t even lose his temper with the bike, which was pretty good, I thought.
Posted from Ashgabat, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.
Well you’ve stuck with me so far, dear reader, so here’s the next instalment of our journey ever east.
Today’s theme is that every adventure must have its highs and lows. This one has proved to be no exception, so here’s what’s gone on (the lows as you can imagine).
Friday 27th July & Saturday 28th July
We woke early so we could get to the Turkmenistan Embassy at 266 Calil (Jalil) Mammadguluzada Street to get our visas. By the way, ignore any internet references to other addresses for the Embassy, they are incorrect. The entrance which you need to go to for your visa is round the back of the Embassy (Grid: N40.39557 E49.82651).
We were greeted by a local fixer, Ishmael, who will arrange everything (visa and ferry ticket) for a fee, which seemed to amount to around $30 when you finally get on board. He will also text you when the ferry is ready to load, so overall the exercise is well worthwhile, as you can sleep or see the sights of Baku whilst you are waiting. If he’s not hanging around the Embassy you can contact him on +994 55 286 1200.
And indeed our text came at about 3:00pm that we should be at the port at 5:30pm as there was an imminent sailing. Of course I didn’t get it until 5:20pm so panic ensued as we threw everything onto the bikes and paid for an unused night at the hotel. We arrived at the ferry terminal at 6:30pm, and as you might expect all sorts of mayhem ensued and we didn’t actually end up boarding until 3:00am. Despite all this the ferry didn’t even leave until 11:00am as they still had to load the cargo.
For you collectors of useful information, the turning off the main road to reach the Baku Ferry Port is at Grid: N40.37647, E49.86557, and the ticket office is down that road on the right at N40.37453, E049.86566. The holding area is about 200m further on.
The ship is old and worn out. The standard cabins on the second deck are internal, four to a cabin, bunk-bed style. They are hot, noisy, and unpleasant. The communal toilets are indescribable, with a constant emanation of noxious vapours. Click on the flower to see the toilet, if you dare – I got the picture by lifting the lid with Kevin’s toothbrush. But I warn you, this is not for the squeamish. One fellow rallyer (who shall remain nameless) was so desperate (suffering as he was with diahorrea) that he used it anyway, hovering gingerly over the bowl. The resulting splash back made him gag, and he unceremoniously vomited on the floor before him. He was forced to clean himself up by having a shower in the public shower opposite. Sadly his ordeal was not over as his diahorrea returned, and the entire process had to be repeated.
I decided that discretion was the better part of valour so I paid the Russian babushka overseeing the cabins $20 for a ‘superior’ cabin with a porthole, shower and toilet on deck three. Once installed, and keen for a shower, I tried to turn it on. Water issued from the mixer tap so I pushed the lever a few times, increasingly firmly, to divert the water to the shower head. On the third push the tap ‘came away in me hands’ and hot water spurted in a raging torrent straight from the open pipe onto the bathroom floor. Valiantly trying to staunch the flow with the shower curtain, I failed as the fabric was that rotten water kept bursting through. Calling Kevin to assist, his endeavours merely resulted in the mixer tap falling off completely, so now there were two torrents of water and the bathroom was rapidly filling up with water. In the end I had to fetch the babushka, whose steely glare seemed to indicate that I had ripped the tap off the wall deliberately, just to ruin her day. The engineer came and after 40 minutes the water was turned off. I never did get the shower, and I didn’t dare ask for a refund.
By the way, bring your own food and water. This is available on board, but water is $3 a litre, and beer $5 a bottle.
Sunday 29th July
We finally arrived in Turkmenistan, docking at 7:00am and disembarking at 10:15. There was a long queue for processing the entry formalities. After completing 13 forms and paying numerous random taxes (including a ramp tax for driving off the ferry, and a parking fee for parking your vehicle whilst you were being processed) the last of us were free to leave at 9:30pm.
We ended up camping on a beach a short distance away from the port with another team, the Friengineers.
Monday 30th July
We had a bad night’s sleep due to the strong wind, the sand blowing into the tent and the noise of the goods trains trundling past on a regular basis. I was up at 5:00am and we were off by 7:00.
It was a hot day and the road to the capital, Ashkabat, was mostly poor. The heat along this edge of the Garagum (‘Black Sand’) Desert is surprisingly bearable, even at 40°C, but I was constantly thirsty and glad for the Pure Hydration backpack to take regular drinks from. I had even used water from the tap on the ferry, with no ill effects.
We finally arrived in Ashkabat, at 7:30pm, a strange city described by some as a cross between Las Vegas and Pyongyang. I especially liked the gold statues of Turkmenbashy (the former President who died in 2006) and the omnipresent policemen and street cleaners. You will be amazed by the stunning, white marble buildings and revel in the glorious statue-filled roundabouts in the city centre. Ashkabat is clearly the result of a megalomaniac’s vision, constructed with billions of dollars earned from his country’s vast gas reserves.
We went out for dinner at the British Pub with Neil and Helen of The Uncertainty Principle, but had to be back at the hotel (the Grand Turkmen) by 11:00pm, the curfew for foreigners. Note: beer is $7.50 a bottle and the banks won’t take even slightly damaged dollar notes.
Oil consumption – just a bit of topping up. The bikes seem to use less oil if ridden at anything less than flat out.
Fuel consumption – still about 90mpg
Breakdowns – 0
Incidents with Showers – 1
Items lost by Kevin – 1. Kevin’s waterproof oversuit fell off the bike but was spotted by a following rallyer who stopped and returned it to him.
Posted from Azerbaijan.
Well a lot’s happened since my last blog. We’re now in Baku, awaiting our visas to Turkmenistan so we can board the ferry. The easier part of our trip has come to an end after 3,500 miles and one-third of the journey.
So what’s gone on?
Saturday 21st July
The morning saw us being waved off by our host, Enver Battaloglu, from the Hotel Suadiye in Istanbul. This was quite exciting for me as it was a journey into new territory. I’ve been to Istanbul before (by plane) and ridden my other bike as far south as Slovenia, but heading east into Asia was, for me, the start of the journey proper.
During the day Kevin and I both cut it too fine with our fuel and ended up running out, him first and me next, irritatingly just 1km from a service station. Not a problem as we had some fuel in the spare cells on the bikes, but an unnecessary delay nonetheless. This was compounded by Kevin’s gear selector bolt stripping at the same time. We found a replacement at a service station, which worked fine for a couple of days, but then loosened off. This eventually ended up being swapped for one of my handlebar wind deflector bolts, which was a better fit. My offside deflector now flaps like an elephant’s ear.
Oh, and late afternoon we got lost up a mountain looking for somewhere to stay. Don’t trust mapping tools by the way, the hotel (worryingly 8kms up a dirt track, which was a good clue really) was actually a farm, and the bemused farmer seemed to be telling us we were the fifth person that week to end up in his farmyard, and he was sick of it.
We finally ended up in some random but most welcome hotel about 10kms away, just as it was getting dark. And no beer, as it was Ramadan.
Sunday 22nd July
We set off at about 6:00am, and headed for Samsun. We should have gone back to the main road, rather than make our way cross country, as the roads progressively worsened. The detour cost us some time as it was midday by the time we got to the Black Sea coast. Kevin had by now lost his watch, which was probably the last of his possessions, so he’s now travelling quite light!
Late afternoon we stopped in a town called Ordu, looking for a hotel. We must have looked lost as some Turkish chap saw us and led us straight to his hotel (the Kervansaray) round the corner. The room turned out to be hot, noisy and airless, so little sleep was had that night. And does a muezzin always start the call to prayers at 3:30am during Ramadan, or was that just Ordu? But we were given a 50% discount on the food on account of our ride being for charity, so a big thanks to Volkan Ince. But it was still a hard time for us as there was no beer – Don’t forget, Ramadan!
Monday 23rd July
Bleary eyed and definitely not bushy tailed, we set off early but fortunately had good roads all the way to the Turkish border at Sarp. This eastern part of Turkey on the Black Sea had a noticeably poor feel to it, although there were plenty of petrol stations. We stopped at one and carried out our first oil change. The Putoline oil is working well, and the engines still run sweetly, even after the hammering they’ve had for the last 2,500 miles.
As we’ve now come to expect, Kevin was stopped at the Turkish border, this time because his bike documentation was not in order. He was fined 25TL (£9.00), reduced to 10TL (£3.50) after an argument.
I went through the Georgian border with no problem, but when I asked the border official where I could obtain some bike insurance, he shrugged and whispered conspiratorially, “I wouldn’t bother if I were you.” I wonder if I can get away with this at home!
Suddenly we moved inland and the scenery changed. Still very hot, but hilly and forested. It was getting late when we stopped at a shop in some town and asked where we could get food and lodgings. The owner ended up making us a meal from the shop’s provisions and afterwards directed us to a hostel about 500m up the road. It was very basic but at least a roof over our heads and some fine views. And we had a shower too, after the owner went out and bought a new shower head as the existing one was broken.
Georgia seems a pretty place, at least in the mountains, and welcoming too (everybody waves as you drive past) but no English is spoken. My abiding memory is of the terrible driving and the cows wandering in the road. Just like in India really. And as in Turkey, the main mode of local transport appeared to be the dolmus (minibus).
Tuesday 24th July
I broke the new shower head when it fell on the floor during my morning ablutions, so a sharp exit was called for – we were gone by 7:00am, with the money for our stay left on the bedside table. The road conditions progressively worsened, and I realised why my route planning had suggested a more northerly (but longer) route as being advisable. The unpaved roads (Read: rough tracks) lasted for about 80kms and took absolutely ages to negotiate (and wore us out to boot). But probably a taste of what’s to come, I guess. This turned out to be our longest day to date as we were 13 hours in the saddle.
We headed for our planned stop at the Kiwi Hotel in Lagodekhi, but couldn’t find it in the twilight. Further up the road we saw a hotel sign and stopped. The girl outside, who turned out to be from the capital, Tbilisi, was in town training the locals (in what I never found out), and fortunately she spoke excellent English and arranged a room for the night, with dinner and breakfast, all for less than £40. Highly recommended as clean and welcoming, with a lovely host, Irina Orujashvili – Hotel Kavkasioni, Vashlovani Street 136, Lagodekhi (Tel: 5 77 95 91 49; Grid: N41.84006, E46.28181)
There were noticeably fewer petrol stations in Georgia, and the fuel available to us was the usual 95RON as well as, for the first time, 93 RON. We had actually filled up with 93RON once, with no ill effects.
Wednesday 25th July
After an enormous and varied offering for breakfast we set off at about 8:30am. The Azeri border was minutes away and we crossed fairly quickly. Interestingly we drove round the long queue of cars entering Azerbaijan and went to the head, without complaint. I think we’ll be able to do this from at every border from now on as it’ll save loads of time and is, I understand, tolerated in Asia.
We saw our first dead cow lying in the road, apparently struck by a motor vehicle. This is an unusual sight I guess. I’ve never come across one in India during either of my two visits, the traffic seemingly avoiding them as they wander about languidly, swishing their tails. I’d rather like to be able to say that I hit it, but the last time I did something similar it cost me six stitches and a leg that still irritates me on occasion five years on.
Yet another breakdown, this time Kevin’s clutch cable snapped. But we have a spare and it only took 20 minutes to fix at a petrol station, with all the locals gathering to offer advice and comment on our appearance.
The roads for the last 20kms into the Azeri capital, Baku, were lined with sand dunes, a sign of what’s to come in Turkmenistan on the other side of the Caspian Sea. Despite the obvious poverty in the rest of the country, the city is gleaming and vibrant, a visible sign of the country’s burgeoning oil wealth. We arrived at the Old Gates Hotel in the old city at about 7:30pm, only by creeping round barriers and going the wrong way up one way streets. The hotel is described by Azerbaijan24.com as a ‘small, cosy boutique hotel … All rooms provide the captivating view (sic) over the Old City as well as the Caspian Sea’. They might. I wouldn’t. Its rooms are charmless and rundown, and worryingly there seemed to be no other guests. I’m nevertheless looking forward to restoring our energies before we receive our visas and catch the ferry across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan.
Getting on the internet during the evening we received the alarming news about the current clashes in Tajikistan. You can read about them on the BBC website here, but clearly due to the current instability of the region, Tajikistan and the Pamir Highway part of our trip is sadly now off, and we must go straight from Uzbekistan into Kyrgyzstan.
Thursday 26th July
Our day off in Baku, the city of Eurovision and the nemesis of Engelbert Humperdinck, started with a trip to the ferry ticket office and the Turkmenistan Embassy. I will be writing on these later for those who need the detail of who, where, what, when and why, but suffice it to say that the city’s roads are in an upheaval of repair, with one way systems in place and total chaos reigning. One way, by the way, means any way (‘cos in their eyes they’re only going one way, stupid), and traffic will often come the wrong way up the street towards you, and probably on the wrong side of the road to boot. So be warned.
Kevin went to the local Yamaha dealer, on foot, the crazy fool, and managed to obtain his sorely needed gear selector return spring. Now who’d have thought they’d have such a thing in stock? And they took pity and gave it to him for free!
And finally, it appears that a worry of old has resurrected itself. I had been concerned some months ago (from some motorcycling forum or other) that our bikes would only be allowed into Azerbaijan for a three day transit, and beyond that there would be a problem. I had subsequently been reassured that this was not the case, and the rule only applied to RHD cars. However, a French guy in the hostel down the road from our hotel had been in Azerbaijan for some ten days with his BMW F650GS and hadn’t been allowed onto the ferry without paying a fine of $25 as he had exceeded his three day limit. His problem was he didn’t know where to pay the fine and no-one seemed to be able to tell him. The answer for us, however, is to put the bikes into the secure customs compound in the ferry port until we leave. Ah, bureaucracy….
Oil consumption – 1 oil change (= 1 litre each) plus just a bit of a top up. The Putoline NanoTech 4+ 100% synthetic oil is really working brilliantly in these harsh conditions, and as long as the throttle isn’t pinned for hours on end, the oil levels seem to remain constant.
Fuel consumption – still about 90mpg
Maximum hours in saddle in one day – 13
Breakdowns – 3 (Kevin’s gear selector bolt and gear lever return spring, one after the other, followed by his clutch cable)
Near Misses with Insane Motorists – 17
Dead Cows in Road – 1
Days without Beer – 2, due to Ramadan. It seemed like more for some reason.
Items lost by Kevin – 1 watch (really lost this time). I think the greatly reduced loss rate is down to the fact that he now has no possessions left at all.
- Don’t forget that the clocks go forward with painful regularity, meaning there is less time than you thought to get where you wanted to be. Turkey is 2 hours ahead of BST, Georgia 3 and Azerbaijan 4.
- Don’t overestimate your daily mileages. I allowed 350 in Europe and 250 beyond Turkey. These are a little high for such a small bike. I would suggest you consider 300 and 200 respectively.
- Don’t let Kevin look after anything that you might value. He will lose it.
- My waterproof overgloves have been a godsend, and although I haven’t needed them since the rain stopped in Europe, I might well need them again in Mongolia.
- My Forcefield wicking longsleeved shirt with body armour. I would have died without this, due to heat exhaustion. I can ride all day in the shirt and stay relatively cool and well protected (against the sun as well as falling off). My jacket and trousers have had all the armour removed and I wear my armour on me instead, including armoured shorts and knee protectors. Also I wear thin cotton trousers and stay cool.
- Wear walking boots. Mine are Berghaus and are extremely comfortable, even when it’s hot. My feet stay protected and I can walk around in them off the bike without discomfort.
Posted from Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey.
Well I really shouldn’t have moaned earlier because it turned warm as soon as we arrived in Bulgaria, and now we’re in Istanbul it’s too hot.
So, how’s the week gone?
Firstly, the countries have flown by. It rained as far as Höchberg (near Wurzburg) in Germany. Well, more of a constant downpour. Fortunately for me I was cocooned in an oversuit. Kevin wasn’t and just got soaked.
Since then it’s been dry, so the riding’s been more pleasant. But it’s been demanding because of the bikes’ cruising speed of about 85kph, with the average a fair bit lower due to fuel and drink stops. This has meant we’ve had longer days than we anticipated – our planned mileages were an average of 350 a day through to Istanbul to get the European leg over as quickly as possible.
Sunday 15th July
We saw quite a few rallyers on this, our longest ride of all at 716kms. This was because we were so wet we stopped on Saturday night at a hotel as soon as we left the Tunnel in Calais rather than press on to Brussels. Our eventual arrival at Hotel Lamm in Höchberg (near Wurzburg) in Germany was brightened by the receptionist taking all our soaked clothes and washing them for us, returning them to us lovely and dry during our most welcome dinner. (Note: this trip is turning into a bit of a gastrotour, but this will no doubt change further on when we’re reduced to yak burgers and steamed goat’s head).
Monday 16th July
This saw our first breakdown, but it was easily fixed despite having to deal with it on the hard shoulder of the German autobahn! Well Kevin did, I just stayed well away on the other side of the crash barrier as I wasn’t keen on ending my days crushed under some errant juggernaut’s wheels. Our overnight stay was in the Hotel Stoffbauer, just outside Graz in Austria. 612kms
Tuesday 17th July
We only met two rallyers today. I’m guessing most of them are further east or in front of us. Had our second breakdown (this time with Kevin’s bike) which was due to the same fuel filter problem as my bike had. Took an hour to fix and with everything else going on we finally arrived at our (Soviet-style) hotel, the Orašac, in Belgrade in the dark (which we also had trouble finding). 591kms
Wednesday 18th July
A boring day, ploughing on down endless motorways, but the highlight for me was the humbling experience of meeting a random English geezer at a motorway service station in Bulgaria. He was riding his pushbike from London to Afghanistan for some reason which we never determined! He’d got as far as Bulgaria in only three weeks. When we set off after him a few minutes later, we saw him pulled over by the police, probably for cycling on the hard shoulder! Our accommodation was Hotel Diana, just outside Plovdiv in Bulgaria. Great value at £40 for the two of us for dinner, bed and breakfast. 537kms
Thursday 19th July
Arrived in Turkey, but only after a 1½ hour border crossing. They even x-rayed my bike, why, God alone knows. Still, just over the border I stopped at a petrol station to wait for Kevin who had messed up his paperwork and had been sent back by border control. He turned up 10 minutes later and the attendants made us both welcome with Turkish tea and chatted with us about our trip. It was only after the most horrendous traffic through Istanbul that we arrived at out hotel, the Suadiye, where we met our lovely hosts, Enver and Glenice Battaloglu. A welcome relief and a lovely evening relaxing after our first leg. 452kms
Friday 20th July
Our day off was spent sightseeing in the old city, after getting some oil for the bikes. They had used slightly more than expected and we hadn’t brought enough with us to last the trip, bearing in mind that past Turkey high performance bike oil would be impossible to find. Dinner again with Enver and Glenice, who have been the epitome of kindness during our stopover.
Oil consumption – 1 litre between us
Fuel consumption – about 90mpg
Maximum distance in one day – 716kms
Items lost by Kevin – 1 Gerbing heated clothing controller, 1 aluminium water bottle, 1 neck buff, 1 watch (later found), 1 bungee, 1 roll-on deodorant. Don’t mind the rest, but the deodorant loss has been a real blow.
Posted from Graz, Steiermark, Austria.
We were given the most encouraging send off from the Birmingham Children’s Hospital on Friday 13th, and the sun even shone for a few moments. A big thanks to everyone who was there, it was a great moral boost for us. After 11 months’ planning we were finally off!
Never mind Après nous le deluge, for the last two days the rain’s been right on top of us. Big time. It’s tipped it down from the moment we left the Hospital, through the Rally start at Goodwood, and until we arrived in Höchberg (near Wurzburg) in Germany on Sunday night. I was wetter than an otter’s pocket, and that’s about as moist as a man who’s cocooned in his one-piece oversuit can get. (Memo to self: do NOT over tighten the leg straps otherwise the rain will run into your boot)
Some statistics to follow, but for now, one bike repair, one accident and one breakdown.
- On the Sunday morning at the Formule 1 hotel in Calais, Kevin had to remove the supplementary inline fuel filter on Nick’s bike to eliminate the petrol leak that had started in the night.
- Kevin then accidentally knocked the bike over onto the wing of the car parked alongside (see picture below).
- In putting the bike back together, the vacuum hose became kinked, and on Monday the engine cut out without warning on the German autobahn. Very hairy with Audis and Mercs flying past at 155!
Posted from Birmingham, England, United Kingdom.
A few photos from Nick and Kevin’s send off from Birmingham Children’s Hospital.
Please let us know if you see anything in the papers over the next couple of weeks, as there were a few press photographers there and it would be great to put the articles up on the site for everyone to see!
Keep watching as Nick will be posting more photos/updates on here or you can track his progress live via THIS page!!!
Best of luck to Nick and Kevin on their big adventure…
In the end we actually required 8 Visas in advance, plus 2 Letters of Invitation (all indicated below). We will still need to get a visa on arrival at the Turkish border, but surprisingly we don’t require a visa for Georgia (but only because we will be in the country for less than 90 days).
So for those of you anoraks who would simply die without a list, our (proposed) route is as follows:-
- Azerbaijan (V)
- Turkmenistan (LOI)
- Uzbekistan (V)
- Tajikistan (V)
- Kyrgyzstan (V)
- Kazakhstan (V)
- Russia (V)(LOI)
- Mongolia (V)
followed by the Trans-Mongolian Railway to Beijing in China (V) and then fly home to a hot bath!