Posted from Barnaul, Altai Krai, Russia.
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