51st Traverse – Tom Anselmi Just another The 51st Traverse weblog



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Georgia was a bit of a blur in some respects. We spent only a two days there. One afternoon on Tabilsi. The capital. We met some local bikers there who showed us around a bit and where to find oil. Misha managed to score some really good tyres for cheap.

We camped on top of a hill behind the city after having no success at finding cheap accom. Just as we were heading up the hill it started to rain and really bucket as  we were putting up our tents. Defiantly the wettest my tent had been inside the whole trip. It took me about 20mins to sponge all the water out. It was pretty much a paddling pool.

The following day we pulled out the map as we often do to try and make a plan or figure out where we need to head. We decided that we would try cross in to Turkey we were only 300kms from the closest crossing, initially we were going to cross by the black sea but had been told that there it wasn't particularly nice.

We drove through some of the most beautiful surrounding senary that we had in a long time. It finally was lush and green again. We followed a river valley for a few hundred kms, ate black berries off the side of the road and generally enjoyed myself.

Coming around one corner heading up a small rise I was at the front of the pack, as a purple Opel Victra came wide. Straight away i was thinking hes going to hit one of the guys, hes going to hit one of the guys. My eyes were glued to my mirrors and saw Robbie take the corner super wide to avoid being wiped out and then all of a sudden hes in the ditch getting beaten up by trees. Thankfully he wasn't hurt and the bike survived as well which was great result. 

We filled up one last time before we would be struck with the ludicrous turkish prices and headed for the boarder.

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We were stoked to have a hook up and a place to stay organized in Baku. We had a hell bender ride through town trying to follow a maniac taxi driver to where it had been organized for us to met Ron who kindly picked us up at 2 in the morn and guided us back to his place. Ron and Gillian (a kiwi) friends of friends had offered to give us a bed for a couple of days, stoked.

The next day we were pretty shattered but managed to enjoy some of Baku's sights and history. Its a really impressive town with lots to offer. Ancient history, the old walled city still stands surrounded by a very modern new city that would rival any euro city.

The following day we were once again on the road but later than expected. We were hoping to cross into Georgia that same day but ended up pulling off the road about 100kms out and camped for the night.

I was in bed fairly early and wasn't long asleep before being woken by a loud screeching sound and a dull drone. I heard that other boys up as well curious to what the sound was. There were lights in the distance but all around us, possibly small fires, i was like what the heck is going on. I think it was Misha that brought it to our attention that it was tanks rolling around about 100m from our tents. We had camped to one side of a military excersize, nice.

Thankfully we all woke up the next morning in one piece and not in a military compound.

After a breaky of bread and tomatoes we continued towards the boarder. The Azerbaijan side taking a fair amount of time next to a ferrel smelling long drop but thankfully the Georgians are onto to it and we were through in about 5 mins, no visas required.

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Before crossing into Turkmenistan we were lucky enough to make it up to the old shore line of the Aral sea, something I had personally been looking forward to as one of the highlights of the trip.

Because we were paying higher prices for fuel on the black market and considering the temperatures we would be riding through we decided to hire a driver, a cheaper and much more comfortable option.

Its was sad too see Monyat, a once lively town full of fish processing plants and canneries, now almost deserted.

We spent about an hour exploring the 10 or so ships that are now parked in the desert around 140kms from the current shore line followed by a look through the local Museum. It was amazing to see the pictures of a lush shore line, a bustling port and the vast quantities of fish that used to by caught and processed an now is a desert.

A true environmental disaster.

We had fears that the Turkmen boarder crossing would be our worst yet. We weren't sure on how they would react if they saw our doco camera and how we would handle that paperwork that would have to be filled out. Because Turkmenistan is a relatively closed country and we would be entering on Tourist visas, it was required of us to have a guide accompany us from entry to exit. In spite of us paying a huge amount of money for Dima, he was a real blessing. He knew the boarder processes intermitly and had the process well under way before we could have figured out which building to start with. Immigration and customs went very smoothly, hardly even looking at what we had with us.

We were through and on way, eating through the 280kms or so to the Gas crater where we would camp for the night.

We arrived as the sun was setting at a small cafe in the desert for a quick feed of stuffed peppers. The ride south had gone pretty well. The temps were a real killer once again. This time up around 60 degrees C.  The hottest i had been in by a long shot. Robbies bike had been playing up during the ride south which we initially assumed was due to the heat but later found it was a partially blocked carby jet.

We left all stuff at our camp site and jumped in Dimas Safari and had a crazy 5km ride through powder like deep sand on the way to the Gas crater. Was so stoked we didn't have to ride through it. In the dark it would have taken us forever to get through it.

Nobody is quite sure of how the crater was created but the local rumor is that it was an old gas mine that exploded. It has been burning non stop for the last 60 years and is one of the craziest things i have ever seen and experienced. It was like being at the gates of hell. The crater itself is around 60m in diameter and is completely on fire and super hot if you get caught inna wind gust. We spent a bit of time taking photos and enjoying the whole experience before we headed back to the camp. I was totally knackered after a massive day in the heat, didn't bother putting my tent up just crashed out on the ground under the stars for the night.

The following day was another hot one, stopping once or twice for gas (25 NZ cents per liter yeow!!!!) and a drink but we were pretty motivated to get to Ashgabat where a nice hotel was waiting for us, part of our Turkmen package. I think i slept for 4 hours once we arrived that arvo. It was great being in an air conditioned room and able to have a normal sleep.

Ashgabat is a mental city, wikipedia it if your interested. Its basically the brain child of the previous president who decided to build a white marble city. There are literally street after street of white marble high rises. Down one street would be 30 10 story apartment blocks all identical and down another would be 30 hotels, in another, a giant university, all white marble. Its by far the closest i've ever been to being inside a Sim City game i reckon. We went into one building that was just dedicated to the presidents gifts he has received from other diplomats.

I had a great time there just chillen and getting a feel of the place.

We had arranged to met Dima at 5am the following morning so we could get as many kms under our belts as we could before it got too hot. It was a big day, we did 600kms. Luckily the roads were great and we made great progress. A real blessing was that it was overcast the whole day and even rained at one point. 

We arrived in Turmenbashy late arvo. We had planned to stay the night and catch the fairy across the Caspian the next day. The ferries have no fixed schedule and you aren't able to get on every ferry depending on what cargo they are carrying, if they are carrying any petroleum products passengers aren't permitted. It had been recommend to head straight to the docks and see the current situation of the ferries. There was one we could jump straight on and after much discussion we decided that it would be wiser to give up our 5star (i had been looking forward to it all day) hotel and jump onboard. We managed to get a tiny cabin and cram ourselves and all our gear into it. Im not sure what maritime laws the Caspian comes under but this ship was defiantly not in sea worthy condition. It was literally one step off sinking and if it did and the life boats were in equal condition. And the facilities, im not even going to go there.  Im just glad we had calm sailing and am still here to tell the story. On approach to Baku we sailed through a field of oil rigs and the slick they leave behind, it was crazy to see that the Caspian has been allowed to be so polluted.

They had two docks one which was occupied and the other which was under repair. We docked and where able to get off and go through customs but because of the docks repair we couldn't get the bikes till the other ferry left and our ferry changed docks. We were told 4 hours, after all our central asian experience we should have know better. 12 hours later at 1:30am we got our bikes.

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Entering into Uzbekistan was a whole different experience. Six hours at the boarder, for no real reason apart from the fact that the guards who were young and reasonably arrogant wanted chat and muck around, they made us unpack and put our stuff through the X-ray, which was fair enough but it just took freaken forever and to top it off we went to leave at like 11pm and Misha had a flatty so after another hour we got out of there. We ended up pitching tents at 1:30 in the morn and being woken again at five to some curious locals who were obviously wondering what had landed in there paddock during the night. They were all good with us there and later at around 8 when we got up again he brought over a melon and shared breaky with us.

We packed up and an hour later found ourselves in Tashkent checked into a cheap hotel and having an arvo sester to trying and catch up on a few nights a bad sleep, we were knackered.

They following day were had a few team jobs to do, Misha and I headed out to find a few bits a pieces for the bikes and Climo and Rob headed to the bank and Azerbaidzhan Embassy for our final visa required along our route.

Misha and I found out from the intrnet the local BMW dealership had serviced bikes before so we headed there. There we met Amir, Sales manager. Again we were shown great hospitality, he left his work took us to his house for lunch which his wife had prepared. After he drove us all around looking for oil and a couple of other things we required.

We had a great rest in Tashkent, some great meals. We all had our first cut throat shave at a local barber, that topped with a face massage was epic!

We moved on to Samarkand, with an overnight in between at a cheap hotel because we ended up leaving so late in the arvo. Samarkan was our first real touristy place we had been to in the last 4 months. An ancient Silk road city where many people go and visit. We checked into a nice hotel and spent some time checking out the sights. We have been living it up a bit here, partly because we are focsed too (they have weird registration regulations here, you basically have to account for every night you are in the country) and the fact its so hot even all night so its nice to have aircon.

The country seems to be out of fuel at the moment, you either have to wait for hours on end with at least 50 other people at selected petrol stations or buy it from the black market for double the price, which is the option we have taken. Nobody seems to know why either or if they do don't want to talk about with foreigners. Maybe they dont want to be heard talking negatively of their government, i don't know. Whatever the reason is, its messed up. We have usually been helped out by locals who have shown us where the fuel so it hasn't been an issue for us, just a pain to have to pay such a high price.

From Samarkand we rode in the crazy heat to Bukhara, where I tried to get a free accom at a fancy hotel hoping they would feel sorry for us. That failed so we checked into a $6 per person hotel which was surprisingly great, right in the middle of town and the tourist district. It was great checking out the Mosques and Mausoleums. Some have been restored beautifully. Its was again really touristy which im not that into but it was great to check out some local markets and eat some good food. We met a really great local guy, Jon, who showed us around a bit and where we could get fuel from. That evening he took us to this restaurant  out of town and ordered a feast. Our first course was roast lamb stuffed with garlic, after that we were like, that was epic, then the shashlik and beers came out. We were super full after that and once he realized we weren't going to eat anymore he cancelled the rest of the order which was a chicken! I'm not to sure who he thought we were , he obviously thought we looked too skinny though. The next day he delivered 60L of fuel to our hotel. What a good dude. I'm pretty sure you wouldn't get that in NZ.

After a couple of days in Bukhara we set off towards Keiva, a ride we had been dreading for a while 450kms through the desert. It was just as bad as we had thought, the most boring riding ever and freaken hot, up around the mid forties. Its like sitting in your car on the hottest NZ summer and then turning the heater fan on full blast and not turning it off for about 6 hours plus. To top it off the road we wanted to take to Keiva, which was indicated on the map, required us to cross a river, the bridge of which was about a year from completion. We had a couple of options back track 100kms, and go around or continue on to Nukis, in the north west, a 150km ride. We opted for Nukis for various reasons. So 6oo sweaty kms  later we arrived in Nukis, a city when compared with the past few was less than impressive, we had planned to come here all along because of its closeness to the Aral sea, but not to spent so long here. As I write we have three days before we cross into Turkmenistan and are in a city that has only one registered hotel and is really expensive.

Tomorrow we are heading to the Aral sea by jeep, one thing ive been looking forward to a lot. Its cheaper to do it by jeep than gas up our bikes and drive up there ourselves. And we figure it will be much more comfortable than riding in the heat. So today has been a rest day out of the heat and writing blogs.

I hope that our time in Turkmenistan will go ok, its going to be even hotter and the bikes were already showing signs of not liking the heat to much. We are camping our first night at the gas craters which should be epic, another highlight point of our trip so we do have something to look forward to there.

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The incredible landscapes continued in Tajikistan if you asked me on the right days I could have sworn to you I was on the moon and other days I felt like a midget dwarfed by 6500m snow covered peaks. Tajikistan was another just incredible country that I'm glad we ended going to. There was talk of us not doing a least Krygystan and possibly even skipping Tajikistan because of the civil unrest. Tajikistan is another just spectacular country, following the Pamir highway was really great, the second highest road in the world averaging about 3500m. The Tajikistan boarder post was at 4100m and built out of old 50000L fuel tanks they had turned into offices and accommodation. It was a rough set up but it got us into the country. We had to pay our first police bribe for no apparent reason, $30US into the back pocket. It was quite funny, we saw the same cop at a market a couple hundred kms down the road the next day, more than likely spending his takings. Corruption sucks but its the way these guys work in this part of the world its just lucky we haven't been hit with more bribes. We passed over our highest point of our trip, 4655m, a real highlight for us especially for Robbie and his 250 but a great achievement for all of us. We stopped and enjoyed the moment for a while, it was really hard to even walk 10m without finding myself out breath because of the lack of oxygen. It was an interesting feeling but one i got used to and at 3500m where we spent most of our time didn't have any real issues. Just takes a week or so to acclimatize. We headed towards the Wakan Valley a side road off the main Pamir highway, a road that hugged the Afghan boarder, the two countries separated only by river. Our first night we spent in a home stay. It was awesome it stay a local house and eat what they ate. The house was full of colour much different to my initial impressions. The outside was very plain, you cant expect much more from a house made out of dirt i guess, but the inside was beautiful and very homely. Very hospitable people, as we were leaving Misha gave them some of our gifts we had brought with us and they in turn gave us some traditional things as gifts, it was awesome. We continued through the Wakan where my bike agin started running like crap, this time running super rich and was using about twice as much fuel, not a great time to be especially when fuel wasn't the most common commodity on the side of the road. We headed north, up and around to the Pange valley, staying in Home stays and Backpackers because of the land mine risks, which i didn't think much of it until we met a team of guys going in and clearing mine fields. I'm now glad we opted for the Home stay option. Alone the way there was remnants of past warfare, I saw about 4 personal carries that had been fully stripped out, and one tank driven up onto a rock and stripped. There was a solider patrol about ever 40kms, usually three young guys, our age or younger walking along the road. Climo and I stopped at one of the boarder posts to Afghanistan and had a chat as best we could, mostly in sign again, they ended up wanting us to take photos of them, which we jumped at. Usually the guards are super standoffy when it comes to photos, but i ve now got some with these guys holding their Ak-47's in the air, they were goods guys just board out of the brains i think. The Pange Valley was possibly the most scenic part of our trip so far, it was described to us looking CGI and while driving through it i was thinking to myself exactly that, is this for real. Im not even going to try and describe it other than say you should check it out. The road hugged the cliffs above the river boarder and at times was over hung by the rocks above where they had dug the road into. At one point a waterfall cascaded from about 30m above the road onto the road. It was a great chance to stop and cool off, it was pretty epic getting blasted by a waterfall when you've been cooking all day in your bike gear. We came out of the Pange over another pass, and headed towards Dushanbea. We got there on dark after a hold up at a military post and ended up having to pay our second bribe to get through, it was amazing to see the change in attitude of the guard, all of a sudden he was our best best friend and with pleasure let us through. Once arriving, we asked a taxi driver to take us to a hotel. We discovered it was $100 a night, so we were like, flag that. Ediman, our taxi driver offered us his home to stay at, so we spent the night there, his Mum cooked us an epic meal and we chatted about Islam and there culture. It was really interesting. Again awesome hospitality. The next day we headed towards Tashkent, Uzbekistan. On the way headed over some giant mountains in which they still doing a lot of road and tunnel construction. One of the tunnels we passed through was literally like a horizontal chimney. It had no extraction fans and no light and a small river running through the bottom of it and it was 5kms long. Its was one of the craziest experiences on the trip so far. I had to basically cling to the bumper of the car in front so i was able to see. I honestly don't know how the Chinese workers who are building the tunnel survive more than a day working in it, i almost died after 20min driving through it. I came out gagging for some fresh air. As i was coming down the other side of the pass I saw a few cars that had been driven off the road, they had literally rolled themselves into balls of steel. I would have not liked to be the person inside or the person pulling the pieces of body out after rolling. We payed $10 to sleep in a mosque half way to Tashkent. I finally got a chance to sort out my bike. I got up early the following morning and pulled the carby out cleaned and adjusted it and spent a couple of hours doing road tests to get it running as best i could. Another great thing about traveling through these countries is there is an abundance of melons, and they are super cheap. Its a shame that Climo hates them, because we a constantly eating them and being offered them. The food in general has been really tasty and cheap which is a bonus for us. Lots of tasty meat Kebabs called Shushlek. Tajikistan treated us very well, our route lead us through some amazing sights that i will never forget and will jump at the chance to press rewind and do it all again. There was so much to see I'm sure I missed a ton of it.

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Our transition into Krygystan from Kazakhstan was our smoothest and fastest so far. The Kazakh side didn't seem to interested in us past just asking where we came from and where we are going, we received the exit stamp and were waved through. The Krygys side was not much more to speak of. Because of the recent troubles there there was only a few local trucks entering the country, no tourists to speak of. The whole process including exciting Kazakhstan took about 45min. Stoked, there's not much worse than having to wait for hours on end at a boarder for no apparent reason. That couldn't be said for the people trying to get out of Krygystan, at a guess there was probably a hundred cars and about 50 trucks waiting, who knows how long they would have been there for but i felt sorry for them.

We grabbed a quick bite to eat of a common local food called Lagmun, a noodle soup thing with meat. We became pretty used to that dish, at times it was what we ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And not for the first time we found ourselves in the dark without a place to sleep. We weren't to far from Bishkek and as usual we didn't want to fork out for a hotel. About 10kms out we pulled off the road drove through a recently harvested maze field and pitched out tents in a small stand of trees where we hoped we'd be a bit out of the way.

Because Climo and I had managed to talk the Tajikistan Embassy in Almaty to give our Visa on the spot, with a bit of help from the greenback I might add, we didn't need to make our planned Visa stop in Bishkek and hoped to go straight through to Issyk Kol, a big lake in the North. About 20kms out of Bishkek, Robbies bike started making some funky sounds. After a few thoughts were thrown around as to what it could be, i pulled off the rear wheel and discovered a bearing on one side of his wheel hub had disintegrated. A plan of attack was put into motion and while Robbie was on a scout to find internet to start sending a few emails and finding out where the local bike club was he met Talant. Talant turned into a huge blessing for us. He was a local guide and bike enthusiast himself who happened to have two DR650's of his own. I'm not to sure what he was doing out of town but what ever it was he dropped it to help us out. Rob and I took a bus back into town to his place where we took his car and he spent the afternoon taking us around town in search of new bearings. As we had found in the past it wasn't just as simple as heading to the local bearing shop and grabbing what you need. It was a process of going to the local Bazar asking around if anybody had what you needed and if they didn't where we could possibly find them. Having Talant to translate was huge, I'm sure it would have taken us a week otherwise. We ended up, after a few hours, finding some replacement bearings. Another hour or so to extract the old rusted bearing with limited tooling and by the time we got back to the other boys i think they had been sitting in the hot sun for about 8 hours being entertained by the locals from the market we had parked outside and had had about three invites for accommodation. We decided too head back to Talants place, who had also invited us to stay. We spent the next day checking and re-greasing all the wheel bearings on all the bikes, found a couple more that needed replacement. Robbies bearing crapping out where it did turned into a massive blessing in disguise, if it hadn't happened then and happened in the mountains where we spent the following two weeks it would have been a major hassle.

We did end up making it to Issyk Kol, two days later and camped on the lakes edge. On the way there we met a couple of Aussies who had been on the road for four months, had started in Cape Town and were heading to Magadan. A flippen impressive trip. What should have been a relaxing arvo on the beach turned into a big arvo for Misha and Climo who volunteered to head back 80kms to the cafe we had had lunch, when it was discovered that the team wallet with our credit card and some cash had been lost. A bit of a downer of the day but thanks to the sat phone and a short txt the money was transfered out of the account within minutes (in the hope the boys would find the wallet, they didn't and it was later cancelled), thanks Margaret and we didn't have to worry about credit card fraud etc.

We had heard only amazing things about the landscape from other travelers on the road and Krygystan had lived up to our expectations. The variation in terrain and colours was really incredible and it was quickly becoming my favorite country to date. I was blown away by how such a dry landscape could hold so many colours and shapes.

From there we headed to Song Kol, an alpine lake at 3000m. We rode over a beautiful pass and our highest point of the trip so far at 3450, the excitement and anticipation was great, not knowing how the bikes would preform at that altitude. It was going to be great indicator for us and our bikes for Pamir Highway where we would reach the highest point of our trip and spent a lot of time over 3500m. We stopped and did some filming on the way up but i honestly don't think the camera will capture the true beauty of the surroundings we found ourselves in. The bikes ran great, the 250 was down a bit on power but nevertheless got to the top. We met some local kids on the way down out cruising on their donkeys and hung with them for a while. They were part of a small farming community that lived up in the mountains. We had a great view of the lake and surrounding mountains on decent, i was really looking forward to camping near the lake at 3000m.

As we neared the lake, there was a car parked across the road, a car I recognized (they had stopped for a chat on the way up the pass). It was an odd situation to start with but didn't think to much of it until Climo, who was in front of me, was confronted by the driver and a passenger. When he tried to go around them off road they ran over and tried to grab him. They tried the same on me, by then the other boys had turned up and stopped as well. Realizing they were a bit pissed and after a couple minutes of having no idea what they were saying, whether they were just trying to be friendly or jack us for our stuff we pushed passed them. I stopped up the road about 50m to change the helmet cam. The others pulled up as well, we were a bit confused about what had just happened and as we were sitting there we heard the driver of the car jump in put his foot down and headed straight for us with wheels spinning. Just as he got to us he turned narrowly missing a full frontal impact but clipping Robbies rear wheel knocking his bike over and because we were parked quite close his bike started a domino effect on the rest of our bikes. The next bit happened so quickly that you'll probably hear a slightly different version from each of us boys, (I got most of it on helmet cam so will be good to look at when we get home.) but what i remember is all our bikes on the ground and Climo racing over to the car and trying either to pull the keys out of the ignition or the driver out of the car or both, followed close behind by Robbie who was seriously fired up and ready to knock the guys block off. By then he hadn't had a chance to look at his bike but I'm sure he was thinking his trip was over. I had my helmet, gloves and riding gear still on so i was thinking to myself, sweet I'm good to go if this turns for the worst and a fight breaks out. The next 5 or 10mins was very heated, and even though we were in the middle of nowhere in true central Asian style people came out of nowhere and there was pretty quickly about 20 people hanging around, putting their two sense in, none of which was helpful at all because we couldn't understand a thing they were saying. We were trying to tell them that they had damaged the 250 and they were trying to tell us we had to pay for the damage to car because it was our fault some how. Eventually things cooled off a bit and we managed with the help of a couple of locals to tell the guys in the car to bugger off in the politest manor. They headed off and stopped up the road about 500m, very suspicious we thought so we decided to take an off road detour and rejoin a couple of kms down the road. We drove around the other side of the lake, opposite to where we wanted to camp. On the way my bike again (4th time i think, i was starting to develop a strong love hate relationship with it) started sputtering and running really rough. We were hoping to ride a good distance away from what had just happened but were forced to stop when my bike quit. Because we were on the crap side of the lake Climo got bogged in a swamp looking for a spot to get down the lake edge, it took about half an hour to drag his bike out. We ended up camping in a hollow out of site from the road. So we didn't get to enjoy the full benefits of the lake, to be honest it was probably to cold for swimming in anyways. Looking back at the whole situation now and how it turned out, it was great experience and one i would trade. Robbies bike was ok apart from a slightly loose swing arm bolt, which we tightened after finding a big enough socket, my bike starting running right again, dirty fuel I think, and we were all still in one piece.

Song Kol area was stunning, the lake was surrounded right the way around by high mountains, our exit out lead us across a big plain, no road, passing many nomadic people living there lives. We rode down another massive pass more great views (i tried the other day to load some photos but it took way to long so all those who are keen to see some will have to wait till i get home, sorry)

Our journey lead us through Jalalabad and Osh where there was recent civil unrest. It was really moving seeing the destruction, whole streets of homes burnt out, restaurants and shops destroyed even an international university. It was as close I've ever been to a war zone. The locals were in clean up mode, there was ruble filling the streets. In Jalalabad we got the chance to meet some of the local Uzbek people, they were totally gutted. One old women started weeping, Misha held her as he tried to comfort her. While i stayed with the bikes the boys were invited back to a house and shown the destruction, I've since watched the footage. It was super sad, they were living in their Sauna, it was the only room in the house that survived the fire that had sweep through there street. War is a terrible thing and only causes pain and suffering and not much else

Apart a couple of particular locals our experience in Krygystan was amazing, again we were blessed by the hospitality and friendliness shown to us by the locals. Always willing to help us out, showing us where we could get fuel or food or whatever we happened to need at the time, often after a lengthly explanation in sign and the few words we know in russian. We met some really great people, living so so differently to how I've grown up but what has almost become the norm now after being amongst it for so long. Its great i really love it, and i hope to be able to bring parts of it home with me.

The rest of our time was filled with more amazing mountains, valleys, colours and smells. I can without hesitation recommend Krygystan to anyone into the outdoors, particularly the mountains.

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Our introduction to Kazak was a little weird I guess. Having to stay in a Hotel where camping wasn't recommended because of residue Nuclear radiation in the area didn't make our first day in Kazak that appealing. We also discovered that it also wasn't recommended to eat local produce or drink the local water. The warning stemming from the 400 plus nuclear tests carried out in the area. Semey has apparently one of the highest rates of deformities in children and suicide rates among young men. A sad reality and consequence of carelessness from the Soviet Union days.

We didnt stick around too long in the area and decided that it was best in our best interests to head for Almaty to get out visa process under way for Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. We completed the 1100km journey in just three days.  In Between Semey and Almaty we discovered not a great amount aside from desert, small run down villages (Borat comes to mind), extreme heat, long straight roads and lots of weed. It was a fairly uneventful journey south, camping in dry fields and swimming in rivers where we could. We did big kms during the day, tried when we could to have lunch and get in some shade in the hottest parts of the day, 12 till 2pm. One cool thing we did see along the way was a snake, exciting a out of the lake we were just about to jump in to cool off. Another high light was meeting some German truckers who had been on the road in there house trucks for 11 months i think and heading towards China. They had amazing sets ups with everything including the kitchen sink and were really great people. They had installed 1000L diesel tanks and filled up in Iran for 16euros and were still running on it, unbelievable!

I didn't know what to expect from the city of Almaty but was truly blown away by the very modern and fashionable city that we found ourselves in back dropped by a 4000m mountain range, the boarder between Kazak and Kyrgyzstan. We discovered quickly that it wasn't the standard cheap central Asia city we had anticipated. The cheapest city hotel we could find being $80 for a twin share. Our minds were made for us, back to camping. On arrival we had met a local biker, Slava who was on his way home to his family, but was more than happy to show us a couple of cheap hotels and internet cafe etc. Other blessing that made my first impression of Almaty a good one. Once deciding that the accommodation was out of our price range, Slava drove us 20kms out of town into the mountains to show us a camping spot. It was amazing feeling the temperature drop so dramatically as we ascended from 900m to around 1500m. It was great to be finally out of the constant heat we had found ourselves in over the past three days.

We camped two nights up in the mountains packing up during the day to run errands and using the Internet. This would have been tough to carry on doing for an entire week as we waited for our visas and was already starting to cause tension within the group. Rob had been given a contact for the International Christian Fellowship Church and having not being to church in a while we were pretty keen. Sunday morning arrived and finally after a few wrong turns we made it to the church building, a bank they met in. We were greeted by some friendly Canadian folk who offered their car as a storage space for our gear while we were inside. Steve and Annette were kind enough to invite us back to their house for lunch (they weren't the only omes) which was an offer not to be refused after living on pasta and not much else. So its been 7 days now and they haven't managed to get rid of us. We are still here sleeping on beds and having showers everyday! Their generosity has been a real answer to prayer, staying in a Hotel was not an option for us, way out of our budget, and to get home cooked meals has been amazing. Their home has been a great place for us to rest, relax and catch up on odd jobs that had needed to get done, namely bike maintenance and visa stuff.

I'm excited about our next stage of the trip, which will likely be the craziest part of the trip in terms of our schedule and added pressures of high altitudes in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and the extreme temps of Uzbekistan we have been told to expect 60 degrees C, mental, I can't even imagine that.

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Once again its been hard to find time to update my blog, the nature of our trip and the areas where we are heading through make it hard to find the internet and when we do theres often only one or two computers and by the time all the boys check their emails and have a quick skype, its time to move on again. Other times its just pure laziness.

I think if i were to describe Mongolia in one word, it would be Epic. As we travelled farther and farther and the kms clocked over I continued to find myself speechless at the beauty and variety the country had to offer 5 Kiwi Blokes (sadly now 4) touring around on bikes.

We spent our first week camping in a National park near UB while we were waiting for Kazahkstan visas and Climos tyre to arrive. We bascially spent a week on the edge of a river bank, chillen. Cranked out the hammock, which is gold when the old tent gets a bit hot in the sun. Everyday was around 25 degrees. Meeting some of the locals from UB was cool and we were introduced to our first mogolian BBQ, definantly bringing that back to NZ. We spent an arvo riding Mongolian horses, which i never thought id love so much. The mongolian horses are so tiny, felt so sorry for them. But it was good times. Would have been great to have time to take part in in treck for a few days.

I was more than happy leaving UB (Ulannbaataar). UB was a weird city. Seeing a class system with such defined boarders was a new experience for me. I've never seen so many Hummers and brand new Landcruizers and Lexus 4X4's in one city. The contrast between seeing the very wealthy and among them the very very poor was almost unbelievable and its hard describe with out actually experiencing it for yourself what it's like to see all this wealth belonging to only a few people and then seeing an old women picking up plastic bottles for a living in the same streets. You only have to drive a couple of kms out of the hub of the city and your in amongst the Ger districts. People who have nothing but what is in there tent, and i guess if they are lucky some sort of job to support there families.

It was great meeting and hanging out with some like minded travelers while in UB. Mik'o and Lisbeth, two Aussie's who had driven their Lancruzier from Perth and were continuing on the Holland where Lisbeth was from originally. They were an awesome couple. Mik'o a seasoned adventure traveler had some epic stories to share. They were very kind and shouted us an mint dinner at an Irish pub with the "Truck the world" boys. Ricky and Alex are planning to drive their Russian truck they have converted into an flippen pimped out camper through to Europe over the next few years. It was good to finally meet them after following them online.

I guess I'm not really a city person and as much as a new city is interesting for a while i was keen to get out into the country side. Spending two nights in the seediest Hotel, which we later assumed was a pay by the hour establishment by the types of people who hung out there, was enough for me and getting back into my tent was a pleasure. Waking up to snow and sleet on my tent was not pleasurable. None of us really wanted to get out of out tents. The hunger finally got the better of Misha and Mike and they braved the elements and cooked us a feed which was very much appreciated since it took them about 2 hours in their sleeping bags to warm up again. I had assumed that leaving Siberia we had left the cold behind.

The next few weeks proved to be the best and hardest weeks of the trip so far for me. We were used to Russia being the same for hundreds of kms. Mongolia was the opposite. Every 100kms or so the landscape and temperatures changed dramatically. From cold to hot, to very dry desert like landscapes and of course the rain. Its hard to explain what it was like without putting up photos, and they will never the original justice anyway. I can only recommend that Mongolia is part of your next travel plan.

Once you leave UB the population changes dramatically. I think around 80 percent of the population lives in UB and and the rest of the country side is made up of Nomadic families. Moving their lives around, systematically and seemingly randomly farming the landscape. They are great people very friendly and very curious and always seem to turn up when you are in the middle of cooking a feed. They'll just hang out with you, not saying much. We would always feed them as well, it became the norm to fill up a 6th plate for the local Mongol the decided to join us. We would think we were in the middle of nowhere but usually after or even during camp set up somebody would turn up on a horse or motorbike to see what we were up to.

We had one pretty tough week about two weeks into our trip through Mongolia. We had just had a rest day beside a stunning lake, birthed from a volcano. The laver flows were still very visible and amazing. Caught up on all our washing and hang out with Benji, a fellow biker from the states who tagged along for a couple of days. My bike first start of the day, after we had packed up and were ready to head off decided to make a hideous knocking noise from what I at the time thought was a bottom end bearing. After a few expensive phone calls back to NZ i proceeded to pull the engine casing off both sides of the motor and see if i could diagnose the problem. Mean while I'm thinking my trip is over, trying to work with that thought, totally guttered was tough. I was defiantly saying my share a prayers and i know a lot of other people back home were as well. I sent most of the day looking over the bike checking everything i could think of, eventually putting everything back together, pitching my tent and heading to bed. After a great camp fire and meat on a spear. The next morning, i filled her back up with oil. The gasket glue had set over night, a little miracle in itself that we even had any. We had bought some in Russia for another little problem i had on my bike. I can safely say that i didn't want to start my bike that morning, i didn't want to hear that knock again and have to make alternative plans. I did start it, eventually, and i guess i can describe it as nothing short of a miracle there was no knock. I hadn't really done anything, except check tightened the main crank shaft and clutch nuts and had a look over the whole bike. Stoked.

We pushed on, i took it real easy over the next few days and have pretty much nannered it from then on. And now about a month later I'm still here, still riding and freaken loving it.

A couple of days after that happened. Misha crashed his bike spraining his ankle badly. The team preformed really well. Treating the injury as best as we knew how, Rob and Mike doing a particularly good job. As it turned out we were stopped next to a beautiful river in a huge valley. We camped there for three days while Misha recovered. I was stoked, guttered for Misha but stoked to be stopped in such an epic place. There we made friends with the local farmer. He spent a lot of time hanging with us. We had bought a few bottles and vodka and some smokes to give to the locals. We had been told that the Mongols would be stoked if we had something to offer them. It was usually the first thing we would do, i guess in order to show that we were friends and just travels wanting to hang out on their land. He was also very generous bringing us the best yoghurt I've never had. If thats one thing the Mongols know how to do its that. He brought us i think four or five yurns of yoghurt, for breaky and sometime for desert. One morning i got out of my tent to see him bathing and massaging Misha's foot in a bath of tea. How epic is that!!!!

I spent a lot of time chillen there, reading in my hammock was gold, swimming and just enjoying life in general. Word must have got around that we were there and had tools etc. One of the days we had about 5 broken local bikes turn up. We did our best to help them out, sometimes with success other times not. One guy broke down right outside our camp. His tappered screw had fallen completely out so i jimmied one up and got him on the road again. Took a couple hours. His wife and two kids were on the bike as well, they were happy just chillen and didn't seem in a hurry anywhere. Thats one of the great things about Mongolian people. They always have time to to stop and chat, sometimes to much time but none the less they are always keen to say hi and try and have a convo with you. The nomadic people are a great people, still following customs and traditions and would be centuries old.

Back on the road again, we took it real slow, Misha was able to ride again but in a bit of pain and because of the soft sand and bad roads we didn't want him to do more damage. We did about 60kms had a big lunch and continued on. Misha meet some German travelers who had had hired a driver, translator and a jeep. A common way to travel for soft tourists who go to Mongolia. About 20kms out of town, Mike pulled off to the side road, found himself in some soft sand and at the slow pace fell off his bike. I think it was Climo that pulled the bike off him i turned up just after it happened and saw the pain in Mikes face. He was certain he'd heard a pop, which obviously is not a good sign. We were following the German tourist out of town and they were generous enough to lend us their jeep and driver and took Mike, Rob and Climo back to the town where we'd eaten lunch to try and find and Xray machine. Returning after about 4 hours the boys had organized a truck to take Mike and his bike to the next big town with an X ray machine. The 200kms were slow and painful for poor Mikey. Because it was late we stopped ate and over nighted for the the grand total of about $16. The next day, the truck left with Mike and Misha early. Rob, Climo and I followed about an hour and a half later, figuring we'd catch up to them. Not the case when Climo go the first one 4 flat tyres. I boosted ahead to try and catch up with the truck after discovering the tyre levers were on Mikes bike. You could safely call us amateurs. They had made better time than we had thought and i arrived at the Hospital just as they were unloading the bikes. Instead of going back to help the others, i figured two lawyers could figure out how to wave down a car and get the tyre fixed by themselves and since Misha couldn't support Mikes weight on his sprained ankle i took Mike in for an X ray. This after finding the only person in the hospital who spoke very broken english and discovering there was no crutches or wheel chairs in the whole place. The good thing was that they had an X Ray machine and they put Mike straight to the front on the line. Unfortunately he had to hop using me as a support up two flight of stairs to get there. No elevators in Mongolia. What a hard man. He was in so much pain. The Xray came out with a result we all didn't want. The leg was broken. It was a clean break but a bad one.

The next few days we spent in another cheap Hotel, running over plans of action while Mike was on and off the phone to the insurance company. It was tough to come to the realization that we would soon be traveling as four. We managed to get him on a plane, that flies in only once or twice a week and initially didn't have any seats available. But through a friendly local one was organized and Mike flew back to UB.

The following weeks in Mongolia were a bit weird not having Mikey there. Didn't seem right to there be only for tents pitched at night.

Mongolia continued to treat us very well. We travelled over some high mountain passes getting up to about about 2600m. That was incredible. Started noticing a few affects on the bike at that altitude. Mine would not idle at all. We spent three days in a desert which confirmed that we had made the right choice taking the central route through Mongolia. It had been a topic of discussion before leaving UB. It was so freaken hot, dry and dusty, it was beautiful in its own way but it just wasn't for me. Put me in the mountains and valleys with rivers any-day. You get a bit over it after about 10 punctures as well. Its was more the heat that was causing the patches to come off than actual nails or whatever causing them. When its 40 degrees with no shade and wind, it starts to piss you off no end. Frustration takes over pretty quickly. Im not sure why but i seemed to get most of them as well.

The adventure defiantly didn't end once we'd come far enough north to be out of the desert. We were once agin camping next to beautiful rivers and on grass!! what a luxury. The mossies this time is what would drive us all nuts. Luckily we didn't have to many days in the low lying areas. Getting out of your tent to go for a pee was a mission, coming back with about a liter less blood was common.

Having to leave to a city in an unplanned rush was a first experience for me. We were taking turns at using the slowest internet in the world. Rob had made friends with a local Mongolian who spoke really good english and seemed like a good guy. After promising Rob that he'd only ride his bike around the car-park, Rob agreed and he promptly disappeared around the block. Relieved to say the least, Rob saw his bike returning but a little worse for wear, with a Mongol that was all cut up. After a discussion he was sent off to buy a new mirror that he'd snapped off Robs bike. Returning not with a mirror but with heavies and a twisted story that Rob had hit him and he was needing to go to the hospital and Rob would have to pay. Clearly he wanted to cause trouble and inevitably wanted money. I had just come off a disjointed birthday skype to Michelle (not due to us but the retarded computer) and was promptly told we had to get out of here real fast. As the police turned up we jumped on our bikes and boosted. Bizarre and Adrenaline are two a good words to use to describe that situation. Looking back at it now it was a crazy experience but a great story.

It was sad to see Mongolia behind us, even though we had tough times i still loved the place. Going through the Russian boarder being sprayed with disinfectant was depressing .

My mood changed very quickly. We found ourselves in the most beautiful landscape. The Altai region. My mind was again twisted into believing something like this could actually be real. Meeting four Fenchies and being invited to hang with them at base camp to a series of Glaciers was an easy discussion. With a few wars in our Route we decided to spent a bit more time hanging in Russia. Camping at 2200m at the base of 4000m peaks was again mind blowing. Walking up a Glacier to a Glacier lake and a tiny hut was so amazing. The frenchies were true mountain people. It great to gain some knowledge from them, learn a bit about the mountains and hear some crazy help I'm stuck in an avalanche stories. We are planning to hang with them in the mountains where they live in France. Should be good times.

Our time in the Altai region has been very rewarding, in a selfish way i guess. Taking in all the beauty around us has been great. Its almost a bit like Austria or Switzerland. Massive mountains and valleys. The roads have been built right through them so you really feel like you apart of the landscape. We are back on great roads. Mongolia was challenging in that respect. Basically they don't have roads. Just tracks through the country side. So we can again make good time and peel the kms off.

We are spending other dew days in Russia before crossing into Kazakhstan. A time where familiarity will be a thing of the past for the first week or so. We have got into pretty good routines in Russia and Mongolia. We know what to order for food, where to find internet and how to buy gas. Kazakhstan will b an unknown for us. Looking forward to the new challenge.

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Mother Russia

A lot has happened in the last couple of weeks. Im gona struggle to put even half of it in words but i'll try and give a little insight into what I've been up to.

The first day on the road there was a lot of excitement, a lot a wrong turns were made, food and fuel stops. Progress was pretty slow but nobody seemed too concerned. We were getting used to the handling of our loaded up bikes. The first time for us riding with all our gear. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts at finding a camping spot, Mike spotted a grassy area off the road, him and I went down to check it out and decided it was perfect. Found a spot right next to a little stream, on a small rise away from the boggy areas we had ridden through to get there. Set up our nice new tents and fired up the cookers for a pasta meal that has since became a stat part of our diet.

We woke in the morning to cows around our tents and a local farmer obviously curious at what he'd found in his paddock. It was freaken freezing. A good frost had fallen over night and the mist around gave the place a kind of aery feeling. We had a cupa with the farmer, who couldn't understand a thing we were saying and visa versa, but you could tell he was stoked to have some warm goodness in him.  It makes it a bit easier if you can speak a bit of the language but at the end of the day we are three weeks on the road and survived with hand signals and facial expressions. Thats pretty much all you need I reckon

Day two on the road, we found ourselves riding over some beautiful open fields, through some broken down poor villages, over a snowy mountain pass and watched a whole lot of the country side smoldering away. It seems to be the season of burning all the under growth off from the previous season to allow for the new grass to grow. Some off the fires looked pretty uncontrolled and in the middle of nowhere.

We had our first experience with a bunch of drunk Russians that day. I was leading at the time and had passed a car full of guys who looked a bit sus but didn't think too much of it until they came flying past us doing about 100kmh on gravel roads. A few minutes later i saw them up ahead and standing in the middle of the road waving me in. I didn't have much of a choice but to stop. I couldn't really have passed them and if i had the boys behind may not have got passed and I figured even if we had they probably would have done the same again until we did stop. Anyways when the other boys had shown up, the hand signals were going at full speed, trying to understand these guys at the same time as the vodka was brought out and basically forced upon us. Luckily for us they gave up after multiple attempts and refusals. This was an interesting welcome to the roads of Russia experience, one that i was half expecting  and semi mentally prepared for.

Later on that evening after about a 400kms of riding and a few unsuccessful attempts at finding a camp site. One particularly unfriendly area Rob had some large dogs set on him. We figured it wasn't the best place to pitch a tent so we moved on, again. Ending up at the end of a coastal road we had been following, we were discussing our options. Its was about 930pm we still had a bit of light, about an hour left but our options were running out pretty quick.

As had become the norm, a small crowd of interested locals a gathered around us and were trying to understand where we were from and where we were going. As usual we pointed towards Climos bike and the map he had stuck to the side of it, this has been a huge asset. One of the first guys who had come up to us Vladamire, in his broken german and me frantically trying to recall what i had used in the past, came to an understanding that he was offering for us to stay with him in his humble abode. I was fresh and very skeptical of the whole situation and wasn't sure of what we should do. By then a crowd of his mates had gathered and we were directed to park our bikes in a couple of small half fallen over garages offered to us by his friends. By then we were just going with the flow unsure if we would wake up with any gear and whether we'd still be alive. After shown us his place, his cooker, where we could sleep and one of the most disgusting long drops out. He grabbed some bedding and headed to his mates place up stairs to sleep. Something i was so surprised by and by then had started to feel a little guilty of my initial skeptasium. No forced vodka drinking, no parting all night just a good nights sleep. Stoked. I was blown away by the generosity of a man who literally had nothing and what he did have allow us full access.

The hospitality that we have been shown in Russia this far he been incredible. Our initial meeting with the Vladivostok Rotary has proved invaluable. But also all the randoms we have met along the way have been great and very friendly. Even after being on the road for three weeks we keep getting told by Russians that we are crazy. Some tell us that the roads we have already been on don't exist and the ones that do are very dangerous. We haven't seen any of that side of Russia. All the prayers from back home, in my opinion have prepared and smoothed out our way through Russia

We have experienced all kinds of weather along the way. We have had everything from 20degree riding days to raining and freezing 5 degree days. The emotions you go through during theses times are interesting. The miserable and cold days are the ones where i find myself doing strange things in my helmet, singing, making weird noises, pretty much anything to get my mind off being so cold. My whole arm went numb the other day. Makes it a bit hard to ride when you moto skills are about as as quick as an ihc.

The scenery has been quite incredible but some what repetitive. Hense why we have put in some really big km days. Our aim to get through to Mongolia and spend some slower days there. So far there has been a lot of beautiful Pine forests and big rivers much like what id imagine maybe Canada to be like, since we are on a similar latitude. Sometimes as quickly as you can blink an eye the forests have subsided and we find ourselves riding through huge open plains and at times with lakes frozen solid dotted across the landscape. A lot of it being burned off and prepared for the large scale crops that will feed that cities and prepare for the coming winter when the Russian landscape will again go into hibernation.

About our 5th or 6th day riding we found ourselves welcomed into another Russian home, this it looked much like a castle. We were freezing after a day of riding in the rain and met in town by another Vladamire. Escorted through town with hazards on and as soon as we arrived and our bikes were parked we were ushered down stairs into a basement set up for entertaining. Into his 100degree Sauna, which is the best thing ever when your frozen to the core. Then as quick as we had got in we were out again, straight to the dinning room where a full spread was laid out for us. I now suspect that our host had ADD because as soon as we a eaten a bit the disco lights were on and we were in the main room listening to one of his mates play sax, clarinet and the piano accordion for us.Then back into the dinning room for more food followed by some dancing. It was a pretty funny night. Another example of Russian generosity. That next day we were taken, (its generally never is an option for us over here, we are told what were doing, never really understanding what is actually going to happen next), but this time we found ourselves outside a workshop looking some beautiful old vintage bikes restored by the same guy who'd played for us and night before and the same guy who ended up escorting us outa town on his 1930's harley. Was a very cool way to exit town.

On the road we met a guy who'd come from South Korea like us but was riding to London on the Chang Jaing. A Chinese copy of a Russia Ural bike which is a copy a military issue BMW from the 1950's. I you think we are doing it tough. You should meet Mike. Most of what he's carrying with him is spare parts, no good riding gear, just a oil skin jacket and some leather pants which he wears under a Korean air-force pilot suit. A good dude we spent a couple of days with in Kharbarosk checking out the city and the 9th of May Victory day celebrations. The celebrations were great to see. Lots of military action. Soldiers, Tanks, People movers, Rocket launchers and big Russian Trunks. All of which you were allowed to get up close and walk all over if you wanted. Something you could never do in NZ. Mostly cause we don't have tanks, but also cause they don't seem to have OSH watching over everything like hawks. People must have thought we were some sort of sports team or professional group all in our same puff jackets. We got a lot of people wanting photos with us and even gave out some signatures. We actually get that a lot, anywhere we stop people always are taking photos and asking questions. I guess it gives a tiny glimpse into what would be like to have a celebrity status.

We are now staying in a Hostel in Irkutsk, have been for a few days. Its great to get off the bikes and have a rest. We have applied for our Mongolian Visas and return to pick them up next week and plan to be down in Mongolia on Friday. In the mean time we plan to head out to Lake Baikal and chill there for a couple a days and do some bike maintenance. Last night we met a fellow biker who had spent the last 3 weeks riding on his BMW from Switzerland. 12000kms in 3 weeks, and we were moaning about 400kms a day. What a hard out. A chance again for me to practice my german. A good guy who offered to hook us up in his homeland if we pass through.

Man there is so much more, i could probably sit here and write and write and write. I wont though, it would no doubt get boring and you'd get sick of my terrible grammar and spelling, spell check actually helped me out a little bit this time round.

I cant wait for the next month or so, Mongolia from what I've seen and heard will be epic. Wont have much internet access and not the usual food/fuel and water supply that we are used. Will be interesting to see how we go.

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