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Old 07-17-2012, 05:00 AM   #61
mikecbrxx
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I'm in Almaty at the moment. Will be heading towards Charyn canyon tomorrow 18th and then heading north along Chinese border. If ur in the area (18-24) let me know via pm.

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Old 07-17-2012, 04:40 PM   #62
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Day54 – Bishkek shops
July 17, 2012
Bishkek eh….. A major city of a million people, all facilities, plenty of shops and places to eat. We bought a few things in sports and mountaineering shops, in an otherwise empty mall.



Here’s “Dhzordhz Garrison” and “The Liverpool of the Beatles” in a CD shop.



At the market we ate PLOV, a very common dish all around Russia and down here, fried rice with bits of meat, $2 a plate:



War memorial and cinema, among the many statues and buildings of the Soviet era:





Kyrgyzstan is 97% covered in mountains and the very highest peaks of the old USSR are here, world-class mountaineering challenges and it is a big industry. There is a national park with a section reserved exclusively for mountaineers. Their equipment is very expensive, a simple D-shaped steel ring with snap closure is like $80 and you need a whole assembly of stuff like that. You don’t want to swing to and fro at the end of a rope, hundreds of metres above the jagged Caucasus rocks and find you’ve got only the cheapo equipment with you. My hotel was called “The Alpinist” and had exotic photos and apparatus of mountaineering all over the walls.

After that wet, wet night camping nobody felt like doing much, most riders went and got the next set of tyres (knobbly this time, for dirt roads) fitted to their wheels, but I will delay mine until Almaty, as my existing tyres are only half-worn after 13,000 km and I will have to throw them away on fitting new ones.

Bishkek was called Frunze by the Soviets, after a Civil War general, it had a prestigious officer-training academy but nothing else of military significance. The Soviets dynamited much of the middle of the city and set up huge, empty squares with huge statues and imposing, daunting buildings for the government, drama theatre and museum:



The railway station was built by German POW’s who were thrown into nearby pits as they died, which they all did … Yes it looks cute now but as with many places in the old USSR the history is pretty ghastly.

After the fall of Communism many of the statues of Lenin have been replaced by local heroes, or abstract things denoting Peace, etc but you can see where and what the originals would have been. Pride of place in Bishkek is now a statue of Manas, a legendary medieval warrior whose adventures are told in a very long epic poem, which defines the Kyrgyz culture. I went past the statue in a taxi and said “that’s Manas” and the driver’s expression as he beamed with patriotic pride was a thing to behold. People recite the poem, well, parts of it as the whole thing is twenty times the Iliad & Odyssey together, the most famous reciters are national heroes and appear on the banknotes.

A group of us went out to walk around the market and Steve (the other Steve, not me) bought a painting, an unusual one of the sunrise shining on high mountain peak



Went trotting off to get cardboard, tape, scissors, and a plastic tube to post it in, returned to the stall to find the painting was still wet – the artist had only just done it – and could not be rolled up. Ended up carrying it away boxed in cardboard and giving it to DHL to courier back to Australia. There is a limit to what things can be added to what clutter is already in the 4WD’s . . . Imagine if everybody bought a large copper samovar! As someone said, “I feel a Right Tit”:

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Old 07-17-2012, 05:02 PM   #63
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day55 – Bishkek park
July 17, 2012
This morning we went up to a nearby park up in the mountains. With my dodgy ankle I did not walk much, but others visited a graveyard of pioneer mountaineers.





Some serious walkers with heavy backpacks



But I only went in one kilometre, where I found a sort of cafe, and had a huge pot of tea, which cost me a bomb but up here, he can charge what he likes:



Meeting of two rivers at this place, and rudimentary bridge over the foaming torrent:






Back in town I had a nice Turkish lunch (got any Kyrgyz food? Nah mate, we got Turkish, European & Arabic … Ok I’ll have something Arabic then) and got a taxi to the museum, which I missed yesterday.



Vast wasteful Soviet architecture, great empty halls, intimidating cavernous rooms, with a few exhibits around the edges. Huge dioramas of Lenin and the early days of the Revolution, bigger than life size and all done in solid bronze (these are so big and set into the building that cannot be removed without the building collapsing so they are stuck there still).



Prehistoric carvings and relics of the area, geology of Kyrgyzstan, folk art, photos of the 2010 riots, etc and curiously, paintings of the 1917 revolution on all the ceilings. You have to walk around with your head up to appreciate them; nobody did.

I also saw the changing of the guard, two very well-presented guards stand at attention by the statue of Manas and the national flag, but they stand in glass boxes probably so they can endure the cold of winter. The usual Soviet style, every hour three more guards come goose-stepping out, two of them change with the standing guards (in an instant) and back they go to the barracks, unfortunately quite a long way away.



Then I got a taxi back to the hotel, realising suddenly that although it is easy to find the Museum from the hotel, nobody has heard of the hotel and I didn’t bring the hotel card with me, so finding it would be very difficult. However I found a taxi that had a street directory of Bishkek and I was able to find the area of the hotel roughly, then I was able to wing it from there.



In the evening John, Aldo, and myself went to a restaurant where they were said to have local food. It was opposite the statue of Kozhomyl, lifting a horse above his head (one wonders how he picked it up to start with) and they had lots and lots of dishes on the menu, but not many of them actually existed. The waiters were obviously on commission because we’ve never had such attentive service, right up until the time when it was clear that we weren’t going to spend any more money. We had beef and fish and the next day John was very ill, but me and Aldo were perfectly OK.
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Old 07-21-2012, 07:20 AM   #64
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Day56 – Jeti-Oghuz
July 17, 2012
Jeti-Oghuz gorge, at the eastern end of Lake Issyk-Kul. Out of Bishkek, fuel up, rear tyre a bit flat so I used Andrew’s pump for a bit of air. Good fast road with radar traps (we have ignored speed limits since day 1 but maybe it is time to worry now, as they take it pretty seriously here). Some road works and a fair number of pushy, fast drivers. Had to pay 500 som ($12) to enter Issyk-Kul national park, fair value as the lake is huge (300 x 150 km) and there is a lot of conservation work to be done here. And we will be here some days, riding all around the lake. At entry to the park we were 1500m up, mountains began and there was very nice scenery – at one point a big RED mountain on the right and a big grey-green one on the left. We stopped for lunch where a promontory juts out into the lake, only to find a natty seaside town 10 km after we took off. There are beaches along the shore with Greek or Mediterranean appearance, not many people as this place is very remote.



A failed, abandoned resort celebrating a famous reciter of the Manas epic; he is on the 500-som note ($12).



Just short of Karakol, where we will stay tomorrow night, we turned off into a scenic canyon with foaming river beside. The road into here is touristy and locals hang out here with falcons on their wrists, for money (of course) you can take pictures.



20 km off the road is an unusual formation of seven red hills together, called the Broken Heart, or the Seven Bulls:



We rode to here and then 5 km past into the Valley of Flowers, and we camped for the night at a very nice riverside site, deep in a valley but with some sunshine getting in.



My own tent, at the snore-y end of the site, had its own private beach.

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Old 07-21-2012, 07:23 AM   #65
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Day57 – Karakol
July 17, 2012
In the morning we had a very leisurely start, not the usual frantic wake-up call (my mobile phone alarm is always set for 06:12 – in memory of the excellent NZ sci-fi film “The Quiet Earth”) and we rode further in along the valley. This opened out to Alpine slopes on the margins of very high mountains, many holiday homes (ger’s and tents actually) up here.



The road was packed dirt with occasional puddles and a few bridges over the river, made from great slabs of wood 16-18 inches wide.



Me, riding over it:



We rode into Karakol, which was only about 30 km away, and found our hotel. This gave us the afternoon free and some went out, some sat around talking and I stayed in my room updating this blog, which is how it gets to be only a day or two out of date now. When I came down for a drink before dinner, as nobody can see WordPress sites in KZ/UZ/KGZ nobody can see my blog, so I was asked to read out some of the juicier pages, notably the one about Shymkent, where I fell off.
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Old 07-21-2012, 07:35 AM   #66
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Day58 – Altyn-Arashan
July 18, 2012
We have 3 nights in the hotel at Karakol but we will be up in the mountains instead, for tonight, the middle night. We set off at 9am in two large Russian GAZ 4WD trucks, very strongly built and able to negotiate the awful road up to Altyn-Arashan, 15 km and two hours in length.





For you boys, at the hotel as we left, an even heftier six-wheel drive Ural truck was parked, heavy chains hanging over its steel bumper bar. Its tyres are bullet proof.





We were thrown around in our truck, violently at times, and I got some natty pictures but most views were through two muddy windows. The truck has 3 gear levers and can go at 1 km/hr under full power, it can also go around the side of a hill at 45 degrees – a capability mercifully denied to us. Views of the hillside beside us sometimes turned out to be views of the next piece of road.





Here’s another similar truck, stuck halfway up a slope:



Great swathes of bare ground where minor avalanches and moving ice have removed saplings every year, leaving tree-less strips down the hillsides, like ski runs or pylon/cable runs:



Finally we reached Altyn-Arashan:



At Altyn-Arashan there are a couple of huts, with beds, kitchen etc and the owner, Valentin, a very handy man who builds his own quad-bikes, told us stories in quite good English. We were served the strongest tea I have ever seen (and it was even stronger at breakfast):



In the afternoon we walked further up into the hills, I turned back after half an hour as the path was leadnig nowhere fast and my ankle began to ache. Here’s Lynnie at that point:



Although I had climbed up the steep gravel path to here OK, on going back down I was scared of slipping and thus was taking steps half a shoe in length, and then it began to rain. Others went much further and saw a lake high up in the mountains. One heavily snow-covered peak was said to be 5200m high and a Grade 1 climb (the easiest).

Here’s a map of the whole Issyk-Kul area. Bishkek is at top left, we came all along the lower edge of the lake, Djeti-Oghun where we stayed 2 nights ago is just SW of Karakol, marked in yellow at the east end of the lake. Now at Altyn-Arashan qwe are about 20km SE of Karakol. The pale grey area at bottom right of the map is China. We will go out along the top edge of the lake back to Bishkek & then go north, back into Kazakhstan.



There are several hot springs at Altyn-Arashan, in brick huts; Phil and myself went in Valentin’s spring:





But we should have gone in the next hot spring along, which looked much more inviting:

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Old 07-21-2012, 11:42 PM   #67
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Day59 – Karakol again
July 18, 2012
Day 59 – Tuesday, July 17. One of us suddenly felt very unwell last night, and was taken back down into Karakol by special truck (2-3 hours bumpy ride), where an English-speaking doctor and interpreter had been lined up at the hospital. After an injection of something and a proper rest, fortunately she was OK again. We were serious about getting her down by helicopter, but it would have had to come from Bishkek. I mention this to show the standard of care and devotion provided by our hosts, Compass Expeditions.

So in the morning the rest of us set off back down in the 4WD, it got stuck on a very nasty bit of road, and oil spilt out. This was fixed and we arrived, somewhat shaken about, back at Karakol for lunch.





Aldo & John chose to walk down, a good idea as it took them about the same amount of time as the 4WD took. They were picked up by the second 4WD that came down later.



I spent the afternoon writing this blog which is now UP TO DATE!! and I will write it every day, even if I can’t post it. However from now on there are a lot of bush camps and the internet connection will be sporadic. I can post ‘blind’ to the blog but I can’t see it; I get the comments you all make, but I can’t post them or reply, yet. But when I get to a city in Russia (i.e. Krasnoyarsk, on July 25) I will tidy up the photos, and put up all the comments etc. I can also pay for the carpet I bought

In the evening we had quite a nice meal, which I could not finish – my body is OK but the altitude (2500m last night, 1720m now) may affect my appetite. I went up the street and saw the Karakol war memorial which, uniquely, is in BAD condition, weeds growing, eternal flame long gone out, graffiti on the figure of Peace, some tiles missing from the names of the dead. This place Karakol is about as remote as anyone can get, and they never have cared much for the Russians.

Another update. Last night at Altyn-Arashan we were treated to a recital of a few lines of the Manas epic by a 14-year-old lad, nephew of Valentin. And boy, were we ever blown away! I am still pretty stunned now. The finest Shakespearean rhetoric was nothing like this. You should Google on “manaschi” to see videos of older people reciting it. I got a video of him, but in near-total darkness. A comparable episode was when Barbro and me were in Mongolia in 2006 and we saw a cultural show with an incredibly intense, terrific “shaman dance” at one point (and I will be in the same place in 3 weeks). The dancer did not appear to take applause, and they explained that she was unconscious.

Tomorrow a long, long ride AND a border crossing, and we may make it into Almaty in the late evening. But to fill the blog out for today, here’s a map of Russia (USSR actually) showing the main rivers, most of which we will cross.



And a map showing the road into Magadan, but what I like best is that they have drawn the icebergs in the Sea of Okhotsk:

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Old 07-21-2012, 11:52 PM   #68
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Day60 – back into Kazakhstan
July 21, 2012
We left Karakol early, with a long hard ride and a border crossing ahead of us, so we pushed it over the speed limit quite a bit. Around the east end of lake Issyk-Kul there was flat land with mountains north and south, then turned from northwards to westwards and from the northern road across the lake, we had views over Lake Issyk-Kul to the snowy mountains in the south:



… and to smooth mountains in the north, with snow-capped peaks in the far distance. We went through quite a few towns, one big one with impressive hills behind.





Now my bike has the expensive, extra pressure sensors in the tyres, they transmit the pressures to a display I can read while going along. And the back tyre has been leaking slowly for weeks, about 1/2 p.s.i. a day. Well today it began at HALF its usual pressure, and after one bout of fast riding over rough roads, I could see the pressure going down quite rapidly, so I stopped and waited for the 4WDs to catch up. (You can ride on a completely flat back tyre, even for hundreds of kilometres, but it is not easy to steer). Inflating the tyre with their battery pump just produced a hissing sound and I could see a triangular flap of rubber about 8mm a side, raised and leaking air:



So we changed the tyre. I had intended to do this tomorrow in Almaty anyway, the 4WDs carry two new sets of knobbly tyres, for rough roads, and my first set was due to be fitted anyway. I could not do it myself, but Felipe from the support crew plus Hugh and Millsy have done it all before, it took 3 men 45 minutes but they got the old tyre off:







and they got the new, knobbly tyre on and refitted the rear wheel:



So I was glad that I said nice things in the last post about the help provided by our leaders and Compass Expeditions!

Then in the urge to catch up with the others, I hurtled round a slow car at 110 kph – not him, me – the limit being like 60 kph and I got flagged down by the police. They had already stopped Millsy, and after me, Hugh and one of the 4WDs also decided to stop and help, this was more than the policeman really wanted, so after a telling off (and an attempt to levy a $21 fine without any paperwork) we were all let go.

When I caught up with the others, at the town at the western end of lake Issyk-Kul, there was this little shop:

[

…. with little old ladies who spoke perfect English. I came lumbering in, dressed in motorbike gear like a Japanese warrior, and they say “Good morning. How are you. Welcome to our shop. What would you like to buy?” Very cute.

We went ever westwards – ever the wrong way, we are trying to go to Almaty but the only road does a sort of giant hairpin through Bishkek -
up into the hills, the same way we came in a few days ago. These hills are the domain of the SNOW LEOPARD – my daughter’s favourite animal, she likes them poached in a little white wine with bechamel sauce and turnips – and the road-builders put up concrete animals here and there. So this is the (rather badly done) snow leopard, overseeing his kingdom:



And so into the outskirts of Bishkek, past one border post at Tokmok where “foreigners are not allowed through” – a brilliant excuse to avoid doing any work, since by definition everyone is a foreigner on one side or the other (or both) at a border post. From there, still on the Kyrgyz side, we rode a very nice new road down into Bishkek, you can do 150 kph on it, always bearing in mind that they don’t mark when the road suddenly reverts to gravel.

And the dreaded Border Crossing into Kazakhstan. We got stamped out of Kyrgyzztan, 5 minutes and “get out of my shed”. But to get into Kazakhzstan, 3 hours, despite us having been there before. Thankfully we only have 3 more crossings after this trauma (KZ/Russia, Russia/Mongolia, Mongolia/Russia). Sitting around in 35 degree heat in motorbike clothing for 3 hours is no joke, fortunately I have bought a “Camel Bak” so I can drink as much as I like.

Much mysterious activity at the border, people carrying carpets through in large quantities. Women with trolleys of empty ice cream cones going one way, and identical ice cream cones also going THE OTHER WAY. But I will miss Kyrgyzstan very much, it is a lovely country and I would like to return.

We drove on a little way and camped by the roadside. Tomorrow we get into Almaty. No picture of THIS camp, but Millsy took this amazing photo of my tent at the (rainy) mountain-pass camp on day 52:

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Old 07-21-2012, 11:54 PM   #69
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Day61 – Into Almaty
July 21, 2012
Sad to leave Kyrgyzstan yerterday.



But I will not miss their extensive use of an exasperating Cyrillic vowel all over their language. This vowel is written “bi” but it is one letter, very hard to read and it makes it difficult for me to sort out how a word is structured. I will be glad to get back to proper Russian. Most signs in Kazakhstan are bilingual Kazakh/Russian and you can see how complete different the languages are. This poster, over the yellow Almaty trolleybus, says “In our world there is no room for narcotics” (this being a bg problem as we are near a border with Afghanistan where the Taliban are printing their own money selling the stuff).

Anwyay, we broke camp at dawn and headed into Almaty. The weather was stinking hot, we arrived in a midday rush hour and the driving is pretty appalling. There are no motorbikes or bicycles in any of the “Stan”s and when you try to ride one through, you understand why nobody else dares to try it.

We took it easy in the afternoon, tinkered with the bikes a bit and enjoyed a lovely Korean meal in the evening, with much vodka. Stalin collected up all the Koreans living in the Russian Far East and dumped them all here. Our hotel is a little Korean paradise and I am enjoying it very much. I have internet in the room. However, we have to prepare the bikes and ourselves for a mighty 3500-km 7-day push to Krasnoyarsk and Irkutsk the day after tomorrow. Irkutsk! It is so far eastwards, it’s on Lake Baikal.

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Old 07-22-2012, 12:09 AM   #70
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Day62 – Almaty
July 21, 2012
A free day today, the last one until IRKUTSK so we’d better make the most of it. Loafing around in the morning, 4 of us set off for the cablecar that takes you up a hill overlooking this city of 1.5 million people.

Now this was meaningful for me, because my good friend Fred Thornett who sadly died a couple of years ago, travelled here, and I used this picture of his in my trivia quiz (www.drbobsquiz.wordpress.com) in Sept 2006, asking: “Where’s This”?



And getting answers like “This is the urinal at Microsoft HQ” – but really my problem was that Fred himself could not remember where it was, so I had to spend hours on Google Earth trying to find it. I was caught in my own trap! Anyway, as of today, I do know where it is:



So mid-morning, in the stinking heat, we set out from our lovely Korean hotel, past the English Language School who were having a sort-out of papers:



And past a memorial to a musician who combined Chinese and Kazakh influences (there are not many statues to see in Almaty)



And we got a ‘taxi’ (just stop any car and make a deal) to the cablecar station, where we boarded a rather precarious cable car and set off, the cables hanging in beautiful mathematical catenaries across the freeway:







One of us is scared of heights (and dislikes cabbages – dont know why he came on this trip) so we made lots of helpful remarks, like, you see the doors on the side of the cable car, well they open freely while in flight. “Gosh look at the scruffy cables” and “They call this place Skeleton Field” and “Oh look, such a long way down – and into a field of Cabbages”.



At the top of the hill is quite a well-developed tourist park, as this map shows. Item 7 is the apple fountain (Almaty is famous for its apples, its original name Alma-Ata = Father of Apples). Item 9 is a statue of the Beatles:



If you could have told those four scruffy yobs from Liverpool that their music would not only earn them enough money to buy beer, but would also bring down whole hostile governments, end the Cold War, and there’d be a bronze statue of them in Almaty, wherever that is …

We had an expensive lunch overlooking the town, watching the progress of its threatening dark weather, and admiring the rate of progress of a traffic jam below.







There was a sad little zoo with a “Kind of Uzbek Fighting Chicken” whose days in the ring were clearly over.



So. Tomorrow we are up at 5am to ride at least 500 km EVERY DAY for a week. Four successive nights camping (and riding mostly in the same clothes by day) and a border crossing, one night at a hotel in Krasnoyarsk, with frantic use of the showers, then another night under canvas and we should hit a hotel in Irkutsk, with frantic use of its laundry service. I can hardly wait to visit the unique Nerparium (where Nerpas are kept, of course). So NO MORE BLOG UPDATES for 5 or possibly 7 days. Follow one bike’s progress hour by hour at

http://spotwalla.com/tripViewer.php?...04fac59d8a10a3
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Old 07-30-2012, 04:06 AM   #71
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Day63 – out of Almaty
July 28, 2012
This was the first day of a 7-day hard ride from Almaty to Krasnoyarsk and Irkutsk. Together with John, I started off VERY early at 05:30 – town all quiet, slow ride 60 kph to get out of town, the altitude dropped a couple hundred meters and it got cooler (25 down to 18 degrees) maybe due to a nearby river with misty air. Gentle hills out of Almaty, later a small mountain range and down the other side of that to a completely flat plain.



At Kapchagay, there is a man-made lake and this has become a big tourist draw as one of the few places where Kazakhs can get their feet wet. Expensive houses, power boats on the water, water skiing and other attributes of the rich. Four casinos are in business here. Surrounding land has a weird texture, small hills and a lot of small-scale mining. Big power station and rail terminal . . . something is going on here.

Pased a Sigint (collection of overseas radio signals for intelligence purposes) site just south of Kapchagay and another one, with neat aerial farm, north at Chengidy. Very cute to see a Russian one after all the western ones I’ve seen!

On to Sary-Ozek, a run-down town with ruined wheat silo. There are many cafes and we need breakfast but they are all closed! Today is a Saturday, the Islamic holy day, so the pace of life is pretty slow. Beyond here, just short of Taldykorgan, we had our breakfast at a wedding-reception sort of place. John and me have been going four hours and done 240 km before breakfast! Excellent borsch, five meat dumplings and a pot of black tea. The local policeman came in, having seen our bikes outside and was very keen to get himself photographed with us and the bikes. Readers should know that when we appear, it is as if spacemen have come to town, both because of our motorbike clothing, and the motorbikes themselves – neither of these are like anything ever seen by the locals before.

After (= north of) Taldykorgan is a fully operational fighter base, with fighter planes in earth-covered garages set into the ground. The road went east and the landscape was then like one vast field, but triple rows of trees divided it up into equal, large areas. this was at 45 25N, 78 55E.

I stopped to photograph some sort of ecological monument, of someone hugging a tree and a caption that in 2010 the time was 12:37:00 (I do not know in what context).



But, to give you the reality – like most things here, the monument was awash with plastic litter and horse shit.



The bike nearly ran out of petrol but I found a garage in time, and put 16.6 litres into the tank (it is supposed to hold only 16). The 4WDs come after all the bikes and carry spare petrol, but one prefers to avoid the embarrassment of having to avail oneself of this facility, with its concomitant sarcasm and derision. A bit of rain fell but not enough to bother with the wet-weather clothing, the temp is like 36 degrees and it all steams off. The bike engine did not overheat, but toward the end of the afternoon it developed vapour locks (the petrol BOILS in the feed pipe, fuel pump or some other metal part, the engine stops from fuel starvation but re-starts after 1 second)

On beyond Sarkand onto a totally flat plain of the great Kazakh Steppe, so it was hard to find a campsite (ideally it should be behind a hill so it is not visible from the road). Even the telegraph lines leave the road and run off across the steppe, there are no trees and you’ve never seen a landscape so flat. More of this tomorrow – with another special Cold War feature of interest – but this has been the first day of our seven-day run into Irkutsk, still 3,000 km away. Here is the camp at sunset.


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This bush camp was close by a swamp with 2-metre tall grasses, so there were many sandflies and mosquitoes. As I went into the tent to sleep I realised I was covered in these, so I ran around flailing my arms and then dived into the tent, bringing ‘only’ 15-20 of them in with me. I could not sleep for the bites, so I played the mp3 player, put the torch on and spent half an hour squashing all the mosquitoes in the tent. Then I could sleep

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Old 07-30-2012, 04:18 AM   #72
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Day64 – Semipalatinsk
July 28, 2012
This day, completely unexpectedly, I came across yet another sight TO DIE FOR. When I have time to compile a List of Wonders of the trip, these will go in a category above the “A” list – and there will be half-a-dozen things at that level; the statue at Volgograd is one of them. Read on, to the end of the post, and share my joy.

Drove back onto the road and set off again on the vast Kazakh steppe. But after a morning on the flat, some hills appeared and we went up a couple of hundred metres in altitude. Two little lakes, very cute, in the hills as we headed towards Semey. The idea was to camp between Semey and the KZ/Russia border, that would make 500 kilometres travelled today, and we should get to Krasnoyarsk at a reasonably early time of day on day 67. Went past some Islamic tombs of odd shape. There will be very few Islamic mosques, tombs or anything after today.



Later in the day, there was a fog over the landscape. The curfew tolls the knell of parting day, the lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea, the fog is actually industrial atmospheric pollution, bleugghhh but it is nothing compared to what was done here by the Soviets….



We rode about 30 km out of town and camped in a birch forest, no doubt the first of many more to come. We entered the forest along a sandy track (I am getting the hang of riding the bike in sand) through a dense growth of plants, many of which were that old Naughty Five-Leaved Weed. Vodka flowed rather too freely – hey look, it is only $2 a bottle and cigarettes are $1 for 20 – and the camp site was considerably improved by one of us dumping 5-10 kg of the Naughty Weed onto the bonfire. If only the locals had smoked more of this, instead of testing all those silly bombs . . . . if the wind had changed, tonight Semipalatinsk would have been almost completely Palatinsk, instead of only halfway there. Here’s some of the guys discussing the finer points of motorcycling over the camp fire:



The ride leaders and camp cooks are also pretty cheerful:



And here’s Millsy with the steaks for tonight. He used to be a butcher. I also trained to be a butcher, but they fired me, because I kept sawing right through the table top. Oh just look at him, doesn’t he look believable? Would you buy a used car from this man?



Snoreville – my part of the camp, 50 feet from any other tent so I can snore as loud as I like.



Now, to the west of where we rode today there is a lot more flat Kazakh steppe, the map shows the location of wells and oases, and a large area north of Lake Balkash has no water at all. Here the USSR used to test its atomic bombs! Some hundreds or even 1,000 explosions pepper the area – we did not actually go there, as it still glows a bit. But I realised that the town name ‘Semey’ is the Kazakh name for the city formerly known as Semipalatinsk. All the Soviets’ atom bombs for testing came through here, and the town was obviously off-limits to foreigners, and was populated with the finest academics and engineers, and it ruled an evil atomic empire of its own, right down to Lake Balkash in the south.

In Semipalatinsk there is now a monument to those whose lives were ruined by atomic bombs. A mother and children shelter under a mushroom cloud, with symbol of the Uranium atom on top. The main bridge over the River Irtysh was built recently by the Japanese and is called the “Japan-Kazakhstan Friendship Bridge”. You can imagine that I am very emotional about this . . . Mama, put my guns in the ground . . . . The monument is called “STRONGER THAN DEATH” and I did not have the camera with me, so I have borrowed this photo of it from the Web:



And just imagine, today I was tooling around the dreaded Semipalatinsk itself, on my own motorbike! I am very glad that the world is moving on from those silly, dangerous times of wars and atomic bombs. The main protagonists, not really being at war, bombed their own countries, many hundreds of times; the British, however, bombed Australia. All traces of the ghastly business enacted here have now gone, except for this decaying town sign of the Russians – the only relic left here from those horrible days. And may it decay yet further!



In the circumstances, if I had to I would trade all my photos, all of them, for this one above. Check out the poem: “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair”
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Old 07-30-2012, 04:23 AM   #73
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Day65 – back into Russia
July 28, 2012
Third day of 7 from Almaty to Irkutsk. Up early again, and out of the forest along the sandy road – in sand, many riders fall off, even the most experienced ones – I fell off twice on the way in last night, but this morning I got out in one go. I am getting better at it!



Today we had another dreaded Border Crossing, but it went surprisingly well – only half an hour to get out of Kazakhstan, and 90 minutes to get everyone into Russia. We were then able to get in another 400 km of riding, ending up just past Barnaul. Here we found a campsite in the woods, quite nice really, well, adequate for our purposes as we took care to avoid the large pile of plastic rubbish in the middle.



There are bears in the forest, so you should not keep any food in your tent, otherwise you may find you have company in the night. It is a little bit cooler in the daytime now, up to 32-34 deg in the afternoon. You need a sleeping bag at night.

Today we saw an operational mobile ICBM missile parked beside the road. Big thing on horizontal trailer, many axles, raised on jacks and covered with a camouflage cloth. Several military vehicles in attendance. I have known and loved these things for years, but have never seen one before. I don’t know what use it is now, as the Cold War ended twenty years ago. But it was really weird to see it parked by the road. Photography was not welcomed by the armed guards attending it.



Oh look. This is the control cluster on the motorbike (with engine idling). The windscreen is white with dust, the cluster is held together by cable ties ever since I bent the bike on day 41, half the alarm lights are on, the word “LAMP” means the headlight bulb has blown again, the speeds above 120kph are obscured by sticky tape to keep rain out, as the glass is cracked. The fuel is very low, the engine is very hot and the atmospheric air temperature really is 35 degrees! After I dropped the bike on day 41 I was limping, but not so much now, although it is hard to walk over rough ground. So come on, old friend, take me to Magadan . . . together we can hobble down its main street.
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Old 07-30-2012, 04:27 AM   #74
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Day66 – to Mariinsk
July 28, 2012
I overslept a bit, but I had (dangerously) dozed off once on the bike yesterday, so I wanted to get in as much kip as possible. We started just outside Barnaul at the edge of the Altai Mts; the great river Ob flows through it. I did three hours and 240 km before breakfast – because, having overslept, I did not get any breakfast, only a mug of tea. It was a good road, well repaired by the Russians and stretches of it were new.

The scenery began as birch forest, became hilly or small mountains with fir trees and meadows among them, then to crops with hedges like Gloucestershire, and then back to low-Alpine scenery. Among the natural beauty is the occasional ghastly environmental disaster – the Soviets just could not resist putting a paper mill, cement factory or a smelter bang in the middle of a pristine area, and letting it belch smoke and contaminants.

A new road NE from Barnaul takes you to Kemerovo, missing Novosibirsk. This was easy to ride but when we got to Kemerovo – a ghastly industrial dump – we got lost. We were looking for the M-53 road to Krasnoyarsk, but the signs said Mariinsk 1, Novosibirsk 2, etc and I thought these were suburbs but in fact they ARE the distant cities and the 1,2,3 etc just mean follow this number on the signs. My GPS does not have maps for this area, it only shows one road to Krasnoyarsk, however the GPS shows Mariinsk halfway along that, even if it is not shown on our printd maps, so we finally found the right road.

Entering Mariinsk, on the left we saw a cute little Orthodox church with gilded knob on its blue spire, and on the right a cute little settlement of wooden houses up a hillside. Rding around a corner, we saw a cute little prison with decaying central building, double wooden fence and cute little watchtowers at the corners:



I thought it was derelict, but in the watchtowers were cute little armed guards and the fences are good enough to serve, even if a bit decrepit. The town itself was a bit of a dump but nowhere near as grotty as Kemerovo which has a highly visible coal mine. It has a river with a sort of beach, and some of the guys went for a swim:



The best view of Mariinsk, of course, is in the rear view mirror:



We rode another hour, to get 600 km done today, then camped in a glade in a forest by a river. We have come a long way north and although the temp reached 32′ again today, the sun was not so fierce, we didn’t need to hydrate as much, and it was markedly cooler when we went to bed. With only 1581 km to go, we are halfway to Irkutsk:

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Old 08-02-2012, 04:51 AM   #75
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Day67 – to Krasnoyarsk
July 31, 2012
Left the camp in the glade – only 320km to drive today, to Krasnoyarsk where we will have a HOTEL! But about 200km short of the city, a layer of smoke overlaid the scenery and although we thought it was the usual industrial haze, later we reckoned it was due to a bushfire somewhere far away, because the smoke did not get thicker over any of the towns, and it smelt like a bushfire. I would think that if the forest caught fire out here in Siberia, they would just let it burn.

With not so far to go, we arrived at our hotel at lunchtime. My room has a view over the Yenisei River, well, over one-third of it as there is an island in the middle:



After frantically showering and cleaning our filthy riding clothes – there were dusty stretches a few km long here and there, and worst of all there was no crosswind so you ride in a plume of dust from the trucks lumbering along in front of you, and it is very hard to see ahead to overtake them safely – John and me went out for a lunch, in a cafe by the bus stop, very nice. I ordered something random from the menu, my Russian is not THAT good, and got a sort of potato cake made from shredded pre-cooked spuds bound with egg and fried into shape, with a meatball filling the middle.

Being at the bus stop with a fair walk into the city we caught a No.1 bus and asked for the city centre. Many passengers offered help and a lively discussion ensued, of which we understood nothing, but a consensus was reached and we were then told where to get off the bus. The whole business amused the conductor and passengers greatly, they never get tourists here, it is as if spacemen had parachuted down from an Apollo capsule. In the centre I bought some mosquito spray – you would not believe how many of the little buggers there are, I inhaled 3 over breakfast – and we saw a group of teenage girls, busking.



They played very badly but we loved to see free expression in the streets, especially in the main drag, which is called Dzherzhinsky St, under the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky.



In Moscow, such a statue was one of the first things to go when the Communist empire fell – Dzerzhinsky made Stalin look like a reasonable person, he founded the NKVD (later named KGB) and his statue, 12 meters high, adorned the square outside the Lubiyanka. On day 29 we were right there at the Lubyanka in Moscow, looking for what had replaced the statue … well I just found out from Wikipedia: They are going to PUT THE STATUE BACK. I don’t know why Dzerzhinskhy is held in high esteem here in Krasnoyarsk, or indeed in Moscow or anywhere at all. Perhaps he played the piano, or maybe he was the life and soul at parties …. hey, what’s this?:



(answer: the Communist Party). Anyway poor Felix would rotate in his grave to see those happy girls singing Western protest songs in the street under his own manic, steely glare. Krasnoyarsk does not offer much else to the tourist, but there is this cute statue of a Man with an Umbrella:

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