Time to say good bye to Moscow and start our journey through Europe.
We crossed the border into Latvia and rode through beautiful countryside to Vilnius in Lithuania where we spent a couple of great days exploring the sites.
Lindsay had scheduled to have maintenance done on the bike at the KTM dealer. The steering head bearings needed adjusted and an oil and filter change were required.
Mindaugas, the shop manager.
We had arrived in Vilnius on their ‘Nation’s Day” celebrations which included a huge show case of local foods and crafts at an outdoor market.
Wandering through town.
After Vilnius we over nighted in Wyszkow, Poland on our way to Budapest.
At the hotel we realized all our sd cards had been left behind at the hotel Tilto in Vilnius. We were devastated….. fortunately we had backed up our photographs and could redo all the gps maps via open street maps.
We were also faced with the fact that the leaking rear shock was now totally out of fluid and we had not had any feedback from KTM regarding finding a dealer that might have the replacement part which was widely unavailable until the 20th of October. We continued riding as the roads were in good condition and being heavily loaded helped to reduce the bouncing affect.
Our ride to Budapest took us through and past many great villages with their impressive churches and meticulous countryside.
And then Budapest.
where we found a good room in the center of the food and shopping district and walking distance to all the tourist sites……and more importantly……secure parking!
After spending a few days in Budapest we rode to the Rimini Riviera on the east coast of Italy.
The weather shifted, telling us it was time to move on.
From Rimini it was off to Sienna with a stop for coffee in Valentino Rossi’s home town, Tuvullia.
The view from the patio of Rossi’s bar. We can only imagine the great victory celebrations that have taken place here in such beautiful surroundings,
In Sienna we found our B&B, Il Glicine, located just outside the gates of the old city.
The gate by our B&B.
Inside the gates, wares for sale.
Piazza del Campo
From Sienna we made our way via the walled city of San Gimignano
to overnight in Forte dei Marme before riding to Grasse in Southern France.
Hotel La Bellaudiere.
After an overnight in Grasse we traveled back to the south coast via small country roads.
and made our way to Monaco.
The roads were incredibly busy, and this seemed the most sensible way to travel!
From Monte Carlo we rode to Antibes, where we were staying on the South Coast.
Hotel Le Ponteil.
Enjoying the Mediterranean.
Exploring the old city
Visited the Picasso museum.
And then it was time to start our journey North to catch the ferry from Calais to Dover.
On the way, a visit to Carcassonne,
We took D roads.
Finally getting on to an Autoroute to make time to Calais.
We over nighted in Calais and caught a morning ferry to Dover.
And England awaits.
Leaving the Tajikistan/Kyrgyzstan border we rode towards Osh, having decided to bypass Sary Tash this time through. The weather was cold but we suited up in our electrics so the ride through the pass was beautiful and pleasant.
It appeared that the yurt encampments were closing down for the season and people were moving their herds and stocking up on feed for the winter.
The novelty of seeing all the herds on the roads was beginning to wear off as they became a regular labyrinth!
We arrived at our hotel in Osh and noticed five very clean bikes without any gear parked out front. Lindsay surmised it was a tour group.
First chore after unpacking.
The following morning at breakfast, as the guys were planning to get the slow leak in Tom’s rear tire repaired, the tour group arrived. Lindsay ended up talking to their leader, Urs, who just happened to own the well known shop and tour company MuzToo, where the guys were taking the bike. Small world!
Off to the shop to get the tire repaired.
The shop was well equipped and a mecca for riders doing all sorts of repairs. After getting the work successfully completed it was time for dinner out.
The next morning we were on the move again, making our way to Toktogul for the night before riding into Bishkek to see Tracy off.
Confirming the route.
Along the way.
The ride along the reservoir to Toktogul is still a beautiful ride.
Weather has warmed up and we are now looking for shade and cold drinks.
We end the day by lucking out and finding the much lauded……
We stop in and they have rooms for us. Shortly afterwards a tour group arrives….
We are asked to move into different quarters to make room for them. Not a happy time as we are hot and tired and have already settled into our rooms. Now we are to shuttle everything quite a distance in the continuing heat….sometimes the language barrier is a problem! But ultimately it is a great location!
The ride in the morning through Too Akhuu pass is incredibly cold (7 C) and we are under dressed.
Going through one of the small villages enroute Lindsay and Tom are ticketed by roadside police. Tom for speeding…..as we watched them set up the radar camera ……apparently they just knew he was going too fast…..and Lindsay for passing a semi in a no pass area…..once again…..questionable….but no talking our way out of this one…..Lindsay did manage to get the fines reduced from US$300 to 100!!!
Stopped for gas after that to fuel up, warm up and suit up! and lo and behold who should pull in…..
Then it was back through the tunnel,
Over the pass.
And through the craziness of the traffic and road construction into Bishkek where we spent a few days relaxing and shopping before it was time to say good-bye to Tracy.
It was now September 1st and time to continue our journey north to Moscow. It will take us a week of steady riding to get through Kazakhstan and Russia to reach Moscow (about 4,000 kms) with very little to keep us stimulated along the way. The tarmac in Kazakhstan is beautiful, but because of the vast empty expanses we had cross winds for most of the first day as we rode into Shymkent, a growing and modern city.
The next morning the guys decided we will ride to Zhosaly that night to shorten tomorrow’s ride to Aqtobe by 150km. Once again the roads were good but a lot of nothing to see and plenty of wind to deal with.
We arrive at Zhosaly.
We are booked into the Alm-Ata hotel. It is a welcoming, clean and simple place. We have our dinner of chicken stir fry, salad and french fries prepared for us before we retire. Tomorrow 950 km to ride to Aqtobe….and Lindsay is not feeling well this evening after his afternoon lunch…..
In the morning Lindsay is not feeling great, but good enough to keep going.
Early morning start.
Not much to see along the way…..an ageing soviet rocket launching site…..
a little wildlife…..
an endless road….
We arrive late into Aqtobe and Lindsay is not doing well. He started the day poorly and now with the long ride the exhaustion has pushed him over the top. It is decided to stay two nights here to get rested.
Fortunately we are at a good hotel with a coffee shop that makes great specialty coffees for Tom.
We left as planned as Lindsay had recuperated. Next we rode 475km to Uralsk, again through vast empty spaces.
We arrived into Uralsk around 5pm and checked into the Chagala Hotel. Nice place with a great little restaurant, “Hugo’s”, attached where we enjoyed a delicious tikka masal with a cold beer. While eating dinner another rider pulled in but we did not meet him until the next morning. Turns out he was Russian and in Kazahkstan on business. He liked to do the ride, but when he heard the route we had planned he suggested it might be a rough one…..literally…. the last time he had ridden it was four years ago and it was….but maybe it was better now?
We were not to be deterred….how bad could it be….
Well our first obstacle was about thirty clicks before the border crossing into Russia……construction.
And then after crossing into Russia…350 km of this from the border to Saratov where we stayed for the night
Although the roads were a disaster the scenery was improving with vast yellow fields of sunflowers ending their season and many farming villages dotting the landscape. We were back in green!
From Saratov we had a bit of a shorter ride, 378km, to get to Tambov for the night. The road continued to be be a disaster until we were about 100 km from the city at which point it improved
The next morning when Lindsay went out to check up on the bike he found oil leaking from the rear mono shock. Not great news. He was already needing to have the steering head bearings tightened, so now we had to start thinking about getting to a KTM dealer to have things looked at. On that note we packed up the bike and started the last leg of our journey into Moscow. The ride in was uneventful.
Still great views on our way.
A quick stop for gas and a bite to eat before entering the city.
and check into our hotel.
We did not realize that we had arrived in Moscow on a weekend celebrating Moscow’s 871st birthday! We ventured into the city center in the morning thinking we were going to locate Red Square and the Kremlin, the first thing we encountered was security.
Once in the mood lightened and we were treated to a host of events presented for the public.
And to Tom’s great joy, he could once again count on good coffee on a regular basis.
After enjoying the sites we wandered into Red Square.
After enjoying the entertainment, coffee and a bit of shopping it was time to go back to the hotel to watch the start of the moto gp. So off we went in an urgent stride to meet the 4pm start time, our time. But alas it was not to be. In our rush to get back we found ourselves in the middle of a pension protest in Pushkin Square. The Kremlin was passing new age requirements and these people were not impressed.
We tried to find our way back out, but as we were looking the police started to join batons enclosing and moving the crowd inwards. In the chaos Lindsay, Tom and Marian became separated. Marian and Tom met up across the street having crossed through the police line before it became solid. But Lindsay was nowhere to be seen.
Marian and Tom figured Lindsay had found his way out via a underground route, so they went back to the hotel to meet him. Sure enough he was there and had been directed to exit via underground passage. Our bit of excitement for the day!
Needless to say we missed the start of the moto gp and had to watch it later that evening, then it was off to ‘Tilda’s” for a great meal where we discovered Edamame hummus…..delish!
The next day we went back to Red Square and then wandered through the Kremlin grounds.
That evening our plans of caviar and champagne ended up with very good Italian. Our last dinner with Tom as he was leaving in the morning to make his way home, back to England.
We are staying in Moscow one more day before starting our journey into Europe. So the following day we wandered through more of the historic areas, wrapped up a few loose ends and prepared for our departure. Timing was right as the weather was changing and Fall was in the air.
It has been a great journey to this point, and now we are off on our way home.
Our original plan for Tajikistan was to ride the Pamir Highway to the turn off west of Alichur to the Wakhan Valley. This would take us south and follow the Panj River through Ishkasim and end up back on the Pamir at Khorog. From there we were going to ride to Dushanbe and then take a direct route back to Osh in Kyrgyzstan. However, no where in our research did we find that the border crossing on this route was closed to foreigners! We therefore decided to ride the Pamir west to Khorog and then return via the Wakhan Valley and retrace our route to Osh. At least this way we were able to ride both the Pamir Highway and the Wakhan Valley.
After passing painlessly through Kyrgyzstan customs and immigration it was time to see what awaited us in ‘no man’s land’ before the Tajikistan border. We had been told to expect a very rough go of it and virtually impassable if wet. We were lucky as the weather cooperated and we could set aside our concerns of not making it….. but once through there was a little seed of worry tucked away about the possibility of rain on our return. We would have to deal with that if it happened.
Once through no man’s land it was on to the Tajikstan crossing….no pictures allowed….but it was in worse condition than the ‘no man’s land’, and definitely debatable if it was rideable in wet conditions.
Across the border and we are on our way.
Spectacular scenery welcomed us.
Then we lite upon Lake Karakul.
Home stays available.
We were running into Mogol Rally participants quite regularly now. This was a surprise to us as we thought it was late in the Rally. But the end date was actually mid September.
We climbed Ak-Baital Pass reaching 4655m and were becoming aware of the affects of altitude. Walking a very short distance was exhausting.
But then,and what was becoming a norm and never failed to impress us, was this at the top of the Pass.
Murghab is the last “city” on the Pamir before the 300km stretch to Khorog. After looking at two places we found the East Pamir Eco GuestHouse. The beautiful women that greeted us upon our arrival.
After being welcomed and settling in, the first order of business was to acquire cold beer. The proprietor of the guest house hospitably took Marian and Tracy to the local market to pick up snacks for the road and then on to a pub to pick up the beer…..not really cold as all electricity in Murgab is provided by generator, so most homes and establishments only have electricity for reduced hours…..our guest house had electricity from 8-11pm…just enough to get all the esentials charged.
We were joined at our dinner of fried rice with bits of mutton, tomato and cucumber salad, dry bread,fresh fruit, black tea and beer by two Russian Mongol Rally participants who arrived exhausted and disgruntled as they were having huge mobility problems due to low clearance capabilities.
Most guest houses have their toilet facilities in an outside situation, and the Eco House was no different. The one positive it afforded us was a walk outside into a night sky with not a hint of artificial light. It allowed a look at the milky way and the constellations as ancient astronomers would have experienced. Every element crystal clear.
The following morning we bid farewell to the Ralliers…..
and our hostess
fuel up the old fashioned way…..
And leave Murgab.
and to a check point for our Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region permit before continuing.
The Pamir Highway is paved for the most part however, in many cases the gravel portions are better than the asphalt. The riding is tedious as you must continuously scan the road ahead for potholes etc. Leaving Murgab the first 100km is rough pavemet, the next 120 km are generally rough gravel and pot holed pavement, then about 80km out of Khorog was good road….comparatively…..until about the last 10km where the road was being recreated due to a dam construction.
Often the gravel road is better than asphalt. When waved to pass by a trucker on a blind corner you have to have faith!
A beautiful spring in the otherwise barren desert.
About 80 kms from Khorog the road started descending from the 3,000m + that it had been at. Villages started to appear along side the Gunt River and the occassional wildlife sighting.
We arrived in Khorog with the name of a hotel recommended to us by the “Alberta Guys” that Tom and Lindsay had met in Inuvik and again in Russia …. the Pamir Alibaba Hotel. It was difficult to find as we did not have the coordinates and Lindsay was falling ill rapidly. After much searching and going in cirlcles we found our way from passers by. We had missed a turn off the main highway. So back we went.
The hotel was a welcome site and the owner was an amazing host.
Lindsay disappeared for two days and Tom for 24 hours, and it turned out to be a bit of a mixed blessing, as we extended our stay to three days, by which time everybody was rested and ready to ride the Wakhon. Because the hotel had been so difficult to find Tracy offered to help Jusef update his booking.com site adding coordinates and helping organize the booking system. Jusef went out of his way to make sure we were well taken care of taking us into town as needed for groceries, and at the end of our stay joining us out for dinner and dance at his brother’s cafe.
Time to say good bye after a great visit.
We left for the Wakhan Valley due south of Khorog in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region. The road follows the Panj River which separates Tajikistan from Afghanistan.
We were on our way to Hisor for the night via Ishkashim. Jusef has booked a guesthouse there for us. The scenery was spectacular. The track on the Afghan side of the river was in stark contrast to the relatively good road on the Tajik side.
We reached Kozideh feeling pretty positive about the riding conditions. We stopped at a roadside cafe/ hotel for a cold drink and were immediately scouted out by a young girl. We offered to buy her a drink, but she was just interested in seeing us. Shortly, her younger sister joined her, and as they interacted with us the youngest girl started to enjoy the music the hotel was playing. Just the night before we had danced with locals and recognized the intricate hand movements.
About an hour after Kozideh the road conditions changed, welcoming us to what the Wakhon had waiting for us. First we hit lots of loose gravel, followed a bit further on by sand drifts, washboard and more gravel. This was to be the ride for the rest of the day to Hisor. To complicate matters, the wind was very strong at our backs and sand was blowing everywhere.
We’re finally near Hisor.
As night is falling.
We ask for directions from two young men, one with a cell phone, who calls the guesthouse and the hostess comes across a field to meet us. Tracy and Marian walk back to the house with her as Lindsay and Tom find their way by road.The guesthouse was very comfortable and although the four of us had to share a room with four single beds, the washroom was basically western, such a change from what we had become accustomed to. Unfortunately there was only a litre of beer to share amongst us.
The next morning we are off.
The morning did not start well as we discovered there was no gas in Langar so Tom and Lindsay returned six kilometres and found a fuel pump beside a scary looking tank with 92 Octane. We filled up.
Then it was back to pick up Tracy and Marian and start the ascent out of the valley. On the very first corner of the rough road Lindsay wiped out. No damage done except to reputation and we were on our way. This was to be a very trying day as the road condition was not good, but worse, both bikes were overheating and we had to stop repeatedly to let them cool down. This was a result of high elevation (3,000+m), a tailwind not letting the radiator fans do their job and continuous climbing. Then came the never ending washboard which rattled the bikes to no end. Luckily the scenery was still amazing.
After one last pass (Hargush at 4,344m )
We descend down to the Pamir Highway and asphalt.
Now it was time to get back to Murgab before night fall. We had already booked a room back in at the East Pamir Eco Guesthouse. It is so nice to be riding imperfect asphalt again, and even though we have ridden this road, we get a different impression seeing it from the opposite direction. Still amazing.
We arrive in Murgab and we have lost light.
We need to fuel up before locating the guest house as we are leaving by 7:30 am next morning as we have two border crossings and the worry of what is awaiting us in no man’s land……praying for clear skies!
We are lucky, the station where we fueled up last time seemed to have a resident owner. So bikes filled, and then off in the dark of night to find our guest house. We managed to find our way into the center of town but from there couldn’t quite figure out where we were. Marian and Tracy got off the bikes to have a look around when they were approached by a young boy. He pointed to the house, a stones throw away, whew! Turns out the boy was from the house and the owners had sent him out when they heard our bikes approaching. Nice!
A good night sleep and we were off as planned. The day started off alright, but then it seemed like impending doom. First we stopped on our climb out of Murgab (3600m) heading up the Ak-Baytal pass (4655m) to suit up into our electrics. It was cold….it felt like snow. We dropped back down to 3900m at Lake Karakul and encountered a tempest in a teapot over the lake.
Then we hit snow….a blizzard….at the top of the Pass.
But as we rode through….
Now it is time once again to say good bye to pavement for the remainder of our ride to the Tajikistan border.
We arrive at the Tajik border, it is not busy, and we cross relatively quickly…..without any money changing hands.
We leave Tajikistan and are now in ‘no man’s land’. We are keeping our eyes on the possibilities
We make it through with no rain…..and we are back in Kyrgyzstan!
We are in Kyrgyzstan……this can’t be the road to Karakol!
Nope…..this one is much better!
The road did improve and we enjoyed what sites we could along the way. The mists and rain added a different touch to the countryside.
The green valley in sharp contrast to Kazakhstan’s dry terrain and an indication of precipitation.
Being observed along the way.
And observing…..none of us immune to the wet.
Arriving cold and wet to a very warm welcome at Riverside Guesthouse in Karakol.
We are greeted with sunny skies for our departure to Cholpon-Ata on Issy Kul (lake).
Beautiful day for a ride. Lots of people out and about on the road and we are greeted with many high 5’s, waves and shouts.
We arrive at Issy Kul, a very popular destination for tourists, via the Northern route and spent two days at Maksat Guest house in Cholpon-Ata.
This beach is a five minute walk from our guesthouse.
We found great restaurants for dinner with excellent Western, Russian and Kyrgyz food and music……although translation of dishes occasionally left one a bit apprehensive.
After a couple of very relaxing days it was time to make our way to Bishkek. Kyrgyzstan, we decided, has the most erratic and chaotic drivers we had experienced anywhere in our travels…..and we came to find that it also had the most policed road we had ever encountered…..but it seemed the ticketing was completely arbitrary…..as almost every driver could be ticketed for infractions. But it was our turn to encounter the system, and were fortunate this time. As we were riding with cars passing us on both sides, close enough to touch us as they were having a look, with speeding oncoming traffic, we came around a corner to see Tom and Tracy stopped by the police. The policeman saw us coming and waved at us, Lindsay decided he didn’t mean us, as the car in front kept going, and we were not speeding. Marian was a little concerned that Tom and Tracy might pay the price of our misinterpretation……Lindsay was not concerned…..but a kilometre down the road a policeman had crossed the center barrier and was definitely waving for us to pull over……. which we did. The man was very friendly and told us we should have stopped previously. Lindsay was then summoned over to the police car on the other side of the road and given a stern warning by the “boss”. Luckily after much explaining and a handshake we were on our way. Tom and Tracy had been equally lucky with no fine. On the remaining ride in to Bishkek we realized that we had never seen such a concentration of “the law”.
Arriving at our hotel in Bishkek, a classic car greeted us.
We spent a few days at the Golden Tulip Hotel in the central area planning the next stage of the ride. Again we found a great little Coffee Shop where several planning sessions were held. Bishkek has a very European feel to it and was great to walk around. It is also well known for the its Osh Bazaar.
We left Bishkek on the 17th of August to make our way to Toktogul. The road out of Bishkek reminded us a bit of Indonesia, where the city just melds into village after village without any open highway. Very slow going. Once through that 100km and riding South we go over the Tuu Ashu (Flag Pass) 3586 metres, with a tunnel to traverse at the top.
Out of the tunnel and into a valley where sharing the road with livestock has become the norm. Guess who has priority!!
Fueling up we met a young Lithuanian man taking part in the Mongol Rally on this 50cc scooter…..to get through some of the passes in Tajikistan and Kazakhstan he had to unpack his scooter, ride up a ways, walk back down and retrieve his stuff and repeat. Arduous.
We crossed the valley where yurts were now becoming a common site along the way.
Through the next pass, Ala Bel 3184m to our overnight stay in Toktogul at the Rahat Hostel.
Shared coffee space.
The following day we make our way to Osh.
And we arrive in Osh after a very intense and long ride due to traffic conditions…….but the scenery along the way was amazing!
We stay one night in Osh in the Shanghai City Hotel, which had comfortable rooms but the worst breakfast of the trip. In the morning we wandered around a bit before packing up for our ride to Sary Tash.
On the way to Sary Tash.
And we leave for Tajikistan.
When we decided that Mongolia was not doable 2up, Marian decided to take the opportunity to visit Holland, something she had wanted to do for some time. She had the good fortune that her Aunt was able to open her home to her for the spontaneous visit.
Flights were booked from Ulaanbaatar via Moscow to Schiphol followed by a train ride the following day to Hengelo . Arriving in Hengelo hot and tired in the extreme heat, loaded down with a large duffel bag, a motorcycle helmet and a purse, it was a relief to be met by her aunt’s smiling face.
The first few days in Holland were spent exploring the countryside, and visiting friends and family.
Enjoying a cold drink in the beautiful garden of my aunt’s sister, Cora, an amazing painter, and her husband Peter.
Next Urk, a seaside fishing community, to buy fresh smoked paling and enjoysome fish and chips! Delish!
We returned home through beautiful farming areas with great produce markets and viewed some historic Dutch architecture.
As Holland was experiencing the same extreme heat as the rest of Europe, constantly in the mid thirties, we decided to spend some time at the seaside. We booked in at the Grand Armarth Kurhaus and caught the train to Schevening. We arrived on a cloudy day…..go figure….so decided after checking into the hotel we would visit the Hague for the afternoon.
The Kurhaus Hotel:
In the Hague we visited the Peace Palace, the House of Government and the Palace where King Wilhem and Queen Maxima work.
Tree of Prayers that welcomes you at the Peace Palace:
Peace Palace where the International Court is located:
Attendee at the 1899 Peace Conference at the Peace Palace
Next day it was a beach day. Still cloudy, but really comfortable and warm.
Then off to Amsterdam.:
A canal ride and enjoying the architecture, shopping, small coffee houses and canal vistas.
After Amsterdam it was back to the beach. A friend, Marijka, invited us to dinner outside of Waasenaar at Kataijk Beach. We arrived in sunny skies and extreme heat, but as we were eating a late afternoon storm came rolling in. We managed to finish before it was upon us.
The final days in Holland were spent back on the beach, enjoying lunches out, playing bridge and doing a little shopping. Wilma and I also visited my aunt Rine and met two of her grandchildren. She treated us like royalty, welcoming us with specialty coffees and home made almond tart, followed by a gourmet lunch of specialty cheeses, asparagus hors d’oeuvre’s, specialty breads, advocado salads and much more!. It was a wonderful visit, I only wish I had taken photos..
It was time to say good bye to Holland and Wilma and to rejoin the ride. Flights were booked, and I was on my way to Astana to meet Lindsay and Tom……
It was a great visit.
We were in Mongolia and heading south to Ulaan Baatar. The first thing we noticed was the erratic driving on the highway with passing on corners, hills, and blind spots. The scenery started to change to more hills and fewer trees. We also noticed the aftermath of the flooding that had taken place in many villages. We ran in to four riders from Europe going north and heading to Magadan. They were aware of the rains in Siberia and were concerned they would not make it.
As we entered the outskirts of UB we thought it would be clear sailing to our hotel near the central square, but the traffic really got heavy with 8 kms to go. It was gridlock and took us 1 1/2 hours. The bike over heated for the first time ever and we had to pull over within 1 km of the hotel to let it cool down.
The next couple of days were spent looking around the downtown area and finding out about road conditions to the west. The news was not good as the worst floods in forty years had caused major road outages in the northern half of the country and we were looking at sand in the south. A bike ride out to the Genghis Khan statue was taken by Lindsay and Tom, and of course in rain while Marian spent time becoming familiar with route conditions and options.
The very difficult decision was taken that Marian would fly to Holland for about two weeks while Lindsay and Tom would ride across the best route they could find to Russia. Marian flew out of UB one day after we left.
Tom and Lindsay left UB at ten am on Saturday and the traffic was light heading west. The objective was to ride to Tsetserleg where a guesthouse was booked. We were led to believe that this route was the best to give us options for different routes depending on weather and road conditions. The route north of the one chosen was shut down in one area due to hoof and mouth disease and further west the worst flooding in 40 years had washed out many bridges making the route impassable. During the ride we had to stop on an ongoing basis for cattle, sheep and horses on the road. We also saw a herd of wild camels. We started seeing colour in the steppe as the rains had brought out many flowers. As was becoming the norm wherever we stopped, a crowd would gather for photo ops. Overall the road was good and the guesthouse was reached by dinner time. It was very basic and Tom and I found ourselves to be the oldest guests by about thirty years. There was a good restaurant attached and chicken, chips and beer were enjoyed. One concerning issue during the day had been a recurring “general fault” warning being displayed on the bike’s instrument screen, accompanied by erratic fuel level and range readings. Everything else was working properly so no need to panic. Comforting was the fact that we were able to buy 95 and occasionally 98 Octane fuel (equivalent to 92 and 95 in N. America) every time we needed to fill up.
The following day we continued to head west, but immediately, as we left town, we ran in to about 10kms of very rough road. This was a harbinger of conditions to come, although the next few hundred kms were good. We found a beautiful river in a small canyon and stopped for a bite before we were inundated by a huge flock of sheep. A pattern was beginning to develop, as every pass we rode over the road was in real bad condition. We thought we would find accommodation in Tonsontsengel, but it was a dreary town without. We managed to buy some groceries and planned to tent. We rode on and the road conditions worsened and the weather deteriorated. We kept riding as we could see blue sky in the distance where we could set up camp. One of the route options we had considered was to take a turnoff west of Ton which would get us on the north highway running west to Ulaangom. This was supposed to be in good condition and minimally affected by the flooding. As we rode we did not even go by the turn off. We were now on tracks and although the GPS was showing a fork none was visible. Our decision had been made and we decided to head due south to Altai via Uliastay. We set up camp on a slope in a beautiful valley and enjoyed Tom’s package of chicken curry.
We awoke with the sunrise at 5 and made coffee. A guy rode up on a horse, greeted us and sat down. Tom offered him a coffee but he spotted some coke which he asked for. He chugged it, thanked us and rode off. When he had first appeared I felt like going and greeting him with “Howdy pardner”.
We headed south on the main road which was now a track and slow going. We made it to Uliastay by noon where we stopped for a coffee. We met a film crew director who spoke English well and he told us about the road south – not encouraging. We managed to get some 95 octane after waiting half an hour for the tanker truck to fill the holding tank, but all the food outlets were closed so we pressed on knowing that there were two villages on the map in the next 50 kms where we could get water etc. The road was now very rough and slow going and the two villages on the map never showed up. We were a little concerned as we had about 11/2 litres of water and 1/2 liter of Coke. We figured we had enough gas as our jerry cans were full. The track was extremely bad and often, when we came to a fork where two or more tracks diverged there would be a sign in Mongolian with villages on it but without our ultimate destination, Altai, listed. (It became a bit of a joke with all the forks encountered that we would quote Yogi Berra “When you come to a fork in the road, take it”) We resorted to stopping vehicles enroute and asking the drivers if we were on the right road and usually we were. We discovered late in the ride that a line on the GPS was actually a one wire powerline (or was it a telegraph wire??) and we could compare our track’s position with it and stay relatively oriented in the desired direction. The track was extremely hard on the bike as the last 100 ms were severe washboard and you couldn’t get enough speed up to glide over it because of potholes etc. We finally made it to Altai and the hotel on the GPS was a ruin. Luckily a woman stopped and directed us to the “best hotel” in town and it turned to be really good. We immediately headed for a well deserved beer before changing and cleaning up.
The next day was in total contrast to the previous one. The road was paved and the weather dry and hot hitting 33 deg. As we rode looking far ahead we thought we were going to hit dark clouds, but it turned out to be a vicious dust storm which was upon us in minutes and past us as quickly. We were able to have a great lunch in a newly built restaurant. We had met a biker in Altai who had recommended a hotel in Khovd but we could not find it. A guy at the gas station led us to another “best hotel” in town. It was new and after much discussion we were allowed to park the bikes in a private garage under the hotel. As the restaurant was occupied by a wedding party at first we could not get dinner. However the staff arranged for us to have dinner on the top floor outdoor patio. The waitresses could not have been more friendly and helpful. At C$50 for the room, this was more than double what we had become used to.
I chose the accommodation for the stay in Ulgii the next day. This proved to be a bad choice as were to find out. The ride north of Khovd was on good road for about 100 kms and then it deteriorated big time. The frustration was that there was a new road in existence but not yet open so the detour paralleled the new one and frustratingly would cross it every few kilometres. We were able to sneak on to the new one a few times and managed to save maybe 20 kms of rough stuff. We climbed to 8500′ and experienced rain, hail, high winds, 30 deg and 1 deg. all in a few hours. As rain had gone through recently there was a lot of mud and giant puddles. We met a Russian biker heading south who we spoke with briefly and he told us we would have to cross a stream ahead and to stick to the right side to avoid big submerged stones. The stream was fast flowing murky and about 20″ deep and was forded without drama. Following our GPS to the accommodation we were led down a very muddy and flooded road. We had to turn around and discovered that most of the town had been recently flooded. We eventually reached our ger accommodation and it was a gruesome sight. We found an alternative and went out for a great Mongolian dinner which cost C$9 for us both.
We set off for the border early and again the road was rough and went over an 8650′ pass. For the first time on this ride we put on our heated vests. We had a tea break in a ger and were ready to face the border. We were through Mongolian customs very quickly, but then endured four hours clearing Russian immigration and customs. Most of this was our fault. Long story short, we did not realize that we already possessed an export document that would have saved us considerable time. We might still have been there had I not approached a stern customs agent and asked if he liked Alexander Ovechkin. He did not respond favourably but a few minutes later he invited us in to the warm office and helped us fill out the document.
We had booked a guesthouse in Ongunday which turned out to be very basic with the loo 100 m out in a pasture. The ride from the border reminded me very much of BC. Mountains, beautiful rivers and lots of great camping areas, all full with Russian tourists. The ride north to Barnaul was scenic but the hotel we had booked did not have secure parking. A biker recommended the Siberia Hotel which turned out to be great.
On our way to the border town of Robtsosvk, we pulled in to a cafe and met Frank from France traveling on a Royal Enfield! As we were having coffee, four bikes pulled in and to Tom’s and my amazement it was the guys from Alberta we had met in Eagle Plains enroute to Inuvik in 2016! We spent an hour with them trading stories. They had ridden from Germany and were headed to Omsk where they were going to store their bikes until next summer when they were to come back and complete their ride – small world!
The border crossing into Kazakhstan was the quickest we have ever done – 45 minutes. Having the correct Russian documents helped!
We stayed in Semey and then rode north to Pavlodar. The road was ok but with many kms of detour, some through farmers’ fields. The following day also had many kms of detours on the road to Astana. We were riding what is to be a toll highway between Pavlodar and Astana, and the frustration was that we rode parallel to it and crossed it about every ten kms although the last 200 were good. The ride so far in Kazakhstan was very monotonous as the the land is totally flat as far as the eye can see. One pleasant surprise is that supreme gas is widely available and costs C$0.70/litre.
We arrived in the beautiful modern city of Astana to a great welcome by the hotel manager and waited for Marian to arrive. We walked around the center fo the city and enjoyed the architecture based on the designs of Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa. City is extraordinarily modern with clean lines, wide boulevards and very upscale coffee houses and restaurants.
On the 5th of August we set off for Almaty, 1200 kms away, intending to stay in Balkash about half way. Started the day with all monetary systems in the hotel down, so Tom and Marian set off to find an atm that would work so we could pay our hotel bill before leaving. Mission accomplished. We set off on an excellent four lane highway for the first couple of hours, taking us to Karaganda….then we hit a rough cross over from the highway to a busy two way road…still in pretty good condition, but very busy with many commercial trucks make progress and passing difficult.
We reached our half way mark and the hotel ‘Millennium” was found with some difficulty, as the gps had located the back of the building tucked into a conglomerate of apartment buildings. We sorted it and checked in. It provided the basics of food and shelter!
The following morning we left in hot conditions. Another long hot ride on our way to Almaty. Road conditions had also continued to deteriorate into wavey potholed road which made our progress a bit precarious.
There was not much to see along the way, although we were treated to herds of camels and horses.
Beautiful horses raised here as livestock.
We discovered that the region had been used by the Soviets for missile testing. Also there had been no shortage of factories along the way.
We were rode beside Lake Balkash along the way. It is a beautiful azure blue with a refreshing breeze blowing off it giving us some relief from the heat .
The road and the scenery remained constant with temperatures in the range of 37 to 39 degrees.
We did not reach Almaty until dark as the GPS led us down a crazy mix of busy streets to our hotel.
Two full days were spent in Almaty. The bike was serviced at Agent Orange and new tires installed. We had a cable car ride to a spot with a great view of the city.
And enjoyed some of the tourist attractions offered.
We found an amazing little Italian Restaurant a couple of blocks from the hotel and a few happy hours and dinners were enjoyed there.
And enjoyed the many green spaces that Kazakhstan has to offer.
Tracy had flown in from London and on August 12 we departed under dark skies for Issy Kul in Kyrgyzstan….
We got a late start out of the city as our main exit had been detoured by police. Lindsay and Marian were detained at a red light, and once on their way again reached a fork in the road with no Tom in sight. So even though both GPS’s had identical map programs, typically they would lead us on slightly different routes to a destination, this happened to be the case this time….not knowing who was where and who was out of the city first. About 150km outside the city Lindsay and Marian stopped to suit up into rain gear, when who should appear! Back on track.
We arrived at the Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan border in the pouring rain. Passport and customs went quickly but the road through no man’s land to Kyrgyzstan was in rough shape.
Our entry into Kyrgyzstan was cold and wet.
Leaving Chita we learned that Siberia was setting a forty year record for rain. As we were riding out we encountered an area where villages were flooded and areas cordoned off with what looked like evacuation activities.
Our 650km ride from Chita to Ullan Ude was basically dry, but lots of road construction, so we arrived at the Hotel Mergen Bator pretty tired. Staff there spoke English very well, and we knew we had arrived into a tourist area. We only spent the night as we were making our way to Olkhon Island, and trying to time our arrival for the forecast sunshine.
From Ullan Ude we travelled to Irkutsk, a long hard ride. 460km in pouring rain through many long muddy potholed roadworks. The rain gods were definitely not on our side. We arrived at our small hotel, Hotel Irkut around 6:30 dripping wet….the staff did not bat an eye. They were incredibly friendly, and once again spoke English well.
We woke to sunshine the next day and spent the day looking around the city and shopping for a waterproof covering for one of our dry bags whose zipper had broken. Irkutsk has a pretty downtown area, lots of coffee shops, parks etc and an area developed specifically for the tourist trade. We are seeing more busloads of tourists as we ride closer to Olkhon Island.
We left Irkutsk in sunshine and it stayed with us all the way. We lost Tom at a fork in the road and did not meet up again until the ferry crossing.
He arrived about twenty minutes after us. There are crossings every thirty minutes…. it was organized chaos!
We were a bit concerned about the road conditions on the Island as there is no pavement. What met us was lots of compacted sand and gravel, with tons of washboard, ruts and muddy patches.
It took us about an hour to do the 37km, arriving with the bike and riders quite shaken.
Olkhon Island is beautiful and worth the journey. There are many beautiful beaches and developing hotels.
When we first arrived at our accommodations there was a bit of culture shock as it all seemed a bit haphazard, but once we settled in it was great.
Leaving Olkhon Marian took a shuttle to the ferry to spare the bike and Lindsay. It was a most scary ride. The not friendly driver was speeding all over the road, bouncing close to edges, crossing over hills on the wrong side with all the passengers quiet as can be, just praying to get there .
Back from Olkhon to Irkutsk, weather good, spent the night at the same hotel in Irkutsk.
Then on to Ulan Ude for a night.
and then to the border town of Kyachta to spend the night before crossing the border into Mongolia.
We got to the border crossing by 8:15 am and were being processed by 8:30. Everyone was friendly, but as usual, the process for leaving one country and entering the next with a bike took three hours! Lots of doing things in triplicate, and waiting patiently for all the questions to be answered