Sunday, August 22, 2010
Today is going to be a real stinker (hot one)! J'ean, visible in my rear view mirrors, has already got his jacket almost fully unzipped.
The scenery along the road to Penza is bright and colourful with fields of sunflowers. Standing on the pegs of the bike there is yellow for as far as the eye can see, only to be broken by the occassional line or standing of trees. Its a strange feeling when you ride along next to these fields, all the flowers in straight rows, all facing the same direction - the sun. (maybe I've been in the sun to long?)
As we ride along my mind is preoccupied with things to come. Today is possibly the last day J'ean and I spend together on this trip, our paths from Penza split and we go our seperate ways. J'ean will be heading for Mosco and me for the Ukraine. As with everything that happens in our lives, things change. Originally I was going to Mosco and we both were going to the Ukraine. So if I missed anything worth seeing along this leg of our trip this is the reason.
It would seem that fate, if thats a good word for it had a time schedule of its own. We found a hotel in Penza but struck the old problem of registration - again. This time they did not want to accomodate us even after I rang Zhenya and got her to explain the situation to them. As J'ean and I stood around discussing the situation I got a text from friends in Tambov asking what time we would be there. I had previously said we would be there on this monday, not counting on the extra time we would spend with Alex and Zhenya.
Ok, lets speed things up..... J'ean and I decide to go our seperate ways.... now! Firstly we find a car wash to clean J'eans bike and then I head for Tambov, 350kms away.
About 15 mins after our departure I remember I have J'eans passport from trying to check into the hotel. SHIT!!!!
I can't ring him so I send a text message and head back in the direction of the car wash. Every bit of me wants scream and it takes all my will power not ride on full throttle, being pulled up by the local police will not help this situation.
Back at the car wash I see his bike there but no J'ean, 30 seconds later he arrives in a car. He and the owner of the wash had gone in pursuit of me and U turned when they had seen me coming back. J'ean had texted me and the car wash owner had tried to call me, of which none of the messages or calls reached me, even my text to J'ean never got to him. Passport returned I set off again thanking all the gods. Think off the nightmare had he ridden away from the car wash.
Apart from a bit of rain, which by the way stopped about the same time I put my rain suit on, the ride to Tambov is a good one.
6 July Tuesday
A wonderful friend who lives in Tambov had prebooked accomadation for me so the hassle of finding a hotel the night before was eliminated. This hotel also took care of the registration problem with no questions asked, which leads me to wonder why some hotels make a song and dance about the registration while others just get the job done. Personally I think its how much effort the front office person wants to put in.
Its a welcome relief not to ride today, the events and the late night ride of yesterday have me feeling a little wiped out. So with a good breakfast and beautiful day its a good reason to get some exercise and do some walking and have alook around.
Anastasia arrived just after 9am, so with my camera in my pocket and sunny's on my head we set off to see the sights of Tambov.
Do you know what my favourite thing to do when in cities other than look at the local attractions? Sit at a nice coffee shop (cafe) and enjoy coffee, sweet foods and people watch. It doesnt really matter what part of the world you in, on the whole people are the same, they like to be with friends and have a laugh.
The day was finished perfectly with a wonderful home cooked meal.
7 July Wednesday
Did I mention the fields of bright yellow sunflowers? Stretching, in some cases, as far as the eye can see. The lack of any type of fencing makes the sight even more impressive because there is nothing to divide the fields up. If you could convince the farmers here to put up fences you could make a fortune as a fencing contractor and the bonus is there is no steep hills to contend with.
After a relaxing previous day I am not wreck it all by riding hard for long hours and my aim is to make to the Ukraine now in one piece. Riding by yourself has its advantages but it all so has its down sides to. I am so used to riding with J'ean now that I still expect to see him in the rear view mirror and still make room for him when passing cars. The other thing about riding in pairs, if you are riding at the rear it is less stressfull than at the front. Why? No looking in the rear view mirror all the time to see if your riding buddy is there. The lead rider seems to have more responsibility when making decisions on the road..... its a bit like riding a tandem bicycle the person on the back gets it a little easier.
Finding a hotel on the outskirts of Belgorod was more good luck than management and it was also not late in the afternoon. I had thought to ride to the border but changed my mind when seeing the hotel and decided to make the border crossing tomorrow.
8 July Thursday
Toast.... (yes you know, bread cooked over a hot element or more commonly in a toaster).... for breakfast, so uncommon here in Russia and I dont really remember the last time I actually ate toast. But here are now toast came with my omelette AND it came with butter and jam. Amazing how the simple things in life can make you happy and start the day off well.
Just as well I stopped early for the night, the border is further than I thought and the road heading for it is before Belgorod and I would have missed the turn off had I been riding in the night, such being the signage here in Russia.
Before crossing the border I stopped to get some auto insurance for the Ukraine. Not sure if it is worth anything but better to have it. The girls selling the insurance are a comedy act on there own.
In the cue at the Russian border I get given a delaration form to complete - I had to redo this form 3 times before they accepted it. With the help of 2 english speaking Russian teachers, heading on holiday to Kiev, the rest went smoothly.
At least on the Ukraine side of things the forms are also in english. On the road to Kharkov I am not impressed with the thought of riding through this city and its while parked up looking at the map that a local taxi driver offers help. Next thing you know I'm back tracking down the road a few k's and heading out on a highway that detours the city. If you didnt know it before I will let you know now, the Ukraine is Flat!!!!.
So..... today is the day that the ride across Russia ends. Have we enjoyed it? Bet your boots we have. What made the trip so memorable... the People! I think that goes for anywhere you decide to travel. You can look at castles, forests, lakes, seas and cities but they are just things... things you can see on the internet or in books.... People can make or break your dreams and for J'ean and I they made our dream of riding across Russia a wonderful experience.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
The past four days have been a whirlwind of events, people and good times. If it wasn't for the photos I wouldn't be able to remember half the moments. So I dont think I will try to put anything in to much order but will tell of the experiences and leave you to look at the photos, which by the way are in dated order.
Alex arranged for one of his friends to give a us a guided tour of Samara the day after we arrived. We got to ride parts of the city tourists will never see and many that they do. We meet people from student artists to computer programmers, enjoyed pancakes and icecreams, iced tea, chinese tea, coffee and chocolates. Saw real rocket ships, monuments of revolution heros from days gone by and tributes to current sporting stars.
So much to see, so much to do and yet we took a day off to rest and sit in the sun. Late in the afternoon, Friday, Zhenya tells us to pack some things including the tents and put it in the car, we are going to the music festival this night. Both of us being under the impression we were going to the festival Saturday.
The festival is set in a forest and there are cars, tents, fires and people everywhere. The night was a fabulous mix of food, drink, laughing and new music (to us).
Not content with inviting us to stay with them and join in their weekend at the festival, Alex and Zhenya organise to take us to the military museum in Togliatti on Saturday morning. If you are looking at the pics, No, I could not get on board the submarine but had a great time looking at machinery from an era gone by. Also joined by Zahar and Kate we leave and head for another one of those rearaties here, good coffee. There are times when things are not entirely within ones control and these are often not bad times. Another couple joined us for coffee, more friends of our hosts, and between this group they organised and took us to some places few tourists will ever go. Arriving back at the camp of the festival (8.30pm) dinner was already being prepared and another night of fun began.
Our plans of leaving on Sunday got altered and the leaving is postponed until Monday. I wish I could say this gave me time to catch up on some writing and photo editing but I think even if I had another week this wouldn't happen, not here anyway.
Monday morning has us in very high spirits, amazing how a few days off can work wonders for the mind and body. Loading up the bikes is a leisurely affair interupted only by a large breakfast of pancakes and honey. Saying goodbye feels strange, we have known these wonderful people for only a few days and yet I feel like we have been friends for years.
........ I mentioned Alex is a policeman?
Remember the six thousand ruble fine I got?
Well, just before leaving a car arrives and a guy comes to the gate, the same guy (policeman) that I got the fine from. He walks up to me shakes my hand and appologies, in my hand is six thousand rubles.
Monday, July 19, 2010
Rules here it seems can be bent and broken to suit the needs of those who inforce them.
Waiting in the lobby, in front of reception, for a taxi to take us to 78 Karla Marksa so we can sort out our registration problem, the receptionist calls us over to take a phone call. The caller is 'the Specialist' who we are to meet this morning to sort things out. She informs me they have decided to wave the fine, there is no need to come and meet with her and to have a nice day.
You could have knocked me over with a feather, this is not what I or J'ean expected because there is always a fuss about being registered. Not being one to argue the reason, we just saved one hundred dollars, I inform J'ean its all sorted and head for the door before someone changes their mind.
J'ean wants a hair cut and its the first thing we look for before going to much further. With a little help from people on the street we find a hairdresser. For most guys getting a haircut is a 10 minute affair and 10 bucks, end of story. For the first ten minutes I found it hard to contain the laughter as I watch the hairdresser get J'ean ready for a haircut. After having his hair washed, upstairs, it takes another 45 mins to cut and trim his hair, one hair at a time I am thinking. Its only when the hairdresser produces a cut throat razor that my brain snaps to attention, trimming the sides and back of his neck with this lethal tool. So much time, so much entertainment and a haircut all for less than 10 bucks!
Chelyabinsk has a casual aura about it, like nothing is to much problem and time is of no real concern. It could be compared to island life in the pacific. Checking out some of the local attractions in the city centre like the life sized bronze statues and souvenir stalls we find our selves at the the other end one of the main streets (ul. Kirova) in front of a large green topped church. I have never really felt comfortable in churches but it is while standing in front of the main doors that an elderly woman motions for us to enter. The interior is collection of paintings on the walls and ceiling, we would have liked to take photos but it just didnt seem right somehow, so we are content to just look and wander around in silence.
Leaving the church and entering the open market next to it is the complete opposite. No solitude here, laughter, loud conversations, the clatter of merchants moving things and smells that sometimes make the nose wrinkle up in distaste. It is amazing the things you find in these markets, alot tools, untensils and things that for me are from a bygone era.
Walking back in the afternoon sun and enjoying the surroundings we notice something not quite in character for a Russian city - Subway. Need I say more......yum, yum, yum!
29 June Tuesday Chelyabinsk to Ufa
This morning is another great day for riding but for some reason the ride is a real drag. I have heard that this happens to riders and travellers who move constantly for extended periods of time. For me, I thought the time we spend in the places we stop was enough, obviously I am wrong.
The road to Ufa is scattered with road side souvenir stalls and small stands with jars of honey for sale. Not even the shiny strange looking thnigs at these places can encourage us to stop. There would be an exception if we had the room and that is for the fresh fruits stalls of summer fruits.
As we ride over the lower end of the Ural Mountains, more like foot hills if compared to New Zealand, the scenery is green and lush and easy to compare to the some of the roads back home. As we creast one of the hills and look ahead to the up and coming road, my only thought is....Shit!
There is bumper to bumper traffic and most of it trucks.....stopped. It would not be an exaggeration to say a couple of hundred vehicles queued and waiting, for what we dont know. Creeping past this line we notice a cafe off to out left and decide if we must wait for something we may as well do it while enjoying a cold drink. We loose the hot sweaty jackets, gloves and helmets and replace them with an ice cold beers and a cool place to sit in the shade while we watch we the other drivers cook in their vehicles.
The reason for the que soon becomes apparent as we ride down to the front of the line..... Traffic lights, put up for the control of traffic to cross a bridge on one side while repairs are made to the other. Being at the front now gave us a clear run all the way to Ufa, the moment the light turned green that is!
Turkish food is another thing I never expected to find here, but next to the Hotel Agidel where we are staying is a splendid turkish restuarant. I am sure we got a lot more than what was ordered.
30 June Wednesday Ufa to Samara (Merniy)
Vladimir, the guy we meet on the Transalp, had emailed some friends of his in Samara, consequently we recieved and email from them inviting us to come and stay. Strange thing to be invited to come and stay with someone you have never meet or even know. We accept the invitation and our original destination of Kazan is replaced with Samara.
About 100km out of Samara we get pulled up by the police, not entirely sure for what, but as we know there does not have to be a reason. In this case however it turns out there is. I had crossed a solid white line while passing a line of trucks and they it on video. It must have been a bit of surprise to them to see two of us stop when all they had seen was me. J'ean had passed but used the shoulder on the other side as we had got used to doing. Dont ask about the legalities of this, its not uncommon here. Anyway, what I had done was wrong and a fine had to be paid.... six thousand rubles..... it started out at three hundred US, then changed to nine hundred rubles and with a protest of shock from me ended at six, after all I did want my passport back.
As we arrived in Samara it starts raining so taking a shelter under some trees, we contact Alexey for directions to his place.
As it turns out it is easier for him to meet us and us to follow him and it is soon apparent why. Alexey and his family live about 50km out of the city in another area called Merniy.
We have both had a banya before but nothing like the the experience we got from our hosts here. After a delicious meal had out doors, to hot to sit inside, we are invited to have a banya and clean up. How to describe......hmmmmm...... lets just say to be cooked within an inch of your life then cooled, enjoying exotic herbal teas, recooked and then beaten with leafy branches from a tree is an experience not for all. Sleep came easy tonight :)))
Friday, July 9, 2010
Well, its a day for a mission, we are up early and Irina had breakfast made, then its on to the tram followed by a short walk to Alexanders place to pick up the bikes. I give my baby a quick wash so she looks abit more respectable for her new tyres :)))
The temperature dropped as we ride to Novosibirsk and before we get 100k on the clock its change of gloves time and not forgetting a quick bite to eat. Our only other unplanned stop is for wet weather gear, I think it rained hardest as we put it on.
On the outskirts of Novosibirsk we stop to make a call to our contact, Stanislav, for the tyres and get directions. Our goal ul. Lenina - Shock me! - Now to find it. Following the flow of traffic is generally a good start and the closer we get to the centre the busy it gets. It's while stopped at one point to get street names look at the surrounding buildings to get an idea of where we are that a guy walks up and asks "Do you need tyres?" Stanislav, who else would know? We had stopped not 500 meters around a bend from the Lenin statue on ul. Lenina. We follow him to a tyre shop to get the tyres fitted ( Had to give the shop guys a bit of guidence on how to fit motorcycle tyres, it didn't make the bill any cheaper) For me its a small load off my mind to have new rubber on the road. J'ean opted to only have a front tyre fitted and carry my old rear as a spare.
To make for even a better deal, when asked if he knew of a cheap motel, Stanislav offers us to stay at his place. Smiles all round from us. It's no wonder that Stanislav's number is in the posts on Horizons Unlimited. If you are riding in Russia and are in the Siberian area of Novosibirsk, requiring parts for your bike, it's likely Stanislav can help, just call +7 9139172953.
The front tyres lasted 7500km, the rears have more life in them and would probably do 10,000km. Would we use these tyres again? Yes, at half the price of Continental TKC80's (the benchmark tyre for adventure riding) they are great value, work well on gravel roads and perform better than we thought on tar seal.
24 June Thursday Novosibirsk to Road Motel
The view from Stanislavs central city apartment gives you a good idea how spread out and how big Novosibirsk is. To be honest I was a little apprehensive to come this city, nothing I had read about the place said anything very nice, however contrary to this Novosibirsk is a city under development and upgrade. The streets are clean (Russian standards) and are well maintained in the city area. It may not be every sightseers dream but there is still plenty to see and do. There is no shortage of choice for bars and restaurants and most are easy to find.
So...... our leaving Novosibirsk was a slow affair, 1.00pm saw us riding out. It took about an hour to clear the city and once on the open road we just cruise along enjoying the afternoon sun.
Bikes and planes...... must be a thing with us two, about 100k out of Novosibirsk we spot a huge helicopter, no guards, no fences, no dogs, just sitting off to one side of the main road. Damn it's big! Cant for the life of me think of its model or name.... good job for Google later. The 6 rotor blades are 29 feet long. No I didnt measure them they have the measurement on them.
Have I mentioned straight roads are boring...... cant even test the new tyres out. Why we stop where we do is never a plan, its usaully because the bums need a rest or the body needs food and drink. On one such stop late in the afternoon another motorcyclist rides by tooting his horn, we wave back, he hits the brakes does a U turn and pulls in beside us.
Meet Vladimir, Russian adventure rider, on his way to Vladivostok and over to Japan on a Honda Transalp. One thing we have noticed when we meet other motorcyclists on the road most can speak some english. For Vladimir to reach his destination in time he puts in 1000km a day..... I dont envy his backside. After exchanging contact information and wishing all safe travels we head in our respective directions. I know we are going the right way even without the use of a map because overhead are the jet stream trails from the aircraft going to and from Mosco.
25 June Friday Road Motel to Camp 9
It was by chance and good luck that we pulled off the road into a gas station that had a motel behind it the previous night. These motels mostly cater for the truck drivers and have restaurants attached to them to. The room we are given is the biggest room we have had and a double bonus, it has hot water.
It seems we have fallen in the routine of starting late and finishing late something that is completely opposite to what both of us are used to back home..... what ever works I say! With a breakfast of pancakes and coffee to start the day right we load up the bikes and continue in the direction of Omsk.
We do have one important job to do today other than make a destination on a map. Change the oil and filters in the bikes, they a little overdue. I know we got oil in Novokuznetsk but just had not made the time to change it. Roadside servicing is never much fun but with new oil and filters fitted, air filters cleaned and chain oilers topped up we are good for another few thousand kilometers.
An afternoon wind made riding a little more interesting, even the local crows had a job of it, if they stopped flapping their wings for a second they got blown back to where they came from. I think other drivers on the road found us a bit humerous as the cross winds had us leaning into them just to stay upright and on the road. The smiles and waves we get you have to see the funny side from there point of view.
Omsk - one word to describe it - YUK!
It is not an unattractive city but if you are on a motorcycle this is not a good place to be. It is very busy and not easy to navigate around because of this. Stopping only for fuel we leave Omsk behind and head up the M51 in search of a place to camp. The nights camp site would the best to date, the mosquitos more or less left us alone, maybe we need a shower.
26 June Saturday Camp 9 to Camp 10
During the night the temperature dropped and it got cold enough to make me put socks on. The morning however is warm and sunny and it is with no problem we sit around drinking coffee and tea waiting for the dew to dry off the tents and plan the route to our destination of Chelyabinsk.
The road is quiet and a complete contrast to the previous days from Novosibirsk to Omsk where it was almost bumper to bumper trucks. The reason for this soon becomes obvious, the road up ahead is closed by a gate with the un mistakeable sign of 'STOP' on it. As we approach a soldier steps out to meet us and asks where we are going and where we have come from. We inform him we are going to Chelyabinsk via Petropavlovsk. What we failed to notice on the map is Petropavlovsk is in Kazakhstan - Duh! Our boarder soldier is a friendly guy and shows us the road to take, detouring around Kazakhstan, to Chelyabinsk.
With the road being so quiet as we head back away from the boader its time for a little fun and testing the top speed of the bikes fully loaded, without the worry of the traffic police, is a perfect idea. Result.... 148km/h, with a tail wind we might get 150.
The detour through Nazivaevsk and onto Krutinka puts us back on the E30 . We know we are on the right road, the trucks are back! Ishim was our pick of places to stop for the night but as it would seem, this is not to be.We can not find a motel even after getting directions. Being found by the local police is a bit of a relief (in this case). We follow them to the local motel but there is no safe parking for the bikes, so taking there advice, we head on down the road to a place that is good for camping.
27 June Sunday Camp 10 to Chelyabinsk
The Ishim police are right the camping is great. No mosquitos at all, just a few ants and a couple of mole holes. Another leisurely departure, waiting for the dew to dry off the tents. Its going to be a cracker of a day, the breeze is already warm and the sun is bright and glarey.
As we ride I notice something with the roading crews, they are not working. Maybe the western side of Russia has Sundays off, pity the truck drivers dont have the same point of view. Yes I will moan and moan and moan about the trucks - Why? 'cause I can!
With an hour to go to get to Chelyabinsk our bums and brains needs rest. The road is monotonous, the temperature is well into the mid 30's and even the breeze feels like a fan bake oven. Chocolate bars dont stand a show, anywhere you pack them they melt and we have more hot water in our drink bottles than some of the hotels we have stayed at.
Chelyabinsk is a pleasant place to ride into and maybe because its Sunday the traffic is light. Having some more of that good luck we get, the motel we are looking for is not more than 200 meters from the place we stop :)))
There is loud, very loud, music playing from the central square beside our friend Lenin across from our motel. We can feel the thump of the bass through the 600+ mm thick walls and double glazing. Actually we dont mind the music it gives the place a feel of being alive and alot of the songs being played are chart toppers in the US. Yes they are in english.
The Yuzhny Ural motel, as stated in the Lonely Planet book, is a Soviet dinasaur, with is super wide corridors, worn concrete stairs and sloping uneven floors, well worth the stay.
We do have a small problem, again. We have not registered for over a week. After a bit of discussion and a few phone calls this can be fixed by paying a fine and visiting a 'specialist' who can take care of it all - but on Monday.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Just down the road from our hotel is the Regional Museum, feeling like doing something different we go and check it out. After a couple of hours in a museum you start to want something with a bit more life. Dont get me wrong the artifacts and displays here are great, some even have english translation which makes for a better appreciation from me.
Heading for the centre part of town where there is a very live atmosphere and food we find a KFC. Their menu beats the NZone hands down, different cultures, different ideas on food I suppose.
Back at the hotel we take care of the mundane things, washing, airing of the camp stuff, this makes the room look like a chinese laundry and I dont think the hotel management would be to impressed if they looked out the front of their hotel and saw our washing hanging on the balcony.
As the evening rolls on we jump on the bikes and take a quick look around the city, only to find that Friday nights the streets become race tracks and the drivers are crazy. Deciding we are better off on foot we park the bikes up and head across the road to Yenisey River strip where the action is not so life threatening and we sit and enjoy a couple of cold ones.
19 June Saturday - Krasnoyask to Camp 8
It is almost to nice a day to put on a helmet and jacket. Our gruff and expensive security guard gave some pretty good instructions on how to get out of the city and thus we had no dramas. With no real goal in mind other than enjoy the sun and the sights we cruise along, watching people cool off at every place there is water.
Just out of Achinsk we spied another field with Antinovs' in it. Within a few minutes we had found the gate, another barking dog and his security master. Introducing ourselves we ask if we can look at the planes, Sasha, the security guard, radios up another man and within minutes we are bumping along in a Russian van towards the planes in the field. This place is a treasure trove of of planes and machinery, Antinovs, Yak 52, dozers, snow machines and assorted engineering lathes and milling machines. Our escort is happy to walk around with us and with a little bit of english in his vocabulary we pester him with all sorts of questions. Having got the photos we asked for we say goodbye to our friendly watchmen and head up the road - about 500 meters, lunch stop :))))
Making camp in one of the huge fields - they are about the size of the average NZ dairy farm - I decide to test a theory.... My theory is, there is more mosquitos in a stand of trees than out in the open. The field we are in has small stands of trees scattered around the edges, J'ean makes camp within the trees and me just out from them. Result... less mosquitos out in the open. There are more flies but you can put up with them they dont want your blood.
20 June Sunday - Camp 8 to Novokuznetsk
This morning is a true indication as to the shortness of night here. At midnight last night the sun had all but faded on the western horizon, at 4am this morning it is an ever increasing glow on the eastern one.
The camp is about 30km out of Marinsk and not completely sure of the distance to Novokuznetsk, where we are to meet a friend of mine, our plans are again open. If we get there, we get there, if we dont we dont. The day day is another scorcher and our jackets and pants have every vent open and liner removed. Even the air going through the oil cooler is hot the legs making it necessary to move it regularly out of the way.
The road....one word....Straight! Cant say boring as there is groups and individual motorcyclists heading in the opposite direction, riding a variety of machines, with a constant wave or toot of the horn. Talking to a few of them at the stops we make along the way they have been at a Motofestival just out of Novosibirsk. We even get an invite to the next one in August at Kemerovo, somehow I dont think our bodies could handle the punishment of Russian hospitality at an event like this (vodka). Lucky our Russian visas expire before then.
4pm, we are on the outskirts of Novokuznetsk, I contact Irina for directions. She has offered us a place to stay while we sort tyres and parts for the bikes. Our first sights of this large industrial city are of the huge smoke stacks billowing smoke into the air and creating a haze over the city. Novokuznetsk is one of Russias large steel producers and makes about 70% of the countries rail tracks. The scene at the local river is the same as at Krasnoyarsk, lined with people swimming and enjoying the summer day. This also makes for slow going on the road as the people are coming and going from the river. It's with relief we arrive at Irinas apartment block and get the helmets and jackets off - heat, traffic, dust - not particulary comfortable.
With the gear unloaded its a quick ride over to Irinas parents place where we are to store the bikes in Alexanders, her dads, shed....... to our surprise he has the banya all fired up and ready for us. The heat from the day and then the banya, well, it damn near wiped us out.
Side note:...since being on the road both J'ean and I have lost weight, those banyas are also a reliable way to shed another kilo or two whether you want to or not! Bring on the chocolate bars.....
21/22 June Monday/Tuesday - Novokuznetsk
Our host and her daughter Vita take us into town and show us some of the local sights and I was surprised to see that this sprawling city has some very nice places and something I am still finding hard to get my head around with some of these bigger cities, a relaxed atmosphere. Maybe I am to used to Auckland and Sydney and expect the worst. In the middle of one of the places is an amuzement park, even on a Monday the place is busy and with a nice breeze blowing it makes for a relaxing time.
Our main mission for this stop is to source tyres and oil for the bikes. Sounds easy...... Not!!!! In the back of our minds we knew it wouldn't be as everything we have read about others travels across this country indicated they had DHL courier in the required spares.
Motorcycle forums are huge source of information and if you look long enough and use the right search terms you get what you want. Horizons Unlimited has thousands of posts from motorcyclists all over the world and it is here that we find the number of a guy to contact in Novosibirsk to get tyres. Irina managed to get us to the local bike shop to get oil but they didn't stock much of anything and tyres are a six month back order. We had her ring the number in Novosibirsk and within a couple of hours all was arranged. Happy campers we are.... :))))
Click here for map
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
The morning is cold and windy as we pack up the bikes and no else is about, cant blame them. Having the fresh air run through me is a welcome relief. When looking for a place to stop and eat.....Rule of thumb here - It does not matter what the place looks like, if truck drivers are stopped there you know the place has good food. This morning is no exception the place looks run down outside but there is trucks parked up so we pull in. The inside is warm and clean with smiling faces and did I mention these places are cheap too. Inside security monitors mean you can watch your truck or in our case the bikes outside while you enjoy your food.
I changed my gloves for the winter ones as my fingers are frozen, never thought I would actually have to use them. Even the cold can't detract from the scenic beauty of the lake and surrounding hills. We are following the lake around is southern shores as we head to Irkutsk. By the time we stop for lunch the wind has dropped off and the clouds gone bringing back the sun and the warmth.
Irkutsk - another vibrant city of people and traffic and finding our way through was hectic. Our destination is not Irkutsk but the small tourist town of Linkvanka on the western shores on Baikal. As if in a movie and being played on cue another helpful motorcyclist rolls up on a Yamaha 850 turbo and guides us through the maze of interesections and on to the road which leads us to Linkvanka.
This place is what J'ean was expecting to find in Ust Barguzin, boats, hotels, tourists etc. J'ean goes into the local info centre to some ideas on accomodation and sights to see while I stretch my legs and let the blood flow back into my bum. Along the dock side are an assortment of souvenir stands, the water is like glass and the boats sit perfectly still in there moarings.
Returning with directions for accomodation that had our budget in mind, J'ean shows me on the map and we go in search. Its while looking for this recommended place that we meet a couple standing in front of there place and show them the map and ask if they know where it is? Instead of directions we get asked if we wanted to stay at there place. Nikoli and his wife run a homestay type accomodation and the place is a maze of rooms and stair cases, you would never have guessed from the street. With his VW Passat parked outside and our bikes in the shed we go off to explore this small tourist haven.
Of all the places we have been this is definitly the only place we dont stand out, everybody here is a tourist and you can not be pigeon holed by the clothes you wear or the way you look, provided you dont open your mouth.
Kebabs for me and smoked fish from the lake for J'ean followed by a delicious russian icecream that had mini marshmellows in it.
We hit the 5000km mark today.
16 June Wednesday Linkvanka to Camp 7
Waking up in a room that has a homely feel is a nice change to the drab interiors of cheap motels or the confined space of my tent. Amoungst the other guests staying here are a French couple who we meet at the breakfast table. Nikoli is getting ready to run them back to Irkutsk to get back on the Trans Siberian train, more train travellers. I may look into this train trip at some point in the future but only as far as Ulan Ude, apart from Khabarovsk there not much past this point that has a lot of interest to me.
Leaving Linkvanka our plan was to get lunch in Irkutsk and have a look around. The traffic and roading suggested otherwise even with the help of three local guys, who suggested we follow the cable lines of the trolley buses. Lunch ended up being a late affair at a diner on the outskirts of Irkutsk. It is at this diner two young boys, maybe 6 or 7 years old, ask us where we are from. It's amazing, they cant speak english but the way they spoke Russian and phrased their questions, we understood them, it was a delight to talk with them, they too are on there way to Moskva (Mosco)
Not all days are full adventure and sightseeing while you are on the road. Some are just getting from one place to another but if you remember that it is a road trip, the things you see along the way are often just as good as stopping for hours in one place. Think of them as a collection of small skits (like a 10 second movie)
Here is a few of mine.......
Power pylon in the middle of a fesh water pond, people swimming in it....imagine a power short to earth.....Bzzzzzzz
3 sports bikes flying past at some high speed each giving a toot or a wave, then parked up on the side of the road, waving as we go past......
Guy and a girl parked on the side of the road, she sees us and starts jumping up and down and clapping.....
Kids in the small towns running to the edge of the road to see you and wave......
Road signs that point you in the wrong direction.......
Life is full pictures you just have to look back and recall the moments sometimes.
17 June Thursday Camp 7 to Krasnoyarsk
This camp site has the biggest and hungriest mosquitoes we have ever seen. We broke camp in record time and didn't even make a coffee.
You know the rule of thumb thing about the trucks..... we stopped at a small cafe and parked out side on display, sort of, where two old classics. A WWII Russian Kaz and a Russian Chev look alike. (Ok so I dont know the name of it)
Inside the diner all the tables where getting served food, although no one was sitting at them. Thinking that a wave of morning truck drivers are due in we ask if we can order. We get a table out ton the verandah and it's not truck drivers going in but women with scarves over their heads. Its not until I see a couple men with small caps on that I realise it is a communial breakfast for a religious group. Confirmed by the prayer they were holding outside as we leave.
As we travel across this great country, there are many things we see that are not so good, I for one am not going to critisize nor am I going to try and remember them for every place has its downside. However.... Kansk... will be forever stuck in my head as the worst inner city roads, worst signage its all but non existant and worst path through the city. Kansk is also the base for a fleet or squadron, what ever you would like to call them, of Migs (Russian jets) Up on a hill and very visible from a distance are the radar and communication dishes and right beside the exiting road is when you see the tails and other parts of the migs parked. Explosion bunkers obscure a full view. We both decide it is not a good idea to stop and take photos!
Krasnoyarsk, sits on the banks of the Yenisey river and is quite spread out, in fact when you look at it when coming in you wonder where to go. Sitting at roundabout interchange our first local helper arrives. Pulling up beside me asks if I have a light for his cigarette. My first thoughts are 'Ya ne kureet" I no smoke but instead of talking I hand him a cigarette lighter from my tank bag. Our local smoker just happens to be an off duty policeman and happily puts onn his hazzard lights and escorts us to town. This brings to us our second pair of helpers a husband and wife (please excuse the fact that I dont remember all there names) who while speaking a little english, decide it is also easier to show us to our destination. The motel we are looking for is temporily closed but at least now we have a reference point to use with our map in our Lonely Planet book.
I dont know what the reason is but the motels in Krasnoyarsk are all but fully booked and this is where our third saviour comes in. Although helping us was not his first intention it was certainly the biggest effort. At first he was just curious and asked a few questions and then asked if we had any New Zealand coins which I gave him a $2.00 one and he left quite happy only to return 5 mins later and help get us sorted with a motel. Two hours of his time and a lot of bargining had us a room at Hotel Ogni Yeniseyya right across from the Yenisey river.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
I am sitting here looking out of the hotel window, 9.45pm, in Ust Barguzin on the shores of Lake Baikal reflecting on the events of the day and watching kids outside in the street. (Sun is still shining)
Those emails we sometimes get saying 'Remember when ......blah, blah, blah' these mostly apply to people who grew up prior to the eighties. The kids here ride old bikes with no helmets, play in the dirt with toys and sticks and have a dog or two hanging around them and are growing up learning lifes lessons by living them. Enough on the reflections, look ahead, there is plenty to look forward to.
The ride here was anything but boring and the road was a challenge in a few places. Our first sight of Lake Baikal was just before Turga. Riding along with trees on both sides of the road it was not immediately visible and it took a few seconds to register that the blue through the trees on the left was the lake. Just the simple fact of standing on the shore looking out over the lake was quite exhilarating. I want down play it by calling it .....Just another lake...., it is the deepest and largest fresh water lake in the world and holds about 1/5 of the worlds fresh water. Riding down the road a few kilometeres and there is ice still floating on the surface and the surrounding air temp drops a degree or two.
Riding into the town of Turga and down to the lake front, the shores are sandy, there is people out lying on them and cooking BBQs. To my amazement there is two kids swimming - I shiver at the thought - there is only one way I like my bathing water - HOT!
Riding up the road, if thats what you call it, I have seem farm tracks that are in better condition, to Ust Barguzin a town of reasonable size and is the stopping point for the road north. You have to board a river barge to be ferried to the other side to continue. We found the local hotel and the place is very pleasantly presented. Our room is a large 5 bed place, we can spread gear out and still have room to move. Ust Barguzin is not quite what J'ean expected. Still farely remote here and tourism is not a major part of the the towns life.
13 June Sunday Ust Barguzin to Tolbazhika
Breakfast was at a small place down by the river where the barge is used to ferry the people and vehicles across. The bikes usually draw some sort of attention and this morning is no different. We are now used to having one sided conversations, they do the talking we do the nodding, and often email addresses are exchanged. The day bright and sunny with barely a cloud in the sky, making for a perfect day to ride.
When we arrived back at the intersection that goes back to Ulan Ude or onto Irkutsk we couldn't decipher which was the road to Irkutsk. We knew the road to Ulan Ude and the road we had just come back on, that left two others, with no distinct signage as to where they go. No problems if your a local I suppose!!
As if in answer to our question along came two local motorcyclists on Urals. Stopping and introducing themselves they offer to ride with us to the river. Not knowing why we are going to the river but understanding that they are going to show us the way to Irkutsk. Everyday is an adventure :)))
As it turns out we need to cross the river on one of those barges they use to ferry vehicles across. We would never have found this had they not turned up. Many thanks to Motopirates.
Back on the road to Irkutsk we stopped in at Kabansk for food and drink to camp the night, well we thought we would camp. A familily of 3 help us with directions to a place they know that is cheap and just up the road. It took us a little over an hour to get there as we took the scenic route. No not lost.... we missed our turn off, the point is we still got there.
The place is like a backpacker accomodation and the people that are there are quite young and already enjoying a few drinks and food on the outside tables. The guy we meet can speak a little english and organises a room and food for us.
Russian hospitality got the better of me and it took me a day to recupe.... bloody vodka!!!
Saturday, June 19, 2010
The bikes got a bit of a birthday this morning, over above the normal checks, we replaced the filter skins (covers over the airfilters) as both were quite clogged with dust from the last couple of thousand k's. Another item on the bikes that has proved itself is the Scottoiler. If you dont know what one is dont worry, just nod and agree! The two DR's have performed exceedingly well and we are both very pleased with them.
Midday sees us moving out and heading towards Ulan Ude. Remember it does not get dark here until 10.30 - 11.00pm and setting up camp at 8.00pm is not an issue.
We manage to leave Chita without doing our usaul once around the city block to find the right exit.
If it was not for the pics we take I would forget what happens during the day. Mind you, that could be a result of having to listen to myself sing along those mind numbing straights.
Most of the towns and villages we pass have the remains of some large concrete building crumbling away and giving the surrounding area a look of abandonment. Its these broken remains that got me to thinking "Why this is?"
So here is my thoughts.....They are what is left over from the Soviet era. When it all collapsed so did the work or what ever business was carried out in these buildings. The windows and doors and anything else of use got removed and what remains is a crumbling skeleton..... Well thats my theory!
The true highlight of the day was seeing a large biplane parked in the middle of a field, just out of Khilok. Being nosey, we pull off and ride quietly up towards a small house that over looks the plane. A solitary figure appears at the door with a couple of barking dogs. Using sign language, aint getting off the bike just yet, those dogs look hungry, I ask if its ok to look at the plane. The mans face opens to a small smile and nods his head. We ride off towards the plane with the two dogs stopping about half way between it and the house.
J'ean informs me it's an Antinov, Russias version of the DC3. This plane is still in service and the field is actually a runway. With an 11 cyclinder radial engine producing 1000hp I am glad I aint paying the fuel bill. We return to the house and with out getting bitten have a bit of a chat with the guy.
The nights camp site was on higher ground and over looked the road. Even up here the mozzies are out in force and will even penetrate clothing....... scratch, scratch, scratch
10 June Thursday Camp 6 to Ulan Ude
Its overcast and spitting, apart from being a tad sleepy our spirits are not dampened.
Riding an over weight trailbike down a wet and soft hill is a quick way to find your balance first thing in the morning. With alloyside panniers mounted it is not recommended to put your feet down while moving, once is all it takes to serve as a lesson. As with riding any four wheeler always keep your feet up.
The road going to Ulan Ude is very characteristic of New Zealand roads, twisty and bumpy and its a comforting feeling to a small degree. The towns along the way are brighter and are in better kept condition, showing a little more pride in themselves and the ones on the outskirts of Ulan Ude show signs of growth with new houses being built. The shoulder of the road is sandy and gives the area a resort location type look, you almost feel like you have arrived at a beach.
Inner city Ulan Ude - cars, trams, traffic lights and people. Stopping at a parking area which happened to be right out front of the main Square, the same square that the largest Lenin head dominates at 7.7 meters high, we try to get our bearings and locate a motel. While sitting there looking like a couple of lost motorcyclists two guys wonder up and introduce themselves, Marcus and Marcus. They are from Switzerland and along with two other friends are riding around the world using 2 Honda Africa Twins and a landcruiser support vehicle. www.witheastinmind.ch
We bump into them again not fifteen minutes later, they are staying at the same motel we are booking into - Hotel Buryatiya - this place has HOT water :))))
11 June Friday Ulan Ude
We found out what Kasha is today at breakfast - steamed rice with butter on top. Dont know unless you try but I dont think I will order it again. It did go well with the omlets.
Keeping everything up to date, photos, email, blog all takes time and by 1.00pm cabin fever has set in and we go in search of a real coffee, something Russia lacks seriously. On our previous evening out walking around we spotted a coffee shop named Marco Polo and this is the place I am bee lining for. You can smell the the roasted beans as you climb the stairs and the decor of the place is very warm with dark furniture and creme coloured walls. It has to be a franchise company from America or Europe as the menus are also in english and they make all the different styles you would expect. Me, simple, Americano and for J'ean, Mocho Chocolate. Sitting there enjoying our drinks I notice an instrument I have not seen in years, a sextant, sitting in the window box. (Sextant - for those not knowing - lets just say early model GPS for sailors)
Checking out some of the local sights we end up at the Sagaan Morin Shopping Plaza. Like all malls its full of nice stuff you never knew you needed until you see it! J'ean was hoping to buy a charge cable for his camera, yes you can get one, it comes with a new camera. Leaving the Plaza we are a little disorientated, thought we came out the same door we went in. With a little extra walking and the help of tall iconic landmarks we make it back to our hotel. Hungry and thirsty food is on the agenda. Happyland - yes you read it right, sounds like a childs play area, is a set in front of the local cinema and has the cheapest smorgsboard style food in town and the beer aint bad either:)))
Taking a few snap shots of the adjacent Opera house, which is undergoing a full restoration, and the replica copy of the Triumphal Arch we notice a couple of others doing the same and speaking english, definitely not locals. Two girls from England, on holiday from their teaching jobs in Mosco, travelling on the trans Siberian Train. Pleasant change to have a full conversation with others in english.
Looking forward to seeing Lake Baikal tomorrow.
Friday, June 11, 2010
To this point we have spent more time in motels than we have camping - things are about to change!
Leaving we did our normal circle of the city before getting off at the right exit. We did however manage to miss most of the morning rush traffic and proceeded in a westerly direction towards Chita.
Our first target of the day is Birobidzhan. At the turn off to this place everything changed, the road widened, got flatter and straighter. We have never had a road so good since being here. I know flat straight roads are boring, but it is welcome change to dodging potholes. As with all good things this road came to end and we got potholes and gravel back. Our next problem was something unexpected - a sign saying 'Fuel 109km' - it took me about half a kilometre to register and pulled over to ask J'ean if he had seen the sign. Up until this point fuel stations have been in abundance, every 20 - 30 km. We check our fuel situation and he is low. His bike has been burning alot more fuel than mine and at this point we dont know why.
We have done 265k's since our last fuel stop and another 109 was really going to push the limit. Doing a U turn and returning to the last little town of Bidkan we asked a couple of guys working on the road sign if there was a closer gas station.... apparently not! We go into fuel save mode but a few more k's up the road J'ean hits reserve.....Bugger! Pulling off the road and going up to a construction site we ask the 3 guys there if they have any fuel. They very kindly syphon 5 litres out of one of there vehicles and pour it into J'eans tank. We pay almost double what it costs at the pump but consider it a donation as the alternative is not very attractive - walking!
As it turns out about 30k up the road a new servo has just been built. We head off into the afternoon sun in search of a place to camp.
04 June Friday Camp 2 to Camp 3
Breaking camp is a leisurely affair, its a beautiful sunny day and a great day for riding. Not wishing to repeat yesterdays performance J'ean pulls into the first gas station we come across to top up. Although the day is great the road is straight and boring. We settle in a easy cruise and let the next couple hundred kilometres tick by.
We pass the halfway point between Chita and Vladivostok, a sign posting the equal distances to each place. We did not take a photo so can not recall the exact distance... it was something like 1467 in either direction. We did manage to get pics of the Moskva - Vladivostok monument. No real idea why its there other than marking the opening of an official road.
By mid afternoon we need fuel for us as well as the bikes and pull off into a station with a diner next door. (if you pull off in to a small town or village to get food it can be harder than you expect, the locals know where it is but you will never see it for what it is...no signage or store front, nothing. Better to look for road side diners) The diner looked a bit run down, however the food was delicious. The walls inside are lined with 10 ruble notes and the comments of the customers written on these notes. From my basic reading skills of Russian the comments where good. As they say 'Never judge a book by its cover'
Our camp site for the night was not so easy to find, we wanted a place by a river or stream, but settled for a good place in a forest clearing. A thunder storm rolled in tonight, giving a good display of lightning and loud thunder claps.
05 June Saturday Camp 3 to Camp 4
The storm passed in the night and we woke to fine but chilly morning. At least the insects left us alone, obviously they dont like the cold! Looking back on the events of the day it seems a little mundane. The cool northerly wind was a challenge at times. At one of our food/fuel stops we meet up with a Jappanese rider. He was riding from Japan to Mongolia. He choice of ride a Suzuki DR250, kitted out with BMW luggage. We also got talking to a couple of other chaps and one gave us a report on the road conditions ahead. Its sometimes nice to know what you are in for. People are always curious to know where you are from and where you are going. We offer to ride with our new friend for awhile but he struggled with the head wind and we left him to ride his own pace.
Late in the afternoon we pull into Taldan to buy some food for the evening (what was I saying about going into small towns/villages) After getting directions to the local store, we ride right into the path of the local police. The cops pull us over and one asks J'ean for his passport and papers the other asks me if we are looking for the magazin(store), he must be a mind reader. The store is like the gas stations a small window and a sliding drawer to put your money in. The girls inside must have felt sorry for us or maybe we turned up at the right time when the delivery truck had also arrived, because they let us in to pick the stores we required.
As we go past the Scovorodino intersection we are about 60km from the Chinese boarder.
06 June Sunday Camp 4 to Zherikin
Today we are on a mission, its 950km to Chita and we want to be there on Monday. Its my Mums birthday and I want to be able to send a message to her. Going across Russia is not a race but some parts are just plain boring and there is nothing much to see. We plan to put in a 500k day, my butt hurts just at the thought of this.
It seems the further west we go the more we bump into people with limited english and it makes for a pleasant change. We realise alot of the people we tell that we are from New Zealand have no idea where it is. The flags sewn on to the arms of our jackets dont mean anything to them, apart from, they recognise the Union Jack and so think we come from England. Oh well New Zealand is at the bottom of the world and if you never look down you will never see it.
We find our Japanese friend again parked on a bridge talking to a couple of Russian car importers. Apparantly he does not like gravel roads and never expected so many kilometres of them. I think if we told him there was another hundred odd k's he would have walked home. The two Rusians are a jovial couple and and probably cant believe that they have run into 3 idiots wanting to ride across there country. We leave our friend to sort himself out and continue on kicking up dust ourselves.
Remember the problem with fuel the other day.....yip same shit different day. Only this time we have J'eans fuel consumption sorted, blocked air intake from all the extra electrical accessories. To cure it we removed the airbox lid. I had drilled extra holes in my airbox back in NZ. This still didnt give us a gas station! At the 400k mark we are both running on vapours and prayers. J'ean pulls into a roading quarry hoping to get petrol, I stop at the gate house and chat to the guard and tell him our problem. Jean returns with 5 litres in his tank and we transfer some into mine. The guy at the gate told me the we only had to go 10k up the road. Fact is if we hadn't stopped there we would not have made it up the hill the quarry was on. Again dont ask the price - exorbident! (its not the people asking for the money its us not having enough small currency on us)
You know...... when you are in the middle of nowhere, you are running on empty and around every corner is hope - Hope there is a gas station, you realise take nothing for granted here. We have had our two warnings I think.
Maybe we also have a guardian angel, an hour on and we pull in for coffee to an aging diner (and junk yard). Long story short... J'ean is in his element, old motorcycles, trucks, engines and junk. But the hospitality of the owner and his wife far exceeds our expectations. Coffee...we got along with a nice hot meal of stew and mashed potato.... and get to camp there ......and Misha, the owners name, fires up the bath house, banya, for us. 4 days and no shower this is heaven. I sleep like a baby.
We accomplished 552km for the day.
07 June Monday Zherikin to Chita
Breakfast - fried eggs and sausage with bread followed by pancakes with condensed milk and a nice hot black coffee. Mishas wife certainly does a fine job of feeding their guests - us :))) Angelina, their 18 month old daughter, sits in her walker with wide eyes, content to watch.
While packing up our gear we see our Japanese friend ride past. Both of us are quite relieved to know he is alright as we had not seen him ride through the previous night. Farewelling our hosts we head for Chita.
As we ride the weather becomes changable and the temperature drops and the presence of rain is felt. About 60km out we put on rain gear, it also kept the chill at bay. We had our work cut out for finding a cheap motel, apart from the drizzle and the traffic we had no idea where we are. Thanks to a brillant book given to me by Alex and Kathleen, Lonely Planet Russia, it has a map of the CBD in it and recommendations on places to stay, eat and sight see. It took us about half an hour to find one of the recommended hotels and upon hearing there room rates promptly changed our minds. The receptionist did give us directions to another cheaper place, Turist Hotel. As with the motel in Khabarovsk, no hot water. We are getting used to no showers and cold ones when we do get them.
Chita - what to say? Physical appearences, she aint pretty. We did get some superior customer service from the MTS store where we went to top up our data sim cards for the netbooks. They went out of there way to sort an issue with them and came up with a super deal on a prepay data package, not to mention that 4 of them stayed an hour and a half past closing to do this (dont ask why 4 it just did) and the lack of Russian from us did not phase them. They used Google translater and wrote messages. Now thats customer service, you wont get that from Vodafone in NZ. Want to know what the deal was?
We got 4GB for the price of 1GB.
Tomorrow we hope to check out some of the recommended places to see.
Yes I did get a message to my Mum for her birthday:))))
08 June Tuesday Chita
Chita is a bit of a surprise, I was expecting more, although I am not sure in what way. Yes, it is a busy place and the people are a mix of asian and european. I am not sure how to word my thoughts about Chita - from a travellers point of view who only spent 2 days there. The place is unkept and little pride shown towards the city. The exception being the Chita Cathedral, with its large gold onion topped towers. Central city footpaths can be a major hazzard of broken concrete and holes. How the girls walk around here with their high heels on without breaking an ankle is tribute to their agility.
The Central Lenina Square is overgrown and more a passing point than a stopping one. There are some magnificent buildings and with some TLC could be brought back to there former glory. The streets are chaos and we saw two accidents in our short time. You need to have your wits about you and be just as quick on the accelerator as the brake.
We are both looking forward to moving on.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
We made a last minute decision to stay another day in Vladivostok. There are some things we need to get sorted and it's easier with the help of people who speak Russian and English.
We meet with Rachael, Lois and Natasha for lunch. Lois and her husband David are over from NZ helping with some of the renovations to the Living Hope building. Another New Zealander, Darrym, is also here helping out, he is quite a character to. Natasha is one Living Hopes residents, a street kid with a baby.
J'ean and I spent the afternoon down at the beach in front of our hotel. As in most places if there is a beach and the sun is out people flock to it and here is no different. The whole scene and atmosphere though is like that of a carnival. There stalls selling icecream, candy floss, souvenirs and balloons. There is a ferris wheel, hire boats, artists and buskers, young and old are out enjoying this day. The sun does not go down until 10.30pm so I find I loose track of time easily. It is 9.00pm when we head back to the hotel and I swear its only 4pm.
Tomorrow our plan is to head off in the direction Khabarovsk.
31 May Monday Vladivostok to Khabarovsk
We get up early, so we can beat the traffic - Good Plan! Not 5 minutes on the road in the middle of the city I get pulled over by the police, document check. With a quick look at my passport and papers and a few words from me ' Ya ne panimayo pa rooskee' meaning I dont understand russian, he decides to wave us on and look for a another target. We do a couple a loops around the city before we figure out with is the right off ramp to exit on and heading for Khabarovsk. We stop in at Living Hope to say our good byes and have a look around at the work that has been done - impressive:))) To find out more info www.livinghope.org.nz
Back on the motorway we get pulled over again by the police, J'eans turn. It takes longer unpack your passport and papers than it does for them to decide that you are not worth the hassle. We missed a turn off, to take us on to secondary road with less traffic, because of major road works, so up the M60 we went. We stopped at Ussuriysk for a bite to eat, hotel Equator had made us a lunch and Lois had given us some scones. When trying to leave this place - seems we have problems finding the exit roads - we came across a truck that had run into a swamp and the cab had completely flipped forward so that the roof was now in the mud. The two occupants walking around shaking their heads a little dazed but Ok. Not wanting to offend we refrained from taking photos.
We made camp for the night on a side road just north of Chernigovka. Noodles for dinner, Mars bars for desert :)))
01 June Tuesday Vladivostok to Khabarovsk cont'
Breaking camp and downing a quick coffee had us on the road by 8.30 and at the diner up the road by 8.40 for breakfast.... gotta eat!!! Downloading the world maps from www.smellybiker.com before leaving NZ and loading them into the GPS takes a bit of the guess work out of where things are as previous riders have marked these locations. The morning sun is already pouring warmth into the day and as we ride along the scenery is green and alive with spring. We detour into a couple of the villages along the way, most are similar in there look, but the thing that stood out the most was that the people that we saw all had urns and were getting water from a truck or tank behind a tractor. This leaves me thinking ' Is there no water into their houses?' and if there is is the water they are collecting just for drinking?. There is no spouting on the houses so they dont collect rain water but there is a well or two in each village.
Going into Khabarovsk J'eans bike ran out of fuel, thank goodness for down hills and gas stations at the bottom. We follow the flow of traffic in to the city and then park up to get our bearings and find a motel. While just standing there watching the events of early evening a guy asks if we need help (in russian). After a few minutes he makes a call and a woman arrives, she can speak english. Explaining we would like a city map and cheap motel, she relays this to the guy and off he goes. Minutes later returning with two brand new maps. Ed and Natalia, their names, then proceed to help us get internet modems for our netbooks and escort us to a motel. I am still humbled by the generosity of these two. Not done yet Natalia rings one of her friends a local biker and arranges for us to meet with him. Leonid and a few of his friends arrive to pick us up at 10.30pm and take us out to see the sights of Khabarovsk at night. Khabarovsk is a city of colourful lights from the river Amur to Lenin Square and more. Chinas boarder is just 50km across the river. Our host takes us to a local bar - Harley Davidson - is written on the signs outside but I am not so sure this is the name of the bar. Ironically non of the bikers we meet ride Harleys....they call them Americas version of the Ural..... they ride big jap cruisers and assorted others. The owner of the bar is big guy with a welcoming manner. Food and drinks are brought to the table and a conversation of broken english and poor russian ensues. Being a couple of very tired Kiwis our hosts deliver us back to the motel and wish us happy travels.
02 June Wednesday Khabarovsk
Late nights make for late mornings so we stay put and decide to catch up on email, blog update and photo editing not to mention a bit of washing. We also go and check out the sights we saw at night and compare there daylight features. My impression of Khabarovsk is a good one and I like the place even having only seen such a small part of it but the feel of it I compare to Perth Australia. It has that relaxed feeling and a pace all of its own. It also is isolated. Fact: it is the capital of the Far East, I thought Vladivostok was.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
When we booked our tickets we thought it was going to be a 17 hour crossing. When we had not sen land by 10.00am I asked another passenger who informs us that we will be in Zarubino at 5.00pm. Obviously we caught the slow boat.
Having read abit stuff on the customs procedures and what not entering Russia we are expecting a few problems. This was far from the truth. We breezed through customs with only our hand luggage, filled in a bike declaration form with the help of a friendly Russian customs lady. When we took the bikes off the ferry we again thought we were going to get the once over and have to open up all our gear, again no. In fact the inspection we got was from the army customs guys on the ferry asking about the rim locks in the wheels and what a bike like ours cost in US dollars. We rode to the gate house to meet up with our customs lady and get our release papers, the only hiccup being insurance, which she soon sorted, even though it was 6.00pm. A another lady arrived filled in all the forms for us and we signed them paid a fee of 1122 R (about $50NZ) each. I am not sure what it was but we had for the most part a good experience entering Russia. With day at its end we found lodging in Zarubino.
29 May Saturday Zarubino to Vladivostok
We wake to a foggy chilly morning. A good opportunity to repack the gear on the bikes while the fog lifts.
Fueling up was an exercise on its own and fuel is not so cheap, at 25 roubles a litre ($1.25NZ)
The ride to Vladivostok was at a leisurely pace, taking in the sights and keeping a very careful eye out for potholes and ungraded gravel road which appear with no warning.
Vladivostok is bustling city of people and traffic. We make contact with Rachel form Living Hope and she gives us the name of a hotel to stay at and an invite out to join her and her friends that evening. Getting lost in the city is easy, with one way streets, manic drivers and the problem of decoding street names. We found the Equator Hotel and got settled in. With a small despute over the parking of the bikes all sorted.... you have to pay the security guard to park your vehicle out front....we wait to be picked up by Racheal. The evening was spent at a restaurant with a group of english speaking people, laughter and food which made for a very pleasant change and the meals lets just say not a noodle in sight:)))
25 May Busan to Sokcho
7am. First time in a week we are and running early. By 9.30 we are boarding a bus bound for Sokcho. The bus trip took six hours although we hardly noticed the time, both of us lost in thought, dozing or enjoying the view of the coast and towns we past.
Reading other travellers blogs often takes the guess work out where to go, stay and what to do when you arrive in a new place. Within 30 minutes of arriving we had our accomodation and directions to find the ferry terminal. Our accomodation is a backpackers by the name of 'The House'. The owners are perfect hosts and speak english relatively well. WIth a place to sleep all sorted we grab our papers and head for the Dongchun Ferry terminal. The attendants at the ferry terminal are very helpful and not without a sense of humour - albeit a bit dry! With bookings in place and a time to return the following day to uncrate the bikes we leave in search of food - anything but noodles!!
26 May Sokcho Bike uncrating
It still amazes us how helpful and friendly the Korean people are. Sokcho is a place under construction, the city centre is all relativey new and ther is neww apartments and motels popping up all over the place but dig a little deeper and take a few of the back streets and allies and you find a place a little lost in time and possibly struggling to keep up.
With breakfast of cornflakes and toast out of the way we eagerly head out the door in the direction of of bikes. Upon arrival we are escorted to a warehouse and ther sitting side by side are our 2 crated bikes. Both J'ean and I are relieved and happy to see them. It seems finally something had gone right and to plan. For the next five hours we unpack and assemble the bikes and gear. At 2.30pm we leave and return to 'The House', to make a quick list of the groceries we will need for our ferry crossing and a day or so on the road in Russia. Finding the local E Mart (large supermarket) was an adventure all of its own, involving alot of walking, map reading, a hand pull ferry and backtracking. With the shopping completed ther was no way we where going to return the sam way we came and so opted for a taxi. After a few minutes of the standard arm gestures of pointing and trying to show on the map (our being in english - duh!) were we wanted to go, the driver got the idea and we headed back.
The people you meet at backpacker places are always interesting. We meet another american, two germans and a czech guy. Guess what? The Czech knew where Napier/Hastings is and had worked in Hastings for Hopkins Joinery for 2 years. We have all heard it before 'the world is a small place'
Tomorrow ferry day :))))
27 May Sokcho - Dongchun Ferry
With another good breakfast in us we head back to finalise our passage to Zarubino, Russia. We have to be back at the terminal to load our bikes onto the ferry at 3.00pm. In the mean time I need a coffee, J'ean thinks I'm addicated to the stuff. If you are a coffee drinker you will know that the world just does not rotate the same way until you have had your morning cup.
Returning to the terminal at 2pm so we are not late, we are happy to sit and people watch. At 3pm we are lead to our to our bikes and at which point we can ride them onto the ferry. Returning to the terminal we again wait until boarding time at 5pm.
About four hours into the trip a friendly, maybe a little intoxicated Russian makes idle conversation with us, non of which we understand. With many arm gestures and limited language skills we manage to communicate on a basic level. Now we are friends Sergey, his name, wants to hold a toast and proceeds to pour the contents of his cup equally into ours. J'eans first taste of Russian vodka and I dont think anything could have prepared him for the shock to to his taste buds that he experienced. If only I could have got a photo! Declining any further drinking we head for ours bunks. Russian hospitality is not so easily declined as he finds us and brings with him 3 bottles of rice wine. A few more small toasts and Sergey is happy and leaves up to sleep - whew!
Sunday, May 23, 2010
You will never go hungry in Korea. There is more food places than any other shop, its amazing they can all stay in business. Food is also very cheap.
J'ean and I are not so good at waiting around and by early afternoon we had had enough. We needed to get some food and do a little shopping. Lotte - is large department store and hotel. It seems women love the department store - Why?
Because they seem to make up 80% of the people in the stores and restuarants. It would seem they get to shop and do coffee with their friends while husbands and fathers work to support their life style. On a side note, Korea does have one of the highest suicide rates in males and there divorce rate is amoungst the highest in the world...... I wonder why?
Ordering food is done with alot of pointing and smiles. Your meal comes with 2 or 3 small side dishes, usaully spicy and mild. J'ean did eat one of those small green chillies - he was unaware of what it was - his face turned red, eyes watered and started fumbling for a glass of water. Me being the good mate, I was having problems suppressing my laughter.
Moving from the food floor down to the fashion floor we shopped for jeans for me a shirt for J'ean.......lets leave it at that!
Back at Junes place some new guests had arrived and we introduced ourselves and asked the normal questions, where you from, where are you going?
June gave us a small piece of good news, our bike paperwork has now been processed and the crates are awaiting transport to Sokcho. I will be very happy when this actually happens, fingers crossed for Monday.
Early evening saw us going out for Korean BBQ with 2 of the other guests, Chisato from Japan and Brandon from the States.
None of us can speak Korean although Chisato and Brandon can read it a little, the Korean BBQ place did not have pics of there menu just words in Korean and a price. In these situations the only thing to do is first ask for beer and then look like you know what you want and point at it and keep your fingers crossed that it will be pallitable. J'ean and I got our introduction to Korean Rice Wine. Chisato poured it into 4 small shot glasses and we all toasted each other and down the hatch it went.
Not the way I was taught to drink wine but none the less it tasted good. The food we ordered arrived and for want of a better desciption it is similar to stone grill except the stone in Korea is on fire and there is a grill above it. With a few chop stik skills and a pair of scissors we cut our food up into bite size potions and cook it. To eat the cooked food you place it on an open lettuce leaf and add various other garnishments. Above the grill is a hanging tube this the exhaust to extract the smoke from your burning food - something we did well at, as the waitress changed our grill plate 3 times. I think the rice wine shots had something to do with this. Walking the streets of Busan at night is something to be experienced, the place is complete transformation from its daytime appearence. If ever you find yourself here, go and buy icecream at Cold Stone, it is a show to watch and a delight to eat :)))
Saturday, May 22, 2010
We wake to a foggy rainy day in Incheon Korea. I thought we had left winter behind - at least its not cold!
From Busan airport we caught a bus to our backpacker accomodation. With the language barrier we had no idea how we are supposed to pay for the bus or for that matter when we where suposed to get off. There was just enough english on our tourist map to figure out when to get off. We all ready knew that the taxi fare would have cost us between 15000 and 40000 won ($20 - 45 NZD). The bus driver seemed content to charge us 2000won (2.50 NZD), we didnt argue!
With a short walk in the rain and some finger pointing from the locals we found Zen Backpackers and meet June, the guy that runs the place. Located on the 15th floor of an apartment building it is not the easiest place to find. Contrary to its location the place absolutely buzz's with guests coming and going.
With having been feed and accomodated we proceeded to get on with the task of getting our bikes. June was rescuing knight here, he did alot of ringing around and organinising payments on our behalf. With an address in our hand we headed for the subway and what we hope is the location of our bikes. Even with the language barrier, Koreans on the whole are very helpful and often go out of their way to help.
Arriving at the GTC yard and a few introductions we go looking for the crates. We are happy to see they have arrived in one piece and are keen to get on with the task of uncrating them....... Whoa there boys, not so fast!!!
Customs have not yet cleared them. Damn. After a few more phone calls and some explaining we head back to Junes place without the bikes. All we can do is wait for a phone call when customs have released them. We spent the afternoon relaxing at the Backpackers.
The following morning...... "What can I say.......still no bikes"
Apparently Koreans do not like imported goods with out all the correct paper work. From our point of view we are not importing them into Korea but only using it as a transit zone. We are given the option of having the bikes shipped to Sokcho where we can board the ferry for Russia. Unfortunately for us it is now a public holiday here as they celebrate Buddas birthday, nothing will happen until Monday 24 May and even then we have to wait for a phone call from a transport company.
I am going to practice my yoga.....ooommmmm!!!!!
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Quite has a lot has happened since I last wrote in this blog. I find I have to be somewhat in the mood to do updates. The past 8 months have been alot of things least of all relaxing.
Late October 2009 saw me and a friend - Mike - heading off to Aussie for a couple of weeks for some back road riding from Brisbane to Melbourne.
Ok lets get upto date with my current adventure.... Busan Korea to Paris France, riding across Russia and Europe. It all started 2 years ago with a question from J'ean (John) - south African - "Do you want ro ride across Russia?"
May 16 2010, Sunday 6.40pm, saw us farewelling friends and family at the Napier airport. We are flying to Korea to collect our bikes, which we had crated and sent a month earlier.
Our flight has a stop over in Singapore for 2 hours. For most travellers this is a chance to stretch the legs, get a real coffee, read a magazine...... not us!!...Nooo! We or should I say J'ean has arranged to meet a guy to buy a charger for his helmet cam. Being in a transit lounge you are not supposed to leave this area. J'ean manages to con the immigration officer, got out, meet the guy and got his charger, jumped a 200 meter long cue of departing passengers at immigration and got back to the transit lounge with time to spare - only J'ean! We made to Korea with no further excitement.