Friday, June 11, 2010
Khabarovsk to Chita
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.