20-24 June, Pamir Mountains, Tajikistan. How I became a mountain goat!

It was a very wise move to hire a 4 wheel to tour the Pamir Highway and to leave Azulo at the Guest House. I don’t think Azulo and I could have made it alone because the road in some places was impossible and I also encountered road blocks and a landslide!

It was quite an adventure but now I’m back in Osh…Thank heavens!

The guide announced on 20th that there was a political demonstration on the road and the road was blocked! A great start!….Anyway, no problem as we merely took a car to the road block, walked through it and picked up the 4 wheel the other side. If i had taken Azulo instead of the car i wouldn’t have got very far!

(The demonstration was about the imprisonment of the local MP for corruption…The croud wanted him released!)

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Yurts creating a road block

 

My driver Kuban was a lovely bloke who didn’t speak much English but proved to be a caring and capable driver.

The road went up a very steep Pass (The Taldyk Pass, 4250 Metres) to the Border Post.

It had been raining and the road was horrendous. Again I was pleased I left Azulo at the Guest House!

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Once in Tajikistan we bumped along the road to Murgab some 300 k away. En route Kuban wanted to drop off something so we detoured to this tiny village

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We were offered tea at this little house. From the outside the house looked like it was about to fall apart but inside it was quite cosy with lovely carpets on the walls and floor. We sat on the floor and tea arrived along with some white liquid….There was also some bread and Yak butter which proved to be horrible and rancid. I did my best to eat it! As for the white liquid it turned out to be Yak yogurt and it wasn’t too bad…a bit sour for me though!

The women never join the men over tea but I got this photo of the man’s daughter looking through a window

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We arrived at Murgab and Kuban took me to his house to meet his wife and four little children. That was very sweet of him and I felt quite honoured, then more tea!!!

Kubans wife was very sweet. She is only 27 but when she smiled she has a whole line of front teeth covered in gold! I wish she was smiling in the photo. She also gave me a lovely dressing gown as a present. So kind

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Kuban the driver’s family

Kuban then took me to my Guest House….Well….What can I say….There was NO water and No electricity, The toilet was outside and fairly dirty and the bed was as hard as rocks. I could not fathom that I had been dumped here!

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Awful Guest House in Murgab. Rated best in town by Lonely Planet!

The next morning I had words with Kuban!

The next two days were long drives through lovely scenery on very bumpy roads.

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The Tajikistan -China Border is very close. There is a fence all along but at one point there was a hole so i could easily have slipped into China!

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There were English Marmerants (Do you get those in England???

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I saw a number of cyclists. If you think I’m nuts then these people are out of their minds!

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I met a lovely English couple who have been travelling for two years! I also saw a young Korean couple who I met later on at Murgab

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We spent the second night in a better Guest House at Ishkashim which is right on the Afghanistan Border. The border runs along the other side of the river. The photo below shows Afghans on the other side of the river…It’s that close!

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Afghanistan from across the river...Very close!

Afghanistan from across the river…Very close!

The next day we left at 6.30 as it was a long drive back to Murgab. we went via Khorog

One thing that vaguely amused me was we kept picking up people…It seems that everyone is a Taxi! At one Police stop we were asked to take this drunk to the next village! Boy was he drunk and also he smelt…I don’t think he had washed for days…I was pleased when we dropped him off!

We had a dip in some Hot Springs…Men only of course! It was nothing like South America where I had lots of lovely ladies all wanting to have their photo taken with me (haha)

We arrived back in Murgab and I told Kuban there was NO WAY I was going back to that Guest House…I said all I wanted was a shower and a comfy bed. He was very patent and eventually it dawned on me that NONE of the Guest Houses have showers and Electricity is via generator and only on for short periods!

Eventually I was put into the only Hotel in town which was awful but did have a shower of sorts and electricity and even a toilet!

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My Hotel in Murgab…Looks grand..It isn’t!

I felt bad as the place is terribly poor and what seem like basics to us are luxuries to them

Clearly Tajikistan is very poor. I believe it is the poorest of the old Russian Stans. These photos are typical of Tajikistan villages …These are from Murgab

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The food too is terrible. All I seemed to be given was soup…sort of fatty broth with bits of tough meat and some carrots and potato…Main course was rice with more tough meat and a few other things in it! All this is served up with stale bread and tea.. .

In the Hotel I met the Korean cyclists, Joel and Kim. They were a lovely couple of 30. They are from Seoul having sold their house and given up their jobs and are cycling the world till they run out of money! They started, funnily enough, in Melbourne. (I’m from Melbourne and started this trip in Seoul!)

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Korean Cyclists, Joel and Kim. Lovely couple seeing the world!

Kuban had told me that the BORDER HAD BEEN CLOSED due to FLOODS…He didn’t know whether it would be open!!!!! I had visions of being stuck in Murgab

All through the night I kept waking and looking at the sky…there are no curtains of course. I was happy to sea stars…The next day was BEAUTIFUL….Much to my relief

We set off at 8.00 and had no trouble at the Border….except i got into trouble for taking a photo!

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Tajikistan Border Post..I got in trouble taking this photo!

We stopped for lunch at Sary Tash near the Border and there were a couple of Danish Bikers there. They said they were stuck as there was a LANDSLIDE up the road….The storm that had closed the border had caused the landslide…

I wondered If I was stuck too!

We reached the landslide and Kuban fussed around asking people things…Eventually we decided to climb down the mountain to the other side of the landslide and hopefully pick up a Taxi.DSCN0601 DSCN0599 DSCN0598

Kuban was great and carried all my bags!!!! That’s him in the photo in the blue shirt

When we got to the bottom there were of course NO taxis but there was a bus going to Osh. The driver said it was FULL. I put on my most pathetic face and Kuban obviously bribed the driver and I was told to get on board. There were two spare seats, one of which I gratefully took. Kuban waved goodbye ond left

The bus didn’t move. We waited half an hour and then some people got on the bus. They arrived at my seat and showed me their ticket….I didn’t have a ticket although Kuban had told me he had paid the bus driver…Anyway I thought I was going to get kicked off the bus but instead I just sat on the floor and tried not to be seen!

I sat like that in the centre row of the bus for about an hour till the bus stopped and someone got off.. I then had a seat for the rest of the journey!

We arrived in Osh and my next hurdle was to find the guest house. I didn’t know the address but I knew where it was…. but I didn’t have a map! I was wondering how i would explain it to a Taxi driver.

Anyway, I didn’t have to worry as Kuban had obviously given the address to the Driver along with some money and the bus driver beckoned me and showed me a taxi which delivered me to Lada’s Guesthouse where I am now!

So, tomorrow, Azulo and I are off to Tashkent and probably more surprises….I hope they are good ones though!

 

 

 

 

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11-19 June Kyrgyzstan to the Silk Road

It’s hard to believe its been nine days since my last update…Sorry!

Actually, there hasn’t been many opportunities as WiFi is not everywhere. Anyway, I’m now in OSH, Kyrgyzstan, an ancient town on the Silk Road.

That sounds romantic doesn’t it….I’ve had some adventures and ridden through some spectacular scenery….and yes, Azulo has behaved like a perfect gentleman!

This will be a BIG post as there is lots of photos and things. I hope you don’t get bored!

Almaty to Bishkek was a pleasant ride through a valley with snow capped mountains in the distance DSCN0331 Customs was amazing.

Kyrgyzstan unlike all the other “Stans” was a breath of fresh air…No Visa required and no unnecessary stamping of bits of paper and long waits. I was through in 10 minutes!

I found a delightful Hostel near the centre of Bishkek called Intercity

Bishkek is quite a pleasant town with tree lined streets and the usual “impressive” square with the statue of Lenin of course!

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The man himself …Again. Yes, Lenin

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Soviet MIG Fighter

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I had to get my Visa for Tajikistan in Bishkek.

If you remember I had spent 10 hours of pure chaos at the Uzbekistan Embassy, so  I arrived early. Infact I arrived an hour before the place opened.

There was nobody there and when the Embassy opened an hour late I got the visa in 15 minutes!

The Hostel had two lovely helpful girls. I needed a massage for my poor old back. One of the girls, Kumbat, arranged a massage. I got a Taxi. The driver had no idea where the place was and got totally lost. Eventually I got there!….

The place was empty and they were very pleased to have a customer.

The masseur…..another member of a Weight Lifting team pounded away on my poor back and was horrified at the number of knots he found. He was groaning away saying OH NO each time he found another knot! I’ll have to have a big make over when i get home!

Funnily enough, I’ve noticed that in the last couple of weeks people have been asking my age…..Now, WHY IS THAT? Perhaps I’m looking haggard or something! It’s a bit of a worry! I’m sure I don’t look THAT old…do I?

Kumbat got her Koala of course!

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In the Hostel there was an American guy who was living there having studied in Ireland for a year and decided to teach in Kyrgyzstan. He kindly invited me to join himself and the Hostel Girls for tea. There was nobody else there and he was cooking.

Well, I thought that was nice although I had located a nice looking Italian place for dinner!

He said “we’ll eat at 7.00” Fine but by 9.00 we still hadn’t eaten! Very strange. Anyway I said i couldn’t wait any longer and was about to leave when a strange concoction of mince arrived. I should have gone to the Italian place shouldn’t I!

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The next day, I set of for Kochkor about 230 K away

In Kochkor I arranged a trip to a “Lake Song-Kol”, which is high in the mountains..To get there I had to take a 4 wheel drive. (All up including Driver, Yurt, Dinner and Breakfast cost $75

I stayed by the lake in a Yurt with a family. Actually they weren’t particularly friendly which was unusual….Too many tourists i suppose. A bit of a shame as I was the only person there and  I felt a bit like a shag on a rock. They are usually SO friendly here that I was surprised how off hand they were.

The place however was spectacular. The  photos say it all I think.

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Inside my Yurt

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Incidentally, Merry beamed down on the “Live Map” page and could actually see the Yurts! Amazing

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You even find ESSENDON supporters here!

As you see….Even here there are ESSENDON supporters!

The road to the Lake was beautiful and above the snow line
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After returning to Kochkor I had a decision to make…Do I ride through the mountains to the OSH-BISHTEK Highway or do I return to Bishkek to pick up the road

.I was a bit worried about this road as my ribs still hurt a bit and I really don’t want to ride very bad roads. I asked a number of people about the road and whether it was good or bad and whether it was asphalt or mud!……you NEVER rely on ONE person….. All but one person (I asked about six people!) said the road was good and asphalt. The lady in in the Tourist place in Kochkor spoke fluent English and assured me the road was excellent and asphalt all the way.

So off I rode confidentally expecting and easy ride.

WELL…..it turned out that within 30 miles the road disintegrated and became a goat track of the worst kind! Gravel, mud, sand, loose pebbles …the lot!

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Actually the photos dont make it look that bad…i must point out, just in case you think I’m exaggerating about the roads… One doesn’t actually think of taking a photo when the road is really bad and you’re trying not to fall off! These photos were taken for scenery, not the road!

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WHY do people tell you what you want to hear not the truth?

Worse still, the road meandered along the sides of a sandy Canyon with a fast flowing river about 60 meters  below…Very scary!.

It was beautiful though , not that I could really appreciate it

After only 170 K I had had enough and found a funny little guest house in a little place called Kyzyl – Oy.

The owners were Naiza and his wife Tanya. It was very humble but a nice comfy place and they were very sweet and fussed over me giving me tea and home made bread and jam. There was no running water and the electricity was from a generator but it was lovely after such a hard ride.

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The next day I had another 50 k of the horror road before i made the main Highway.

What a relief The good thing was that I was on reasonable asphalt but the bad thing was that the rain set in! It poured cats and dogs all day. At one point the road goes over a pass about 4000 m…..well above the snow line

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I packed it in in a place called Toktogul and found a Hotel of sorts. It was TERRIBLE.

It was the worst place I’ve stayed in yet. It smelt and nothing worked I wondered what I was doing here when I could be home in my nice house in Beaumaris with Merry!

This was the first time on the trip I was more than a bit down… Then, things changed suddenly!

There was a noisy group just below my window making a hell of a noise. That was all I needed! I went downstairs and intended going for a walk to find something for tea.(no food in this classy establishment)

Anyway, this bloke came up to me and asked me to join the party! I had nothing to lose so i agreed. There were about 12 of them…They were aged about 50 and it turned out they were a group of school friends celebrating 35 years since the left school.

They sat me down and filled me with Vodka and insisted i dance with all the ladies.

I retired to bed thoroughly tipsy at about 1.30. It was great fun and my bad day ended happy!

The next day was beautiful and i had a lovely ride (with a hangover)  to Osh . .

The road runs around a beautiful Reservoir and through different landscapes from barren mountains to fertile valleys. The sun was shining all day…so different to yesterday!

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I reached Osh around five and found a fabulous Guest House called LADA’S Guesthouse. Lada is Russian and quite delightful

The only problem is the WiFi is bad and I’m having all sorts of trouble with this post!

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Osh itself is an ancient city, older than Rome apparently. It is on the Silk Road but frankly there isn’t much silk here. It has a huge Bazaar, the biggest and oldest in Central Asia. It also has an extraordinary mountain that overlooks the City. Mohammad apparently visited

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Me in a Traditional Hat

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The next photo shows winter boots ….they are fur lined but they put on an overshoe for the wet

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The next photos show a baby’s  cot. They cover them up at night with beautiful covers that actually make them look like coffins!

They put a little pot inside the cot and they have little wooden pipes for the baby to piddle through…one for a boy and one for a girl!… You really wonder how they get the babies to piddle into those little pipes!

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Just a couple of photos of Osh street life

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Osh is interesting in that 40% of the population is actually Uzbek. There are racial tensions here and they flared up as recently as 2010 when over 200 people died. Was that reported in our news? I can’t remember?

It all goes back to the Soviet era under Stalin.They divided up the country into Administrative Regions without much notice taken of the racial mix. They also populated the regions with ethnic Russians that were given land.

So today, you have these countries with divided populations. Ukraine is a case in point!

I haven’t done much here. I got Azulo serviced, walked around and went to the Bazaar and frankly I’m having rather a nice rest!

I leave here on 20th for the PAMIR MOUNTAINS of TAJIKISTAN. I’m taking a four day 4 wheel drive trip through the mountains. They are meant to be spectacular. Fingers crossed the weather is OK

After that, I head for Tashkent in Uzbekistan.

 

 

 

 

 

5th June – 10th June 11,000 K to Almaty. Half way!

After 11,000 fairly bruising kilometers, Azulo and I reach Almaty, Kazakhstan. 

Merry and Lucy told about the recent floods in Russia ON MY ROUTE that have left hundreds homeless and roads destroyed. That awful day before Novosibirsk must have been the beginning… How lucky am I…

Look at these pictures that Merry sent me! 

Look what I just missed!

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 Now back to my adventure!

I had a cheer squad to send me off from Semey..They just stood there and watched and chatted then waved me good bye. I was a bit worried i might ruin the impression by falling off as it was a very bumpy driveway!

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My GPS was working perfectly thanks to my clever son Stuart who saved the day!

Within a few kilometers the road degenerated to a series of roadworks. Traffic was diverted onto the sand for miles. Unfortunately though it had been raining so the tracks were muddy and slippery. Luckily I didn’t come off again.! Azulo and I became absolutely filthy!

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After about 100 kilometers of this the roadworks finished and we were then subjected to another 1000 kilometers of “pothole dodging!”

The road from Semey to Almaty is very dull and uninteresting for the first 800 kilometers. After that it changes and becomes quite green and attractive with mountains in the distance.

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The first 800 k is barren and there are miserable little townships along the way that are made worse by all the rubbish and dilapidated everything. The countryside resembles parts of Mongolia in that there are no trees but it lacks Mongolia’s charm with all the little GER’s

I went through one town,called Ayakoz which really is the Pitts! It is a ruin with rubbish everywhere and everything falling down. There are HORRIBLE Soviet apartment blocks in row upon row. I can’t imagine living there….. Sorry if anybody reading comes from Ayakoz!

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Awful Soviet Apartments…They looked worse in real life

One thing that struck me is that there are charming little Cemetery’s every few miles. These appear to be  immaculately maintained, quite unlike everything else….Also, there seems to be an awful lot of dead people in a very sparsely populated area.

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Quite confusing! I thought!

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There are next to no places to sleep on this road so i was anticipating having to “dust off” the tent! Luck was with me though and i found a surprisingly nice place in a tiny little hamlet in the middle of nowhere!

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My Hotel somewhere

There was a Cafe of the road where i went for dinner. Again I couldn’t make any sense of the Menu so the lady called her 10 year old son who learns English at school.

We still didn’t get anywhere and the kid disappeared ,returning with a very flashy mobile phone and we conducted a conversation on Google Translate!

I though later how strange it is…… Here is this kid of 10 with a very good and expensive looking mobile phone in a tiny place of no more than 150 people, miles from anywhere and his family look anything but prosperous. Very strange!

I reached Almaty around 5 pm and checked into an Apartment which is quite nice but I prefer the Hostels as you meet people. I feel as if I’m on a Business Trip here!

Almaty is quite a nice town. It is NOTHING like the  rest of Kazakhstan. It appears quite prosperous and modern. It seems a cross between a European City and a Russian City

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There are Parks and open spaces and tree lined streets. The setting is beautiful with snow capped mountains just behind the City. Unfortunately though there is also the awful Soviet legacy of simply awful apartment blocks that will probably get pulled down in the next few years

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Statue of two female war heroines

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I had a chuckle at the ROLEX shop. Rolex of all brands is sited in this simply awful building!

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There are Mosques

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I went to a Bathhouse which is quite famous here. I had a steam bath and a massage….It wasn’t a soft and comfy massage…It was in the Men’s Bath area and it was done on a big cold marble slab and the masseur was a big Kazak that looked like he was in the Kazakhstan Weightlifting team!

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Yesterday I had to get my Visa for UZBEKISTAN. I have the “letter of Introduction” but I had still to get the Visa…..It took 10 hours….I have found somewhere WORSE than Honduras!

There must have been over 200 people there ( the crowd was due to some passport changes for the UZBEk’S) There was NO system and when the gate opened it was a stampede. The Guard was shouting and pushing everybody back! Eventually i managed to get through the gate and get my Visa! .

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My last day in Almaty was sunny so I took a taxi to the mountains for a look over the city

the views are beautiful and the Taxi Driver got quite into the swing of things and insisted I take his photo!

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Pity his car boiled over though!

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Talking of Taxi’s…They have a strange system here. There are hardly any Taxi’s in the sense that you can identify them as a taxi…It seems almost everyone is an honourary Taxi driver. You stand at the curb and wave and a car stops. You do a deal and off you go!

Actually on Sunday I waited and waited and no car stopped. Eventually a car did stop and a very attractive girl asked me where i was going. I asked her if she was a taxi!

Anyway, she wasn’t but she got out and said ‘watch this’: She then stood by the curb, just like I was doing but within SECONDS a car stopped!

So tomorrow i head for BISHKEK in KYRGYZSTAN and the next stage of my adventure

I do apologize that this post is short on DRAMA! …..I’ve had NO problems and Azulo, touch wood he is going well….also no other dramas either. Let’s hope it stays this way!l!

Thank you all for your comments. I love them and appreciate them very much

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

30 May – 4th June Long cold ride through Siberia

UPDATE…..Stuart has fixed my GPS! He’s brilliant!I’m now in Semey, Kazakhstan nearly 2700 k from Irkutsk. it’s been a long cold ride through Siberia.

I’m sorry but there aren’t many good pictures this post but I hope you find it interesting anyway!

My aim was to get to Novosibirsk in three days.

The first day was good…the weather was clear but very cold . I rugged up with SEVEN layers but I was still cold!~ (two thermals, a shirt, a jumper, my “puffer jacket”, my riding jacket and rain jacket)

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I saw lots of lovely churches in what are otherwise very dingy, dirty and poor villages. Often there are whole lines of houses that are sinking…they don’t seem to be big on foundations here! Some of the houses are these sweet wooden houses often with blue window shutters

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There are next to no towns or Hotels on route (that’s how i got stuck before and ended up camping in the car park) so it’s best to stop when you see somewhere. I did this. I found a Truckie Hotel….cheap but clean with the most unhelpful lady on reception. She got quite annoyed at me when I asked for a towel and where were the showers! How these people get employed beats me!

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View from my window!

The next day was good also.

I reached KRASNOYARSK and got totally lost. It’s strange but there are simply no road signs telling you where the Centre is or directions to the next town. The signs simply stop and you’re expected to know the way to go!. My GPS was playing up and sent me in circles. (Stuart later pointed out that I had changed my route and didn’t have any GPS maps ….which explains it )

I saw a biker ahead of me and nabbed him! There is a camaraderie among bikers!!!!

He was terrific. He led me about 10 k out of town and saved me at least an hour of utter frustration! His name is Steban Lukin and I gave him a Koala for his girlfriend! He has put two posts on the blog..(look in the All Posts Page)

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Steban Lukin…Really helpful young bloke…He earned a Koala!

Again i found a Truckie stop….This time with a nice lady called Irene who spoke quite good English having studied in England

There was a noisy group celebrating something. I was sipping a quiet Vodka! Anyway, suddenly they started singing Russian Folk songs., They had beautiful voices so i just sat there listening.

The THIRD DAY was a nightmare. I still has 680 K to go. I left at 6.00 am and it POURED and SNOWED (sleet) ALL DAY! It was the worst riding day of my life! Awful;.

Anyway…I got to Novosibirsk which is a big and quite modern town. I became totally lost again but asked where there was a Hotel and was taken to a very nice place by yet another helpful person.

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View from my hotel in Novosibirsk

The next day was beautiful. Still very cold but a clear sky

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I rode the 700 K to Semey in Kazakhstan and negotiated the Border OK. The Customs man was funny..At these borders they inspect every vehicle. It takes ages. They swarm over each car with dogs, mirrors and unpack everything!

They usually don’t bother too much with me and just stamp the card and let me go. This time though the Customs man made me open cases and he put the mirror under the bike etc. He then asked me my age. I said “Nearly 70” He stopped in his tracks, laughed and practically did an Irish Gig….and waved me on!

All was great….Then another breathtakingly stupid thing happened….I put my GPS maps (they are on a micro chip) back in the GPS, as I am now back on my intended route and I’ve downloaded maps for my journey. Unbelievable, the GPS simply swallowed the micro chip and it disappeared into the body of the GPS. Now this is almost impossible and I simply don’t know how it happened…The net result is that I now have NO GPS!

If you look at some of the banter on the comments you may notice discussion of my Guardian Angel. I’ve been saying she is paying naughty tricks on me and testing me….My Cousin Juliet said on the contrary, she is looking after me as I’ve had some remarkable “escapes” this trip. Well…. I was reading about the fairy tales of the natives of Lake Baikal…., Apparently, they believed there were MANY Guardian Angels, some good and some naughty!

Maybe they’re right and I have a naughty Guardian Angel playing all these tricks on me and my Good Angel looking after me!!!!!!

Anyway, as i write, my son Stuart is trying to download a new set of maps which somehow I’ve got to load onto my GPS… UGH!!!! HOW do I do that!!!! I’ll be having some Skype sessions with poor Stuart back home!

(For those interested, these GPS maps are free, amateur maps. It’s really quite amazing.. In many remote places of the world, there are no “official” GPS Maps” so amateur maps have been created and are freely available. They are quite good too. They are called “Open Street” maps)

I’ll tell you how we go!!!!!! Wish us luck!

My only photo of Semey….Maybe you know who it is???

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My Hotel in Semey. Quite upmarket for a smelly biker!