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Friday, July 30, 2010

Kazakhstan. Loved it.

Distance: 4,443.3km
Distance from Vladivostok: 13,033.6km
Average speed: 55.7kph
Riding time: 79hrs 11'
Max speed: 116kph

We are putting in some big days, almost riding at “Campey Speed”, heading south west to the Aral Sea. Adams transit visa for The Ukraine has given us a deadline. Some lousy roads, some shitty roads, some fantastic roads and tracks. Top camp sites, without mossies. We have tried to stay away from the main roads, Not to many tourists ride this way. Actually not to many Kazaks travel this way, not to many Kazaks ride motorcycles either. There is an almost complete absence of bikes on the roads. The few we see are Russian built Urals or HHH 2 strokes. No Japanese or Chinese bikes at all.

We stopped to fill our bottles at a water pump in a smallish town in the back blocks, a group of locals come out to talk, look and take photos. A teenage kids appears with a plate full of pastries from his mothers kitchen, still warm and just like my Mum used to bake. We scoffed a few and rode away. Bloody Kazaks, bloody brilliant!

Kuba rode towards us. Nothing special about that? Well, yes. Kuba has taken 4 months off from University and is riding from Poland to India, on a pushy! What a man. We met him near the Baykonur Cosmodrome.

This is the joint from which the USSR, and now Russia send all their space flights. Including Yuri Gagarin, who in 1961 was the first man in space. Never was in Russia, has always been in Kazakhstan. They have a monument or something on the side of the road near the Cosmodrome. Someone has painted “Free Tibet” on it. I like their style.

I wanted to visit Aral, a town formally on the shores of the worlds 4th biggest lake, the Aral Sea. Only problem is, the fcuking Soviets decided to divert the river and drain the water, sending it hundreds of kilometres away to grow cotton. Aral is now 80 kms from the water. There are 20 metre fishing trawlers, high and dry, 80kms from the sea. Never mind the 60,000 people employed in the fishing industry, which caught and processed 20,000 tons of fish a year. Never mind the 20 species of fish that disappeared. Never mind the 135 species of animals that disappeared from the shores around the Sea. Never mind that there used only be 30-35 rain free days a year, now there are 135. Water usage increased over 50% and they only grew 20% more cotton. Pretty stupid, eh! Supposedly the worlds worst environmental catastrophe. This is what happens when any political system doesn't have checks and balances. What a fcuk up.

Zhassulan walks up to talk and asks if we need any assistance. He lives and works in Almaty and is in Shalqar, with his wife of 2 weeks, to visit his parents. I said we needed a shop and WiFi, if there was any. No problems, Zhassulan took us to his home, introduced us to his family and we used his WiFi to check our mail and to Skype. We left with a bag of home cooked pastries and a 1.5 litre bottle of locally produced soda water tucked into my tank bag.

We stopped to talk to Oliver and Marina, a young French couple on a 3 year RWT. On bicycles! Another couple, Artur and Ania, from Poland, riding a Honda Transalp had chucked their jobs and are riding indefinitely. Am I jealous or what!

Unlike eastern Kazakhstan where we could find lovely clean rivers to swim in almost every day, in the west of the country we have had to go many days without a tub. We must look and smell like crap. In one joint we bathed in the middle of town under the communal water pump. Probably not the correct etiquette, but we felt better after it. Another town we stopped to swim in a half clean river, I had almost finished bathing when Adam yelled for me to get out of the river. Quickly! A bloody snake was swimming towards me! Most days the temperature has been over 35 degrees. We are back to drinking gallons of water a day.

The Kazaks saved their most shitty tracks for last. Adam dumped it in the bull dust, our first proper “off”' for the trip. With my track record that is pretty good. We were taking a short cut around a town and had to ride up a 5 metre, near vertical bank. Not a problem, only I never know how much gas to give the Rooney in these situations, try to quickly calculate traction, height and angle. If I get it wrong it could hurt. Fortunately, this time I had it right, as I crested, the bloody road disappeared into a gulley. I managed to stop just before my front wheel went in to it. The front was on the edge of a gully and the back wheel was still down the steepest bank we had ridden up. And I stalled it. What a bastard!

So, I think the dirt roads have finished for the trip. We were glad to see asphalt and enjoyed being able to relax a little as we rode. For about 3 hours that is. Then we would have killed for some more shitty, challenging tracks. Most of the roads we rode in Kazakhstan were fcuked!

At home, I lashed out and bought 2 new, expensive KTM mirrors. About $70 each, but beautiful. The left one was a victim of the Mongolian corrugations and just fell apart. The right hand one did the same thing with the Kazakhstan washboards. Interesting riding for a few days without mirrors. Adam jury rigged a left hand one, so I am happy again. Thought KTM's were supposed to be “adventure tourers”. Paul fitted a new YSS rear shock for this trip. After 110,000kms my old White Power was stuffed. The YSS cost over $1,000 and is stuffed after about 11,000kms. The spring has sagged and it leaks oil. I think they might get a phone call when I get home.

People had warned us about the Kazakhstan Police, we were told they were corrupt and we would be stopped repeatedly and asked for bribes. It didn't happen last time and hasn't happened this time. In fact we did not get stopped by the Police at all. Everyone we have met in this country, including the Police, have been fantastic.

We had hoped to camp on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Unfortunately it is now peak holiday season for the Kazaks and Russian, so we checked it out, had our photos taken about a million times and shot through, forgetting to even take a photo. Had we camped there, they would have tried to kill us with kindness. We are camped in a great spot, beside a little lake and only 35 or so kms from the Russian border. We both woke up this morning as crook as Rookwood. To sick to ride. God only knows what we had eaten or drunk. We lay down all day in the 35-40 degree heat, sweating like pigs as we tried to drink water and keep it down. By tonight I could eat an orange, so I think I will live. We have called a rest and recovery day for tomorrow.

By 10am we were bored with our R&R day and it was bloody hot. We packed up and hit the border. What a shitfight! In some of these countries they have a silly system whereby, after clearing Customs and Immigration you still have to find the Immigration Police and register with them within a few days, in this case 5 days, or pay someone to do it for you I usually don't bother, just lay on a little bullshit at the border and get away with it. Not this time. They threatened to have us arrested and jailed, even locked us up for a little while, not to bad as it was air conditioned, interrogated us and asked us stupid questions. Like, where are you going. I think if you are at the Russian border you probably intend to go to Russia. Where did you come from? Read my passport for the 400th time. It says in letters 1” high, Russia. The Immigration guy said he could fix it all up if we paid $$US200 each. No fcuking way. Eventually it came down to $US100 each. No one even looked at the bikes, all they wanted was money. We told them they were corrupt and said we wanted to ring the Australian Embassy. Dumb bastards didn't even know we don't have an Embassy in Kazakhstan. Eventually they realised we weren't going to pay any money and we were all tired of this silly game, we rode back 40kms to the Immigration Police, they stamped our card, it took all of 5 minutes, rode 40kms back to the border and left for Russia. All took over 7 hours and it was bloody hot, over 40 degrees.

We rode for less than 100 metres and Police wanted to see our passports, good blokes though, I think they only wanted to talk and look at the “Rooney” and the V Strom. Tomorrow, before we head for the Black Sea, I think we might go and register in Russia.

1 comment:

  1. Chris, it was inspiring to meet you at the Flag Cafe, Seamer. We will give you a mention on, please join so we can, all say hello and give you best wishes.
    It was also nice to get to chat to Colin Stockdale,whom as the mis fortune of working with my other half.
    Safe riding and take care, thanks for explaining Charlies and Ewans, Russian nick name.