It's Almaty to Europe.
I have decided to cut the trip short and return to Europe for now. The bike is in transit on its way to London and I will be riding back to Zurich soon.
I left the hostel and went to join Damien at his hotel so that we could travel together today to Almaty.
Traffic out of the city isn't bad and we get to the border to find a small queue of cars waiting to cross. Not sure if the border is closed or if there's a problem given the people here. Walk to the front of the queue to find a Fiat Panda 4x4 participating in the Mongol Rally. The driver tells me that they only allow a few cars in at a time and they have been waiting about 20 minutes to get to the front.
Sure enough, gate opens and a couple of cars are allowed through. This crossing is a mess, certain cars pass on the opposite side (exit from Kazakhstan) - I guess when you have special privileges anything is possible! There are lots of people at this crossing, foot passengers and taxis dropping and picking up people and street vendors.
Damien is also trying to repair a small rack on the sidecar (one of the jerrican brackets has broken) but at one point we miss the chance to advance as we were both caught out by the gate being opened - a couple of cars sneak past. Exit from Kyrgyzstan took about 10 minutes, quick passport check, stamp out. No check of vehicle documents!
Then we join the queue to get through the Kazakh border. This is working at a very slow pace. We go and park the bikes and then do passport control then vehicle control. Again there's the issue of having a passport from one country and a bike registered in another country. I make sure that it's correct as I don't want any issues with exporting the bike. Forms stamped with a "Welcome to Kazakhstan".
Forms filled in I get the bike to the physical control. No one seems interested to check my bags. A guard comes over and starts talking to me. I've no clue what he's saying to me. Then in very few English words tells me to go back up to the other check point.
Guard comes over and I'm asked if I've got narcotics. Ohh how we laughed about the topic but he repeatedly asked me. Form stamped and I'm good to go. Final gate, I come up to the stop sign, ready to leave. A car comes screeching to a halt on the other side. Guard opens the gate, it's a soldier who's in a hurry to get through. There I was thinking it was another delivery of food. He's impatient with me as I can't move the bike out of the way. I'm blocked to the left and there's a wheel stinger to my right. I then decide to take my time to back up the bike.
Kazakhstan has compulsory 3rd party insurance for vehicles coming into the country. Was warned to buy this as the police will check and issue you with a fine if you don't have any. I look around for the insurance office but can't see it (although there's a sign on the building). I walk into and out and back into the cafe and a guy asks me what I'm looking for. Insurance I tell him. Ahh, he's the insurance guy. Sit down in his office - think table and chair with laptop and printer in the corner of the cafe and you've got the picture. I get some pancakes while I wait for the paperwork.
Damien does the same and we are ready to leave. Some people come over and ask about his bike - BMWs with sidecar aren't that common here. They ask if the sidecar is an Ural! Yes, it's a German Russian hybrid bike!
We take the only road out and head straight to Almaty. It's over 30c and I've no idea of the speed limit and the cops seen to appear just as you increase your speed just a bit!
The road into Almaty is very boring, farm land either side in some places there's no sign of life. There's also a strong wind blowing so I'm leaning to my left whilst riding straight. I did miss the chance to stop at the sign "Almaty Oblast" but stopped to see a monument closer to the city.
On the outskirts of the city we stop to find a mechanic to try and weld the bracket for the sidecar. Mechanic takes about 10 minutes to do the repair and doesn't even want to be paid. It's off to find accommodation for the evening. We're worn out from the heat and ride today.
Total distance: 340km
Don't have any pictures to post from today's ride as the group (me and two other bikes) needed to make good progress to get to the border with Tajikistan.
First task was to get the bikes out of the hotel courtyard, just a small step to bump up and then we're free to get on the road to Tashkent.
Brian (from Australia) goes first. He's fully loaded as he's got his wife as pillion. He gives the GSA a handful of throttle and he's almost out. A bit of a push and he's out. Next it's my turn. I do the same and I manage to get over the step and out without too much hassle. I'm carrying less weight which probably helps.
Now if a fully loaded GSA isn't big enough how about getting the GSA with the sidecar out of there. There was little room for manoeuvre but driving it forward and pushing it back (no reverse gear!) we line it up and it's ready to go. It won't go on the first or second attempt, so we find some bricks and make the step a bit easier. Still hard going as the sidecar doesn't have a driven wheel.
We're out and into the morning mayhem of traffic in Samarkand. We wanted to go north out of the city to where there were petrol stations but there is a policeman diverting the traffic.
The GPS leads us onto the right road out of town and now all we want to do is look for fuel, just in case we don't have any open stations along our route. There's an old station with a single pump working and two cars waiting. They've got fuel. Now the system here in Uzbekistan is that you have to tell them how much fuel you want and the pump is set so that it dispenses just that amount. I look at my trip meter, have a look in the tank and guess 3 litres, maybe 4 if I have the time to do it myself.
Off I go to pay otherwise they won't give you the fuel. I tell the guy 3 litres, he wants 90,000 Soum - I'm nodding my head, no! Then the calculator is out and he punches 30 litres - there's the misunderstanding. All fueled up we're ready to leave and I find myself being the meat in a GS Adventure sandwich.
The road out goes up a small pass, GPS showing about 600m elevation. It's farmland around here and we also catch a glimpse of a bird of prey circling to our left. We carry on for another while and then pull over to say goodbye to Damien who's going to Tashkent.
We turn off and head east on a road that runs along side the border with Tajikistan. The area doesn't look the most populated. There's the usual sight of abandoned petrol stations, I'm checking my fuel gauge. Am I going to make it!
We approach the town of Shirin and this is a town which is a Soviet style town with oppressive looking apartment blocks and old sports complexes which are falling into decay. I'm almost surprised to see people here as I think that they've all left. At one point the road is only meters away from the border, fenced off of course, and I caught a glimpse of a sign which said "no stopping on road as on border". End of the stretch of road and there's a watchtower!
We get to a border crossing but they won't let us through. It's one for locals only so we have to continue north for about 40km to get to our crossing.
Entering and leaving Uzbekistan is a fairly lengthy procedure. Make your declaration of money and goods. Then it's the vehicle check, and when exiting don't forget to keep the documents they gave you when you entered. After documents comes the scrutiny of all your bags and what's in them. I must admit that the exit into Tajikistan was shorter than the entry from Turkmenistan.
Move onto the Tajik border. Fill out a form, put something in a field that you weren't supposed to. Soldier mumbles something, he's not happy with the tourists. Time to fill the form out again. Move to passport control, friendly greeting of "Welcome to Tajikistan". 5 minutes and we can move to the next point. Next it's time to get the transit papers and pay the fee. It's $10. Easy! Off we go and we're ready to expl.... Nope, one final passport control before the gate is opened.
Waiting for the final check a car comes speeding towards the gate. The driver slams on the brakes, the wheels lock up a bit. He stops it just a meter or two in front of the gate. He beckons the soldier to come to him. I'm expecting the gun to be ready to fire. Wrong again, they've ordered some takeaway. It was just a delivery.
Ride into Khujand was very pleasant. The difference between the two countries is night and day. The roads are better and there are brand new petrol stations along the way. We stopped to fuel up and say goodbye as Brian and Shirley are doing the Pamir highway and going into Kyrgyzstan from there. Fuel attendant comes out to us and gives us a melon each. We can't accept as we've got no space to put them on the bikes!
I wouldn't have been able to have done anymore today as the heat was getting to me and all I wanted was a shower and something to eat.
Brian had mentioned that his friends in Mongolia are such due to heavy rain which would make the northern route difficult. I'm now considering changing my route as doing that alone would be very difficult. I spent the morning ride thinking what my alternatives are.
That's all for today.
I was at a homestay last night and it was the home of a little old lady. The house was off the main street and has parking. This morning she had prepared pancakes, eggs and even some rice porridge for me.
I filled up just after leaving the house and was going to lake Issyk-Kul but had no idea how far I was going to ride. The lake is big but I thought about getting to a village on the shore and having lunch then continuing to Bishkek to meet Damien so we can cross into Kazakhstan together.
After 20 days on the road I should realise that even though the days might seem boring at the start there's always something that will brighten it for me.
Today was no exception. After the very short ride I reach a small lake and it looks great. I stop to take some photos. I continue on the road to the actual lake. I riding through a village and there are some police, out pops the radar gun and busted. I'm told to stop. It's a 40 zone for short distance. One cop tells me I was doing 50. I protest, I might have been over but not by that amount.
I'm told to go over to the car. Cop in the car tells me I was doing 58. At this point they're just throwing numbers about. I ask to see the evidence. It's 45km/h. OK, so I was over the limit. They have also stopped a car which was at the same petrol station this morning. The guy if from Israel. We have a brief chat.
The cop gets the visa machine out and tells me it's fine time. Now some other cars have been stopped, locals come over, show documents and off they go. Hmm, strange. I ask how much. I don't utter anything in Russian. Then I hear a female voice saying how much in Russian. I look around but can't figure out where this translation service is coming from.
Look at the back seat and there's a woman there, telling my new friend to tell me the price. He writes 2,000 Som. I get my visa card ready. Nope, machine not working, cash only today. I tell them I don't have that amount on me as I'm leaving tomorrow and just have enough for fuel. He'll take 1,000 Som. So for a laugh I ask for a receipt. Israeli guy tells me not to bother! Go back to the bike and the Israeli shakes my hand, telling me that I've saved him some money. He got fined the same 1,000 Som. Some places you pay the tourist tax!
I continue on and then stop as I realise that I won't have enough money to fuel up and eat today. So I have to turn around and head for Bishkek and find a hotel that I can pay by credit card and change since money.
In order to make sure I don't run out of fuel I used the last of my money to fill up with 80 octane, gets me a few more litres but I find that the bike is now cutting out in the heat and heavy traffic in Bishkek.
I find a hotel and to hell with the costs. I have a walk around Bishkek.
Tomorrow is Kazakhstan and no doubt there'll be some fun at the border. There always is!
Wake up to the sound of a passing rain shower and then notice the pain in my quad muscles. All that standing from yesterday.
I have some fantastic homemade pancakes and coffee and I leave the homestay. Shireen (phonetic spelling) was a great host and told me to come back and tell everyone I know passing through Kazarman to stop at her guesthouse.
After 2km of tarmac the gravel starts again. I'm not feeling it at that moment and wished I could have had some extra warm up time.
Today the ride was going to Song-Köl lake high in the mountains. Yesterday I was told it was a 4 hour drive to get to the town at the base of the mountain where the lake is. I see why as the road is a gravel track. There is a small bit of tarmac at the entrance to Ak-Tal. I fill up the tank and ask about places to eat. Only shops in the town but possible at the lake. It's about 50km from the town to the lake and the road if the worst I've been on so far. To make matters worse I've seen some black clouds and hear the rumble of thunder. I'm heading into a storm!
I'm very lucky today as I've caught the tail end of the storm but I still get wet on the way up the mountain pass. What's worse is that the road now has little streams on it making the rocks that bit slippier. Taking it easy as I'm on my own and don't want to fall off the edge nor do I want to pick up the fully loaded bike.
At the top of the pass the lake comes into view in the distance and it looks like the sky has fallen to earth. A glorious blue colour. I start to pick up the pace as the road is hard pack gravel/dirt and I'm having fun. Until I go over a blind crest and see a dip in the road full of water. No time to hit the brakes so I adopt the brace position and hope for the best. I slam hard into the water and I lose my footing on the pegs and get splashed with water. I've survived by some stroke of luck.
Found another homestay for this evening, nice comfy place, no internet but run by a sweet little old lady.
I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking for today.
Total distance: 315km.