Wednesday, 27 June 2012

First Night Wild Camping in Mongolia...

The Gobi Gals are having their first night wild camping in Mongolia. They are staying in a field near to a monastary at coordinates N 49 28.352 E 105 05.321...Google Earth image hopefully attached...

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Gobi Gals & Will arrive in Mongolia!!!

Update via text from Belle, Nadine & Will.. They are really pleased to report that they have arrived in MONGOLIA!!! They are staying in a small hotel overlooking the Mongolian/Russian border. It will be a couple more days but then they'll arrive in the capitol city of Ulaanbaatar (UB) & they will have completed their epic scooter journey all the way from London UK to Mongolia!!

Monday, 25 June 2012

Mega catchup

Evening everybody.....we've now reached Ulan Ude  but I have no idea what day it is nor what time it might be, but I think the updates are in the right order. We've met up with Will Geordie English and plan to ride down to the Mongo border tomorrow, a distance of about 250kms, then we will detour to see various things on the way to UB. WE reckon on being in UB in about 3 days but are not likely to have wifi before then. Bikes are still limping along and we are still in one piece, albeit with a few dinks en route. So here goes..... the missing bits:

The Aral Sea

Got the train down from Aqtobe as my wrist is bad and I cant ride that well. The road is also apparently crap and its mingingly hot, so the train it is. The queing system was impressive - ticekts just like the UK but staff infiunitely more polite. Cost about 80nquid return for the two of us, two nights on a sleeper train in a cabin on our own.

Also bought a socket set for ours, given that we seem to have lost our handle , then to the hospital to be x-rayed. Came out of there with a heavily strapped wrist and some cold gel. They were very nice and NHS please note -the whole experience took about 30 mins.

So we missed our stop on the way there and had to go to the next one - 2 hours distant and then get a local bus back.That was quite a laugh with us and a whole crowd of bemused Kazakhs plus a trussed up goat bouncing along the road for two hours. I think it cost about 4 quid for the pair of us.

Aral was horrible. Hot, dusty and it stank of fish.A desolate place that is a bit sad.
The sea s nowhere to be seen around the town and contrary to the pictures, there are no stranded boats. These are all in Uzbekishtan, and then there are only about five, apparently no more spectacular or stranded than those in Rye Harbour or on the mudflats of the Thames at low tide. But at least we saw it, and can tick it off the "must do list" of things to see.

The town is very odd though It has an old seaside feel about it but no sea of course, thanks to the Russians and their bid to grow cotton. But all around the town is evidence of its former glory with fishermen's homes a giant boat statue and an impressive tiled mural in the railway station depicting the former life of the place.

It is insanely hot though and the place has  a very indoor culture. Being a continetal climate, it has cold harsh winters and hot hot summers and today was no different. There is little evidenece of much outdoor activity though; no sports arenas or kids playing out. In fact, most peoipke are coverted from head to foot with hats, long sleeves and it is surprising that is in western garb, not local clorthing or cooling garments designed to coipe with the sun. And noboidy wears sunglasses or wide brimmed harts; they just squint.

Return from Aral

Almost another disaster getting the train back last night. The woman in the ticket office wasn’t over helpful, despite us showing her our tickets and asking which platform the train back to Aktobe left from. She eventually softened a bit and said she would tell us nearer the time, which of course she didn’t. We hung around in the booking hall – the coolest and cleanest part of Aral for hours because it was just to0o hot outside, but as the time train neared, she'd didappeared. Asked several people who pointed but then the train arrived and we were told several things eventually had to run for it and just made it. But we did make it – thankfully. That would have been too dreadful to contemplate.
Arrived back in Aktobe at about 11am, sorted out bikes, went to supermarket and left. But what a difficult ride – extremely hot, a hot wind, and as usual, no shade. Very difficult to ride in as it makes you sleepy and forces your eyes shut. Had to stop several times so as not to crash.

Met Herman the Austrian from Aral yesterday and Pavel from Poland on their way north. Herman's travelling mate had had to go back to Austria as his tent had blown into a river in Tajikistan and taken all of his documents with it. Not good. He'd met Pavel on the road; he too was alone so the were riding together.

Found a wild camp in some roadside trees where we could sort the engine. Plenty of cover and we took the gearbox cover off and found a small hole in the gasket which I jammed with card as we don't have a spare. also repaired – reattached my exhaust – so maybe it will run better tomorrow. but the i discovered a flat rear tyre. had to leave it until the morning because the light was fading.

Heard voices in the trees but were,'t discovered till this morning. Turned out to be a broken down bus and they wanted water but we couldn't spare any so that was that. Both of us thought it was raining so stayed in our beds but it turned out to be crickets and flies on the tent walls, so we got up late by accident – again.

My gasket repair didn't work so the problem is elsewhere. Bike is still going well though so have no clue at all now. Will just have to keep topping it up. But only another 10000 kilometres to go.

Puncture fix took ages – hard with one hand but eventually got going and had a much better ride today. Did about 300kms. Stropped at a town to buy water and the whole town was in the shop. They ignored us initially so we stood there politely while they pushed and shoved past us, but then they decided we had waited appropriate amount of time, so served us – 'nine litres of water please'. They couldn't quite get over that and then turned on the whole ' where have you come from , where are you going' charm. A whole crowd of teenager and small boys waved us off when we left.

Almost finished riding for the day when Nadine realised that her gear lever had fallen off. We went back and searched but couldn't find it, so carried on to find a camp which was hard given that either side of the road is cultivated for once. But found a track and went down that, which is where we are now. Nadine went back to have another look for the gear lever – and found it. Hooray. That would have been a difficult one.

Every day is a wild hair day now although Nadine's still looks marginally more respectable than mine. At least she can tie hers back and make it look like its supposed to be where it is.
Got up early this morning – slept very well though. Some of those burrowy womabty things are living just across the grass as they were squeaking to each other when I stuck my head out of my tent this morning. They looked a bit disgruntled when they saw me though – a definite “ 0i, what you doing in our field” moment.

Just cleaned all the oil from under the bike engine to try and see exactly where the leak is although I suspect it ids between the main block and the next bit ( the bit behind the head) If that is the case, there's not much to do as we have no gasket and I have no idea how to remove it.

Got another problem now too. Just moved the bike and caught the handlebar on a concrete post./ Smashed the electronic start which now doesn't work. Really didn't need that to happen but its one of those annoying things. So now I have to butcher the switch for the horn ( which already doesn't work) and see if I can fix the start or it will be kick starting from now on.

Shit day today

Started off well as I fixed my ignition and Nadine sorted her gear lever ok. We even managed to wash our underwear in a stream although I don't think the resident frogs were too impressed.

But then the shit started the first of five punctures and all on my bike of course. And two broken spokes. Fixed the spokes and the tube, got everything back together, rode 10 kms and another puncture. Repaired that one, loaded up, rode 100 metres and it went again. Sorted that one, and it happened again after another 20 kms or so. Finally realised that the rubbish Slime glue was at fault. All tubes had patches so that was a bit of a problem a but fortunately, I had mended one last week with cement from an ordinary bike repair kit and that was OK. So the moral is: don't buy Slime Kits, They are crap. Will be writing go Mr Slime when get home and telling him top sort himself out.

Reached Ruudnay. Grim place but found and ATM OK and got some money. Need a hotel ads we are filthy. Then right in the middle of a junction, turning left, leaning into the turn ,tyre blew again and I nearly came off as it lot pressure instantly and I was on the rim. Turned out to be a nail so had to push it to side of road, and sit there trying to fix it. Crowd gathered as usual, getting dark, really fed up, hungry, filthy and very tired. Nads went to find hotel. Then a lovely man called Nickolai came along and insisted on helping. Took the whole wheel and all tubes to his place for a service, but returned and said all the Chinese tubes we had were shit ( agreed) but he had managed to resurrect one. Replaced it , sorted the wheel for us which was very welcome as we had had enough by then ands were suffering from major sense of humour failures. Turned out to be a former soldier who had spent 3 years in the Soviet Army in Mongolia. Kept laughing and saying “ Womans doing wheels! Very incredible, very good!”.

 Also met two boys – Yarick and Sacha (Alex) Yarick spoke English very well and translated for us. Nice kids.

Got to hotel at 0100. Reception lady bought us pizza as restaurant was closed. So tired.

Next Day.
Managed 5 hours sleep and are now clean. Yarick and Sacha appeared again and translated for us and helped us load bikes'. Rode to Kostonay to try and find inner tubes and found a car repair place that couldn't help but a customer drove us to a motorcross dealer. Not only did he have tubes and headlamp bulbs ( both of ours have blown) but he insisted on giving them to us, giving us coffee and inviting us to his motorcross club which we had to decline as we had no time. Turned out to be a motorcross teacher, and he gave us his contacts in UB. Really nice man and very kind and his friend spoke German so that was great as Nadine was able to converse and translate. Then he and his young son drove us out of the city and pout us on the road for Petropavlosk.

The kindness and help of strangers really is quite humbling, and thankfully, it seems to kick in just when you're lost and really on the point of exasperation. All the preparation in the world just isn't enough in some circumstances, and that is what happened to us today,and had it not been for the people we met yesterday and today we would have been in very big trouble.

Rode all day and made good time Met a man in an isolated shop when we stopped for water who said “ Ah London – say hello Margaret Thatcher for me. We like the Iron Lady in Kazakhstan”.

Now about 200 kms short of Petropavlosk camping in swampy area but no choice. Road is crap again and we are surrounded by mossies but it is very beautiful here. Peaceful and quiet. We think we are now on Astana time – 5 hours ahead of London.

Bikes are Ok. Tatty and noisy but still pottering along in the general direction of Mongolia. Now have 10 days to be out of Russia but still have big miles ahead.


Made it without mishap but it took a while. Long boring roads which were dreadful in places but good in others. A very monotonous ride though.

Scenery has changed. Could now be Aus or England. Meadows and wooded areas, and soil instead of sand. Cows horses and sheep and it is a bit cooler too – 36 degrees only. Air is fresher too and quite pleasant.

We had intended to try and get on a train here but that was knocked on the head. We couldn't find the train station but were then befriended by two bikers who called an English speaking friend.

They very kindly took us there but then it all started to go wrong. Yes it was possible to put our bikes on a train but they had to go to Irkutsk tonight. That was OK but not with the bags on them because they have to go through customs. And then our new friends thought it would be too expensive. They just don’t seem to understand the concept of travel and the whole visa conundrum and why we need to be out of Russia within 9 days. And added to that, the woman at the station didn’t know when the next train would arrive in Petropavlosk.

So the new plan is to ride 300kms to Omsk in Russia tomorrow and get a train to UB direct from there. That should (theoretically) iron out some of the customs .

But it is language is our enemy. Its not a question of being able to converse at a basic level as taught in language classes at home, but to recognise and argue around problems presented by a society that just doesn't get the travel idea. For example, these boys today were very sweet and helpful and generously gave up their time to help us. But they just couldn't understand why we needed to be on a train as soon as possible and couldn’t delay our travels.

Whilst is it very charming in many respects, and people are very welcoming and generous, it is also frustrating in others; urgent and today are clearly not words in the Kazakh lexicon.

So we are currently holed up in a basic but clean hotel, having repacked our bags in the hope that we can get a train tomorrow from Russia. We don't even mind if the bikes and us go separately as the bikes have no visa concerns. But it would be so much easier for customs to arrive together. We shall see.

Last day in Kazakhstan

At last we have Russia in our sights; Petropavlosk is only 150 kms from the Russian border. And we should reach it by early afternoon. Left the hotel at 0930 and Roman insisted on paying the bill for us which was very sweet of him.

Escorted from town to the correct road by him and Ivan but not before we were shouted at by a gun toting guard in a petrol station who refused to allow us to fill our fuel cannisters, insisting they were dangerous and would blow up. These are purpose made cannisters – not coke bottles or anything – but he wouldn't listen and it caused a bit of a tailback. So we went elsewhere.

Landscape changed more and more as we neared the border, getting all verdant and fluffy with tall grasses, Silver Birch and deep dark soil. Lots of wheat and barley in the fields and hay stacked ready for baling.

An uneventful ride to the border except one stop by the police ( first in Kazakhstan) but we were let on our way almost immediately when he realised we were foreign and women. Our new ploy of looking blank and waiting for instruction, whilst smiling sweetly works very well although Nadine is much better at it than I. She can make it look genuine while I just look high and a bit simple.
Sneaky border picture

But at the border, things went a bit pear shaped. Made the first bit Ok and were stamped into the border zone. But in the main building for exit stamps, we were stopped, having contravened our visa regulations by failing to register in Kazakhstan within 5 days of arrival. This is despite nothing on the visa or in the paper work and being old that we only had to register if we stayed in one place for more than 5 days, and non of the hotels where we stayed having registered us which we now know they are supposed to do.. So we were illegals, and were sent to the main boss to explain ourselves; a young bloke is pristine battle fatigues, stylish Italian leather office shoes, and wearing lots of gold braid and badges. But there wasn't very much explaining for us to do other than keep repeating; “ sorry, we didn't know” “But it is in English on the back of your entry card” “Yes but that English doesn't actually make sense” (it didnt) “ Yes it does” No it doesnt -sorry”. “oh”

That seemed to stump them a bit and we waited in the bosses office while nobody made any decisions but the woman officer – who spoke very good English - quizzed us about where we had been and why we were in Kazakhstan, and made an effort to end he impasse. The boss, however, continued playing Backgammon while we watched and after about 2 hours he suddenly got fed up and decided to let us go. A very bizarre James Bond interlude that.

They were really nice though and although we could have done without the hassle, for an arrest it was pretty cool.

As we got on the bikes outside, a guard came over and asked to ride one of them, so I handed mine over . (I couldn't really refuse) and as he moved off, it was apparent that he had never ridden a bike before. He careered out of control towards a post then off in another direction before slowing down and limping back. The other guards had obviously dared him to ride it, and they were crying with laughter while this was going on. But it all ended well and they all waved us off and wished us luck.

Reached Omsk early evening and got stopped by the police. We think it was to give us a ticket for not having headlights ( they've blown) but once they realised we were foreign, the “ too difficult” signs came up again and we went into blank mode, which worked and they let us go, with directions to the station.

Found the station and a very helpful ticket lady who took us to the “ office for difficult passengers who nobody can understand” where a lovely lady told us yes it was possible to get to Ulan Bataar by train and our bikes too – but they would have to go on a separate freight train. Cant buy tickets until the morning though. So we stayed in the hotel above Omsk station – looks good but is terrible. Art Nouveau style but without the design – lots of steps, no lifts, no air conditioning or finesse and fat staff who bark orders. Cost us £30 dollars for a hot room as far away as possible, overlooking the platform so that every sound is magnified a million times to prevent any sleep. Ever. Slept with the fridge and freezer doors jammed open to try and cool the room down.

The Train to UB

Got sufficient roubles to buy tickets and had just begun the ordeal of trying to make ourselves understood when two English language students – Svetlana and her friend Dema a;approached us and translated for us. That was a real stroke of luck and helped us so much – thanks you two. Had a bit of hassle in the queue with a man who barged Nadine out of the way and then shoved me. Needless to say, he was royally shoved back and also reprimanded by other people waiting for tickets. Don’t know what he would have done had we not had the help that we did and thus taken even longer.

One thing I have noticed here is how – to us – people are very rude, and barge and push all the time, let doors swing back and hit you, and try and get through small spaces or into gaps that you are emerging from. I found it quite shocking at first but soon realised it is just what they do and started doing it back, so it all works fine.

And people shout. They get right in your face and shout quite aggressively, which although perhaps they don’t mean it like that, is how it comes across and its is quite intimidating. We have learned to take a deep breath and wait to see if it is aggression or just what they do. For example, the crowd of taxi drivers around our bikes this ,morning; lots of shouting and jabbing gestures but they were just interested in what they were, where we had come from and why we were at Omsk station. But you can see how cultural misunderstanding occurs and how easy it would be to assume a poor inference in respect of Russian manners on this basis.

But then it is all redeemed by people who help, like Svetlana and her friend. And the next lady in the “ difficult passenger department” who went out of her way to get the bikes to UB. She made call after call for us and argued with the chief grump who really wasn't in a happy place, and it turned out that the info we had been given was wrong. The bikes could not be freighted over international border without us being present. But we already had our tickets to UB. So plan B was to get the bikes to Ulan Ude, just 200 or so kms from the Mongolian border and make a local arrangement to collect. Lots of texts to the UK Mongo network, and several hours later, the bikes were wrapped in plastic and in the freight shed waiting to go to UU on Sunday night, and even the chief grump was all smiles. We bought the helpful lady a bunch of flowers as a thank you and she was clearly both taken aback and delighted with our little gesture. Hopefully it will keep her sweet for the next travellers who wander into her office.

We, meanwhile, are happily now on a sleeper train to Ulan Bataar – the Trans Mongolian Sleeper train -, in a nice cabin, catching up on sleep, and deliberating on whether we will go on to UB or get off in UU, recover the bikes and ride over the border. We have two full days to work that one out though, so its on the back burner right now.

The Mongolian man sharing our compartment is very impressed with our bike riding exploits and had a good giggle when he found out. Nice man who helped us drag our heavy bags onto the train and has given us loads of food for the journey.

The train – Day Two

Had a bit of a problem last night. The nice Mongolian man turned into a bit of a beer monster with wandering hand trouble and had to be reprimanded several times, particularly when he brought friends into our compartment. It wasn't too bad until nightfall, when he got really out of order and tried to get into bed with Nadine. So that got knocked on the head and he left. Unfortunately, he reappeared several hours later, even drunker, and with another friend in tow, who also decided to try it on with Nadine. He too was despatched with a swift kick and some terse words.
Spent all day in the cabin, snoozing, chatting and eating. Mongolian man was kicked out ( having snored loudly all night) and we didn't see him all day apart from when I went to the restaurant car in the afternoon to get some drinks. He was drunk again and I told him to find somewhere else to sleep tonight because of his antics last night and his continued drunkenness. I suspect he will take no notice but he has been told and is not coming in.

It was a good choice to get the train, Its given us the opportunity to have a rest and I don't think that either of us – until we stopped – realised how tired we were, both physically and mentally. We have two months now of full on riding over difficult terrain, scorching temperatures, bike breakdowns , scary traffic, as well as the stress of being in foreign places, with no real useful language or cultural knowledge to help us. A few days chilling is good.

It is also a good way to see parts of Siberia that we would otherwise have missed. The distances are so great ad our little bikes are not capable of huge mileage so it would have been impossible for us to have made it out of Russia and complied with our visas, given the bike and snow related hold ups and the difficulty I have riding with a damaged arm.

Siberia is noticeably different from the Russia that we have seen so far. Very few towns but lots of forests and meadows with buttercups and other wild flowers in them. Looks like pine and Silver Birch mostly, and the few houses that there are are made from wood and look like Snow White type jobs. It is almost Alpine is some respects; odd how places thousands of miles apart can look so similar. Its quite quaint really, but the summer weather disguises the harsh life these people must live here – permafrost, snow and dark – lots of it. Each house has piles of wood around it and there is evidence of more being collected. Fuel for heating and cooking I guess.

The railway is surprisingly busy but then again, I suppose its not that much of a surprise as it is the only real way to move people and goods across this massive place. It follows the shore of Lake Baikal for miles - another one to tick of the " must see" list.
And its has spawned a whole industry for people living along it, with women making food to sell on the platform when a train pulls in. Each train stops for about 15 – 20 minutes and passengers get off, stretch their legs , and buy food for the remaining journey. We bought some bread, tomatoes, cucumber, boiled potatoes and a battered roll thing full of vegetables or potatoes. Can't remember what its called but it begins with “ B” and tastes good.

Had a real problem late last night with the Mongolian man and his friend who turned up at our cabin, very drunk, pulling at the door and hammering on it, trying to get in. Both of us were sound asleep so it was a bit of a shock anyway, and we initially tried to ignore them in the hope that they would clear off. But they didn't, so we had to open it and confront them. There was no way they were coming in but they clearly weren't going to leave, and tried to push their way in, shoving and pawing us as they did so. Mongolian man then decided to try some groping – big mistake – and was consequently sent stumbling backwards down the corridor by the hardest shove I could manage. But his friend stayed put and wouldn't let go of the door handle. I couldn't loosen his grip so we had to shout loudly to alert the train guard, who appeared, realised what was happening, and got rid of them. Not a nice experience but to be fair, the only problem we have had so far in a lot of miles.

Day Three

Reached Ulan Ude at 0730 Moscow time but have no idea of what time it actually is here but possibly lunchtime or about two, and we're now eight hours ahead of London.. Currently locked in the baggage office while the office staff have a break, waiting for our bikes which are hopefully on train no 2 , due in a bit later.
It is cool here too, a nice change given the heat we have suffered to date. Its about 18 degrees, so still tee shirt weather but not the energy sapping temperatures of Astrakhan, Omsk, or Kazakhstan. The city looks different too – or at least the little bit we have seen of it so far. A curious mix of asian people and Soviet infrastructure, lots of soldiers and police hanging around. That is very noticeable in Russian towns and cities – the amount of officialdom evident. Guns and uniforms seem to be the thing, even when they are worn or carried by bog standard lowly security guards, but to our eyes it is all very odd and rather ridiculous. Do they really perceive a threat or is it just something they carry it just because they do? And do they ever get used – maybe against somebody jumping a queue.

Bikes have just arrived! Yippee. Now just got to deal with Russian bureaucracy and we should be done. Hope to meet up with Geordie later who is not far away and then we'll ride down to the Mongolian border together – hopefully.

Will has just had an off but is apparently Ok. Went outside to load up bikes and were immediately besieged by people wanting fags or money. Nope, not from us people. Why do they think we're rich and what makes them think we should give them stuff? They're not poor, they are well dressed and well fed, yet they are demanding cigarettes and money for vodka. Why? Because we are from the west ? But we saved our money and worked hard to get here; we're not sponsored or paid a wage like Ewan and Charley, yet they assume that they have the right to ponce of us. No no no. Go away. Fed up with you would be freeloaders.

Stop press. Will appeared tonight, a bit tattered and manic but Ok. He came off on diesel and tar at about 50mph but is ok. His bike is a bit battered but nothing terminal, so we all went out for pizza and beer. That pout him right.

A bit of farkling on our bikes tonight,. Changed Nadine's rear tyre – 8820 kms over very rough ground on a stock Chinese job isn't bad, but as it had no tread left, we thought it was time for a new one. Also replaced her two broken spokes and sorted the headlamp ready for the go in the morning.

Ulan Ude is very grey and a bit grim, its raining and cold. A sort of Sheffield of the east. It also has a giant head of Lenin and by giant, I mean really big. Weird.

Friday, 22 June 2012

The Gobi Gals reach Russia (again!!)...

Text update from Belle & Nadine.  Today they made it to the Russian city of Omsk.  Crossing through the Kazakhstan & Russian border posts wasn't too hard & tonight they are in a hotel for a change! They leave tomorrow on a train & will be able to train it now all the way to UB in Mongolia.  The scoots will follow them by freight train next week & will also arrive in UB a few days after them.  They are both in very good spirits! They are now 6 hours ahead of UK time...

Thursday, 21 June 2012

More GG Updates from Kaz...

Text update from the Gobi Gals that at about 20.00 hours (Kaz time) they had reached the town of Petropavlovsk in Northern Kazakhstan. Tomorrow their plan is to make it to Omsk in Russia - around a 300km ride.  Belle reports that there were people on the way today that insist on "helping" them with advice from young lads such as had they thought to put oil in their engines!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

More Updates from Northern Kazakhstan (it's a big place...)

Weds. 20th June 21.38hrs Kaz time. Text update from the Gobi Gals. They have had a much better day travelling today & are now around 230km from Petropavlovsk, Northern Kasakhstan. They were once again very lucky this morning & came across a motocross delaer in Kostanay who supplied them with heavy duty tubes & headlamp bulbs & even lead them out of town to see them onto the right road! Tonight they get to wild camp in a swamp along with millions of mossies & dragonflies!!

Updates from Northern Kazakhstan

Tues.19th June.  Update from Nadine - taken from the Gobi Gals Facebook page...Wow. What a day. Only 5 punctures... All on Belle's bike somehow too. It didn't help that the glue for the patches wouldn't set because it was so hot, so we'd get a km down the road and it would fall off! The last one was a bad one. In an intersection, Belle's rear tyre blew suddenly, and she nearly came off. Unfortunately we had to move 100m up the road, and the tube was royally stuffed. Luckily a very nice man by the name of Nikolai helped and drove back and forth to a repair place, and informed us that our 2 spare tubes are stuffed. So fingers crossed we make it into the next city to buy some new ones! We need only to go 40 kms, but we had 3 puntures in that distance this morning!! So it is now 2 in the morning, and we have just come into the hotel room, showered and eaten. A long day, that started so well!! Now in the morning I have to fix my gear level which is slipping and rotating and therefore not doing it's job. Will we ever get a break!? That is what we are wondering... Heading north tomorrow, hopefully, and heading to Omsk where we hope to get a train to Irkutsk. Fingers crossed everybody!!!

Friday, 15 June 2012

Gobi Gals updates from Kazakhstan!!

Belle reports that her left wrist has now been x-rayed & all strapped up. She describes it as having minor damage.  They are, as of 13.30hrs UK time, waiting for a train in an air conditioned pub  in Aktobe in North-West Kaz to travel South to Aralsk.  They are heading there for a two day break for a flying visit to see the Aral sea (or ex-sea as it is now!). They have left their Scoots in the safe keeping of the 5 Star Amsterdam hotel in Aktobe.  This will rest Belle's wrist some more as on their return to Aktobe on Sunday the plan will be for them to ride to Russia & hope to catch a train(s) (with the Scoots!) to Novosibirsk & Irkutsk. This will then hopefully allow them to cross the Russian border into Mongolia well before their Russian visa expiry date of 30th June. This will also cut down the riding mileage riding in Mongolia down too UB

Thursday, 14 June 2012

More Kazakhstan

Things didn’t start off well today very difficult. Very tired, and we didn’t have any food last night and the air conditioning went off so woke with a fuzzy heads, dehydrated and hungry. Luckily we found a bakers before long and got some bread and nuts. Nadine's neck and are both giving her gip, and both of us could have done with more sleep but there wasn't time.

It felt a bit cooler too but then the heat suddenly kicked in. There is no shade here at all – no trees, no building shadows, no nothing, and the roads just stretch on endlessly, making riding a bit of an ordeal. You cant even plan it to stop in towns because there aren’t any, and keeping on the move is actually easier than stopping because it is slightly cooler.

Stopped for petrol and a pee and because there is nowhere to hide, two blokes stopped and wanted their pics taken. That was ok but a bit wearing and we couldn't get rid of them for ages because they were arguing between themselves about how to work their own camera.. Then two Swiss bikers came along which was nice, and we chatted to them; that was a boost – Norbet and Alois on way to Vladivostok on two identical and new Africa twins.

Stopped in a place called Dossor for food and the shop girl was an English teacher so we had a good chat with her. Bought two pastie things which she heated in the hottest microwave ever.
My bike is pissing oil again but seems OK otherwise. OK after a new chain last night and is pulling well but very leaky. So we have to do that at petrol stops. We did replace the head gasket on one stop after discovering there wasn’t one, so that made things a bit better, but now suspect that the Astrakhan boys didn’t put on a gasket between the block and the head. That is too much trouble to do on the move, especially now as we’ve lost our socket handle and 17mm spanner, so have no way of getting bolts off.

The road then became very bad and turned into piste which was Ok except that it slowed us down considerably. Rode most of the day on them which was physically very draining, but these little bikes cope well though and skip round the holes. It really would be so much harder and tiring on a bigger bike – much more effort required to hoick a bigger bike around, but these are so light that you can just flick them. Its almost like riding a push-bike but with more power. Slightly. If mine makes it to Mongolia and then back to London, I shall definitely off road on it back in the UK.

Rear puncture for Nadine just outside a small mining village wasn't the best thing that could have happened especially as we were besieged by small children but they turned out to be lovely kids who took me to buy water and food. They stayed with us for about an hour while Nadine fixed the flat while three very uncouth camels belched and farted nearby. The kids told me they were called tria – or something similar sounding in Kazak, and generally had a good play with the bikes and our cameras.

We stopped at about 2000 hrs tonight. camping next to a railway line, not ideal but is the only semi suitable hiding place for miles. Goods trains going past all night.

 Not a great end to the day though as in the late afternoon, I fell off and hurt my wrist., having bashed it hard in the morning when riding through craters Nadine reckons it is fractured and sorted it out for me. Fortunately, she didn't see me fall off that time, so there is no picture.

I've lost track of what day it is but I think it might be Wednesday. Up and set off OK b but it was really hard going from the start with the road being little more than rough track. My wrist is painful and I'm having to ride one handed, which is difficult off road anyway, but these roads are particularly rough, and it is very slow going generally.

Stopped at a town called Mugyr for water. It was like two cowboys riding into a dusty town in the wild west, with people appearing along the roadside and starting. The roads were just tracks, and as usual, it was hard to spot what any buildings were, so we asked a man. To our surprise, he spoke a bit of English – mad; a farmer in the middle of Kazakhstan telling us to go 300m down the track, turn right – not left – and look for a flat roofed building with writing on the side, but he couldn't remember the word for 'blue' so he told us ' not the green one'. So we did, and there was the shop.
Another American Werewolf in London moment as we went in – stares of disbelief and astonishment at two strangers,women on motorbikes, covered in dust, appearing out of the desert.
But we do look rather a bit of a sight

I really didn't feel well and had to go outside to be sick but I was immediately surrounded by a crowd of interested and excited villagers who wanted to know everything about us, what we were doing, where my husband was, did we watch football, what did we think of Kazakhstan, what I'd done to my arm, how much the bike cost and how fast it went etc. Showed them the map, posed for pictures on phones and concentrated very hard on not being ill in front of them, but thankfully, I managed it.
The track got even worse and was difficult to ride, things kept shaking off the racks. The heat was bad too. Eventually stopped under a railway bridge for shade and slept for a while. Got going again after about 90 mins and the road got slightly better and graduated from sand to to tarmac albeit with more massive craters which we had to ride down as they were unavoidable.

Met three men in the middle of nowhere – and old man and his two sons. Again, they wanted to know all about the bike and one took it for a short spin. They had a Ural in their front yard.

Only managed 100kms today because of everything and are currently camped on the steppe in the middle of nowhere. Its thundering but no rain as yet. Not sure what the best thing is to do, given we are the tallest things for miles, there are no trees for the lightening to strike. Cant stay here though.
Its a bit soul destroying at the moment as these rough roads are all there are and there s nothing in between – and I mean nothing. It is going to take us ages to get anywhere, especially now my arm is not working properly. But I suppose that is all part of it – getting over the difficult times and making it to Mongolia. The distances are huge though. Really huge.

Bikes are OK and my oil leak has not got any worse so I suspect it is a gasket problem. Nadine's clutch is slipping a bit, but apart from that, they thankfully have kept going. Lets hope it stays that way because there really is nobody out here and nowhere to get any help, should we need it.

Just arrived in after a good day riding. It turned out that we had done more kms yesterday than we thought, so that was good as we are a bit nearer our destination for today. Its is also a bit cooler with a nice breeze, currently a comfortable 36 degrees although it will probably heat up as the day progresses.

Rode to the next town to look for bread and were stopped by a minibus full of men who did the usual picture thing, then gave us their loaf of bread. How nice!

The road then became diabolical again for quite a while and both of us were resigned to another day slogging and getting nowhere, but then it suddenly changed again to beautiful tarmac, white lines , road signs and even a pedestrian crossing – in the middle of nowhere. The nearest place was 4 kms distant, but somebody had clearly got a pot of paint and was on a mission to make a mark.

The landscape changed somewhat – steppe turned into hilly terrain, no more camels, and horses and trees appeared. The hot wind was clearly bringing rain though which could be smelt in the air. Stopped at a garage for a break and were inspected by a whole bus load of locals, asking the usual questions. While we were there, the rain hit. The wind suddenly got up, it started to pelt rain and gravel. Fortunately we were still on the forecourt and not riding as it was hard to keep the bikes upright against the wind. Had to stand behind them and hang on them to stop them going over though.

Finally got to Aqtobe and found a hotel with the help of a gang of BMX riding youths who escorted us there after being instructed by the man from the travel agents, whom we'd asked. We needed a good hotel tonight to sort out our extreme wild appearance. And also access the internet as we're hoping to get a train down to Aral and then back up to Russia; my arm makes it hard for me to ride, and combined with the lost week due to breakdowns, we're not sure that we will make it to the Russian /Mongolian border before June 30th when our visa expires. And an overstay in Russia would not be good.

Funny thing happened just after we arrived though. Tw3o blokes came up to us in the hotel car park and asked us if we were the girls on way to Mongolia, and had we ridden from Atyrau and Astrakhan. Yes we had, and it turns out that we'd been in the local paper in Atyrau, with our photos and a bit about us. No idea how that happened but it seems we're newsworthy in Kazakhstan!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Wild Camping in Kazakhstan...

The Gobi Gals are wild camp tonight somewhere in the countryside in Kazakhstan. Their view looking around through 360 degrees is - a single wild horse! Very, very flat & featureless! Tough riding through today with only 100kms ridden on very rough tracks. Good mobile signal though so managed a quick chat with Belle & Nadine - it was good to hear their voices!

Monday, 11 June 2012


The midges as we loaded the bikes at the hotel were incredible – it was like one of those cartoons where a swarm suddenly arrives and completely envelopes one thing. Horrible, and we were glad to get on the road and moving through air so that they couldn’t get us.

Got to the border fairly quickly and then waited in scorching shadeless sun for two hours, and so did the midges. But the crossing was easy and we were waved through after getting the many bits of papers stamped.

The last person we spoke to in Russia was a policeman – who promptly asked us for a bribe. He didn't get one but what a cheek. Its not like he is poor or anything, and was well fed and well clothed, Greedy chancer, and dishonest, which we mentioned as we sped off into no man’s land.

Rode several km across NML and weren’t sure whether we'd missed the Kazakh entry point as what looked like a customs place was derelict and shut up so kept going and eventual came to the entry. Again, the crossing was easy,and like Russia the Kazakh are not great on signage or telling you where they want you to go next. But they were fine and quite chatty.

Got stamped through OK then began the insurance hunt. Some people don't bother b but after our frequent encounters with the Russian Police, we were a bit wary. But there is means of changing money at border – no ATM or bank, just a dusty old hut and a bored looking dog, but they agreed to take Euros which we had, and would have taken dollars too. But they'd only take pristine notes and declined one 10 Euro note that was used but certainly not tatty. So it is worth taken a stash of alternative currencies but ensure all notes are new and in very good nick. That little transaction cost us 29 Euros each, and we returned to the bikes to find that some kids had nicked our lunch.

We also made a bit of a mistake because the insurance bloke did offer to change some money for us, but we declined, thinking we could change some in the next town. only there was';t one for about 80kms. By that time, we were getting pretty desperate of fuel and water. We tried to find an ATM or change money at a supermarket then a hotel but the staff in each place were a bit dismissive and unhelpful – surprisingly so. They wouldn't even take a card, although they had both card machines and sings saying they did. Maybe its because they don't see foreigners and bikes that often, but it was a bit of a blow. In future, what we will do is always change about £20.00 at the border. That at least gives you something to get by with and because its a small amount, getting stiffed by the money changers is not a problem.

But then we met Thierry from France, who stopped when he spotted us at the hotel complex. He was also looking for an ATM and having no luck. Decided to stick together and find the Caspian Sea, which we did, and wild camped in a great place right on the shore. 

 It was a bit of a rough ride across fesh fesh sand dunes to reach it, but well worth it. Both Thierry and Nadine fell off, but no damage to either or their bikes.

My bike is dripping oil again and Nadine's electric start has given up so I had to push start her several times today, which is not great in full gear and 45 degree heat. But then she fixed it, so that was good.
Immediate impressions of Kazakhstan are how different is is from the lush wet lands of the bit of Russia we've just left. Its is scorching hot too, and mud brick houses are the norm instead of the stone and wooden models a of just a few miles back. The roads are also terrible – potholed, unfinished road works just left, and melted tarmac that has developed into horrible ruts and corrugations.

The animals have changed too. Gone are the herds of cows just standing in the road, and in are Bacturan camels and wild horses, with a few smart cows cooling off in the water. 

And there are no trees or shade, just miles and miles of featureless sand. Its is very like Western Sahara, with a dead straight road and nothing else. So wew had to find what shade we could.

Paddled in Caspian Sea. Beautiful, unspoilt, kilometres of nothing but just us and birds and no sound. Its now dawn the sun is about to rise.

 Must get some money today and then fuel and water before heading down to Aral to see what is left of the sea that the Soviets ruined by damming two main rivers to irrigate land for cotton – or white gold as they called it. It compley Russthe non e existent sea, then Shymkent before trying to get a train donw to tashkent to mately ruined the livlihood of the whole arae and the town of Aral, as well as diminish what was once the fourth largest inland sea in the world. And its trashed the areas ecosystem too, all because somebody didn't know what they were doing – or didn't care.

Hooray – we've got some money

It wan't easy though. Rode to the next biggest town about 25km east of our wild camp, and called at a big petrol station where they wouldn't lt us pay by card again.Look at rthe forecourt though!

 But whilst we were there, a local man came up and chatted and he took us to the town's ATM, which turned out to be empty, but somebody else told us about the bank. Changed some dollars there. It was a real American Werewolf in London moment when we opened the bank door though – it was full yet all noise stopped and everybody stared. Perhaps they thought we were about to rob it, two white women dressed in motorbike gear suddenly descending on them on a Monday morning. But once they got over the staring bit, they were helpful and slotted us in to the front of the queue.

So we had lunch with Thierry in a cafe full of old men with no teeth and no other women apart from the 

That drew a few looks too but we didn't get thrown out, so we sat in the cool drinking water and eating something which we still don't know what it was but it tasted goo,d and watching Ugly Betty in Kazak. A great way to spend a Monday morning.

Now we're in Atyrau, and oil industry town, where it is even hotter. 

Saw some amusing things on the way here like this boat in the rear of a pick up truck,

and dodged a sandstorm, ate something in TGI Friday and found another bank and a cheap hotel. Bit fed up and defeated today. Its hot, we're well behind where we wanted to be because of the mechanic trouble to date, and we're going to have to cut some of the route to ensure we are out of Russia by June 30th. Bugger.