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!