Monday, May 28, 2012

Tashkent or where is the border crossing.

Well there was no stopping it, today we had to cross into Uzbekistan. We rode out of the hotel wondering what the day would bring.

The view over Shymkent.
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Fueled up it was only 120ks to Tashkent easy day, it would give us plenty of time to cross the border and still make to the hotel with plenty of time to spare. First up another police radar stop, I didn't think I was speeding but once he realized I didn't speak Russian or Kazakh he waved me on my way. Mmm day is going ok. Next stop was plain clothes guy waves me down again seeing soldiers I thought I had better stop so I rode over to them and engaged directly with them. Next moment there was about 6 soldiers around the bike asking a questions, one who could speak English pops up, explains it was passport control and asks for our passports and migration documents. All cool. I would have been happy to stay and talk, we asked if we could take a photo, but were told no and to move on (by the traffic cop not the soldiers) Hah rather being harassed into a checkpoint we were harnessed out of one.

Anyway we eventually made to the border checkpoint and it was chaos people everywhere waving at me for currency and asking about the bike. We traded $100 US for 200000 SOM. I thought it was an okay deal as the official rate was 1863 SOM to the dollar and Internet told me there wasn't a great spread between the official rate and black market rate, I later discovered that 2700 was about right maybe more, so much for accurate research! I also found out that vehicles weren't allowed to cross here! Doh so much for an easy day. The great thing is while we were probably somewhat vulnerable, had gone to the wrong place and still weren't sure where to go I was having great fun.

This is the best shot we got of the first crossing, it doesn't quite show the chaos.
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug We asked the cops where to go, his was quite helpful, but I didn't quite get his directions. so we rode to the next crossing also crowed also drew too much attention to find out that we needed to go 120km further down the road to find an international border that vehicles could cross. (Also to add if you are going to shake someone's hand in this part of the world remember to take your gloves off it is poor form not to).

Anyway something that would normally leave me stressed, just left me with a grin from ear to ear. I was having the worst day of trip so far from a organizational point of view and it was the best fun.

So eventually we found the crossing point (Chinoz/Yallama for those interested) rode past all the trucks and cars waiting to cross, parked in front of the checkpoint gate and was let straight in. Alright!

First stop Kazakh frontier control all straight forward until the question was asked where is your Uzbek Visa, um in my other passport. Hang I will go and get it. This would be interesting, two Australian Passports. When he saw that I had two passports issued by the same country he eyes nearly popped out of his head. Very funny. Off to ask his supervisor, five minutes later he was back stamp stamp and it was Sharon's turn.

Then it was time for Uzbekistan. Queue up passports stamped, we had some customs forms that we had filled in that were in English, they were the old forms so it we had filling new forms in Russian, luckily there was a lady who spoke English well enough to help us fill them in. Filled them in and more waiting, more stamping and it was on to the next step.

Customs Clearance, the young bloke doing this wanted to see everything, I think out interest more than anything else. He had a big grin on his face when opened the bag with condoms in it. He was a really nice and it was okay that he went through everything. It gave us change to ask how to say a few things in Uzbek. I think it brought us a lot of good will doing this.

Finally we are out of border control, slow process but professional and people were nice. Straight out of border control to our first police check point, of to the office to fill in some paperwork and of course get asked for money. I actually felt sorry for the guy and almost caved he asked for $10 and then dropped it to $5 nearly straight away. But I told him, via sign language I was stupid and didn't understand what he was asking. (Most people will guess that first off).

So it was now it was back to Tashkent about 80ks, we had ridden a 200ks to cover a distance of 20. Up the highway 2 more check points that didn't show any interest in the bike. Plenty of people honking their horns and waving.

Finally into Tashkent and the Hotel was in a easy place to find, or so I thought until I was confronted by traffic coming straight at me. Shit!!! A quick uturn and it was down a back alley to the street we needed to be on. Mmm hotel is not that readily apparent. So we stop at a restaurant and ask for directions. It is 400 meters up the road no worries thanks for that. So up the road we go, mmm still can't find it back to the restaurant ask again. In the end I left Sharon with the bike and walked up. Found it, the numbers on the street went. 65, 63, 95 I am sure there is some logic to it but just escapes me. Oh the sign? It was the size of an A4 piece of paper, behind a tree. So rang the bell, made sure everything was sweet and went back to get Sharon.

In the meantime, the guys at the restaurant had found someone who spoke English and had sent someone up the street to make sure I was sorted. Fantastic, what nice people we had met here. A shower and change saw back their for a fantastic meal of this soup that was more stew and some. Ore shaslick. Also a salad that was so fresh. I forgot to mention in previous posts in this part of the world the veges are really fresh and very tasty.
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The roof in our guest house, all the timber was hand cut.
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The father of the current owner, who initially built the guest house.
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Our first day in Uzbekistan was great, nothing went to plan but I went to sleep grinning from ear to ear. 24 hours had brought a huge turn around.

Some fresh baked bread.
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Our host playing some traditional Uzbek music.
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Jean-Pierre, another crazy cyclist riding through central Asia, he was off to Kyrg, his blog is
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The team at the restaurant.
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*A footnote, some of those who know us will know that we have a strong faith, we prayed about this before hand, call it what will, but I choose to thank God for the day he gave me.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


Well up early back to the cafe for breakfast and we were on the road again.
The road conditions were very mixed brand new concrete express way with a 50 km/hr speed limit and crappy road with 100km/hr one. Crazy place. Cops pulled me over for speeding (I think) but sent me on my way once they realized I had no English.

The snow capped mountains were great, pity there was so much dust in the air, made getting a good clear photo hard.

Truck load of camel hides.
Just a quick digression on the express way, China, Kazakhstan and Russia are building a hwy that will run from western China to St Petersburg. Of this about 3800ks runs through Kazakhstan and they are spending about 7 billion dollar to build it. Highway to nowhere? Time will tell.

Yet another cyclist making their way through central Asia.
About halfway there was yet another police checkpoint, this time manned by plain clothes guys, maybe I should have kept going. Who knows, the guy was asking for money before I even started showing documents. I think in the end he wanted to see my licence. He took me to the copper in charge who did some chicken dance on floor of his office, while a bunch of other laughed at, he asked some stuffed I gave stock I don't know what you want answer, finally he yelled at me to go (I think) anyway another sour taste in my mouth. This time I was quite unsettled by the whole thing. I know it is part of traveling in this part of the world, but who says I need to like it and why do the locals need to put up with it.
The rest of the run into Shymkent was uneventful, but there is obviously less money here and really bad pollution. I didn't really feel at all safe so the hotel was a welcome sight. We had two days here and had planned to do some sight seeing, but I had enough of cops and dirty looks so we made the most of our cheap ($70/night) 5 star hotel. It was nice, the staff were nice and food western. I just needed a break from it all.
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This little horse was gift from Sveta when we went to dinner in Almaty.
Markets behind the hotel.
Well i starting to feel a little miserable. We had to go to Uzbekistan next and apparently the cops there were worse! Groan not looking forward to things. Almost considered going back to Russia!

Friday, May 25, 2012


So we had 3 nights in Almaty and a pile of things to do.
1) Get the bike serviced. The back tire was showing steel in places.
2) Go the Mongolian Embassy and organize our visas to visit there.
3) Finalize our accommodation in Uzbekistan.
The first night had been taken with our late arrival the previous evening, by the time we rolled into our hotel we were both very tired, we had covered 3000 ks in 4 days and on both some great and not so great roads. The thing we discovered from Kazakhstan was the roads were either great or really bad, there was no in between.
Day 1
After a nice sleep in Anton took me around to collect my new tire and then on to the service guy. This took most of the day so I sat around and talked bikes and Kazakhstan with those who could speak English, had a chuckle with the mechanic when dumped oil all over the floor of the garage (an accident I have had happen to me on occasion) this took the best part of the day and it was well after dark before we got back to the hotel.
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Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugPhoto & Video Sharing by SmugMugIn the meantime Sharon had a number of tasks to accomplish, get some passport photos and a SIM card Anton had written out what she needed in Russian and just pointed her in the right direction. Once she had got this done she noticed a hairdresser and with a little help from someone else she booked an appointment. So a big day of getting things done for the both of us. Very much appreciated the help from Anton, I have begun to find that the help from strangers or as I prefer new friends is invaluable. Especially when you are rookie, we have constantly found that there are people willing to go out of there way to assist you on journey.

One quite well used back tyre.
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One happy mechanic. Did a hard days work for about $350 including oil.
Day 2
After our big day previously today was to be a little more simple, or so we thought.
First destination the Mongolian Embassy on the other side of town, navigation through Almaty on a bike is not all that easy as there are a large number of streets that Motorbikes are not allowed down. With that in mind we slowly threaded are way around the streets, but still managed to find ourselves on street with No Entry for bikes. Mmm better get of this street before cops see us, but it was too late and we found ourselves on the wrong end of law yet again. First cop puts me through the wringer in terms on documents etc before I have to go in sit in the car with the next cop. Ah bribe time so for about 5 minutes we sat in the car while we had the roundabout of money with me shaking my head saying I don't understand. Despite refusing to pay and not getting a fine it always leaves a sour taste in my mouth. I think I would rather just have the fine and be done with it.
So we were free to go again and this time made our way down a number of small alleyways to get where we need to be, worst of all the street we needed to take ran of the street we weren't allowed on. Eventually after a bit of cross country we managed to get where we needed to be. Forms filled in, money handed over, we would be able to collect our Visas the following day.
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug After this another run of the gauntlet and we were off to Stantours to finalize our accommodation in Uzbekistan and paid them the balance of the money we owed them. David Berghof the owner is a German who speaks excellent English and I highly recommend them.
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug That night Anton took us and his girlfriend up into the mountains to this little restaurant for a great meal off special breads, soups and of course shaslick. It was a great night out and we will be left with yet another set of great people that we may never meet again. As I didn't have anything better to do with the 17" tire I had carted for nearly 4000ks, I gave it to Anton for his efforts, I thought it was the least I could do.
One of Sharon's favourite bus stops Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugAlmaty Petrol Station Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugLongest name on a building I've ever seen Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
Anton and Sveta
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Our very nice meal, partly completed.
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Good bye to Anton. Thanks for everything.
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We had to collect our passports from the Mongolian embassy and make our way to Shymkent for our crossing into Uzbekistan. Getting to the Embassy meant another run of the gauntlet against the no entry signs, fortunately this time we only needed a couple of hundred meters. Passports collected it was off to Shymkent. Given how late we left we decided to make our way to Shu the first night. We found a clean little hotel off the highway and it ours for the night. A lady ran a nice little cafe in house next door and gave a great meal that filled us up very well. She came and sat with us and with a little google translate, a pen and paper we had nice conversation about our trip our ages and the kids.
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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Four days of Madness.

Our original plan from Aktobe was to go down past the Aral Sea (what is left of it) and past Baikanour to Almaty. Vitaly had told the road was not good fuel would be a problem. Some other research had confirmed this. So with this in mind it was going to be 4 long days as we went to Almaty the long way. Through Kostanay, Astana, Balkhash before arriving at Almaty some 3 thousand kilometers away. There we stop for a rest for a day or two while the tires and oil were changed on the bike. We would also catch up with a guy I met on the Internet, Anton, through another Australian traveller, Richard Winter. Anton proved to be a Godsend, but more on that later.

Sergei was from Ukraine, cycling to China. There are some hardcore dudes out there, riding into the wind on a motorbike was hard enough, and he was moving along pretty quickly.

Vitaly had told us Kostanay was 400ks, Google said more like 760ks mmmwhat to believe. We left early enough that it didn't make any difference either way, just a longer day. Well it turned out to be 760ks and about 10 hours on the bike due to an 80k section of really bad road. We were very grateful for our hotel that night despite its $100 price tag.

Next day and another near 700k day as we rode to the capital Astana.
Our hotel on the outskirts of Astana Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
We highly recommend the Hotel Tamsan in Astana. $35 got us a good room, bike parking in the foyer, dining room, reasonable wifi. Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugExample of toilet block/rest stop on the way Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
More people from the road interested in what we were doing.
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The hotel was nice and cheap and food was simple and filling, staff were very nice.
Roadworks just outside of Astana - traffic making a couple of new roads
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Many Beautiful sights along the way Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugPhoto & Video Sharing by SmugMug Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug akstan-1/Kostani-to-Almaty/i-2KDFd9C/A" title="Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug"> Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugPlenty of caravans or little stalls selling dried fish.  The following morning we rode out through the capital which is less than 20 years old. Nice shiny buildings, but quite sterile. I wont rush back.
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugPhoto & Video Sharing by SmugMugPhoto & Video Sharing by SmugMugPhoto & Video Sharing by SmugMugPhoto & Video Sharing by SmugMugIt was another big day with us riding to Balkhash and staying at cheap hotel on the highway. Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugWe had planned to go into the town and look at the lake but it was full of pollution from a nearby power station so we left it and continued on our way. As we loaded up the bike I noticed the tire I had collected in Samara was a 17 inch one! Not good! So I sent a quick message to Anton asking what he could do to help (mind you he had already organized a hotel and some to get the oil and tires changed). He came to back to me about on hour later with the perfect solution a Scorpion Rally the perfect tire for the next leg of the trip.
As we rode towards Almaty these great snow capped peaks appeared on the horizon, it was a beautiful sight.

So finally we arrived in Almaty where we met Anton and he took us to our hotel where both just crashed for the night.