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'05 Round The World - Part 4A:

Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine, Europe
Greg & Natasha

 

 


To read a day by day report, click STORY.

 

Kyrgyzstan

Charin Canyon a monument shortcut land slide made it valley horses a monument? almost there down was the only way loose stones Italians Lake Issyk-Kul view to the north Naryn view east view north shepherds local farmers proud donkey owners friendly owner Osh bazaar grains and nuts ready food seller parking Lake Toktokul Ala-Bel Dam on Lake Kirovskoye

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Kazakhstan

To read a day by day report, click STORY.

mausoleum Aralsk port apocalyps now children lake’s bottom going north breakfast friendly locals Aktyubinsk

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Russia

To read a day by day report, click STORY.

vehicle registration form garage in Saratov Saratov Lenin of Saratov “Mat Rodina” inside the complex dying soldier krasnodarskaya sunset 

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Ukraine

To read a day by day report, click STORY.

Ukraine Crimea Volodia’s garage place of cognas view from Sudak Sudak fortress sumo repairs on the beach cliffhanger downtown attraction war memorial usual architecture Bakhchisaray Simferopol hope for the best Lvov Mickiewicz Khmelnitski  

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Europe

To read a day by day report, click STORY.

Solina stoned dude Swiss biker Rappersvilhistoric ship Swiss couple? France parking for KLRs only Jean-Claude tower “Stay OK” no more riding Amsterdam  

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Day by day in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russian and Europe (11,445 km):

Day 68 – Aug 13, Kokpek to Kuylu on A-364, Kirgizstan - 244 km
Day 69 – Aug 14, Kuylu to Enylchek and back to beach on Lake Issyk-Kul – 319 km
Day 70 – Aug 15, beach to Kongorchok - 455 km
Day 71 – Aug 16, Kongorchok to Osh – 330 km
Day 72 – Aug 17, Osh to Lake Toktogul – 389 km
Day 73 – Aug 18, Toktogul to Klyuchevka – 284 km
Day 74 – Aug 19, Klyuchevka to Pokrovka - 42 km
Day 75 – Aug 20, Pokrovka to Kokzhyde on M32, Kazakhstan - 754 km
Day 76 – Aug 21, Kokzhyde to steppe by Irgiz – 620 km
Day 77 – Aug 22, Irgiz to Kornilovka, Russia – 531 km
Day 78 – Aug 23, Kornilovka to Chepayevsk – 646 km
Day 79 – Aug 24, Chepayevsk to Pervomayskoye on P-228 – 495 km
Day 80 – Aug 25, Pervomayskoye to Derbetovka on A-154 – 686 km
Day 81 – Aug 26, Derbetovka to Starotitarovskaya – 637 km
Day 82 – Aug 27, Starotitarovskaya to Morskoye, Ukraine – 225 km
Day 83 – Aug 28, Morskoye to Bakhchisaray - 267 km
Day 84 – Aug 29, Bakhchisaray to Golovanevsk - 615 km
Day 85 – Aug 30, Golovanevsk to Solina, Poland 801 km
Day 86 – Aug 31, Solina to Kielce – 291 km
Day 87 – Sept 1, Kielce – 15 km
Day 88 – Sept 2, Kielce to Wroclaw – 343 km
Day 89 – Sept 3, Wroclaw to Kudowa to Zwickau, Germany – 576 km
Day 90 – Sept 4, Zwickau to Au, Switzerland – 674 km
Day 91 – Sept 5, Au
Day 92 – Sept 6, Au
Day 93 – Sept 7, Au to Paris, France – 682 km
Day 94 – Sept 8, Paris to Rotterdam, Holland – 487 km
Day 95 – Sept 9, Rotterdam to Damco warehouse – 37 km
Day 96 – Sept 10, Flight to Canada


STORY - written by Greg.

Day 68 – Aug 13, Kokpek to Kuylu on A-364, Kirgizstan - 244 km

Charin CanyonA 10 kilometer dirt truck took us to the entry of the Charin National Park. We were charged an entry fee and let inside the park. It was possible to go down in the canyon but with my road tires I quickly changed my mind. The reddish-brown walls and unusual shapes of the rocks reminded me the Badlands in South Dakota and the canyon itself was sort of a miniature version of the Grand Canyon. Locals called it the Valley of the Castles.

a monument In Kegen we gassed up including the extra jerry. It was the last town before Kyrgyz border and in a way many people were already Kyrgyz. At the eatery we had the only meal they offered, “lagman” noodle soup. We stocked up on some products and headed for the border on now pretty bad gravel road.

The Kazakh officers were very aware since recently one of their soldiers disappeared from his post. They looked at every face and double checked the papers. Without any problems we were released. On the Kyrgyz side we were not given a priority but didn’t have to wait long. Friendly officers welcomed us and wished us luck. The gravel road didn’t improve.

Kyrgyzia is a very popular county amongst western tourists. Soon we met two tall German girls on bicycles heading for Kazakhstan.

Surrounded already by wonderful mountain scenery we approached a gate. It was an entry to the Issyk-Kul protected area and every foreigner had to pay a steep entry fee of 20$. The guards told us about Jacek going this way early in the morning and suggested we should also try our luck to cross the narrow makeshift bridge to save 70 kilometers. I first walked the meter wide construction and decided it was possible to cross.

shortcutMaking a circle to approach I positioned the bike correctly. Getting on the bridge was harder than I thought. Front wheel was stuck in a hole and rear wheel dug a deep rut. A young helper kicked a few stones under the rear wheel giving it more traction. I tried again and gave it a go. I looked once at the fast flowing water. It looked scary and an unfortunate fall would cause a complete disaster. By now I was hot, my heart was pounding but I tried to keep in control. The ride lasted maybe a few seconds but it felt like eternity. I felt so completely relieved to be on the other side. I looked back and thought how irresponsible it was but, I made it and it was fun too.

land slidemade itIndeed it was a considerable shortcut and also pretty rough one. Two more bridges were partly washed off along with a large portion of the road. I just zigzagged and made it through on a foot wide piece of asphalt. A narrow track took us up a small pass. Going down we already saw the huge extent of Tien Shan. In a village a farmer confirmed our direction. We headed for Engilchek through Chong-Ashu the highest pass we had ever climbed. Old asphalted road in pretty good shape gradually gained altitude. We were in a huge valley with pristine nature all around us. Further up in the last establishment the gate was open and guards weren’t there so we didn’t even stop. This was already a sensitive border area. Soon the road was blocked with huge boulders and fallen trees, an effect of a recent landslide. We made it easily around the obstacles.

A dirt track took the place of the asphalt and it became gradually steeper. It was mostly first gear all the way to the top. We could see snow far in the distance.

a monument? horses valley almost there

We climbed to 3822 meters and were very lucky that the weather cooperated. The views were magnificent in both directions but with 5C at the top it felt pretty chilly.

It was getting late and for the night we had to go below 3000 meters to survive the night. In two more hours we managed to drop to 2855 meters. With the sun down it was already getting very cold.

We set up our tent, cooked a hot meal, had some cognac and hoped for the best.    

Day 69 – Aug 14, Kuylu to Enylchek and back to beach on Lake Issyk-Kul – 319 km

At 3 a.m. I checked the temperature, it showed 0 inside the tent. This was a real test for our sleeping bags. Despite putting on everything we had we didn’t sleep the whole night, the bags were useless. Morning sun brought a complete relief and now we didn’t want to get up.

down was the only wayHot tea boosted our morale and we were back on the road in no time. Huge mountains and tall steep walls were everywhere. We came to a barricade where a sleepy soldier came out of his trailer. We asked for the road but he knew nothing, he just wanted to get rid of us and go back to sleep. Down in the valley rows of low-rise apartment buildings lined the streets. The place seemed completely abandoned. Back in the “good days” it used to be a mining town but now it already past its glory. We came to the end of the road. The bridge over the raging river seemed to be down for quite some time. I spotted tire tracks that ran along the side of the mountain. Fallen from the mountainside large loose rocks and deep sand ruts made me thing twice if I wanted to continue.

loose stonesThe very rough track barely engraved in the steep hill ran high above the river. I was curious if that was going to continue for long. Natasha was already waking so I just told her I would go to see the road ahead. There wasn’t much difference and riding two up would be impossible. Natasha would have to walk who knows how long. I came to a small gate and a one person guard shack. Was this already China? For a moment I thought how easy it could be to just cross the border. With good tires and riding alone this track would be very difficult, riding two up, forget it.

ItaliansOn the way back to Engilchek we talked to a local who told us that since the bridge collapsed the road to Ak-Shiyrak and Kara-Say was accessible only by horse. Without hesitation we headed back the same way. Coming down the pass we met two Italian cyclists heading for Inylchek glacier.

a-heroThe approach to Karakol was a bit bumpy with big holes in asphalt. We were rather confused when we arrived as the city seemed to have no downtown. In the area of the main square we found many places that offered money exchange. The place felt like a decent tourist hub with souvenir shops and restaurants lined up along several streets.  We had a delicious meal in one of them. We took a picture of the statue of a Kyrgyz hero, gassed up and left the town.

Lake Issyk-KulLake Issyk-Kul at first reminded me of Lake Zurich with mountains on both sides. However, here the mountains were much taller and further away from the shore. In many places people swam in the lake and relaxed on the mostly spontaneous stretches of beach, though some resorts were also present. With the sun already coming down we took one of the beach roads towards the water. Tonight’s camping was on the sandy beach of Lake Issyk-Kul. We were the only campers.  

Day 70 – Aug 15, beach to Kongorchok - 455 km

view to the northThe morning was just like I imagined, fresh and bright without a cloud. To the north far in the distance snow capped peeks towered above a smaller mountain range. To the south barely visible snow capped peeks seemed to grow out of the lake. The opposite shore was not visible. I felt like on vacation. We swam, washed, relaxed and had yet another canned sprout with bread.

It would be so nice stay here a bit longer but unfortunately time was running out and we still wanted to visit Osh. The lake slowly narrowed as we took a turnoff south. We moved towards tall mountains and rain clouds. We were so lucky, the rain clouds moved away and we just brushed against them getting a little sprinkle. Before Dolon pass the asphalt ended. It was very tricky to negotiate between stalled trucks with overheated engines through relatively deep mud. I found a deep rut and tried to stick to it. It was slippery and slow anyway.

NarynSoon beyond the pass asphalt started again and we made it safely to Naryn, a beautifully situated place, the last town before China. Of course we wouldn’t go there though the will was so strong. In Naryn we ate a delicious meal at a restaurant, stocked up on provisions and gassed up.

We were told to better take some extra water as the creeks in the area are salty. There was only one road west towards Kazarman and it was asphalted but on several occasion pools of mud would cover the road, an effect of recent rainfall. In Bayetovo (Dyurbel Dzhin) the tarmac continued to Turugart pass while we turned west on a ragged gravel road. The valley seemed abandoned but as soon as I thought there was no one here a single farmer would appear from nowhere. With little daylight left we looked for a slightly higher ground to avoid possible flooding. Far in the distance huge thunder clouds consumed the whole mountain range. We could see the lightning approach slowly.           

Day 71 – Aug 16, Kongorchok to Osh – 330 km

The heavy rain never came; we just got a little sprinkle. With more clouds hanging high in the mountains we put our full rain gear on and headed for the next pass. Green hills reminded me Mongolia.

 

view eastThe only difference was that they were surrounded by tall ragged peeks. With all the drizzle we barely made it up the Ak-Kiya pass. The mud was so slippery I had to ride alone for a few hundred meters. The views from the top were so diverse. The different size mountain ranges strangely were of red, green, brown and grey color.

view northPast Kazarman we started climbing up yet another 3000 meters pass. The drizzle continued and the track sometimes was so narrow it seemed to want to disappear. Occasionally we would pass by a single tent or a few tents most likely belonging to shepherds. Their dogs didn’t miss on scaring us either. They chased us in packs. With the constant steep incline there was no sense speeding away. I just let them have their fun. The mountains were awesome, bare and wild. This was like Mongolia but magnified several times.

shepherdslocal farmersproud donkey ownersVery slowly constantly zigzagging we made it to the valley. More shepherds roamed the mountains having their tents set up on an impossible incline. Small patches of asphalt would appear occasionally reminding former existence of a better road. The ride was slow but so rewarding.

friendly ownerFurther on the plane a good road took us to Dzhalal-Abad. The city reminded me Bukhara, it was busy but at the same time it had some relaxing corners. We had a super meal at a sidewalk restaurant where the owner became very interested and wanted to talk to us. Politely we agreed to return to his place on the way back from Osh.

Due to the separation of the former soviet republics there was a need of a new road to Osh going entirely through Kyrgyzstan. It was in the process of construction with mostly loose stones for a surface. Some sections were getting the final layer of tarmac and others were already completed. Local villagers were so enticed with the new construction they walked on the surface checking its smoothness. They covered the entire fresh section with stones so cars wouldn’t drive on it until it dried completely.

We arrived to Osh in the dark. Taking a taxi driver for a guide we arrived to a hotel of his choosing. The place seemed pleasant and according to the driver pretty cheap. It was only after the attendant found out where we were from she pulled out another price list to show us the foreign tourist charges. I tried to persuade her that this was unjust and discriminating. She seemed to understand my point and dropped the price but not as low as the locals would get. That was good enough, at least she tried. We were allowed to leave the bike in their large back yard with a baker as the security guard.

We concluded the day at a nearby restaurant sipping on local beer.       

Day 72 – Aug 17, Osh to Lake Toktogul – 389 km

We started with a visit to the Osh bazaar. Kyrgyzstan is historically a Muslim country and there are many preserved traditions and customs. A busy market was a great place to see the business culture of Osh. In a way just like in many Arab countries the idea is to be able to find everything and anything. So we walked around checking out the food and product stalls with flat bread (liepioshki) sales being the complete feature and distributed pretty much everywhere. Meet, grain, pasta, fruit, nuts and other food products would be separated but roughly situated in the same general area. Once you walk in other direction the products section would slowly merge with other stalls selling clothing, shoes, leathers and anything you can imagine. Honking cars, loud music, dirty streets and just very busy area with tons of people would summarize our experience. At the end I bought Kalpak, a traditional Kyrgyz hat made of felt.

Osh bazaar grains and nuts ready food seller parking 

Back at the hotel we organized ourselves quickly and got ready to leave. The baker who watched our bike invited us for tea and a piece of his delicious bread. We watched his wife and him make bread. It was a very curious procedure which ended with the bread being stuck to the sides of an inside of the furnace called ”tandur”. He told us that he and his wife were busy baking while his sons took care of the sales and delivery. They managed to sale 300 pieces a day. With 5 Sum a piece that was 1500 sum a day minus the cost of flour and oil. Considering the exchange rate at 50 Sum to one US dollar their family income, to our standards, was minimal. For them this kind of enterprise would bare fruit in the future. They already had enough money saved to get their own larger bakery.

We cruised around Osh for a while looking for things to see but it was so hot we didn’t feel like walking anymore.

We left the city in the early afternoon riding back almost the same way. I think I got lost a bit and for a while we were in the Uzbek part of Kara-Su. Luckily the police didn’t stop us.

Now we headed towards Lake Toktogul. Constant hills, frequent villages and farmland made the ride interesting and even relaxing. The tarmac was good and the weather was beautiful. We stopped for a watermelon brake, delicious.

New rugged mountain range started and with it the road deteriorated to the worst possible with large pebbles, deep ruts and washboard. I was so fed up with this. Instead of taking it easy I sped up and flew through this dusty 100 km construction section as fast as I could to end the shaking misery. Luckily we didn’t fall but it was close.

Lake ToktokulLake Toktogul appeared in the valley. It was a man made lake with a huge dam at a narrow mouth and a power generating station. The mountains and the lake molded together creating one awesome view.

We stopped in Kara-Kul for a meal. At the roadside eatery they had only “pelmenie” and “lagman”, two usual meals. With just a little daylight left we pressed on. The tarmac was super and the twisty road was nicely constructed. The road was so tightly carved into to the hill it was not easy to find in the dark an access to water or at least a service road. At last we got it. A steeply descending track took us right to the water edge. With our tent carefully positioned on a small incline we pumped our mattresses and laid to rest.     

Day 73 – Aug 18, Toktogul to Klyuchevka – 284 km

I couldn’t believe it, my third mattress went flat. I hardly slept that night and the reason was quite clear to me. We gathered our gear and hit the road. I felt a bit dizzy but I just thought it was luck of sleep. In Toktogul we stopped for a meal. The sanitary conditions of the so called “café” were less than desirable. The woman prepared scrambled eggs for us on an ancient looking electric spiral heater placed on a ground in front of the kitchen’s entry. Basically the ground was her kitchen as she placed the pan on the spiral and broke the egg shells against the pan’s edge. She scooped some water from the roadside stream/water canal and washed two plates for us.

The eggs were maybe a bit over salted but we ate them eagerly as we were very hungry. I felt very tired and drowsy so I asked if I could rest a bit and perhaps sleep. I took my boots off and laid in their traditional table/bench eating area on a carpet. After few hours I felt a bit better and we moved on. Passing very slowly moving and often overheated transport trucks we reached the Ala-Bel pass.

Ala-BelA little sprinkle let us know that we were now very high in the mountains and the weather could change anytime. Indeed, once we turned west towards Talas and started climbing the next pass, Otmek (3330m), it started to rain. Luckily the road was in decent condition with mostly hard gravel. What a pity we couldn’t film anything as the views were again marvelous. Hopefully Jacek took some pictures here as he most likely went the same way.

Closer to Talas the road improved and finally tarmac retuned. We turned onto a field track before one of the villages and camped in a field with freshly cut hey. Bone dry yellow sand colored mountains surrounded the valley. We fell asleep listening to kids scream in a nearby village.                  

Day 74 – Aug 19, Klyuchevka to Pokrovka - 42 km

The owner of the field showed up with his donkey and observed us pack up. We quickly made contact and apologized for intruding on his property but he didn’t have a problem with that. He was a farmer with 3 hectares of land who had to support a family of five. His income was 20$ per month. I gave him our last pack of Marlboro and waved him good bye.

Dam on Lake KirovskoyeBy this time I already had a significant pain in my stomach and a serious feeling of nausea. I could barely ride. We stopped at the store where Natasha got a few bottles of water and cookies. Feeling excruciating pain in my stomach I couldn’t continue. We stopped by the side of the road. The next 6 hours was the most miserable time of the whole trip. Natasha comforted me with water and cookies while I mostly lied in fetal position and occasional ran behind bushes. Closer to the evening I managed to mount the bike and we moved a bit further to find a suitable camping.                 

Day 75 – Aug 20, Pokrovka to Kokzhyde on M32, Kazakhstan - 754 km

I felt weak but not sick anymore. Throughout the day I was very suspicious about any kind of food except water and cookies so Natasha constantly fed me on the go.

We approached the busy Kazakh border suspiciously. It was mostly locals who seemed to wait for hours to get to the other side. Without any reservations I just rode right to the gate. One stamp and without any questions Kyrgyzstan official let us go. On the Kazakh side they just asked for our destination, stamped our passports and that was it.

Essentially nothing changed; still the same apartment buildings, Russian cars, trucks. In Taraz (Dzambul) we located a bank and changed money. To Shimkent we rode on he same highway as in 2002. Police presence was quite heavy. They were mostly catching speeders. Interestingly we were passed by many Mercedes and BMW cars to only pass them when they were paying their speeding fines. Past Shimkent the traffic on the single lane main artery was very heavy. We seemed to be stuck behind a funeral convoy. In this part of the world people are very superstitious. No one had the guts to pass the head vehicle with the coffin.

mausoleum In Turkestan we visited probably the holiest site in whole of Kazakhstan, the mausoleum of “Hodzha Ahmed Yasavi”. The main building looked quite new so it was either recently built or renovated. Inside there was one huge white hall and many small rooms where some holy items were kept. Since it was extremely hot, around 40C, we decided to skip the museum. 

My third mattress gave up on me so we headed for the local bazaar. It was somewhat similar to the Osh market but maybe a bit smaller. Still, it took me quite some time to walk around hundreds of meters of stalls. I noticed the people were very suspicious and not very friendly. It was exclusively a local place with virtually no tourists. I returned to Natasha and the bike without a purchase, there was simply no air mattress for sale. We left the last enclave of civilized Kazakhstan without a hurry.

A decent tarmac road took us past Kzyl-Orda bypassing the gloomy city and crossing the steppe’s life-giving river, Syrdarya. The land was more often crisscrossed with canals which irrigated the Kyzylkum Desert. Though it was the area of enormous rice fields it looked very much like wasteland. During the communist times they built a vast network of canals which were supposed to water the fields. Though some of the land is still cultivated most of the water ends up evaporating from the dry steppe.

Since water was pretty much everywhere it was hard to find a suitable camping space. We ended up pitching out tent on a mound beside one of the canals.            

Day 76 – Aug 21, Kokzhyde to steppe by Irgiz – 620 km

What a terrible place to sleep. At night birds, fish and grass swaying in the wind made lots of noise. Sand and ants got inside the tent and in the morning it started to rain. Quickly we packed up and in full rain gear we headed further west. There was really nothing here and the traffic was minimal. We stopped by a roadside café/disco hoping to get at least hot tea. Young girl, who was cleaning the place after the night of partying, said they had only alcoholic drinks. At least she was nice enough to bring us some warm clean water so we could brush our teeth. It would be so nice to eat something but there was really nothing here. We just had the rest of the cookies and some water.

With dark clouds hanging above us and light rain we rode off. Strangely there was really no wind. Two hours of this miserable weather was enough and soon the sky cleared. At the turn off to Novokazalinsk a young gas attendant suggested we should go to town to gas up and find some food. The town looked worse than I expected. Rusty abandoned structures, former factories and other buildings, covered large area. We crossed the train tracks and headed for downtown. Some cars lined the streets around the main market others slowly moved between huge water holes. I went to the market to find some motor oil. What I saw looked like a real tragedy. Relatively nicely dressed people navigated their way through inch thick mud between small and big potholes. Babushkas danced in mud around their product stalls trying to sell something. It was a busy place but also extremely dirty. I checked two stores selling all kinds of vehicle parts but they didn’t have a sealed bottle of any good oil. They offered to sell me one liter from an open bigger container, I didn’t take it. Later I found good oil at the gas station.

Since there were no visible cafés in town we got back to the main road and had a very delicious “plov” at the roadside eatery.

Aralsk used to be an important port up until the lake’s water receded leaving only a shallow canal. The site was very shocking, sort of apocalyptic with rusted ships left stranded on the now dry bottom of the lake. On one side of the town we approached the remains of the port with few rusty cranes and collapsed concrete slabs.

On the other side we got a better view of more ships and dry lake bottom. When we stopped we were immediately surrounded by a swarm of kids. They came out of the belly of one of the ships.

Aralsk port apocalyps now children lake’s bottom

The town itself was as forgotten as the port. Streets were largely covered by encroaching sand and the houses seemed to reach the end of their lives. It was a very sad place.

Asphalted road continued for a while. We were stopped by two men with Kalashnikovs who seemed to be the road police. They said the surface beyond this point and for the next 400 kms was bad and we should go slowly. Indeed the road gradually deteriorated and numerous large potholes began to appear. At one point tarmac suddenly ended and we fell into a huge hole almost completely disappearing. Front and rear suspension bottomed down and the rear luggage came loose hitting Natasha in the back. We didn’t fall but it was a wakeup call to go slow and pay extreme attention.

We managed to make 150 kilometers on this treacherous road often going on first gear through deep ruts and inches wide remains of asphalt strips.

Night spent camping in Kazakh steppe.

Day 77 – Aug 22, Irgiz to Kornilovka, Russia – 531 km

going northAt 20 km/h we crawled through 3 feet deep ruts continuously zigzagging between water filled holes and wet slippery mud. Sometimes the ruts were so deep I would scratch my luggage against their walls. Occasionally a car or a truck would pass by on the “service road” (a dirt track beside the road) which was much smoother. I also tried the “service road” but for us the sand was too soft and we ended up riding even slower.

breakfastBy now we were out of water and pretty hungry. After miles of nothing around, a roadside house/eatery was quite a surprise. An older woman greeted us and invited inside her one story house. We took our boots off and sat on the floor at the foot tall table waiting for some meal. The woman brought us some tea, two scrambled eggs (that was all she had) and few pieces of bread. It wasn’t much but it boosted our morale.

friendly localsOutside on the parking lot her son showed me their field kitchen and explained what each stove was used for. Though their location was very remote, since the road was supposed to be soon reconstructed they were already excited about their future business opportunities. We waved all the friendly locals good bye and hit again the bumpy road.

AktyubinskGradually longer stretches of asphalt teased us from time to time until the road completely improved. Further to Aktyubinsk we enjoyed new tarmac with only few construction sites. The city didn’t show any Kazakh signs, it was purely Russian place with mostly Russian population. We made a short stop for food and gas and headed for the border.

vehicle registration formOn the Kazakh side we just advanced to the front of the line without any complains from the waiting travelers. Very curious officers asked an infinite number of questions including our visits to previous countries. It was enough to say “Kyrgyzstan” to be asked to pull over for inspection. A very serious tall officer mentioned another biker coming through here and how thoroughly he was searched. It was Jacek. We were ready for a complete bike disassembly when the officer said he was just joking. Considering that through Kyrgyzstan goes the main narcotics smuggling route I wouldn’t be surprised if we were searched. On the Russian side we were again issued the pink paper, naturally they stamped our passports, issued another immigration card and we were let go.

Tonight we camped in the field a few kilometers from the border.

Day 78 – Aug 23, Kornilovka to Chepayevsk – 646 km

In Orenburg I inserted my Canadian bank card and a bank machine spitted some more rubles. We spent some time at the downtown open market where I found my fourth mattresses, a green transparent beach toy. Also a shoe repair man mended our tank bag and a key man made a copy of the last working key to our side luggage. Everything was accomplished in no more than two hours and for a very reasonable price. Oil and filter change were already due so we bought some good oil, I think Shell, at one of the many parts stores and with the help of a very nice customer we found an oil changing facility. The guys were more than happy to provide us with a drain pan and even necessary tools. For us it was just a short stop but I think for them we were a major attraction. They invited us to their garage, a very modern looking place, for some tea and sandwiches. We talked and enjoyed their company for a while hoping that they wouldn’t offer us any alcohol.

The road towards Samara was decently sign posted but I got confused with the double name of the city. It is also called Kuybyshev. In effect we got a little lost and joined the main highway a little further north. We spent the night at a roadside motel in a simple room with only two beds in it.         

Day 79 – Aug 24, Chepayevsk to Pervomayskoye on P-228 – 495 km

The European part of Russia was surely more civilized with paved roads and decent signposting. The tarmac, however, would vary from very smooth to annoyingly bumpy. There weren’t any potholes because they were covered with blobs of asphalt without smoothing them out. The traffic was also pretty heavy and we were often stuck behind a slow diesel smoking truck without the possibility of passing it. Before Saratov we crossed the mighty Volga River. It was so wide I thought the bridge would never end. In this part of Russia the biggest river in Europe doesn’t flow much as it is often barricaded with dams. It was quite overwhelming to see so much water again.

All the shaky roads we traveled, since we acquired the “Made in Russia” shock absorber, almost squeezed the top holding rubber flange out of its hole. The problem wasn’t serious but for the mostly bumpy roads we needed a very tightly fit shock.

garage in SaratovI think I am going to love all Russian mechanics. We stopped at the first garage we spotted. The guys were very friendly and completely understood the problem. We pushed the bike inside the shop, took the suspension off and let the eager mechanics custom make a new flange. Of course we told them about our journey and they shook their heads with amazement. By the time we finished drinking tea the shock was ready for installation. It was a small repair but the guys made an awesome job anyway.

SaratovLenin of SaratovWe cruised around Saratov for a while admiring colorful buildings and yet another unique monument with Lenin, this time pointing down.

 

Occasional road works interrupted otherwise monotonous ride as we headed south on 1P228. We stopped at one of the roadside makeshift eateries. A very friendly middle-aged man came out of his trailer/house and offered us the best Azery shashlyk we could ever imagine. Actually he didn’t have anything else to offer as it was already late. Indeed the meat was deliciously marinated and we ate it with pleasure. Since the situation was very friendly I asked if we could camp behind his trailer. He was actually happy to have some overnight visitors and assured nothing would happen to us. Before sleep we had some beer and socialized with our host and a Ukrainian trucker who happen to stay there while waiting for some spare parts for his truck.                  

Day 80 – Aug 25, Pervomayskoye to Derbetovka on A-154 – 686 km

It was actually a very nice camping place with space for a single tent right by the small creek. We took advantage of our host’s facilities and ordered hot tea for breakfast. We thanked for the safe night and waved him good bye.

“Mat Rodina”We could see the huge statue from far away. Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad, was completely demolished during the war and we weren’t really interested in visiting the city. However, a visit to the war memorial place was obligatory. We left the bike on a guarded parking and went for a walk around the complex. The monument called “Mat Rodina Zavyot” (The Motherland Calls) was shockingly big and really inspiring.

dying soldierinside the complexAnother concrete structure displayed a woman holding a dying soldier; a very moving picture. Inside the complex the names of the soldiers who defended Stalingrad were engraved in the wall. Two guards stood in front of a huge hand sticking out of the floor that held a flame. I listened to the soothing music and contemplated about stormy past of this place where the faith of the Second World War was decided.

The ride to Elista on M6 was rather relaxing if not monotonous due to limited traffic. Initially we wanted to go to Sochi but at a gas station we were advised to go straight to Krasnodar as other roads may be unsafe due to a possibility of kidnapping. 

We spent the night camping in the field.  

Day 81 – Aug 26, Derbetovka to Starotitarovskaya – 637 km

krasnodarskayaIn Ipatovo we took a shortcut to Kropotkin as we were advised the day before. In a way it was worth it. We saved few kilometers and the police presence was minimal. Heavier traffic marked the beginning of Krasnodar. As in many Russian cities, this time the main road also lead through downtown. I couldn’t believe the traffic could be so heavy here.

Right after we left the city a passing cloud sprinkled the road a bit. Within the next 50 kilometers we saw 3 serious accidents including one multi-vehicle. It was a shock to see so much damage.

Anapa surprised us with a huge tourist population. After all it is a popular resort.

Since it was so extremely busy we just spent a few hours there. In the restaurant with a view on the sea we rested a bit and had a filling diner. It completely amazed me how all those small restaurants came to exist without any sanitary facilities. There was even no sink to wash hands. I guess Russian sanitary requirements are more relaxed or maybe just uncivilized.

sunset  The downtown was packed with tourists often displaying their curves in G-string bikinis. I haven’t noticed even one slightly overweight person so it wasn’t so bad. I bet Anapa had a very busy and probably worth exploring night life. We spent our last night in Russia camping in the field and admiring an amazing sunset.

Day 82 – Aug 27, Starotitarovskaya to Morskoye, Ukraine – 225 km

This was the day of true Russian bureaucracy. We cautiously approached a militia check point, situated few kilometers before the port, hoping for an easy pass. It didn’t happen. They stopped us and requested all the papers. Of course they didn’t like my custom made license plate but they passed on that infraction once they found a bigger problem. I tried to explain that I didn’t need to register with “OVIR” since I was just transiting and that we were told this on the previous Russian border. Unfortunately they had an immigration specialist on site who knew the rules better. A young officer precisely explained that since I had a business visa I should have been registered with “OVIR” within three days and that it should have been be done by my inviting party. Of course that was completely unrealistic as my inviting organization was in Moscow.

The young officer also gave me an option. I could give him a 500 Rubles bribe or I could pay 1000 Rubles fine and receive a legal paper. It felt a bit strange to experience corruption first hand but it was as real as it could get. I actually chose to pay the bribe. In the mean time the older officers changed their mind and now the bribe was not possible. The young officer invited me to a small room and asked to sit. Together we completed a form in Russian that is he dictated and I wrote. I handed in the cash and he gave me a receipt. He was very nice and I knew it was just his job. It was unfortunate I had to be the victim of misinformation and corrupt bureaucracy.

They gave me my passport back and we rode off while they continued to argue with a Ukrainian man who was a victim of the same trap and who was refusing to pay the fine.

In the port it took several hours to process all the waiting vehicles. Natasha bought the tickets and we were let inside the customs area. One by one all people and cars were thoroughly checked. I still don’t understand the sense of completing all the papers especially when they had to be stamped by different customs and traffic officials whose windows/offices were situated at different places of the area and nothing was signposted. I could imagine the misery of someone who didn’t speak Russian. He would probably have to wait for hours until they took a pity on him. Total confusion was the name of the game. Sign this, sign that, fill this in, make a photocopy of that, pay for the photocopy, wait till the window opens, go to that window. It was unnerving. At last we showed our passports. We were about to leave when the officer asked for my immigration card. I told him I already paid the fine but he wasn’t happy with that. The ferry was already full and ready to depart. One officer suggested if I wanted to make it on this ferry I should give him a little bribe. I really didn’t want to wait for another three hours so I gave the man $5 to get it over with. We barely made it but that was it. Our third visit to Russia on this trip was over. To my regrets it was a pretty stressful end.

UkraineOn the Ukrainian side it took another 2 hours since we were last in line. The custom officers were way more relaxed. They just stamped our passports and let us go. No fees, no bribes, no extra forms or insurance were needed.

 

CrimeaUkraine at first seemed a bit abandoned; fewer cars on the roads and even less people though more road police. Our first encounter ended on a positive note. As soon as I saw a police motorcycle parked by the side of the road I stopped. A very confident officer immediately pointed at our license plate. Natasha gave him an express version of the whole story, pleaded with a baby voice for mercy and called the guy “uncle”. I think he liked it because he just let us go.

Volodia’s garageIn Feodosiya we met a local biker Volodya, a proud owner of Honda “Africa Twin”. He took us to his garage and explained in detail where to go and what to see in Crimea. He was very excited and wanted us to stay but we nicely rejected his offer. He escorted us to the end of the city and we waved good bye.

place of cognasThe southern part of the peninsula is embellished with breathtaking mountains where on the hills grow fruit and grapes. It is the famous place where they make super delicious wine and cognac.

 

view from SudakSudak fortressHigh on the hill almost by the edge of the cliff we spotted a castle. Volodya recommended it so we climbed the twisty town road right to its end. Sudak fortress used to be a Tatar stronghold and its interior was decorated accordingly. We climbed a couple of towers and admired superb views of the coast line. It was worth the time.

A very twisty road took us back to the coast where Volodya suggested we could find beach camping. Past Morskoye the road hugged the coast line and the access to the beach was easier. Many tourists still enjoyed the last days of vacation so the beach was filled with tents and cars. It didn’t seem it was an organized camping so we just rode onto the beach and stopped where there was an available space. Awesome, we were maybe 30 meters from the shore of the Black Sea. Finally we could relax, listen to the waves and drink delicious Crimean wine. I think we deserved it.           

Day 83 – Aug 28, Morskoye to Bakhchisaray - 267 km

sumoThe night was deliciously warm and we slept like logs. In the morning we saw the full extent of the beach. It was the biggest spontaneous camping I have ever seen probably a few kilometers long. Considering there were no facilities and no running water people kept it relatively clean, though the further from the water the more garbage there was. We enjoyed the sun and the crystal clear warm water, it was divine. Beach fashion in Ukraine didn’t seem to be precisely defined and people often wore what they thought was hip to them.

repairs on the beachOut of curiosity I attempted to start the motor. To my disappointment it didn’t work. Right on the beach where I parked the bike, in the scorching sun, I went through the whole disassembly procedure of the starting system. I checked the battery, connectors, relay and the starting button, no luck. Fortunately there is another way to start the engine. I connected the two starter wires with a screwdriver and the engine kicked.

We left the beach reluctantly in the early afternoon. It was so hot, typical beach weather.

cliffhanger We rode the twisty mountain road occasionally seeing the coast line. Past Yalta there were supposed to be many small castles erected right on the edge of the cliff. It wasn’t easy but we found one of them. Unfortunately it was not accessible by vehicle and we rely couldn’t leave our bike unattended.

 

downtown attraction war memorial usual architectureWe wrapped up our day with a quick visit to Sevastopol. The city was a soviet stronghold during the Second World War and many war monuments reminded the heroism of the soldiers. Presently it is a busy Ukrainian metropolis with an older historic downtown and the usual soviet landscape of apartment buildings in the suburbs. A few kilometers before Bakhchisaray we pitched our tent close to a peach field.

Day 84 – Aug 29, Bakhchisaray to Golovanevsk - 615 km

BakhchisarayThere were two major attractions recommended by Volodya: the Khan Palace and Troglodyte city, sort of like Goreme in Turkey. Since we saw the caves already we decided to visit only the palace. The best preserved palace of a Tatar Khan in the whole of Crimea consisted of the usual nicely kept garden with a central fountain and several adjacent buildings. Inside the rooms were organized by themes from the harem to men’s social quarters to music making facilities. It was nice but it didn’t leave a lasting impression on us.  I think that to make a special trip to see this place it probably wouldn’t be worth it.

SimferopolIn Simferopol we tried to avoid the heavy traffic and successfully bypassed the downtown. GPS came in handy as the road signs were pretty much nonexistent.

 

Further north we followed the signs to Kerson and Niklayev. The road went mostly through rich farmland and it was frequently blocked with produce selling stalls. Strangely they all wanted to be closer to the center of the road thus bringing the highway traffic to a crawl.

We took a short cut through Voznesensk and Pervomaysk towards Uman stopping for the night near a corn field.        

Day 85 – Aug 30, Golovanevsk to Solina, Poland 801 km

The Ukrainian part of lower Carpathian Mountains began west of Uman and continued all the way towards Vinnitsa and through Khmelnitskiy. The ride was slower but way more interesting as the scenery alternated between rolling hills, farmland and thick forest. The tarmac was so smoothed out by the traffic that in some places was dangerously slippery. We witnessed several accidents and managed to get a picture of one. Luckily we were not involved.

hope for the bestUkraine still has a long way to go to catch up with civilization. The majority of people have just enough resources to make ends meet. This kind of situation forces them to be very resourceful, inventive and often dangerously irresponsible. I had hard time passing this Moskvich as it wobbled from side to side barely making it through the corners.

When riding through one of the many villages I was shocked to suddenly see a car, which drove in opposite direction, stopped in the middle of the road. A uniformed driver opened the door, came out and started waving his baton. Everything happened so fast I just ignored him, slowed down a bit and rode on. Soon the same car caught up with me and I was pulled over. Two officers came out and asked for my documents. Since they noticed I could understand them they said I was going to be fined for not stopping and for speeding. One of them said I was going 10kms over the limit and the other said it was 20kms. I started arguing with them that their accusations were not consistent and I requested to show me their radar reading. If it goes to not stopping I just told them I didn’t see anybody wave at me and they bought it. Despite my arguments I was asked to get inside their car. There the officer started writing the ticket while I continued my arguments. I told him that he should be embarrassed to write a speeding ticket for 10 kms and that if he really wanted I could give him 10Grivny (about $3 US) bribe. Then I asked him if it was worth stopping me for 3 dollars. I think I spared him asking me for a higher bribe. The guy was furious by now and, as I was getting comfortable sitting in his cruiser, he virtually threw me out of his car. He shouted several times to get out. Then he called his partner and they sped away. The whole situation was as unpleasant as it could get but I ended up paying nothing. I shook off the excitement and we continued in our direction.

Lvov Mickiewicz KhmelnitskiWe arrived to Lvov in the late afternoon. The traffic was horrendous and the cobblestone streets were in need of immediate repair. The worst part was negotiating between narrow protruding tram tracks. Despite the inconveniences I think we both fell in love with this former Polish city. Lvov was always Polish and it was only during the Second World War that the Soviets annexed this area. Now, after the borders were drawn again, it is part of the western Ukraine. It was amazing how preserved the city was. Old architecture prevailed and it was so appealing. Downtown we spotted a monument. It was a very moving moment to see a famous Polish writer, Adam Mickiewicz, occupy this centrally located pedestal. Thanks to the Ukrainian independence many historical elements are being restored and returned to their original place.

Leaving Lvov wasn’t easy. We got seriously lost and ended up riding on some muddy track through some questionable industrial area. With the help of GPS we managed to find the main artery and happily headed towards the Polish border.

The line up was enormous. Mostly Ukrainians but also many Polish waited for processing. Our bike came in handy. Without hesitation we squeezed near the front and joined a group of other motorcyclists including some Ukrainians on their Urals and Dnieprs with sidecars. The wait was still pretty long but once we were in the customs area the processing was swift. No fees or extra forms were necessary. With relatively warm temperature we rode at night through Przemysl and further south to Lesko. It took us another few hours to negotiate the very twisty mountain roads in often heavy fog. We got to Solina after midnight and quietly entered the local camping “Jawor”. There were few tents left. The season was already over.           

Day 86 – Aug 31, Solina to Kielce – 291 km

SolinaI think during this year’s trip the weather totally spoiled us. Even now during the last day of August here in the mountains it was unusually hot. We walked around the area, had some delicious “gofry” and generally enjoyed the sun.

 

In the early afternoon we left this historic place for Kielce. The ride was as usual picturesque but unfortunately very slow. The southeastern part of Poland is composed of never-ending hills dotted with plenty of villages. By the time I managed to speed up the next village enforced a new speed limit.

We got to Kielce in the evening and were warmly welcomed by my cousin and his Family.      

Day 87 – Sept 1, Kielce – 15 km

Another day visiting more cousins and socializing.

Day 88 – Sept 2, Kielce to Wroclaw – 343 km

Would this good weather spell ever end? We enjoyed yet another day riding the country roads of Poland to the Wielun area where we quickly visited more family. We arrived to Wroclaw in the evening with plenty of time to socialize with my dear uncle and aunt.   

Day 89 – Sept 3, Wroclaw to Kudowa to Zwickau, Germany – 576 km

Although Natasha had no visa for Czech Republic I thought we gave it a try. She really wanted to visit Prague. We arrived to Kudova Zdroj border crossing and proceeded to the check point. Polish customs didn’t check anything. On the Czech side the officer looked through Natasha’s passport and couldn’t find any visa. In effect we were told to go back and approach the nearest German border crossing.

stoned dudeWe took a very picturesque short cut through Stolowe Mountains. It is actually a National Park where the main features are the thick forest and many strange rock formations often looking like animals or people.

At the German border we were quickly processed and let go. German highway A4 let us gain some ground and by the evening we were already on A72. The road was so smooth I decided to ride at night. Around Zwickau some mountains started and with them a heavy fog and drizzle. It was impossible to continue so we just camped at one of the parking areas. No one came or bothered us.     

Day 90 – Sept 4, Zwickau to Au, Switzerland – 674 km

Swiss bikerA day of nonstop riding on A9 to Munich and then on A96 to Lindau and Bregenz in Austria. During one of the Stops we met a Swiss rider coming back for m Ukraine. He went there for two weeks and had so much more luggage.

On the border to Liechtenstein we were stopped for the first time in my life. Usually they just wave motorcyclists through but this time they requested all papers and asked questions.

Switzerland is so small. We got to my sister’s place in a bit more than an hour. Of course the views along A3 were breathtaking.    

Day 91 – Sept 5, Au

Rappersvilhistoric shipSwiss couple?Today we took a short boat trip on Lake Zurich to a picturesque town of Rappersvil.

Then we relaxed at home and socialized.

Day 92 – Sept 6, Au

More relaxing and having actual vacation.

Day 93 – Sept 7, Au to Paris, France – 682 km

We said farewell to the whole family and hit the road.

FranceBasel, Belford, Troyes, Provins and by the evening we were in Paris. It was Natasha’s first time in the city of love and she already loved it. We had a supper in a nice patio restaurant overlooking the Cathedral of Notre Dame. It was quite magical despite huge numbers of tourists. I took Natasha on a short night tour of Paris and then we left the city in a search of accommodation. I took one wrong turn off and we had to go all the way to Versailles. This was actually yet another good luck because on the way back we met a fellow riding a moped with his girlfriend who instead of showing us the way to a city camping invited us to his place.

parking for KLRs onlyHe said he was an artist and that he had a big atelier right downtown. We followed him through a maze of one way streets until we stopped in front of a multistory building. The guy opened the street level door, moved his moped inside and told us to do the same. We parked our bike beside a long work table full of all kinds of paper. This was awesome; a famous local paper artist was our host. Jean-Claude and his girlfriend, a Polish woman born in France, invited us upstairs to their flat where we had a very interesting conversation in three languages Polish, French and English. Tonight we slept on the floor of Jean-Claude’s atelier right beside our bike.                 

Day 94 – Sept 8, Paris to Rotterdam, Holland – 487 km

Jean-ClaudeOur host was so nice he let us sleep till 9 a.m. When he came down he explained how he created his works of art by folding single pieces of paper. Sometimes he would put thousands of folds on a huge 20 meters long piece. He said recently the demand was low but he predicted soon he might have a lot of work. We talked some more to Jean-Claude and admired his unusual art form. Most of the pieces looked like dinosaur skin.

It was great meeting him and having an inside look at a local artist’s work and life.

towerDespite the heavy traffic we managed to cruise around stopping occasionally for a picture. We hope to come back to Paris one day and stay there longer. There is so much to see.

 

“Stay OK” To Rotterdam we took A1 through Lille and Antwerp. Finding the “Stay OK” hostel wasn’t easy. It had been such a long time since I came to Rotterdam.

 

Day 95 – Sept 9, Rotterdam to Damco warehouse – 37 km

no more ridingWe had only few more kilometers till the complete end of the trip. Earlier we contacted Kris and our shipping agent Peter. When we came to the “Damco” office Kris was already waiting for us. It was nice to see him. I was glad he made it ok.

Together we rode few more miles to the warehouse where we left our bikes together with most of the luggage. Jacek’s bike was already there.  

The end was so uneventful I thought we were just coming back home from a weekend getaway.

AmsterdamThis was it. We made over 33000 kilometers through three continents and 16 countries (9 of them in quick transit through Western Europe). It was too soon to think about what we did.

We spent the rest of the day wondering around Amsterdam, enjoying “the situation” and the “views”.  

Day 96 – Sept 10, Flight to Canada

Safe arrival.

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