|01-13-2015, 08:13 AM||#1|
Joined: Apr 2011
UK to Bangkok Blog
10 weeks... please excuse all the British slang
Here we go again. Walking the tarmac tightrope and heading for the horizon. Ditching the desk and running for the hills. Ten weeks, two wheels, 10000 miles. A few months ago I opened the door, looked in the stable and thought about what I should throw my saddle over. KTM 990 SMT with a hooligan kit and a very bad temper. R1100S with 170k and looking like a victim of a chainsaw massacre, split into big component parts and sitting on shelves. R1150GSA with 110k and a passport full of stamps. "I need a new bike" I think to myself. As if reading my mind, I hear some soft sobbing from behind me. Turn around and see a small puddle of metal tears under my old GSA. "All right old girl. One more time". Decision made.
It's simple plan. Distance: Far. Direction: East. UK to Bangkok.
6:30 Sunday morning up and at 'em. Southampton to Soest. Out to Dover in the grey. Front of the queue with a couple of other bikers. "Where you off to?", "Luxemborg, you?" "Bangkok". Silence, of the 'you taking the piss?' variety. It's strange how your mind rationalises things like this. Leave the house, turn left, follow black stuff till Bangkok. Forget about the scary places enroute. It will all be fine, just treat every day as it comes. I'm just happy to be moving, I really don't care where, just as long as I'm moving.
Breakfast on the ferry, just taking my time. You don't realise how tightly you're wound up until you have time to properly unwind. Off the ferry and into the storm, twatting with rain all day day long playing a little mitalic melody against my visor. The rain has bought along it's best mate the wind and they're having a ball. Very tiring, like trying to walk supporting a fat drunk leaning on your shoulder all day as it pushes across the fast roads. Quickly through France and Belgium then into Holland for a short while. I pass Wankum. Ummm. Perhaps that's where they train the Amsterdam tarts? Perhaps they need some people to practice on. So, When you think of Dutch recycling whats the first thing that comes to mind? Paper? Glass? Gimp suits? I think there are a lot of naked gimps in holland. I think they use the suits as overbanding on the roads. Nail one end in, grab, stretch, and nail the other end in then coat the whole thing in KY. Gives a good 20ft by 1ft strip of death. Can't see the feckers in the pouring rain and a few times the bike does a wet dog shake on a corner and tries to chase it's tail. Bloody scary but I've got to get my body back into the loose mode as it's only going to get worse later I'm sure.
OK, what's this. The GPS thinks that someone has moved Holland. From the second I cross the border the I'm riding in the fields and seldom on the road. Makes it impossible when it comes to junctions so just revert back to the maps. I'm not good with GPSs and I just bought this, stuck it on as I left home and didn't think about it. What a tosspot. Quickly into Germany. It seems the German car drivers have almost exclusively taken up the 'German Only' option of one big fuck off accelerator pedal that runs right across the pedal box and can be used with both feet simultaneously. I'm watching very carefully as they scream along. I pull out to sweep past a car. I'm not hanging about, maybe doing 80, but as I pass I feel an pressure wave on my knee and something shoots past me in my lane between me and the barrier. Scares the shit out of me. Two foot further into the lane and I'd have lost my anal virginity to a VW Passat. Get to Soest and it's a chocolate box town with big old houses and pretty squares. The place Villiam Von Shakesvere might have grown up and written such classics as Reich'ard the 3rd.
Go across the road to the hospital for breakfast. I like hospital food. All very German. Clean, exact, efficient. Breakfast amongst the nurses. Some people would pay for that. East east and east again to Berlin today. Not too far, maybe 300 miles. Weather is lovely. Dry but very windy, like my pants. The shatnav is still fubar. It knows what country we're in but that's about it. 'Oh, sorry, you should have turned left back there'. 'Don't rush me, I'm thinking. This is hard you know. All the signs are in German'. 'Oh, silly me, you should have taken that junction, please make a U turn....in 30 miles' . Feck knows whats up with it. Still, it's motorways all day. Wits being kept about me and all senses turned to max. Getting passed by fast cars in your lane isn't unusual and it happens again and again, regardless of what lane you're in. I don't remember it being this bad in the past. In typically efficient German style though I see a column of 3 fast cars approaching, all at the max, both feet hard down. Whoosh.... Audi.... whoosh....BMW.....whoosh.. Mercedes...hearse. It seems you can hire a hearse to chase you to work and put your soggy body full of broken bones into a nice chestnut box should you not manage to emergency stop in the 2ft between you and the car in front. Good idea really. Like the 155mph speed restrictions on the cars. Great idea. I guess it stops them racing. That would be dangerous...
Still, don't see any police all day long. Weird how 120mph in the UK will get you prison sentence, a staring role on 'police camera action', an appearance on the local news and a massive donation to HMRC while in Germany 120mph will just get you a 'fuck off out my way' flash of the headlights from the person behind. I've been passed by cars at well over 100 in my lane today. Seems to work ok though. They've got it all sorted. I tell you what, you can take the piss about the past but I sure as hell wouldn't want to fight them now.
Approach Berlin and the shatnav just thinks its 1750 with 2 roads and a stagecoach station. Traffic is a prize bastard and I seem to have ridden straight into the red light district. Red traffic lights that is. Millions of the bastards. Takes forever to find the hostel and I have to keep stopping to let the bike cool down and stop it cooking my calves. Lovely hostel though and cheap. I worship the God of google and bow to booking.com, masters of the traveling universe and locators of cheap gems the world over. 29 Euros. OK, its 29 Euros per square meter but I can sleep standing up no problem. It's still not hit me yet. 2 days in of 10 weeks. It sometimes takes a while.
Spend ages just dicking about, trying to let the luggage sort itself out - just starting to get into a routine really. I won't think about it soon enough. Just about to leave when I run into a young couple after a card reader. A young German bloke and a red headed girl with porcelain skin you'd have bet was irish but was actually from California. Get the first signatures on the panniers and take some pics of the bike by a wall of nice graffiti.
I go to get some milk from the supermarket. I've only got two hands and they're full so I put the coins in my lips and go to pay. Take out the coins and expect her to put out her hand. She looks at me like i've just pissed in her porridge then given it a good shake.There is no way she's touching the coins. I drop them on the counter and she puts on some gloves to pick them up and put them in the till. Weirdo. How's she going to identify them when she gives them to someone for change? Some serious OCD problem there. Typically efficient German though. While we're at it, if you're thinking of starting a new business in Germany and you think that the ladyshave market might be a little too small, then don't, whatever you do, think of selling warm air hand dryers. The Germans think they have as much effect as waving your hands under one of your own farts. Paper towels. Quick, efficient, Germans. See why you wouldn't want to fight them. Shout "SCRAMBLE" and they'd be off the bog, hands washed, wiped and in the air in 10 seconds. The RAF would be queueing up at the Dyson. "What are you waiting for Chumley-Smithe? Get the fuck into your plane". "Sorry sir. My hands look dry but they don't feel dry. One more cycle should sort out the little blighters. Oh wait a moment, it doesn't want to start. I simply cannot wipe them on my trousers. Ms Downtrodden spent simply ages getting these creases perfectly straight and true." BOOM - game over. I've not seen one warm hair dryer anywhere. You simply have to have dry hands at 155mph.
Leave Berlin and head for Poland. The shatnav is wankered and doesn't have a scooby where we are. It eventually gives up telling me it's had enough and it's going to move in with it's mum. Into Poland and the road is all brand spanking new. It's a flippin toll road too with equal cost for cars and bikes. Rock up to the toll booth and meet a young woman who obviously dies her hair with Heinz tomato soup, or there is an axe stuck in her head. I tell her that as a british citizen it's highly likely that I've already paid for the road through the arse raping EU and that I would appreciate a free pass. She just makes a sound like she's preparing to launch a flailing phlem so I quickly shut the window. Within a second there is a loud splat and it looks like someone has fired a chewed green jelly baby out of a shotgun. This road is new, straight and tedious. These early days are just about doing miles though.
Get to Warsaw and spiral into a lat/long making random road choices. There is a big sports bike following me through the traffic. I pull over to let it through. The bike pilot has a long blonde plait and is dressed in very snug Arlen Ness. She's a tiny little thing too. I sit behind her as we pull away from the lights and she quite unnecessarily and gratuitously raises her bum in the air. Perhaps it's some sort of Polish insult. Perhaps I did something wrong. I'll have to try and find out what it was, then I'll have to do it again. Get to the guest house. Lovely old place with big rambling rooms and a friendly host. There is another biker here. A young German who's been off roading for 6 weeks up around the north cape. Spend a couple of hours chatting before bed.
The German bloke I was speaking to last night had been rough camping and this was his first night in a bed for 6 weeks. He said he had asked a Lithuanian farmer if he could camp on his land recently. The farmer had invited him to a family party but warned him not to try and do this again. He said many Lithuanians were so poor that the kids would come in the night, rob you of everything and probably put you in hospital too. Nice. Anyway, I'm off to Lithuania today. I have a vague idea where I'm going but another EU cash bomb is exploding on the Warsaw roads and many of them are closed or diverted. My poor old GS is panting like a dog in a desert and I've not got time to queue so "let's off road". Through a couple of housing estates along the pavements for a while then over a pedestrian crossing, through some road workers and we're on the right road out of town. Satnav is still at it's mums but it's just one road all day today. Pretty soon the road begins to get groovy. Not groovy as in 'man'. Groovy as in 'take a soapy Jordan and drag her along naked on her front through soft tarmac' groovy. They must have got through a lot of soap because this goes on for 250 miles. Works for the lorries though. 90% of the drivers are asleep as their trucks just sit in the ruts and play follow the leader. Just means that when you pull out to overtake it looks like you're passing a flipping train.
Really cheap out here which is welcome. Breakfast by the side of the road, sausage scrambled eggs and coffee for £2.
Into Lithuania and it's immediately different. Bit more like home. Rolling hills being harvested, the smell of cut crops in the air. Get to Kaunas and it's a lovely hotel for €30. Lovely place Kaunas. People are starting to look different now too. More angular. Everyone is promenading in the evening sunshine and it's starting to feel like I'm getting somewhere. There is an old bloke in the car park looking at the list of written destinations on the panniers. More warnings and a 'be very careful out there' farewell. Latvia tomorrow, then mother Russia.
It's pissing down today and the roads are all running with diesel. Perhaps it's some sort of decoration. 'ahhhh, look at all the pretty colours....'. 'Ahhhhhhhh, look at my legs broken in 100 places'. Not far to go today as I want to keep the speeds down and try to stick to the limits as much as poss. The plod get worse the further east you go and I'm keen to avoid them if I can. Turns out the only one I see all day has broken down and is being towed by a local with a tractor. Out into countryside in the murk we go. All going well. Everything is going nicely. Everything nicely signposted, then everything just stops. Roadworks. Miles and miles and miles of roadworks. Go to a light, wait 10 minutes, go to the next one. And mud. Lots and lots of mud. It looks like what my dog squirts out if I give her curry. Yellowish, greasy and disgusting. I'm a big fan of mud, as long as there are bikinis and wrestlers involved...but with a big heavily loaded bike and road tyres, then not so much. Anyway, couple of hours later I reach the end thank god. Sure enough, there is Jordan tethered to a tree chewing grass and being sprayed with soap. Ready to apply the top later.
Out here is in the countryside the houses are really poor. Really old wooden places with peeling paint and rusty windows, all being held together with snot and selotape. Looks like one good fart would blow them apart. I'd have to sleep with my arse out the window else i'd wake up in a field surrounded by matchwood. Into Latvia and that looks much the same, except for the roads. Forget Jordan, the Latvians have 'gone large'. The Latvians use Kim Kardashian's arse. Bloody great ruts you just cannot get out of without a stepladder. Later I see an old barn with a roof that's all bowed in the middle. I think that's where they sit Kim at night. A sort of 'Kim rest' Get to Reskene. Close to Russia now. Stop for petrol and the place is full of truckers trying to look hard, frightening and intimidating... and succeeding. Hotel is nice and the bike is safe is a garage with the garden tools and pots of paint. Definitely feels like we're getting somewhere now. A real change in atmosphere. Feels quite isolated here as well and there are more ducks than people. Cross the border tomorrow and wave bye bye to Europe.
|01-13-2015, 10:17 AM||#2|
Joined: Aug 2002
Location: Toronto, ON
Your first 10 posts are moderated, so you need to be patient until your post is viewed and approved by a Mod. Double posting won't get them posted any faster
ADV decals, patches & flag? Here
|01-13-2015, 11:05 AM||#3|
Joined: Dec 2011
Location: Madison, NJ
Awesome story so far!
Love the picture of the girl in the platform shoes or I suppose it's platform shoes with the girl in them. Other great pictures too.
|01-13-2015, 12:12 PM||#4|
Joined: Apr 2011
|01-13-2015, 12:14 PM||#5|
Joined: Apr 2011
Ok. Here we go into mother Russia. I thought I might be more apprehensive. Maybe later. The roads up to borders are often shit and this one is no exception. It looks like your average city pavement covered in chewing gum. Patches on patches on patches. I bought some 2nd hand Ohlins a couple of years ago off a dodgy scouser on eBay. His idea of 'new' was 'new to you' and these had already been well used. I got them serviced before I set out on this trip. I guess you simply don't see how good these things really are until you're riding over Tarmac like this. Keeping all the bumps from my bum. Luuuuuvery. Wouldn't fancy this road in the winter though. So, out of Latvia in a minute with a 'good luck'. Rock up to the Russian border and join the queue.
Well the Russians aren't rushin that's for sure. It's a simple process but it's not a short one. Especially if you're behind 3 cars traveling together that comprise 10 nationalities, include several stolen children, a boot full of ivory and a cat with ebola. And thats just the start of it. The motley crew is taking so long to process that I'm moved to a different lane. Stage 1 takes 10 minutes but then I get to customs. There's me, and there's this dodgy looking bloke driving a German registered Merc. He's not German. The woman in the booth has her eyes on stun and Mr Dodge is clearly turning up the heat. The Russian is getting faster and louder by the minute. After 10 minutes it's full on 100db at 100mph. This is going nowhere fast. It looks like a real domestic to me. I think these two are married. I think she asked him to get her a blue Merc and he got her a silver one. He's gone all contrite and he's trying to calm her down but she's not having it. The dummy is is out and wedged in the wall. This goes on for another 10 minutes. They're full at each other now. She's bringing up the time she caught him with his fingers in a bridesmaid at their wedding and he's saying that isn't as bad as the time he caught her taking a DNA sample from his dad. She's got a major hump now and is properly screaming. I don't think she has blinked for 5 minutes and she is just throwing documents out the window at him. Mr Eyebrowski from the next booth has come in and hit the emergency sprinkler system to cool her down. While she steams away in her chair, Mr Dodge is taken away to have his testicals photocopied and I take the opportunity to get through. Took me about 2 hours. Should have taken 15 minutes. Still, all part of the journey. Only about 100 miles to Viliki Luki today. Anyway, guess who I bump into as soon as I cross the border? My Satnav! It's there waiting for me, saying it's sorry but it had a lot on it's mind but it wants us to try again. It promises me it's bought the right maps this time and it will concentrate and not let itself wander. Get into Viliki Luki and its a proper Russian town. Very very run down and dilapidated. The sort of place they test anti-depressants. Satnav does a good job of getting me close but this hotel is off the map in what looks like a war zone. The kind of place I expect to see Ross Kemp cowering in a corner. Through broken roads and deep puddles I find the place. A bit of an oasis. I think it used to be a school or a nursery. Looks shit on the outside. Really nice inside though.
There is a small guarded compound in the middle of the ghetto where guests leave their vehicles. Later, some army blokes turn up in a small green van. They park in the compound too. That must say something. This place looks fine in the day and I take a walk through to the supermarket. Wouldn't fancy it at night though. I'm eating in the bar later and there seems to be a drinking/shouting contest going on in one of the booths. One of the blokes shouts "hello" to me. Oh bollocks, here we go. They want to do some English practice and to find out what I think about Ukraine and Putin. Nothing controversial or heavy, just the usual international relations. Piece of cake. Turns out one of the group is the owner of the hotel. A young bloke built like a tiger tank and so wide he has to go through doors sideways. Spend a couple of hours chatting/back slapping/fearing for my life before the owner insists he upgrades my room and gives me one last bone fusing handshake before bed.
Check out the Robert Palmer hotel (where the women's uniforms are so fitted they only have a little 'wiggle' room left) and run the gauntlet through the ghetto. Say "do svidaniya" to Ross Kemp as he stands with his hands on his hips, up to his nuts in a muddle puddle, then I'm on the M9 to Moscow. It's trees trees and trees for miles and miles and miles. I'm bumbling along and stop to buy some apples (one of the only Russian words I know so I thought I might as well use it) from an old bloke with a side car. He's jibber jabbering away and a big 4x4 pulls up. The window winds down and it appears the passenger is a lovely black and white cat. The bloke put some apples through the window and the car's screams off in a plume of dust. Certainly no pussies these feline drivers.
Ok. What are people doing selling fur coats on the sides of the road in the middle of summer? I go past furs hanging on racks, loads of them. I stop at a junction where some of the furs have 'lumps' in them. There are stuffed foxes, badgers, squirrels, beavers, hedgehogs, an elk thing's head with antlers and TWO brown bear pelts compete withs heads and paws. The bear fur is soooo soft and thick. Closer inspection shows some 'holes'. I'm sure its where it probably just fell and hurt itself long before finally handling its old coat into the charity shop. I ask if she would sell me something smaller, like some claws. She won't though, she'll only sell me a whole bear. Bugger, I cant carry a whole one. Maybe I could wear it. Bit hot for that though. Anyway, she whips out a skull from the van but its all sticky like someone has only just finished scooping out the brain with a nickerbocker glory spoon so I refuse and ride on. There are loads of these stalls for miles. Not something I've seen before.
It's a lovely lovely day. Sunny and warm. Riding through a town I see police everywhere blocking roads. What's up here then? I see a group of bikers assembled by the side of the road in a garage. Now usually I'm an extremely anti-social animal. I genuinely think I'm missing the warm and cuddly gene and I would usually happily do a 500 mile detour in 100 degrees to avoid this kind of thing but for some unknown reason my bike seems to want to try out it's Russian and steers me into the middle of them. WTF am I doing here. I'm not feeling the love. They slowly approach me, like a growling pack of dogs. We walk around each other, sniffing. I let a couple of them piss on my bike and I think one mounts it - I just hear a small whelp. I think he should have let it cool down a bit more... Anyway, the teeth disappear behind their lips and the hackles are dropped to be replaced by handshakes and smiles. Weird the Russians. Tough nuts with soft centres. There is always an English speaker, of sorts anyway, and I can speak 2 words of Russian (I hope he likes Apples) so away we go. It turns out they're going to do a parade as part of the fiesta in town and would I like to come along and join them. 'Sure'. So off we go through the police cordons and down into the bowels of an imposing housing estate where there's a big party going on. Lots of food and drink, laughter and noise. Looks like 1990 fashion is the order of the day though. There is stuff like horse riding, stunt riding and bear wrestling going on in the school playground. I think it's probably on the curriculum out here. We get to do a few laps of the running track on the bikes which is a laugh until the bloke in front of me decides to do a burn out and shoot bits of hot rubber up my nose. 'Ahhhhhhh Dunlop. 1995 if I'm not mistaken. Vulcanization with notes of nylon. Lovely'. I'm getting my panniers signed as I travel round and when I get my pen out it's like a prostitute appearing in a prison, everyone wants to grab it and have a go. They could be writing anything but who cares. If I get stopped by a copper who looks at the panniers, winks and points to the nearest bush then I'll know who to blame. Still, good fun, and I'm really glad I did it. Couple of strange hours in good company. There are tears and man hugs when we say goodbye. Raving poofs.
Later afternoon and on towards Moscow I go.
Like in any big city, I feel like a plane on final approach as the traffic seems to intensify and funnel in, getting denser and faster as it goes. Go over some mad bridge with what looks like a huge red glass beetle perched in the top of it.
Satnav is doing her best but with turnings appearing thick and fast I miss a few and end up flying around like one of those ball bearings in a puzzle, going in all directions before finding the right grove towards my pillow somewhere near the centre. Satnav says 5km, 10 minutes then suddenly STOP! OK, this isn't good. The road I want is blocked by a big column of trucks and the traffic is locked solid. There are lots of very well dressed people about and I can hear loud music from somewhere. I'm up and down, on little roads, footpaths, all blocked. Some have X-Ray scanners for the pedestrians and I'm pretty sure a 250kg GS would set one of those off if I went through - I've heard they're quite sensitive. The bike is getting HOT. It's getting dusky and the bike is glowing red. I stop for 10 minutes and check the map. It appears Red Square & the surrounding area is shut off for some concert or another. My destination for tonight is 'conveniently within walking distance of Red Square'. Fuckidy wanky bollocks. Eventually I get pushed onto a road that every other Moscovite is on....parked. There is an ambulance about 200 yards behind me with it's blue lights on and it's going nowhere. The bike has started to melt now, dripping liquid metal on my boots. I have to turn it off and wait again - no choice. I'm sitting there when suddenly a GIANT of a bloke walks over to me. He is MASSIVE. Made of stone or something as he is leaving dents in the tarmac. He gabs and shakes my hand. I now have a flipper with all my fingers fused together but I'm just glad it's still attached. I'm going to swim in circles for ever more. 'Where you from?" he booms. 'England' I reply. 'Me, Chechen'. This is strange because only the last night, my rough Russian dinner buddies were talking to me about the Chechens. They told me they use a bad word for them. A word we use in the west too. The call the Chechens the N word. One of the bloke's parting words last night was 'just look out for those crazy Chechen [Nwords]'! And so here I am with one in the flesh/metal/stone. He claps and a shock wave runs down through the traffic shattering windows and setting alarms off, then he gets in a brand new white Bentley parked behind me and pulls into the traffic which parts like the sea before Moses for him and he's away. It's been an hour since the satnav said 10 minutes. The bike wont make this traffic so I set off pushing it. It only moves a few feet every few minutes anyway and the ambulance still hasn't passed me. I hope it's not going to anything serious. Maybe it would try the siren then too eh?. 90 minutes later, and after watching Chris De Burge (I thought/wished he was dead) for an hour on a big screen I find a way to the hostel, hidden behind a church. Check in, knackered. I hear the first English voice for a while. Young Londoner called Gabriel going to Beijing on the Trans Siberian. Quick chat about philosophy, as you do, and he's away to the station. Tonight is a bed in a room that was built around it. The smallest room I've ever stayed in. Literally the size of the bed with a 1ft gap on one side to stand. Who flippin cares. Shower and out to look for food. Moscow is a flippin expensive place and it's late. Get a lovely baked potato and watch the young shapes move past in the dark through misted up windows. I've got some nasty oozing bite on my ankle that is so swollen I can hardly get my trousers over so I go to a pharmacy to seek a cure. Still open at 11pm thank God. The pharmacist doesn't want to give me anything without knowing what this weeping wound is about but luckily a couple of young and extremely drunk Russian girls with barely a stitch on fall into the shop and help. One speaks english really well. She is a lot better at english than she is at keeping her knees together. Her knees seem to have fallen out and they don't want to be near each each other as she staggers to a chair, sits down and parades all her body parts to the public. All her concentration is going into the English/Russian translation at the expense of everything else. I just hope that isn't going to include bodily functions. She translates for the pharmacist who gets a big key and opens a red safe behind the counter. She puts on a thick glove and hands me a tube of something she clearly thinks should be handled in care. I get instructions only to apply once a day, in an open field with no animals or children within a mile, and never to apply just after midnight. Flippin expensive but I've got to do something.
Up and out of Moscow. The complete opposite of last night. Empty roads. No road blocks. Red Square in 5 minutes flat. I Park next to a policeman and take some pictures, he couldn't be less bothered.
Get down to the river opposite the kremlin and snap the bike in front of the towers glistening gold in the morning sunshine.
South today to Tambov. Hammering down again for a while but that doesn't stop the crazy Russian drivers. The Russians have a bad rep for driving. I've not seen anything too bad so far but today i see things I've never ever seen before. Total, complete and utter madness. Absolutely any opportunity to overtake and they're on it. Both sides are game. Exit slips, verges, tracks, bus stops, pavements, anything. Sitting in a lane means nothing. I had cars virtually brushing my legs in the pouring rain as they passed in my lane. It's very difficult. The only 'safe' way is to do what they do, keep up with the traffic and pass where ever and whenever you can. When you find yourself alone it's worse as a bike is ignored. Come round a corner or over the brow of a hill and you feel like you're riding down the wrong side of a dual carriageway. Streams of cars on your side of the road. Not just cars but artics and coaches too. Bat shit crazy. I saw one bloke overtake a big lorry on a grass verge in the rain, slithering about and kicking up mud with his foot hard down. Loads of police about doing spot checks. I presume they're checking all the laws have been broken.
"Have you exceeded the speed limit by at least 100%?"
"Have you crossed solid White lines on a corner?"
"Have you come within 10 millimeters of on coming traffic?"
"Da, 10 times already today"
"Have you sat astride the centre line with at least 75% of the car in the opposing lane for 10km at a time?"
"Um, da. Da. Yes"
"You're lying to me aren't you?"
"Niet, definitely Niet"
"Do I have to stick my ribbed baton of truth into your dark passage to check?"
"OK, OK, sorry, niet. The kids. It was the kids and the wife. They were screaming so loud and crying I had to stop. I'm really really sorry officer. I'll buy some tape and put it over their mouths and eyes I promise"
"Niet. This is bad. Very bad. You will have to be sent on a speed unawareness course and have this behavior corrected at once"
Later in the day there's the result. Two cars have met in the middle somewhere and one is way off in the fields. The other is sitting, wrecked, in the middle of the road, 2ft shorter than when it left home. No police yet. They're probably looking for some medals to give to the drivers.
Get to Tambov quite late to a cheap (£10) hotel over a shop in a market. Clean room though and somewhere off the street to park the bike. The surrounding area is totally dive. I go wandering about to look for food and I see people going in and out a shop. It has a big 24H sign outside. Excellent, I'll get some biscuits or something. In I go. It's a bloody flower shop. A 24H bloody flower shop. Anyway, I buy some nice begonias for my dinner and some roses (White) for breakfast and head to bed.
Last night's hotel was a last minute thing arranged yesterday on the phone. When I turned down the road last night it was an "oh mother" moment. All potholes, rubbish, stink and staring people. The road is the site for a daily fruit and veg market and the hotel is over some shops. The room is fine. The receptionist is ....fine, the surroundings are a bomb site. It's flipping hot and so all the windows are open cos the air conditioning is .... missing. I take a walk looking for coffee early in the morning. You'll be flippin lucky mate.. I didn't sleep well last night either. It's difficult when you're providing the all night, all you can eat buffet for a million fruit flies. I did wake up once with a craving for carnations though. Quick trip to the fast florist cafe cured that. Small cities like this, you've got to wonder how people get any pleasure at all from life. It looks like someone has let some slow motion demolition charges off and the the whole place is falling to rubble. No bloody wonder nobody smiles. How lucky I am that I can turn that key, twist that grip and leave, never to return. I do like the Russians though. For all the dilapidation and despair, the Russians keep pushing on. Crack the surface and they laugh and joke and slap you on the back, wish you well and don't seem to bear you any malice. I'll come back here one day. Out of Tambov and as I go south I'm on smaller and smaller roads. Initially there is just more and more mechanical madness as cars push and shove each other about. Not Many police about down here though. As I ponder my 10th brush of the day with death I can only assume that the Russian driving test is a simple one. No horrible exams. No pesky cars involved.
"Good morning Mr Bonkerov, please take a seat and make yourself comfortable. Please feel free to use your phone, drink a coffee, read a book, do some knitting or dismantle and clean your gun during the test. Now, please could you just extend your right ankle for me? Da. Da. Very good. You're a natural. I'm pleased to tell you that you have passed. Please collect the keys to your new BMW M3 on the way out. Do svidaniya"
As you get further away from the capital, things seem to go downhill fast. Out on the country roads the little towns look like Wimpy and Bovis have had a scrapheap challenge. Buildings barely standing but still in use. Rust, rust and more rust. You could make a shit load with collecting scrap metal out here I reckon, though 50% of it is probably still in use. The roads just get worse and worse. Initially they degrade to patch patch patchwork and then they just give up and put signs saying "Road fucking awful for the next 200km. Pack bollocks carefully" they're not wrong either. I spend 100 miles standing up on the pegs in the pouring rain, trying to avoid all the holes and help out the poor old suspension. My forks are pumping like a teenage tosser trying to finish before his mum walks in. I'm hoping they'll stay the course.
Get to Saratov. The rain is torrential now and you can't see the holes under all the water. Every time you put your foot down you don't know where the road surface is going to be as there are huge dips and troughs.
Arrive at the hotel and it's like a cheap whore .... so I'm told. The "reception area" is all clean and tidy but go upstairs and it's all falling about and needs major surgery. Still a carry over from old soviet times too. There is a woman on each floor that holds the keys to the rooms. She lives in a sad little room at the end of the floor and sits watching telly on a small wooden chair. Some life. Outside it's all sad buildings and rubbish. Looking for somewhere to eat I twice walk into hairdressers - then i see a bar advertising nice looking platters of food, served on a naked woman.
I wonder if they let you lick the plate. I'm not quite that hungry tonight, unless it's a very small woman. I could probably manage a few titbits though! Titbits aren't on the menu unfortunately so I've got to look elsewhere. Just as I walk away, Gary glitter turns up and asks them if they do kiddy meals... Anyway, I find some pizza place with pictures to point at instead.
A day off in Saratov. That would be great if were were attending a muddy pavement convention or you were am architect interested in how buildings could remain standing when seemingly only supported by rot and ivy, or if you are a physiognomist... Personally I think that most people's faces look like you've just stamped on their pet hamster and shot it's eyes out 10th across the floor. The weather isn't helping today either. Its absolutely titting down, hardcore styley. It's making a real racket, bouncing off the road and forming rivers of blue and green as diesel flows through the streets. I walk around for a few hours and watch the wet world go by.
I don't usually travel this long alone and I'm finding I'm talking to myself all the time. Must be practicing for my old age. Not long now!
|01-13-2015, 02:38 PM||#7|
Joined: Apr 2011
Last night I met up with the other riders. They left a week before me and took a different route. Another 5 riders and 1 pillion so not a big group. One more to join us on the China border. Mixture of bikes and riders. I arranged to meet them at the big bridge over the Volga this morning. Get to the bridge and there ar traffic lights, it's being resurfaced. Tits. I go to the front of the queue of buses. My spider sense is tingling telling me somethings not right. I get a tap on the back from a police baton. "Niet". Bollocks. They're only letting buses over. I've got to go miles up river to the next bridge. I decide to wait for the others on this side so do a quick detour down and under the bridge then turn right past a no entry sign directly into the path of ..... two policemen that have just left the police station I'm now pointing at. Ummmm. Smile to max brightness, fawn mode on, quickly swallow a portion of humble pie and start sucking. They're obviously not pleased. Russian is bitch when it comes at you thick and fast ... and loud ... with spit. I have absolutely no clue what the fuck they're on about. Do I bend over and pull my pants down? Do I go down on my knees, open my mouth and close my eyes? Do I get the special police gimp mask out? What? I pull on the gimp mask. Niet, that doesn't work. Ok, ok. I bend over. Niet, not that either. I'm trying to explain that I want to wait for my mates in their 'naughty area'. That at least gets their attention back. I'm trying to wait where they're pulling people over and beating them to pass the time of day but they're not having it. Its all getting out of hand so I just ride off before they can bump start a police car and follow. So, I'm off for another day alone on the road. It's lovely and sunny and warm and the countryside is flat in all directions. I didn't think the roads could get any more shit but they do. Very impressive indeed.200 miles standing up the whole way today, calfs on fire. Get out of Russia easy peasy and it's in to Kazakhstan in a flash.
The visas in this area of the world are becoming a lot more relaxed. Makes life on the road soooo much easier that's for sure. Kazakhstan now gives you a 15 day visa waiver, nothing to do for the bike, punch the passport and I'm in, excellent. Just past the border is a little shed. In the little shed, there is a little bed. On the little bed is a little bloke called little Ed. He is dressed in red ... and he is scratching his head. Ok ok, so I made that last bit up. He was scratching his bum, but anyway, he's in an insurance salesman. We sit at his little desk, I fill out a little paperwork and pay a little money then I'm away with a little wave. This border is not exactly commutable from anywhere as I soon find out. Off I go, all happy and legal like. What the fuckidy fucking shit has fucking happened here. The 'road' has the worst Tarmac I have ever ever seen. It's like the local birds have been given TNT for tea and have justflown around blowing it all to shit. The potholes can be a foot deep with straight sides and right across the road, and often on the brows of hills. The trucks are absolutely crawling along it. Its like some mad 1,000,000 hole crazy golf course. It's 60 miles to Uralsk and it takes 2 hours with mucho swearing and crunching along the way. Hit one bump more and I'll have bollocks for earrings. Get to Uralsk and all the roads are under construction. Well, under constructed might be more appropriate. They're at the early 'sand' stage. Sand scares the shit out of me. Perhaps that's a good thing given my pebble poo problem.. Anyway, any diversions are strictly DIY out here. There are trucks pulling twin trailers, picking their way through the sandy tracks out in the surrounding fields. I disappear into theclouds, ears take over from eyes, I can't see a thing. Work by 3D sound, turning my head like a bat trying to form a picture in my head. Fucking madness really, sitting in a truck sandwich. Afraid to accelerate. Afraid to brake. I know lots of people do this stuff. I'm nothing special and I know there are people slogging down the most inaccessible places on earth without support or company. Falling off every 10 seconds and being bitten to death. I'm not in that league. This is more than enough for me. The lesser of two evils is to overtake the trucks. Has to be in the fields though.20 or 30 seconds of adrenaline fueled out of body riding and I'm out in front. I've got a GPS point to get to but no maps. The point is about 5 miles off in the city somewhere. I've absolutely no idea so it's straight line time. This city is in an early evolutionary stage. There is stuff along the sides of the roads but behind there is nothing, just rough sandy wasteland, so I just go from one road to another on the rough, then over the road, down the bank and on again. Bit like a Kazakhstan 'Italian job'. Over tracks and small paths, through a kids playground, across train tracks , through trees then up a very steep bank and nearly into a crowd at a bus stop. Tonights hotel is a beautiful one, owned by an Italian apparantly. They've even imported hot air driers for the toilets. Typical Italians, never in a hurry. Spend a lovely night in a crisp comfortable cool cotton cocoon. Bliss.
The Kazakhstan cartographers still have the pencils they started with back at the dawn of time. They've not even had to sharpen them yet. One line top to bottom and one across didn't tax anyone too much. 9th biggest country in the world too. Kazakhstan is like a dot to dot picture. A few of the dots are joined with nice sharp dark lines but a lot are just feint or dotted. The route today is supposed to be a lovely dark line with the ink barely dry. Pity I didn't use it. Idiot!* I mistakenly put my faith in the GPS, gave it my hand and let it lead me blindly into the strong morning sunshine. Someone kindly loaded some maps on yesterday and I just follow follow follow. It guides. I just ride. See a sign for Aktobe, relax, enjoy the view. The road isn't too bad for a while.
Do about 90 miles before the first junction. No signs for places I'm looking for though. Look on the map. My fuckidybuggerometer is starting to flick. I try to speak to a bloke at a bus stop. He appears to have no tongue. He's waving his arms around and he's not recognizing anything. He shows me a piece of paper with something scribbled on it. I think his mum gave it to him to give to the bus driver so I'm hoping he's just illiterate. He gets excited and recognizes his home town on the map. He points to somewhere I certainly don't want to be. Ohhh shit. I'm a long long way of course. The GPS has gone for the quickest route but that takes me back through Russia and I'm now close to the border. What a complete knobbing twat I am. Anyway, usually this wouldn't be a problem. 130km, 80 miles, no problem at all. 80 miles out here on anything but the main roads, that's going to be more difficult. To be fair though, this is where the adventure begins. I'm alone, it's 100 degrees and there is a gale blowing across the plains. The GS has a big tank and I've plenty of fuel, what's to worry about, lets go. The tarmac ends very quickly, like after 50 meters, and its rough roads all the way.
Sand, gravel, chalk, packed mud. Bits of everything for the next couple of hours. It's the poor old bike I feel sorry for. Fully loaded its still a brilliant bike for doing this. Everything is dry at least. The scenery is flat but magnificent, topped with an endless blue sky. An eagle swoops down and takes a rabbit off the track just in front of me. Horses run in the sun with their tails stuck straight out. All shiny with sweat and attitude. Herds of goats roaming in the gullies with herders somewhere keeping watch. Much much better than the black stuff.
Half way along there is a broken down car with some young blokes in. Puncture, no surprise there, I'm sure it's a daily occurrence. He has no useable spare and he wants me to take him to his house to get one. He's pointing somewhere towards the horizon. Brilliant. Poor poor old bike.
On he gets. Two up off road, it's not funny. I've seen people do it. I've done it a few times but I absolutely hate it. I can't do off road sitting down. It just feels like I'm on ice the whole time and I can't see far enough ahead because my screen is opaque with grime. Off we go though, to infinity and beyond. Luckily its only a few miles before we head off to a small community scratching an existence in the middle of nowhere. I'm guessing its farming or livestock but i can't see any animals and very limited infrastructure or machinery.
The bloke speaks some English though and he's hapily smoking a tab on the back. The Kazakhstan people have without exception been the friendliest and most engaging people I've met so far. Immediately you cross the border they look completely different too. Almost exclusively Asian and not at all Russian. All polite and smiling. Happy people it seems. Anyway, someone finds a wheel and tyre with about 10psi in and I take him plus the wheel back up to the car. Everyone's happy, job's a goodun and away we all go on our separate ways.
I'm a keen saver at the bank of karma and I hope I made a decent deposit today. The last 50 miles goes by in a blur. I don't ever look down at the speedo though as all that will do is calculate an appropriate list of injuries. Ignorance is bliss. Strange how you can force these things from your mind. I guess we all do it every day to some degree or another else we'd never leave the bed. Even the bed can be dangerous though... Once on the main road it's easy riding all the way. Really really hot and there are wildfires burning off to the sides, just left to their own devices to burn as they please. Occasionally its burning on both sides and thick white smoke obliterates everything.
Get to Aktobe and it's quite a big sprawling place with an air force base of some description. Lots of drivers are waving and taking pictures or talking to me in traffic. A good friendly atmosphere.
I'd have absolutely no hesitation recommending people come out here to this country. The wild areas are impressive just for the scale. The kind of space that just doesn't exist in Europe. I love it. It's so nice to be so far out, like an ant walking alone between nests. Nobody about. Absolutely nobody. Personal space that stretches to the horizon in all directions.
Up early and out of Aktobe. Kazakhstan isn't at all what I expected. I expected a really sparse, backward country with little or no infrastructure, old cars, poverty, guns and bandits. People that have been here even just a few years ago say it's coming on leaps and bounds. They have huge oil reserves and that's putting them on a fast track to westernisation. The country is HUGE but only has 17 million people. Some Chinese cities have more than that. Sure, some areas might look relatively poor but the infrastructure is going in thick and fast. Mobile coverage is good, electricity is constant, water, sewerage, all the basics are there even in the outlying areas. The cities are bustling with new, often Chinese vehicles and you don't see any real poverty. The living conditions for most seem better than their big bother's next door. Anyway, riding alone again today. Between towns the road is good, with the old 'road' running along side. Taking the old road a few years ago would make this trip one hell of a lot harder and slower for sure. It will soon be, if it isn't already, a really simple journey from UK to China. Really not that far either. Today was quite a short ride then rough camping. Not my favorite activity. Give me some 6 inch nails, a hammer and a bench to put my tummy banana on and I'd rather spend the evening turning my winkle into a sprinkler than camping. People that like it, there is something wrong with them. I think they should be arrested.
Get up, stretch, find the biggest lump of wood I can and twat the tent into as many pieces that will fit conveniently into the panniers and get out. Out across the desert all day. Not an attractive, amber desert with dunes though, just a scrubby scruffy landscape. It's a shame. Kazakhstan hasn't been blessed with much of a landscape it seems.It's all pretty dull and flat and arid, though the country is so huge that I'm sure there must be some diversity somewhere...probably. Makes the riding a bit metronomic outside town. Fecking hot out here though, and windy.
No need for hot air dryers out here,the toilets just have holes in the walls to stick your hands through to dry them. Straight road, 100 odd degrees, 250 miles to Aral, where the sea used to be before the Russians used it for irrigation and reduced the size by half. It's a big shanty town in the middle of absolutely nowhere. I really love these places. All a bit rough and ready, a bit up and down with the train tracks running across the little streets. A bit backward looking maybe but all the better for it. People stoppedby the roads asking for lifts by the next driver along, all looking after each other like these isolated places do. Lovely low sun bouncing round the wooden houses and off a road shined by years of heat and hard use without attention. Somewhere I would be happy to stay a while I think. No accommodation booked for tonight so I ride in and take a look. Go into a tiny shop and disturb a family eating their tea round a table in the corner. I'm in the fridge, mumbling "milk" to myself."That's not milk" in perfect English from behind me. Astounding. I turn round and it's like I'm watching a dubbed foreign film. The scene is so foreign. The whole family sat round an old table in a shadowy corner, the smell of an unknown meal being eaten in the heat of building warmed by hot sunshine and now shrinking and clicking at the end of the day as it slowly cools down, and the youngest speaking to me in oxford English. He studied abroad for 7 years - God knows how they afforded that - and hopes to work abroad too. Good luck to him. Anyway, there are only 2 hotels in town he tells me. One is a real dive with prostitutes on the room service menu, and the other is still under construction by the train station. Get some directions and off I go. The town has a 'temporary' feel if that makes sense. It feels like a town put up years ago to support an activity with the expectation that it would come down quickly after, but it never was. Constructed up with the "that'll be ok, it's only temporary" mentality. Lovely place. Get to the hotel by the station. Perhaps this is the one with the hookers though. The owners don't speak english but it appears that some of the rooms don't become available until 9 or 10pm. Ummm. Slightly chaotic and basic but what else do you need?* Only £12 too. Go out to eat. Again, like a lot of isolated places, one door leads to a place/person that will cook you food, mend your chainsaw, amputate your foot and give you marrage advice. I eat some bits of unidentified mammal and chat to a couple of men drinking. One has 2 mistresses in this town alone and a wife in Shymkent. Naughty boy.
Out of Aral and across the plain on the tarmac treadmill again.180 miles straight road before fuel, then the roadworks begin. The usual, same the world over. Diverted for miles off on the old rough road and whatever you'd find by digging a foot down. Sand, gravel, hard packed mud and plenty of dust. Lorries crawling through trying not to break anything or get a puncture. Their trailers and loads groaning and creaking like the moaning dead. You can see why they're replacing the roads though.
Through some of the towns it looks like some drugged up local has been joyriding in a tractor and litterally ploughed up the tarmac. Big sections just gouged out and turned over. About 20-30 miles of that then it's all back to the new stuff again. Perfect for police cars. One comes the other way and flashes it's lights., he we go. I see it brake and UTurn in the mirrors then sure enough, blue lights on and past it comes. We're pulled over but he only wants the first two bikes. I get in the car and get comfortable. At least there is air con in here. One cop in the driver seat, the other in the back which is odd. The car is new, the gadetry is new, the game is the same one played all over for years. There isn't even the suggestion of anything official.85 in a 70 on video, 2700 Tenge (£90) each according to a printed sheet he shows me. He writes '$100' on a little piece of paper on his lap and looks at me. I write 'fuck off you money grabbing bastard' with my eyes and just sit there. He writes '$50' on his piece of paper and raises his eyebrows. I turn my glare down just a notch but do nothing. He sort of just turns his palms up and looks at me. I could sit here all day but it's late and I want to eat so I get my wallet out and open it. He pretends not to look but surreptitiously points to the 'till' slot under at the bottom of the console. There is a camera in the car, probably pointing to the back, which is probably why I'm in the front, and you have to avoid the money being seen on camera. I show him my wallet is nearly empty. More hands and head scratching and negotiation by eyes, eyebrows, smiles and scowls follows before I decide to slip 5000T (£17) in the slot and indicate its for both riders. He smiles, they both shake my hands and they're away. Ridiculous. It was open road so almost certainly 90 limit anyway. Still, all part and parcel of a road trip and I've been very lucky so far. He wasn't angry, threatening, intimidating or anything, he just fancied a meal out at our expense. Anyway, the good news is that someone has got a paint brush out and started painting the scenery a bit. Cross a huge river and the atmosphere changes immediately. Horses bathe up to their shoulders eating the weeds along the banks of the pools. Smiling kids fish in the little tributaries and irragation ditches. Colours blossom out of the ground and life your mood. Into Kyzylorda tonight. Another sprawling town, notable for the woman with the bandiest legs I have ever seen in my life. You could easily ride a space hopper through them and not touch the sides.
Wake up with the sound of trains and follow them slowly out of the city. They're huge utilitarian, brutal looking things, all square and fat but strangely gentle as they slowly and carefully pick their way through the metal maze of tracks and points. I love riding along side them, the low morning sun sparking and glinting off the rails, the clanking and clonking as dense metal parts negotiate with each other for a way through. You can just hear all that weight in every sound. Lovely low horn like a metal whale calling to it's friends. Maybe when I'm too old to ride on two wheels I'll move to 200.
Kasakhstan is turning out to be almost certainly the most featureless place I have ever been. Still flat and barren all day again today. The vicious cross wind the only distraction. Who the hell nicked all the scenery, or has this wind blown it all down?* My camera is getting really bored now. I go to try and take some pics but it just refuses. Take my advice. If you're going to ride through Kasakhstan then bring an audio book. War and peace, the extended edition. Apart from the increasing police and occasional errant dog chasing you down the road there is nothing much to see. I think their calendar has only tow months on it because they couldn't get any more pictures for it. Nearly through now though. Fingers crossed that Kyrgyzstan is the place that nicked all the scenery. Nice hotel in Shymkent tonight.
Rest day today. Some of the others are changing oil and stuff. I'll leave mine till the end of the trip. Is that bad?* When I start these trips I adopt an "if it ain't broke" attitude. The trip is only about 10k total and the bike will be running at speed most of it so I just keep an eye on it. My personal opinion is that manufacturers pressure people into worrying too much about these things nowadays. Some riders think that at 6001 miles after the last service the bike will just stop, sit in a strop by the side of road and wont speak to you again without it's dealer present. That's some of the beauty of an old bike. Mine has dimentia, it has no memory. Every day is a new day. Anyway, I can't rest. I want to get up and go. I'll rest when I'm dead. Maybe not even then. I wouldn't be surprised to be a restless soul destined for ever to wander the highways and byways. Today though there are some mountains out there, definitely. I can smell them. I can feel their gravitational pull and I need to go and see. I put some random point on the satnav to get me out the city and head out. Out past the vast rail yard full of LPG and Diesel freight wagons being fueled by the oil fields burning off the early morning mist in the distance. Out, out and up we go. Climb into the cool air through small villages with people washing stuff in the streams, with small kids rambling up steep hills to school, with goats having breakfast at roadside bramble cafes, with flowers opening for business with the bees. On and on. I'm looking for a national park up here but I can't find it so I just follow some local road to see where it goes. It gets narrower and narrower, rougher and rougher until it comes to a barrier with a little hut. Hut is empty and the barrier is open so on I go. Proper off road now following a twinkling babbling stream up into the sky. I meet a couple of army 4x4s coming in the opposite direction but I don't stop, just scoot round and carry on. Eventually get to a sign. It's got soldiers on it with guns and lots of exclamation marks. Ok, seen enough now thanks.
Nice to see some scenery at last anyway. Get the camera out for some exercise and let it off the lead. It runs about for 10 minutes enjoying itself, snapping away at anything and everything. Stretching it's legs.
Turn round, then down and fade slowly back into civilization, nearly getting very intimate with a police car overtaking on a white line over a blind bridge. He must be a Russian. Get back to the hotel and OMG, what's that smell? The bloke I'm sharing with has the shits, epic styley. The toilet looks like it's been used to conduct some 'poo-clear' tests and the waste paper basket is full of little bundles that would definitely stick to a mirror if you threw them. Poor bugger is bed/toilet bound. I think I might go and sleep in an sewer tonight thought, the air would probably be fresher than in my room. I have to walk around with my helmet on, visor shut and and towels tied round my collar to seal out the arse air that is all pervading.
Shymkent is Kazakhstan's 3rd biggest city. There is a lot of money here. Lots of big Mercs (the hotel owner has an CLS AMG), Range Rovers, Bentleys too. It's the hottest place in the country too apparently. Not a first world city though. No Starbucks!
Another short day today. Only about 100 miles along the Almaty road to Tiraz. Road is good/shit/fantastic/non-existent/fab/bollocks/European. The usual. Got to see some scenery too. I think the relentless wind has pushed it all down here and piled it up against the mountains. Up to about 3000m and see some snow on the tops. Nice clean air and the cool is a welcome change. Gives my sweat glands a chance to rest at least. Tiraz is very different to where we've been before. Lovely and green with plenty of trees and flowers. Luckily get to the hotel before all the roads are closed for some big party. The hotel is like somewhere you might stay on a school trip. Tatty and basic with little rooms covered with faded threadbare blankets and an apple on the bedside table. Tittering tap, whispering walls and worn wooden floors that talk as you walk. I really like it. Walk for miles to find food though. Sit at a pavement restaurant and watch a Mercedes wearing a shiny gold chrome wrap drive past looking like a giant Quality Street. Quite surreal. Really nice place though.
|01-14-2015, 01:52 AM||#9|
Joined: Apr 2011
Kazakhstan border, I'm expecting it to be easy. Usually it's easy out and difficult in. Usually. At the Kazakhstan border one of the lights is out on a gantry so even though it's 10am and everyone is wearing welding masks because it's so bright, they've got to fix it straight away. Now. So they close the border to traffic, reverse a big lorry up, put a ladder on top of the lorry, then throw a rope over the gantry and send a trained monkey up to change the bulb. I'm sweating hard, properly dripping. My boots are overrunning like a bath with the taps on full. Fark. Even the flies are sitting in the shade with their wings up. Its a no fly zone. This is when its most dangerous. My temper is knocking at my mouth trying to get a word in. Never a good sign.
Sign fixed and working, pat tested, inspected, double checked and signed off in triplicate. Open again. This should only take a minute....or so. Lots of people cross on foot at this border. Get in the queue. Everyone is about 2ft tall round here and it feels like I'm wading about up to my waist in people soup. Form a queue at a booth that looks like it's about to open. Blokey has gone in but nothing is happening. I can see him on the computer inside. 5 mins. 10 mins. I think he doesn't have a computer at home and he's checking his mail. 15 mins. Now he's on twitter. 20 mins. Jeeeeeesus. I think he's updating his Facebook status.
20 mins 5 secs: "Pressing log in"
20 mins 10 secs: "Pressing enter"
My temper is tearing at my tongue, desperate to take control and lash out.
20 mins 20 secs : "Dreaming of the weekend"
I'm not surprised there is so much trouble and tension at borders. This bloke's brother works at the Ukraine border. He changed his status to "making the Russian pig dogs wait ha ha" and look how that worked out.
After about 30 minutes, 20 facebook likes, a dozen re-tweets and a couple of selfies later and he's on the job at last. You have to have your picture taken as you exit. The camera is set for the locals and is pointing at my crotch. He's not going to see much there. I have to kneel in front of the slot. Lots of dicking about reversing the bikes and taking pics of number plates etc then we're free. Kyrgyzstan is the complete opposite. Uber helpful and kind, filling in all the forms for me, i'm in and out in 5 minutes flat. Fantastic.
Kyrgyzstan. What a beautiful place. It's immediately different. Green, verdant and alive. Mountains queuing up to be awed at. A huge dam with the face of Lenin watching over it blocks an incredible milky blue/green lake swilling about in a big beautiful bowl of tawny, sandy coloured mountain plains, all reflected by an almost unnaturally wonderful washed water colour sky. Places like this are almost painfully beautiful and can bring a lump to my throat. A moving artwork that will never look exactly the same as it does right now, but will still be just as stunning. These few minutes like this in life are where I put my bookmarks. Just Incredible. Super friendly people again. Some try to share apples and tomatoes with us... out of moving cars. Rude to refuse but arse clenching to accept as they drive alongside only inches away hanging out the window. Money here too. Still behind Kazakhstan though. They don't have any natural resources to rape (except a little gold I think) but they rent land to the big boys to lay overland pipes where the liquid loot flows. Staying at a home stay tonight. Tourism is in it's infancy here and hotels are very very few and far between outside the cities. They have a Community Based Tourism (CBT) network of houses that you can stay at instead. It's another welcome change though. The houses have to have an inside toilet and bathroom to qualify, a surprising rare thing apparently so the owners are 'relatively' wealthy by local standards. I much prefer this. Whenever I go abroad now I usually try something like airbnb before hotels, just to avoid staying in some cloned corporate cocoon. Tonight, it's a nice comfortable house. Proper lived in though. No airs and graces. Simple and clean, and all the better for it. Dinner is simple and served in a yurt in the garden. Bed is in a family bedroom whilst the usual resident kips on the couch.
Up early to load up on the cool sweet mountain air my lungs are in love with. Every breath is pure pleasure out here. I think I'll bring some home in a big balloon and sit in my chair slowly sipping it whenever I feel down. Breakfast under an awning and off we go. God what a relief to see some scenery. Like landing back on earth after being on the moon. Totally transparent water wanders about amongst the horsemen grazing cattle eating their breakfast.
Air conditioning is at the max. Roads are empty. Biker bliss. Absolute bliss. Yurts with little chimneys puffing out smoke signals to the neighbors. People at the doors watching their cattle graze on these high plains. It's peculiar how all mountains seem to have their own shapes, colours and coatings. Today's are like huge snow topped dunes, all rusty, red and smooth. The pass tops out at 3300m. High enough to make a difference to the engine on the bike, and the engine on the rider. I feel my heart pumping hard. Maybe it's just for the view though.
I want to get off and walk, take my time, ride in slow motion, just to prevent premature ejection from another perfect panorama. Come here. Come here now. You just don't know what you're missing. The roads are fantastic too which isn't helping. All big grippy open sweepers, dips and turns. The engine is singing it's favorite tune, and dancing along busting it's favorite moves. It's a wonderful place to be. Close to heaven. I'll be going even higher later today, I don't know how much of this I can take. Can you get too much of a good thing? I think I've got a high pleasure thresh-hold, I'll be fine. The light is just right again. Thin and pale, like looking through a net curtain. This isn't what I expected at all, especially up here in the wilderness. How can two countries be so different? It's a bit like in Morocco where the mountains can just suddenly shoot up from the plains. The Kazakhstan's couldn't be bothered walking up any hills so they just drew a border line at the bottom and let Kyrgyzstan get on with it. It was their loss.
Make a steep sweeping descent from the gallery into a little town lounging by a lake and it's another home stay, tucked away up a secluded track. It has a solar powered outdoor shower and drop toilets.
The drop must be 500ft as there is no smell. I have a silent wee. I don't hear it it the bottom till I zip up and nip out. The house has big rooms with open floors to throw roll beds on. What more do you need? Only fly in the ointment is an American that one of the others has yanked off the street outside. He works for the peace core, which is ironic as all he is doing is shattering it. His name is Max. I think his surname is Volume. Dinner is outdoors amongst the clouds....of wasps. Lots of homemade jam and sugar means swarms are the norm here apparently. I Just hold your nerve and eat normally and all 50000 (and 1) diners all eat in harmony.
This trip is running a lot slower than I'm used to and I'm feeling the need to flee, just temporarily, just to keep moving quicker and to let my eyes enjoy more of this fantastic focal feast. I've got a plan. Kyrgyzstan has one of the biggest and highest fresh water lakes in the world but it's about 400km east from here and not on our route. I'll break formation for a couple of days and rejoin them in Bishkek. All the roads have been reasonable or good so far. I show a local my plan. They look at me and think I'm insane. Turns out they're right. There is a cross country route that cuts right through the middle. It will be off road for about 300km but as long as it's just rough that's fine. I'm told it is very beautiful out there though. The local estimate is 10 hours .... for the first half.... Starts off fine, corrugated and loose but smooth on the edges.
That doesn't last long though. The road gets narrower and lumpier very quickly. Turns out the road is a series of very steep mountain passes and the further from the tarmac you get, the worse it gets. The surface changes to whatever strata the mountain is offering at that height. Big big rocks, sand and gravel and mud. It very soon starts to get really stupid steep too. No barriers either. It's so steep I'm in first a lot of the time and progress is very slow.
Poor old bike is taking a battering. I don't see any other traffic with wheels, it all has hooves. There is a decision point after about 150km. Surely I can make it there. In all my trips, this has got to be the worst decision I have ever made. About 50km in and I'm thinking of turning back it's getting so bad. Pool old bike is on road tyres and it's difficult to steer on the loose. Progress is painfully slow. 2pm and only 60km done. 90 to go. Getting pretty tired now too. Over 2000m the whole time. The sand is the super powdery, icing sugar variety. Like the dust you tip out of the vacuum cleaner. Fucking nightmare. This is getting stupid now. The bike is having real trouble getting up the steep hills. It's bucking and sliding and trying it's best to get me off and have a rest. It's so steep that if I stop, I just slide backwards even with the bike in gear, engine off, both brakes on. Once I slide back about 100 meters steering with the mirrors and hoping to keep it on the rough rather than in the ravine. I meet a couple of Russia mountain bikers. Mad bastards! They say the pass goes up to about 3300m then it gets a bit better on the other side. Ok, thanks. This is madness. I'm alone in the middle of absolutely nowhere with nobody about. The road has turned into not much more than a footpath. There have been rockslides and it's covered in big loose stones. I drop the bike. It just will not go up the slope. Too loose and too steep. Ummmmmm. A massive jacked up 4x4 appears round the bend towards me, first car I've seen all day. I've got the bike up and backed down the slope to try again. The driver is making lots of signs about the falling rocks. I think their are some people trying to clear the pass. Shagabollox. I'm not going back now. WTF? He's making motions that I should use the horn so they hear me coming and don't push any more rocks down onto me. Fuck the horn, they'd have to be deaf not to hear the relentless torrent of expletives pouring from my mouth at the moment. I've got a sore throat from screaming. OK. Rev up and attack the track. Engine screaming, bike bucking and learching, looking for traction. I'm holding on for dear life with legs clamped to the saddle. What an absolutely amazing bike the GS is. It really does astound me on days like this. It's just incredible. It digs it's way up the slope and eventually get to where they're trying to push down the remaining loose rocks. The road looks like an assault course. How the fark am I getting through that? I'm not is the answer. Get about 50% of the way before the inertia and my luck runs out and the bike goes down. She needs a rest anyway, poor old girl.
The only way through is to clear a little path so I spend a few minutes at 3000m moving big rocks and trying to keep my heart from exploding. Through the old girl goes and up to the top of the pass. More beautiful light and clear clean air. The views up here are almost worth the climb, almost. It's 4:30 now and the sun is falling, it's time to leave. Only another 40km down. Fortunately the road is a lot better. They're putting pylons across the mountains and they have almost made it to here. Straighter and a little wider but still very steep and sandy. I fucking HATE sand. The front wheel feels disconnected most of the time. Some people love it I know. They're mental. Pure and simple. Lean well back and accelerate is fine on the flat and uphill but down a steep road with shear drops is not funny. Before I came out here my wife gave me 6 four leaf clovers and said to tape them to the bike. I reckon they've been working overtime today. I get to the decision point about 5:30. Right is another 150km of unknown rough. Left is 50 miles of rough to the main Osh to Bishkek road. Got to be left.
Gets dark pretty soon in the mountains. Cant really see the surface in the deep shadows but it feels corrugated and loose. Damping feels all gone at the moment but get going quick and you can skip across the top. No traffic so the bike can drift about and find it's own way. Reach the road about 6:30-7.
Relief, relax and ride. Go over another 3300m pass and through a long murky tunnel. Getting pretty cold now and the bike is dragging it's arse with the headlight in the stars. Towns out here are a long way apart and there is nothing about for a while. Get to a town about 8:30 and find a taxi. Make a sign for sleeping. Follow him to a couple of places. One doesn't want to know and the other looks as though it has been unoccupied since 1950. The young taxi driver looks at me, I look at him. He seems to make a decision and I follow him back to his house and then kip on the floor in a room with someone else. I've been told that it's Kyrgy culture not to touch foreigners so you feel safe enough. What else can you do? You've got to sleep!
When the taxi driver showed me the room last night, the first thing that came to my mind was "one flew over the cuckoo's nest". A white asylum ward with thin metal beds and a person moaning in the corner. I saw the other resident of the room for about 5 minutes and thought he was either drunk or a certified loon. When I sat on my bed, my arse touched the floor even though it was 2ft off the ground so I just chucked everything on the floor. Before bed I sat for 30 minutes and watched something American dubbed in Russian and subtitled in Chinese on TV with two other 'residents'. Eating biscuits and drinking luke warm tea.
Anyway, woke up alive, bonus!
Loon is standing over me mumbling something and trying not to dribble in my face. He shakes my hand and drags me to a kitchen that has a nice certificate on the wall that reads 'The only kitchen ever to defeat Kim and Aggy'.
Turns out loon is really a nice friendly bloke, just maybe short a few cells. He's jabbering away and not giving up. He wants to give me breakfast but I'm not sure my stomach is strong enough. I'm sure it's fine but I'm not hungry. Just chai from a dirty mug with a broken handle. Go outside for a gander. The taxi driver last night was pointing to cameras on the walls. the house is quite isolated so I thought this might be a bad area but it turns out the father of the house owns some sort of transport operation and there are loads of big Chinese and Russian trucks behind some gates. I think the workers kip in the rooms, or 'wards' in my case. I met a few of them last night. Traveling alone like this is just soooo much better than in a group. It really is. Sitting with a load of people who have no english and working stuff out with gestures and drawings. I should definitely do this again. so I draw my host a picture of a motorbike and tyres and that that I want to change. I'm carrying some spares. I had a look this morning and even though there is plenty of tread left they are covered in cuts and scars from yesterday. There are flaps of rubber hanging off the treads and they look like a puncture waiting to happen. I'm amazed they didn't puncture yesterday. I follow him round town to small operations changing tyres. Nobody wants to touch a bike. I tell the 5th bloke we visit that I'll take the wheels on and off and then he's game. Get the tyres off. The rim has defiantly taken a few hits. In another schoolboy error I've bought the wrong size front tyre! It's a 100 not a 110 so it needs more persuading to get it on to the wide rim. He uses the 'lighter fuel' approach. I've seen this on TV in the arctic. Put the fuel in, ignite and the expansion pulse pushes it on to the rim...or not.
Takes a few tries and I can definitely smell burning rubber but it goes on OK. The bloke has no eyebrows and nose hair so I think this is a regular thing. The rear is easier except the caliper seems to have seized in the dust. Price? £3. Off to Bishkek, the capital. Nice hotel, complete opposite to yesterday. Bit of a boutique feel. I walk through the door looking like I'm the first human ever to be assembled purely out of dust particles and the maid nearly has a heart attack. I'm surprised they didn't jet wash me on the steps. Hotel Futuro - Italian again. The only shower I've ever been in with a mirror in the cubicle. It's more than 3ft off the ground though, so it's no use to an Italian.
A day off the bike in capital Bishkek. Today I'm going to take the 'gift challenge'. Not as easy as it sounds. Kyrgyzstan is not set up for tourists yet and most of the the stuff for sale looks like tat from a car boot sale that you let kids buy for pennies. Perhaps my wife would like a small green frog on a yellow flower, or a pairt of 1950's cats, or perhaps a glass Eiffel tower, or maybe even a plastic tomato alarm clock? It's all here. We go to an old soviet shopping centre. 4 floors. I'm looking for something, anything, absolutely anything to buy as a gift. Seriously, it looks like the store's buyer is Uncle Bulgaria from The Wombles. It's full of the stuff 'everyday folks leave behind'.
I've never been anywhere like it. I think my wife is just going to get a bag of fresh air. I'm with a Norwegian bloke. I ask him what he is going to get his Thai girlfriend. "I've got two things for her" he says. "A big bag of dirty washing, and a hard on". What more could a girl ask for! Walking down the street we're stopped by two young women. My mate is just about to hand one of them his bag of washing when we discover they're flippin Jehovahs witnesses. Bloody hell. Run! It's not a bad city Bishkek. Busy and bustling. Thrill seekers can ride the taxi's and enjoy the mm perfect coordination of the vehicles as they speed through. Pretty cheap too.
Later I take the bike for a jet wash. The jet is about 500psi and needs a team of 4 to hold on to it. I'm standing about 200 meters away from the bike but the sprayback is drenching me. This is more like an exfoliation than a wash. bits are flying off in all directions. I hope they're not important. Bike doesn't care though. Just shrugs it's big metal shoulders, shakes like a big wet dog and off we go.
Heading out of Bishkek today. The planned destinations mileage isn't a big enough dose for my condition and I'll get the DTs if I don't treat it properly so I decide to detour alone round the big lake I failed to make it to the other night. I'll meet up with the others tomorrow night. Luckily there is a popular destination about 250 miles away right on the far east of the lake that's hooked up to booking.com. Book and go technology. Got to love it. I'm off[IMG]images/smilies/smile.gif" border="0" alt="" title="Smilie" class="inlineimg" /> I'm sat at some lights in the city on the way out. The roads are all shiny and grip less. Two cars skid towards each other and crash but there is no squealing of tyres, just an odd scrubbing sound. Out the city and into the countryside. It's quite flat just here and there are crops growing in the shadows of the mountains. Lovely sunny and cool again. Absolutely Perfect.
The lake is about 80 miles long. I'll go along the north side today then back along the south tomorrow. The lake is a brilliant blue with a white sandy shore. Super clear water winking in the sunlight. I take a small track down to the water's edge. Season is over but there are still people swimming and sunbathing. Standing on the shore looking across the lake at the faded sketches of mountains on the horizon wouldn't believe you were in Kyrgyzstan, or at a lake for that matter. There is a peace here. Something you can't put your finger on. Something appealing to my senses that I don't understand. Something native. I dunno, anyway, it feels very therapeutic and that's all that matters.
As you ride along the shore there are new developments going up everywhere. Thankfully not big hotels blocking the views, usually nice chalets and cabins, some exclusive looking houses too. It's a nice area for sure. I get to Karakol in the lap of more mountains.
This place gets a lot of tourists by their standards due to the hiking and climbing. Sure enough, get to the guest house and there is a gimeganourmous truck with english plates on the drive. It's taking people from Bejing to Istanbul. There are a load of horay Henry's here too, british army officer recruits out to 'learn some common sense' according to the man in charge. Can't they do that in Wales or somewhere? Why do they have to come out here? Don't get me started! Anyway, they turned up without a reservation and the whole house is full. They're playing human jenga on the floor trying to use their new found common sense to find space to sleep. Anyway, I've been put in another house next door. It's HUGE and has about 20 bedrooms but it's been closed since the end of the season - so a whole house to myself for $15. Bargain.
When I get up the sandhurst lot have already done 3000 sit ups, 1000 star jumps and run a marathon before breakfast and have disappeared into the mountains. Karakol has a nice atmosphere even though it's a bit of a shit hole. God knows what I ate last night too. Could have been anything. Goat/horse/dog/tourist/whatever. I've given up with menus. They're impossible. I just choose the most expensive thing hoping it will be the biggest and best thing they do. It hasn't killed me yet anyway so that's good. Another of the riders arrived here late last night so together we go off to see the local famous Jewish Orthodox Church in town. It's a real beauty. Build in dark wood with bright green towers. Lots of chanting and the smell of incense drifting from the inside. Lots of women with small children outside chanting and gently rocking in time. Feels a bit weird to be honest.
Out along the south of the lake. The road runs a lot closer to the water on this side and its generally a lot less developed, including the road which is pretty shit. Rough tarmac is often the worst with its sharp edges and big holes. Reach the main artery and head south to meet the others. Roads are all up. Up as in very high, and up and in not down. This road is an artery from the China border and there are processions of Chinese trucks going both ways. The Chinese are investing in this road as it's in their best interest to get the goods in as easily as possible but at the moment its all under construction. It's a dusty climb in the clouds of the trucks but the view at the top is just beyond magnificent. It has that 'roof of the world' feel with the super white clouds just skimming over your head and bouncing over the tops of the mountains like balloons slowly surfing a crowd. A blue black sky and a falling sun complete the perfect picture. Snap. What a lucky bastard I am.
Down out of frame I go and back into the mechanical melee and on to Naryn where we're staying tonight. Another home stay. Approach from the outside and it looks like a drugs den but inside its clean and tidy and it has an enclosed courtyard for the bikes to bed down in.
The town though, bloody hell, what a mess. We're on the edge of the country now and this place has a very forgotten feel about it. Looks like it was built for £20 50 years ago then left. There are some dutch people staying at the home stay that are helping out at a battered wives shelter. It's that kind of place.
Last day in Kyrgyzstan today. Out to Tash Rabat where there is an old silk road roadhouse nestled away. It's up close to the China border. Out we go. More roadworks. Red Clay + water = arse + ground. I did at least manage a couple of very Torvill and Dean like slides before going horizontal and as I try an get up I did see a 5.5 from the Russian judge.
Road soon turns to prestige Chinese tarmac though and it's a lovely ride across a wide lush plain where I watch two weather systems fight it out. Sunshine and fluffy clouds in the left corner, evil dark rain clouds and a gale in the right.
It has just reached the shoulder barging stage and I'm shunted from one side of the road to the other with the bike leaning hard into the wind. Vistas like this make the journey. It's getting pretty cold and raining hard but the skyline is such a distraction that you just don't register anything else. A 15km climb up a rough track and there are yurts awaiting us in a valley by a stream. It's going to be flippin cold up here tonight!
There is something lovely about being in a yurt after dark. All sat round a table in the warm with the freezing wind blowing and light rain tinkling on the roof. The owners at the camp spend May to September up on the mountains to try and make enough money to see them through the winter when they're snowed in like hibernating bears. Hard life up here. They've a 5 year old daughter who seems to spend her time tormenting goats and training them to perform tricks on motorbikes. Bloody things have been climbing all over the bikes eating everything. Anyway, after dinner in the warm dark yurt, she does a little Kyrgyzstan dance for us. She's a very beautiful little thing with a face like a Japanese cartoon, dancing in the dark. I've see a lot in my life, but that's a yellow sticky in my skull. The night was absolutely freezing, the bed was made for one of the 7 dwarfs and I have to defrost my legs with a blow touch. Open the little door, step out, stretch and .... stare.... I don't know what time it is. I don't know what day it is. I don't care. I just stare. There is nobody else about. No one. The only ones up are me and the sun, and it's been hard at work painting out the shadows, colouring in the slopes and setting alight every little jewel of dew. My eyes are having an awe-gasm. My vocabulary doesn't stretch this far. Fuck...Seriously..Shit! I run about trying to catch the scene as it evolves and dissolves in front of my eyes. The camera would never ever do it justice. Never. By the time the others fall out the tents the moment's passed. I feel like I've been told a special secret or something.
Anyway, reality is it's China day today, here at last. Up to the roof of the world again. Well, pretty high anyway. Tourgart pass tops out about 3750m. Brilliant bright light fills every space and washes all the colours out like somebody turned done the saturation.
The Chinese are are busy laying Tarmac but it's not done yet and there is plenty of loose rough and big holes to concentrate on. Nowhere near as bad as what we've been used to. It's beautiful and bright and a lovely place to be. Get out through Kyrgyzstan customs and then climb up to the clouds and the gates to nomansland.
|01-14-2015, 06:40 AM||#10|
Joined: Aug 2002
Location: Toronto, ON
Thanks for sharing your detailed ride, report and pics!
On wards, please split each post into 2, so your post count increases faster and reach the magic number: 10 and your posts will appear immediately and won't need Mod approval. By now, we know you're not a spammer.
Outstanding, carry on!
ADV decals, patches & flag? Here
|01-14-2015, 07:53 AM||#11|
Joined: Apr 2011
|01-14-2015, 07:55 AM||#12|
Joined: Apr 2011
Nowmansland is a free for all across the very top or the pass. Lorries 2 and 3 abreast crawling up and over with the bikes in close attendance, like little pilot fish running the channels. Get to the gate and wait for the guide to meet us from the other side. China is obviously a bureaucratic minefield where personal vehicles are involved but this has all been checked and organised well in advance. The guide appears and shakes hands through the bars. Part one complete. One o'clock, opening time. Ride up to the gate. If your name isn't down, you're not coming in. He looks at his list.. his finger goes down... down... nearly at the bottom... and stops. Looks up, and points...into China. I'm in! UK to China is done and I'm in. Weird feeling. On trips likes these you bump into all sorts of people on really epic journeys. I met an Aussie the other night in a yurt. He was from Alice Springs of all places. He's trying to travel back to Aus purely by public transport and he has been all over. All the stans except Afghanistan which he says is possible. He's even grown a huge beard for it! So... getting to China isn't such a massive achievement but we all do what we can I guess. I'm very happy to have got here anyway and it's not on most people's biking route.
Down out the mountains and towards Kashkar. Get the bikes disinfected and through customs then on into the city. I thought the Chinese would be totally rules based. If it's not in the rules, it's just not happening. Bikes aren't allowed on their new motorways. All the signs say so but out here in the west they're not so strict apparently. We take the motorway and at the toll booths just ride around the barriers. The attendants don't give a toss. Police checks just wave you through too, keen to move you on to be someone else's problem. Get to the hotel and there are quite a few other bikes here from all over the place. Brazil, USA, France. I think this is the Chinese guide's favourite hotel. Get up to the room, fine. Sit on the bed...what's this? It looks like a bed. It's got pillows and covers and stuff but I think the mattress is made by Blue Circle. There is absolutely no give in it at all. Mr and Mrs Creosote having an energetic shagathon wouldn't make the slightest impression in it. I always carry a few explosives on thee trips to scientifically test things like this. I get the biggest one I have, put in the bed, tuck it in all nice and tight then go down through the lobby and out into the square. The room is on the 11th floor and as I remotely detonate my bed bomb all the windows blow out. Car alarms are going off all around me and the police are running round like a Benny Hill sketch. Go back up to the room to inspect the bed. Not a scratch on it.
Oh God. It's always bound to happen on a trip like this. Last night's meal has disagreed with me. I said yes, It has definitely said no. Wake up feeling like there is Harley Davidson running in my stomach. Someone blips the throttle and I accelerate towards the toilet to evacuate. No better though. We've got to ride about 30-40 miles out to some regional vehicle registration place and get some paperwork done. There's no choice, I have to ride. Out for fuel first. They won't fill bikes up at the pump round here, you have to park away from the pump and use a 7 litre kettle. Repeat until full. Turn up mob handed like we do and a lot of the garages are just refusing entry to the forecourt even, running out and pulling a piece of tape across the entrance. It's getting really hot and my healthometer is well into the red and still falling. We finally find a station well out of town that will let us in. I stagger off the bike into the nearest shadow and get horizontal asap. I think I fall asleep. Someone kindly fills my bike for me and we're ready to go. Someone comes and knocks me and I stand up. Is there an earthquake? Has someone turned the temperature up to 120 degrees? My balance has gone completely and I'm just dripping with sweat. Here it comes. I hate being sick, I panic. Not this time though, I just let my body get on with it and throw up all over my boots to mix with the sweat dripping off my nose and ears. Five minutes to recover, then back on the bike and out to the vehicle centre. I'm laid in the shade again and flat out asleep in 2 seconds.
Someone does something to the bike - whatever - who cares - Ride back to the hotel alone in some sort of magical mystery haze through the mental Chinese traffic. I'm speaking to the Chinese guide. He asks me if I ate the little red things round the edge of the dinner plate last night. I thought they were cherry tomatoes. "No, you shouldn't eat those. They're just for decoration". Thanks for telling me last night you stupid cock! So I get some spoons, heat them red hot and scoop out his testicles. "They're only for decoration" I tell him. Spend the next 18 hours asleep on the bed/slab.
Is it morning already? The Harley has gone. Replaced with a 250. I can cope with that I think. Out to get some Chinese sims and wait for the ok from the vehicle people.
Get on the road about 3 with 250 miles to go to Kaplin. Expressway isn't open so on the old road we go. The Chinese driving is totally mental. As bad as anything you'll see anywhere. Like India without the animals but with faster loons involved.
Shit and boring ride as long as the sun is up. Get near to Kaplin and we're stopped by a big police check. They're all smiles, handing round fags and chatting as another group shoot hoops. They've closed Kaplin completely - no traffic either in or out - no explanation. Lots of tension and trouble in this area. It often kicks off, people get killed, and nothing is reported. We've got to reroute to the next town about 75 miles down the road. Night comes down and chaos reigns. Night riding is a game of chance out here. You simply cannot predict what situations you'll come across. You think you've seen everything then a big lorry with no lights will just back out into fast traffic. It's mental. 'Health and safety' has been sacrificed for 'wealth and crazy'. People work in and on the road with no signs and no protection other than their ability to jump out of the way. I'm coming into a town and I'm overtaking traffic when there is a suddenly something directly in front of me that I recognize. It's grey and dusty. It's a bloody great lane separator - fuck! Over to the emergency pilot who wakes up and takes over, glints to the right and misses it by inches before I process what's happening. The others ask me about it later - it's never nice to see what you think is going to be an accident. Luck, pure blind luck. Whatever. Get to the hotel about midnight as a huge thunder and lightening storm breaks. Get in the lift - it stops at 3. Doors open - looks like the entrance to a gay bar with 2 camp policeman on the entrance, a hostess at a bar, loads of youths staggering about and deep bass pumping through the air like controlled explosions. Doors close. Stops at 4. Doors open - looks like the entrance to a gay bar with 2 camp policeman on the entrance, a hostess at a bar, loads of youths staggering about and deep bass pumping through the air like controlled explosions. Where the fuck are we? What's it going to be like on the 10th floor? Relatively normal is the answer, except for the fact that your feet leave the floor every second as the base rocks the building. The storm is doing it's best to impress outside and the thunder is trying to outdo the music. Looking out the windows at the blurry neon signs it looks like we've landed in Blade Runner. We brave the weather and go out to eat amongst the replicants. On the way back the roads are flooded. China absolutely stinks. Piss, shit and everything in between. If Venice was in China you wouldn't be able to visit it unless you were capable of holding your breath continuously for 3 days. Anyway, the rain has made the stink worse. I feel like a sewer rat as I paddle through the poo and piss back to the hotel and a few hours horizontal.
Breakfast. Seaweed? String beans? Unrelated non? Not out here in China. We're in hotels that are designated for tourists but that's it. I think the tourist ratio is maybe 1 in 100000 residents so they only cater for locals. A breakfast of Turtle toes and dumplings doesn't do it for me. I think the Chinese visa application form explicitly says "fussy eaters need not apply". The do some lovely flavored yogurt in the shops though.
Bring the bikes to the front up to load up and go and the place is instantly mobbed. It's nice that people are friendly and interested but being so tall its like trying to walk through a nursery without stepping on a child. Loads of people want to sign the bike. Some crazy looking girl wearing glasses frames without lenses signs a pannier. She wants pictures too. She looks properly mad and is jumping about like it's christmas morning. She can speak a little English and insists on getting really close but her breath stinks ... real bad. I don't know what she has had for breakfast but it smells like it was a turd toastie. Time to leave before my boots get sluced with sick again. The city is guarded by a big ridge of mountains and it looks like a huge breaking wave with it's sparkling crest of snow. Beauty in the face of the shit hole we're leaving. Just chewing the miles so expressway all the way to another chaotic chinatown. China isn't showing it's best side so far. At least I hope it isn't.
|01-14-2015, 07:57 AM||#13|
Joined: Apr 2011
Breakfast is the worst so far and I avoid it completely. The Xinjiang province we're in is the largest in China I think. It has been trying to separate itself from the east for a long time and it means that some things just don't work as expected. Like time. China has dictated that the whole country uses a single time zone throughout even though its 1000's of mile wide. The Xinjiang region uses a mix of Beijing time and local time which is 2 hours behind. I don't think it's anything official but some of the shops etc use it which means I can't find anything for breakfast in my case, unless I want some diesel. It's raining and cold and the countryside is bare save for the odd development/brick factory/power station. Run into a petrol station in the middle of nowhere and the young bloke in the shop speaks perfect English. He graduated in design, got a job in the east but he said they work too hard and he likes to sleep so he left and works pumping fuel. Lazy little bastard. They live at the petrol station and do 14 days on, 5 off when they go back 80 miles to the nearest town. This boy certainly has ambition, NOT. Anyone who has been out here will know that the shops normally have a lot more staff than customers. They're all ready for a rush that's never going to come. Christ they must have some boredom threshold. A sign of the tension in this area is that all the petrol stations, and lots of other shops and restaurants have riots shields, batons and helmets just inside the doors just in case bad men come in and they have to deal with them. They're just unattended by the doors so far as I can see, the bad men can just walk in, pick up the shield and baton then just twat the life out the staff before they know whats happening. Makes no sense at all.
Get to Korla and it's another mound of new concrete seemingly growing in front of your eyes. Oil money here though so there are lots of western vehicles and the usual (or unusual out here) fast food outlets too. I've not really eaten for a couple of days so I go hunting in a big supermarket. At least, I thought it was a supermarket. On closer inspection I think it is a westerner assignation store. Absolutely everything looks like it's designed to kill me. Packets and potions and things I've only ever seen in science fiction films. Things that can be bought back to life inside you to perform origami on your intestines. Everything looks like a threat to my very existence. The Chinese really are an alien race and this is proof. Humans aren't designed to eat dried monkey snot and elephant earwax but there are packets of it here. There are also tiny tubs of off white fluid for sale that look like they have been stolen from a fertility clinic. Ummmm. As sad as I am to say it, I go to Pizza Hut for a salad and lasagne. Won't get the chance for a while I'm sure and I might as well give my bowel some ammunition in case it decides it needs to fire.
Riding alone today as I've got a working Chinese phone for a comfort blanket. Take some pictures in the city and head out for Turpan on the edge of the Gobi desert.
There's only really one option from here and that's the expressway again. Personally, from what I've seen of this region, I wouldn't recommend it. Barren and dust coloured apart from the few mountains popping up here and there. Little fauna, flora or wildlife either. It's probably all been dissected, freeze dried and and put on sale somewhere. Go through a real moonscape for an hour then hit a big plateau where it's blowing like a bastard. Judging by the 2 million wind turbines here that's a regular thing here.
The hotels that foreigners can stay at are pretty limited in some towns and tonight's looks like it's been dropped in from somewhere in Arabia. Totally out of place and weird. The desert dust covers everything round here - even the trees.
Take a walk around the night market after dark where the smells draws you in and the sights push you away. The only safe way looks to be extracting nutrients from the air like a whale scavenges krill from the see. Wander up and down taking in lungfuls, catch calories on the tongue and breath 99.9% back out. Some of the food looks good but it's all wrapped up with mystery poisons and body parts that would rush for the exits the minute I put it in my system.
Leave the city and its another dull day of desert and expressway. This should be over pretty soon and we'll begin to see something new.
I did manage to convince a lorry driver to let me climb up on his trailer today though and look at his load (oh er). They have HUGE car transporter trailers with double width upper decks so cars can be put side by side.
The trailers must be 50m long too. Christ knows how much they weigh. Get to the brothel/hotel before dark. It's opposite the train station and is marketed as a 'business' hotel. I think that should be 'funny business' hotel. The mini bar is 50% condoms, a 'magic towel' and some potion that probably means you can't do your flies up. The shower drain is blocked, I don't even want to think about what with. I manage to flood the bathroom, the toilet, the bedroom and out under the door into the corridor.
My roomie is bad again. He has been on a mission to put as many different items in his stomach as he can and it seems he has finally managed to discover the elusive recipe that results in 90% of your body being ejected from your arse in as little as an hour. His bowel/hydrant is turning him inside out and he says he's counted his shit stops since last night at 60. A new world record. His ring is stinging like he's been gang raped with red hot pokers and the toilet has had to be serviced after he wore out the cistern and burnt off all the enamel. Poor bugger. I think they're going to have to stand him on his head and poor his insides back up his bum later.
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