June 15, 2013 GMT
Folks Dancing across Siberia

Following our route change we planed was to ride across South Korea, but after our mistake with the Air Way Bill (both bikes on one to save money) the South Koreans would not allow them out of the crates at Incheon Airport, Seoul. Then the South Korean customs did not allow us to unpack the crates at Donghae Port because they were in bond, and insisted they stay crated until they arrived in Russia. This caused us issues because we needed to get a photograph of Mike's VIN number for the Russian customs clearance paperwork. After a good deal of discussion using our Agent in Seoul we were reluctantly granted access, with our passports as security, to partially unpack Mike's, get the picture and repack it. All the time under the scrutiny of the head of customs for the Port.

The next day we were able to enter the port with no security checks and wander around the area unhindered before boarding the ferry to Vladivostok.

At long last we had our hands back on the bikes, the previous three days were spent hanging around the hostel in Vladivostok awaiting the phone call to say that customs clearance was granted. During that time we met Dave (Diddy Dave) Thomas who is driving a heavily adapted 45 year old mini van around the world (incidentally he is originally from Irby about 10 miles from where I was born) and Dave Pilbeam who is driving a completely un-adapted Hillman Imp from Australia to the UK Imp rally.

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Now we began the task of dismantling the metal crates they had sat in for over 2 weeks and then re-attaching all the removed parts.

As we were fitting and repacking our panniers in the customs shed, Svetlana, our agent came over and told us that a local bike club would like to meet us, show us around and host us for the night. We really wanted to get going to Ussurisky City, 100 kilometres north, to have our new (pre-ordered) tyres fitted. But it was a “it would be rude not to moment” and we agreed it would be a good idea.

Waiting outside the customs terminal in the heat a Harley rider pulled up grinning and introduced himself as Dmitri. We both noticed the “Vice-President” badge , the “full colours patch” on his back and the “Support 81” logo. The bike club was a Hells Angels chapter :- Folks Russia.

In for a penny, in for a pound.

A second rider arrived, Llendi, his job was to ride behind us as we were escorted around the city by Dmitri and then to the club house where we were given gifts and an offer to use their mechanical services, staffed by prospects. Dmitri also gave us our first Russian lesson, he explained the alphabet and sounds in a way that made sense, so at least we now have a “starter for ten”.

Very quickly we realised that Hells Angels are not the same the world over. While stopped, as Dmitri explained the sea port to us, a car pulled up, a man got out and asked for a photograph of his daughter with the Harley and Dmitri.

The group grew as we rode around, at junctions one rider would jump to the front to act as a block while we crossed. No car drivers complained, they only waved. We later found out this may have been something to do with Dmitir running the biggest, armed, security firm in the region.

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Later we were treated to a full Chinese meal.

All the time; while at the club house, in the Chinese restaurant and later in a bar no alcohol was consumed. Only tea or coffee (with apple pie). The drinking only started later at Dmitri's when the bikes had been put away. Russia has a zero drink drive tolerance and the guys just like to talk and socialise.

We were not sure if we had been kidnapped or adopted. We were given a list of names and numbers that we can contact across the country, all different MC groups, for help and accommodation if we wanted it. In the morning we were escorted to Ussurisky where we were passed to Mikhail and taken to the garage. They knew the owner, Andrei, and we appear to have had some more preferential treatment, although I did loan them my tyre lever when I saw the mechanics struggling.

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They even organised the Hotel for us. However Mikhail seemed disappointed when we declined his parting offer of “Do you want any prostitutes ?”

Andrei suggested that he would meet us at 10:00 the next morning, and ride the 650 kilometres to Khabarovsk with us, at least a 10 hour ride with the road conditions. By 10:15 we were relieved that he had not shown up and left at our own pace. As nice as it sounded being handed over from city to city, it would not have been to our own rhythm.

Nice guys, the whole time we were with them in Vladivostok we were not allowed to spend any money on food or drinks, but in their attempts to be helpful we were not getting to grips with the task ahead. How to cover the vast distances, dodge the potholes and ride the often unpaved road, at our own pace.

A note on Russia/Cyrillic alphabet – Some of the letters are the same shape as ours, but sound different. For example “P“ is pronounced “R”.

This obviously throws the brain a touch, especially when reading menus.
C = S; Y = OO; N = P , so CYN is pronounced “SOOP”. That is easy, then we just have to guess what type of soup we will be getting.

Posted by Bruce Porter at 01:08 PM GMT
June 16, 2013 GMT
Bear(bare?) Dancing

We've made good progress, and are now west of Lake Baikal.

In the meantime we have had more good natured fun with the Russian bikers. Our latest escapades began as we entered the town of Mogacha, 500 kilomtres from Chita. As we bounced down the road in search of lodgings and petrol a biker on a chopper flagged us down, asked what we needed, indicated where they could be found and then said "Clubhouse, follow".

We noticed his back patch colours, "Iron Angels", and thought, with a smile, "Here we go again". The bikes were securely locked away and we were escorted to a hostel.

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Numbers were exchanged to retrieve the bikes in the morning. That was when I noticed I already had Yuri as a contact here, and he found us anyway.

Later, around 21:00 three people came to our room, Sasha, Vanya and Alexander. We were dragged back to the clubhouse for food and vodka. Not just any vodka, home made vodka.

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Sasha and Vanya are from Ussurisky and heading our way, so we agreed to ride to Chita where the local bike club (friends of Folks Russia in Vladivostok) had arranged accommodation for us. This turned out to be in the home of Boris and his mother Lillia. Lillia is ex-army and invested her money in the land for the wooden house, her husband has to work away to keep up the payments. The small village just outside Chita has very little infrastructure and more sand than road. Despite not being well off they laid out a massive spread of food, fed about 10 of us while Ivan, who arranged everything for us, translated all the conversations.

Much insistence was made that we all stay a second night and enjoy the delights of a Russian Banya.

Following a day of being shown the delights of Chita, one of which was a pint of Fullers London Pride in an "English" pub, we had a BBQ in the forest (courtesy of "Uncle" Mohamed from Uzbekistan). Vodka drinking started early.

During the afternoon, Ivan re-joined us after passing his final doctors exam, despite the previous nights vodka.

Our transport was the most popular Russian off road vehicle.

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Mike and I enjoyed the delights of the late night banya (sauna), with just enough vodka to strip off (it is mandatory to be naked for the Russian banya) and run to the freezing moon lit lake between sessions.

I was helpless with laughter when the birch twigs came out, and we started to beat each other (circulation). Mike was partnered with an extremely burly HA. TO see Mike swinging the branches to shouts of "harder harder" nearly made me wet myself.

We rode on with Sasha and Vanya to Ulan Ude, where there is a strong Mongolian presence, stayed the night in the clubhouse of another bike club (I played vodka avoidance games until the early hours). We left Sasha to head north, and rode as far as Irkutsk with Vanya, leaving him to hunt women before he carried on to St Petersburg.

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Only a week on the road in Russia, feels like a month. Sleep would be nice.

The Russian road numbering system has engendered a surreal feeling.

We left Vladivostok on the M60, the Manchester ring road. Hooked a left west at Khabarovsk on to the M58, heading to Ormskirk. We will be passing the M56 which goes to China, so not heading to Manchester and then picking up the M53 after Irkutsk, and heading down the Wirral, which at least goes to Liverpool..

The roads themselves pass from the sublime to ridiculous. Collectively they are billed as the Trans Siberian Highway. Just unfortunately in places it is more rock and gravel that asphalt. One minute you are swooping along a perfect surface at a steady 100k, then there is 20 kilometres of road work. In the busy sections between Vladivostok and Khabarovsk it was mayhem. Trucks kicked up dust, blinding the traffic behind and to the side, while cars and vans overtook. We battled through blindly, skipping into and over pot holes. Somewhere along the way I lost a sub-frame bolt. We are now checking our bolts nightly.

After Khabarovsk the traffic thinned as we past a sign “Chita 2100 km” (Ok, it was in Cyrilic;). The scenery is all green, trees and marsh to the side, so no camping opportunities, and flat. Very flat. At least the boredom is broken by the occasional road work or series of pot holes to keep us awake.

At the end of one day we saw a combination that would require full alertness :- Roadworks, uphill, with sharp turns, sand and it was raining. As luck would have it a truck stop with dormitories was just before it. So we shelved the hard work until the next day.

Posted by Bruce Porter at 01:20 PM GMT
June 23, 2013 GMT
Boiling and breaking in the Polygon

I always said it would be Kazakhstan that was the most likely place my bike would break. But only 2 hours into it was a bit extreme.

We negotiated the border crossing to Kazakhstan and left Russia without “registering” our visas, a confusing law that may or may have been necessary due to us travelling every day. The Russian customs guards thought about it, discussed it and then a truck driver pointed out the obvious to them “They are on motorbikes”.

Then we had one of those encounters that changes the day, while admiring the view and having a wee a car pulled up. Three men got out to come and talk to us. They asked about the trip and where we were going to be staying in Semey. We told them and then Yergie, who could talk some decent English, called his brother and told him to meet us on the outskirts to guide us to the hotel.

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As we parted, Yergie took my phone number and said “Tonight, 6 o'clock, I call you, we go sauna”.

Sure enough, as we reached the police post outside the city a man was waiting for us in a Land Cruiser. He then proceeded to lead us through the outskirts. This was when my bike broke down. The engine cut out and the service warning lights came on. It restarted, but cut again. A quick battery test showed that the voltage was down and there was no charge going to it from the engine. Fortunately due to the wiring issues I had in the USA in 2010 I can bypass my headlight and turn it off. This enabled me to carry on riding to the hotel.

We had no Kazakhstan money on us, so Yergie's brother paid for the room and then took us to the bank. Once he had left, refusing to take the money for the hotel off us, we set about looking at my bike. Then some of the local bike club turned up, the Irradiated MC, Yergie knows them and sent the message I had a problem.

The bike club is called the Irradiated because Semey is in what is known as the Polygon, the area where the USSR tested nuclear bombs up until 1989.

There was still enough power to ride the bike to their clubhouse, where I was fed and watered while they tested my electrics, found a broken wire and fixed it for me.

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Once fixed, it was back to the hotel to drop the bike off, collect Mike and jump in a taxi to return to the clubhouse, and start drinking. We have been kidnapped again.

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One of our drinking partners was the deputy mayor of the city, he was very pleased to see us and kept proposing toasts. Another biker, from South Korea arrived and joined in. At some point I passed the limit and the rest of the evening is a blank, apart from one memory of being in a pool of very cold water. Mike tells me that Yergie turned up and we all went to a sauna, hence the cold water. I have no recollection of it. The next thing I remember is waking up in bed.

Posted by Bruce Porter at 12:06 PM GMT
June 27, 2013 GMT
Almaty or (and) bust (again).

It took us 3 days to get out of Semey, One day was for my recovery and the 3rd to register our visas. They have a strange system in some places like Kazakhstan . yes you have a visa to get in. but then you have to visit the migration police in 5 days to register. Day 1 is the day you enter. that was Saturday, and they only open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. But not if Monday is after a weekend holiday.

All forms need filling in Russian. We paid a taxi driver to help ease us through the system. This involved retuning to the hotel to get an hotel stamp on the forms before the policeman would continue the process. At one point we had a total stranger filling our forms in for us.

Fun and games over, we wound our way out of the city. Missed the advised detour (200kms) that would avoid the road works on the main Almaty road and put the bikes back to the test again.

mainroad-almaty.jpg

If a Lada Samara can do the 50-60kms of mud, gravel, pot holes, humps and sand. So could we.

We were now in the boonies. No where to stay, except pull off the side of the road and camp.

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It took us a couple of days, but then as we approached Almaty the Himalayas appeared in the distance. Their white peaks sandwiched between the clouds and the smog.

Then, as if this is to be a new ritual upon entry to a city, just as we parked the bikes by the central station to look for an hotel, mine lived up to its name once more. The 'bastard' died.

I've researched these too well, once I had ascertained the fuses and battery were all OK it was straight to the ignition wires. A slight push and a connection was made, and then lost.

Outside our chosen hotel we peeled away the layers to get at the culprit.

ignitionwire.jpg

That green wire should be attached.

All we needed now was a soldering iron. Something neither of us had packed. Or maybe a mechanic.

Here is one, Daniel, who just happened to be passing on his bike, with a soldering iron. I think he was soldering mike to my ignition at this point.

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I noticed a bulge at his hip.

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Yes, an armed mechanic.

The manager at the hotel was also very helpful, being a biker he loved what we were doing and offered us a discount, but we had already paid. So he insisted on giving us 6 litres of water and a large bag of fruit for the road. Then in the evening a complimentary supper. This turned out to be steak and chips. Nice chaps these Kazaks. And not a man-kini in sight.

We even had time to wander around the city. Soviet and Arabic styles, clashing and mingling in wide tree lined streets

almaty-church.jpg

Posted by Bruce Porter at 04:54 PM GMT
 



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