We had heard some horror stories about the Kazakh/Russian border, mostly from Mongol Rally competitors, who were giving dark warnings about seven hours spent just waiting in line etc. But in the event our fears were groundless, there was no queue as we crossed over accompanied by a Mongol Rally team from Sweden, we had plenty of food and water with us, however it took just two hours and we were done, into Russia, land of plentiful, cheap fuel (38 pence a litre), good roads and not bad food (so far).
We met up with more Mongol Rallyists for our first night camping - the Yak Street Boys from Sheffield and their motorcycling companions, Gayle and Craig on Yamaha Diversions. We all commented on how cold it was as we got into our tents that night, in fact we had started to dig out our thermals and fleeces again.
It was 24 hours later before we discovered that we weren't just in Russia, we had entered Siberia- a land famous for its icy temperatures and unfeasibly long winters, still not sure how we had managed to sneak in without noticing - there was definitely no "Welcome to Siberia" sign that we could see, but maybe they just save that for the gulags.
In the morning we had a shock when we discovered Thelma's battery was completely flat - even after it had been disconnected for the night. Unfortunately we only found out after waving off the Yak Street Boys and so we had a long push getting Thelma back along the muddy track ourselves and out to the road where we flagged down a car for a hefty soviet push start. We were off in search of an electrics boffin
We entered Novosibirsk, which turned out to be a huge city, knowing that we needed to find a motorbike workshop. Our hopes weren't high as we had met Sergei at a cafe on the way and when we asked him about a bike place, his reply was
"Don't you realise that we have ten months winter here each year? Nobody rides a bike".
We used our non-scientific but time-honoured and often proved method for finding a bike shop - ride into town until you spot a big bike then ask the rider where a mechanic is (remont in Russian if you're interested). Once more we were successful and were taken to NBS Motors, and introduced to Andrew who speaks excellent English. He welcomed us to "Siberia's biggest bike shop", ah, so we're in Siberia, that's why it's so bloody cold, we had no idea and thought it was further east. There were certainly no "Welcome to Siberia" signs,maybe they save them for the gulags.
We were pleased to find that NBS were more than happy to help us, and their mechanic soon got to work with our electrical system. The verdict being that our battery is dead (not news to us), and the bad news that there are no suitable batteries in Siberia. The good news being that after many phone calls and careful measuring of the battery compartment, Andrew had managed to track down a battery that would fit. Which was how I found myself riding 2000 miles with a cheap Korean car battery crammed under my seat.
As the shop was closing for the evening (8pm on a Saturday), Andrew once more got on the phone and found us the best electrics boffin in the city (if not in the whole of Siberia) - Kosta who gave up his Saturday night to track us done at Nastia's house and set to work on Thelma's electrics - the guy is a genius and incredibly helpful and generous with his time. it was 11.30pm by the time he started work on Thelma, this was followed by an Internet research session where he found out which locally available regulator would do the job, and then an early morning trip to the market to buy one (and a second as back-up) followed by a further fitting and testing session on Thelma, all so that we would be able to continue our journey without delay. We set off with a Russian regulator to complement the Korean battery.
But what else happened on that Saturday night? Andrew contacted his freinds and we found ourselves at a Bikers' Banya Party at Nastia's house. The Tomsk bike club were in town and there was a party on for them. For those not in the know, a banya is a Russian sauna complete with cold plunge pool and bunches of birch twigs to beat against the skin and cleanse oneself. Which was how we found ourselves in a sauna with burly bearded bikers brandishing birch twigs and singing in russian (them not us); before you start to get too hedonsitic a view of the proceedings, we were very English and wearing vest and knickers.
It was a great party, with Nastia being a wonderful hostess and insisting we stay in her house when we had been ready to put up our tent in the garden. We were sad to be leaving the following morning but Monglia was beckoning.
Spasibo to NBS in Novosibirsk
and also a huge spasibo (that's thank you in Russian) to Nastia for hosting us and Kosta for all the work on Thelma.
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