August 27, 2009 GMT
Loitering in Ulaanbaatar

Well it's been several days of catching up on my sleep, having long conversations with the other travellers here (at one point there were five bikes at the hostel) and trying to eat as much Black Forest Gateau as possible before I leave the luxuries and civilisation of the city.

Many thanks for everyone's messages of congratulations. I do feel quite a sense of achievement in having got here, 11 948 miles from Land's End to Mongolia, across deserts, over mountains across three seas, through hail, sand and dust storms, snow and searing heat. It really has been a journey of extremes, with one of the hardest battles being the struggle with a lot of bureaucracy, one of the legacies left behind by the Soviets in the 'Stans.

Life in UB has been extremely busy, with a lot of my time seemingly taken up in stationary traffic queues, there is an incredibly bad traffic congestion problem here.
Annie flew home from UB having had a very eventful 10 weeks and 6693 miles with me on Thelma from Tashkent in Uzbekistan through Tajikistan, Kyrgyrstan, Kazakhstan and Siberia to Mongolia. She has been an absolute star in every way, having to put up with some of the roughest road conditions I have encountered anywhere in the world, crossing some very high mountains- up to 4700 metres (16,00 feet) and facing up to the rigours of the deserts as well. Even more impressive is the fact that this was the first time she has ever travelled by motorbike.

Of course she has also had to put up with me, which is no mean feat in itself. Thank you Annie for riding with me.

I have now got Ian, my boyfriend as a sputnik (travelling companion), he flew in from England two days ago kindly bringing four tyres, a battery and a regulator with him. Ian will be travelling with me for the next month around Mongolia we'll be in search of the legend of Genghis Khan, not to mention in search of a meal that doesn't include mutton.

Posted by tiffanycoates at 06:59 AM GMT
August 22, 2009 GMT
Reached Mongolia

Utterly exhausted after an almost non-stop ride from Almaty (southern Kazakhstan) that has taken us two weeks. Feeling exhilarated to have reached Mongolia after three and a half months and even better to have met up with old friends whom I haven't seen for seven years as we have always been on bike travels at opposite ends of the world - funny to meet up with them here in Mongolia.

Posted by tiffanycoates at 06:54 AM GMT
August 20, 2009 GMT
Russia - the Cold Motherland

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.

Posted by tiffanycoates at 06:50 AM GMT
August 19, 2009 GMT
Storms and Geiger Counters

We are now about 100kms from the Russian border- can't be too precise as we are off our mapped universe so it is a bit of guesswork from here on in. Not having northern Kazakhstan didn't seem such an issue when we looked at our map back in England.

I have managed to scrounge a Russia map from a bike riding friend who we met in Tajikistan (he had already crossed Russia), but the scale is 1 to 8 million so not good on detail and also it turns out to show rail lines rather than roads so possibly more hindrance than help.
You'll soon find out when we end up in Moscow by accident.

We have had some help from another Spanish Mongol Rally team (the Boys from Bilbao) who we met on the road this afternoon- and later flagged down, they were only too pleased to take our panniers for a very bad stretch of road - the rack on one side had snapped and needs re-welding whilst the catch that holds the case on has started to crack on the other pannier so thought it best to get them carried until we reached town - repairs will be done in the morning.

Our journey across the Kazakh steppes was a relatively peaceful one until I decided that we would camp in the middle of one of the flattest places on earth just as a massive electrical strorm was brewing (in my defence, I would like to point out that we didn't know the storm was on its way when we put up the tent). It was very impressive and I even managed to get pictures of Thelma with lightning in the sky around her- I'll be posting those pictures when I get to a decent internet connection again.

At the top of Kazakhstan, we reached the town of Semey- infamous for its previous life as the testing ground for soviet nuclear bombs and still a very radioactive place - now where did we pack that geiger counter? Or did I turf it out to make room for the bikini?

The guidebooks say that they believe there is no risk to short term visitors, which is just as well as we ended up staying there for two nights- a last bit of luxury in a comfortable hotel before we reach Russia, and also a chance to get the pannier rack re-welded. The guy did a fantastic job and refused any payment, whilst his friend ran off to the supermarket and presented us with a bag of groceries to see us on our way- they obviously know something about food supplies in Russia of which we are blissfully ignorant.

Russia - Here we come.

Posted by tiffanycoates at 06:46 AM GMT
August 13, 2009 GMT
Mongol Rally Hits Town as we Leave

We were ready to leave Almaty - having been helped a lot by Den and his bike workshop (www.2wheels.kz) as well as Fedor giving a hand with the front tyre - thanks guys.

Two battered looking cars pulled up at the hostel, Mongol Rally competitors, the onlookers who were watching in fascination as I serviced Thelma looked up and asked me about the cars, they were frankly astounded to hear that the cars were taking part in a race -

"But it's a Fiat Uno" they spluttered (or at least the equivalent in Russian), I pointed out that yes, it's not just about winning but having fun, a bit of an alien concept and they still couldn't believe it was true.

The cars were an Italian and a Basque team, and they were very helpful with our tyre- in fact so helpful that they managed to destroy two foot pumps in their attempt to help out. Sorry to Team GB about your pump- Halford's finest I believe.

The winds were gusting strongly as we crossed the steppes, with lots of tumbleweed blowing across the road, looking more like a cowboy western every day. Our first night out of Almaty, Annie was keen not to camp, mainly because of the strong winds and we managed to negotiate the use of a yurt. Not quite the romantic, out in the wilds surrounded by horses image that people might have of them as this one was right next to a cafe car park on the main road heading north- but it was bliss, lots of room for the two of us, though there was no guarantee that it doesn't act as a truckers' dorm and so we prepared for unwanted late night guests by piling our luggage against the non-locking door.

The next morning we found that we had a couple of problems, firstly with a battery that wouldn't start the bike, a plainclothes policeman was our main helper as we attempted to use our hairdryer type cables to get a jump start from a car, which helped a bit but we ended up with push-starting Thelma.

At the same time the rubber gaiter on the shaft had split again and so we headed to Taldqorghan, the nearest big town where we were lucky enough to meet Sergei Epinger and his son Marc. They are German and so could communicate with us - an amusing scenario for those who know how useless my German language skills are. But, I got my message across and after a couple of phone calls, Sergei's friend - Andre (another German speaker) arrived, he rides a motorbike and expertly replaced the gaiter on Thelma.

Posted by tiffanycoates at 06:44 AM GMT
August 09, 2009 GMT
Riding with Kazakhs

One ride out with the local bike club and my clean sheet with the Kazakh police is wiped out as we all got pulled over en masse. Not really surprising as some of them were riding extremely fast. I know you are going to want to know what bikes were out with us - ummmm, not sure except the R1, the Africa Twin and a very fast BMW.
Luckily the police were not interested in me when they realised I was a foreigner.

Everyone from the Almaty bike club made us very welcome and we were presented with club mugs (Live 2 Ride), which we are determined we will get back to England in one piece- currently packed away in the pannier.
We rode up the mountain to the dam at Medey, about thirty bikes gathered there including a Bulgarian riding to Mongolia who is also making a documentary about his trip and so did a quick interview with us. A fast ride back down the mountain to the city and then dinner at a restaurant where the meat was served not on skewers but on swords and they searched in vain through the ten pages of the menu for something that did not have meat in it - as always, chips and salad is fine.

We were ready to leave Almaty - having been helped a lot by Den and his bike workshop (www.2wheels.kz) as well as Fedor giving a hand with the front tyre - thanks guys.
Two battered looking cars pulled up at the hostel, Mongol Rally competitors, the onlookers who were watching in fascination as I serviced Thelma looked up and asked me about the cars, they were frankly astounded to hear that the cars were taking part in a race -
"But it's a Fiat Uno" they spluttered (or at least the equivalent in Russian), I pointed out that yes, it's not just about winning but having fun, a bit of an alien concept and they still couldn't believe it was true.
The cars were an Italian and a Basque team, and they were very helpful with our tyre- in fact so helpful that they managed to destroy two foot pumps in their attempt to help out. Sorry to Team GB about your pump- Halford's finest I believe.

Posted by tiffanycoates at 02:55 PM GMT
August 04, 2009 GMT
Kazakhstan - Here We Come

It was hard but we finally made the break after several fantastic weeks. We followed a really picturesque valley road heading west away from Bishkek and with a couple of snow-covered 3000m mountain passes as a reminder of how cold we have been at times, It should be much flatter conditions from now on. A final lone Golden eagle flew over as we approached the border to Kazakhstan, but here we ran into a problem, the soldier wouldn't let us pass and announced Kazakhstan was closed. We went back to the nearest village where, fortified by a cold coke and a snickers bar we proceeded to interrogate everyone in sight. But they were all agreed, the border was back the way we had come - blocked by our friend in combats.
This was a first for me, a complete inability to find an international border crossing. Finally the poor woman from the shop, perhaps sesing we would be there all night, wheeled out her grandmother who spoke good English and who was happy to tell us that we needed the international crossing not the local one and proceeded to give us directions to the appropriate village. After much coaching for me in the pronunciation of the village name - something like Tamagotchi, we headed off and with only two more u-turns managed to find the familiar unifroms, attitudes and barriers that indicate an uneasy border situation.
Leaving Kyrgyrstan was no problem, however customs on the Kazakh side had a different set of priorities and made me wait as long as possible, without even putting up much of a pretense of helping, merely passing my documents around and looking at them from all angles.
As I had already been through Western Kazakhstan I sort of knew what to do and pointed out the vehicle forms and the customs declarations that I needed to fill in. Finally, finally when they twigged that they would not be getting a single Tenge in bribes out of me, they grudgingly handed over the forms which I filled in really quickly in case they changed their minds and we left, heading west into our final 'Stan.

Posted by tiffanycoates at 02:54 PM GMT
August 01, 2009 GMT
Issyk Kul

A week of camping out at the lake has spoiled us- beautiful sandy beaches, clear turquoise water with no-one and not even any buildings in sight. We collected driftwood for camp fires at night, I must admit we were also spoilt as Leon and his trusty van and sidekick Iwan were with us and so we had lots of freshwater available from the gerry cans in the van and had done a lot of food shopping in preparation for camping.
We visited a a very salty small lake - like a mini version of the Dead Sea - so saline that we were floating without having to tread water. The lake is also home to sulphurous mud- thick, viscous black stuff which is good for the skin allegedly- we coated ourselves with it and really stank. No one could get close enough to see if there was any improvements in our complexions so maybe that is the way it works.
We met a family with a young female Golden Eagle which is being trained by a hunter to help him hunt wolves, foxes and other animals- incredible to be close enough to touch it and see its massive talons, apparently they kill wolves by swooping down on them and breaking their backs.
We have now left the lake and are in Bishkek- the Kyrgyrz capital with its bright lights and big city atmosphere along with Internet access and a hostel full of interesting multi-national travellers.

Posted by tiffanycoates at 02:51 PM GMT
 



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