Korday

The roads are getting betterUp early, I was on road by 9am – curious to see what the roads were like and wondering where to stay the night. Would it take 2 or 3 days to get to Almaty? I would have to register my visa by the end of Tuesday, so I didn’t have too much time.

As it turned out the roads were very good, with a few short stretches of road under repair, but the majority was a very good quality surface, and I made the most of it.

Yet another warm day; I can’t believe I have ever seen so little rain. I have only been soaked once and showered on 2 or 3 times on top of that. I was taking a break and having a snack and a drink of water, when another biker pulled up. Sergey was a Kazak, from Almaty, so I picked his brains about where to stop overnight en route to my destination. After a little thought he said, “Korday. Plenty hotels there”. So Korday it was and, realising that I would be going through there on the way to my next country, Kyrgyzstan, it would be useful knowledge for the road.

However, on arrival, I quickly found out it is a very long town and I saw no hotel signs. Then I saw an obvious wedding party, stopped outside a smart looking building. That must be one, I thought to myself, so in I went. But, no, the turnstiles inside the door told me it wasn’t. Fortunately, however, the unlikely looking building next door was. At least, the upstairs! My fears of it turning out to be a brothel proved to be unfounded and, though it was scruffy on the outside, the rooms were a pleasant surprise. The bathroom was equipped with a very swish shower with multi jets from all over the place, integral lights and fan, and the bedroom was very smart and very roomy. It’s a shame the bed had old creaky springs …

Hey ho, as it turned out I had a good nights sleep for my £28, and I was only 240 ish kms from Almaty.

Farewell to Uzbekistan

Now it's getting greener againIt was with a slight tinge of regret that I had to leave Samarkand. The reality of the place, and it’s exotic name, which had always brought back memories of the journeys of Marco Polo, hadn’t let me down. It was, along with Khiva, one of the highlights of the trip so far. After a chat with the receptionist, I was persuaded to give Tashkent a miss. By all accounts it was subjected to a very strong earthquake in 1980, which had all but levelled the place and it was rebuilt as a high-rise modern city, and I can see those anytime.

So, off to the border with Kazakhstan. It was yet another hot day. I really am not complaining. It will get cold soon enough with the promise of Tibet looming within the next couple of weeks, but I was probably not fragrant to be near, after 2 or 3 hours on the bike. The border crossing was par for the course, everyone was nice and helpful, but no-one knew what order things should be done in. I swear I did the same form 3 times at different windows. It was all rounded off by the customs officers giving my stuff a thorough search. “ Do you have guns?” “What?! NO!” “Do you have drugs?” “Yes, but only ones from the Doctor.” “Open up this box. Open that box. What’s in this bag?”. As it happens, this bag  contained my notebook and my RoadHawk Ride R+ video camera. The Customs Officer took a great interest in it, putting it together and taking it apart several times – it was only the day after that I realised that, either by accident or design, he had removed, and apparently lost, my 64Gb micro SD card. The only good thing that can be said was that I hadn’t taken any video footage since I had copied the last batch across to the notebook. Nevertheless, I now have to try and find another SD card. B****R!

Needless to say I hadn’t realised that I would lose another hour time difference, as I was now going on to Eastern Kazakhstan time, meaning that I am now 5 hours ahead of Brigid. My progress was a little delayed on the road from the Kazakhstan border by a metallic, rhythmical clanking. On stopping to see what it was, I found the metal sump guard, also knoZip tieswn as a “bash plate” being held on by only one of the four brackets, the other three having failed.

Now in normal use, it’s not necessary for a bike like mine to have a metal sump guard. Indeed, the Tiger came with a plastic one that was there for looks only, with a void in the centre. However, on this trip, with all of the gravel and stones my front wheel has been throwing at the sump, it really is essential. Fortunately, I could temporarily secure it into place with well placed zip ties, but I will have to try and get a more permanent fix in Almaty. It was late by the time I got into Shymkent, but at least the hotel was there and they had space. I had time – just – to shower and get a bit to eat before retiring to bed. Exhausted.

Living the dream

I awoke with my system feeling a little better if not 100%, and risked a sensible breakfast (nothing cold or sweet), and then caught up with some blog entries. I also asked at reception what I should go and see in Samarkand. I was provided with a map containing a long list of sites. Looking down, the vast majority were Mosques or Mausoleums, which actually look remarkably similar. To me the Silk Road was all about Silk and Spices from “The Orient” and the trading that went on, not about Islamic buildings, iconic though they may be.

Spice BoysI looked down the list again and there were 2 bazaars listed, one of them just around the corner. I was, however, steered to the other one across town the SIYOB or “Seeop”. After a bit of bartering over the taxi fare, the disgruntled driver dropped me at the “Seeop”, and there it was, a huge bazaar. Just what I wanted. Silks, Spices, vegetables of all sorts, you name, it was there, probably. I just wandered around taking picture after picture, trying to capture the sight, sound and smellsNow THATs a market from over hundreds of years of trading. Impossible of course, but it really got my blood racing. The pictures don’t capture the size of the place there were two huge areas that I wandered around for a couple of hours, then I popped into a shop, only to find that it was a passageway into another huge area. I was like child again, this was what I had read and dreamed about at school and I was living the dream!

Samarkand Siyob Market

Life in the fast lane!

After a restless night with precious little sleep and not feeling like breakfast, I wanted to get on the road and get to Samarkand. It was only 9am and already it was hot. At least the air vents in my Klim jacket and trousers would let the air flow keep me moderately cool for the 270ish kms.

What the Hell is that?

What the Hell is that?

To call the roads in Uzbekistan ‘dual carriageways’ is a bit fanciful, if you ask me. One very common and disconcerting aspect is the central division. Every so often there will be a gap in the central concrete barriers and the road signs indicate that they are there to allow U-turns. That probably explains why the road surfaces are so bad – so that the vehicles in the fast lane won’t be going too fast to take evasive action when someone in front decides to turn left; or worse, when someone from the other carriageway turns right across the front of you! Other hazards included vehicles cutting across from the other carriageway and driving the wrong way down what might loosely be called the emergency hard shoulder to get to their property – rather than go to the next gap and do U-turn there to come back to it. It also doesn’t help that when a contra-flow is in operation, the first you know about it is when vehicles appear in the fast lane driving towards you! You certainly have to keep your wits about you. Apart from all that, the ride to Samarkand was uneventful, save for the usual toots, flashes and waves from lots of locals on the way – and some just plain weird vehicles …..!

I reached Samarkand to find that the Samarkand Emir has either been knocked down, or Garmin was wrong. Again. Happily, three ladies outside saved me from embarrassment by informing me that it was not a hotel but a bank, and pointed my in the direction of the Registran only a few hundred yards down the road. I contented myself that, although over budget at US$ 77, since I hadn’t eaten since yesterday morning and been below budget at previous hotels, I had earned it. Bike happily stored in the enclosed area at the back of the hotel, I showered, used the wifi to speak to Brigid for nothing on Viber and went in search of a snack that wouldn’t upset the stomach too much and a drink that would put back some much needed blood sugar. A few hours later, suitably rested, I felt well enough to enquire at the reception desk for a restaurant that would serve plain, non-greasy, non-spicy, food. Well, it wasn’t exactly what I asked for, but the man behind the desk well understood my drift …

Pointed in the right direction, just a few hundred yards down the road, I had just got to the recommended venue when the alarm bowels started ringing and I beat a hasty retreat, pausing only to buy some more high blood sugar snacks. B****r!

 

The call of nature

Having got up around 7am, and down for breakfast by half past, I discovered that there wasn’t any. As things turned out, that may have been someone trying to tell me something! I asked the manager and, as usual, he made a phone call to someone who could speak English. “That’s Ok we will do breakfast, but you didn’t say yesterday that you would want breakfast.” Doh!

Half an hour later, breakfast was served, the usual 2 fried eggs and mini Frankfurters, bread and butter and apparently home made jam, Green Tea, and a small plate of mini cakes, some covered in what looked and tasted like caster sugar. Well, I just had to try them didn’t I!

I went for a walk around the area which was designated the ‘old city’, and took numerous photographs. For an old city it was very smart. The old buildings had been cleaned up, renovated and their usage changed. In keeping with its old location at the cross-roads of the old silk route there were many shop selling all sorts of silk products, looking strangely similar to those in Khiva. By lunchtime it was getting very hot, the manager of the Islambek in Khiva was right, there wasn’t much shade. I beat a retreat to the hotel and turned on the air conditioning. As it turned out, I got there just in time, as something I had eaten decided to disagree with my digestive system ….You get my drift!

I spent the rest of the afternoon either sitting on the loo, or resting, getting ready for the next bout. Not nice. I can only put it down to the mini cakes which had obviously come from a shop, but were not covered. Note to self: Don’t eat stuff that isn’t hot or properly wrapped! Note to Brigid: Thanks for the Immodium!

I did wander out again in the evening but, pleasant as the centre of Bukhara is, I felt a certain calling again. I had abstained from eating and had only drunk Green Tea (which I have developed a taste for), so whilst I had kept up my fluid intake, I hadn’t eaten since breakfast – a rarity for me I can tell you.

No photo, no photo … please!

I was up early, intending to take a video of some of the city and some photographs from the city walls. I had asked for some washing to be done the day before, but didn’t realise that it was to be done by the manager’s sister … who was one of the girls leaving school that day. In her excitement about her graduation, she forgot about the laundry. Cue much embarrassment from said manager. Ah well, having reassured him that it wasn’t a problem, I left, content at least in the knowledge that I still had some clean underwear left! It was now late morning.

The road to Bukhara is much the same as the other roads in Uzbekistan, in a poor condition but with much evidence of serious road building in progress. My journey was further delayed by being drawn out of the police check-point lucky dip three times and by a train crossing a dual purpose bridge. Both sides of the bridge were manned by more policeman and at every point they stressed “No Photo, No Photo”.  So, despite my using Brigid’s trick of using my left pocket to keep the camera and practising using my left hand to take the shot, at no point was I out of view of the police to successfully take a photo. B****r!

Bukhara Hotel Ziyo BaxshMy progress was also hampered by my not so trusty Garmin. On bumpy roads it now can’t decide whether it will stay on or not and, in accordance with Murphy’s Law, it doesn’t work when I am nearing a junction requiring a decision … and where there are no signposts. Nevertheless, I eventually arrived at my chosen B&B, hopeful of an empty room.

Before I could even get off the bike I was accosted by two Germans and another man, curious as to where I had come from. Someone else then asked me if I needed a room. A bit warily I agreed that I did and asked where. He pointed to a smart looking small hotel right in front of me. A quick look inside and a phone call to an English speaking man to agree the price sorted me nicely, thanks. Within 5 minutes I walked back the 20 yards or so to the bike to find it surrounded by 5 policemen. I was pleased to be reassured that they too were only curious about my trip and where I had come from. An extended chat with them satisfied their curiousity and I was getting anxious for my shower when two more guys wandered up to me. Boy was I popular today!

JR-just-arrived-in-Bukhara-1024x768The two men were French, both Thierry, one from Bergerac, near Bordeaux, and the other from Annecy in the Alps. Curiously, they had also left Khiva that day and were doing almost exactly the original route, out and back via Mongolia, that Brigid and I had planned until we decided to go into China with Globebusters. A couple of photos later I almost ran to the hotel!

Showered and changed, I set out to find a place to eat and who should I bump into but the two Thierrys, so we went and ate together and had a very pleasant evening curtailed only by their exhaustion. In need of a beer, I wandered down to the open air bar and sat quietly contented with my progress so far. I was then drawn into conversation by a young man sat with his family at the adjoining table. I think he wanted to practise his English, which was very good. He had applied to go to study in Japan and awaits news of a potential scholarship on Monday. His older brother then joined in. He was only in his first year of learning English and I was his first real English speaker. He was obviously lacking in confidence, but it quickly became apparent that his English was very good for one so new to the language. It was then that his younger brother corrected my comment that if they can learn two languages they could learn a third fairly easily. It appears that they already speak three languages: Uzbek, Russian and Persian.

Strewth! Puts my English, poor French and five Russian words to shame!

Khiva

For me Khiva was the first “must see” place to see on our epic ride. I was up early-ish on Sunday and by about 9.30am I was on the road. Just. It was only a couple of hundred kilometres, but with these roads that would be about 3 hours riding. I would have been a bit quicker, but for being stopped by a police officer. Again!

This one was posted to a metal pontoon bridge and I had the temerity to take a photo. He approached me saying “No photo, no photo”. Hoping to get away without deleting said photo, I quickly put the camera away saying OK. He, however, was having none of it and made me take it out again and delete the photos. Unfortunately, that left the photo I had taken of the cardboard Police car, wagging finger time for me then, so that was deleted as well, ******!

Walls of KhivaSome time in the early afternoon,I approached Khiva. I had seen photos of the city walls and was expecting to see them from some way off. As it turned out, I turned left at a set of traffic lights and there it was; the city appeared from nowhere and the sight of the walls just took my breath away. Fantastic! I had to go around the block to work out how to get in, for there are only four gates into the walled city and vehicles are only allowed through two of them.

Having managed that, I found my chosen B & B. They were full, but recommended an Islamic B & B. After my initial reluctance, which lasted for all of about 10 seconds, I thought “What’s the point of doing a trip like this if you don’t want to interact with the cultures you meet on the route!”. There’s too much credibility given to so-called Islamic extremists, who don’t represent anyone but themselves, I thought. So off I went in search of the Islambek B & B, and I wasn’t disappointed. What a nice place it is, and nice people; they even let me put my bike inside the house, “There are lots of children outside and you don’t know what they might play with …”

Islambek B&B is a nice two storey house, inside the city walls, with the second floor opening onto a seated terrace overlooking a part of the city – not that the view is that great, but it is nice and cool and seems to catch the breeze. I took it easy in the afternoon, partly because it was hot and partly because I wanted to catch up with writing the blog. I found somewhere decent to eat, and they even served beer! Great stuff. I retired to bed determined to try and arrange a guided tour of the city the following day.

Up by 6.30am, I asked if I could have a guided tour, unfortunately one could not be arranged privately, but they pointed me in the right direction.

I managed to arrange a tour for 1pm and my tour guide was a young woman whose English was excellent. Her tour was very informative and she even managed to avoid most of the hundreds of teenage students, dressed in their best school uniform, celebrating the last day of term. Some of the girls were wearing sashes and other, younger ones, wearing white net bows in their hair. The boys were wearing dark grey trousers and white shirts, some wearing a form of bow tie. They all looked very smart as they milled about the market in high spirits, but very well behaved.

It turns out that the area was just a place on the Silk Route from around 500 – 400BC. Some unknown time after this some travellers along the route, being desperately thirsty, dug a hole to try and find water. They found it about 5 or 6 metres down and, on drinking it, they exclaimed “Keevah!” (or a word sounding like that). Since then, there has been a city on that spot and the original well is still there, inside someone’s house. Allegedly!

All of the city buildings are in the same colour as the walls – even the new ones, as that’s what the city demands in order to preserve the character. The two palaces and all of the madrasses are adorned with thousand of locally produced tiles, all in the same style of blue and white squirls in different patterns. Each tile was numbered and had its particular place in the design, hence the numbering. The madrasses used to be for teaching Islamic studies but now all of them are given over to teaching local crafts such as wood carving, making tiles or producing tablecloths or handbags etc. from locally produced silk. It’s probably just as well Brigid wasn’t here, we would have needed a trailer to take everything away.

All in all, I was really looking forward to seeing Khiva and the other Silk Route towns, and Khiva certainly hasn’t let me down.

“Toureest important …”

Having dressed and vacated the Boss’s office (just before he arrived), I loaded up the bike and was about to depart. But, before I could, there was a gathering. News travels fast around here and a number of people had arrived to see the strange guy who slept in the garage office, and to look at the bike. This brought irritating news.

I had already melted one of the bike cable locks, as it wasn’t the right length to fasten securely around the top box mount on the rear of the bike. But that was ok, I sent that one back with Brigid and I kept the good one, always taking care to make sure that it wasn’t anywhere near the exhaust! On leaving Beyneu I had even looped it through the cargo net which was keeping the bag on the back seat. No problem I thought, but hadn’t reckoned with the road from Beyneu … At some point during the world’s longest switchback, the cable had escaped its secure mounting and, yes, you’ve guessed, it sagged – right in front of the exhaust. Not only was it melted, the lock was knackered as well, to the point the only way to get it off was by use of an angle grinder. Oh Bu**er, that’s it for me and cable locks. Chains all the way from now on, when I can find one, I suspect I may have to wait until Almaty!

Jakesh returns with my bikeI was just thinking of moving on when Jakesh asked if he could have a go on the bike. I was horrified, I mean he only had a tee shirt and sandals, but they had been so kind how could I refuse without losing face? I couldn’t. So, trying to put on my best smile, I gave him the keys and said “ok!”. He got on and rode it like he had been riding it for years. Accelerating at a rate of knots down the road, he looked like he was going to finish my trip for me! A minute later he was back, beaming from ear to ear. He had loved it!

Having finally got on the road to Muynaq (at the southern end of what used to be the Aral Sea),  and just as I had reached a sign indicating a diversion away from the route, I was caught up with by one of the curious crowd from earlier. The first thing he asked was, “Are you a policeman?”, news did travel fast! “Well I was, in London, but I have retired”, I replied. He then told me that the road was flooded from yesterday’s rain and led me through Kungrad to a point where I only had to follow the road. Kindness personified.

Waiting for the Sea to returnThe Aral Sea used to be one of the biggest inland seas in the world, until man changed all of that. Apparently the Russians diverted the route of the rivers following south into the lakes to water their vast wheat crops. The sea has been disappearing ever since, with rusting hulks of ships tilting precariously across the sand that had previously been a seabed. It has been a disaster of epic proportions, putting a whole industry out of work at both ends of the sea. To see the rusting hulks listing on their sides on the semi desert floor was really sad. There is good news at the north end of the Aral Sea, however, as they have diverted water sources to start filling it again, keeping the water restricted by building two dams. That said, it’s taken 50 years to get it this low, Lord knows how long it will take to fill it again.

Anyway, having seen all there was to see it was back to Kungrad to fill up again at the same garage. Having done so, I was no more that half a mile down the road when the bike started swaying alarmingly. I stopped, checked the wheels. No, nothing wrong there … Then I noticed that one of the panniers had come adrift from the top mount, and had caused the front extension to break away from the frame. The only thing that stopped it falling off were the two bungees holding the bag on the back seat.

Disaster! I know nothing about metal, but the frame didn’t look as if you could weld it. What the Hell could I do? I couldn’t leave the pannier there while I got help?!. It would take days, or weeks, to get a replacement and could make me late for my rendezvous with GlobeBusters in Kyrgyzstan. Despair! Hang on a minute, there must be a way. Could I tie it to the back seat? No. Nowhere to secure it. The frame is broken …… But I did have more bungees. If I pushed the broken bits back together and used a load of bungees, it might be enough to get me back to the garage I had just left. All of this probably no more than a few minutes, but it seemed like hours, as I went through a whole dictionary of emotions, thinking my goals were in tatters.

I bungeed the frame back on to the bike, and gingerly put the box back in place ….. and it held. Ever so gently, I got back on, and rode – ever so slowly – back to the garage. It was really easy to show them what had happened. The boss looked and made one phone call. Motioning me to leave the box there and follow him, we set off in convoy to another garage, where he spoke to one of the mechanics. “No. Follow me”, he said, again and off we set again!

Top bolt welded junctionAt the next garage, everything happened so quickly. I saw the mechanic start to get his spot welder together and sent off a couple of quick text messages to Brigid. I was about to take a photo of the guy at work, but he had already finished! Hells’ teeth that was quick! I had seen the boss pay the man, so I got out my wallet and started to pull some money out.  But, no. The boss closed my wallet and gave me the wagging finger, “No, no, no! That’s from me.” I was astounded as to why he had paid for my repair and then I remembered a comment made by another man, just before we set off for the garage.

The Boss was explaining who I was and this unknown man had just said “Toureest important.”It then became clear to me that this poor country has high regards tourists, for the money they spend in hotels, restaurants and elsewhere and, if paying for my repair meant that I was happy, then maybe more “toureests” would come. Now, it could be my fanciful thinking, but one thing is indisputable, the Uzbeks are generosity personified. And the whole episode took no more than one hour, though it seemed like a week!

So having left the garage for the third time that day, I eventually reached Nukus and made for the impressive-sounding “Hotel Nukus”, which seemed nice and big – and appropriately impressive – on the outside. The room wasn’t up to much but, frankly, I was shattered. The last two days from Beyneu, down the 90 kms road of Hell, no hotel and sleeping on the garage floor, followed by the emotions of the dead Aral Sea and then the luggage rack problem, had all caught up with me. I was exhausted and couldn’t ride around trying to find another hotel – which could have ended up being worse than this one. So I took the room, had a bit to eat, dosed for a couple of hours, went for a walk around the block, had a beer in the hotel, and collapsed into bed.

Not surprisingly, I didn’t sleep right through. Just thinking about the kindness of the people here and their friendliness has got to me. Since I crossed the border from Kazakhstan, I have been flashed at (by cars!), tooted at, waved to and smiled at by just about everybody. I’ve lost count of the times I have got off the bike to check my lights were still on and everything was secure. It took until the Boss paid for the welding that the “Toureest important!” message really hit me.

A real day of emotions!

Kungrad

Well, there are no flies on me, or fleas either for that matter – thankfully! So, today I have to leave Kazakhstan or get a fine for overstaying and not registering my visa. I was on the road by 8.30am, hopeful about the road ahead, bearing in mind the nice new tarmac into Beyneu from the north.

I could not have been more wrong.

The road from Beyneu down to the border was the worst road I have ever seen, and that includes the Salmon Glacier road in Alaska! It is a mix of old, corrugated tarmac, hard packed sand and gravel, and mineshafts. I kid you not.

Many of the holes were so deep that my wheel would go all of the way in and the front suspension would bottom out. All of the vehicles on the road were swerving violently from side to side to try and avoid the worst parts of the road. That included the lorries, they were just doing it slower than the cars. The advantage of a motorcycle is that you only need one track, the rear wheel naturally follows the front. However, this can be a disadvantage, if one wheel goes in a hole, so will the other – with bone jarring consequences. Just imagine going over a speed bump too fast, sitting in the back of a heavily laden car, now multiply each individual bump by ten, then multiply that one bump by 93 kilometres. And these bomb craters were interspersed randomly across the width and length of the road. To be fair, there were places where the surface was manageable, but they weren’t very long, or very many. In other places there was a strip about 18 inches wide near the side on the road where it was level, relatively speaking and I could make good progress. That I managed to cover the 93 kms in just over 2 ½ hours, without dropping the bike or even having a skid was nothing short of a miracle! The bike did slide a little once or twice, but the new Goldentyre dual purpose tyres fitted a couple of day before seem to have been a brilliant find, I am very impressed, so far.

I eventually reached the border, got through the Kazak side in half an hour and then spent an hour in no man’s land, despite being ushered to the front by everyone else in there. Fat lot of good it did me. It still took 2 hours to do the small amount of paperwork on the Uzbek side. It’s not that they don’t know what they are doing, there is just no structure or organisation to it. It was very frustrating. Never mind, I eventually passed through the maze of windows and was given the golden ticket to escape.

First stop was the insurance booth which was mercifully quick, but I had to pay in Uzbek money and he didn’t do currency exchange. However, an opportunistic young woman who did was conveniently on my shoulder, literally. She was standing right next to me. Knowing that I was going to be staying at hotels, I decided to change $200, for which she offered me a carrier bag full of notes. I had forgotten that the Uzbek currency exchange rate is something like 3,000 to the dollar; £200 will make me near enough a millionaire! On hearing me exclaim “WHAT, I’m not taking that!”, she gave me a more manageable armful of notes that would get into my A4 sized zip wallet.

Next stop Kungrad, from where I could get to the south end of the Aral sea. But first I had to get there, and it had rained, hard, while I was going through the tortuous processes in passport control and customs. I was concerned that I would have a muddy, flooded road to contend with. However, although it was wet with puddles, it wasn’t that bad, relatively speaking. The puddles could hide big holes and road wasn’t great in places, but newly informed by the road down to the border, it was OK!

The GarageNevertheless, by the time I got to Kungrad, I was running out of fuel and light was fading. I found the place I was hoping to stay but it was closed. The first two garages only had deisel. At the third I struck lucky. They had petrol; only 80 octane, but it would do. I asked, hopefully, “Hotel?”, “No”, “Where?”. The reply came in the classic Gallic shrug. I gestured that I needed somewhere to sleep. The young man then had an idea, “Hotel!” and drew a map in the mud of how to get to one. Now the problem was that I had no idea of scale and didn’t want to riding around aimlessly in the dark, but I set off to find it anyway. I didn’t find it, but I did find somewhere to eat and by sheer chance selected what must be a typical dish here, which is mince meat with chopped potatoes and carrots in parcels of what passes for pastry. By now it was dark and I had been concerned about my lights. However, the new dipped headlight was much brighter than the old one and the new auxiliary lights were brilliant!

Kakesh Johnand BazikI found the garage again, and Jakesh and Bazik were good to their word, very welcoming and even offered my some of the very tasty stew that Jakesh had prepared. We managed to make ourselves understood and after an hour or so it was time for bed. I was given the office, the thin mattress wasn’t great but it was warm and was far better than sleeping on the bike!

Beyneu

I was up early and on the road by 8.30. It was a nice sunny day, with a cool breeze and I left the hotel – having double checked Garmin was showing the route I wanted to go. The road out of town was ok; not great, but nowhere near as bad as the last few days. However, once out of the city it was nice, smooth, tarmac. This can’t last I thought, my luck can’t be that good!

How wrong I was. The weather stayed sunny and cool, and the road stayed level with good tarmac. In fact, the last 20 kms into Beyneu actually had new tarmac and the quality of the surface was excellent.

Grand Mausoleum 3One thing I have noticed in Kazakhstan, is the number of mausoleums by the side of the road, away from any residences.  Some of them are really grand, while other less-expensive looking ones are, nevertheless, quite impressive. It is obviously a part of the culture and it is quite normal to see people paying their respects at any time of the day and day of the week.

I made such good progress that I was in Beyneu by 3pm and decided that I would spend a bit of time just driving around to try and find a decent hotel. The first one I saw looked ok on the outside and had a motel behind it. However, on riding up to the motel, I saw a police car and a second immediately pulled in fast to join the first. Now, they may just have been late for lunch, but to me it looked like they meant business! So, scratch that motel then.

I carried on driving around and after the third circuit had come to the conclusion that Beyneu is just a typical border town, with no centre to speak of. By now, the landscape had turned from semi-desert to three-quarters-desert and I saw groups of women sweeping sand from the side of the road into dustpans, presumably to prevent the town being over taken by desert. Sergey and Antun

I rode back to the first motel and checked in. Like the town, it has little to commend it.  The room smelt musky and the décor was very late 50’s but, being the only hotel I could find, and at £20 for the night, it was better than sleeping on the bike! As I walked out to unload my luggage I met two other bikers: Sergey and Antun – Russians. Having exchanged pleasantries with Antun, who spoke passably good English, and taken photos, they decided not to stay. I saw them over an hour later still riding around and they were last seen heading back out of town. I guess they felt that sleeping on their bikes was a better alternative.

I’ll let you know tomorrow if I have caught fleas!