31 Jul 2011

Back on Track

We have managed to confirm that there is a Kazakh Consulate at Omsk and does issue visas so we are back on course, we just have to detour back to Omsk (about 600 miles), which is my new favourite City and spend another couple of nights in the Tourist Hotel (and just about time for another hair cut). Just as well fuel in Russia is only 52p per litre!

We have just spent the weekend in the Gorkhi Terekl National Park.

The sun was actually setting behind me and this was the reflection on the clouds.

And then we went to see the 40m high stainless steel statue of Ghengis Kahn!

After great debate we are now off to the Gobi to the sand dunes and then back across Mongolia to Russia

Watch This space

We have just found out that the Kazakh Embassy in Ulaabaatar is closed until 15th August, we are currently trying to confirm whether we can get a Visa in the consulate at Omsk or will to do a loop in Mongolia and come back, either way we will work it out but may not have internet access to update the website, but you will be able to keep track via spot.

29 Jul 2011

2000 Miles in Mongolia

2000 miles in Mongolia and less than 100 on tarmac.

We have sunk up to the axles in a swamp (heading for a good camping spot) and Max Tracs or Hi lift Jack were to no avail, we had to wait for a passing Land Cruiser to yank us out, fortunately it was the third vehicle to pass us, but we had to wait an hour and a half.

On investigating a clanking sound from below I found that the rear right upper suspension arm had snapped, but found a welder in the next town 10 miles later and it was soon welded back up and we were on our way.

The scenery is stunning, but difficult to do it justice without being able to take 360 pictures and Mongolia is just one huge camp site and we have some amazing spots.

I can now claim to have climbed about 6 2000m plus peaks, but as the valley bottoms are generally around 1850 this does not take too much doing.

We kept crossing paths with the two MG's, one from UK and one from NZ, the latter of which required a number of welding stops, but they kept battling on and should be in China by now, on the way to Singapore. Chris and I both had a spell in the passenger seat of the NZ MG, which was good fun, but I must admit I was glad to get back behind the wheel of the cruiser.

Now in UB (Ulaanbaatar) to extend our Mongolain Visa (yesterday) but we are leaving for the weekend and coming back Sunday night to apply for our Kazhakstan visas on Monday and the sun is shining again after 4 days of cold and rain.

A Mongolian Motorway

A storm brewing, so we stayed in a Ger, to avoid having to pack the tent away wet before stopping in UB

7 Jul 2011

Mongolia - We've made it!

The forecast in the Altai mountains was rain for 4 days, heading towards Omsk, but Omsk was still 30 degrees plus so we staid in Omsk until the rain hit (and overnight went from 34 to 17, heavy cloud and wind) and headed on. We manged to duck under the rain the first day and only pitched in the rain on the second night. Next morning was the first time we have had to pack up wet (but the waterproof mattres cover over the doubled up matress worked a treat).

We stayed in accomodation in Gorno Altaisk in order to register (and ended up staying 2 nights) and by the time we were ready to leave the clouds cleared, sun shone and back up to 29 for our 300 mile drive through the mountains to Mongolia.

En route we passed a couple of brit bikes, stopped for tea down the road and they joined us. They had basically come the way we are going back so was interesting to swap stories.

That night we found our first Russian camp site in 4,000 miles

And had a few locals came to join us (fortunatly they don't drink Vodka)

As we travel through the heart of the Altai we saw snow capped mountains and reach a height of over 2,400m before arriving at the border.

After lots of stories about having to fax permit applications 10 days in advance to enter the border regions (of Mongolia and China) which are apparantly still controlled by the FSB (formerly KGB) we arrived with some trepidation, even more when we saw a sign (in English) saying permit and doccument holders only. A mile later we approached a check point! They looked at our passports and waved us on! Apparantly the permit was phased out last year!

As it was getting late (and the borders close at 6) we did intend to stop before we hit the border, but the Russian side was 13 miles before we expected it, but there was no qucue so we went for it.

10 minutes later we were through. Searching consisted of opening one door, the guard picking up the russian lonely planet, beaming and waving us on!

13 miles later we came to the Mongolian side where we caught up with two couples in 60 year old MGTC's, who were just leaving and had taken them 4 hopurs to get through both sides. They speeded us up through imigration as they were closing, but customs just put all our doccument in a cupboard and went home, leaving us in the compound over night, with a Kashak familly of 5, a Mongolian wagon with 8 peole in it and a truck.

The gate was left open so we could walk to the 'Hotel' and 'Restaurant' just outside the gates. The Restaurant only had 2 tables and the 'Hotel' was a 3m square room with 4 bunks and 3 small beds. We had the meatballs (which were actually very tasty) and then went back and slept in the roof tent.

Next morning the only problem was some tiny biting flies, which were actually biting me (the mossies don't bother me much), and these also liked the sun, where mozzies generally stick to the shade). At 9.00am customs opened, took a brief look in the back of the vehicle, gave us our papers back and off we went. In fact the process was very quick and we had not intended to cross that night anyway so arriving late worked very well.

The road change is dramatic, good tarmac right up to the border then dirt track beyond, with often a choice of tracks to take. After about 10 miles we came to a really steep, loose hill which required low box and we could see the wife of the Kashak familly struggling up the hill with a bag, then one of the boys with a box of apples and the other boy with 2 large bags, they had unloaded the car to get it up the hill.

We stopped, Chris jumped out, loaded all the gear in the Cruiser and Chris walked up with them. At the top we had reached 2,600m, but this was as high as it gets (for a while anyway) so after their car had cooled down they were good to go.

At the next village we met a French couple that had cycled from Ulanbataar and were basically heading for our return route - they were intrepid!

The first big town is Olgii, where we found some Gers with internet access and here we are.

The Story of the Winch

After failing in Romania and having a temporary repair we checked it again a few days later and it had failed again, but whatever happened had activated it and wound it tight! We tried a couple of places in Russia with no luck, but saw very few 4x4's with winches until we approached the Altai mountains.

4,500 miles later, with 300 miles of Russia left, we rounded a corner on the way back to our accomodation in Gorno and there was a cruiser with a winch parked on the corner and the driver out chatting to another driver. I explained the problem, he opened the back of his truck, which was empty except for a complete (used) winch in a box, which he said I could have 'no money' and said he would meet me at 10.00 next morning and take me to a mechanic. Problem turned out that the cut off switch had welded itself together and caused the failure, so they bi passed the switch, fitted the solonoid from the spare winch and everything worked! They then disconnected it from the battery for safety and all I have to do is bolt it back on to use it!

The two mechanics also wanted 'no money, but I did manage to give them 1,000 Rubels (about £20) 'beer' money.

Turns out the guy that took us there parents owned a 'Hotel' which was about 25 chelets in the mountains, which he insisted we stay the night and refused to take anything, even for the solonoid!

Our experience in Russia was very different from what we expected, relaxed atmosphere (including the police) we were stopped 5 times in all, 3 times to check doccuments and twice just to wave us on, each time with a smile and a wave. The people are incredibly friendly and helpfull. It is really only the landscape which is pretty boring, most of it just flat, grass, trees and mosquitos, but the mountains are wonderfull and we intend to spend longer in the Altai on the way back.