25 Aug 2011

On the road again - but the bloody road is closed

We are back on the road and all sorted, after 3 days of using various bank cards to get enough cash to pay for it (at £120.00 max per card per day per withdrawl).

Drove back to Gorno Altaisk with the intention of driving on to Lake Teletsko, stopped for a cafe, got chatting to a local lady that spoke English only to find that the road to Teletsko is closed after a rocket (or part of it) dropped on it yesterday. Apparantly this often happens, the 2008 Lonely Planet stated that 2.5 tonnes of space waste have fallen on the Altai region over time! There are apparantly still frequent launches of Russian Rockets from Baikonur Space Station in Kazakhstan and this bit has apparantly landed on the road and distrubuted some toxic waste in the area.

This reminds me that one night, sitting by a lake in Mongolia we clearly saw what appeared to be a rocket trail, with 3 distinct stages setting off into the heavens, at the time we thought we must have been mistaken, but we were not that far from Kazakhstan at the time and it was in the right direction.

So we are setting off for Chamal instead, which is apparantly also a very pretty location surounded by snow capped mountains, a canyon very important to Altai Mythology and a walk to a series of 6 lakes, so we shall see (if the rain stops that is)


We are now staying in a little Hotel in Biysk while we wait for the work on the cruiser to be completed and just heard it will be late tonight before they finish so we are staying another night. We have however managed to find a cafe down the road with internet access. It is a nice setting with a hilly forest section between the Hotel and river and would be really nice if there weren't vast piles of rubbish strewn through the forest.

Just as well we were in a Hotel last night as there was a huge thunderstorm with torrential rain and looks like we may have another shortly.

Finding the garage in Biysk was interesting. Yefgeni gave us the number for the mechanic and said 'go to Byisk, ring the number and give phone to russian people'. The chap I gave it to was a bit confused to start but then smiled gave me back the phone and pointed to the ground. 10 minutes later the mechanic turned up with Irena who speaks good english. It seems they are replacing the whole front casing with a new one but we will see when we get it back tomorrow.

A few last pictures of Mongolia.

And first pictures of Altai

This is the view from the top of one of the smaller peaks, this is a fabulous area and I could happily spend weeks here.

Chris saves the day and recues my bike wheel

23 Aug 2011

Back in the USSR

Back in the USSR (Gorno Altaisk0, civilisation, the land of fruit and vegitables. If Russia is a parallel universe then Mongolia is another planet. Apparantly their national dish is 'meat' and that is just about all they eat.

No pictures this time as the internet is very slow and we need to get the cruiser to a garage.

Day 111 and our first night in a Hotel for a month! 90 days in the roof tent so far this trip and still very comfortable, but nothing beats a proper shower.

The front diff continued to drip oil and we have now had it welded 3 times in situ but still it drips. We have done 1200 miles since it first happened and amazingly lost very little oil, but we are likely to lose more at higher speeds on better roads and we cannot risk more rough roads for fear of making it worse. We managed to meet up with Yefgeni again yesterday (who has a land cruiser and helped us get the winch sorted) and he has arranged for us to take it to another garage in Biysk about 60 miles up the road.

We took a steady route out (if any route in Mongoila can be called 'steady') and bi-passed a mountain range that we originally wanted to cross. It still did not stop us very nearly coming to grief in our final river crossing. We knew that the next section was going to be tough as the computer map showed tracks everywhere and when we got there we found no track any stronger than the other. With only about 100 miles left in Mongolia we reached the exact spot on the map where the road was supposed to cross a river and we could see wheel tracks going into the river, but it was about 200 feet across so we could not be sure we could see tracks coming out the other side, but in we went. We reached a sand bank in the middle, but pausing was not possible as we started to sink, so on we went. The current was strongest here and suddenly the nose dipped down and the river came over the bonnet, surged up the windscreen, under the dash on the passenger side and in through my window which was half open. As the horror of getting stuck here dawned the cruiser rose up the bank on the other side and climbed out of the river and on we went.

There were absolutely no tracks on the other side and we did at least half a mile cross country before we found the faintest track and gradually zig zagged across the multitude of tracks in the direction of the next pass until we found the proper road. It had cleaarly been re-routed from the route on the map and in the opposite direction we would have probably found the correct place to cross the river.

Passing through the border back into Russia took 4.5 hours, but with no problems and back into the beautiful Altai mountains which are at least the equal to anything we saw in Mongolia.

Our first night in Russia we camped next to a river. I was sorting my bike out ready for a ride the next day, dropped the back wheel off the roof and it simply bounded off in the direction of the river and jumped right in and off it went, spinning into the current and well out of reach, with me running down the bank after it. Fortunately there was a bend a couple of hundred meters down river and it snagged on some small trees groing out of the river, but still too far to reach even with the longest branch and whilst I considered a rope with something heavy on the end to try and hook it back Chris waded and retreived it (on the basis that she could swim and I can't and that she could not stand to hear me bemoaning the loss of the wheel for the next few weeks). It was however deeper than it looked and Chris was up to her armpits before she reached the wheel, so hero Chris saved the day. The ride the following day was one that I had seen on the way through 7 weeks before, fortunately it was a superb day and the ride was every bit as good as I had hoped - thanks to Chris.

After the garge in Biysk we will take a detour to Lake Teletskoe for a few days and then head to Omsk and dependant on the sucees of the work on the diff will determine whether we continue our route into Kazakhstan or try and limp back through Russia, but time will tell.

10 Aug 2011

Post Gobi

Day 98 and still talking.

As expected, the 2 day drive from UB to the bottom of National Park at the bottom of the Gobi was pretty boring - until half way through the second day as we left a small village. Sand clouds blew through the village and we were heading for a huge black cloud that went right down to the desert, complete with major lightning flashes through the clouds. Fortunatley the road skirted to the right of the cloud but eventually we were caught in torrential rain. This only lasted a few minutes but it was clear a lot of rain had fallen further on, as the desert was now water logged with much of the 'road' washed away and puddles like small lakes to drive through - but the cruiser just bashed on regardless.

After visitng the Yolyn Am Ice canyon (no ice this time of year unfurtunately) we carried on towards the Kongorin Els sand dunes and caught up with a French couple, Matthieu and Moon in a 22 year old 4x4 fire vehicle converted into a motor home. Like us they were keen to head north across the Gobi at the far end of the park, where travelling alone was not advised, so we hooked up for the next few days to do so.

As Matthieu had a CB I was in the middle of mounting my aerial so we could communicate and noticed that my roof rack had moved forward almost 10cm, so we then came up with a plan to move it back. I drove into a dip to bring it level with Matthieu winch and we pulled it back into place - except we went too far the other way and had to repeat the process from the other side to get it right, but it worked a treat. Unfortunately tho the CB didn't!

The sand dunes were fantastic but getting to the top was a trauma, but walking along the knife edge top of a 300m sand dune was amazing.

The trip back through the Gobi was fairly straightforward, with the aid of the maps Matthieu had on his computer (of which I now have a copy) which have a lot more tracks than on my paper map and which you can pinpoint your exact position so that you can see if you are on the right road.

As we said our fairwell (for the third time) at a petrol station in Bayankongor I noticed a single drip of oil under the cruiser, which, for a while I thought was fatal as it was coming from a crack in the front differential and for good measure the bracket was also cracked. But the Mongolians will weld anything so off we went to find one. We started at the tyre place that made a good job of his flat. They sent us to a workshop round the corner and one of the mechanics took us to somewhere that could do the welding, amazingly he than set to work with the boss man and two hours later it was all finished. In a Toyota garge in the UK it would proably have cost £2,000 plus to replace the whole assembly, in Mongolia it cost 30,000 Togrogs (£15.00) to stick it back together.

Since then we have done 100 of the most grueling miles in Mongolia (in fact ever!) with at least 10 deep river crossings and just about every surfice you can imagine. Eventually the river was to deep to cross and a track had been created over the mountains into the next valley, requiring low box throughout.

We are now heading back to the Altai Mountains in Russia, via a couple of lakes and a national Park.

Yolyn Am Ice Canyon

Winching the roof rack back into place.

A flat tyre on Matthieu's truck.

At a local water station

Struggling home with the water

On top of the sand dunes

Mathieu and Moon on the Dunes

Heading through a pass in the desert.

Welding the front diff

Back in the mountains heading north