Allright, this will take some time to read (or look at the pictures) since we couldn’t find any internet since the last update. So take your time to read it, as we hope you will enjoy this part as much as all the other parts of the travel. O yes, we do appreciate all the mails we get from you guys to tell us that you enjoy the blog/mailing as it motivates us to continue to find the time to write it and update it whenever we find internet… So thank you for the support!
We left Semey to go back to Russia and start our off road track through the Altay mountains.
On the way there we saw the colossal monument they made for the victims of the nuclear testing they did. We wanted to cross the river at one point and Seb thought that we were going to have to take a ferry…wrong guess! The road just ended abruptly and we were lucky enough not to just trip over the edge.
Halfway to the border, Seb got fed up with the bags that were on the side of his tank since they were always interfering with his legs and knees. They were not properly attached anymore after they broke from a fall a few weeks earlier and we had a conversation on the edge of the road to figure out what we would do about our luggage problem because now we would have two less bags to put our luggage in. We decided that we would chuck out some clothes when we would be in another hotel again, making some room for the spare parts and the oil and stuff like that. Of course we took off our wanderingsouls patches off the bags before we dumped them.
The crossing of the Kazak border went rather smoothly and the border control guy was even coming on to me and saying that I was a pretty girl… After the Kazak border however, it was time to cross the Russian border again… We can say now that we would like to claim a title in the ‘Guinness book of Records’ for the fastest Russian border crossing ever! It only took us 23 minutes to get the papers filled in, the stamps in our passports and even the checking of the luggage and the joking with the border control guy. We didn’t even need to take out our ‘waiting-at-the-border’ cookies and drinks, imagine that!
We drove into the first town after the border and we went to two ‘Gostinitsjas’ (that’s a kind of hotel) where they told us both times that there was no more room…I was smelling a Russian conspiracy against tourism! Well, we just did some grocery shopping, and found a nice spot next to a river where we could pitch our tent. It was sheltered from the wind by a line of trees and it was nice and quiet. In the middle of the night I started hearing weird noises that started to get louder and louder. It sounded like something was tearing off slowly. After a few minutes I found out what the noise was when I heard a deafening crack and a big branch of one of the trees came crashing down! We were very lucky that evening because the branch only landed two meters next to our tent!
In the morning it was a clear blue sky but there was a fair bit of wind when we started off on our first bit of off road through the Altay mountains. The guy we got the track from, Walter, reported on a website that their group had done this bit of track in the pouring rain and that it had taken them 10 hours to do a 50 km’s track… I was a bit worried but Seb said that it was no problem because it wasn’t raining and so we shouldn’t have that many difficulties along the way…
It turned out to be a ride of Hell. The first 15 km’s were fine, it was a hard sand road with here and there a small puddle that made my feet a bit wet. It was technical and for me difficult but Seb was still enjoying himself so that was ok.
We both got stuck a few times and dropped the bike a few times but there was nothing we hadn’t experienced before.
We came to a funny sign in the middle of nowhere (as you can see there’s no road, so no point of putting up the sign…) and Seb put on a sticker of course and off we went to the left, to continue our track.
That’s where the hell started for both of us! Because it had rained the previous days, the track was wet and the mud started sticking to the tyres, turning them into slicks, making us dance all over the place losing all control over the bikes. Add to that that we were driving through a dens forest where you couldn’t see a hand in front of your eyes and it made that we were not driving faster than 5 km/h. The grass reached far above our head and on more than one occasion there were big branches across the road which forced us to stop, move the branch behind us and start off again.
The funny part was that we saw that the track had definitely not been used for at least 6 months to a year, but we did see two motorcycle tracks… At one point, Seb stopped and pointed to a green thing sticking out of the grass. It turned out to be the motorcycle guys tent. We stopped next to it, looked around, but there was nobody there and there were no motorcycles either. Seb looked inside the tent, got spooked for a second when he saw motorcycle trousers that looked like there was still someone in them and saw a lot of big flies flying out of the tent… It turned out that the trousers were empty and so we left some stickers in the tent, telling them that we had been there when they would come back for their tent. We wanted to drive off when we saw the reason that the tent was there. There was a big 2 by 2 meter whole in the ground that looked like it was at least 2 meters deep. We just stared at it and started wondering what could have happened. At least everyone was safely gone, so that left us with the task of trying to go around the whole on a 50 cm ridge… It took us a while to clear the pathway and chop half of a tree out of the way but we managed to get around the whole and continue our track.
We thought the worst part would have been over by then, but that was only hope, because it even got worse than that. The forest started getting denser, the road was even more soggy than it had been before and there were a lot of river crossings coming our way. Add to that that there were some flesh eating huge flies that stuck to your skin and wouldn’t get off until you whacked them off and it truly was both our worst nightmare! Seb toppled the bike over a few times when he was attacking the flies and I just dropped my bike here and there, just for the fun of it… NOT! We were both so tired after a few kilometers but by then we were more than halfway so we had to continue.
After what seemed to be hours, we came to an open spot in the road and started hoping that it would be better from here on out when all of a sudden we saw two other bikers coming form the other way. It turned out to be the owners of the tent. They were British guys, Felix and Phil, and they had done the track two days prior to us until the part where Phil fell in the big whole. They had tried to get the bike out for 3 hours and then gave up and set the tent. They went to get a tractor that pulled them out and took them back to a small village. They told us that they had tried to retrieve their tent for 2 days, but it had been totally impossible because of the rain and the conditions of the road. Here’s a picture they took of the bike in the same hole as a few pictures before where we went round the hole… But I’ll admit that it took us some time to get the bike aligned up to go round the hole and we nearly went the same way as they did:
They drove off to get the tent and we met each other again later on at a lodge in the next village where we all had a well deserved rest.
Seb had banged his shin pretty bad on one of his nosedives with the bike in a huge mudpool, when the bike ended up on him almost drowning him in the mud and my legs were blue all over. When I was taking a well deserved shower at the lodge, I saw that I had picked up a pet in the woods… a tick! They removed it, put on some alcohol and made me drink some alcohol as a medicine (what the heck do I know if you have to do this or not, but I couldn’t risk getting sick so I drank it)! Because I hadn’t eaten all day and because I am definitely not used to drinking any sort of alcohol, my body just wouldn’t react to anything my brain was telling it anymore so I had to go and lay down for a bit. Closing my eyes was however also out of the question because the whole room started spinning like mad! This reminded me of why I don’t drink alcohol by the way.
Today is a day of rest and the best time to clean the bikes. The mud sticks like concrete to the bikes so we had to clean that of before we can start with a fresh start tomorrow! In the meantime the damage to the bikes was getting clear, only on Seb’s bike the handprotector cracked. It has been raining the whole day but we hope that it will be over tomorrow so we can continue our, hopefully more relaxing trip through the Altay!!!
Ah, the blissfulness of hope! It can be so good to relax you and it can make you start to wonder if the next day will truly be more relaxing… You hear me coming now don’t you!
Well we set of at Yana’s place in the morning and we decided to ride together with Felix and Phil for a couple of days to get a feel if we click on the road as well as off. It had been raining all evening and morning and it didn’t look like it was going to get any better, but we were well rested and ready to continue driving through the Altay.
The first track we wanted to follow, we decided after a few kilometres to skip it and take the ‘easy’ route because everything was totally wet and Phil and Felix had worn out tyres that they still had to change in knobblies (tyres with more traction in mud and dirt). So we drove back a bit and started to follow the big yellow route on our map which was supposed to be at least a firm gravel track.
It started out nice and paved and ended up getting a little bit more like a dirt track after a while, but we were still making good progress. Meanwhile the scenery along the way was a big change to what we had been seeing in Kazakhstan and when we had the time to look around, we could enjoy the lusty green hills.
After a few more kilometres it started to get a bit muddy what made that Phil didn’t have any grip at all because his tyres were worn out the hardest and he was just dancing across the road having totally no control anymore over his bike. This of course led to some nosedives next to the road, but this time we were with 4 people to pick up the bike and continue.
Sometimes it would stop raining long enough for us to take some pictures, but then we would see another big grey wall coming towards us.
We were all covered in mud and dust by noon, but the lady from the restaurant we stopped at was still friendly and gave us a well deserved warm meal. Even after we left a dirt trail all across her floor!
At one point it started raining so bad, that we had to take shelter at a local shop because we couldn’t even see a hand in front of our eyes. The guy from the shop gave us free drinks and an ice cream. He was so honoured that real tourists were stopping at his shop to take a rest!
We asked the guy from the shop how the road was further down and he said: ‘no good’ and pointed to the mud that was still hanging from the bikes. He said that we could expect at least 50 km’s of real muddy track. Oh boy, that was an understatement! In the beginning it was still ok. The mud would stick to our tyres which made us all loose grip but your bike was still moving forward. After a while however, the mud started to get so deep that it would form a concrete block around your wheel, chain and engine and your bike just wouldn’t move an inch! This made the Brits drop their bike a few times but we real Belgians kept them upright all day! I was really proud of myself and of Seb of course!
The muddy part seemed to last for ages but after a while it started to get hard gravel again and towards the town there was even some paved road again.
We started to push on to the next town but when we saw that it would be dirt track all the way and that it was still more than 100 km’s and it was already past 7 o’clock, we decided to turn back and find a Gostinitsja to get a good nights rest. That way Phil and Felix could change their tyres in the morning and would hopefully have better grip in the mud.
When we came to the Gostinitsja, the woman there said that we should leave the bikes in a garage where they would be safe, but when they showed us how far it was and that we had to wait for the key, we decided to put them next to the Gostinitsja because we were in a small remote village so what could possibly happen, right?
We were all glad and happy to have found a good place to stay and we went to get some food at the local supermarket to have a real feast! We were outside on the terrace having a drink when I saw some teenager lurking around the bikes. As soon as he saw me, he ran away! We went down to see if anything was missing, but at that point we didn’t think so. The boys went around to see if they could see the teenager and they did. Seb asked what they were doing and they were acting like their noses were bleeding… We went back to the terrace and tried to enjoy our meal, but the teenagers had other plans for us. They kept playing the ‘cat and mouse’ game and kept coming back to the bikes and running away toward a playground nearby. We didn’t trust to leave the rest of our gear on the bikes, so we took everything in, except the straps that would hold everything in place. The little ‘game’ the teenagers were playing lasted for a while and when we decided that we were fed up with it and would take the bikes to the garage, we notices that a few thing were missing. We were looking at the bike, trying to figure out what they had stolen when some local teenagers came to us asking for cigarettes. They told us that they could give something in return that they had found on the road, which turned out to be one of the stolen items. They told us that they had nothing to do with the theft, but by that time we didn’t trust any of them any more. We called in the local police and all of a sudden all the local teenagers started to disappear. The police were in their civil clothing on flip-flops so that didn’t reassure us that something would be done. They didn’t understand us properly and they were just laughing at us all the time! In the end Seb had to go to the local police station to see if he could identify anyone on pictures they had, which he could, but we just knew that that wouldn’t help us anyway and that we would just have to deal with our losses. For us it was only a strap that was missing and for one or the other bizarre reason Seb turned out to have a spare one with him. For Phil it was his engraved Leatherman, a motion pro (a special tool for his bike) that got stolen. They even took his first aid kit which wasn’t good because he had a nasty burn on his leg that needed a dressing every day. Phil and Felix drove all the bikes to the garage and we secured the rest of our stuff in our room. Before we could eventually get some rest it was already 2 o’clock in the morning. We all slept with one eye open that night. It turned out to be a real negative ending of a victorious day!
The first thing we did when we woke up that day was fetch the bikes in the garage and luckily for us, everything turned out to be ok with them. The local teenagers hadn’t set the garage on fire or they hadn’t broken into it to steal the bikes… One begins to imagine stuff in the end. Phil and Felix went to change their tyres in the morning so Seb and I had some spare time to catch up on our reading. When Phil and Felix came back, it was past noon already, so we decided to make some lunch and head out on a full stomach.
We rode across a cool wooden bridge and continued our track towards Mongolia.
It was dry most of the day which made that the track was easy to ride on and which allowed us to make up for the time we lost in the morning. The scenery along the way felt a bit like a mixture of Norway and the Alps but then without the paved roads that normally go with it.
The buildings were all made out of wood and most of them had fine carvings around the windows and doors. What I have noticed around here in Russia is that when a house crumbles or something happens to it, they leave all that is still standing and build a new one just next to it. This gives an eerie feeling because sometimes you feel as if you are driving through a ghost town.
Here and there we had some rain and in only a few minutes it turned the roads back into a skating rink. The mud was not sticking to our tyres like yesterday, but it had a slippery effect on the bikes nonetheless. Phil and Felix had less trouble driving through the mud this time because of their new tyres.
At one point we stopped for fuel and for a small thing to eat. Seb and me chose an ice cream and Phil and Felix shared a bag of bacon crisps. I was almost done with my ice cream when a scruffy dog came up to me and looked me straight in the eyes. If his eyes could have spoken, they would have said: “feed me!” He started to give me some licks on my hand and wanted to sit on my lap. I didn’t really think that was a good idea, so I gave him my last bit of ice cream. The dog was happy and so was I. What we didn’t notice was that the dog was still very hungry and by that time he had another victim in mind. Phil was sitting next to me and his bag of crisps was beside him. He looked at the dog and the dog looked at the crisps, … guess who won! By the time Phil could raise his arm and say: “no dog, leave my crisps alone!” the dog had already grabbed the bag, dragged it a bit further in the field and started enjoying the bacon flavoured scrumptiousness. We were all rolling on the ground with laughter when we heard Felix say: “damn dog, I only had 5 crisps!” We think it was the fact that Phil spoke English to the dog and not Russian that was the problem, because if you said “Njet” the dog just turned around and went the other way.
We did some more river crossings on a dilapidated wooden bridge and went to a small town to stay in a Gostinitsja for the night.
In the morning we decided to get the bikes cleaned before we left because the mud was eating at our chain and engine and it wasn’t good to continue driving like this. Unlike the other time that we had the bikes cleaned by a couple of lovely ladies, this time the boys had to clean the bikes themselves. It was a sight for sore eyes!
Most of the day we had to drive on the main road, but at one point, we decided to take a cool off road track across a suspended wooden bridge. On the rapidly flowing river underneath there were some rafters going by.
At this point in time, we were already getting higher and higher in the Altay mountains and with that came the cold, even though it was a very blue and sunny day. We reminded ourselves to put on our thermal underwear starting tomorrow!
Phil had a problem with one of his shock absorbers that was leaking oil, so we decided to split up because they could go much faster on the main roads than we ever could and so they could drive into town to get his bike fixed.
We said our goodbyes and we all went our separate ways. We continued on our way and had some spectacular scenery after every turn.
This time we had to cut our day short because there was a huge thundercloud coming closer and closer and it didn’t look like it would go past us very quickly. We saw two yurts not far from the road and decided to take our chances. We went up to the old lady that was sitting there and asked her if we could stay the night. This turned out to be no problem at all. The yurt was big and spacious but it had a hole in the roof through which the rain was coming in. There was no heat, but there were some tables and stools for us to sit on. The old lady even gave us an inflatable mattress to sleep on. When we had unpacked everything from the bikes and when we were just about to read a bit, the lady came with a big platter with bread, butter, sugar, tea and some potatoes with meat. It was a huge feast for us and we enjoyed every bite!
Our first night in a yurt didn’t quite go as we planned! It rained almost the whole night and because of the hole in the roof a few things that we had put in the yurt had gotten wet. The rain also caused the temperature to drop drastically and it was freezing cold all night long! We both only slept for a few hours and were wet, cold and tired by the time the sun came up.
We packed everything quickly on the bikes, put on our thermal underwear and were ready to head to the border when the lady of the yurt stopped us and gave us a present. It was a claw of an eagle! It should keep your home safe from evil spirits (hope it also works against burglars!)
Off we went towards the Mongolian border. All this time Mongolia had seemed so far, even this last day in Russia it seemed like this dreamland that wasn’t real, just make believe. Now however, it was here and only a few kilometres away. The Russian border was a bit chaotic as always and you had to go from one place to the other to get all your papers stamped. It only took us 1,5 hours so that was ok and we didn’t have to unpack all our luggage so that is always a bonus. After the Russian border we had to drive through no-mans land for 20 km’s and I started to wonder if Mongolia would be as I had imagined it to be. Vast, big mountains and no paved roads whatsoever… Well, I found out at the Mongolian border that at least one of my idea’s was true. We reached to border, all the while driving on a smooth tarmac road and as soon as the gate opened to Mongolia, there was only dirt… This would be the ‘road’ for more than 3000 km’s, sand, rocks and a lot of bumping around! Sigh!
Before we could enter Mongolia, we had to pay tax to have our bikes decontaminated. The lady who told us this was wearing a white plastic suit and looked as though she ran straight out of a lab. Ok, no problem, it was only a small amount and they seemed to have the right equipment so we paid. We waited for a while so the lady would spray something on the bikes, but she just waved at us that we had to continue. What a rip off! Further down the road we also had to pay road tax and an insurance for the bikes and this was all before we even set one wheel on Mongolian ground!
Oh well, at least the scenery made up for all the rest because at some points it was breathtaking! Huge green and brown mountains, lots of goats, horses and cows in the fields. Sometimes the goats would cross the road and I have to say that they are by far the dumbest animal we have encountered so far. Cows will cross the road but will stop if they see you coming. Sheep will run away as soon as they hear you coming and most of the time they will run back into the field. Goats however will start crossing the road as soon as they see you and they will all cross before you will be able to go on!
We wanted to take the northern route because there should be more beautiful things to see and the road itself would be a bit more challenging, but when we came to the ‘intersection’ (the one dirt track went left and the other right) there was a guy who told us that we couldn’t follow the northern route because everything was flooded due to the hard rain that they had for the last couple of days. This caused us to change our plans and head out on the southern route.
We decided that we would have an early stop because we had slept so little and we had to try to find some internet. After a few kilometres of track, we saw what looked to be a mirage in the distance… Did that road actually looked paved? Oh boy, I think we have found the only 30 km’s of paved road in the whole of Mongolia! Ha, who said that I wouldn’t see tarmac anymore for the next 3000 km’s!?
We stopped in the first big town to fuel up and to look for some place to sleep. We were just about to get the fuel when a guy came up to us and asked us if we spoke English. When we said yes, he put a paper in our hands and my first thought was that it would say that he was poor and needed money, but it didn’t, well not that bluntly at least! It said that he had a guesthouse where there was food and a hot shower and that we could get internet. We just had to follow him, so we did. It turned out to be the guys house where he had some spare bedroom that we could use and the shower and the internet we have yet to see because it turns out to be somewhere else all together.
There should be a festival in Mongolia over the next couple of days where the men ride horses and play some sort of polo but with a sheep head instead of a ball… We are however not sure if it will still go on because we heard that there was an epidemical outbreak of some sort amongst the cows. We’ll see in the morning if the festivities will be on their way or not and if not, we will just continue our track towards the hart of Mongolia.
Some more watercrossings, but nothing really to difficult:
Since the Naadam Festival was cancelled in the town where we were (illness of the animals) we decided to push to the next “big” place in the hope to get a day rest and see the festival. And some more disinfectant along the way as we’re leaving contaminated areas.
Also upon entering the city of Khovd, we had to do it again. What you need to know is that it is absolutely a joke and ridiculous how they are trying to disinfect people and vehicles. Just to demonstrate you what we mean: they will only spray half the tire of the bike. So what about the other half? And then they wanted to charge us again for this so Seb put on his mean face and said that he wouldn’t pay for something that is just so ridiculous as this and we didn’t ask for it anyway. Since there was a gap between the barrier on the road and the policeman guarding it, we just went for it after getting our passports back…
By the time we got there, the first day of the festival was finished, the day we wanted to see as it was with the archers and the horsemen… bugger! So we looked around for a few hours until we finally found some wifi to get this big update to you!