We arrived in the train station late in the evening to pick up the bikes, because they had told us that we had to be at the train itself to help unload them. Finding out where we had to be was another story… Since no one spoke anything other than Russian, we had to try to explain to them that we were looking for the train that had our bikes on it. In the end we finally found out on which platform the train would arrive, but then we still had to figure out if the bikes were in the front of the train or in the back. When we saw a small tractor heading towards the front of the train, we just followed it and hoped it would lead us in the right direction, and it did! The main problem however was that the opening of the wagon was 1,5 meters above the ground and the bikes had to be lowered down manually on a small cart that would pull them off the platform. I was really glad that there were some very strong men to help because if I had to do this alone with Seb, it would have ended in a disaster or marital problems… (Iphone picture, forgot the camera in the hostel)
After 15 minutes the bikes were on the cart and were being brought out of the station. Once there, they put them on the street and from then on it was our problem… This is were the tricky part comes in because the bikes were still in the crate and we had to try to pull it apart without any tools. Luckily Seb had put his tools on the bike in a reachable place, so he pried open the crate with his tyre leavers and after half an hour we were set to go!
Well, that was what we thought at least, because the bikes wouldn’t start. Since you were only allowed to have one litre of petrol in the bike, and since it leaks a bit, there wasn’t enough left to drive to the local petrol station! It was our lucky day however because the petrol station was only a five minute walk from the train station.
The next day it was pouring down with rain, but we decided we had to try to push on to Barnaul to get the bikes checked out and the tyres changed. It was a boring and wet drive to Barnaul but we met up with Andrey who had our tyres ready and who took us to a local garage where we could change them and change the oil.
While the boys were working on the bike, I was relaxing in the sofa, until we found out that the rear bearings of my bike were shot and we had to go with Andrey in the car to go and search for some new ones. We found a shop that had all sizes of bearings. After a full day the bikes were almost new again and ready to set off on the rest of the adventure.
From Barnaul we drove off to the Kazak border and left Russia for good on this trip. Our feelings about Russia have improved a lot over the last few months and we now feel that the Eastern part of Russia (Siberia) is more to our liking than the Western part was.
You didn’t need to know you had crossed the border to feel that you were in Kazakhstan again. Everybody is just so friendly! We drove to Oskemen where we went to a local police station to try to find out where the immigration office was. We had to find the office to register our passports within the first 5 days that you are in the country. The local police were very helpful and wanted to take us to the immigration office but then it turned out that their police car wouldn’t start… So Seb got off the bike and helped push the local police car, unfortunately there are no pictures to prove this…
The policemen stayed with us and filled in all the forms to help us with the registration so it was done in under half an hour where it can normally take up to 5 hours to complete the paperwork! We thanked them a lot and drove through the city to discover a very beautiful mosque.
After Oskemen it was a long and boring drive towards the south of Kazakhstan. In the small towns we were the highlight of the day for many locals and of course they all wanted to take a picture of us, so this time we also took a picture of them!
Every night we pitched the tent and every night it started to rain and it kept raining until around noon. This made for the fact that we had to put away the tent soaking wet every time and my mood started to go down very low at some points!
On the way south we saw what once must have been a very cool place for a restaurant, but what now was a pile of wood and metal in a lake.
Every now and then we passed some impressive statues and from time to time we crossed a very large river. One of the nights we went camping, we set the tent right next to the river and after a few hours we noticed that the level of the river had risen by 15cm… I was a bit afraid during the night that I would wake up with fish swimming around me.
The rest of the days were sometimes really wet and sometimes just cloudy. We passed real close to the Chinese border at one point.
We were driving behind a car at a certain moment when all of a sudden the car slowed down very fast without his brake lights coming on. We thought that the car was slowing down for a pothole and would swerve left or right and would continue his way, but it turned out that the car stopped in the middle of the road because there was a shop by the side of the road. Because it was wet and because his brake light didn’t work, I saw Seb make some ballet moves when he hit the back of the car with his bike! Luckily he didn’t fall down, but the sticker on his front mud guard came off and half of it hung on the rear fender of the car… Seb had a sore shoulder and some blue crown jewels but the bike was ok. The guys from the car went to the shop and bought us a bottle of soda and took off. We knew that they probably didn’t have any insurance but for us it was no problem since we didn’t have any insurance ourselves…
Halfway during the day I saw a car driving in front of us and all of a sudden I saw a black shape jumping away into the field right next to the car. The car slammed to a sudden stop and the driver jumped out of the car and went running into the field after the black shape. When we came a bit closer I saw what had happened. The whole right rear wheel had just come undone and bounced into the field so the driver was just trying to keep his car together! This goes to show that it is not always very safe to drive in Kazakhstan…
Our last day in Kazakhstan we decided to go to the Sharin canyon because we had been told that it was the small brother of the Grand Canyon. It was a very long and hard day to get there, but what we got in the end was worth all the effort! We had to do the last part off road to get to the top of the canyon and from the top it already looked very spectacular.
Some locals told us that we could go down in the canyon with the bike and go all the way to the river. The track to get there was very steep and rocky and you could not do it with a big bike. There was even a barrier before you could get down, but because it was already so late when we got there and because we had seen the guards leave when we were still on the way there, there was no one to tell us that we couldn’t go down…
The view from inside the canyon was spectacular and just so unexpected! (Michael: you were absolutely wrong!)
We could even set the tent right beside the river and there was some wood left from the previous campers so that Seb could make a fire.
In the morning we packed up very early and decided to take some silly pictures at the entrance sign to the canyon. Just when we were about to leave, the guards came back to their stations. I don’t know if you had to pay to go there, but we were just lucky enough to have missed the guards two times in a row!
Just before the Kyrgyz border, we met an English couple on bicycles. They had been travelling for 10 months and left England on bicycles and were going all the way to Almaty. They had some Soms (Kyrgyzstan money) and wanted to trade it against some of our Tenge (Kazakhstan money).
A few kilometres further down the road, Seb’s bike went dead. Seb knew right away what the problem was… He had checked my bike to see if I had enough petrol left, but he had forgotten to check his own bike, so we had to find a local guy that was willing to give us some fuel from his tank so that we could reach the nearest petrol station! (50km further…) Your trip just isn’t complete until you have run out of gas in the middle of nowhere at least once, right?
Right before the border we met a couple from the Netherlands who were on the bicycle on their way to China. It turned out that they had only had about 7 days of rain on the 4,5 months that they had been on the road, which is a lot less than what we have had on this trip so far.
The border crossing was fast, but the Kazakh side refused to stamp our document for the bike, so we hope we will not have any problems afterwards with the customs in Belgium/Russia. The Kyrgyzstan border was way more relaxed than what we are used to. The border guys came to shake our hands and told us that they would fill in our details in the computer right after the other guy that was waiting there. They even told us to sit down and it only took about 15 minutes before everything was in order!
You could see the landscape change dramatically right after the border because it started to get very green with a lot of hills and trees. It was even the first time after a long while that we saw some agriculture besides sunflowers! Paved roads were almost no where to be found here, but the landscape just made you forget about the bumpy and tricky tracks.
We are now in Karakol, not far from lake Issyk Kul and we are going to have a few days of rest here since it is shit weather anyway and we are both beat!