Issik-kul

Day 5 – Sunday 4th August – Bishkek to Tossor (338km)

We got up at 6am and the hotel was already bustling with activity – a whole party was setting of to China with Sambor, the guy from AdvFactory, others were ready to leave for Mongolia, others had just landed in Bishkek and were already dusting off their bikes, which had been sitting at the hotel for over a month, and an Italian guy was fighting with his old Africa Twin trying to convince her to stay running. We joined in the frenzy and started loading our bikes, a process which always takes much longer than expected and is never right the first time. Well, nevermind, we’d have plenty of time to perfect it over the next few days.

We were lucky it was Sunday, as the traffic was much, much calmer than on the previous days, so getting out of Bishkek was a lot easier than I feared but that did not free us from going through the rite of passage this kind of travel inevitably entails – getting stopped by the police to try and extort a fine out of you. There were police cars stopping drivers every few kilometres outside the city, I don’t know if it is a regular thing or it was because it was Sunday and possibly the first weekend of holidays for many people and we were travelling on a road to a popular tourist destination. Be as it may, we went past many of them without problems, riding at the same speed as the rest of the traffic, until one signalled us to stop. Marc was riding first, so he stopped a bit further down the road and I stopped closer to the police car. The guy came to me making gestures that seemed to mean that it was not me he wanted to stop, it was Marc, but when he got to me I got off the bike, shook his hand respectfully and introduced myself. He asked me where I was from and when I said Barcelona he inmediately started talking about football and by the time Marc had reached us he was explaining that he had a team with his police friends and they called themselves Barça. When he saw Marc he explained that he had been doing 51km/h through some roadworks and the limit there was 40. He said up to 50 was OK, but above, he mimicked writing a fine with his hands. That was total bullshit, as we were all going at the same speed, so we kept smiling and talking about football. He asked to see Mark’s license, had a quick look at it and let us go with a friendly shake and a reminder not to go more than 10km/h above the limit.

From there on, the route was rather monotonous, it was a main road in relatively good condition, the only entertainment provided by the occasional sucidal overtaking, until we turned off to visit Burana Tower.

This tower is the only thing that remains of an ancient city calle Balasagun, and it was used as a watchtower from which fire was lit to send a message to warn about danger or invaders. We had barely parked the bikes at the entrance when we were surrounded by curious people, all asking questions about the bike and wanting to have their pictures taken with us. We had a quick look at the tower, and went on towards our destination for the day: a yurt camp by lake Issyk-kul, the largest lake in the country, measuring 182 kilometers long by 60 kilometres wide.

We had been travelling at relatively low speed, so our fuel consumption was really low and we were not too worrid about finding a petrol station as the road around the lake was a main route, but after passing village after village with abandoned stations as our fuel was running low, we began to worry. We had not filled our jerrycans because we did not want to carry too much weight, and as we were starting to realise it was a mistake, we turned a corner and saw small petrol station and lots of cars queueing for it. We had to wait for a while, but we got enough fuel to have peace of mind for the following days, which was nice. What was not so nice was how 10 extra kilos felt perched high at the very far back of the bike…

We reached Tossor and stopped to buy some supplies and ask for directions to the yurt camp. We were pointed down a side street that turned into a sandy track before reaching the camp, which our heavy bikes did not like one bit. Marc made it through without problems, but I almost fell over. Luckily, I reached the camp without incident and we immediately went for a swim in the lake.

Camels and oil wells

Day 17 – Thursday 11th of July – Astrakhan to Dossor (455km)

Martin and I set off early this time, and by 8 am we were already on the road, after having stopped to get some juice and pastries for breakfast. We rode out of the city and shortly after came to a big river crossing. I had read on the HUBB that there was no bridge and we would need to keep some rubles before crossing into Kazakhstan to pay for the ferry to cross it. It turned out that there was a bridge, it was one of these pontoon bridges floating on the river and we had to pay 50 rubles to cross it. The surface of the bridge was made of big planks of metal, bent and dented, so it was unbelievably slippery, but we made it to the other side without dropping the bike.

From there, it was a short ride to the border, which was surprisingly easy to cross. There was a queue, but we just cut to the front and the guard let us through. We cleared the Russian side without any problem, even though we had not registered with the authorities in the country, and we were not asked for the temporary import papers for the bikes that we had been given when we entered the country from Ukraine. On the Kazak side the borders were friendly and very curious about our trip, it was a shame that we could not take pictures. Using some hand sign language, they told me we could exchange money right there at the customs building, and just across the border there were lots of people also offering to exchange money and sell vehicle insurance. Since my European insurance only covered up until the European part of Russia, I got one which covered me for 20 days for about 27€.

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The road turned immediately nasty, with lots of potholes that made us ride on the footpegs and we had to be careful not to hit them, as they were deep and with rough edges. An hour or so into the country we stopped for petrol at a small village and from then on the road turned quite better, allowing us to travel at about 80km/h, but still being careful to avoid the occasional deep pothole. We were planning to make it to a town called Dossor, which was about 100km further than I had originally planned to go, but the day had been good and the road was not as bad as we had feared, so we thought we could make it. Shortly before Atyrau we stopped for petrol one last time, as that would be enough to get us there.

The landscape in Kazakhstan was quite boring, miles and miles of nothing, just desert, camels and horses and from time to time a village or oil wells.

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The road after Atyrau was surprisingly good, and we were able to ride fast all the way to Dossor. We stopped for one last time to buy some water and Martin also got a pair of sunglasses he could wear under his goggles, as it was very sunny. As we were getting ready to get back on the bikes, a Belgian guy on a weird bicycle pulled into the petrol station. He was taking part on a race that were riding solar powered bikes from France to Astana, and at that moment he was the leader.

 

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He was into the solar energy business and had designed the bike himself, the told us two of his prototypes were taking part in the race. We wished him luck and warned him about the roads, but he seemed to be confident that the bad roads would not be a problem on his bike.

We got to Dossor at about 7 in the evening, and stopped for petrol at a station at the crossroads where we would part ways the following morning, Martin going south to Uzbekistan and me north to Aktobe. We asked the guy at the petrol station where we could camp, and he told us that it would be better to do it behind the building, saying that it would not be safe to camp further outside the town.

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Putting up the tents in the wind was quite difficult, and it was unbelievably dusty. In only half an hour the tents were full of desert dust on the inside, and our stuff covered in it. I cooked some risotto on my stove and sat down against the petrol station building to eat it watching the sun set on the desert.

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