Another swim in the Volga and a tattoo

Day 20 – Sunday  14th of July –Astrakán (0km)

Today I spent the morning updating the blog, counting days and kilometers to see what I can do once the bike is fixed, and I sent an email to Stephen Stallebrass, who did the same route as I am now considering.

In the afternoon, Dasha, one of the CouchSurfers from the city took me for a swim in the Volga. We had arranged to meet at a bus stop by the big bridge that crosses the river through an island, which is where the beaches are, and I walked more than 6km in 40ºC heat to get there because I wanted to walk through the center rather than take a bus.

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The river beach would have been a nice place if it had not been for the fact that there were empty bottles and plastic wrappings everywhere, the Russians can not seem to be able to keep a place other than their own home clean, which is a pity, as it was quite a beautiful place. I went for a swim and then Dasha took out a henna pen and started to practice drawing a tattoo on her leg. She told me that she wanted to make some extra money that summer painting tattoos on people on the beach, and when she was done she asked if she could practice on my arm too, so I got a nice souvenir from Astrakhan.

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Back at the apartment I checked my mail and saw that Stephen had replied, with some advice about the route he took. I also tried to find information online to see if I can unlock my phone myself, which might be easier than trying to get some Russians at a phone shop to understand what I need. More news on that tomorrow.

Russian mechanics

Day 15 – Tuesday 9th of July –Volgograd (0km)

I got up today and sent a message to my contact in the city, Vitali, from the Ferrum MC, who I had found on the HUBB before leaving Barcelona. He told me the address of a bike shop where I could have my bike serviced and the oil leak checked, so I put the address in the GPS and went off, no riding suit on, as it was tremendously hot in the city and I did not fancy negotiating the traffic jams on full riding armour. Lex, the Dutch guy, had left an hour earlier, heading for Astrakhan, where he had already arranged a Couch Surf.

Maybe the traffic was better, or maybe I was just getting used to it, but I found the 30km ride to the workshop quite easy. When I got there, I rolled the bike into the forecourt and an enormous Russian guy came out. I told him about Vitali, but he did not seem to know what I was talking about, and he shouted for a girl to come out from inside the workshop. She was Kate, the secretary, and she spoke some English. I told her that I had been told to go there by Vitali, but she did not seem to know who he was either. I got him on the phone and they talked in Russian for a while, then they told me to roll the bike into the shop, and asked me what I needed. I told Kate that I wanted to have the tires I was carrying fitted, replace the spark plugs, the oil, to have the air filter cleaned and the oil leak checked. They told me that there was no problem, and they got started on the regular service while the “master” mechanic, as they called him, was coming. Used to Spanish waiting times at workshops, I thought it would take all day, so I was thinking about getting a bus back to the apartment and come back on the following day to get the bike when the big guy pointed at a comfy leather sofa in the air conditioned back office and said “sit”. I sat there and took out a book. After five minutes of reading I was already bored, so I walked into the office and started talking to Kate. In ten minutes we were sitting at the office’s computer, and she wanted to see all the pictures I had on Facebook from back home. She was really, really nice, and made me feel at home all the time I was there. We talked a lot, she got me some tea, and at lunchtime she even ordered some food we ate together in the office.


Shortly before four o’clock, the bike was ready, oil leak repaired and all. It turned out it was a broken chain tensioner seal, and the “master” had just cut a new one and replaced it. All the mechanics and Kate took pictures with me and the bike and wished me good luck, they were all really nice and helpful people.

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Back at the apartment, me and Martin went for a swim in the river Volga in the late afternoon, and then had a beer sitting by the river and watching the sunset. It was an amazing moment and it made me think how little I could have imagined I would be here doing this a year ago.

Martin is a programmer, and he is working on his laptop while he is travelling. His intention was to stay in the city until Friday, but today he was able to advance some work and he will be joining me on the ride to Astrakhan tomorrow, it will be nice to have some company on the road for a change.

At night, Andrey, our host, took us for a traditional Russian version of the Shish Kebab, and I made a new friend.