I am working hard to keep on top of these posts otherwise they will still dribbling though as you are opening your Christmas presents!
We have had so much happening – and most nights we flop into bed having laid out our gear to wear the next morning so we don’t have to think too much when we get up!
So, we are in the southern part of Russia – and for those of you who have an atlas handy – oh, that’s dating me a bit – I mean – open Google and away you go – have a look at the other countries down that way – and further Google “Russia and bad relations!”
We headed off through again, magnificent country. This was going to be a long distance day – so I had my expectations ready – for a bit of discomfort. More of these issues in a later post.
We headed out of town, and Paul and I were a bit behind the lead group. As we crossed a main road – we saw the lead group all pulled over by at a police check. We didn’t stop to join them. One less police check is always a good thing.
We rode on for quite a few kilometres – then decided to pull over and wait in a small town. We waited. It was quite warm – so Paul wandered over the road to a shop and returned with a can of coke. He had a few swigs and I was finishing it off – standing by the bike at the side of the road. Next thing a fella in a small car pulls over – leans across and is animatedly telling us something and gesturing. We shrugged – “no speakada Russian” sort of stuff – he continues and as he drives off the penny (ruble) drops. He is having a go at me for drinking coke in public when it is Ramadan. Oops – cultural insensitivity 101.
The other bikes arrived – they had gone through the usual passport and bike papers check – and we all headed off. Our path wended up into the highlands – rough roads. poor townships – and after a couple of wrong turns, we caught up again with the main group – this time stopped at a military check point, up at the highest point around.. Manned by quite a few soldiers – who wanted to check our passports – and seemed quite content to waste our time by ogling the bikes and flashing their guns (submachine type thingies) at us.
One rather gorgeous young soldier approached as I was waiting by our bike. “very beautiful” he says to me. I almost blushed – but the cynic in me thought – clearly altitude sickness – he then points to the bike, “beautiful bike” he says, and my ego dent increases. He then asks if he can have his photo taken with me. Now I’m really confused – I give him a sticker that one of the group has had printed which says “London to Magadan – just because we can” – he pretends to stick it on his gun. Soldiers stuck out in the middle of nowhere should, I guess, have a sense of humour
We all bid a fond farewell and promise to keep in touch (not) and we then progress for about 30 minutes down over the pass – on a pot holed, gravelly, occasionally asphalted, bumpy windy difficult road/track. Battling for road space with truck and cars making their way up.
We get to the bottom and go for about another 10 kms – and here we are stopped at another military check point.
Hmmm. We wait. It takes about another 30 minutes before we are told we have to go back up. We are turned around due to there being ‘some shooting’ up ahead on our proposed route to Elista.
Now a couple of pointers here – we are very close to the border of the region of Chechnya – ring any bells?
We defer to their wiser advice. We are not at all keen to mix it with Chechnyan rebels.
We bump and wind and bump and slide our way up to the top again – where our new mates are waiting to wave to us. Hey guys, any communications with the blokes down the bottom on the other side- might you have warned us that the road was closed??
We confer with them – it is now about 1 pm – and we have made it about 30 kms from our starting point. We have to find another way through – and this means going way back – and taking a rather circuitous route up to where we were aiming to be originally.
The issue now becoming – any further delays and we will be riding in the dark – and that ain’t good around these parts.
We head off – and what tha!! Another army checkpoint. And these guys look serious – wearing face mask balaclavas under their combat helmets.
Jeepers. As it turned out , after they processed three of us they got bored of it and the real issue became apparent – they really just wanted to look at the bikes – particularly Hermann’s rig (which I mistakenly referred to as a Honda =- in fact it is a Yamaha Tenere – apparently this is a significant mistake!) They didn’t bother checking the rest of us.
So after much more looking and admiring and oohing and aahing and we are looking desperately at our watches – we get on the road again.
The issue now for us is – our preset navigation on our GPS systems is no longer showing us the route. We have to try to keep together as a group. And that isn’t always easy. Not when you have 17 bikes and a truck!
Our system which is to leave a person as a ‘marker’ at each corner if you can’t see the rider behind you has worked only intermittently – for a variety of reasons – but let’s not get into the blame game.
Paul and I sat for 30 minutes waiting for the last group at one point and after we all set off again – we were acutely aware that night was falling.
We went as fast as we safely could – as the road surface was unpredictable – and we didn’t want to hit a pothole in the dusk.
We were travelling through millions of acres of wheat fields. This place was fertile and we could not work out (even allowing for the fading light) where they kept the farm machinery. Very few houses and even less towns.
It was dark by the time we reached Elista- which is notable for being a Buddhist town. So Stupas, pagodas and Nepal type architecture greet us. We pull into our rather grim looking hotel – to find a very warm welcome from the very Asian looking staff. And in fact most of the locals looked as though they just wandered in from Nepal.
We wandered off up the road and found a funky cafe with great Asian style food – and the all important free WiFi. No one spoke English – so we pointed at some nice looking food the people at another table were eating – and I did a great charade of eating soup- which saw a really nice bowl of soup delivered.
The next morning we got up a little earlier and managed to see the fabulous pagoda and prayer wheels just a short walk away- see photos attached, before climbing back on the bike to head for Volgograd (formerly Stalin (boo hiss) grad).
So more of our Russian experiences will follow soon