Friday, 5 August 2016

Within few miles of China....

The evening in Taldykorgan, we found the Moroccan style restaurant where we ate, two years ago. 
They did not have couscous on the menu anymore and the tagines meals were very expensive. More than the price of our hotel for one night! 
We had some cheaper stuff and it's was really nice! 

The weather was still stormy and as we left the restaurant, it was, once again, lashing down with rain! We ran back to the hotel. 

Views from the hotel room:

Day 53 - Wednesday 3rd August - Zarkhent  - 350kms

The plan was to ride south on the main highway for about 100kms, then take a turn off east and try to find the entrance of the Altyn-Emel national park. The only info I found about it was in a small thread, out of the Lonely Planet forum, which mentioned a village called Baschie, as the entrance to the park and where the Rangers were located. Tourists must be with a ranger to go into the park. 

Out of a travel agency website, from Almaty, I found the same information. My problem was that this village, set in the park, does not appear in any map, paper or online! I knew it was a long shot,  but we decided to give it a try! 

The weather was , once again, cloudy, so our waterproofs were within reach! 
At the junction, we stopped for some fuel, and took the road that goes straight to the border with China. 
My plan, if successful, was to spend two days in the park, and then ride south to Kyrgyzstan. 

Off the turn off, we knew, from my map, that a small road was going right inside the north side of the park. It seemed like the main road into the park! We followed it. It was single track but mainly paved, so that was a good sign. 
We carried on for a good 40 kms. Some turns off looked like farm tracks. And with crops everywhere, it was a big hint! The area was beautiful, like all this region to be fair. 

We finally arrived at a large village, not Baschie. The road ended there. 

We parked the bikes near a small shop, bought some iced tea and tried to ask the woman if she knew about Baschie. Blank stares! Hmmm.....

Decision time. What to do? With no way to find out the right trail, and the park being massive, we turned back. By then it was mid afternoon, we had to move on. 

We decided to ride to the Altyn-Emel pass and beyond, and take a short cut toward Kegen, the town near the east side border with Kyrgyzstan. Before that, we had to find a place on the road for the night.
I was not sure if our shortcut would be passable, as, like all ex soviet countries, border permits are requested to get close to border zones! Unless you keep to the main road to the Chinese border! So the turn off into a secondary road that follows the Chinese border, may require a permit. 

As we climbed the pass, it became evident that Alistair's bike was struggling at altitude. It is already running too rich in fuel, and in the thin air, it cannot cope. This is going to be a problem. If it struggles at 1800 or 2000 m altitude, it won't make it to the Tajik border crossing set at.... 4300m! Or any pass in Kyrgyzstan, often beyond 3000m! 

Anyhow, something to fix! 

After the pass we came across two German bikers: Daniel and (I think) Wolf.

They told me they came by the shortcut I had in mind, no permit required, or asked! That was a big relief! They were on their way to Mongolia, so we exchanged few tips and emails. They had massive bikes with a huge amount of luggage! It won't be easy for them in Mongolia! 

So we decided to continue East. There were two towns on our map. The first, Koktal, was at the junction with the shortcut road. It had a hotel, according to the GPS. So we decided to spend the night there. 

After descending the mountains, we rode a very straight boring road along a semi desert flat region. 

It was only about 40kms from the border with China. 

As we arrived in town, sets in what appeared to be a forest, we found the hotel, down a very  nice little drive. It was set in beautiful gardens, had a swimming pool, and a nice outdoor cafe with beautiful lanterns.  It was pure indulgence.... I got inside to make enquiries. I doubted it would be full as there  were no cars around! 

The manager told me they had no rooms as they were closed. The scaffolding on one side of the property should have been a clue! I was gutted! It was magnificent! 

I asked where we could find a hotel and the lady said there were many in town, about 14kms away. 

So we rode to the next town, Zarkhent. 

We stopped at the first hotel we saw. The town looked a bit of a dump and, as all border towns, a bit lawless and on the edge. As we stopped the bikes, a lady took charge immediately and told me to put the bikes round by the entrance of the hotel. We did. 

I got inside, the place was big and the room she showed me was large and even had aircon! She spoke a tiny bit of English and told me her son was living in Canada, she was obviously a very proud mum. 
The hotel was nice, clean, and reasonably priced. So that was sorted. The lady, obviously the owner, then ordered us to put the bikes inside the hotel. The hotel had a security guard, we think because, like many hotels, they have shops inside, and one shop was selling gold. So the bikes would be super secured! 

It was getting late so we got changed out of our motorcycle gear, had a quick shower, and went to visit the town. 

We needed to buy water and have some food. Round the corner was a street market that was closing down, people everywhere packing stuff in cars and trucks, crap and garbage on the street, the smell of rotten food and sweat.

We found a small shop, the usual we see here, small with someone behind the counter, you ask what you want. We got few bits and I asked the lady where we could get some dinner. She gave me directions for a Stalovaya. We found it easily. The place was huge, and apart from two guys, was empty. 

Alistair hada salad   with French fries. The fries came with onions and meat. I had the Lagman, conservative choice, but it was the best I ever had! Lagman is a noodle soup, how much soup or dry it is, depends on who cooks it. That one had the noodles in one dish and the stew in another. The stew was superb! 
All that was washed down with a couple of beers! 

Day 54 - Thursday 4th August - Karakol, Kyrgyzstan - about 350kms

Our plan was for a short day, riding a nice shortcut road across the Sheryn National park, across beautiful mountains and canyons, and spend the night at the only hotel in Kegen, a border town near Kyrgyzstan.  We spent a  night there two years ago, during our Mongol odyssey. 

We left town by mid morning, feeling tired from the previous few days ride. 

The short cut took us for about 100kms across flat plains. 

In the distance, we could see the mountains, far away. 

It was hot and not particularly interesting... Although  we came across the local road hazards:

They stared at us, and grumbled if we got too close! 

After few pictures we managed to get passed those massive beasts! 

Then, out of the blue, a road sign signaled a steep 12% descent for 8000m! What the hell? I thought we were rather low, but in fact we were almost riding at 2000 m altitude, and now was the descent into the canyon! It was beautiful! The photos don't make it justice! 

We came across another flat section and strange looking burials. 

We arrived just before 2 pm into Kegen. It was early. We rode close to the hotel and out again to the main road, to have some lunch. 
After wasting some time finding a  place and parking the bikes nearbye, we sat and had a quick meal. 

By then it was 3 pm. Debating whether to stay or go to Karakol, we decided to stay. 

We went to buy some fuel  then  rode to the hotel. As chance has it, it was a building site and we had no choice. We could not stay. The nearest hotel was in Karakol, a good 150 kms and a border crossing away! 

We went first to the local bank to change our pack of Tenge into hard currency. We knew from past experience that it would be hard to get rid of our Tenges outside Kazakhstan. That done, we rode out of town. 

The road was pretty bad with non stop massive potholes. 

We got to the border and getting out of Kazakhstan took about 10 minutes. The custom guy just patted the panniers before waving us out. 

Then we got to the Kyrgyz side. There was a problem. They had no electricity, they had run out of fuel and the generator was out! We enquired what fuel they used as we had lots of petrol. Was it diesel or petrol? It was petrol. 

We offered to give them a couple of litres so we could get on our way. By the time a container was found  and Alistair started to get the fuel taps closed, they waved us to the passport control. 
After stamping the passports, we were waved out, no custom, no docs to fill, nothing else! That's how we remembered  Kyrgyzstan! Minimal red tape at the border!  The officials on both side were friendly and smiling. 

So it took less than 30 minutes to cross! 

The ride was then rather slow as we could not ride fast on the never ending massive potholes in the bad gravel road. It took a while but after a long ride we reached finally a brand new paved road. 

 The crooked cops, who tried to get money out of us two years ago, were gone and the police post looked now more official. No one tried to stop us. 

The road to Karakol was very beautiful, but my battery emptied so only couple of photos! 

We arrived in town rather late. The GPS took us to a guest house with small room  and shared bathroom. We wanted a private bathroom, we had to do some laundry as the road works  and gravel roadshad caked us in mud. We had to wash our riding gear and have few days rest.

After a lot of run around we found a nice hotel but rather expensive at 60$! 
But by then it was nearly 8pm and we had had enough. We could only stay one night as they had a group fro the weekend. No problem, I just needed wifi to find us a nice place for few days.

Once the bikes unloaded and we got washed and changed, I found a place in town that was much cheaper and very nice. I booked it online and that was that done! We needed a rest and do some stuff on the bikes. 

We then went out to find a shop. By Then it was dark and a bit intimidating walking on those sand tracks down empty dark streets. We found a street with shops and got a couple of Potatoes Pirojkies ( pastry ) and some snacks. 

Then we fell into bed exhausted ! It had been a very long day. A long few days. 

Day 55 - Friday 5th August - Karakol - 1km! 

By 11 am, checkout time, we left the overpriced hotel and moved to the cheaper nice one! The room was big, it had a big shower where we could wash out motorcycle trousers and do some laundry.

We walked to the tourist info to get a map and some Information. Few rides to do around Karakol.

We found an ATM machine, near a bank and got local currency with the card. We asked for 10,000 Soms (about 100 pounds). The machine gave us two notes of 5,000! Rule number one when travelling in these countries: nobody will have change for big notes. We walked into to bank and the nice friendly staff changed them immediately for smaller notes. That should get us going for a while! 

That's all for now! 

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