Total breakdown

Thursday 29th May – 204 miles – Tashkent

After a week in Samarkand, my ankle and hand had improved enough that i could ride. For my hand i could use the “cruise control” a very useful piece of plastic that fits in the right handgrip and i can use the palm of my hand to control speed! Very useful given the circumstances… I was not able otherwise to ride! And i certainly could not use my front brake! The foot brake would do!

So, that day we got up early as we wanted to make as much progress as possible.
However, we were told that the president, or some family member of the president of Uzbekistan, was visiting town, and as such, the town was locked. No one could leave and enter the town, and all traffic was banned from all main roads! It would be most of the day!
Hotel Emir was increasingly looking like Hotel california, you can come anytime you like, but you can never leave!
We sat around and chat in the courtyard, with other guests. A german couple was very pissed off as they had booked and pay for a hotel in advance, in another town!
A policeman came to the hotel. Maybe check if there were any snippers among us???
Then around 10 am, the hotel owner came to tell us that if we left within the next half hour and took the back roads,we  may be able to leave town. We jumped at the chance. By then our only thought was to make it to the border with Kyrgystan as soon as possible!
Using the awful backroads we made it out of town and into the ” motorway”. It was in a terrible condition! No  chance our VIP visitor was driving into town!
We wanted to avoid Tashkent and its crazy traffic, but there was no way to find our way round the trails and tracks.
Eventually ,as  we got closer to Tashkent, the weather turned terrible, very strong wind, massive clouds of sand, and then big storm. We completely missed the ring road and ended up riding toward the town centre.
We finally stopped at a car park, drenched and cold,  to try find where we were. A guy on a big 4×4 came to see us. We asked about the nearest hotel. He told us to follow him and he took  us to the local Asia tashkent. Expensive but by then we just wanted to get out of the storm and insane traffic.
Friday 30th May – 71 miles – Angren
We wanted to leave town early, in order to avoid the insane traffic…. But it was raining very heavily. We decided to wait a bit.
By midmorning, it was clear the heavy rain would last all day. We left. I can honestly say that i did not think i could make it out of Tashkent in one piece…. This is how crazy drivers are! They beat the brazilian… I never thought anyone could drive more dangerously than the brazilians, but the Uzbeks take dangerous driving to another level!
By 1 or 2pm we were totally wet, very cold and could not continue. We got into Angren. We bought some fuel ( we found a petrol station!!! And it had fuel!). We asked there for the nearest hotel and got there.
Afterc checking our marital tatus we were allowed to have one shared bedroom. They seem obsessed about my marrital status in the fergana valley! Very conservative muslim region.
The good news is that we were about 3 or 400km from the border. We could make it to the border in one day, weather permitting.
In the bar restaurant of the hotel, we heard talking spanish. And the russian menu was translated by hand into Spanish… What was going on? Dying of curiosity, i went to speak to a guy. It happens that a spanish company is helping building the road. The team were all spanish engineers, electricians.
For the last two days, they had been out of work as the construction site had totally run out of diesel, No machinery could be used! Crazy country!
Saturday 31st May – Andijan – ? Miles
Get to the border! Get to the border! The weather was very cloudy, but dry so far.
We set off early, but it was very slow going all morning due to endless road works and constants police and military checkpoints. The region is apparently a hotbed for fundamentalists and there have been bombing and stuff…. And you can google Andijan 2005 for details on the Andijan Massacre…. So sensitive area for the government.
On the plus side we crossed a beautiful mountain range.
By lunch time, in the outskirts of Qoqon we stopped for some food and drinks. It  was now sunny and very hot again. We got talking to teenage boys about studies and universities in the UK. They were very curious about us.
Since the mountain, Alistair’s bike, which has been doing a funny engine noise for some thousands ofmiles, was getting louder.
We set of nontheless. Get to the Border!!!
About an hour later, in the middle of nowhere, the noise became much worse…. The engine sounded like it was going to seize. Something was badly wrong and we had to stop. It was obvious we could not carry on.
Alistair turned to me and asked: ” What are we going to do? ” there was nothing and no one around for miles and miles…..
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Crash in Samarkand

Thursday 22d of May – about   1 mile!

Soon after breakfast we packed the bikes and got ready to ride off. We had decided to go to Denau, and get to dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, the following day. Then… The best laid plans…..
At a round about a car pushed in fast cutting us. Alistair swerved to avoid him, i was just behind him and piled on the brakes. I went down but at least the car avoided me and ran away. In a nanosecond there were a good dozen cops in uniforms or civil clothes around me! They dragged a passer-bywho spoke a bit of english. I explained and told them i was fine. Well, sort of. When i told them I was ok, they lost interest and left.
Alistair rode back to the hotel where we were staying, left his bike and came back for mine. I waited, sitting on a little wall, by the round about. I could not walk … The bike had crushed my ankle and ihad  somehow fell on my right hand.
I took a taxi to do the few hundreds meters back to the guesthouse, and the taxist refused any money from me!
 The hotel owner, with the help of his son Dilshad as translator, examined my hand and wrist, andd my ankle. Dilshad said his father was a traumatologist! Hmmm…. Next thing his dad said i needed to wrap my ankle and hand the next day   on a  mix of egg yolk and honey. Organic egg not factory. Hmm….
Nothing seemed broken but i was in a lot of pain! I was ordered to stay in bed and rest .
Friday 23rd to Monday 26th – 0 mile – Samarkand
Through the next few days my ankle improved slowly. By monday i could limp around. But my hand is still very bruised and very painful. I am slightly concerned…. Maybe I should have an xray. But then what? There is no way i would get a cast, abandon my bike and fly back home! So, a bit pointless… Maybe i should do an xray for when i go back to the UK if i have problems with my ankle or hand…. Bur my GP would not be interested anyway…
We still hope to get on the road on wednesday! We are dead bored with a very temperamental internet…
Durimg those days I managed to get some news about the Pamirs. The situation in tajikistan was getting worse and tourists were not allowed in the region. It seems also that the borders between Tjikistan and Kyrgystan are now all closed… So in a way, our wait  in samarkand is not a bad thing as we see how the situation evolves.
Once again we may need to change our itinerary. We will ride to the fergana valley, east region of Uzbekistan, and then get into Kyrgystan by the border near Osh.
Osh is the end of the Pamir highway, on the Kyrgyz side. So we may ride a bit of it, up to the tajik border and turn back. Unless the Pamir opens again!?
Meanwhile i have been in contact with Gamal, a motorcycle mechanic in Bishkek, that was recommended to me by a biker friend. We will stop few days in Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyz, for few modifications. I need a new frame for my luggage, as  the one i have now is too flimsy. I should be able to find a welder in Bishkek.
As for the traditional Uzbek remedies for my swollen ankle and hand? The next day after my fall, the hotel owner came, with a maid and his son and the maid applied a mix of egg yolk and honey on my bruises. I was left wrapped with that for the day!
The next morning i was told that i needed to put man’s urine (!) ( women’s urine is no good apparently!) on my bruises and wrap! I passed on the pleasure. Apparently boy’s urine is even better! Thanfully they did not come to try and do this! Although I was quite nervous all day!

Samarkand

Monday 19th of May – o miles – still in Bukhara

Completed 5,005 miles ( on the bikes only, not including ferries! ) so far!
After breakfast, near 10 am, we asked the matron who ran our hostal for our passports. We needed them to go to a bank. We also asked this formidable looking but nice lady where we could find a bank or change money.
She told us about Capital bank, off the square. We went all around but could not find it! So we went to the Asia Hotel, a large 4 star hotel, which, according to Lonely Planet (LP) was able to give USD cash advances on visa cards. The receptionist pointed us to a little office and we waited for the employees to turn up! When they arrived, they could do nothing for us, as they had no money!
As we crossed the reception hall, the receptionist asked us if it was fine, and we explained that the hotel’s bank had no money! Interesting bank!
The receptionist told us about capital bank, and the security guard pointed across the square, from where we came. So we crossed the square again, and after asking a shop keeper, he took us round the corner of his shop, pointing at a door. The door was covered in stickers in Uzbek, but no sign it was a bank!
As we opened the door, there was a minuscule office with two desks. One was behind a glass window. The tiny place place was full of  locals. We got in and waited. After a while of nothing hapenning, we left.
The LP said we could get cash advances from the national bank of Uzbek. It was in the little map in the book. So Alistair decided to walk there ( it was a bit of a distance).
Over two hours later he came back. He found the bank, and met there with a canadian couple who had ran out of cash and did not even had enough to pay their hotel! Unfortunately, they could not get cash advance from the Uzbek national bank! Apparently some machine was broken!
Alistair told the canadians, who were a bit desparate by then, about capital Bank. So they all went there. By then the place was quite. Unfortunately the bank would not do cash advances on any  sort of card! However, they said there was an ATM machine near a carpet shop.
As you may guess, there are hundreds of carpets shops in town! Anyway, Alistair and the canadians went around asking carpets shops about “bankomat” which stands for ATM, they eventually found a machine giving USD!
Alistair got some USD but the canadians’ cards did not seem to work, until they asked for smaller amounts!
I guess otherwise we would have lent some cash to those poor buggers until they manage to get cash in Samarkand or Tashkent! We could not have left them in such situation… Finding banks giving money, or ATM  is like finding fuel in Uzbekistan… Very hard to find!
We went back to the ATM machine an hour later, to try if I could get some more dollars with my card, but by then the mechine was broken!
Tuesday 20th of May – 179 miles – Samarkand.
Our map shows that the road from Bukhara to Samarkand is a motorway. Well  might be a motorway, but not as we know it! As a result it took us longer than expected to get there.
Samarkand is a pleasant town, with lots of parks and fountains, and the temperature is cooler as well. What a relief after so much desert!
Getting our maps on a table, in the guesthouse’s patio, we looked at how to get into Tajikistan, our next country.
The border i had in mind, near samarkand, is still closed. So the choice was either go north and use the main border crossing, a big detour north… Or ride south across more desert, and get through a minor crossing that seems still be opened, according to the excellent Caravanistan website.
To get there is a long 300 miles, but then Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan is only 70 km away!
After discussion, we decided for the southern border, which will be less of a detour.
On the bikes front, Alistair’s bike is still burning a lot of oil, one of the fork seal is leaking a bit and he still has an oversized inner tube in his front wheel! Seems going fine though!
My bike fare very well so far, but the frame supporting the panniers has snapped on one side. We will need to replace those before Mongolia as they are way too flimsy for the job. The signal lights at the back, which where already broken and taped in when we bought the bike, keep falling off as the panniers keep pushing in. We will see if we can find something.
I contacted a good motorcycle mechanic in Bishkek ( Capital of Kyrgystan) who was recommended to me by a fellow traveller. We should be able there to do some maintenance work and get a  new frame built.
Tuesday 21st May – 0 miles – Samarkand.
Visiting tourist attractions….
Health wise we have been a bit sick with some food poisoning for the last few days… Still on going! 😦
It seems Uzbek food (grilled meat, salads, rice, potatoes….) is not going down too well.

Few pictures of the registan and locals below.

The silk road

That evening, we asked Dilshad, the hotel owner, where we could buy some fuel. He told us he would take us there the next day. As he spoke very good english we also asked him where we could find inner tubes for our bikes. He explained about a market, but he then told us he would take us there as well, as we would not find!

Saturday 17th of May – zero miles.
At 9am, Dilshard took us in his chevrolet, to a bazar/ market where we found a russian inner tube, similar to the one i got from Nukus. That would do as spare!  We also bought a 5 litre container for extra fuel.
On the way back, we stopped for Dilshad to get some flowers, it was end of 4th grade of his 9 year old daughter, an important date for school kids here! We then went to the school to give it to his daughter, so she would give to her teacher. Everyone in and out of school was very elegantly dressed!
Women and children in Uzbekistan seem to be very well dressed and taking great care of their appearance, somethingw e noticed also in Russia and Georgia! Men tend  to be a bit more scruffy!
Later on, Dilshad took us to his fuel provider! We stop near a house and an old womens old us fuel out of the usual 5 litres bottle waters! We had enough to fill the tanks, fill our 8 litre fuel bladder and also the extra container.
Alistair then spent some time working on the bikes doing maintenance. We also went back for another walk around the old town.
Sunday 18th May – 296 miles. Bukhara
We left Khiva relatively early, trying to make the most of the cooler temperature of the morning. Soon we would roast! We thanked Dilshad again, he had been very kind and helpful with us.
We went back through Urgench to pick up the road to Bukhara. We saw our first fuel pump selling benzine, that seemed open! Maybe things will get better?
After that we crossed the desert again, long stretch of straight road in intense heat, with no distraction. Sometimes the road was good, sometimes it was very bad.
Now, if you think we are crazy! Mid afternoon we overtook a cyclist alone. We stopped to check if he was ok and had enough water. Stephen is from Dublin and riding to Beijin. His website is dublin2beijin.com.
We then continued, and , about 80 miles from Bukhara we came across a fuel pump saying it had benzin! In the middle of the desert!
The place was dead. I knocked on the cashier’s window… Nothing. Then a couple of Uzbek cars stopped and started with their horns, making a massive racket! Eventually a sleepy guy appeared behind the till window! We got 6 litres of fuel, that was all we could buy as we did not have enough soms! Enough to get to Bukhara though!
By 5 we arrived and found a nice place to stay.
We changed 50 dollars and got a brick of notes in change:

Khiva and beyond

Thursday 15th of May – 202 miles

We packed up early and were getting ready to leave. View from our window:

Our moldovian friends left. As we were waiting to pay, we got talking with 2 americans. We were surprised to find foreigners there, in the middle of the desert, unless they just crossed the border! They were actually from the embassy, checking on some local project they were funding.

They told us fuel was hard to find un Uzbekistan. So we asked the owner of the tchaihana if we could buy some from him. He said the fuel he had was very bad quality so he refused, saying we  could buy some in Qonghirat, the major settlement , about 100 miles away.
As we had some fuel on our fuel bladder, we continued.
About 45 miles before Qonghirat we passed some industrial site. We spotted a Tchaihana, it was advertised from the road with a big sign, with icons for food, drinks, showers, and most important, fuel.
We went inside, got some drinks and asked about fuel. We could not see any fuel pump around! The girl working there told us we could buy some in Qonghirat. We were already on reserve…. We would not make it there. We made it clear. After a while, we were asked howmuch we   needed,w e said 20 litres.
We wait a bit more. Thene a lad made us sign to follow him. We got the bikes near the gate of a secured enclosure. Then the lad went off…and came back with 4 water bottles of 5 litres each, full of fuel! Success! We had enough to make it even to Nukus, a proper town!
 We got there early afternoon, and started looking for a fuel station. All were closed! Only those selling propane and methane had gas! We spent a   good two hours going around. We spotted a fuel pump with massive queue of cars. After enquiring, it was for diesel. People were even sleeping  in their car! We asked for “benzine” but no luck…. We got surrounded by the curious guys…. Then some discussions between them… And we were asked how much we wanted. We chanced 10 litres,and  within moments, two bottles of the now usual water bottles, full of petrol, appeared!
Locals so far have been very friendly. See how they all want to be in the picture!
After that we   stopped for a quick lunch. Then it was 3pm. We wanted to make it to Khiva that day. It was still about 120 miles away, but doable.So we   hit the road in the desert, once again!
Few miles from Nukus, we passed a police checkpoint. They ignored us. Then got up to speed, overtaking few trucks on the way… Then Alistair’s bike disapeared in my mirrors…. I stopped, spotted him on the side of the road, did a u-turn….
Nasty puncture, his wheel went flat suddenly and   very fast! Lucky he did not crash.
It was only once we removed the wheel that we found out what had happened. It was the only wheel we did not replace the inner tube for  new heavy dutty one, because the previous bike owner had done it. Except that the inner tube was some cheap chinese crap! The seam hads plit. Quite a big cut.
Meanwhile a car with 2 local men had  stopped and taken charge of the operation. The tube was remove, patched and wheel put back in place!  Then they left in a rush! People so far on our trip have been very friendly and helpful, as  you can see! Once we got the wheel fully inflated, we could hear the air coming  off slowly. The glue did not set! We had to turn back and try to make it to Nukus.
We rode, stopped, inflated the tyre, carried on and repeated few times. About 500m from the police check point, the patch gave up and we pushed the bike into the police compound. I explained
 best i could in russian, what the problem was. We were told to wait and something about a taxi.
We waited for some time. Then the officer made us sign and showeda car. It was not a taxi, it  wasjust some  poor unlucky passer by, ordered to take me to town find an inner tube!
I got on the car and we rode to Nukus, went all around town and finally found a sturdy russian inner tube, possibly the only one in town, as there  are no motornbikes around!  The tube was ok, the diameter (19 inches) was corerct, but 4 inches wide instead of 3! It would  have to do. We then went back to the car. On the way to the police check point, the guy stopped his car and said  something about a friend would take me to the police checkpoint. Then he tried to stop a passing car, which had at least 6 people in it! Then few trucks… Eventually he gave up and got me there. He wanted 20,000 Soms, but we only had 15,000 left… I gave an additional 100 rouble note!
Meanwhile, while Alistair waited for me, he was trying to get the bike onto some stones ( we don’t have centre stand) in order to remove the wheel again. Then who pass by the police chekpoint, with one dropping his bike? Our moldovian friends. Alistair went to check if they had a spare inner tube in their support vehicle. They had none, as their bikes are all tubeless! However they all stopped and took charge of the operation, lifting the bike, securing it over some stones and removing the wheel, putting a new patch, and saying the patch had to remain under the bike’s weight for a good 30 minutes for the glue to set. They just left as i arrived!
The glue did not set, we  had to use the russian tube. The valve was too thick to get through the hole of the wheel,so we   cut some of the rubber witha knife. That botched job seemed to work and we eventually got the bike together and ready to go. By then it was 8pm and we had been under the sun for 5 hours. From the car, earlier, i had spotted a motel, with lots of mobile homes inside. It was just few   miles away. We rode there. From the gate the place looked deserted….. But i was sure i saw mobile homes… There must be some tourists around….we rode round and found a back gate. Fromthere we   could see about 10 mobile homes with deutsch and german plates, and people sitting outside their truck having dinner!
We got in, got a room. The place was bizarre, one of those soviet places for important officials, onceupon a   time, no doubt, very grand but now fairly shabby!
We had a  quick chat with the deutsch … They had spent 8 hours at the border, with a guide! They were on their way to China!
Friday 16th May – 121 miles
We left before 8am making the most of the cool temperature.
Aftera  while, while passing a closed fuel pump we stop to ask if someone could sell us some fuel. Ta guy told me to go to the house with a tractor. We went there, i found someone, but he had no fuel. He told to go to another house, but i could not understand his instructions. He got on his car and took us there, calling someone on the phone. We managed to get some fuel there! One guy call his daughter who spoke some english and she asked lots of questions! It seem people are quite curious about us!
We then, by lunch time, got to Khiva! At last.

About spermicide and desert riding!

While in Astrakhan, we bought some tooth paste in a minimarket.

Look we found the display with soap, shampoo, tooth brushes and some tubes. You may think it must be, surely, toothpaste!
In the evening, I went  to brush my teeth, poured the paste  onto my brush. It did not feel right. No smell, strange texture, no taste. I hesitated and putsome on my fingers… The cream  was so sticky i could not get it off even with soap. I typed the name of the box into google translate bit no translation, although in roman characters it started by “spermi…… ”   Ewwwww! Did we buy spermicide by error?
The tube went straight to the bin!
Monday 12 th May – 243 miles – into Kazakhstan
We tried to leave town early, but with the usual run around town to find the correct road, we were outof town around 10 only. Eventually we found the border. The crossingw as uncomplicated and we wereout of Russia and into Kazakhstan in a bit  more thanan  hour, including time to change some roubles into Tenge, and also to buy some insurance for the bikes.
Our guide book was adamant that the police was very corrupt and would try to get bribes out of us. In  fact, most ingnored us. Few were curious and started to overtakeus and   drive next to us for a while, to have a good look! Maybe when they saw our dusty old bikes and battered dirty saddlebags, they thought “nah look like tramps, they don’t have money!”
In Kazakhstan, the scenery changed little by little into desert.we  saw our first asian camels ( with 2 humps!).
Kazkhs people were  very curious of the bikes. At a fuel pump, as we were to leave, one local turned up in an old battered bike with side car. We got talking and he asked where was the kick start. We said it  waselectric and   I demonstrated that by starting my  bike. Next thing i know the guy sits on it….. And go  for a ride with it! Not far but i was worried for a while!
The road in Kazakhstan was a nightmare, in such bad condition  there were potholes everywhere, it was hard to avoid all of them and the bikes got quite a battering! Some sections were unsurfaced but not better!
After all afternoon of this, we arrived very late ( we lost another hour to time travel! Minus 4 hours to London time!) we arrived late in Atyrau, around 7:30 pm… If you work in oil and Gas, you may have business to do in Atyrau, else, the town is in the middle of the desert…
Tuesday 13th May – 286 miles – beyneu, Kazakhstan
We left Atyrau after the usual rund around town to find the correct road. The road out of Atyrau was in better condition but the wind was so violent, it was like my helmet was trying to get through my skull.
It was incredibly hard riding. Although originally we wanted to make it to Beyneu, we felt it was too far to ride in those conditions. There were a couple of villages showing on my map. We passed one, and a second… Nothing there for us to spend the night… We continued.
Eventually around 8 pm we got to Beyneu! We found the only hotel in town, wildly overpriced, but we   had no choice. Our room had no bathroom, so we had to use the communal showers and toilets.
I usually have no problem with that, except that the toilets were the ceramic hole on the ground variety! I hate them, they are unhygenic. As you  croutch to pee ( for women!) the urine rebound off the ceramic   Surface and get all over your shoes and legs.. Great if you wear shorts and flipflops! Back to the shower then ! Hurgh!
Late that evening, a motorcycle group tour (4 bikes and a 4 x 4 support vehicle) turned up, they were from moldovia.
Wednesday 14th of May – 162 miles, Uzbekistan
In the morning, as we packed our bikes, we met the moldovians, they were very friendly. They were goin the same way that us. So we left them there, sure to meet them at the border. We went to buy fuel and  extra fuel to carry, as we knew the next town in Uzbekistan would be about 300 miles. We then bought 3 bottles ofwater and   some food, as the Uzbek border crossing is notoriously slow!
We then got on our way. The wind was still very violent! 30 km before the border we got more fuel, and were overtaken by the moldovians. The road to the border was awful and then turned to dirt, sand and gravel!  We finally got to the border. Our moldovian friends saw us and waved us through. We skipped the  queue of cars and parked next to their bikes.
Now, one thing you must know about those borders control, there is a queue, and you have to get into the compound to start the process. Getting inside is therefore very important. Once the load of people in the compound is processed, they let in more vehicles… We were fast tracked and allowed into the compound when the gates opened again!
Then being processed out of Kazakhstan was fairly straightforward, again, not sure how, but with help of the moldovians we were processed ahead of the queue for passport controls! It took an hour!
Then we rode the short distance to the Uzbek border!
I will spare you the details, only that thanks to our new friends,we  got through in about 3 or 4 hours, jumping queues and being told by them what todo as   it is i possible to guess and no one to help!
Some locals get stuck there for several days! We met few days later some germans ina guided tour who spent 8 h there! So we were lucky!
Once into Uzbekistan, ourfriends left. As we got out, after changing some cash, we passed a small hut, and saw our friends again! The hut was selling insurance! We got some for our bikes.
 Few miles later at a police check point we were asked for it!
The road was its usual awful surface with millions of potholes and sections of dirt. It was incredibly hot and windy, by then we had been all day at the border, so we were very tired and hungry!
The next “town” was a good 200 miles away, too far to make it. We carried on as it was no point setting up camp early, and we had too little water left! That was true desert, straight road for 200 miles with not much…. Intense heat, we were drenched in sweat in our motorcycle gear with no hope of a shower!
There was a spot in my map were we   hoped to find water. So we rode well into the evening. Just before the turning to a few houses, there was a police check point. They were not interested in our documents, only to take our picture! We asked if we could find accomadation and water in the village, but they told us no! However, they told us that 5 km down the road, there was a teahouse that was also a hotel, and we could find food and water! I could have kissed them! We got there by 8 pm and we saw the bikes of the moldovians! 
 
We got a room with shower and dodgy plumbing but to us it was paradise, with food, water, and a shower! 
 
To be continued….disaster and problems the next day! 

where is the road?

Saturday 10th May – 300 miles

We leave the very pleasant town of Budennovsk early, as  no breakfast is provided. We are not registered with the police yet. This is usually done by hotels, if they can bother! I plan to get that done in Astrakhan as we can get in trouble if not. All foreigners must get registration, as often as   possible if we   move around.

 
Outside the hotel a guy is standing out smoking. He helped Alistair get the bikes out of the building site that is the ground floor. We were told it was not safe to keep the bikes out at night and the teenage girls running the place told us to put them there.
 
Anyway, we ask him for the closest petrolstation and   he gives us precise instructions and i am very happy i understood him as all is in russian of course. We find the place and get some pasties as breakfast.
 
We discuss the best way to get to astrakhan.
 
The first one is to follow the easy road west then north, via Elista. It is quite a detour. 600 km to astrakhan….
 
The second is to ride East on the main road, and cross a big section of northern Dagestan. That  republic is the most dangerous of russia and full of extremists, with lots of violence, murders and insurgency. I am not too keen!
 
The last option is to take the secondary road up north east, that show as a shortcut ( see map below), I know how shortcuts usually end up like! We decide for that option anyway!
 
 
We set of on the main road East, looking for clues to our secondary road turning. we  don’t find it….
 
We ride for a while and stop in what may be someone’s house with some fuel on sale. The teenager and the lady there come to see us. They are quite a sight but friendly and explain that we are already in the correct road and tell us where to go as there are some cross roads ( or tracks better said!).
 
We set off at the right turning and   get on a  decent gravel road, but it gets progressively worse … And worse.. And worse! 
 
 
 
( yes we did miles and miles of this hideous road!)
 
 
It is the perfect test for our little bikes. A section of that road, for several miles, is probably the worse we have ever done. The bikes are perfect for that and I even manage to get through sections of deep sand and   gravel without falling off! 
 
Eventually the road gets back to a nasty very bumpy gravel road,but at   least we can make some progress and we arrive by 3 pm into some tarmac and there is even a fuel station and a cafe!
We stop for some food and drinks.
 
There is no food on show and the menu is impossible to understand. We are in Kalmikya, the food is chinese style rather than russian.
 
The locals are chinese looking and descendants of the hords of Genghis Khan. They came from some chinese provinces and stayed in Kalmikya. The food seem to reflect that. One guy is eating somesort of   stir fried in the cafe, we  point at him and the lady bring us the same.
 
 They are very friendly and come  out to show me where to find the loos and seem very attentives. We seem to provide some sort of entertainment  everywhere we  go as people usually seem quite happy to come to us and offer to help and ask questions. 
 
We then get back on the road as we still have a long way. Our map shows that once passed Ulan Khol, we only have 25km to the main road north to Astrakhan…. We ride and ride…. Pass some farm tracks but no road. We get to Lagan! How is that possible? We could not have missed the main road, unless it does not exist? Well, it may exist, but not like our map make it at least! 
 
We find signs to Astrakhan that we follow. After several miles, suddenly there is a fork. The sign and road indicate a village. Ahead of us is a hideous track that would not be passable to cars and trucks! It can’t be! 
 
We do a   U- turn and ride into the village. 
 
I spot a police car and use my horn to tell Alistair to stop. As we get our helmets off, the cops are coming to see us. I get my map out. After a discussion they try to explain to us how to find the road but i fail to get that. I understand that there is a section of 10 km of bad gravel road, before tarmac. I don’t know what happened to the major road! 
 
As we don’t understand all their explanations, they make us sign to follow then! They get on their car and we follow them for several miles. At one point we see two young lads hitchhikking. The cops stops their car and we stop behind them.  
The officer gets out and frisks the lads, presumably for knifes or weapons? And then he gets back on the car and we are off again! 
 
After a couple of miles we stop at an intersection. The paved road continue, but he tells us the road to astrakhan is by the gravel road on the left.
 
We thanks the cops, shake their hands and set off again. It is getting late and we still have a long way to go! 
 
After about 10 km we cross a village and we are not sure where to go.  A guy in a 4×4 stops and we ask him. He points at the road and we continue. We finally find the tarmac and eventually the E119 that  we have been looking for some time! It is under constructionan d probably does not exist further south yet! Or only like a farm track! 
 
After a long tiring ride, we get to astrakhan as the sun is setting, and  find a hotel by 8 pm, without difficulty. Bikes must sleep on the street, but the girl at reception tells us it is not a problem. Too tired to argue! 
 
Out for some food we find a japanese restaurant, but at least the menu show pictures of the dishes. We get in and order some food. Once again, we seem to provide some entertainment to the girls serving!
 
Back to the hotel i enquire about the registration and the girl at reception tells me we will have it tomorrow.
 
Sunday 11th of May – miles on bikes: none.
 
We have a day rest as our visa with Kazakhstan does not start untill the 12th (tomorrow).
 
Few pictures of the town below.
 
Inside the kremlin complex.
 
 

No clue what is going on here!

That is how to ring the bells at the top of the tower! A guy dangling up and down with the ropes at the top of the tower!  Health and safety guys in the UK would have a heartd attack!

The Volga!

Statue of Lenine.

Our hotel with the bikes in front.

Buying stuff in a shop and getting the bill calculated with an Abacus!

We had no idea how much to pay!