Wow, just look at all my money......
Trip Start Apr 22, 2012
145Trip End Nov 05, 2012
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So it is now over a week since I last managed to have an internet connecion suitable for writing up my blog. We are staying at a $180 a night hotel in Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan as a treat following a hard week or so of travel. Also it was the one we knew about that had secure parking and you have to be at a hotel in order to register - but even that's not a simple thing. More later.
Not sure how may photos I'll get to upload as despeate to have a good sleep in my King Size Bed and get my money's worth out of it. Luxuriating in the air conditioning at the moment, Is half past 8 in the evening
I've driven 6,400 km since leaving home 3 weeks ago. Since Saratov we have averaged 50 km per hour and driven 2,800 km in total i.e nearly 60 hours of driving over the last week. The roads have been horrendous at times - they were bad enough in Russia with their pot holes but across Kazakhsan they are building a lovely new road - only fault is that this has necessitated huge distances of temporary road which are more like off road tracks at time, especialy as we got to the sandy areas near the Aral Sea. The original road was probably bad enough but has been left unrepaired now and is used some of the time as well, and joy of joys, at times you get to use the brand new smooth tarmac of some of the finished bits. The main problem was that we had a deadline to cross the country of Kazakhstan - an enormously wide country. I always knew this it would be contentious as ther est of the group just wouldn't believe me that I had been told - repeatedly by the people who organised the invitations for our Business visa's for kazakhstan that we MUST transit between borders within 5 days if we came in from the west as there was no where that could register our visas
But I'm getting ahead of myself a couple or three adventures we had before crossing the Ural river into Asia at Uralsk. After we left Saratov in Russia we headed back the way we had already come into the town until we found the ring road and then a long drive around the city avoiding all the traffic congestion but not the dense fog that made visibilty poor for 10 minues or so before we crossed over the frozen up Volga river over a long bridge. In the early part of the last centuary the railway used to end at Saratov, and then the rain wagons and cariages put onto special train boats, taken over the Volga and then put back onto rails again the other side. Once over the river we were out in the sticks or 'boonies' and started to look for water to fill up the camper vans - Ivan and Luda use lots of water with daily showers and hair washing. After travelling so much in the desert Roer and I are both very frugal with water usually so as I have no chance of a shower in my camper, the toilet isn't plumbed in, and the water comes out in a dribble as being filtered through sooper dooper filters that take most things out including lead and other inorganic materials
Luda said that where ther was a water tower in a village we would be able to get water from it - but when we deviated into a small village to investigate discovered that the pipe was too large for any fitings we had to get the water into the hosepipes and into the tanks. The advantages of a Russian speaking member of the group were becoming apparant as Luda disussed the possibilities with a local who told up to go back to the centre of the village by the supermarket (!!) and go to the village boiler tended by a lady who said she used to own 2 cows, pigs, chicken and geese and make a 'good' living out of it in the days of communism. Now she says the land which used to be shared out with all the village members is now owned by some rich person and prices have rocketed in value and now she cant keep any animals as she can't afford to pay for the food for them, so now she works for the village caretaking the village boiler house and is 'poor'. She makes 5000 roubles but 4,000 is spent in rent, rates, heating and electricity - the latter services are provided by the government and you pay a certain amount to them for unlimited heat - infact you have no on and off for it yourself you have to wait for the dates set by the government - so as it was now getting much warmer everywhere we had been in Saratov had been boiling because the date hadnt arrived for the heat to be turned off - reminds you of school days when you couldn't have any heat, how ever cold it was before a predetermined date
Also at the boiler building - looked more like a seedy farm building were an assortment of three men and their dogs. After all filligm up with water we decided we would investigate the supermarket - looekd huge fron outside but turned out to consist of a small room where fruit and veg was sold, a door which stated it was the post office in Russian but was closed, and a hall area where the vilagers could meet, with photos of the president, the russian anthem etc used as decorations.
Stopped for the night about 150 km from the border between Russia and Kazakhstan at a derelict tiny fuel station with a muddy track to it but with a firm hardstanding base underneath it all - of importance as the land was so wet from all the melting snow
Arrived at the Kazakhstan border mid afternoon - relatively quick and easy through both the Russian and kazakhstan sides - would have been easier still if I hadn't managed to have a 'small' accident at the Russian barrier allowing you to enter the border control area. I was the last of the three campers and they only allowed 2 vehicles to go through at a time, As I was debating whether I should drive through or not as I hadn't had a 'come on' wave from the border guard, the barrier came down leaving me about 6 foo in front of the STOP sign. From past experience I know they can be very cross if you are not behind the stop sign so thought I'd better reverse back. I'd onlyt got into the van about 2 ticks before - there were no other vehicles around then and we were at the top of a hill in the middle of nowhere. Forgot to look in my reversing camera and st off backwards - CRUNCH and then a horn - 'S!!!!!' - and there was a tiny blue Lada right up behind me
That evening, after entering a completely different countryside from the word go after leaving the border post - we came to an early finish when Ivan ran over the broken leaf spring from the suspension off a wagon
So next morning took us as far as Uralsk and a stop at the police station to be told to come back at 3pm. So took the opportunity to explore the town, go to the internet cafe - for sopme reason the others thought 15 minsould be enough - did manage to look at my emails quickly and start to write up the blog but with no warning the computer ran out of the allotted 15 minutes and turned itself off before I'd saved it or anything. Visied the museum which was a different experience - helped enormously by the fact that Luda could decipher the information on the exhibits. Then went to 'CumCum' pronounced Sim Sim - means something like Abracadabra - from a russian story very similar to Aladdin's Lamp.
on the way back to the police station I visted the war memorial - a must for every Russian town or city. This was certainly an impressive one - I found it a moving sort of place
The roads as I've already said tended on the rough and ready, shaking the vans and their contents - and their human inhabitants thoroughly. Going to have to go to sleep - it's 9.30 pm - will set the alarm for early tomorrow to try and finish this before we leave the hotel. Still got insurance to sort out for this country - couldn't do it at the border - had to drive 50km without it in order to get to Tashkent to organise it.
Can see likely to be minus any photos the rate I'm going as only internet available in the hotel lobby so can't leave the laptop downloading the photos over night which would have been a good use of time
Never enough hours in the day to do all the jobs - especially as only one of my in the car compared to the other two couples. Really need to look at the book about Samarkand as we hope to drive there tomorrow. Have done some washing so that is hopefully drying overnight in the bathroom, and I've managed to make three packhorse trips to the camper and back - so will need the same number tomorrow morning to pack up the camper again and put the lid down on it..
now 4.30 am, just woken up so taken opportunity to spend a few mre hours on the blog. The hotel we are in is what you would expect for an international hotel - on the fourth floor (equivalent to 3rd floor in England) with lovely wide marle stair cases as well as lifts, two of which are on the outside of the building. Been using the stairs as much as possible to get some exercise. have to walk a long way from the lift to the room as well. For $160 a night don't get any tea making stuff so brought my kettle and tbags up from the camper - kettle is on at the moment. Not even a complementar biscuit or chocolate
Back to the grotty roads of Kazakhstan and Uralsk. After wasting half a day in Uralsk trying to register we were now faced with the daunting task of driving to the Uzbeckistan border as fast as possible. Once the road is finished (due for completion in 2013) it will be a very easy drive - but how long for who knows. It won't take many winters to change the wonderful smooth tarmac to a rutted pothole and wavy mess if no maintenance takes place - or even with their rudimentary road mending skills evidenced on the old road.
The scenery was of open spaces and big skies. Nature is around you and with not much to see at times you notice the birds - hawks from time to time, I saw one that had just swooped and picked up a small animal and was carrying it away in its talons. We saw two v shaped flocks of ? geese
heading north and small animals playing chicken as they ran in front of the car across the road - and also running he risk of not only being squashed but also taken off by the sudden woosh of a pair of sharp talons and a hooked beak. Perhaps they have perfected the art of running across a road in front of vehicles as being a way to get over the exposed road without a hawk getting them? Also saw a small tortoise/turtle making its way across - head and neck outstretched looking around, had to swerve to avoid running it over
The rolling grasslands changed to sandy and rocky desert and it was nw getting very hot. Such a contrast to less than a week ago when we were in winter woolies, now in summer clothes. Tuesday after leaving Saratov we drove 209 km but had a two hour stop to get water at the russian village and were delayed by getting behind a slow moving funeral for a long distance on the main road. Wednesday, including the russian/Kazak border we managed 228 km with an early stop when Ivan ran over the leaf spring. Thursday was only 140 km as we wasted most of the day in Uralsk. Friday was 671 km (!) from sunrise to sunset, stopping in a large parking area of hardstanding as their were two memorial stones for WW1 just inconspicuously to be found at the back of the carparking area. Saturday the roads deteriorated as we hit the main road building area across the most desert bits of the country heading south-east now rather than strainght east, towards the original top right corner of the Aral Sea - except it's not there now as the Russian's deviated much of the water from the river flowing into the Aral Sea to produce cotton in the lands to the north of the Aral Sea. For the fishing village of Aral (Aralsk) this was disastrous as the lake began to decrease in size and also become very salty rather than freshwater. The waters receeded to about 50km away from the village and the fish all died
Not realy much time to spend at Aralsk so couldn't make the 60 odd km detour to drive to the 'graveyard' of ships in the desert sand - but did manage to go down to the original harbour in the village where there is a memorial of brightly painted fishing boats
Next day an early start and more of the same but now once or twice a day have to negotiate a town - road takes you in but no signs and no obvious way t get out - a bit of a nightmare trying to find out way through the erratic driving of the townies, plus also regularly stopped by the poilce for a variety of reasons
Thougt we now had 444km to do to get to the border so felt we would make it for mid to late afternoon no problems - the scenery started changing to lush greem pastureland and tree lined roads again. A very quick change. Got to where the border on the map is (eventually) but discovered can't take vehicles over here (at least with foreigners in - only allowed to walk over) and had to drive a furtehr 100km along bad roads now in pitch black, being overtaken by madmen in fast moving cars with dust and headlights coming the other way glaring into your nght vision. Ivan was equally driving like a madman at front - don't know whether to admire him as aged 78 driving aq huge motorhome at speeds much faster than I wanted to drive at on a bumpy pot holed no proper side to the road - or to declare him a madman. I was third man once again and was determined to stick close to Eions back lights. Was difficult at times to work out where the road actually went through the dark. Seemed to go on for ever - and finally arrived at the border post behing a huge line of trucks at just past 10pm - with 2 hours to go to the deadline for getting there. The border post had a very sleepy air about it, the truckers all gone to bed. They had to open up the car section to allow us to go through. Not a good time to try and process custos in the middle of the night - espeically when they then said we were a day late (not the time to say - I told you so!!!) and it took some skillfull shoutng and negotiations on Luda's part and a phone conversation with the main man to get us over this one - they had been tacking us all the way across the country I'm sure at all the police stops, and we had been given duff info by atleast 3 lots of policemen that we had the extra day - and also they are aware of how bad the roads arfe at the moment and how difficult it is to make the trip in 5 days - so got an apology rather than a fie
Once finally allowed out of Kazakhstan (they needed to se the Russian border crossing paperwork ratehr than the kazak stuff...) we then had the beurocracy of Uzbekistan to contend with. Whereas it would appear that Kazakstan is still quite 'tight' with russia, Uzbekistan is very much trying to be completely ndependant of the mother country. Was 2.30am before we got through the final police check point - except we didn't know it was really 1.30 am as the clock went back the hour at the border. We exited Kazakstan on16th April, and by the time we got through into Uzbek it was the 17th but we were stamped in as arriving on the 16th as can't have a missing day on your passport. Managed to find somewhere by the side of the road very soon after leaving the post and quickly all went to bed - been on the go since 7.30am - 19 hours in total.
Now, we were in Uzbekistan but no local money, no car insurance, a tyre that needed mending and 50km from Tashken which is where we were told we had to go in order to sort insurance and get money from. Onto the main two lane dual carriageway, max speed 70km. Green and so very different from what we have been seeing for the last 2 weeks. We had been warned at the border that we needed to get the camers washed before we entered Tashkent so stoped off at a truck cleaning place where Luda negotiated getting them washed to 10 E each - and next door was a tyre mending place
Registration is requried - but the hotel will only register you for th enumber of nights you are staying here - but arranged for soemone to come in and if we pay $10 each per night they will 'fix' us to be registered for as many nights as we want. As we have paid for one night at the hotel we will go through the proceedure with the girl who showed up tomorrow (which is now today as writing it the day after...) and also then we have to take a taxi and go off and sort out insurance for the vehicles. Off to Samarkand then with the vehicles.
Went for something to eat (fially) about 3.30pm - I'd virtually not eaten anything for the last 36 hours - unlike th eothers I only have what is in the cab with e for the legth of a journey whereas they have a partner who can go into the camper van and get things as required. Lovely food in a cafeteria style cafe recommended by a local as being good value. Seemed expensive when they asked me for 15000 of the currency - that's 30 x 500 notes...... All stuffed after this and although agreed to go back there for evenng meal we were all too stuffed stil when the time came - and the others were all fast asleep as well
So, just about caught up now - will go and see if I can upload somephotos now and also go online and publish this before I manage to lose it...... Then need to pack up, think about breakfast and would liek to have a quick wander around before it gets too hot - and have some breakfast - all before our meetuptime of 10am. Npw 6.15 am.