~ The beauty of nature lies in its imperfections ~

Saturday, January 27, 2018

SG - China - Kyrgyzstan : Part 5

Stepping back to mid 70's Russia

So with time not on our side, we knew we had to get moving onwards to see Kyrgyzstan as well!  A short 2 hour ride to the border and we only a 30 minute hassle of paperwork, out we popped into another new country.  And this one had surprises lined up!  First of which is the infamous Stop sign, positioned along a road with no junctions, but just there to catch the unweary.  If you do not stop, the local police chase you for not observing the laws and (of course) attempt to get donations to their nightly family dinner :)

The KP post had TV cameras pointed in ALL directions!
As long as you come to a complete stop and put your feet on the ground, you are safe!
We did that, made our way to Bishkek and checked into Southside B&B.  Owned by Ryan Hornung, a bike fanatic who runs Ironhorse rentals, it is a neatly set up B&B that instantly made us feel at home.  It helped that Ryan ran guided tours across the country as well, so easy sharing of biking routes!

Graeme & Katrina Perkins from Australia

Southside B&B in Bishkek
With pointers from friends and locals, our ride took us to Issyk Kul lake, a must-see that EVERY Kyrgyz on the street asked us about...

1970's kitchen still working well!

Dinner : Peppers stuffed with rice & meat!  (forgot the proper name for it!)
From there, we had to seek out a Kyrgyz Yurt to spend at least 1 night.  We picked the Yurts on Song Kul Lake, located on a mountain plateau sited at 3000m elevation.  This was like sleeping on an enchanted land, with the flat grass plains rolling away into the distance!

Even the locals had their wheels :) 

After a night at 10 degrees C in felt tent, we agreed we could move onwards toward the South areas of Kyrgyzstan.  Next stop is in Kochkor, with a unique B&B that is homely & warm.
Looks raw on the outside, perfectly finished on the inside.

A street away from the B&B was a little supermarket with a good selection of essential drinks for any Russian family  :) 

From Kochkor, the route toward Toktogul; the major roads quickly degraded onto unsealed roads that were simply peppered with potholes and ditches.  Add in the perpetual rain at 15 degrees C and we were very miserable. 

With rain for the whole day, our boots and clothes progressively got wetter inside, the bikes getting muddier as well... Then the NC750X blew it's rear shock again...  so we had to limp a flailing bike toward Suusamyr.

With the sun fast setting, we made a last minute decision to find a rest stop for the night, instead of pushing on to the earlier booked guesthouse.  At every major crossroad, things happen : this is the law of life.  

And so, when you see this monument, look around!  You will see lots of highway rest stops in the shape of Yurts and other houses.

So we chanced across this solitary building, that had a woman sitting at the window & gazing at the passing cars.  Turns out it was a newly opened guesthouse with rooms for rent!  so we spent the night in an unheated room but clean & safe!

Highway stop : notice Seung & the pair of covered bikes on right of building

Next morning, we inspected the NC more closely and it's certain we had lost all of the damping oil from the rear shock.  No choice, head back toward Bishkek.  We aimed for Interhouse Bishkek.  We met a lovely Japanese couple, Yoshi & Asuka.  Four Asians on four Hondas, we hit it off real well as they both spoke great English.

They are on their Round-The-World trip and have been winding their way across Europe and last seen chugging along around in Chile.  All the best & god-speed, my friends.

With a now damaged rear shock, the last sector of ride would be back to Almaty, where a shipper was already organised to bring the bikes back to Singapore.  For us, it would be flights to Singapore via Bangkok.

Interhouse Almaty was the last stop in Central Asia and the hospitality surpassed all other establishments on this trip...  Just look at the standard breakfast they served!

Yes, the guesthouse and the happy owner
So here we are : after our 15,000km ride across 2 months, we had one final lunch session with Aigul & Karla, to share with them the sights that we came across in Kyrgyzstan... They in turn surprised us with some parting gifts too!

What will the next adventure bring?  Who knows?  But most importantly, road trips are a great reminder to keep an open mind, accept each day as it comes along.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

SG - China - Kazakhstan : Part 4

From Chinese to Russian... are we all Communists???

After 26 days of China, we finally rode out of "Motherland", left Kevin (The Fixer) behind at the border and we were finally on our own.  Just the two of us :)  Special mention to Kevin, who stood at the China gates until he saw our passports endorsed with Kazakh entries before he left... and so, we rode 7.2km to the customs checkpoint.

Almaty = just 314km away!

Whilst we rode along the major roads leading from the border to the capital city Almaty, it struck us how the quality of the roads had changed so much.  In Kazakh, the tarmac was layered by varying decades.... whereas in China, it's (either) tip top smooth or as torn as a construction site!

We headed into Almaty Sapar, the guesthouse we had booked via Air BnB, unloaded the bikes and headed to the first pizza store we could find!  (26 days of just eating tomato & egg omelette + salty pork rinds with sauteed cabbage took it's toll)  We followed Google Map recommendations and wound up in Dostyk Plaza, a hyper modern shopping mall that looks like a whiter & glossier version of Vivo City.  We had pizza in the food court, our first western meal in 26 days and it tasted GOOOOD :)

Settling down, we then contacted Aigul, who was introduced by Philip.  She offered to meet us for lunch the next day; to chat on possible things to do in Kazakhstan.  It helped lots that she is part of the Kazakh Geograph Society and they run expeditions such as drives to the North Pole, snow leopard watching, etc...  it all sounded real exotic!  Lunch was in a richly decorated Kazakh restaurant, with a menu loaded with traditional dishes.  We had horse meat sausages, delicate roast lamb ribs and other hearty tasting dishes.  Pity none of this is served in Singapore...  I miss that robust & simple food.

The conversation went well and we mapped out a series of activities to keep us busy for a week!  Museum visits, walking around the city to see the Russian monuments, a night on Kok Tobe, a hill top amusement playland for the city folk and more.

Visited a musuem

A War Monument

We sought out FreeRider KZ, a motorcycle workshop as the NC750X needed some work on the rear shock.  Apart from some suspension issues with shock oil leaking, both bikes ran flawlessly, didn't miss a beat and returned fantastic fuel economy!  The Africa Twin consistently at 22 km/l, while the NC750X with DCT ran at 28km/l or better.
After turning up at a local workshop, word got out that 2 riders from Singapore had rolled into town... This reached the ears of celebrity biker Petrushkin who insisted to meet us for dinner.  He contacted Aigul and (poor girl) had to be translator the whole night.  Turns out he had ridden around the world on his BMW K1200LT and wanted to share his trip story with us too!  Left us his contact details and said we could contact him if we ever got into 'trouble'...  When we shook hands to part, I swear he had the biggest bear sized palms!

After dinner, we took the opportunity to grab a few snap shots of Africa Twin, against the famous Almaty Hotel as a backdrop!

Next day, we walked into Green Bazaar, guided by the ever energetic Aigul!  This was the most interesting market and we wished we could buy foodstuff to send home to friends!

Beautiful Fresh Fruits

Immaculate display of dried fruits.  They lure you with free samples :)

Yep, horse meats... it has a distinctive dark red color, redder than beef!
As Almaty is at the base of a mountain range, there are hills to wander upwards into...  one of these forms Big Almaty Lake.  It's a man-made lake, feeding the hydroelectric power station serving Almaty.

We have Mount Faber in SG.  Kazakhs have this, just 30 mins drive from the City Center!

With our first week out of China, we saw a stark difference.  One country was so rude and coarse in manners, while the other was full of friendly & helpful people, it was hard to believe they both had communist roots up till awhile ago.  Where did it start to deviate?

The friendliness of the people was most apparent when Aigul brought us hiking up Kok Zhailau.  It was a 2.5 hour hike but led upwards to a dreamy plateau where a poet could sit and write for hours & hours!  All this while, we met other locals on the trail and despite being strangers, all manners of pleasantries were exchanged.  Wish I could understand a bit of the local lingo!

Like those flowers on Ricola packs...  Except these are REAL!

With the week quickly passing, it was time to roll onwards to Kyrgyzstan where another country lay ahead of us.  The plan there was to start in Bishkek, work our way southwards toward Lenin Peak and then back.  But things will take a twist...

Onward to Bishkek!  Just 260km to go!

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

SG - China - Kazakhstan : Part 3

Out of China and into Central Asia

Our initial days in China were breezing across the new highways built to connect the border to Kunming.  This road weaved thru tunnels in the mountains, popping out onto elevated highways, all ridden at 100km/h non-stop.  This made me feel like I was in a sci-fi movie! 

The mountains gave new dimension to the phrase ELEVATION… on our big capacity bikes, we might climb non-stop in 3rd gear for 10 mins or more!  On the other side, will be an equally long downhill and they thoughtfully provided run-away lanes to arrest the speed of trucks that have overheated brakes.

Thru this we saw a wide range of scenery + sights.  Among the weirdness that is China, we are required to refuel ONLY using the official jerry cans supplied by authorities.  This practice is mandated by law as (apparently) there had been motorcycle mounted arsonists lighting their bikes on fire…

 A couple of nights were spent on mountain passes at 3000m and 4000m to help acclimatise, and eventually we saw snow-capped peaks in the distance.

After 12 days of riding, we reached Lhasa.  We took a walking tour of Potala Palace, which has an air of tranquility within the palace walls. 

We then rode onwards to Everest Base Camp, ascending to the highest point allowed by privately owned cars & bikes (Qomolangma Base Camp).  By this time, we were close to 5000m altitude and some of us had to rest our palms on the engine block just to prevent cold cramps!

Went back to Shigatse for second stay, next was 5000m+ hotel and waking up to 3 degree air temp… riding into light snow that lasted for 2.5 hours!   None of the us were prepped for snow and even the local guides said snow is rare for this time of the year. 

We reached Golmud, split from the main group and were introduced to our own guide that would take us onward to north China.  Mr Cai brought us through Akasai, a town with perpetual sandstorms.  Had no choice but to refuel in a petrol kiosk that was being blown with fine sand!!!  On reaching Dunhuang, we felt there was sand in everything!  Our noses, keyholes of the bike, the fine sand seemed to go everywhere!

In crossing the desert, we rode across the wind farms of China, reputed to be the largest. In the route between Hami and Turpan, 40kmh crosswinds threatened to push our bikes into the oncoming lane, and both bikes were fighting to stay upright.

Outside Khorgas town we stopped at a lavender farm.  Standing in the midst of the fresh blooms, it was really a smell from Heaven!

Weird and wonderful China continued to surprise, with the northern most town INSISTING that bikes remain outside the petrol kiosks.  And in order to fuel up, we have to walk into the protected area with a local escorting us!

Our last day in China, we rode across the most beautiful bridge connecting Khorgas to the border.   At the border, our guide (Kevin) presented us with a gift of Uygher Naan Bread!  Something so delicious, we wished we could pack for our friends back home!