June 1 – June 8
Stavropol – Wolgagrad – Samara – Chebyalinsk – Jekatrineburg
Great rides across Kalmiki region and Ural – Hospitality invented in Russia – wild-camping first small steps – Interesting cities all over
Man, I am changing my mind, unbelievable. I have now decided to mix my blog, Dutch and English. I am not saying that they will get a fair share each, but it’s better this way. I would not like to force my English readers to take Dutch lessons or deform my text through an automatic web translator.
While I am writing this I am in the nice city of Jekaterineburg, fomer Tsar hang-out, just across the Ural, at the start of Siberia. Tomorrow I will go South again, to Kazakstan. I have covered 7500 kilometers in 3 weeks and we are doing great. The bike had some issues, but after some proper servicing I feel confident to do the next leg. I would like to find out whether I could enter China through one of the Stans. As you can read in the introduction, it’s something extremely difficult. As for myself, I found a new rythm, including a begin a bit paranoid about everybody wanting to steel my stuff, especially my bike and documents. Yes, I had nightmares about that. Lonelyness is a constant factor but I feel that I somehow get used to it. As a remedy I talk to anything that moves and breaths. Russians in general do not master English at all and just walk away pretending they have not seen me talking to them from 1 meter distance. I found out that taking off the helmet improves communication though. A very lonely moment I had when I had to congratulate Evelien and myself with our 2-year relation from here, something that just doesn’t feel right at that moment. By the way, almost daily sms-ing with Evelien is one great little thing I have. As for services along the road I just use one strategy. Smile and persist. The a-social Russian gas stations, where you first pay money through a littel hole to a babushka, who is invisble unless you press your head to the window or go down 0,5 meter, and then get the gas, challenges my ‘just be kind’ strategy sometimes. However it is difficult to get lonely in Russia to be honest, when every living soul that I meet invites me for a tour, place to sleep or lunch. I’ll definitely come back here, but I have to leave, the money factor also playing a role. Russia is not cheap at all.. and I have a tight budget.
The story continues after having fixed the bike in Stavropol. Next destination is Wolgagrad, former Stalingrad, turing point in WWII. NB: if you think that I have a fascination with that war, wait till you see the Russians. Everywhere are big monuments, eternal fires and statues. Before Wolgagard, I cross the Kalmiki ‘desert’: 600 kilometers over endless roads, passing only a few villages and one city, all inhabited by people closely related to the Mongolians. Honestly I was a bit shocked by the sudden transition. Before, people warned me that is would not be safe. That’s what people always do, especially when concerning neighbouring countries or regions. The ride was absolutely amazing, this is why I came all this way, I thought.
After the Kalmiki, I met the Wolga river, said to be the biggest in the world. It led me to Wolgagrad. I was surprised by the country side around it. Slightly hilly, not many trees. From my imagination, the Stalingard 42/43 battle took place in a forest. Anyway. Getting to a hotel I had a surprise: a BMW 1200RS? Russian number plate? A blond blue-eyed guy approached and spoke in understandable English. His name was Talgat, A Tartar muslem, perfume and cosmetics trader, riding his brand new bike from Moscow back home. As bikers do, I found out in many occasions, we bonded quickly and decided to go for beers and Shaslick. We were joined by a girl who Talgat knew and she took us for a night tour in the city. Visiting the enormous statue remembering the fact that the Nazis never crossed the Wolga, costing 1 million Russian lives in Wolgagrad alone, made a big impact on me. Her grandfather was a veteran, which even made it more real. After a great night Talgat and I parted, not after him telling me this detail. He now goes to the Krim for holidays, with his kids, to ARTEC, the former Sovjet pioneer boyscout camp, used to be only for the best of the best. Talgat was average so he told me, but now he van go. The next day I wen to the Wolgagrad museum, one of the best exhibitions I ever saw, combining story, materials and design, although only in Russian, and I smelled some propaganda here and there.
Talgat, the BMW biker, Tartar, cosmetics trader and great host
I was ready for my first wild camping experience. Following the Wolga upstream I was suddenly drawn to this beautiful piece of land, next to the river. As Russia became less and less populated I decided to go for it. I found a great spot, after some off-road sweating – damn this bike is heavy – and made camp. When everything was set, I jumped in the tent, musquitos everywhere, you see. Hm, 5 pm. what do you do? I slept for 14 hours, exclusing the 11 PM one hour where I was awake and thinking by myself. Does the Wolga river have a tide? If so, how much? Do Russian skinheads come here to do nasty things? Why are these moddderfokking frogs so loud? The next days were ‘big days’ of riding: 550-650 kilometer per day, including putting my bike in an alcohol drenched ‘protected’ parking lot, with crazy guys walking around with kalashnikovs, crossing the Ural mountains – nice, but I would call them hills -, a second day in the bush and meeting increasingly friendlier policemen.
I LOVE borsch soup
Russian police in a lada. My record: 7 stops in one day. I celebrated the policemen too with my record
Having crossed the Ural I was stopped by two bikers on pretty new Japanese bikes, which are not a common sight at all. They urged me to follow them to their ‘full throttle’ club house in Chebyalinsk. How could I say no? I was invited to stay for the night, and while I enjoyed a Russian sauna – on wood – they washed my bike, how weird is that? The excellent group took me to the city later that night and showed me around. The very ineteresting thing about the city was the fact that it used to be ‘forbidden’ in USSR days, since it was a center of arms production and nuclear bombs. They were proud at their ‘Tankograd’, but a quick web research shows horrific data on the effects of nuclear waste to people and nature in that city. One of the bikers, who covered all of Russia in his twenties on a bike, was already pensioned after having worked in ‘Mayak’ – the nuclear plant.
Last proper bike maintenance for probably a long time
In Chebyalinsk I decided to do a 10K service check. I am realising more and more how dependant I am on this machine. Turned out that the garage was not fully competent but my Dutch manual helped, and I again learned a lot. I even lost my temper a couple of times (I am not fully Zen yet) and had to ride of in the rain to Jekaterineburg to make it before dark, some 200 km. I made it, but nearly froze to a coma. I did not put on enough clothes but wanted to continue to be able to talk to Evelien on the fixed phone line (cheaper), which I didn’t make in the end. My Big Friend pulled me though the 200 km carwash, as it did before in shit situations, its temperature gauge indicating Siberian circumstaces. I kept myself concentrated by humming loud in myself, without fogging the visor, which is not easy. After I finally found one in the city, I entered a hotel. As I was standing there dripping half the Wolga in the foyer, I was completely neglected by the lady behind the desk. Completely. A guy speaking German helped me out and booked for me. I was too cold to react. I have spent two days now relaxing, finishing the bike servicing and meeting great people, again. A cum laude Russian engineering student Olga, who’s dream is to go to Europe, I promised to help, and the local ‘black knives’ biker club, who invited me to their clubhouse tonight. I have been trying, but it’s hard to be lonely in Russia. Kindness is definetely an understatement for what I experienced here. I wonder what Kazakstan will bring..
Jekaterineburg bikers: ‘black knives’