Definitely Cool – Kazakhstan to Siberia and Mongolia (English)

June 19 – July 4 Almata – Novosibirsk – Krasnayarsk – Irkutsk – Ulan Ude – Ulaan Bataar – Chinese Casino: gambled and lost – what is a dream? – Mosquitos should be forbidden – The wild East – Thank you Lord – Fantastic Lake Baikal

Finally I have found the time and place to write the next part of this blog. I have arrived in Ulaan Bataar, the capital of Mongolia. I will be in this city to prepare for the trip within Mongolia, where roads are made of anything but concrete. Also, I am arranging visas and other documents to be able to ride from here to India, and then home. Right now, there are several options, including flying for a part. A trip like this needs a 100% waterproof preparation for each next step, especially during the trip, or you will find yourself stuck in some country, wasting a lot of time, paying too much to get moving, or more drastically, having to end your trip. I have heard too many bad stories already. This will be an extra long edition of my blog, hope you don’t mind. Many kilometers (19K), so many stories to tell, can only tell a few…

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Ready to leave Almata, ready to cross the Chinese border

Let’s start with the beginning. I have not been able to enter China. I left Almata on a Sunday morning, very early, to get to the Kazakh-Chinese border of Zorgos. I was nervous, since this was the moment I had been waiting for. Although the ride to the border was beautiful, I did not really pay attention to it, nor did I notice that the level in my gas tank was very low. Riding through a small desert, no gas stations around, I started to worry. Of all the scenarios that I imagined, this was a new one. Luckily, on the top of a hill, I saw a small settlement. Riding down, the gas being really finished, I rode with a big smile towards the buildings. Unfortunately it was just a military check point. Njet problem, the police stopped a lada and my bottle of water was emptied and filled with 87 octane fuel. I made it to the next gas station. I had become a bit looser through this little break, but should not have been nervous at all. When I came to the border, it was closed. Sunday. Another scenario I had not thought of. 1 PM. What does one do? One cafe, 2 other small buildings. Nothing more. I decided to do some reading. The guys hanging around there kept on talking to me, and finally I gave in. I joined their Sunday routine (not different from any other day I bet) and did basically nothing but hanging about, sitting, eating, drinking and playing Kazakh poker with cents. I won the first rounds, which was kind of cool, but lost all of it later. The food, drinks and bed were on the house, amazing, I couldn’t pay. It is days like those that stay with me. Doing nothing, but still having a great time with people you just met. In the mean time, those same guys had told me that crossing the border was easy with a bike, fuelling my positive vibe. They were wrong, unfortunately. The next morning I passed the Kazakh border, came upon the Chinese border, was told the story that I had expected (no guide, not entrance), went back (horrible experience, don’t recommend it), and parked my bike next to the road after having covered 10 km’s in trance. China was a no go. I was extremely disappointed.

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Partying with Kazak guys at the Chinese border with games & vodka

After that, I quickly decided not to try any other borders with China. I figured that my chances were limited everywhere. It took me the next couple of days to deal with the blow. It found it strange that it took me so long. China, I had always known, was impossible. Still, I found it unfair. It forced me to think about my trip, and while riding through the great Kazakh land, I went back to the basis. I could not decide where to go after this and had to change my way of thinking, in order to find some direction. I started to search for the things that made this trip valuable, rather than holding on to the ‘perfect trip’. I found that the people I met along the road and the discovery of strange worlds and incredible nature on a bike were just that, the key to my trip. That said, a route is less important. This gave me a renewed sense of freedom. The dream was still there. I found out that finding your real dream is as hard as fulfilling it. I decided to keep on riding, back to Russia, up to Mongolia, and later to cross Kazakhstan again, on to India and Iran. It was in Siberia that I knew I was back on the right track.

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Beautiful Kazakhstan, it is hard to stay disappointed about a failed border crossing into China when this is your morning ride

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When I was trying to climb a little hill, it became a mountain. I dropped the bike several times, had to unload it, and finally camped below my initial target. This herdsman came checking out what the hell I was doing…

Again, I came to a Russian border. This was the messiest, smallest border so far. I could not help thinking about the possibility of a Chinese border like that one… had to control myself. Russia had not changed. In the first city, I was greeted by a guy who wanted my autograph, since his brother lived in America he said, and he had not seen him in 8 years. My autograph would help him remember that. What can you say to that?

I decided to continue the itinerary from the last days: eat in a cafe, sleep in the tent, and find a place to swim during the day. After 100’s of kilometers of farm land and sameness I took a right turn, just because I felt like it. After 3 km of dirt road, I came upon a big field with what I thought were dumped machines, rusty and kaput. Not true. Three guys approached me, highly surprised. They were the night crew, traktorists, working the fields, since days were too hot. After some tea they invited me to stay in their building, on a Russian army bed (I needed 3 days to recover from that). I gladly accepted the offer and after some food, I slept like a baby, while the night guard learned English with my dictionary. I was woken once, when at 11PM the day crew came back from work. A scene, lit by candlelight, that for me looked like from a different age. That same group was back again the next morning at 8AM, for another day of hard work. 30 of them in total owned the former Sovjet Kolchoz. The next morning I felt I had left China behind me. These guys had no idea, but it was one of the best experiences of my trip.

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The Siberian day and night crew together. Farmers proud of what they make: the best grain for the best bread. The night crew fills tea mugs half full with tea leafs, and the rest hot water, to keep the eyelids from dropping

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My bed for one night: Russian farmers watched over me while I slept like a baby

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We chatted using my Russian dictionary. Only from English to Russian unfortunately.

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Machines like this were referred to as ‘Lenin’ or ‘Stalin’, depending on the age. Even some ‘Putins’ were around. They all worked, as hard as Russians laugh

Riding through Siberia is different from what you might expect. Yes, there are many trees, and the road is not good everywhere, but I was amazed. Weather is hot, cities were great, felt somehow European, people and villages were everywhere along the road, a lot of shiny Toyota Landcruisers and… mobile phone roaming. And, not to forget all round you, wood and the smell of wood – freshly chopped or in a fire – a really nice smell. It would be heaven if it wasn’t for the mosquitos, they are everywhere. One time especially they got me. When looking for a campsite next to a river (will never do that again), I wanted to take a swim. When I stopped the engine, we were swarmed. I decided to save the swim for later and rode the bike to some trees. The motor got stuck in the high grass, on a bump, and I had to manage to get it going again, surrounded by a million m***f**ers. I did it after 20 minutes, put up the tent, stayed in it, and felt strange. Stomach problems, diarrhoea. Oh no. At 4AM I had to go, and was eaten alive, while in the grass. I decided to clean myself in the river, but it was muddy water. I Did it anyway. I could not remember when I felt so dirty. Mountain man, maybe not.

On the road I met two other travelling bikers. Petr, a Czech, who was living his dream at the age of 62. He did what had been impossible for him for years under communism: riding a bike with a sidecar to Beijing and back. The only problem was the sidecar, that kept on breaking down, and bumped around out of sync with the bike. I felt really sorry for the lady in it. The other guy I met was Ito, Japanese, 23, and totally going for it, not held back by an impressive knee brace, a result of an American Football injury: Japan to South-Africa.

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Siberia!

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Truly endless roads…

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Petr and Ito, the first foreign bikers I met after 16K..

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‘In Russia we have a saying: we have 2 problems, fools and roads, luckily the first solves the second’ – that’s how Russians see it, heard it more than once

In Siberia I also had to source tyres. I knew it was not easy and found out that ordering them took a month, if I was lucky. In all the cities that followed I was not lucky finding some second hand ones, untill Irkutsk, my last stop before Mongolia. I had the telephone number of a Michael, and he helped me allright. He was an interesting character. He has a law firm, drives a stolen Mercedes AMG (‘95% of all German cars here is stolen’) and was a perfect example of the crazy lawless Siberian world. He was in the middle of making his car ‘legal’ for Russia, while the car did not even have a chassis number anymore. A police stop (we had no plates..) proved how people deal with this. A pile of documents and letters to prove the car was his, and 5 minutes later we were off again. Michael clearly balancing between ethics (‘I have a business, I help my country’) and practical daily life (‘you know what a new Mercedes cost?’). He took me to a garage that had just changed tyres for 8 UK bikers, the ‘white knights’, a group consisting of several Lords and Sirs, riding from Vladivostok to St. Petersburg. I got a perfectly good pair for coffee and cakes, exactly the size and type I needed for Mongolia. As one of the guys said: ‘Shit happens, and vice versa’! I agree.

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Michael ‘Black Mercedes no license plates’ helped me out fantastically with new off-road tires and treated me on a Lake Baykal trip with smoked fish and a helicopter ride

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The train station. Many Trans-Siberian train travellers stop in Irkutsk

The last part of my Siberian adventure was Lake Baykal. It is a magnificent lake, containing 20% of the worlds fresh water, but the water is very cold. I camped several days around the lake, just enjoying the beauty and doing some reading. Never thought of myself like that, but there you go. Siberia is definitely a place to come back, hopefully in winter.. Now I am ready for Mongolia. I am really looking forward to see Evelien and I am curious how we will manage. If she brings tyres and Chardonnay, we’ll be just fine, I believe. Will keep you posted.

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I speeded seriously, but when the police stopped me, all these guys wanted was a picture with me. 10 km later I was stopped by soldiers and got an army cap as a gift. Russians are like little kids – they just want to have fun and make new friends

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On an island in Lake Baykal. Best spot so far for camping. Big sunset, birds everywhere, nice cold beer..

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Practicing off-road skills with my new tyres, nice!

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Brazil? Siberia!

9 thoughts on “Definitely Cool – Kazakhstan to Siberia and Mongolia (English)

  1. lieve martijn,
    lees dit laatste verslag met tranen in mijn ogen, waarom weet ik nog niet precies. Misschien om de puurheid?? kus mam

  2. He martijn,

    Foto’s zijn weer fantastisch! Je begint er zelf al als een serieuze wereldreiziger uit te zien. Evelien komt al vrij snel langs, nog even volhouden. Spreek je snel.

  3. Hi Martijn

    China is just another country compared to the utter beauty of the experiences you describe
    It’s like reading a great fiction book reading your thoughts and experiences…brings one in another world…a bit zen like.
    Enjoy the rest of your journey

    V

  4. Hey Martijn!

    A Greek poet wrote:
    “It`s not Ithaca one is going for, it`s the journey itself to go there..”

    Man, you`re living great moments..

    Your epos give us energy.
    Keep on inspiring us..!!!

    Akis

  5. Een van je foto’s had ik op mijn eigen weblog gezet met een verwijzing en een link naar jouw weblog, maar ik heb de foto verwijderd, omdat hij problemen gaf bij het laden van de weblog.

    Misschien is het een idee om je foto’s vanuit een verkleinde versie op je weblog zetten.
    Het duurt nu erg lang om de foto’s te laden…

  6. lieve martijn. dit stukje ziet er waarschijnlijk niet uit, want ik ga niet iedere minuut vragen waar de knop zit van nieuwe regel en de knop van hoofdletter. dit wordt gewoon rechttoe rechtaan typen en dát kan ik gelukkig wèl. Hallo neefje-lief,wat gezellig om je hier in je ouders huis op de foto te zien op de computer en je relaas te lezeen (niet alles, dat wordt te gek, we zijn tenslotte voor je vaders verjaardag) Wat maak je veel mee,en wat een schat een ervaringen, die je voor altijd zullen verrijken! ben apetrots op je, maar kom vooral weer heel thuis!!!! Vorige week heeft tibor zijn nieuwe boot gehaald .Dikke zoen, Mayk.

  7. Cool mate, dit is het echte leven. Had je travels even niet gevolgd maar merk nu dat ik zelf ook weer nodig op de fiets moet gaan zitten. Safe travels, charlie

  8. dzien dobre lieverds, of is’t daar kaitsji?

    in mijn onschuld dacht ik even dat er na martijn’s regelmatige beelden met tekst
    nu aanvullende verhalen van lien met bvb haar
    vrouwelijke visie op het (mode)gebeuren
    daar zouden volgen. via via hoor ik wel dat je goed bent aangekomen en dat spa’s daar voor mongolen zouden zijn (wat ook zo hoort) maar geen impressies van hoe jij het vindt. jammer, want na alle leuke verhalen vanuit de mannelijke hoek zou een aanvulling uit de jouwe wel leuk zijn; of houden we dat tegoed
    tot je weer in de bewoonde wereld bent?
    in U.B. of zoiets, waar toch minstens één
    internet-theehuis moet zijn? het kan toch niet alleen maar yak-melk in die (overigens prachtige) tenten zijn?
    morgen even naar maastricht; naar de schat-jes en naar a.+ p. we horen/zien nog wel of je kunt reageren.anders wachten we toch gewoon nog twee weken. al was een prentje van
    lieninhetpakopdemotor danwel kortyakjeopreis
    me wel wat waard geweest.

    have fun, goeie voortzetting en tot gauw,
    liefs, han

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