Archive for the ‘Dons-Russia-Trip’ Category

Kars to Tasucu

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

Kars to Tasucu

Next thing that looked pretty interesting, in Turkey , was a place called Ishak Pasa Palace , near the town of Dogubayazit . Mount Ararat is easily in sight around here. The road is near the borders of Armenia and Iran so there are police/military stops. Mostly military, I think.   At one stop, when they found we didn’t speak Turkish, they called over this other solder who spoke passable English. Apparently Turkey has compulsory military duty. If you’ve a college grad it’s for six months and fifteen months if not. No pay. The guy they trotted out had graduated in Sociology. He kind of reminded me of a cross between Bob Neuhardt and Alan Alda.  Made it clear he wasn’t at all happy to be in the military. He was Kurdish. Asked us how we liked Turkey and when I told him the people were great he said he didn’t like the people from Turkey but then after some thought said SOME people from Turkey . I assume he was referring to MILITARY people. Guy was pretty funny.

There was some Turkish babbling, from the other guys in the background, and he then says they would like to know where we where going and had been. He then, kinda under his breath, says in English, they’re just trying to track you, and winks and implied we shouldn’t tell them anything.    Of course the Kurds have been agitating for a homeland for some time and the PKK, which is a Kurdish gorilla group, has been fighting the Turkish troops. I have read they’re in northern Iraq and one would presume also Iran . This explained the military presence. Saw lots of troops and basses in these parts.
 

Marked Men

Ishak Pasa is well worth a visit. Really neat place. It has been restored some, and has lots of ornate stonework. Central heating and running water. It’s situated in the hills behind the town, so you get a nice view, so nice in fact, we stayed the night.   Ran into a couple from Russian/Ukraine. They were both Ukrainian, but one lived in Sochi and the other in the Ukraine . They had reasonable English so I asked them some of my Russian questions. Like “How come the Russian people, who are so friendly and honest, tolerate the corrupt police and government officials?” They said that was an easy one. They didn’t want to turn all those criminals loose on society; it was better to put uniforms on them so you could tell who they were.

After the Palace it was off to Lake Van . Near the southern shore is an island, Akdamar Killesi that has some more old church ruins on it and south of Van is an old castle called Hosap Castle . We were getting pretty burned out on old Armenian/Georgian churches, but this was a new twist.  We first headed south and visited the old castle. Actually not real old, something like six hundred fifty years, but well worth a visit. Quite well preserved and great setting. Spent several hours crawling through and over it.
 

Bullhead

There are tour boats that will haul you out for a look see to Akdamar. On this boat trip we ran into an Armenia guy, who lived in Syria , he gave us some history lessons.   At one time this island was the headquarters of the Armenian Church, kind of like Rome is to the Catholics. He said there were more than a million Armenians living in the area then. They were ethnic cleansed outa there, in the 1916 time frame and this is what the Armenia/Turkey thing is all about, to this day. There are very few Armenians around now. Supposedly something like 1.6 million were killed, depending on whose number you wanta believe.  

As we were about to leave our parking place, in front of the restaurant across the highway, a guy yells out “Do you want to camp here?” Thinking there might be an economic incentive here, I ask how much? He says “No Charge”. We could do business. After checking to make sure there was a level spot I moved the Flyer to a nice place behind the restaurant. The King of Low Budget Camping had struck again. Just some more really nice Turks wanting to be friendly.  After I moved the van, I noticed a motorcycle guy camped there also. Turned out to be from Holland . Really nice guy with good English. He had some great travel stories so we talked and talked. Had traveled through Morocco , among other places. Ended up staying the next day too. There was water available, and clean johns for that matter, so this seemed like a good time to do my laundry. Restaurant guy kept bringing us tea. What nice folks.

Restaurant Guy had some pretty good English too, so we also got to talking. Turns out he had a girlfriend in Bullhead City , of all places. I mentioned I had a long time friends who lived there. He gets on his cell phone and calls her. After talking to her for awhile, she said Oehler, one of the friends, was her lawyer. Figure that? Later I got to calculating the time zone clock changes, and figured he had called here at four in the morning. Apparently an UNDERSTANDING girlfriend as you wouldn’t have figured that when I was talking to her.
 

PKK

Heading along the lake from Akdamar, where the former Armenian Island and camp spot was, we came to the town of Tatvan . While I was hitting an ATM there was a big demonstration of some sort that marched past the ATM.  There was a gas station up the street that had a cheap price on it, so I figured I’d walk back and check it out. Turkish gas stations sometime post one price but when you stop there is another on the pump. You guessed it, it ain’t cheaper. On the way to the station we walked past where this demonstration had headed to, and Marisol says she was going over an get some pics. I told her this was a bad bad idea as she had no idea what the demonstration was about and there were close to a hundred police about, so this didn’t look good. Not to mention this was PKK/Kurdish country so more than likely this was a PKK demonstration. As always she ignored what I had to say and heads through the fence. .Said she’d meet me back at the fence.

I continued on to the gas station and of course the price posted was bogus. Got back to the fence and no Marisol. As my walk was longer than her walk and it doesn’t talk long to snap a few photos, I headed back to the Flyer to read my book. On the way I run into Marisol who wanted her passport, which the police wanted if she wanted to attend the rally. She said she’d be back in ten minutes.   I go back to the van and maybe a half-hour goes by. Then some kids discover the van and start asking for money. Then they start yelling for money. Then they start pounding on the van and yelling for money. Started the van and moved to a new spot, but couldn’t leave, because of Marisol, although I seriously considered this after remembering some scenes I had seen on Turkish TV a few days earlier of burning cars.    It took awhile, after moving, before the kids again found the van. Kept telling the kids to get money from their father. I wasn’t their father. Finally after an hour Mariosl shows up. I was of course pissed. Really really dangerous, in my opinion. Both for the equipment and my safety and hers. Really stupid stupid thing to do.

From here we headed toward a town called Hassankeyf. It was talked of highly by the Book of Guide. On the way there we saw Batman. Not much there though. Asked some locals how to find Robin, it drew a blank. (You think I’m kidding check a map).   Hassankeyf is another really nice place and who do we meet up with, but the Dutch guy again. More yucks and free camping right along the river with again, water and a john. King of Low Budget Camping strikes again. We stayed two days but could have easily spent more. Figured it would be best to move along to Nemrut Dagi, which is up on a mountain top, before the weather changed and we couldn’t get there because of snow or such. Elbrus and Dombay came to mind.  Hassankeyf was on the tourıst traıl, so much ın fact, that I actually met an Amerıcan. Saıd he was from New York.   Nemrut is mentioned as being a top, must see, in Turkey . It was pretty good. For some reason they kept mentioned you should see it at sunrise or sunset. Some king or another, in the ancient past, had talked his subjects into erecting these big statues on the top of this mountain. There are some on the east side and west side, just at the top. Then they hauled a giant amount of rock and piled it on top of the mountain. You can see this for miles around, the rock pile that is, not the statues. King of Low Budget Camping drove up to the top and camped on a flat area, to be there at sun up. It was ok to be there then, but not that much better than any other time, in my opinion. Statue heads had been knocked onto the ground by earthquakes, over the many years, but it’s really worth the trip, in my opinion. Very unique.

Headed from Dagi to Goreme, which is part of an area called Cappadocia . Odd rocks like at Moab only different. Lots of these upside down funnel things. Many had been hollowed out so people could live in them. Other places where caves had been excavated into the rock and made into churches. I was told they used them until 1924. There was then a Greek/Turkey people exchange. Greeks who lived in the caves went back to Greece and Turks living in Greece went back to Turkey . Can’t say I understand this as the caves had supposable been used for like eight hundred years. Why would Greeks that used them that long suddenly want to move to Greece ? And visa versa?

E Piss L’s

While touring one of the many ancient rock cave churches, which BTW I was getting pretty burned out on, it was apparent from the odor in one of the back rooms where the E Piss L’s must have been written.  On the way to Ihlara Valley which was reputed to be reasonably scenic and have some hiking and have some more stinking cave churches, which I was getting burned out on, there was supposed to be the largest Caravanserais. These are old Caravan Route Roadhouses. Figured why not stop and see the biggest?

Had this splitting headache and was reasonably tired after doing a fair amount of KTMing, earlier in the day around Goreme, so figured I’d get to bed early and that should solve it. Seemed like I was running a fever so wasn’t looking and feeling my best. Usually a good nights sleep gets me past those kinds of things.  Next morning I take my temp and get 102, looked like this wasn’t working then I notice a big padlock on the Caravan place, that looked like it hadn’t opened for a long long while, then I go over to the john across the road, to do you know what, found it all torn up, then walking back to the Flyer and noticed one of the front shocks had broken the lower shock mount and was hanging down. Might say this was shaping up to not be one of my better days. Hey, it’s an adventure.    Eventually the headache turned into the Kah Kahs. Never did figure out if it was something I ate or a virus I caught from one of the many International Tourists coming in by the busload to Goreme, Swine Flu came to mind.  Still haven’t shook the Kah Kahs but finally after five days feel a little better than Road Kill.   Couldn’t do all the hiking Ilhara Valley had to offer, because of my afflictions, but still it was pretty good. In good health I’d had done maybe twice what we did. Scenic place.

 

Going Underground

There are many many underground cities in the area. They carved these suckers outa the rock. One near Derinkuyu was mentioned to be the biggest. Figured touring a bunch of them could get a little repetitive so the biggest would do. On the way there, there was a sign for another that said IT was the biggest. After seeing both, they lie. Again one of those things you gotta see to believe. Have to get your timing right. It was low season and still a busload of Japanese hit just after us and things loaded up quick. Japanese cameras going Crick Crick everywhere (Keep in mind what you paid for this). Can’t imagine what high season would be like.  It’s supposedly eight stories deep and seemed every bit that. The carvers must have been short suckers as you had to walk bent over allot. Not the easiest way to climb eight flights of stairs. Got a few new lumps on my head now.

Then it was to the Med Coast and Roman Ruins. Marisol lumps them in with all the other oldy building stuff. Oldy is Oldy to her. What’s a thousand years more anyway? Hit the coast west of Adana for those following on a map. Nice drive down  to there BTW. Didn’t stop to see anything in particular but the mountain scenery was really good.  Presently in Tasucu, a tranquilo beach port town. Keep heading west along the Med Coast from here. More oldy Roman stuff to see along the way, don’t tell Marisol, I don’t want to hear about it.  Suppose it could get repetitive too. Saw some really neat base relieves north of Kizkalesi and the old fort on an island two hundred meters from the same town. Won’t bore you with a list of all the stops but these were especially good. The Turkish yehoo we got to yucking it up with in Kizkalesi was fun too. Kinda reminded me of Rocky, if you know him, you get the picture. ( an idiot )

 
Odd things.

So far everywhere in Turkey I’ve been, on a major road, there’s a massive road improvement project going on, widening the suckers out to six lanes. One separator blank down the middle and two on either side with a big shoulder besides. Moving massive amounts of rock and then asphalting them. Been told by several pretty credible sources that the EU is paying for this. Nobody can tell me why though? Why would the EU, which Turkey is not a member of and who is being kept out by some in the EU would pay for Turkey’s roads?   Turkey who has pretty good roads and, as mentioned, moving massive amounts of the earth to make them even better has hardly any traffic and Russia, who has massive traffic, has no roads.   Gas taxes in Turkey have to be around $6.50 a gallon, the worst I’ve run across anywhere has the EU, assuming this is true, paying for it’s roads.

I assume the Christians who were living in the caves were hiding from the Muslims, who they hoped wouldn’t be able to find them to come over for dinner and now the Muslims are making big bucks from the ruins they left behind.   Only people we’ve had trouble with in Turkey are some of the kids. Little monsters maybe ten and younger. Never with any of the older ones. Makes me wonder if the next generation is going to be as nice as the last? Were the older ones today like these little monsters now but turned out fine? Nowhere near all of course but some.

Can’t do justice, with words, how nice the Turks are. Smile and wave. When we stop they come over and want to talk. Hardly ever with an economic incentive. More of that in the more touristy places but still not bad at all. Just really really nice folks. Tourism hasn’t seemed to spoil them at all, like some places I’ve been. Hope it stays this way. Really refreshing.

Till next time,

DZ
 

Gelendzhik to Kars

Friday, October 16th, 2009

Gelendzhik to Kars

 
Aw Shit

On our way to Dombay, as so many other times, we were stopped at a police check. This was one that writes your car and passport info into a big logbook. They noticed that the date put on the temporary car and bike papers was due to expire on this day. Not good. Unnoticed by me, the border chickydoo had only given me fifteen days for the van/bike and not the requested thirty. Of course they wanted money but I wasn’t going to pay.  At any rate I was still legal that day, the next days were the problema. Finally they got tired of screwing with me and we were off.

Wasn’t sure what to do. They told me I could go to a town, they showed me, on the map, and there would be a customs place there that could fix things. We drove there but was told that I had to go to another town, total distance maybe 150 kms and there would be a customs office at the airport, that could sort things out.  We drove there, waited an hour in line and the chickydoo took all my info and was making Russian noises like she would give me new documents. She then disappears for a long time. When she returned she told me she couldn’t help. I had to go to the border and pay a fine on leaving. Not good as I knew what was going to happen at any police stop that decided to look at the certificates.  Decided to tough it out and go for Elbrus and Dombay.

When we got to Elbrus the sky was mostly clear and the view was really nice. Well worth the drive. Later that afternoon clouds appeared and by the next morning it was snowing. Figured I’d head for Dombay in hopes the weather would improve. Would miss some hiking at Elbrus but hiking in the snow in a cloud didn’t sound all that good anyway. Of course while driving a coupla police stops noticed the out of date papers. Had to invoke the internet to Putin words, after they got to be annoying. Worked great each time. It was my impression that the Russian Police were much more corrupt down in these parts. This was later confirmed by a Belgium human rights lawyer, we met, who said this was true. Not connected, he also said that the killing in Chechnya was continuing, but just didn’t get press anymore. Said that they were targeting the police, so didn’t figure we would have any trouble. In fact he said just recently they took out some policia just down the road from Dombay. That explained why we saw some police checks with armored vehicles.

 Did a little hiking at Dombay, but the cloud never did lift, so couldn’t get the full show. Looked real nice from what we could see. Nice little place. Ski lifts that sort of thing. One day we went to a zoo associated with the nature preserve in the area, with some Russians we met. One of which had pretty good English. Wouldn’t recommend the zoo. Had some big bears in little cages. How sad.

 Headed back to the Black Sea Coast and down toward Sochi. The coast, anywhere there’s any sort of beach, is pretty much developed. Not that great unless you like condos. Seemed to always manage to find someplace to camp near the beach though, sometimes right on the beach after the walkways ran out, at the edge of town. All and all not too bad a place to spend some beach time.

Crazy Americans

 One night we stayed on a windsurfer beach where some guys were out doing their thing. One came around who had pretty good English so we got to chatting. When I told him we were from America and where we had been, he shook his head and said Crazy Americans.

Now it was pucker time as I wasn’t sure what was going to happen with the papers. The human rights guy had said you definitely couldn’t drive into Georgia and several other credible people told me the same thing. The only way to can drive from Russia to Georgia is via Azerbijan and then through Armenia. Problem with this is it’s real dangerous to drive to Azer, this is where the Chechnya war is still going on, and we didn’t have a visa for there, from my info, you can’t get one at the border. So it was the ferry.

Stupid can be Expensive

Went to the ticket window to buy a ferry ticket for Trabzon Turkey but when I mentioned I had a paper problem they wouldn’t sell me a ticket until it was sorted out. A real nice guy in line, would could speak English helped us out. We went to the Customs office we were told to go to, and they said go to another office. We went to this office and they said it had moved to another city 300kms away and I’d have to drive there.   Wasn’t sure what to do, after my experience of having driven to the airport customs and told to go to the border. Went back and asked her to call the office, she screwed around on the phone for twenty minute and allowed that she couldn’t get the new number because they had just moved. Dead end.

That night I decided to just go back to the ticket office the next day and buy a ticket and get in line to see what would happen. They noticed the bad date and told me to go to the wrong customs office, again. Sound familiar? Went back to the customs office and looked real dejected. The woman felt sorry for me and took me to a customs officer who said he would work on it. Things were looking up.

They impounded the van and started a bunch of paperwork. He took me to his boss who said I’d have to pay fifty dollars an hour, for an interpreter, to explain what I was signing. Had to agree or they wouldn’t work on it. We spent all day there and got charged, by the interpreter 200, who we never needed because the customs guys had good English. Signed a bunch of papers around 8:00 that night, Friday and said we could stay in the van at the customs yard till Monday. Was told the top boss needed to sign off on all of this, but he wouldn’t be around till Monday. Then we would go to the bank and pay the fine.   Later Monday went to the bank, with one of the customs guys, and paid out another100. Next day I went the ticket office, again to buy a ticket. She still wouldn’t sell me a ticket. Said I needed an agent, because of the car papers, so to come back at 1:00 and one would be there. One came and went but finally a guy shows up and motions for us to come with him.

He ultimately sold me tickets. Made me buy a ticket for the bike too, even though it was on the carrier in back of the Siberian Flyer. In the end it cost over $1K for all the tickets. Real rip-off, but I was ready to get outa Russia, at any cost. Took five days in all plus three hundred bucks because of the date error by Russian customs. Stupid is expensive, I should have checked closer.

Just as we were about to head for the gate to go to the boat, the customs guy says I had to pay him 1500 R or fifty bucks for ‘parking’. First time that was mentioned. On Friday the customs guys worked till 8:00 at night so figured I’d go over and talk to the nice customs guys and ask about the fifty bucks. Who do I meet but the fifty-dollar man. I said I was going to say goodbye to our new customs friends. He said they had already left for the day, I mentioned that we had exchanged email addresses so it wasn’t that big of deal and BTW I want a receipt if I give you any money. He stalked off, and mentioned we might be stuck there for some more days. Turns out he was just bluffing as we went and got on the boat. Scum Sucker.

Custom War

When we got in the car to go the main customs office and also pick up the interpreter the customs guys started out by making sure all the car’s documents were correct. Thought this was a little odd so being the curious sort I asked why? Was told the police and customs agents were bitter enemies. They seemed to have no idea why, it just was that way. Odd.

Other odd thing about everywhere we visited in Russia, it seemed like the police just didn’t do any traffic control at night. You hear car and motorcycles out having a great time. Need to look real close before crossing a street as vehicles would be hitting amazing speeds. Reminded me of the 60’s in the US.  

Micky Dee’s a block from the docks. Had a toilet with a seat that worked. Russafied though as no paper.  Scored a couple of Chicken Sandwiches and sundaes. Good to get some cholesterol in circulation again.

Sad day occurred when my last jar of peanut butter ran out. Took four along but this was the last. Sometimes you have to rough it, when traveling.

What a Difference a Country Makes

What a difference a country makes. We got to Turkey and breezed through immigration and car papers. Automatically gave us ninety days for both. No hassles at all. Cost me twenty bucks for a visa, Marisol didn’t need one.   When the guy checked my passport at the gate leaving the port, he gets on the phone. Said something was wrong with what was there. He motions for me to follow him, and we drive back to the original port office. While walking into the office what seemed to be the guy at the top of the food chain, tells me in good English, that the problem was, Turkey customs software only allows one vehicle per person and I had both the bike and van. He said they would figure something out.      A lot for Turkish later with four or five guys in the office working on it, and we were on our way again. Sounded to me like they were going to change their software. Could you imagine that happening in Russia?

What Books?

I like to read, so months before shipping the van I started going to used book stores and looking for books that I thought might be interesting. Put maybe thirty or so in the Flyer and took another twenty or so along with me in a bag on the plane.   Packed about half them in one of the lockers to get them outa the way. After reading my way through all the ones bungeed on top of the fridge, went to get some more out of the locker. To my surprise, no books. Asked Marisol where were all my books?  She says “What Books?” Apparently she threw them all out, course still hasn’t admitted it. Nice to have a wife who cooperates and helps out.

Turkish people are incredibly friendly. If possible even more so than the Russians. We drive along and they will wave and smile. Keep giving us things. Stop and ask for directions and they give us apples or something. Act like we are long lost friends. Can’t do adequate justice with words to describe how friendly.

For map followers, we went from Trabzon to Sumela to Bayburt (Really neat old fort) to Erzurum to Yusufeli. Have to say the road from Erzurum to the turnoff before Yusufeli had the best rocks I’ve seen since Canyon de Pato in Peru. Oddest rocks I’ve seen for a long time. Certainly equal to Pato.  Other than rocks old churches and forts are what you look at in this area. Fired up the KTM and road to some. Most are around one thousand or more years old. Getting a little old Georgian churched out now.

Then headed from Yusufeli toward Artvin  to Ardahan to Kars. Lots of nice scenery on the way as far as Ardahan. Forgot to mention. Got sticker shock on gas. Works out to about nine bucks a gallon. Not a cheap place to drive. Not much traffic though. Apparently discourages frivolous trips. Makes the KTM look real appealing. Roads so far have been quite good, in Turkey, especially after suffering through the Russian ones. Even little thin lines on the map are asphalted. The Flyer is quivering with relief.

Kars has some old ruins, again about 1K years old, called Ani. Great place, spent close to four hours looking at them. Marisol wasn’t impressed and can only pester me for more beaches.

Good News Bad News

Good news is the fitting I had made up to fill propane, at the pump in Russia, is the same in Turkey. Bad news is it’s five bucks a gallon. Good news is there are stations everywhere. Most gas stations also have a propane pump. No propane worries.   Bad news is we are late in the season. Good news is the leaves are changing so it has to be the most scenic time of the year. Bad news it’s getting coldy, or so Marisol tells me.

Good news, talked to a tour guide guy from the Netherlands and he said he leaves his car in Greece when he goes home. You can only leave one in Turkey for six months but in the EU no problema. This is what I was hoping I could do, but wasn’t sure. Am pretty sure now that I can do this. No bad news on that one.

Till next time,

DZ
 

Shymkent to Gelendzhik

Saturday, September 19th, 2009

Shymkent to Gelendzhik

Between Taraz (a Silk Road town) and Shymkent we stayed the night in the parking lot of a mausoleum called Aysha-Bibi., reputed to be about a thousand years old and one of the best in the area. They even had a john there. Figured this could be pretty nice. When I went to use it, it appeared it was built in about the same time frame and last cleaned shortly thereafter. You CAN levitate over a hole in the floor.  A Local pig in Shymkent decided we looked like a profit center, while we were driving around town, and invited us to follow him back to talk to some his piggy buddies. They couldn’t find anything wrong with the papers, even checked the insurance papers. So finally they said the van was dirty, and were going to write me a ticket. Course I could give them some money to get around this ‘problem’. Marisol decided to help out by throwing one of her five year old tantrums.  This was not looking good. Shut the f%%k up and go sit in the f%%king van, were mentioned, all of which was ignored, of course. I finally pointed out she was from Brazil, not America, to get around some of my embarrassment.  Seemed to me, this was pretty dangerous. Up to this time, we had done nothing wrong, but mouthing off to the police and refusing to do what they asked, was probably illegal. Apparently nothing was learned by her Globe experience. There was such a fuss that bystanders started to gather watching the action. It got so bad, it even embarrassed the police so they said leave. Didn’t even have to start writing down license and badge numbers. What works, works. All around, pretty lucky, I think. Turkistan was the next stop. There’s this great big mausoleum there. Incredible place. I mean big. Got cornered by some school kids and their teacher. Teach had some English so she would interpret the questions and answers. Turned out to be quite fun. Good place to visit, even though the mausoleum is the only thing to see.

Car Stuff

Gas runs from 67T to 90T per liter, in Kazak, which works out to about two bucks a gallon, so Kazakhstan is a cheap place to drive, if you ignore the beating the car takes. Flyer’s been getting around 15MPG, which is better than the Copper Streak got. There are Helios stations that are usually in the upper sixties to lower seventies, when the others are in the eighties, no idea why, but I always wait to see if I can find one of them. So far the van has been running fine. Hughes trans is working fine, as it did for all the miles in the Copper Streak. Shieb paint is staying on fine, only ding I have is a parking lot one, some yehoo did while I was on the other side of the van installing the shock bushings (so far the new ones are holding up fine). There are pullouts along the highways that have a big P and arrow marking them. There’s usually a ramp where you can run your car on to get underneath. No johns usually, and the few that are there you wouldn’t want to use, the bushes around the edges are real green though.Idler pulley for the air conditioner belt decided to have half the ball bearings turn to dust, had another along. Here I thought it was the compressor making the belt squall occasionally. So still have air. Only thing of a bit of a concern is the back springs seem to be sagging some, guess you can only flex them so many times. For every km you go forward you go up and down a km. Roads on the West side of Kazak aren’t near as good as between Astana and Almaty.  Propane is about a dollar per gallon in Kazak. Always been able to fill, either using my handy dandy Russian adapter or when using the pump places they have a bag full of adapters, one of which will screw onto my adapter hose. Always best is if you find the pump station as then you only pay for what you use. Otherwise, when I bleed it in, I have to guess how much is needed, there’s no gauge on the tank, and buy a tank with how much I think I might be down.   After lots of searching finally managed to buy the fitting used to fill the Propane car/truck/bus tanks in Russia. Now I can fill at the propane stations with the pump. You see them all over the place, but before, in Russia, I had to wait till I found one that had some tanks sitting about.

2 for 3 for M32
 
There are two direct ways to go from Aral to Aqtobe. I asked maybe ten people which way to go. The Italians in Almaty said start up the East one and then cross over to the West one, after about 150 kms. Said a lot of it was like Mongolia, where the road is so bad people drive along side the road, instead, but then there’s the sand hazard, if you pick the wrong track. Locals I asked two to one, said go all the way on the East track, which is marked as M32 on the map, and shown to be the main road in the Book of Guide, so that’s what I tried.  There was a nasty nasty section, maybe a hundred miles long. Road was incredibly rutted from trucks driving on it while muddy. There were holes over a meter deep in places. Sometimes you just couldn’t avoid them. Side tracks looked pretty sandy so I waited till they looked like just dirt and started using them. Can’t imagine doing it in the mud. At the end of this section there of course was a police stop. You guessed it, they wanted money, finally they gave up and let me go.  The ‘highway’ was then some old bagged out asphalt, but at least you could stay on the road. Slow going but we finally got through this and came to where there was some new asphalt. Problem was you couldn’t get on it, so still had to drive on really rough dirt. This section was probably fifty miles. Toward the end managed to sneak up on the asphalt. Got kind of a snarly look from the guard at the end. Real glad to get this section over with. The Flyer took a real beating, but survived. Steering sector is kinda loose now, so will need to deal with that.  After Oralsk had to decide whether to head south and then go to Astrakhan, in Russia, or stay on Jack’s route and head west to Russia from there. The Book of Guide mentioned a Kremlin in Astrakhan, and I had never seen one of those, so we headed south. I was told the road was good to Atyrau but couldn’t seem to get any reliable info from there to Astrakhan, decided to just goferit.  Road was good to Atyrau and not great to the border, but if I stuck to 25 to 30 mph, it was ok. After crossing into Russia, the road gets much better, like I hoped. We headed to Rustov on Don, and then toward the Black Sea Coast. Stopped for a night at the neat old town of Starocherkassk. It was the Cossack capitol for two hundred years, now a quiet little hamlet. Camped right along the river. Great town.  Figured we’d start at the north end of the Russian Black Sea Coast and head south. First place to hit was Anapa. Little big for my tastes but the KLBC found a place on the bluff above the beach to park. Lots of wind, which I like, a great view. Could then just walk on down to the developed part for all the action. Did some snorkeling. Not real great but there was more fish than I expected. Water was real clear. You could also do some SCUBA but didn’t figure it was worth it. Been spoiled by the South Seas Diving.   Next beach town was Gelendzik. Much better. Less people and again the KLBC camped on the street that faced the beach. There was a fresh water beach shower, maybe a couple hundred feet away, to replenish water supplies. This is where the latest missive was launched into cyberspace.

Things Ya Learn

By feel, whether you have enough TP in the baggy in your back pocket.  Earth curvature needs to be taken into account, when figuring how far to walk in the morning to go Kah Kah, because it’s so flat sometimes in Kazak, and some areas of Russia.  At first when we saw a camel or dromedary it was “Wow, look at that!” Just like when we first saw Zebras in Kruger Park in South Africa, but they’re everywhere so now even Marsol doesn’t throw one of her five year old tantrums and pout for an hour when I refuse to stop for yet another stinking camel picture. A women with good English said they are the cow, for Kazak.

Jack Was Here Plaques

We’ve drifting off and on Jack’s route, when he rode his motorcycle across these parts. He did a much more direct shot, so we only sometimes see the plagues he left.

How do you Argue with That?

I liked the newer Chevy van’s dash because they have fresh air vents in them. Many times just turning on the vent is good enough to stay comfortable. So of course Marisol constantly want me to run the air conditioner. On one of these occasions she had on three layers of clothes so I said “Why don’t you take off a layer or two?” She said “It’s cold outside.” How do you argue with that?   I’m always having to wait for her. Assume it’s some sort of control thing. See I can control you, you have to wait for me. Sometimes hours. She of course throws one of her Five year old Tantrums, if God Forbid, she might have to wait five minutes for me. One day she gave the example of how she had to wait for me. She said, “Just this morning I had to wait an hour and a half while you changed the front brake pads.” How do you argue with that?   Present plans are to head some more south, along the Black Sea Coast and then inland a bit to a coupla places along the Georgia border, in the Caucasus Mountains, that sound pretty neat. Then gotta decide whether to try and enter Georgia or take the ferry to Turkey. No idea what happens if you check outa Russia and Georgia won’t let you in. Our Russian Visas are only single entry so assume you couldn’t go back and say you didn’t mean it. Hey, it’s an adventure.

Till next time,

DZ
 

Tomsk to Almaty

Monday, August 31st, 2009

Illiquidity

Tomsk is a civilized place. Even had public johns right near Lenin’s statue, which is in the middle of downtown. It did cost 30R to use them. In my illiquid state, that seemed like a bargain. After a coupla days I carefully snuck up on a dry fart. Happy days are here again. Free advice, don’t have anything to do with raw fish.

 

As always wasn’t sure, when we drove into town, where to park, not to mention being able to find an open john.  No problem there’s several parking lots right in the middle of where you want to be, and there were the affore mentioned facilities. No charge either. Stayed the night.

 

Old wooden buildings with lots of foo foo on them is the draw. Also some nice old churches.  After awhile it does get a bit repetitive, but to date it was about as good as this sort of thing has gotten. Guess the Siberian rail line missed it, but it has turned into a university town.

 

Tomsk is real clean with flower gardens in the public squares. Lots of guys, the next morning, out picking up the trash thrown around by the night crawlers. Weed whackers and lawn mowers even. Streets we drove, were fairly smooth. Great place to visit, I give it a big recommendation. Could have stayed longer but Russian Visas are short and Russia big, so we headed out.

 

It’s Siberia

 

Next target was Omsk . Somewhat more of the same as Tomsk . First visited a partially reconstructed old Nunnery south of town. Nice setting along a river. Even has a hot springs near a little chapel, back in the trees. On the way from there to Omsk , we, as always, got stopped at a Policia check. It was pretty cold out and had started to rain. While I was ‘talking’ to the guys, I charaded that it was cold out. One of the guys shrugs his shoulders and with a smile says “It’s Siberia ”. Got a good laugh outa that one.

 

We camped near the river by the old town gates. King of low budget camping. Right in the middle of the old district. No problems and the day before we headed out even managed to find some water. 

 

Our visas for Kazakhstan started on the 15th and we got to the border later in the day of the 14th so needed to hang around before midnight came. There were several things concerning me, like there was a rumor that I needed a Carnet and also Jack was told he needed an invite, in spite of internet and Kazak embassy saying I didn’t need one. Had one for Marisol, but not me.

 

No problem on any front. Even had insurance available at the border for only 500R for both the bike and van. Real bargain as it cost me close to 3000R for Russia . Wasn’t looking and feeling my finest as by the time we got through it was around 3:00 AM.

 

Internet Time

 

The Book of Guide mentioned a lake area, Burabay, on the way from the border to Astana, that was known as the “Kazak Switzerland”.  On the way there, on horrible roads, we got stopped by some police with radar. We obviously couldn’t be speeding but we were told we didn’t have our headlights on. Kazakhstan is one of those countries where you’re supposed to turn on your headlights during the day on highways.

 

He was wanting money, I said give me a ticket. I never pay bribes. They had another victim in the car with them, whom I assume they were either trying to extract money from or were giving a speeding ticket. It took awhile, like maybe twenty minutes, getting around to me. Marisol was out along the highway with her beach game ball racket swatting the ball around. I was reading my book. Wanted to show them we had plenty of time.

 

Finally they get me in the pig car and started the old money routine again. One was making these motions like I’m going to keep your driver’s license. Before I got in, I’d written their license number and time of day and highway number on one side of a little piece of paper, and the name of Kazak’s president on the other.  I said give me a ticket, but BTW I’m going to write the president on the internet about you folks hassling the tourists. Up to this point all three were doing this tough guy routine.

 

There was maybe a ten second delay, and all three go ballistic. All my papers were thrown back in my lap; they all start motioning me outa the pig car. They’re saying nyet nyet. Tried to ask them which lights I was supposed to have on, park on head but they just kept motioning for me to leave and saying nyet nyet. Some folks you just have to find a way to communicate with. Skumsuckers.

 

You probably wouldn’t mistake Burabay for Switzerland , but for this area it was pretty nice. Everything was real flat until we got to this area, then there were pine trees and lakes and rocks. Pigs were hassling us horribly going into town. Got stopped six times in maybe three miles. All had dollar signs for eyeballs, but we left them disappointed. Finally the King of Low Budget Camping found a guarded hotel parking lot right across the road from a sandy beach. Didn’t cost nothin, stayed three nights. Guess the reason the pigs were so jumpy was the president was in town for some R and R. What better vehicle for a terrorist assassin to be traveling in, than a US camper van with dirt bike on the back

 

Oh No!

 

Last day there I decided to jog around the lake. The day before I’d walked, what I thought, was a quarter of the way around, in about a half hour, so figured if I jogged twice as fast, I could circumnavigate it in maybe an hour. Parking lot guards claimed the trail went all the way around. Figuring like this can lead to problems.

 

Jogged for an hour and still looked like a long ways to go. Then the trail ran out and still I wasn’t back to the hotel, which I could see maybe a half mile away, over the next hill. Then I come to a fence, which had an open gate, so I go through.

 

Then I ran into some military looking guys, with radios. Apparently another military base. Oh no, not again! This was not looking good. The first guy gets on his radio and talks to some other folks. Finally he leads me to some taller hats. More questions, more English. We then went to some taller hats still. And then there was a police car. After the Russian experience this was definitely not looking good. Ultimately the police guy takes me back to the van, and gets all sorts of passport and visa numbers. Took maybe an hour and a half. Was expecting a lot worse.

 

Headed for Astana, the new Kazak capitol. We needed to register our entry with the migration police within five days and were having lots of trouble doing this. Figured we should be able to do this in Astana, as Jack did. Making a long story short, you need to get a letter from a travel agent before they’ll stamp the god damned little piece of paper, but we did get it done. What a hassle.

 

Next paper work issue was new Russian Visas.  Took a day to get them, after paying a fortune for expedited service. Was figuring it might take a lot longer as in Ulaanbaatar it took about thirteen days, and no way to get them faster. This would have meant coming back to Astana, before going to Russia , which would mean seeing a lot less Kazakhstan . They accepted a printout of the invite and didn’t ask for an ‘original’ like I was afraid they might.

 

Took a day to tour some around Astana. Have to call it a Fantasy City . Incredible architecture. Suspect a google search would get you a site showing it. No power lines, must have buried them. We took a ride to the top of the monument in the middle of the new government mall area. The capitol was moved from Almaty to Astana in the late nineties, so everything’s new, and they’re still building away. A docent, in the monument, claimed it was designed by some Japanese guy. Incredible job, I’d say. Really amazing in my opinion. Beats out Brasilia even.

 

Headed toward Almaty. Had two credible people tell me the road was fine, and they were right. Pretty good all the way. Only one area where we were run into the ditch. Chip sealing. Another section maybe fifty or sixty miles long, before Almaty also was like the Russia border stuff, probably hadn’t been redone yet.

 

There’s a big lake in southern Kazak called Balkhash. You drive around the western edge going to Almaty. Looked so nice, when we stopped for a look, we stayed for a day and night. If we hadn’t run outa propane, probably would have stayed longer.

 

Still the biggest hassle with Kazak is the police. At another police stop one of the skumsuckers got to thinking I should make a gift of my binoculars. Said I could buy another pair in Almaty. I allowed as he could buy HIS in Almaty. This sort of thing went on for maybe twenty minutes with him threatening to write me some bogus ticket and not give back my drivers license. Started staring at his badge and more importantly its number and then mentioning writing the president about him hassling tourists. He looks over at some other worm in plain clothes and I hear the tourist word. He motions for me to leave. I sat there for awhile like I didn’t get it. He gets more insistent about me leaving. Finally I left. Worm.

 

So far the road report for going from Almaty to Oral, which is at the border with Russia , doesn’t sound good. A Turkish guy, with passable English we had ran into in Astana, claimed there was a pretty long stretch of pretty bad road. He should know as is a road contractor and he had driven it. While camping in a park outside of Almaty a couple of Italian guys, also with passable English said they had just driven it with a VW Jetta. So got, what I think, is a pretty reliable road information. They too said there a was a section of about 450 kms that sounded real familiar like Mongolia’s best. Mentioned the ‘S’ word, sand.

 

Asphalt started out real good but then it’s gotten pretty rough, mostly filled pothole kind of stuff, but at least it’s asphalt. Supposed to be some dirt coming up, where the road is so bad that you have to drive along the side in the dirt. This is where the line you pick becomes all important, did I mention the S word?

 

The Kazaks have treated us incredibly nice. Hard to describe how nice, if you ignore the Skumsucker Policia. Keep giving us stuff and wanting to talk, invite us into their houses. As we get into the more Muslim area, you don’t see hardly any booze bottles and no drunks. Just real gentle nice folks. They just can’t believe they have seen an American car. Drive by waving and smiling, after a complementary toot of the horn.

 

Decided to goferit, hence this message from Shymkent, which is on the way west, just past Taraz, both of which are west of Almaty, for those following on a map. Hey, it’s an adventure.

 

Till next time,

 

DZ

 

We’ve had some trouble finding a functioning internet, which is why the delay for this missive

Ulaanbaatar to Tomsk

Sunday, August 9th, 2009

Ulaanbaatar to Tomsk

Tomsk on the map

Propain

So we went back to the air camp, after getting the passports back, so we could head out to new venues. Were a little late because Marisol ran across an American buy called Darrel who lived in UB. She trotted him by the Post Office Internet parlor, where I was, so we could chat a bit. Turned out he knew Al , the driller guy I had met in Moron. When I got in the van I noticed the propane had run out. 

I was hoping to make it back to Russia before needing propane as I had a Russian fitting but no Mongolian fitting. The Mongolian fitting kinda looks like a POL fitting but with a finer thread. So this was not making my day. Especially being as it was about 5:00 on Friday afternoon. 

Headed over to our airport restaurant friends to see if I could get them to call the place where they got their propane for cooking. They called and their fifteen-year-old kid went along to help me find it. He speaks passable English.

Got to the place and it was a gas pump kind of place, but the fittings were entirely different. Not good. Decided to give Darrel a call, to see if he knew where to get propane tanks filled. He came out to meet us, and after a visit with Al and some more phone calls, it turned out to be maybe a mile or two down the street from the pump place. Amazingly enough they even had a couple of Russian tanks, not quite the size I was looking for, but one was big enough to fill about ¾ full. If you need some propane in UB the place is on the South side of main drag, on the West side of the city, about a half a kilometer east of the traffic circle. I’d rather be lucky than smart.

Headed down the road for Khorakoren, which was Chinggis Khaan’s capital. Wasn’t supposed to be much there, but figured it was someplace that needed visiting. Neat old Monastery there, that made the drive worth it. Even the twenty-three miles of dirt. On the way we ran into the Frenchies and their four kids, that we had met at the Kazakhstan Consulate. They’re traveling in a German Camper Division kind of rig. Great big 4WD yellow thing, towing a four wheeler on a trailer.

Another reason I wanted to go down this way was, I was told there were some pretty cool sand dunes along the way. Sure were, and camels to boot. Marisol wouldn’t let me get away without an hour ride. I was hoping to be able to steer them myself, but when I asked the guy where the handlebars and throttle were, guess he figured he’d better lead us.

Cross at Border 

Next day it was off to the border. Hate borders, it’s the worst part of travel for me. Our visas were all in order, which had been a bit of a concern, after the airbase visit. Got spit out of the Mongolian side and it was into the Russian side. Out is usually easy, in is the bitch.

While waiting in line, on the Mongolian side, this Mongolian twenty something kid asks if he could ride along with us to the next town. Didn’t make sense to me, as he was on foot, and could just go to the head of the line and ask somebody there, would be much quicker. In a weaker moment, I said ok.

He got into the passenger seat. Something didn’t seem right, but I couldn’t figure out what it was exactly. There was some problem with a car, a few cars ahead of us, and we sat and sat. Like an hour and a half. This gave me time to work on what the odd thing was. Got to noticing he sat way too high in the seat. His clothes were full of something. He was a smuggler. 

Now what to do. We were close to the Russian border folks so I had to decide if I wanted to make a ruckus. Finally I poked him in the ballooned pant legs, letting him know I was on to him and told him that he had to walk through, I’d pick him up after the inspection guards. Finally it was our turn, and of course he didn’t get our till I was told, that because of the van’s size, I’d need to go to the other side of the clubhouse and get the van x-rayed. This whole thing was making me real nervous. 

Course I was pissed at the asshole for putting me in this situation but could see some downside no matter what I decided to do. If I turned him in to the guards they could grab me too. After the previous brush with the Russian justice system, I wanted to avoid this at all costs. If I just let him ride along, and he was caught, then I’m sure they’d believe I had nothing to do with it.

Now that I was sensitized to smuggling, got to noticing that an older guy in the car in front of us, also had something in his clothes. We had also seen a women on the Mongolian side, wrapping herself with something. The place was full of smugglers. No idea what was being smuggled.

We made it through, after about four hours. The guy got out just on the other side of the border, not the next town like he had told me. Got to thinking. If I could figure all this out, in an hour, the Russians had to be in on it. They’re smart folks and this wasn’t rocket science. Real glad to get outa there. No more hitch hikers, period. I had made this same decision, years ago, and have no idea why I’d succumbed. 

Mongolia Over My Shoulder

Incredibly nice folks. Lots of green. We were real sorry to leave. Had gone there thinking maybe a week and a half or so, long enough to get the visas sorted out, but could stay months. Lots to see, much more than I ever figured. Did I mention the people are incredibly nice?

Just a few cases in point. The airport restaurant folks, the night before we planned on leaving, came over to the van and gave us some presents. Totally unexpected. The guy we met at the gas station, who had gone to school in Tucson, after noticing the AZ license plate came over and talked to us. While talking I mentioned, as usual, I had a real piece of shit map, for Mongolia, and he gives me his really good map. Or the checkout girl at a little super market that just gave us this big box of chocolates. Incredibly incredibly nice folks. Think it would be fun to do a big dirt bike loop around Mongolia.

Looks to me like they’re doing pretty good. Seems like a fair amount of new construction. Was told that things had slowed down allot after the government raised the tax on mining. Saw quite a few tourists around so that has to be a fairly large business also.

Hole in the floor wooden johns, if you want to use a john in the countryside. Real flat most places so they can look attractive. Sure wouldn’t want to drop my money belt down one of those. Marisol hated them so bad, she hardly ever used them, preferred the fields. Somehow she can disappear on a flat field, no idea how. I had stage fright to contend with, to quote an Aussie I met in Paraguay, when I asked him what he did when the bus stopped in a flat open field, like I had seen them do. He said once you got over stage fright, no problem. Always carry TP, as in the best of places, there was hardly ever TP, even the International Airport was maybe 50%.

Sheep, cows, goats, horses everywhere. Open grazing run wild. Towns, even some in the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar. With the massive number we saw, hard to believe the land could support so many. Erosion appears to have started. Not sure how the system works. Was told the land was public land but I wonder if there’s any control on how many any one person can graze and whether they’re limited to a certain place.

The people seemed to be recently off the land. Ulaanbaatar has around a million souls, out of a country of around three million. Out of town you see ‘tourist camps’ with lots of gers and horses. Looked to me like this may be the first generation to have to live in town. They go back out to the country to get to their roots. Kids seems to be driving most of the big trucks. Hope the people don’t loose their present honest nature, as I was told, they’re getting more materialistic now that they have discovered what they don’t have.

Many roads are a joke. No road at all, just some cement posts out across the land. You’re on your own. Don’t bother to even run a road grader over the roads, like how much can that cost? The asphalt roads they do build, seem to be pretty well done compared to Russia. Some were quite smooth.

All in all, a great place to visit. People are incredibly nice. We really hated to leave. I wish them the best.

Earl

Back in Russia we headed for Lake Baikal. Reputed to hold more fresh water than any other lake, mainly because it’s so deep. Scenery ain’t too bad, although not up to Crater Lake or Tahoe standards. We camped along it, and it started to rain a bunch. Decided this was known as opportunity. Got out a rag, and wiped the Mongolian mud off the Flyer. Earl would be proud. Earl of Sheib did the Siberian Flyer paint job.

Just off the western edge, the Book of Guide mentioned a resort that had some Hot Springs, so thought that might be worth a try. Said the valley going there was pretty good too. 

Had trouble finding the road, so we stopped and asked several times. Pulled into a restaurant and asked some people, just as it started to rain. When I backed up, I hear this shout, after feeling a crunch. Not good. Some guy had pulled in just behind me, after I started to back up.

Wasn’t sure what to do. No idea how the system worked. Thought maybe I could work something out with him. Marisol figured she could help out, by getting out and yelling all sorts of vile insulates at the guy, while doing her five year old tantrum thing. Like he was a drunk trying to get money for more Vodka (I smelt no alcohol). Giving her some free advice like “Shut the F%%k up” was of no help. How embarrassing.

 Between all the Brazilian tantrum noise, I asked him what he thought it would cost to fix it. He writes down 300so I thought he meant 300 Rubles. That would be like ten bucks.  So figured why not just pay it. Seemed a little cheap, he meant three hundred  dollars, which was way too much. He wasn’t going for less, so I said let’s call  Russia’s finest.   Turns out they came out and took a report, just like  the US, and because I had insurance, no problem. Everything real honest,  although it did take awhile. Got all my papers back. Had no idea what to expect.  Good thing he didn’t take the200 I had offered him. 

Arshan, the resort, was really nice. The drive getting there was pretty good too. I’d recommend it. Never ran into another Gringo there. Must be a place where the Russians party. Did quite a bit of hiking while there. Seemed to me, it might have been a place that during Communism was reserved for the Commie elite because of many closed spa buildings. Later I asked a kid with pretty good English about this, and he said that was the case. Now of course everybody goes. Lots of new building going up.

After Arshan we heading to Baikal again, to a resort town near Irkutsk called Listvyanka. Pleasant little place. Got hung up there a coupla nights. Long enough to make the mistake of eating some raw fish at a restaurant. Still got the pooh poohs as of this writing. No idea why I ate the stuff. Maybe I can blame it on the Swiss guy, Chris, we were jukking it up with. He rode a bike from Switzerland to Vlad and put it on a train to Moscow. Had lots stories.

We’re now in Tomsk, which is on the way to Omsk. Sounded pretty neat, according to the Book of Guide. Lots of old buildings. Guess we’ll find out. From here it’s off to Kazakhstan.

One thing I wish wouldn’t have come up, while talking to Chris. He said that as far as he knew you needed a Carnet to take a vehicle into Kazak. Hope he got some bad info, as I don’t have one. Didn’t see that mentioned anywhere. If they won’t let me take the SF in, hopefully I can leave it at the border and take a bus to Astana, to get new Russian Visas, as we have to leave Russia by the 18th. Hey, it’s an adventure.

1st in 3rd

Occurred to me, while bouncing and bashing along on the miserable Russian roads, Russia seems to have first world people in a third world country. Outhouses at the gas stations, with no water, many horribly rough roads, and East Block apartments to live in. Always a struggle to find water for the van shower tank. I suppose from their perspective things are much better than just a short time ago. Lots of people can now drive and the roads are probably much better than just a few years ago. But in everything from roads to housing they have a long long way to go. You also see lots of new houses going up. 

Till next time,

DZ

Vladivostok to Ulaanbaatar

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Vladivostok to Ulaanbaatar

 

Sat in the van all day the 22nd waiting to get the plates. One time about midday I saw a guy drive up in a van and head toward the front door of The Jing Long, with what looked like a FedEx envelope. This was looking good. Baled out of the van and went into the lobby thinking the best. Nobody around except the receptionist. Asked about FedEx and she shakes her head no. Dejectedly walked back to the Siberian Flyer to wait some more. No other action all the rest of the day. Not good. That night I got to thinking, what if the content description said License Plates and these got stolen too?

 

The next morning I headed to the Internet Post Office and checked the FedEx tracking site. It said the package was delivered the day before at 12:00 noon and was signed for by a Vadim. I had checked, in the morning, the day before, and it still said “In Transit”.

 

Feverishly headed back to the Jing Long and talked to the receptionist she, claimed there was no package delivered for me the day before. This was looking real bad. Then I asked if there was a Vadim there, and she points to the restaurant. Went in and there was a guy and girl sitting at a table going over some accounts. Asked for Vadim and he said that was him. Asked about a FedEx package, after hesitating a bit, he points to a table with my FedEx package opened with everything scattered across the table. I think I was real close to losing them too. How many gringos were sitting out in the parking lot waiting for American license plates? The package was clearly not addressed to him so he must have been trying to decide whether make a buck off  them. Could have been another explanation but don’t see what it could be.

 

Oh

 

After Jack got my last newsletter, he emails me and says he heard they sometimes stole foreign license plates so he had Pop Riveted his on. NOW he tells me.

 

Decided to keep the second plate as a spare, in the locker, and put the other new one on the back. Riveted the hell out of everything. They could still get it off, but it’ll take lots more effort. Marisol said one day, from the bus, she saw a Minnesota License plate on the front of a Russian car. Bet I know where that came from.

 

Vladivostok is basically gridlock all day long. Took about an hour to get the first three miles. When we hit the first Police stop, of course we get pulled over. Bunch of nice guys. Marisol goes for a photo, and the first one says no way, and points into the clubhouse. Took a while for her to come out so I went looking for her. When I poked my head in the door she had a bunch of them all lined up and was snapping away.

 

Outside one of the guys kept saying Scorpions, Scorpions. I couldn’t figure out what this was all about. Then it dawned on me; I had seen a Scorpion’s BAND poster on a wall downtown. Also Alice Cooper. I thought it was for some other town, but apparently the Scorpions were coming to Vlad in a coupla days.

 

A Real Grind

 

Later on, on the first day of driving, this loud grinding noise starts on deceleration. Figured it must be the carrier bearing and I had a spare along. It was raining and have never seen one of them go ballistic so waited till we stopped for the evening to pull things apart. The bearing had slid out of the rubber cause the rubber was in pretty bad shape. No way I could pound the bearing off though.

 

Next day found a shop that had a press and after lots of charading, I took the shaft off and handed it to a kid to do pressing matters. I wanted to take it off and put it back on myself, as I’ve learned to never ever ever let others screw with my stuff. The kid stood around watching me so I figured they’d want to charge me for his time. When she gave me the bill it was for 150R, five bucks. More nice Russians. Lots of smiles and waves as we left.

 

When we headed up the road, later that day, a police guy comes out and flags us down at a bus crosswalk. He has a radar gun and shows me that it said 73. I guess you’re supposed to slow down to 60 kph there. I don’t think we were going 73, but when I handed him my International Drivers License he asked if we were tourists, when I said yes, he hands it back and says, “Have a nice day.” Lots of radar around, bet we saw as many as five of them going north.

 

We pressed on till Khabarovsk, it looked pretty easy to hit the right road on the map. Turns out that wasn’t the case. We kept stopping and asking directions and the people didn’t seem to know either. Finally one guy pulls out a map and starts showing me all these turns. I looked real confused so he heads toward his car and motions us to follow him. We drove maybe twenty minutes hitting turn after turn; it would have taken us an hour to get through there. Name was Mikhail, another nice Russian.

 

 

Road Tech

 

There’s lotsa road construction going on between Vladivostok and Chita. Pretty much all the roadbed and interchanges are done. All that’s needed is the asphalt. They’re working 24/7. Several guys I talked to said it’s scheduled to be all tarmac by the end of 2010. I predict 2011 but at the rate they’re going, they may be right. We had lots of new asphalt, which was actually smooth. The worst section was the dirt parts just before Chita. It was sections that hadn’t had any new work done, and why grade a dirt road? so lots of washboard. Don’t think any of it was as bad as Ruta 40 in Patagonia though. This I could go about twenty but down there I couldn’t get over fifteen.

 

A lot of new gas stations are also being built along with new restaurants and motels. Looks like they’re figuring, when the road is all asphalt, there’ll be lots more traffic. The drive so far has been much more scenic than I expected. Rolly hills with neat valleys, when we passed through, were in full bloom with wild flowers. Some valleys would be white and then maybe an orange one and sometimes mixed. I expected it to be all flat with not much more than a few trees. Great drive.

 

There were several different road building technologies going on at the same time. They’ve imported basically Mexican roads, fortunately not Brazilian or Chilean. There are crews out patching potholes. Some of the new tarmac is just the one-inch thick stuff with similar results to Mexico. They were already patching potholes and they’re still putting down new asphalt on the same section. Don’t think this stuff has much of a future. But one place they were doing something different than I had ever seen. They first put down about four inches of what looks like compressed sand. It must have cement in it because it hardens. First technology must have been then to put about one inch of asphalt on top of this. It’s all coming off though. What must be the NEW technology is to put about four inches of hot batch on top. This, in my opinion, should do the trick.

 

Drivers are quite tranquilo in Russia.  They stop at stoplights, they stop for crosswalks, there’s virtually no horn bleating, they let you merge and change lanes if necessary, let cars into lines. All of this doesn’t apply to cars clearly marked with the letters T-A-X-I. Skumsuckers are the same the world over. Actually even they aren’t too bad in Russia.

 

No problems getting gas, lots of stations, many are open twenty-four hours. Odd thing is how you pay. You don’t see the teller and you have to pay in advance. They are behind one way glass and slide a trough out to you, where you put some money. Catholics might understand. Problem is water. Gas stations don’t have water and rare to find any public faucets. Always a struggle to get water and Marisol, of course, helps out and takes a shower like at home, which of course is what little princesses deserve.  Maddening.

 

Off Base

 

About two hundred fifty Kms before Chita we pulled into a restaurant and figured to stay there for the night. We were there maybe a half-hour, when some people came over and started talking to us. They didn’t have much English but with the dictionary and one of the girl’s little English we got by. They then suggested we go park near their ‘house’. There was a carload of the dangerous age group guys hanging about. So I said “Why not?” and we took off following them. I understood it to by maybe twenty or so Kms from the restaurant. We drove for a ways and they stopped at a neat little rest area with a great view, so figured this must be the place.

 

Nope, we kept going and going, and finally it got dark, and we still keep going. Don’t like to drive after dark because you don’t get to see anything., you might as well sit in your garage and look at the dash. Lots cheaper.

 

Turns out we kept going right on past Chita for about thirty Kms. We pull into some east block apartments, like you see all over Russia. Must have one set of plans they build over and over and over. All look exactly the same. It was like two in the morning, by this time. Of course we had to go in, and have a drinkypoo or two. We’d been putting in long days because of the visa issue. Had to be to Mongolia by the seventh of July.

 

The next day Sergy took us into Chita so we could check it out.  Really liked the old buildings and onion-domed church. New stuff I could live without. Hit a supper market on the way back to get provisions. The day after we got some propane and figured we’d head out the next morning. Back at the van I was putting in some water when a guy walks up and asks to see my papers. He had on a uniform so looked official. Showed him everything and he walks away. Comes back with three more guys. After a lots of Russian, I of course didn’t have a clue what was said, they say for me and Marisol to come with them.

 

Turns out we were on some unmarked military base and nobody but military was supposed to be there. Restricted Area is what they called it.  Seemed to be taking this very serious, not much in the way of smiles, even when I asked when they were going to start pulling out my fingernails ? This was not good.

 

We were put in a conference room with two guards. After awhile some guys, that seemed to be way up the food chain, they had taller hats, come in and talk to us, they also trotted out an interpreter. No idea what was going to happen, but it was clear though this was considered pretty serious. I of course mentioned a sign or fence or guard, might be helpful. Or they could have just asked us to leave, when we first got there. All fell on deaf ears. Interpreter said, yah that made sense, but this was Russia, and everything didn’t always make sense, the locals knew better than go there.

 

We were first drug off about nine thirty in the evening and around midnight or one o’clock things were getting pretty boring. Morisol decided this was a good time to pull one of her five-year-old tantrums. Yelling and screaming and crying and cussing them out. Guess she figured on intimidating the Russian Army. She headed out into the hall and started yelling at everybody out there. Finally they drag her back into the room. Interpreter comes back in and says she figures that would cost us maybe four or five hours, if we were lucky, At least she didn’t say years.

 

Somewhere around three in the morning they take us to separate rooms. In comes several guys, with another interpreter. Ask me all sorts of questions. I mentioned, how could this be an Air Base as there was no runway. Silence.

 

Marisol figured the best way to help was get roaring drunk on the alcohol they offered her. Be pretty funny if they try to make any sense out of THAT info. Then they take me out to the van and ask to inspect it. There was the interpreter and maybe six guys. Lots of questions. Finally it was back to the clubhouse.

 

Then around five they take me to a room with a very drunk Marisol and a couple of very drunk Russians, who must have figured this is what’s known as opportunity, and might as well drink some of the free government booze. When the interpreter was about to leave she said, later in the morning, we would be taken to Immigration, in Chita. Still couldn’t get anybody to say what would happen.

 

Sat in there for a coupla more hours and finally they lead us out into the hall and said we could go sleep if we wanted. I thought they were kidding until they led us into a room with two beds. There were four guards posted outside.

 

Finally around noon the door opens and they said it was off to Chita. A hung over Marisol went in a car with flashing lights and I was following with another guard in the Siberian Flyer’s passenger seat. Still no idea what was going to happen.

 

At Immigration yet another interpreter and a scribe sit down with us. He writes out all our personal details and our Baseless Story and saying we agree to not go into any other restricted areas while we’re in Russia. Hey, it’s an adventure.

 

So finally it was off to Mongolia, only about seven or eight hours late. From Chita on, it was supposed to be all asphalt.

 

Odd Things

 

Russia is a BYOTP country. Virtually 100% no TP. Even the Jing Long public restrooms usually didn’t have TP. Toilets do flush though. So far haven’t had one that didn’t. Public toilets are usually the hole in the floor kind.

 

Many Russian bridges have what I assume are bridge guards. There are these little, what I assume are, bridge guard shacks. Talk about a boring job, sitting all day in a four by four shack watching cars and trucks drive across a bridge. Don’t have a clue why they would do this.

 

 Jack mentioned he had tried to cross at Kyachta, which, from the map, is the obvious way one would take, but he had to go to a town west of there to cross. I decided to go to Kyakhta as the Immigration folks, at Chita, said go there. Turns out they’ve built a new border crossing there. I‘d rather be lucky than smart. We got a Mongolian visa for Marisol. US people don’t need a visa to stay ninety days or less. 

 

Got burned by the visa lady. She managed to convince me that the Ruble had fallen so it was better to pay the 55 for the visa in Rubles rather than dollars. Figured  2100R would do the trick. That was more like70. A British bike tourer we talked to got burned by the same lady. He had gotten a visa before he left home but she convinced him he, for some reason, needed another. Took maybe a total of three hours to get all the paperwork sorted out.

 

On the way to Ulaanbaatar we headed over to an old (1700’s) Buddhist Monastery called Amarbayasgala. Had to do about 35kms of dirt track. Managed to make it most of the way with the Siberian Flyer. Sounded pretty neat and was well worth the drive. KTM’d the last bit and used it to tour around the area some to see some of the other shrines and such. one of the best in left in Mongolia. Burned almost a roll of film on the place, and that’s a lot for me.

 

Guess the communists destroyed about 30% of it, but that was a lot less than others in the country so it’s nice, a green rolly setting too.

 

Like usual, originally I was thinking of staying in Mongolia only long enough to get the Russian and maybe Kazakhstan visas sorted out, but after talking to some folks and doing some Book of Guide reading the thirty days that Marisol’s visa has, will not be near enough. The Mongolians, like the Russians have been incredibly friendly. Really nice folks.

 

Hopefully we can get up to a lake called KhovsGol Nuur, which is universally pronounced not to be missed. It’s supposed to be about 700Kms from here, only half of which are asphalted. Hey it’s an adventure.

 

Domestic Diss

 

Now that we’ve stopped talking to each other, things have greatly improved. Marisol never listens to anything I have to say anyway, other that trying to glean some tidbit that might allow her to do, or not do something with maximum annoyance. And, more than likely, what she has to say will be irrational gibberish anyway.

 

Sure hope our Military camping spot doesn’t screw us up getting another Russian Visa. Not sure how’d I ever get the Siberian Flyer home without going back into Russia. Hey it’s an adventure.

 

Till next time,

 

DZ

Top of the World to Vladivostok

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Top of the World to Vladivostok

 

Three days before departure date I get this email message that says everything the Visa guy was supposed to do, wasn’t going to happen. He claimed he could get us multiple entry one-year business visas for Russia and would get visas for both of us for Kazakhstan. First no one year multiple entry Russia visas, just a thirty day tourist visa, which I could have easily gotten myself and Marisol needed an invite for Kazakhstan and there wasn’t time enough anymore to get that. So all we would be getting would be two, thirty day tourist visas and a thirty-day tourist visa for me for Kazakhstan. Thanks. This wasn’t looking good as there is no way we could drive across Russia in thirty days minus custom days. Of course the passports, which he had for six weeks were due back the last day possible, Saturday, via FedEx.  We were leaving Monday morning.

 

After this history I was real nervous even that would happen. When we did get the passports back, we had to drive all the way down to Tempe to get them, as there is no Saturday delivery to TOW, the start date on them was for the 8th and we wouldn’t get there till the 10th.  So actually they were only twenty eight-day visas. Thanks.

 

So with some more frantic scheming I decided we should be able to drive first to Mongolia, see what we want to see, then get another thirty-day Russian tourist visa, and head to Kazakhstan, and do the same thing again. Best I can tell, you can do this, if you let the old visa expire and don’t stay in Russia any longer than ninety-days in a one hundred day period. There is apparently a Kazak consulate in Omsk, where we wanted to go at any rate so we should be able to get an invite Telexed there for Marisol’s visa. Not sure about what to do about Turkey as Marisol needs a visa for there and they can’t be gotten at the border. Only way will be to FedEx her passport back to the US to get it. Hey, it’s an adventure.

 

Chow Middleton, chow Zulu and it was very carefully, Middleton had been planning a last minute escape for weeks I’m sure, out the door and into Rich’s chariot for a ride to the airport. Thanks Rich. We had a seventeen hour layover at the Inchon South Korea airport. It you have to suffer through that, it was one of the better terminals to do it at. Apparently it was voted to be the best airport in the world, and it was pretty nice and well thought out. Still by the time we hit Vlad we weren’t looking and feeling our best, what with the mother of all layovers and thirteen-hour jet lag.

 

Cabimafia

 

When you read the hotel blurb on how to find them, you got this idea there’s a transport problem at the Vlad airport, with plenty of warnings to don’t even think about talking to the taxi drivers as they’re all rip off artists and would try charging outrageous rates. First of all we had to deal with immigration and customs which took forever. One of our bags, because of its size, had to be checked but it did show up on the baggage pile.

 

Once we got out of customs, while in the immigration line we talked to a Mormon couple from Gilbert AZ, we were immediately hit up by the taxi skumsuckers, who wanted to charge us 3000 Rubles for a ride into town, which is about 50 kms. There are thirty Rubles to the Dollars so the way I do the math, that’s $100. Bus number 107 was said to be sixty, a no brainer. First of all I had to get some Rubles and when I tried the machine, it was outa Rubles. Not looking good. After a lot of searching about, I found another machine that coughed up some of the needed currency, but then there was the cabby problem.

 

Across the street from this slummy looking building was indeed parked bus number 107 so we ignored the cabbies, with their salivating mouths, when they saw our baggage pile. The bus schedule said it was to leave at five. So five comes along, up to then there wasn’t a sole around it so it was a little doubtful whether it was running, a couple of guys walk over to it. I quickly muscle our largest bag over to the open door. A whole bunch of nasty Russian sounds come out the door, motioning me to not get aboard. I was expecting them to start pounding their shoes on the dash or me. After forcing me off the bus, he starts it up and drives away empty except for the one passenger. He was obviously forcing people to use the outrageous taxis, one would presume for some kickback. I later heard the airport transport situation as mob controlled. I now eyed the taxis.

 

There was a Russian guy that seemed pretty nice so I asked him about the taxi situation. Had some English. He said he was a military officer. He agreed it was a bad situation, but also couldn’t seem to work out a solution. He did say that he had ridden bus 505 from Centro so knew it went into town, problem was there wasn’t any bus 505 around. Don’t recall why but bus 101 might go there too, but it had already left. The sign said the last 107 bus left at eight o’clock. The same sign said the that the invisible 101 bus should leave at 7:20. It was a matter of principle, but then again that one BAG was pretty heavy.

 

Eyed the cabbies some more. Most said no less that 2500R. One guy said 1500. I said 1000. Lots of nyets and head shaking.  I decided that principle was slipping a bit and offered 1200. More nyets and head shacking. It was getting dark, Marisol was getting cranky, and the BAG was real heavy so I went for the 1500R.  If  we had taken the buses we would have had to change buses and haul the BAG about quarter mile uphill, as it turns out. Of course the guy piles in a local Russian Babuska, I’m sure she didn’t pay 1500R. Skumsuckers.

 

Jing Long is surrounded on all four sides by east block stuff, sort of in its’ own tenement square, so to speak. Keep in mind what you paid for this. I’ll guarantee you won’t complain about having a too soft bed at the Jing Long Hotel. Felt around the edges for pockets, you woulda thought there also were used for billiards. When we got there, the place was about totally empty. Some day’s later lots of  Chinese arrived. Must have been 100% smokers.

 

Incredibly friendly Russian natives. Lots of smiles and incredibly helpful. And it’s true whatever you’ve heard about the Russian Women. Amazing number of incredible ones. I’d have to say its even way above Venezuela on this account. At least around these parts. No idea why, but many of them are all dolled up with high heels and all. I’ve so far met Boris (ex-ship captain guard at Jing Long) and Natasha (girlfriend of a guy we met at the main plaza) still haven’t found Bullwinkle though. Ninety percent of the people must smoke. They must have a law against smoking in public buildings though, as there are groups standing around puffing outside a lot of buildings, but, thank god, nobody smoking inside. One Chinese I talked to said he was from Canada. He was having the same trouble communicating with the desk people.

 

Saw two wrecks that had just happened on the way in from the airport. I think every day we’ve seen at least one. Traffic, for the conditions, quite orderly, but they do drive pretty aggressive. No bleating of horns and they do stop for the lights and let people across the crosswalks. Narrow rough streets though, and the most amazing thing, they almost all drive right hand drive Japanese cars and trucks. Most are apparently brought in used from Japan. When I first saw all the cars and trucks in the airport parking lot, I thought maybe they drove on the wrong side like the Brits. Must be a real challenge driving in such crowded close driving sitting on the wrong side. There is apparently some talk of the feds outlawing right hand drive cars, which strikes terror in the local driver’s hearts, as they would have to buy new cars which are much more expensive.

 

Vlad is kind of an odd place with massive east block buildings stuck all over the surrounding hills. Real real ugly. Nice and green but the east block architecture, pretty much ruins it. Lots of really nice old buildings along the main corridors. Wonder who owns them, as many appear vacant. Some are restored, hope they do it with rest, rather than demolish and east block the rest. Mostly looks like deferred maintenance on a massive scale. All pretty clean though, under the circumstance, and even in the big big market, down the street from the Jing Long, it doesn’t stink and little plastic blowing about. Better on the whole, in my opinion, than the US. If you were in Peru or Bolivia every breath of air would have filled the air with the stuff, but not here. It appears to me the Russians are trying real hard. I hope these really nice folks succeed.

 

If you hung around a place like this in the US you’d be pretty nervous about safety, but everybody says no problem. Other thing is there is very little trash. They pick up their trash and throw it away. Nice. Little along the streets.

 

The other odd thing is there are these big water pipes that run everywhere. One at least is hot water and the houses are heated with it. Just outside of town are these three big smokestacks, which I presume is where all this water gets heated. I wonder how you’re charged for it? Odd.

 

Mystery Meals

 

Lots of food stalls around but all in Russian so don’t have a clue what is inside the pastries. Mystery Meals. Sometimes pretty good, other times you get a lot of the major food groups like grease, clorestoral and sugar, all in one.

 

Hit the customs building and started the paperwork to get the container. Really nice folks, they assigned me an English speaker to help. Took all day but finally got my two temporary import certificates and bought insurance at a little office building near the customs building. Cost about 3600R for one month for both the van and bike. Bit pricey but ya have to have it. Things were looking real good to get the container on Friday, until we were walking out of the building and they mentioned that Friday was a Russian Holiday. Crap, that meant waiting till Monday.

 

We ran into Tolly’s wife in customs and I mentioned I’d tried to call him several times, but his number didn’t seem to work. He called me and when I called him back, over the weekend, it did work. We agreed to meet at the train station on Mon. When we met he took us over to shipping company office to get us started on our quest. If I recall correct we picked up our Original Bill of Lading and took it over to another office of some company that assembles all the paperwork. We then had to go back to Customs, the same Customs office it turns out, we had been to on Thursday, to get a stamp. Then back to the assembler office with this BOL and off to the bank. Paid something like 36,000R, which was somewhat more than I expected. No idea what all the charges are for, but the ones I knew about seemed to be correct, just lots of more new ones. Seemed all pretty honest, but who knows?

 

No Americans

 

Then it was down to the port entrance, which turned out to be just below the Customs office to get the container. Was told I would need to pay an entrance fee, but when I gave them my passport to get it, they handed it back and said Americans can go into the port. I sure didn’t like this as it would mean somebody else would unload the container.

 

Gave the van keys to the Assembler Company guy and he called and had another guy come and help him. Waited well over an hour, at the entrance and no Van. Finally the guy drives up and said they had everything running, but were hung up at another customs search point, in the dock area because my BOL didn’t mention all the personal articles in the van. I had wondered about this when I got the BOL from the shipping guy in Long Beach, as when I took the van to the warehouse the guy there, gave me a sheet of paper that mentioned it. I had this sheet and gave it to the guy, and he left, saying he would see what he could do, as it wasn’t Russian. Another half-hour wait, and finally the van appeared. The whole inside had been ransacked, one would assume by all the inspections, but at least it was there.

 

Drove back to the hotel, after stopping and straightening some things, because I had left our bags there. When I got back to Jing Long, and got to looking, noticed the license plates were missing. Not good as I can’t imagine getting through police checks or border crossings without plates. They made a pretty good effort at trying to steel the one of f the KTM but rusty bolts and Loctite saved that one. Also tried to force the lock on the toilet side door, apparently to no effect. Emailed Rocky to see if he could shake some out of the Globe DOT office. Wasn’t sure what I could do, if I can’t get some replacement plates. Just for good measure I emailed a guy we kinda know in the office. This also causes a bit of a time problem as we need to get to Mongolia before our twenty-eight day visas expire. It’s about two thousand miles of what I expect to be, pretty rough roads. Hey, it’s an adventure.

 

Propain

 

I’d been looking at the food stalls, that do cooking, to see how they do it, as some have told me there’s no propane available, and others say it is. Talked to some people in one stall and they showed me a tank they claimed was propane. Fitting of course looked odd. They said a truck brings the cylinders around. So there’s definitely propane available, at least in Vlad, but then there’s the fitting issue.

 

Asked Tolly and he gave me the phone number and address of a place near Jing Long that was supposed to have propane. After some searching around and asking, finally found a place on a back street that indeed sold propane. My idea was, if I could find propane, maybe they would have a tank fitting. Only thing they had was this big acetylene looking regulator with what appeared to be a fitting that would fit a propane tank. But of course they didn’t want to sell me just the fitting. They sent me back to a place on the main drag, that I had already been in, but everything there had looked like water fittings. Of course communication was real hard but some other customer there heard my problems, and spoke English, so translated to them as to what I was wanting. Lots of nyets and head shaking but he says wait a minute, when he was done there was a place up the street that sold propane and might be able to help me. He gave me a ride there in his car but the place was closed for lunch. The guard out front said they didn’t have anything like that. My savior says he probably didn’t know what he was talking about so wait till they open, and he took off. Another nice Russian.

 

No Fitting took me inside, even though they weren’t open, and deposited me at secretary’s desk, with secretary. I charaded again what I was looking for. She dials her cell, and after awhile, out trots a guy with English. Said they had an engineer that would fix me up. There was a propane regulator there, with a fitting on it, so I showed him what I wanted. He gets out a box of fittings and hands me one with a hose barb on it. I was hoping for threads but just couldn’t make them understand I didn’t want to go directly into a hose so figured I’d work it out from there. Asked how much? They said, “gift from Russia to America”. More incredibly nice Russians.

 

I’ve been seeing only these really large tanks so asked what size tanks are available. One he mentioned was 27 liters, which would be about right for me. Said they cost 400R, the same fitting is used all across Russia and propane is available everywhere, guess we’ll see.

 

Boris came to the van yesterday and, if I understood him correct a package is due to come to the Jing Long on the 22nd. My assumption is this is the plates. So, if that is correct finally can get outa Vladivostok.

If this is true that will leave only fifteen days to get to Mongolia. Hope the roads will allow that, as it’s about two thousand miles.

 

Till next time,

 

DZ

Gettin Started – Shipping the van to Vladivostok

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

Gettin Started

Howdy Buckeroos,
 
Here we go again.
 
Details, details, details. To get going is all about details. You CAN take it with you, in fact if you forget something you have to deal with it for a long time. We took the van and bike over to Long Beach to put them into a hicube container. Thanks Harry for the ride back. We got there the night before I was led to understand we were to load the container. Waited around for something like three hours the next morning and still no move to load. Then they allowed as there was no container to load. Lots of finger pointing as to why this was so. Shipping Company blamed the Warehouse Company and the Warehouse Company blamed the Shipping Company, you get the picture. As it turned out it was the Shipping Company. So we left the stuff there with the hopes they would load it without mishap. Was told that the door opening was eight feet five inches high and my measurements said at most there was a half-inch to spare. Guess I’ll see what the result is when we unload in Vladivostok.
 
Finally everything was supposedly loaded and headed to the boat, when US Customs put a hold on the container. Customs would give no date for the inspection to occur; other than it would be less than a month. They totally unloaded the container and did a 785 inspection, plus the hauling and unload  and reload charges, all at my expense of course. Total was about1800, plus the original 4600 shipping. The delay caused the container to miss the boat.</font></div> <div><font> </font></div> <div><font>So had to rebook the plane tickets (400) and as it turns out, change the invite dates for the Russian visas (250). Apparently your entry date has to be  correct. You have to register within seventy-two hours after arrival. Or so I  was told. I’m a little skeptical on that one, as Jack was a week late, because  he missed his original ferry. He had a one month tourist visa though , so maybe  they’re treated different. </font></div> <div><font> </font></div> <div><font>As before I’ll try and give some of the details, for those reading this,  who might be inclined, to do something equally stupid. Things like shipping  charges and gas prices. Boring maybe, but hard to find out any other way.</font></div> <div><font> </font></div> <div><font>What I learned from all this is, if I were to do it again, I would explore  shipping from outside the US. Ensenada Baja Mexico or Vancouver or some such  place. Can’t see how they could possibly have a more expensive or screwed up  system. Charged70 for a ‘clean truck’, really. When I shipped from Cartegena Columbia, it was much simpler, with everything handled before hand and inspection and container loading done at the same time. If at all possible ship from outside the US. A system brought to you by the same people that gave you Ol Lyin George and Microsoft.
 
Getting a visa of more than a month is hard, for Russia. Looks like I’m going to be a consultant, so I can get a one-year multiple entry business Visa. You can stay in Russia for ninety days in any one hundred-eighty day period. Also a visa, in advance, is needed for Kazakhstan. Only thirty days is possible for a tourist visa. Problem is you need to specify dates in advance. So just had to guess and hope things work out, time wise.
 
Camper Revamper
 
It took lotsa work to put all the camper stuff from the Copper Streak, a seventy three Chevy Van, into a rust free ninety, now dubbed The Siberian Flyer (Petty suggested Cossack Coach but I detected some negativity there). The Copper Streak was cancered out real bad so there had to be a change. Earl, of Scheib fame, applied a new paint job to hopefully keep rust at bay. Also had the Hughes 700R4 auto rebuilt, it’s something that CAN’T fail, would be a show-stopper.
 
Decided to stick with the ninety’s throttle body, for mileage reasons. The only way I was comfortable using the throttle body was to have a complete spare system along and an understanding of how the system works. Pick a Part Junkyard ERRR Salvage Yard, made this possible. During the process of figuring out some problems the system had, when I bought the van, I think I now pretty much understand how it works. Also overhauled the motor at the last minute and put in a roller tappet cam setup. Hopefully it’ll all hang together. Hey, it’s an adventure
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The plan, such as it is, is to start at Vladivostok Russia, and drive across Russia, East to West, with some diversions to places like Mongolia and Kazakhstan and then head south toward the Caspian and Black Seas. My hope is to leave the van in the EU somewhere after about six months of travel.
 
Jack, a friend from Colorado who rode his bike across a similar route several years ago, has been a big help, info wise. Even loaned me his old Russia Road Atlas, in spite of it’s sentimental value to him. They seem to be outa print. He also gave me contact info for a guy he met in Vlad (Tolly) who works near the Customs area. He seems to be a really nice guy AND speaks English. He’s been a big help with info on Vlad and shipping and Vlad in general.
 
The container is supposed to be in Vlad on the ninth of June so booked tickets to Vlad for the eighth, which gets us there on the tenth. Figured I would get there a few days after the container, as hotels are high dollar, in Vlad, so if it’s delayed that would cut the economic pain, assuming of course that storage fees for the container are less than hotel rates.
 
Brazilian Souvenir
 
Marisol has mostly adapted to life at Top of the World; she’s started talking to the cats. Still working on a few things, like haven’t been able to explain why the TV we brought back from the condo, that had some problems which I fixed and put in the bedroom, doesn’t get the cable channels, it got in at the condo. Or why the laptop doesn’t access the internet anywhere ya are. It’s a computer isn’t it?
 
Been a struggle trying to get her to use English. Right now it’s more like Portugenglish. The only person that can understand her is me. She’s real partial to McDonalds Hot Fudge Sundaes. So before I buy one she has to use a new English word declared at the last one. Costs me a dollar a word, but it has broadened her vocabulary, and waistline.
 
New vehicle added to the stable of fine cars was a car I bought from a friend’s mother in law. Eighty Eight Buick with eighty three thou miles on it. Figured I had my transportational needs solved for the next decade. Put in a new radiator and drove it about three hundred feet over to the house and parked it. Then, before calling for insurance, figured I’d drive it down to Superior and back for a checkout ride. Tried to crank it up, it coughed up a hairball, and wouldn’t start. Was heart broken. Let it sit for close to a year before facing up to dealing with it. Turned out the gas tank was full of skunky gas which killed the electric in tank fuel pump. I’ve had the tank out three times, so far, unplugging things, with no end in sight.
 
The air conditioner works fine, when it’s cool out, but the compressor refuses to run, when it’s hot out. Of course it’s usually cool at Top of the World so when I try to debug it, it always runs. It’s alwas somethin. Turns out the compressor clutch is marginal, so when it gets hot, the battery voltage drops and clutch coil impedance rises, so no go when it’s hot.
 
Ouch
 
Last summer a tree root impaled itself on my foot, through my motorcycle-riding boot. Went clean through my foot. Ouch. Was about twenty miles from the van, which was about 120 miles from a Valley hospital. Ended up in the hospital for six days. Don’t ask how many zeros on that bill. Took a piece out of my Metamorsel. That for yous not savvy in natomy is the little bone behind one of the toes. I was hoping that it would connect back up, but as of the last x-ray it still hadn’t, although it feels fine, now.
 
During my stay for the foot piercing I had pee pee problems. Never had that before and when I mentioned this to my GP he says get a PSA test. Came back like 8. Apparently 80% high PSA readings are false alarms so they put you on a bug killer, as it’s usually an infection you don’t even know you have. Did this for a month and took another PSA test, came back 13. This was not good so they did a biopsy. Snake eyes, Cancer.
 
So I had the prostate popped out. Not a fun operation. You have to leave this catheter in for two weeks. I’ve had better two weeks. At least my PSA has been coming back zero now, which is good. Free tips, stay way away from a surgeon in Tucson called Dalkin, and assuming you’re male, get your PSA checked. If you have pee pee problems and it’s caused by prostate cancer, it’s too late; you will be dying from it. My GP was down on getting PSA tests, because of all the false positives, but the only way, other than digital exams, you can detect prostate cancer early enough, is the PSA test. They could never feel anything in my case. So I got the PSA test for all the wrong reasons but it detected the cancer. I’d rather be lucky than smart.
 
To more fully support the medical community, just before leaving for Vlad, had an operation to patch up a hernia, which I think was created on a Colorado ride last summer. I thought it was going away, but after a Rim Ride, a few weeks ago, it was obvious it wasn’t. They put in a piece of screen to plug up, in my case, a portion of the hole. Could maybe have gotten by for a while longer but it appeared to me that it was going to start limiting my activities. And I read on the internet, so it must be true, that hernias don’t heal, just like the GP originally said.
 
Figured I’d send out a missive to get obsolete addresses off the list, while at home, where it it’s easier to get bugs worked out of my writing systems. I want to make sure everything works like I think it will.
 
Well, we’re off to Siberia via LA and Seoul. A seventeen-hour layover in Seoul will let me catch up on some reading. As before I’ll try and send a newsletter every coupla weeks, for those interested. As of this writing I’m still waiting for the pasports to come back with all the visas so there’s still potential for disaster.
 
Hey, it’s an adventure.
 
DZ
 
Little different writing system this time. The Clamshell laptop died at the end of the South America trip so bought an old IBM type laptop. It has a floppy drive so what I’m going to try to do is use my USB corded floppy drive and take that into the internet places to load a floppy on the internet. The old battery died in the laptop so bought a new one. When I installed it, still no go. Guess the shorted old battery took out something in the puter. So it will be inverter only. Lots of technology to keep working. As before if anybody wants off or on the list let me know, it’s only a click away. Won’t hurt my feelings.