Day 40 – Soviet Larda Suspension, Kazakh back roads and into Russia!

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We got up and headed to a petrol station nearby armed with a drawing of a welder and angle grinder. The guy understood and confirmed our fear, we had to go to Ayagoz some 90km away. We limped the 90km with our paracord tied suspension and arrived in Ayagoz early afternoon. We pulled into the first garage we saw. And what a choice that was. We showed the mechanics the issue and described the botch fix we wanted, basically to weld metal plates on to keep the half a spring in place. The guy understood but after looking at the other spring he pointed out that that too was on its way out. Then after inquiring about our end destination he told us he wouldn’t do the botch job because it wouldn’t last to Mongolia. He then told us he could find similar suspension and retrofit it. The guys seemed like they honestly wanted to do what was best for us so we took the team decision to strike a deal on 100 US for new front suspension. They dropped everything they were doing, rolled the current car out and got ours in. Before starting work however they took us to lunch at the cafe next door where we had some fun conversations in broken English with them. We soon realised they were genuinely good people who wanted to help us.

Our suspension fix

Our suspension fix

They drove me into town with them to find springs to fit while Bob and Oli waited with the car. After picking up 2 Larda springs for $20 we headed back to the garage. It was clear by this point these guys were a suspension garage and they knew that they were doing. The workshop was littered with broken springs and shocks. They had the struts off in no time and a few of their mates came down to watch. Everyone was just genuinely interested in us.

The health and safety in these places requires something to be desired however as the plug for the welder was just 2 wires which needed to be stuffed into a dodgy looking socket. The guy saw the looks we were giving him during this dangerous maneuver, he just laughed and declared “Masterclass” as he got the welder working and began work.

We gave one of the mechanics a headtorch and he was blown away. After working all his life in a dark garage with no lights he could now see everything he was doing! By 3 in the afternoon our suspension was fixed and ready to go. $100 was all it cost to have new front suspension fitted.

And so with soviet Larda suspension we headed off again into Kazakhstan. The new suspension was unstable to say the least but did get slightly better after a few hundred miles as the springs settled in.

Need your suspension fixing in Kazakh? These are your guys! Can be found in Ayagoz!

Need your suspension fixing in Kazakh? These are your guys! Can be found in Ayagoz!

We hit Oskemen at about 6, well we actually rolled in with no petrol as there had been no petrol stations for the last 300km. Again we found ourselves in a city with no map and the light quickly dying. We crossed the river into the city and headed north west. North west was the direction we needed to go. After driving through smoggy slums and residential areas we hit the main road out of the city that headed north west. It only took us 40 minutes to get out of the city which for us is a record.

We now however found ourselves on Kazakh back roads with a badly scaled map and no idea of the Cyrillic for the town we were heading for. By this point it was also pitch black. We just headed north west but eventually came to a junction. We tried one of the 2 options, decided it was wrong and headed back and tried the other, we then decided that was even more wrong and headed back to the junction. We asked at a shop at the junction and by some stroke of luck a young girl behind the counter spoke perfect english. She told us the right turning on the junction and said follow the signs to Shemonaikha which is where we were headed. As I was walking away I realised we couldn’t follow the signs as they were in Cyrillic and had a stroke of genius. I spun round and asked her to write the Cyrillic for our destination. Good job I did, the Cyrillic was nothing like the English. From then on we raced through the backroads following the signs and found the town with relative ease! Now we just had to find the road out of the town to the Russian border.

We tried to guess but it was wrong so ended up asking a bunch of yobbish looking youths outside the local shop. They were actually really nice and spoke English. They bought us beer, asked about our journey, got some pictures with the car and directed us towards the border. And sure enough their directions were correct and we hit the road to the russian border.

We hit the border around 9-10 and got stamped out of Kazakh. Our passports showed entry as the 22nd and exit as 23rd. 1 Day…not bad going! The Russian border was painless and took about an hour. After driving away we realised we were now on Russian backroads for the next 150km till we hit the main road. It was pitch black and we were tired. Bugger. We pulled over at a petrol station to assess the situation. I decided to ask a guy who was also at the border and had also pulled over for petrol. He told me he was driving his family to Barnaul, which was now where the Canadians were and said that we could follow him. Another stroke of luck! We followed him for a few hours till we hit the main road. When he pulled over for petrol we carried on giving him a wave and some horn beeps. Now on the main road we headed straight for Barnaul. With me and Oli now falling asleep Bob took over driving as he had got some sleep in the back of the car earlier. We eventually hit Barnaul at 7 in the morning

Armed only with an address for the hostel we began asking taxi drivers. None of them new where it was and the Canadians weren’t answering their phone, probably because it was 7 in the morning and they were in bed. After driving round for an hour we found a hotel and went in to ask for help. They genuinely wanted to help but spoke no english. We got vague directions from the old porter and headed off. We followed his directions but found nothing, at the end of the street was another hotel though so we asked there. Again they tried really hard to help us and their directions were pretty much the same as the other ones so we knew we were in the right place. We curb crawled down the street asking everyone we saw and at about 9 oclock I spotted a sign for a hostel. The hostel was tucked in behing some old communist blocks and as we turned in we were greeted by the sight of about 6 rally cars! Success!!

Just to review and put forward the gravity of the situation and the enormity of the task we had just accomplished please read this summary of the last 3 days. Sat in Osh, Kyrgyzstan we got a text saying the Canadians were only a day ahead. We told them we would meet them in Barnaul and that we WOULD be there. 3 days and 2,491km later we arrived in Barnaul. 3 Days. 2,491km. Across some of the worst roads in the world.

As we were checking in Adam from 4 Idiots walked into reception; hugs flew everywhere and the mood was instantly lifted ten fold. He told us as soon as he got the text saying we WOULD be there he had no doubt in his mind we would make it. Even though we were 2,491km and 3 countries away. If anyone could do it it was us. And we bloody did it! We ran into the Canadians room, normally they would be annoyed at being woken up but they were stoked to see us! The original convoy reunited at last. We had so many stories to tell each other!

Anyway this blog has run into day 41 now so I will continue on the Day 41 entry!


Day 39 – Lost in Almaty and snapped suspension

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After getting up early and heading towards Almaty we stopped at a ‘service station’ for a kebab and to change money to the local currency.

We hit Almaty at around 11 o’clock. The aussies wanted to meet a team they had met earlier so we headed into the city to find wifi so we could find them. Eventually the aussies decided on a shopping center and drove into the multistory. Disaster. We were too tall for the multi story with all our stuff in the roofrack. We tried to shout them but they headed into the car park leaving us stranded in Almaty. We tried to chase on foot but were sent away by security. We were not lost in Almaty with no map. Great.

We took out the GPS, which doesn’t have maps, its just an old walking one that acts as a compass and keeps basic information of your trip as well as giving you longitude and latitude. Armed with a compass and a badly scaled map in English we tried to head out of Almaty.

We eventually left the city at 5 o’clock. We were headed for Taldykorgan. Not so simple when your map is in English and all the signs are in Kazakh which seems to use a Cyrillic script. Not only that but showing the map to locals did no good as they could not read it. Eventually we found the main road by going off the main road, over 2 tiny roundabouts under the main road and right. We only found this because I by chance saw the only sign for the place in the whole city and even though it was in Cyrillic it began with the same letter and had a similar number of letters.

About 20 minutes after leaving the city we were pulled over by Kazakh police. Apparently for not having our lights on. We played dumb and I handed over my international drivers license as my documentation since its worth a fiver. After me and Bob played dumb for 10 minutes the police phoned someone who spoke English who then explained we had been speeding and had to pay the government. Bullshit, the retarded looking mouth breather of a policeman had been doing the old dollar dollar and pointing to his pocket for the last 10 minutes. Eventually we got bored and Bob told them he was ringing the British Embassy, suddenly we had committed no crime, my documents were handed back and we were free to go. Gotta love corruption.

We had essentially lost a day in Almaty so we decided to drive through the night. We rocketed through the Kazakh roads, which are essentially a sequence of craters between towns when at 2 in the morning disaster struck. We heard a ping. The front left suspension spring had snapped. Bob managed to get it back into place and it was then tied into place with paracord. By this time it was almost 4 in the morning. At this point we were about 90km away from the nearest big town. We decided to get our heads down for a few hours sleep so setup the tent in a grove of trees and slept a bit.


Day 38- Parting Ways and the race to Canada

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So the Canadians had only reached Almaty the day before after being stuck at the border
for 18 hours. So they were only 900Km away! The German’s were spending several days in
Bishkek so we decided we would drive like madmen with the aussies to catch up the
Canadians. So in the morning the teams picked up supplies and said their farewells and set
off!

Not much to say about the day, we drove like madmen through Kyrgyzstan; the roads were
really good and we managed to cover good ground eventually hitting the Kazakh border at
about 1 in the morning.

Standard Central Asian Vehicle Loading

Standard Central Asian Vehicle Loading

We got stamped in at the border on the 22/08/2013. We were fast tracked through car
searches by a military looking man who simply stamped our car customs papers for us
without searching the car; which was what was happening to all the local cars!

We drove till about 4 in the morning and pitched up our tent to get some sleep!

During our Mad drive the Canadians had made it to Oskamen, some 1000km away!

Driving through Kyrgyzstan!

Driving through Kyrgyzstan!

Driving through Kyrgyzstan!

Driving through Kyrgyzstan!

Driving through Kyrgyzstan!

Driving through Kyrgyzstan!


Day 37 – Kyrgyzstan border, a broken back window and Osh

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Good Morning China!

Good Morning China!

I was just sat in the car minding my own business early in the morning when Phil asked me if he could get some water out of the lifesaver that was on the roofrack. “Sure thing” I said….bad idea. Phil then dropped the jerry can by accident from the roofrack onto the back window smashing it to pieces. Bugger.
A role of ducktape later however we now had an improvised window! Better than no window I guess.

Thanks Phil!!

Thanks Phil!!

We packed up and said goodbye to China by strolling up to the border fence and pissing through it. Take that communism!!

We set off to the Kyrg border. The border to leave Tajikistan was up another high pass and again it was raining and again the road was just mud. Luckily since I was the driver I got to stand inside the border hut with the warm stove, all I had to do was take my shoes off! The border was simple and didn’t take long so we pressed on through no-mans land towards the Kyrg border. After an hour of driving down through the mud roads in the pouring rain we hit the Kyrg border. 15 minutes we were told. That’s how long we had to wait for them to cook noodles and then eat them. We were let in and took our passports into the hut. Again they only wanted drivers so the other team members started cooking up some noodles of our own.

The grim border

The grim border

The customs was easy and required no form filling or anything, we were simply asked if we were smuggling weapons or narcotics. Bobs shoes by this point could have been considered biological weapons but we decided it best not to declare them anyway. We were sent on our way before the noodles were finished so Oli became the first man to cross an international border while carrying noodles cooking on a camping stove! We ate up and headed on towards Osh.

The Kyrg roads were excellent. Smooth tarmac all the way with only the occasional landslide! Nothing we couldnt handle. Unfortunatly it was raining and the roads were covered in thick fog as we couldnt get any pictures.

We eventually hit Osh in the evening at about 5, found a Hotel and headed into the town for some food.

On this night we also received a message that would change the course of the Rally for us. The Canadians; 4 Idiots Abroad were only 1 day infront of us in Almaty, Kazakhstan. We knew what we had to do.

The view of Osh from our hotel

The view of Osh from our hotel


Day 36 – Fixing the Alto, grim towns and the Chinese Border

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Up early(ish) today to fix the Alto! Since we had bent the subframe back the night before all that was left was to fix the radiator. The Germs epoxy resin was used to fix up the radiator.

Fixing up the Alto in the morning

Fixing up the Alto in the morning

As we waited around for the resin to dry a random man wandered down from the mountains. Now our experiences with locals up until this point has been largely positive but this guy was just a massive asshole. He was aggressively hassling everyone in the convoy for cigarettes and would not leave us alone. Eventually Phil got pissed off with him as he was in his face shouting about cigarettes so Phil pushed him away. The guy then pulled a flip knife out of his pocket. In retaliation the aussies quickly pulled out their gold clubs and threw me a tyre iron. This combined with the words “Fuck off now” seemed to have the desired effect and he slunk off into the distance.

We drove for hours across the top of the Pamir with no problems from the Alto or the Panda. Looks like our repairs had done their job. After stopping for a break we noticed the Alto had a tiny leak in the radiator but nothing major so we carried on towards Murghab.

The road to Murghab

The road to Murghab

Upon arrival to Murghab it was pissing it down. Which only added to the depressed look of the town. Of all the places we had been to on the trip this was the worst looking by far. The germans wanted to find a place to buy supplies, after asking around we were directed to the main market street. As we got out of our cars used needles could be seen laying around on the floor, the street was gravel (sort of) and covered in rubbish and the shops were just old shipping containers and railway carriages. There was also a pub that sold out of date bottled beer and a shop that sold out of date western confectionery. We managed to get some potatoes and eggs and then made a hasty get away towards the border with Kyrgyzstan.

After Murghab the road headed up to the highest pass on the Pamir (4650m). All the cars struggled with the altitude but it also didn’t help that it was snowing and the track was mud. The Terios got up first time in first gear but the Alto had to roll back down and take a big runup to get past the mud.

Highest pass on the Pamir - 4650m!

Highest pass on the Pamir – 4650m!

As we headed down from the highest pass we ran into the Chinese border fence and ended up following it till it got dark and we setup camp. By this point we were only 30km away from the Kyrgyzstan border!

We did the old water test with the 20 eggs we bought to see if they were bad….14 were bad. Thanks Murghab. Still the chips were good and the few eggs we had made a small but nice omelette.

Activity around the Soulpad!

Activity around the Soulpad!


Day 35 – Climbing Higher and mangled Sumps

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In the morning we changed money then filled the cars and jerry cans and set off on the next section of the Pamir. The roads were not quiet as bad as before Kharugh but don’t think for one second they were actually good.

After a few hours drive we came across possibly the most rickety looking bridge in existence, after testing it by jumping up and down all across it we decided it wasn’t actually as bad as it looked….ok so maybe it was but it served its purpose.

The Rickety Bridge!

The Rickety Bridge!

We set off from the bridge infront with the aussies and germans behind. We lost them pretty quickly but since there was only one road we decided to press on and just wait for them a bit later on. We drove for an hour dodging huge potholes at least 2 foot deep when my phone vibrated. 2 texts, one from the Germs and one from Adam from 4 Idiots, both said go back the germs have fucked their sump. We spun round and headed full speed back down the road. There were some dodgy road parts that I remembered from the last hour of driving so I assumed they would be at one of those parts.

Moments before the Germs destroyed their Sump

Moments before the Germs destroyed their Sump

After 10 minutes of driving we ran across the aussies, they had failed to dodge the 2 foot pothole and instead managed to hit it at 60kmph. Luckily it had only caused a blowout on one tyre so we left them to replace the tyre while we headed down to find the germans. A full hour of driving later we found them, 5 minutes from the bridge we had set off from. They had sent the text almost 2 hours ago but because of bad signal we didn’t receive it for an hour. They managed to fix the holes in the sump with epoxy resin but had lost all of their oil. I drove seb down the road and we managed to find a random place that sold oil. Success!.

While we waited for the resin to dry the locals brought out mats for us to sit on in their garden as well as tea and bread. So we ate and drank in the warm mountain air while the germans sump dried. The aussies were back with us again by this point and after an hour we were ready to go again.

We climbed higher again until we reached a plateau at about 4200m, we headed towards the bit with the last of the dying light but disaster struck. Not 1km away from the light the Aussies hit a massive rock head on and their car came to an almost instant halt with smoke pouring out of the engine. We jumped out to assess the damage. Cracked radiator and bent anti rollbars which meant the steering no longer worked.

Kilo Tango having a bad time

Kilo Tango having a bad time

With the light fading we took the tents off the road and setup camp before it got dark. The air 4200m up is extremely thin. This made the normally easy process of carrying tents and bags difficult leaving us out of breath very fast. We decided to put everyones gear in the terios and drive it down to the camp site as the Panda would not be able to get down and the alto was currently immobilised.

We set about rebending the anti rollbars so that they could steer again. To do this we tied a slack line around the bent bars and then to the back of the terios. We then found 4 massive stones and used them as chocks under the alto’s wheels. We also put the handbrake on and had Tim sit in and use the foot brake. The rest of us braced against the car as we tugged with the terios to straighten the bar out. After maybe 15 minutes of tugging we had straightened the bar out enough so the wheels could turn! With the light gone we headed down to camp.

Did I mention its bloody cold at 4200m? And that it started pissing it down? Such fun. There we’re upsides though; we had purchased potatoes and oil from Kharugh earlier today so that we could make chips. Nothing like a taste of home sat 4200m up a mountain pass in the pouring rain with 2 Aussies, 3 Germans and an immobilised car.

Luckily our snugpak sleeping bags that have been pretty much roasting us alive over the last few weeks really shone on the Pamir as they easily kept us warm enough, I was even too warm at times!


Day 34 – To Kharugh

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Waking up in Hotel Pamir

Waking up in Hotel Pamir

After we set off from the bridge we hit a small but busy town on the afghan border. The germans were able to get new tyres in the town and the aussies got a new rim as well (theirs needed daily hammering back into shape). With new car parts purchased we headed off to Kharugh.

The roads were again bad but the sheer cliffs had been replaced by more sheer cliffs but this time they dropped down to a river, and on the otherside of the river; Afghanistan. Literally a stones throw away as we stopped to throw stones over the river. We again climbed higher through the mountains and followed the Tajik/Afghan border to Kharugh.

Afghanistan on the other side of the river!

Afghanistan on the other side of the river!

It took almost a full days drive to reach Kharugh, we managed to wangle a camp spot in the Garden of a local hotel for $4 each. The hotel even served relatively good food, allowed us to use their wifi but most importantly their toilet; which was a bad move on their part as certain team members stomachs wern’t up to much. After eating we headed to bed in the garden of the hotel.


Day 33 – Rebuilding Tajik Roads and Broken Bridges

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We set off with the idea of getting some good milage done. We were also confident we could get to Kharugh. How wrong we were. Our first issue was a broken bridge, to be fair to the policeman several km’s before he did try to warn us. The terios plowed through the river with ease. Next up was the Panda. It didnt go so well. They got stuck only 3m into the river so we had to push them back a bit and assess the situation. The solution was simple, all hands on deck. The riverbed was too loose in its current state so the spades came out, those that didnt have spades used their hands as we piled good solid rocks into the riverbed at our chosen crossing point. Once we had rebuilt the Tajiks road for them we attached out tow rope to the Panda and pulled it across while Jan drove it. Our plan worked a charm and the Panda was across.

While all this was going on an impatient local in his Soviet 4×4 had decided to drive round another way instead of waiting 10 minutes. He chose a horrible path and royally fucked his car. What a moron.

With the panda across we rebuilt part of the riverbed so the Aussies could get their Alto across. They gunned it across and got over without any assistance even if their car did bounce a good foot into the air. Success we were all over! We decided to head on and find a stream where we could stop for lunch and get drinking water. It was not to be.

With roads on the Pamir you simply cannot loose concentration for a second. Unfortunately Jan didnt pay attention to the road for a split second and ended up with 2 blown out tires, both punctures on the sidewall which meant they were very difficult to repair. In the end we put on their spare wheel and then repaired the other tire with tire weld. Unfortunately tireweld isn’t made for sidewalls so we had to stop every hour to pump up the Pandas tire.

The tire issue also meant we had to drive even slower to avoid damage to the tire before we got to Kharugh where the Germans could get a new one. As we wound through the mountain passes we ran into a British Biker; Wez who was driving round central asia, after a little chat we parted ways even though we were going the same way. He was much faster on his bike than we were. Little did we know we would soon meet again in strange circumstances.

The view while talking to Wez

The view while talking to Wez

As we pressed on we descended into a valley and hit a military checkpoint. The guys their were very friendly and we were through pretty fast. They also told us the Aussies had been through already as we had sent them off infront of us while blowing up the Germans tire since we were faster and could catch up. As we were leaving the checkpoint Wez the biker from earlier turned up and told us the bridge to Kharugh was out. Shit. We headed down to see if we could still get across. We were greeted by a raging torrent and a totally destroyed bridge that had apparently collapsed only the night before.

We headed back up to the checkpoint to discuss the situation with everyone. We were told a truck may come in the morning that could tow us so we headed down to the bridge. There was nowhere to pitch out tents so we grabbed our gear and climbed across the broken bridge to the otherside where we setup camp in an old shipping container. We cooked up some food as it got dark and we setup alarms to get up early so that we wouldnt miss the truck.

Before we got to bed some locals appeared on the otherside, they crossed the raging river in their shitty 4×4 Lada. They clearly knew what they were doing however as they had waterproofed their engine. After a discussion in russian and english they agreed for $150 to come back with a large truck capable of fitting our cars on to get us across. An hour later true to their word the locals came back with a massive 12L V8 truck, they disconnected all the electrics and fans and took us across the river to our cars. The truck cutout several times crossing the river but each time they got it started again and we got across. The Panda and Alto were taken across one at a time with us and our headtorches providing the light for the driver as he had disconnected his headlights.

The Terios however was too big to fit on the back and was instead towed across in a nerve wracking flash. But we were all across! But the danger was not over yet, an impatient lorry crossed before we could move out of the way, he took a bad path around us taking out the powerlines with him, we all ran for cover as the truck dragged live powerlines towards us. Realising Kelv was still asleep in the metal shipping container we banged as loud as we could for him to get the hell out and several seconds later he came bounding out.

After crossing a raging torrent on the back of an old soviet truck and escaping falling powerlines we paid the truck drivers and went to bed! What a day!

Bridge down!

Bridge down!


Day 32 – The Start of the Pamir Highway

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After stocking up on instant noodles at a local supermarket we headed off to Kharugh the first and only major Tajik town on the pamir. We had no idea what we were in for. The roads started off well but gradually became worse and worse. As the road wound up through the mountains we were faced with sheer drops to our right, hundreds of feet down. The going was slow as the Panda and Alto had to be careful with such low ground clearance. We camped up on a small plateau, cooked noodles, pasta, beef paste (ground beef in a tin) and opened the vodka. We thought the roads were bad on our first day, we had no idea what was instore for us on the next day.

Camping on the Pamir

Camping on the Pamir


Day 31 – The Road to Tajikistan

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After changing wheels on the Germans car we set off for Tajikistan, Instead of going all the way down to Termiz and back up we cut accross at Baysun to save ourselves some time. The terrain in this part of Uzbekistan was nothing short of epic! We went through a few military checkpoints with no problem however at one we had to have our bags searched and passport details recorded. Again though it really wanst an issue and the guy was very apologetic about the situation. I made the mistake of going to the toilet at the checkpoint. When I entered the toilet I was greeted by the sight of a man squatting down having a shit. Nice. The smell was so bad it gave me a headache and so I promptly left that “toilet” as fast as I could hitting my head on the door on the way out.

After that checkpoint we drove with no issues to the Uzbek/Tajik border.The border crossings were easy but took a while. The Germans were told by an English speaking official that their Panda would not be able to do the Pamir, we’ll see about that! The guards at the Uzbek border had a go at driving our car around but since they didn’t know the gear shift pattern and it isn’t written on the gearstick I had to sit in the car with them and do hand gestures as to how to change to the required gear. This drive around apparently meant the car didnt need to be searched like the Germans car.

Once we were in Tajikistan we headed for Dushanbe in the fading light and arrived at the city just as it had got dark. We drove around for a while and even stopped off at the German Embassy to see if they could recommend a place to stay. After Phil unloaded a load of German on the guy at the gate it became clear he was just a local cleaner and the actual German speaking staff had gone home long ago.

We eventually managed to find a hotel and Phil got the price down from $70 to $30 per person, he even met the manager of the hotel to ok the price. After some small amount of food from a restaurant across the street some drink was purchased from a local supermarket and we headed back to the hotel.