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.
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.
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!