The Route

The Route
It is a very long way.....

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

30th Aug - Warm again - ish

As I was sitting eating my diner who should come along but the Kasak guys. They had been off for the day seeing the area and where heading to stay in Gorno Altai. The said that it was only 5 km up the road and that I should join them. I was sure that it was further than this and thought it might be closer to 15km but I decided that some company and a warm bed for the night would be good and so headed off after them on my bike with instructions to call when I arrived in town.

I could not tell exactly how far it was as google directions does not work in Russia (nor are the roads accurate)

Monday, 29 August 2011

29th Aug - Really cold, wet and sick

A rough climb on a dodgy stomach

I did not have a very good nights sleep because I had the shits and was up several times. I had forgotten to sterilise the water yesterday. It had seemed from a good source and I did not think that it would be a problem.

I got up early and wanted to get on the road but I had very little energy. I had stayed in Onguday for several days longer than expected and needed to get back on my bike though. I was packed and ready to go at 9 but I wanted to get some supplies and some Pepper spray (after all of the stories of bears and wolves that Aider had been telling me). It took a while to find the right shop and then get out of town again and so I was properly on the road for about 11.

My stomach really was not right and I was not in a great mood. The 900m climb from Onguday was 65km long and I really struggled. I was really cold and wet and the weather was rubbish. At the top of the pass there was snow on the road either side of me.

I did not want to change my wet cycling top to a dry warmer one as I would only get that one covered in sweat and then I would not be able to use that layer to sleep in if I had to camp. I really did not want to be freezing through the night and so I thought it best to just be cold in the day and keep my dry clothes separate.

By the evening, I had decided that as I was not well that (if I could find one) I should stay in a hotel rather than camp. I was looking forward to stoping at a hotel in the town of Tobuchaya but unfortunately it turned out to be a tiny village. My mood sank as I was really cold and I knew that I would have to get to at least the town of Shebalino to find a hotel and this was about 20km away. Normally not a problem but not when you are feeling knackered.

I was very glad when I stopped at the next village to ask if there was a hotel in the next town and a lady invited me in for some food and for a cup of tea. I was very cold and it was lovely to warm my hands on the cup and I felt so much better after some food. Even though my clothes were still wet through I was much warmer over all.

It was good that the ride to the town of Shebalino was downhill and it did not take very long but it did take about 30mins to find the center and then locate a hotel. I arrived at the only hotel in town at 8pm only to find that they were full. On the way out I met 4 guys that phoned the reception for me and checked but no luck. They suggested that I could stay with them in their room. I felt very unsure about the idea of sharing with 4 guys but they seemed fine. It was getting dark and it would take me a while to get out of town and find a place to put up my tent. I normally do not mind camping but I really did not want to tonight. My stomach was still bad, I had no energy and I could not face it. Therefore, I decided to take them up on their offer.

The guys went out to have a meal leaving me to shower and relax and they came back about 10. I felt so much better having had a shower and changed my clothes. I chatted with the guys until about 11 and fell asleep very easily. I was so glad to be in a bed, clean, warm and safe and sound.

28th Aug - Russian Sauna

I was going to head off today but I wanted a wash and Aider suggested that I wait for the water to heat up - apparently it would take 2.5 hours. I thought it would be interesting to try a Banja (a Russian sauna) and so thought I would wait and faff on my blog again for a while. It ended up beign 4 hours before the Banja was available for me to take my turn. I was very happy in the warmth playing with GPS tracks though.

The Banja was really good. I can understand now why so many people have them and how people manage to wash and still keep warm in the Siberian winter. The door to the building is coated with a sheep's coat and when inside it is really very warm. There is a stove in the corner which heats up all of the water. There were about 4 buckets full of the stuff. A Banja is basically a wash with hot water while in a sauna. It is very comfortable to take off all of your clothes and pour the water over your head. It was a good experience.

After the Banja I packed up all of my things and was ready to get going at about 5 - when Aider once again suggested that I should just stay one more night and head off first thing in the morning. I was not sure but then the weather turned to rain again - decision made.

This is the view from their back garden.

This is the loo at the bottom of their garden. Most houses have electricity but no plumbing in Siberia. The water is collected for drinking and bathing from the stream that runs behind their house.

I did not go to sleep as early as I should as I as faffing around with formulas on my spreadsheet - sad git!

I was very glad to spend some time with a Siberian family and see how they live on a daily basis, to catch up on my diary and just have a few days relaxing. It was interesting to try some new foods as well.

Aider told me all about the bears and the wolves in the area. It did make me rather apprehensive about the idea of camping tomorrow night...

27th Aug - Weather turns in Siberia

Aider woke me up at 7.30 to try and persuade me to have a lift to with him 300km North order to "save my muscles". I had really been enjoying the ride through this area of Russia and so I did not really want to get a lift on this part and then bike on the flat, busy part of Siberia. I wanted to enjoy the mountains. It was raining really heavily and he suggested that if I did not want to go with him then I could stay an extra day at his house and just relax.

I went for a 15km run around the area to stretch my running muscles and loosen off my legs. I had been wanting to for days and so it felt really good but I was cold and soaked by the time I got back and so the idea of me spending the day in the warmth out of the rain seemed very appealing and so I decided to stay.

This very salty, milky pasta was for breakfast. Certainly different to what I normally have.

I had a good afternoon writing some diary entries for China (1 month ago), playing with my GPS tracks of bike rides and enjoyed having lunch with Aysulu and Mike. It was very interesting to see how Siberian families live.

I had a good natter with Aider when he got back having sold his car. It was great to talk to a local that spoke such good English.

This was Mike trying on my Russian Army hat :-)

I had a lovely chilled day sitting in the warmth while it rained heavily outside. I was cold and so Aysulu lit the fire for me in the Yurt.

Yurts are really only used in the summer as it is too cold in the winter. They provide extra space for the family. Most Yurts are self contained with a bed or two and a kitchen area with a stove but often no running water.

The family ate their meals in the Yurt but I was the only one sleeping in there. It was lovely and cosy. A great place to spend a couple of nights not having to put my tent up!

26th Aug - Stay with Siberian Family in Onguday

There was no water to the hotel when I woke up and so I could not use the loo inside or get a shower. I sat in my room catching up on my blog and using the internet until 11ish when I got all packed up. Fortunately the water cam back on about 12 and I could shower after I checked out.

The hotel staff were happy for me to sit in the empty restaurant area and write my blog on my laptop. My plan was to spend the day inside doing this (out of the bad weather and where there was a 3G signal on my mobile phone) and then head out of town in the evening and find somewhere to camp. I would then push on the biking the next day.

I left the hotel and went to buy some food and go to the post office in the middle of the afternoon. When I was at the Post Office a guy called Aider came and introduced himself to me in perfect English and asked if I needed some help with translation. He very kindly helped me to post my important letter (3 weeks minimum to the UK from here in Siberia!) and invited me back to his family home later.

I went back to the hotel and finished off my blog stuff and then headed round to Aider's family home. He said I could sleep in their Yurt rather than camp. I felt very comfortable in their company and took him up on the offer.

Aider tried to persuade me to go with him by car to a town 250km North and miss out the climb through the mountains but I really like mountains and it is supposed to be one of the most beautiful areas of the country and so I really wanted to do it by bike.

We had sheep's intestines for dinner - a new one for me. It is good to try new foods but I found these rather fatty and my stomach really was not so sure about them.

His 6 year old son, Mike, was very cute and got all dressed up for diner for their "special" guest i.e. me! It was lovely. I had a relaxed evening and thoroughly enjoyed chatting in fluent English with Aider.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

25th Aug - A Chilled Day in Onguday

Finally a relaxed day without packing up and going anywhere!

I woke up with the light as usual but I still felt tired and so I went and paid for a second nights stay in the hotel and then went back to bed again until 11!

You have no idea how much I enjoyed a day of not going anywhere, catching up with friends and family and writing my blog entries. It has to be done sometime. You can't always be on the move.... I think it had been 35 days since I had last woken up and not packed up to move on to the next place that morning (there were a couple of times where I ended up staying in the same town after all but still pack up etc in the morning as that was not the original plan).

I cooked myself some eggs on bread for brunch and managed to singe off my arm hair! The Russian to English instructions said turn the knob 4 times before ignition - it meant 1/4 turn! Big gas ball in my hotel room! Oops...

Later on in the day I then burnt my left hand in boiling water trying to wash my clothes by hand.... In Russia just because a tap says "cold" it does not mean it is.... A day off the bike and I manage to singe the hair off both arms and boil my left hand! Not biking is obviously bad for your health....

I had planned on catching up with my blog entries but by the time I wrote emails, chatted with friends and family online, did some paper work for the UK, washed my clothes, cooked some healthy food and did a bit of shopping in town - it was then 11pm and I was contemplating saying another day in this hotel.... It is expensive for me though at £15 per night (very much more than I have been used to in other countries)! I am camping most of the time though in Russia and so maybe my budget can stretch to another day.... we will see.

I really enjoyed cooking in my room, drinking coffee, relaxing and having a bottle of wine. A really great day off the bike :-)

This is a hotel. Could you tell?

24th Aug - Bike to Onguday

I was up early again and packed up. It was only myself and the Grandfather awake for the first hour but then the rest of the family got up.

I really enjoyed playing with the little puppy and the kitten. No one else seemed to be animal lovers at all, in fact the little puppy was kicked and thrown all over the place.

The Grandma was not very different sober to when she was drunk last night. She continually muttered in Russian, talking enough for both herself and her husband (with the tracheotomy). She was not happy about me taking photos but her husband was very happy to show off his Grandson. It appeared that he pretty much did all of the work with the child will the mother and the grandmother just watched from a distance and enjoyed chilling and watching TV. The child always ran to his Grandfather and, like his Grandfather, did not utter a word. It was very interesting watching the family dynamics.

I had some of my normal homemade cereal for breakfast (oats, raisins, peanuts and a little sugar) but was then offered some lamb stew. It was good to try but very heavy on the stomach first thing in the morning! Very kind of them though.

The Grandfather and his Grandson came out to say goodbye. He had been really lovely and I liked him a lot. The women of the house were rather distant and strange though. Very nice of them to invite me to stay however. I really enjoyed staying in a Siberian house again to see how people live. It is nice that the Siberians have been welcoming as well as the Mongolians.

I was on the road by 8.30.

These are a couple of photos of the town I stayed in. The wooden houses are very pretty from the outside. No bathrooms inside but they do have electricity and running water (unlike about 50% of Mongolian houses i.e. the Gers).

I was really enjoying the ride up a pass when an old guy (one of the friends of the family I had stayed with last night) drove passed me an stopped ahead of me and gestured that I should put my bike in his car boot. It was really nice of him but I was enjoying the climb and the views. I said no and continued. He waited for me at the top with his boot open and again suggested that I put my bike in the back! No cyclist would ever suggest to another cyclist to ride down in a car from the top of a mountain you have just climbed.... He obviously did not get the imminence enjoyment out of racing downhill after getting to the top!

The views from the top of the pass was great but not as good as in the serious mountains yesterday. These are more foothills now. Although I had gained an altitude of by 10am :-)

The vehicles in Russia and Mongolia are great! I love these old motorbikes and side cars. My Granddad used to have one when I was growing up. I have seen loads in Siberia. You very rarely see old vehicles like this in the UK any more.

I knew that today would only be a half day as I only had to bike 45km to the town of Onguday. I had to stay there because I needed to register my visa at a hotel. Onguday was the first major town that was likely to have a hotel that was good enough to know how to register a tourist.

I arrived about 1pm (having had lunch about 10km out of town). There is a lovely river right next to the town and a rickety old foot bridge. The town itself was reasonably big with about 10 shops in the middle. It took me a while to find a hotel as I am not yet sure what they look like in Russia. Each country has a different style of sign and building type for hotels and it takes a little while to work it out.

I eventually found one - and no one spoke English but basically they said they could not register my visa. It was very fortunate that a Policeman was actually visiting the hotel for some reason at the same time that I was there. He very kindly gave me a lift to the Police Station and took me to the front of the queue to the right person to register my visa. Apparently, hotels should do it but the ones in this region they do not (only good hotels in the big cities) and so I was very fortunate that this Police Station agreed to do it for me. Once I had that done I felt like a big weight lifted from me!

The Policeman also let me connect to the Police station's internet connection and upload some photos etc for about 1 hour when they then needed the computer back. It did not turn out to be too much of a problem that I could not continue to use their connection as my phone's internet speed is actually very good in this town and I could upload photos without any problems (3G).

It took me several hours to do all of the jobs I had to in town. I did some food shopping, bought some new headphones for my ipod (mine had broken), paid my fine at a bank (for camping too close to the Russian border), put some credit on my phone, searched everywhere for a place that sold gas that would work with my stove and failed so ended up buying a new Russian one (huge but works with gas I can buy everywhere) and generally had a wonder round town.

When I got back to my room I really enjoyed eating freshly baked Russian bread. It is something that they do very well. It is available in all of the small shops and is very tasty. They also have some lovely cheeses. I have not had cheese very much at all on this journey and just fancied some with fresh bread and some apples and grapes. Ummmm :-)

I had a long, hot shower when I got back to the hotel. It was my first in weeks (I have been swimming in rivers and lakes to keep clean). As most homes don't have bathrooms I don't think that the quality of pumping is up to much in this area. The shower head was broken and would not attach to the wall so I had to hold it and the shower cubical was on an angle and falling to pieces. Never-the-less it was a lovely hot shower. I really enjoyed washing my hair and feeling really clean!

It was really great to have an evening in a hotel room without going anywhere. I was not in the mood for catching up on my blog and instead spent hours on the phone to friends and family. My Grandfather in the UK is in hospital at the moment and I am really worried about him.

It was the first time in ages that I had a good speed internet connection and I could contact home (3G on my phone).

I had a great chilled evening and decide that I do not want to go anywhere tomorrow. It is about time that I rested in one place for at least 1 day and catch up with friends and family and write my diary and blog entries in piece and quite.