Dirt road riding to Kyzylorda

The M-32 road from the north of Kazakhstan had proved to be in better condition than those in previous years had experienced, and judging from the state of the upgrades this will still be a good road in 2015 for those who wish to undertake such a journey to the heart of the “Stans”. Today did prove to be our first challenging riding day in terms of the road conditions. We reached
Baikonur, the launch site for the former Soviet Union space program, and leased to Russia for space launches. Special permits are required to enter the area until early 2015 we understand, so we by-passed the area.

Baik

Baikonur cosmodrome

This was the start of the roadworks between Baikonur to Kyzylorda which has many bridge & culvert replacements underway, with appropriate dirt roads and dusty detours. The dust in places is so deep you can bury the toes of your boots in it. With both transit and construction traffic, it can be quite interesting to ride, especially as even though we are relatively novice dirt riders, we are still faster than the trucks and most cars which do not have the flexibility of the motorcyclen (faster on gravel and in bull dust but not sand which still spooks me and I find totally exhausting – Anne). What is a newly opened road seems to be determined by how you can get past the earth barriers and whether the bridge or culvert crossing is in place. We were encouraged in one instance to use an unopened section by the construction truck drivers. It saved us a couple of kilometres of dirt.

So finally to Kyzylorda, we had been travelling for about 10 hours with breaks. We had plugged hotels into the GPS and were heading in that direction, when a young local on a small Honda motorcycle offered to guide us. The first location did not seem to be a hotel anymore, but our guide took us to another hotel – it was now 9pm – it had showers, water, air-conditioning; all the essentials after three days on the road. I think we got our value in water alone! (At 5pm, I thought we were going to have to camp by the side of the road as I was so exhausted from the sand sections, but after a 30′ break, Anthony pouring water over my head, I recovered and was so glad we had made it all the way to Kyzylorda!! – Anne)

End of a hard and dusty 10 hour ride into Kyzylorda

End of a hard and dusty 10 hour ride into Kyzylorda

Today was maintenance day and a time to check over the bikes after all the dirt had been washed off them. While we give the bikes a daily check this is time for a more detailed inspection. We had decided that the enthusiastic mechanics chain adjustment was a little tighter than we liked so a small adjustment there, tyre pressures ok and a small object lodged in Anne’s rear tyre. A pair of pliers produced a 40 mm nail and a pronounced hissing sound. A chance to test the tyre repair kit, we were both thrilled! Better to fix in the car park of a nice hotel than at the side of a dusty road. The instructions were simple to follow and execute and we will see tomorrow how the repair stands up to the rigours of the road.

Anne's puncture is just about fixed - we found a 4cm nail comfortably lodged

Anne’s puncture is just about fixed – we found a 4cm nail comfortably lodged

Our recovery time has been spent doing washing, emails and shopping. We found a fantastic supermarket called “Small” which is the largest we’ve seen since leaving the UK!!! It even has an extensive choice of cooked meats and salads which we sampled for dinner tonight. Didn’t sample any of the vodka on offer:

Kyzylorda "Small" supermaket - enough choice of vodka?!

Kyzylorda “Small” supermaket – enough choice of vodka?!

As we were walking ‘home’ to our bizarre hotel, we crossed the road at the same time as 3 cops. Once on the other side, one of them decided to ask us questions – where are you going, where are you from, where are your documents? Documents?! We hadn’t thought to take them with us for a 10′ walk – oops. Where are you staying – at the hotel over there. So off he comes with us until he asks which hotel – the Nomad Palace hotel. To which he waved a hand in disgust as it was too hot and too far for him to walk to at the end of his day. So off we went. The only other time we have been stopped by police in Kazakhstan, was coming into a little village – he just wanted a chat. Never even asked about documents.

Pedestrian crossings in Kazakhstan are respected by everyone – whether on the highway or towns. And the first car , truck or bus to approach you stops for you! Quite surreal considering how they drive!! Surreal like our hotel – we think we are the only guests here tonight but it is full of staff to attend to your every need!! I couldn’t even bring the 2 plates which I asked to borrow from the dining room up to our room – the sweet waitress had to do that for me, so we walked up the flight of stairs together.

Tomorrow we start towards Bishkek, a 1000kms away, and a few nights’ camping along the road, so really no more updates until we arrive there.

– Anthony then Anne

Baikanur to Kyzylorda - one of the many detours while bridges are being built - dealing with the road surface was one thing, but trucks and cars are still impatient and overtake anyhow and anywhere

Baikonur to Kyzylorda – one of the many detours while bridges are being built – dealing with the road surface was one thing, but trucks and cars are still impatient and overtake anyhow and anywhere

Anne let Anthony take her bike up as she was too exhausted to tackle this hill :-(

Anne let Anthony take her bike up as she was too exhausted to tackle this hill 😦

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Yes, back on good tar!

Yes, back on good tar!

And we need flash new BMW's?!

And we need flash new BMW’s?!

Kyzylorda Abai Avenue - but could be any town, some new flash building with grand entrance that cannot be used and dirt road approach with unfinished building next door, all boarded up.

Kyzylorda Abai Avenue – but could be any town, some new flash building with grand entrance that cannot be used and dirt road approach with unfinished building next door, all boarded up.

South through Kazakhstan

The last three days have seen us cross Kazakhstan from North to South and cover more than 1,000 miles or 1,600 km mostly on good quality roads. imageWe have spent our first couple of nights camping out on the Kazakhstan steppes. What a great experience and one we had not done in many years. It is funny how things that you have experienced, i.e. camping, just do not happen for a variety of reasons, but when we go back to them we do not understand why you took so long to get out in a tent again. (I am in love with my new Jack Woolfskin Yellowstone III Vent tent, Trango pillow and Lifeventure Downlight sleeping bag!!! – Anne) We saw hardly any other bikes , and then only local ones, on this leg of our journey, but lots of trucks, many of whom would toot their horns as we went past. They even went so far as to act as our alarm clocks as we slept in our tent some way off the road.

Our home is just about ready

Our home is just about ready

Anne very happy, enjoying the surroundings and delicious sardines for dinner - what more could a girl want?!

Anne very happy, enjoying the surroundings and delicious sardines for dinner – what more could a girl want?!

We are finally camping - feeling happy

We are finally camping – feeling happy


The temperature has finally warmed up, we are now riding in up to 34 degree celsius weather, and the Klim jackets have proved to be well ventilated while riding and we are comfortable even without all the vents open. While you can read all the reviews on equipment, its good to find that it works the same way for you.

More and more camels, horses, cows, goats and sheep appear as we head south and they decide where and when to cross! The camels are well camouflaged and no fences mean you need to keep a eye out for them at all times.

Love the Kazakhstan road signs for rest area - trees?!

Love the Kazakhstan road signs for rest area – trees?!


The people of Kazakhstan have proved to be very friendly and interested in where we were from, we find that “kangaroo” acts as the best way of describing Australia vs Austria! Each time we stopped, we seem to attract someone who wanted a photo with us, on the bikes or just ask a few questions.
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These truck drivers stopped to have a chat and take photos - most truck drivers either hoot, wave, flash their lights to say hello while cars drive up beside us to take photos!!!

These truck drivers stopped to have a chat and take photos – most truck drivers either hoot, wave, flash their lights to say hello while cars drive up beside us to take photos!!!

We stopped at Aral, the town which used to be on the Aral sea before the shoreline retreated due to Soviet era agricultural policies. The cranes at the docks can still be seen from the centre of town. Then on to camp with a glorious sunset.

Town entry into Aral

Town entry into Aral


It's a long walk to the toilet

It’s a long walk to the toilet


Our home 120kms north of Baikonur

Our home 120kms north of Baikonur


– Anthony

The expansive Steppes of Kazakhstan from a relaxed position

The expansive Steppes of Kazakhstan from a relaxed position

More sandy patches north of Aralsk

More sandy patches north of Aralsk

Typical muslim cemetry in Kazakhstan

Typical muslim cemetery in Kazakhstan

Anne is done so this spot will be perfect for the night

Anne is done so this spot will be perfect for the night

Love our home!!

Love our home!!

Outside Baikanur, they each wanted our photo so Anne took one too - the one 2nd from the left gave us a watermelon which we couldn't refuse!!!

Outside Baikanur, they each wanted our photo so Anne took one too – the one 2nd from the left gave us a watermelon which we couldn’t refuse!!!

The petrol station owner was so pleased to have sat on Anne's bike, he gave her a big hug and a kiss

The petrol station owner was so pleased to have sat on Anne’s bike, he gave her a big hug and a kiss

Samara to Aqtobe

Samara to Aqtobe

We left Samara on a beautiful cool Sunday morning, with none of the mad and terrifying traffic of the rush hour when we arrived. We got some dirt road detours but all in all the road was very good. The wind gusts we had that day were incredibly strong, even for seasoned Cape Town riders! One was so strong at one point, I screamed – I’m allowed, I’m a girl!!!!

We have to say that, while riding/driving in Russia can be somewhat scary, we have never witnessed any road rage, which sadly has become quite common in Australia. Drivers seem to have very poor judgement of speed/distance and we witnessed so many close shaves… I found that if a car came up fast behind me, I would indicate to let them overtake me, and they would suddenly back off. Then once they were past us, they would flash their lights to thank us.

The Russian to Kazakhstan border crossing, coming from Mashtakov, was very simple and only took 2 hours. The hardest part was negotiating the loose gravel, potholes and bumps at slow speeds. I got spooked when I very nearly dropped my bike after having successfully got through that gravel. I didn’t do so well as I was about to leave the final Russian gate (having handed over the last piece of stamped paper). And over I went – right in front of all the cars and trucks waiting to make they way past the border too!! No real damage done – just a sore knee. Shortly after leaving that border, while in no man’s land, the road was atrocious, with more ravines with loose gravel: I chickened out at that point and asked Anthony to ride my bike over. The crossing into Kazakhstan was very easy. Luckily we knew the process from a most helpful forum on Caravanistan: get one tiny piece of paper (5cm x 2cm) from a helpful border guy in a tiny shack who filled in with our registration number for us, drive a few metres and park and go to another shack and quickly fill out the blank form we’d just been given by another guy while we’re queuing, make sure the first tiny piece of paper got stamped then, then go to yet another building for customs. Once again, another helpful guy came up to us which saved us going into that building. He asked what we had in each bag and top box, asked if we had any guns or knives, and waived us on, saying we didn’t have to go to the big building. Drive on again a few metres to one last little shack, hand over the tiny piece of paper duly stamped and here we were now in Kazakhstan. The hardest part was to hang onto all those pieces of paper, registration documents in the incredible wind!!!

Next we had to find where to get the road insurance. We had heard to look out for unmarked looking buildings immediately after the border. And we found them.

This where you get your Kazakhstan road insurance just after going over the border from Russia, coming from Mashtakov.

This where you get your Kazakhstan road insurance just after going over the border from Russia, coming from Mashtakov.


Anthony managed to video one of those crazy overtaking moments. Just over the Kazakhstan border, the queue of trucks waiting to leave Kazakhstan was huge so a mini van decided to overtake them all, coming towards us, but so did a car too so the car squeezed between the trucks and van, forcing the van off the road – with us coming towards them, on a single lane!! Hilarious!!! And we all managed to get through, no problem!!

We got to Uralsk that night, found a road side motel, had dinner at the nearby cafe and slept.

The next day was hard. We covered 450kms, including a few long dirt bits but they were fine, with very little soft sand so far, except where Anthony did a fantastic skid and recovery in a split second and I managed to avoid that soft patch. But the majority of the road was incredible!!!! Very good condition, much less traffic. But the WIND!!!!!!! So so strong, for hours!!! Our necks got sore keeping our head ‘straight’. We finished off the day with a long, bad stretch outside Aqtobe. By the time we got to the city centre and spotted a hotel, we were so glad to stop and find a good bed. We slept for 11 hours!!!

When we woke up and realised how tired we were, we decided to stay over an extra day as we had to register with the police ( as tourists you have to register within 5 days of arrival) and I needed to get my chain adjusted. So we’ve had a leisurely day and we are ready to go to bed ahead of a new day on the road.

We’ll be camping tomorrow somewhere, so until next time…. Enjoy Anthony’s videos 🙂


– Anne

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Kovda, northern Kazakhstan - a lovely village with intriguing statue

Kovda, northern Kazakhstan – a lovely village with intriguing statue

Close of Kovda's intriguing statue

Close up of Kovda’s intriguing statue

Wanted to get a photo of Anthony  in my rear view mirror - didn't quite manage but this photo shows the good and straight road ahead

Wanted to get a photo of Anthony in my rear view mirror – didn’t quite manage but this photo shows the good and straight road ahead

Our mechanic asked if he could take my bike for a spin round block - so off he went for 15' while his mate suggested I should take the Land Cruiser behind him instead

Our mechanic asked if he could take my bike for a spin round block – so off he went for 15′ while his mate suggested I should take the Land Cruiser behind him instead

Our friendly team of mechanics who helped us adjust the tension our chains.

Our friendly team of mechanics who helped us adjust the tension our chains.

Aqtobe's interesting Nurdaulet complex which includes a mosque, shopping centre, amusement park and zoo

Aqtobe’s interesting Nurdaulet complex which includes a mosque, shopping centre, amusement park and zoo

Nurdaulet mosque complex's lone giraffe obviously loves being stroked

Nurdaulet mosque complex’s lone giraffe obviously loves being stroked