22nd August 2017
After arriving in Kazakhstan, we headed straight for the Ustyurt plateau - a remote reserve in the Mangyshlak desert in the south-west of the country.
We stocked up with as much fuel and water as we could carry, and with Ash (a kiwi we met on the ferry heading home from the UK on a Yamaha Tenere 1200) in tow, we headed out into the unknown.
We didn’t have much information as to where to go, we knew there were some interesting canyons about 70km east of our starting position so we took a compass and headed in that direction. It became clear pretty soon that it wasn’t going to be that simple - what appeared as one path on the map, quickly turned into many, all heading in different directions. Ignoring the advice of Robert Frost, we tried to keep to the paths most taken, but despite our best efforts, we ended up too far to the south.
Correcting our position took us across some seriously treacherous terrain. The paths were rocky, sandy, and dusty all at once. I came off twice and bent the handlebar on my poor Kawasaki (and my ankle, which hurts a wee bit now), Ash came off a few times too, annoyingly Dave didn’t but he did drop the bike enough to make us feel better.
By the time we got to our intended position, we were exhausted. As we came from the south, we were separated from the canyon we wanted to see by a dried up Lake so we set up camp in view of it - close, but no cigar.
We thought fuel was going to be a major problem, but it turned out water was what limited us most. We all took about 5 litres with us, although some of mine fell off the back whilst riding - not exactly ideal. Not only were supplies limited, but what we did have was slowly boiled by the sun all day. In all honesty, we’ve drunk colder cups of tea in our time. It was a torturous only having such a small amount of un-refreshing drink at hand. In the end, we ended up pouring in some diarlyite (helps you rehydrate when you have the shits, Dave is well stocked) to speed up the hydration process.
We retreated back to civilisation after 24 hours in the sticks to refuel and head towards the Uzbekistan border. Our bikes have taken a bit of a battering recently and we’re currently nursing a few problems. 40km after leaving a town, Dave's luggage rack snapped on a bumpy road so we turned around to seek help from a welder we had visited earlier.
Alongside this, my carburettor is leaking slightly, Dave’s air filter has disintegrated, he also has a slight crack under his cylinder which leaks a bit of oil. Nothing hugely serious at the moment - but problems that need addressing nonetheless!
We’re off to Uzbekistan now where we hope to see the fast-fading Aral Sea. Country Number 14 and over 10000km covered over 48 days!!
28th August 2017
An update from Uzbekistan. Firstly I’d like to point out Fred isn’t writing this post as my bike is having a few (quite a lot) of issues so I thought I’d give my opinion to ensure there are no biased/rude comments.
Since the last post my bike hasn’t exactly helped our progress. After thinking my panniers were the only problem, the battery collapsed requiring us to frantically search Beyneu, a town with very little to offer, for a new battery. As I was about to settle on using a car battery strapped to the back of my bike with wires leading to the engine to at least get us into Uzbekistan where we’d hopefully find a genuine motorbike dealership, with a stroke of luck we found a cheap Chinese motorbike battery and proceeded on our way.
This time we successfully made it to the border, where we’d heard they were very strict on medication, including codeine, so emptying my entire supply of painkillers i’d bought in anticipation of any inevitable falls we were disappointed to find they didn’t even bother looking in my bags. Camping is also deemed illegal in Uzbekistan but after the usual hours spent dealing with the bureaucratic paperwork, we only had a couple hours of daylight left. With the nearest hotel 5 hours away we had no option. This area of the world offered no changes in gradient so after riding for 45min we saw some piles of dirt about 100m off the road which we could hide our bikes behind and camp for the night. Luckily we were not disturbed so were able to sleep in peace.
We proceeded to head south with some towns sighted en route to refuel. Little did we know there is a serious shortage of petrol in Western Uzbekistan so around 500km later, running on the final drops from our fuel tanks, we reached Kuringot, only to find out every petrol station didn’t have any. We came to the conclusion that the only way to get fuel was to hitchhike 100km to Nukus (where we were told there’d definitely be petrol), fill a few jerry cans and return to the bikes. As we stopped for lunch in a defeated state, the owner of the restaurant came up to us and asked if we needed any Benzene (petrol). With this stroke of luck we returned to our original plans of heading up to Moynaq, an old fishing port that once sat on the shores of the Aral Sea. Uzbekistan also has a black market offering a considerably better exchange rate so all local currency is obtained through changing dollars with a local who has fresh wads of cash, and no questions asked where he got them from. Uzbekistan know how to make what should be simple procedures, pretty painful!
Moynaq proved to be an incredible but also poignant place with an array of rusting fishing boats left as a reminder of what was once a busy fishing town, but now sits 200km from the retreating edge of the Aral Sea. This did however provide an idyllic campsite amongst the ships. We had hoped to ride all the way to the shore line to see the rapidly disappearing body of water. However a 700km round trip from the closest source of petrol and no idea which of the numerous sand tracks actually lead to the sea we accepted defeat and returned south.
As we continued my bike’s problems worsened as an unnerving rattle started to occur from my engine. 200km later in a town called Nukus, i decided it was best not to carry on so we parted ways with Ash, who had to continue due to time restraints on his visa, whilst myself and Fred set about looking for a mechanic in Nukus. We later found a mechanic who then proceeded to invite us round to his house for beers and dinner with his friends giving us a true insight into the life of the locals in Uzbekistan, an experience we won’t forget.
Having also replaced the chain, a new wave of confidence in my bike arose so we headed further to Khiva. Khiva is the first true central asian city reminiscent of the silk road that we have come across. With history dating back through centuries, we have been blessed with an array of magnificent architecture in the form of medressas, minarets and palaces constructed from mud and tiled in various shades of turquoise. Finding a hotel within the mud walls of the old city we have decided to spend a couple days to indulge in some culture and take a break from concentrating on never ending bike problems. Next we head for Bukhara in desperate need for a mechanic who can put us back on the road in all confidence.