Monday, July 6, 2015

From Russia With Love

Our last few days in Uzbekistan saw us driving through the Fergana Valley with a stopover at a hotel with a swimming pool. After the relentless heat on the Silk Road it was a welcome relief.

Police check points are common in this country and we got stopped quite often, but the last 100kms saw us being stopped 4 times – what a pain. They simply take down your details and write them painstakingly in a ledger. Smacks of paranoia.

The border crossing into Kyrgyzstan was painless and we were soon in the border town of Osh and met up with Bernard the Biker from Belgium – again. We’ve become quite chummy. He was waiting for a part for the motorbike to arrive from Switzerland. We also met Sam, an Aussie riding his bicycle from Vladivostok to London – as you do!

Osh has a great bazaar and we stocked up of meat and veg. We were soon climbing into the Tian Shan Mountains that lead into China. The road up to (Lake) Song Kol was ‘one of those roads’. Stunningly beautiful, difficult and long. We stopped near a Yurt camp by the lake at 3100 metres with cold drizzle. We went from 40 degrees to 4 degrees – is there no ‘normal’ weather to be had?
Vulture taking off 
Next day we did our highest pass at 3,450 metres – spectacular drive. Terrible road.

We then headed to (Lake) Issyk Kol and stayed at a Yurt Camp hotel in Boris. We just used their facilities for a small fee – a fab spot by the vast lake. We met up with a Brazilian couple in a Land Rover and a French family in a motorhome, all doing similar adventures. We love meeting up with other travellers and swapping stories.
Swapping Stories

Bel Tam Yurt Camp at sunset

Finally we had normal weather – high 20’s, perfect.
Eagle Hunting Demonstration

Who looks more worried?

The mountains in Kyrgyzstan are really awesome, but you wouldn’t go out of your way to see any of the towns. All quite dusty and drab. We avoided the capital, Bishkek.

We pushed on to get back into Kazakhstan and the city of Almaty where we intended to obtain our Mongolian visas. Best laid plans… you can imagine what happened!

We arrived first thing Wednesday morning with all our paperwork in order to be told that the Consulate in Almaty no longer issues visas and that we needed to go to Astana, as though it was an hour away. It’s a 3 day drive.

What to do? We opted for flying up and back in day, having been assured the visa would be issued on the spot. Best laid plans…

Our 6am flight got us to the Embassy at opening time and we handed over our application and were told to come back tomorrow. What??? No, no, no. Finally they said ‘come back at 12’. Sounds easy? The embassy in is the burbs so getting cabs back and forth isn’t as simple as it sounds, until you know the system. Basically you stand on the road and ‘hitch’. Someone will stop and you negotiate a price.

Anyway, long story short, as they were about to close for lunch at 1pm, we realised that no visa was going to be issued. The Consul was nowhere to be found and wasn’t answering his phone. Obviously off with his mistress. We took back our passports and flew back Almaty, visa-less and about 600 euros poorer.


Astana can best be described as Macau on steroids. Grandiose buildings, no soul.

So, after 3 days of hard driving and 1600km on awful, boring Kazakh roads, we are now in Barnaul in Russia. We’ll head to Irkutsk and maybe get a visa there, if they’ll be so kind.

Tips for Travellers

The border crossing from Kyrgyzstan into Kazakhstan was a breeze. It's open from 8am to 6pm (summer only). At this border they will automatically register you. Look for TWO green stamps on your arrival/departure document. If you have these, there is no need to register when you get to your first town. Avoids a hassle.

In Osh we stayed at the Eco House. Great location, good rooms, safe parking, terrible breakfast but we were used to that. Lomonosova Street, 25, 723500 Osh.

At Song Kol you can camp anywhere. We stopped near one of the Yurt Camps, but anywhere is fine.

On the way down to Kazarman we camped about 25km before you get to the town, down a side track. It’s not so easy to find good spots.
N 41.3605
E 73.8035

At Issyk Kol we camped at Bel Tam Yurt Camp. This is a brilliant spot and you can camp there for 200 SOM a night including showers. The camp is clean, rustic and well maintained and you can have a meal if you wish. Abut 10km east of Bokonbayevo. Nearest town is Tong.

Back in Kazakhstan, we camped the first night in a disused quarry which got us out of sight and was quiet.
N 45.6688
E 80.2717

Past Semey, at 97km before the Russian border we found a great spot in a pine forest. Cool and peaceful. Here are the co-ordinates for the side road to take. Drive down about 500m and you get a sort of junction, turn left and you’ll find a flat clearing.
N 50.5777
E 80.327

There was also a potential spot 68km before the Russian border.

The border crossing was easy - no hassle and only took 1/12 hours.

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