29 May 2012

Uzbekistan: Samarqand 16-18 May, 2012

This city is one of the oldest inhabited cities of the world.  Throughout time, it has seen quite a lot of action, from being a central point from China to Europe on the silk route to being a center of scholarly study for the Islamic world.
Bibi Khanym Mosque
When we arrived into Samarqand we did not know what to expect.  However, after visiting Xiva and Bukhara, the glory was a bit stolen.  We stayed for 2 days in Samarqand to be able to walk around and see/feel this ancient center.  The buildings are massive and very impressive...from afar.  The closer one gets, the more one can see the poor restoration work that has been done.  It is a pity to see these enormous buildings in such a state.  However, it does appear that the city is trying to bring the old city back to life by improving the grounds in and around the old city.  Time will tell how it continues.  
The Old City
Walking outside of the old city into the new city was also a bit depressing.  Moving away from the Registan we quickly were confronted with 50s era Soviet buildings and squares.  The new city was not that spectacular and felt more like an area outside of a big city.  
An old Russian park that has been demolished - at least there is a view of the Great Mosque in the distance
All the roads/paths in the old city that connect all the old monuments are being  bricked
The highlight of Samarqand were the people we met at the Buhoudir Guesthouse.  Just after arriving, we met two french friends (Peggy and Guillaume) who are traveling in a Citroen 2CV from France to India and back (www.peripleenorient.free.fr).  It is a quite impressive journey over 1 year.  
The Citroen 2CV
We also met a nice french girl who was traveling on her own, Isabelle.  She told us that she was proposed to about 3-4 times while in Uzbekistan. She had pretty funny stories.  Two cyclists arrived shortly after, Dave and Ido.  Dave is an Australian cycling from Istanbul to China and Ido is an Israeli cycling to Kazakhstan.  
Dave and Ido's bikes
Tamara is a Swiss girl who was living in Kyrgyzstan and gave us some useful tips about the Kazakhstan embassy in Bishkek.  Lastly there was a Swiss/UK couple who were backpacking their way to the Pamirs.  
The Buhoudir is a melting pot for travelers and information gathering.  HJ even ordered his replacement fork seal and spare o-rings to be delivered in Tashkent.  Tashkent was another 300km or so away so we would need smooth road to make it without problems.  We have heard the road is ok so we shall see...

Uzbekistan: Bukhara - Samarqand 16 May, 2012

We were finally able to depart after we found a solution to HJ's front right fork.  The day before, we met a Swiss and a German who were heading to the Pamir Highway.  The German's bike was an older GS where the engine is part of the chasis.
The African Twin was well equipped to head to the Pamir's

When he showed up to Bukhara, his frame had broken at the engine mounts and he was using tie-downs to keep the engine and frame together.  Apparently there was a Russian guy who said he could fix it.  It makes us realize that our blown fork seal was not that bad.
Always people around for a quick photo
We were glad to finally get on the road, this was a minor setback but not too bad.  The trip to Samarqand was about 270km.  We figured it would take about 4-5 hours or so.  We had heard the road was relatively ok, meaning we would be driving between 60-80 km/h.
Samarqand Guesthouse: Bahoudir
Great spots for the bikes - and they are now clean
About 50km outside of Bukhara, we were flagged down by what looked like a policeman.  He was in a police uniform standing next to another guy normally dressed.  He signaled us to pull over with his flashlight (the same type of flashlight one would use to guide a plane at an airport).  He first went to HJ and asked for his passport.  Then he came to Scott.  "Ah...Americanski."  He signaled for HJ to go and for Scott to get off the bike.  Following the "officer" to the car, he asked for a bribe of 30.000 sums ( $11).  After a quick negotiation, an amount of 15.000 sums was reached and we could continue our ride.
HJ ordering replacement parts from HK Suspension
After about 170km, we pulled to the side of the road to meet Oli, an Austrian riding a '98 African Twin (Honda).  When we were about to leave, HJ noticed that there was oil on his engine again.  This time it was coming from the drain plus on the bottom of his fork.  The bolt was completely loose, as it it were stripped.  With Oli, we managed to create a short-term solution with a tire plug and some duct tape.  At least this would get us to Samarqand and maybe to Tashkent - we will see.
Samarqand - key city on the Silk Route
We said our thanks and headed off.  We finally made it to Samarqand in the late afternoon.  We ended up choosing the Budohir Guesthouse, which was a good choice.  We went to wash the bikes and then relax.
The Registan, the ancient city center

24 May 2012

Uzbekistan: Bukhara 13-16 May, 2012

Tough roads = broken parts
Mulat making calls to see who has a fork seal

Uzbekistan: Xiva - Bukhara 13 May 2012

Just like with any travel one does, there is a need to just go with the flow.  Today would be no different.
It started with with the power breakfast at the Meros.  We were on our bikes at 9am, leaving the city.  It felt good to leave early so we could make the 7-8 hour journey to Bukhara.  We were warned that the road was poor quality so it would take time.  Before we could get going, we would need to fuel up.
Getting ready to depart...the most important piece of Scott's luggage in HJ's hands

Uzbekistan: Nukus - Xiva 11 May, 2012

There is not much to see in Nukus, but there is a nice Bazaar and it is possible to exchange money when the banks are closed.  When we awoke, we saw the Jipek Joli courtyard filled with 5 other motorcycles.  
We awoke to a bunch of motorcycles in the patio

Uzbekistan: Moynak - Nukus 10 May, 2012

HJ noticed that there was a shorter road to get to Nukus on his map so we decided to take this new route.  It was supposed to take us to Shenge.  
We needed to cross this...luckily, we found tracks where people had made a quasi road

15 May 2012

Uzbekistan: Jasliq - Moynak, May 9, 2012

We awoke early, with the sun to pack up camp and continue on.  A couple farmers came by on their old HHH to say hello and check out who was camping nearby.  We did up a pot of tea, packed up and headed out towards Kungrad, then Moynak.
The first camping adventure

Kazakhstan: Beyneu - Uzbekistan Border (Jasliq), May 8, 2012

The day started slowly, going over our bikes (it was a bumpy 400km over the past couple of days) and getting things ready to depart.  We needed to stock up on some water and supplies in case we needed to camp.  It would be a long ride to Kungrad and with a border crossing; one can never really know how long it will take.  Before leaving, we wanted to check out one of the main attractions of the region, Bezik Ata.  It is roughly 18km from Beyneu. Just outside of town, we fueled up and we were off.
Center square in Beyneu

Kazakhstan: Shepte - Beyneu, May 7, 2012

After a power breakfast with Etimar, we jumped on the bikes and began our journey.  We followed the highway until the tarmac turned into clay, dirt and sand. 
The dangerous section, which was actually ok

Kazakhstan: Aktau - Shepte, May 6

This was supposed to be an easy ride today.  150km to Shepte to break up the almost 500km to Beyneu.  Starting from the hotel, Scott drove his bike around the hotel’s roundabout, not realizing that the bricks were as slick as ice.  The bike immediately was flattened and did spun around twice scratching up the side of the bike.  (Scott was not injured given the super low speed). 
Stocking up on supplies before leaving Aktau
It was a good start of the day…We started driving following HJs navigation.  We saw something that looked interesting (turned out to be a cemetery) so we turned in to check it out.  We were chased down by two cars telling us to not go there that it was only a cemetery.  We acted a bit dumb and then asked for directions to Shepte.  They told us to go in the opposite direction, saying that the road was “kaput”. 
Road kaput? We go anyway!
We said thank you and they were on their way.  We started up the bikes and headed to see the “kaput” road.  After about 20km, we understood what they meant.  There were trails, not roads.  Navigating was challenging but with knowing the general direction, we managed. 
This was not the worst, just a medium section
We hit our first patches of sand here.  On one of the sand patches, Scott was following a bit too close, got caught on the sand dust with no visibility and ended up falling.  This fall had done some damage to the left panier and broke the handguard.  The handguard was easily fixed with duct tape J.  Unfortunately, this was not the only fall on this road today…HJ also fell once in the sand, luckily not damaging anything.  He did managed to lose the rear mud guard.
The guy eventually drew the map out on a piece of paper
We arrived into Shepte, got petrol and asked for the hotel.  We were drawn a map and we headed to find a place to rest.
The hotel was small and very much like a hostel.  There were 6 beds in one room.  There was a shower so we were happy.  The bathroom was outside though.  
The hostel, super discrete and you need to ask where it is!
We met a very nice man from Baku, Etimar, who ended up buying us dinner and breakfast – Thank you again.  
Etimar, Scott, HJ: Thanks again for the dinner and breakfast!
Tomorrow would take us another 370km to Beyneu and on roads like we rode today!   

Kazakhstan: Aktau

We arrived at about 1pm but were not able to leave the port until about 4:30pm.  Once we were off the ship, it was pretty unclear what we needed to do.  We were with Michel and Marilou (www.tourdumondedepepere.com) who also sailed across on the same time.  They are travelling in a Toyota LandCruiser around the world and have about 5 years to do this, maybe more.

14 May 2012

Azerbaijan: Baku-Aktau, Kazakhstan Ferry

We boarded the Hassan Aliyev at about 4pm on Thursday and arrive at 1pm on Friday.  
Michel's Land Cruiser and our bikes

Azerbaijan: Escape from Baku

Our issue in Azerbaijan was the visa issued to us by the Azerbaijani Embassy in The Hague.  We had 5 days to enter and exit the country all while knowing that the ferry can take up to 10 days to ship out to Kazakhstan.  It seemed like a ploy to get more money out of us.  There is no information regarding the ferry's departure until it arrives into the Baku port.  There they decide where it will go, Turkmenistan or Kazakhstan.  The only way to get this info is to call every morning at 10am. 
The ferry ticket office - baku port

12 May 2012

Baku: 26 April- 4 May

Where to begin about Baku…it is a crazy city with big dreams. Since we had 7 days here, we can speak a bit more about our experiences in this city. Fortunately, it has quite some oil reserves that will keep it prosperous for the next 20 years.  One can only hope that Azerbaijan will do what the UAE has done with the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority to preserve its wealth for when the natural reserves run dry.  Only time will tell. 
Baku Old City with the Maiden Tower

Shaki -Baki: Day 14 (26 April, 2012)

We started the morning with a heavy breakfast (turned out to be more expansive than the dinner, but good). Next we visited the castle and the palace. The Russians only left the smallest building of the palace in place, so there was not that much to be seen anymore, but the surroundings were very nice. The remaining palace building is more or less symmetrical, with one side for the woman and one side for the man. The guide didn't like us to step on the balcony for woman, so we quickly moved to the other side.

We drove calmly to Baki, taking the inside road along the mountains again.

11 May 2012

Tbilisi - Shaki, Georgia - Azerbaijan: Day 13 (25 April 2012)

Today we woke up in a spacious 6 people dormitory with beautiful sunlight. The night before we decided to take an easy day and to go to the city centre for some sight seeing and breakfast. The first time since the start of the trip that we really could "waste" some time. It was about 600 km to Baku and we didn't know the road condition, so we thought it better to do the trip in two days and enjoy the traveling a bit more. Probably partly inspired by Grant, the Oz master of slow travel, and also feeling guilty towards our friendly host who's so proud of her country.