The border crossing was the quickest yet at just 1 hour. With that we were on our way to Semey, with some noticeable worse roads than we had on the Russian side.
(Semey is infamous for the extensive nuclear testing conducted by the Soviet Union right outside the city, with some 460 explosions taking place over the Cold War decades. Many medical issues are present to this day in the local community)
In Semey we had a nice walk around the gardens and received a lot of looks from locals not used to foreign tourists. We had our first shashlicks of the trip and they were delicious.
Semey to Taldykorgan
We rode an epic 16 hours to get to Taldykorgan, and stayed in the interestingly named Royal Petrol Hotel – a hotel built onto a petrol station
Taldykorgan to Almaty
Road works plagued us for almost the entire run. The speed limit in the roadwork zones was 50km/hr. We were found to be travelling at 87 km/hr after missing a 50 sign and the police asked for 100 USD each. While Zane was finishing negotiating a 20 USD fine each, Todd and Alex both came back and handed over 100 dollar notes. Satisfied with their earnings, Zane wasn't required to pay anything. Good lessons for all: resist and refuse and negotiate - they're all bribes anyway!
Traffic into Almaty was painfully congested and we endured it in the hot sun. Traffic aside, the city was green and leafy and in stark contrast to the terrain we'd travelled for the last few days. The city was surrounded with beautiful snow-capped mountains. In Almaty we were busy preparing for the next leg of the trip and getting major services done on the motorbikes. We had an interesting experience with a petrol station manager we met whilst getting fuel inviting us back to his house for lunch with his family.
On the last evening in Almaty Alex met up with a Caterpillar contact, and two of his friends, all of whom are avid bikers and part of the Almaty Motorcycle Club. Alex got a night tour of the city on an R1, visited a few biker bars (had too many shots) and went up to "Little Mountain" to see the city from above. Good times.
Almaty to Bishkek
The ride from Almaty to Bishkek was relatively uneventful. The Tien-Shan Mountains prevent you from riding directly south to Bishkek so we did a loop west. Alex was feeling very average after the previous night’s antics. The border crossing was quick and easy. The border guard at the final boom gate before entering Kyrgyzstan was a bit of a character and made us dance before he'd raise the gate. Very randomly, as we went to ride off he shook Alex's hand and palmed him 500 Som (10 AUD) - enough to buy lunch in Krygyzstan.
In Bishkek we stayed in our first guesthouse which was owned by an Algerian called Smail (who was a helicopter pilot trainer in USSR). At the guesthouse there were a couple of old Ural vans and some even older Ural side-car motorcycles that were being restored. Very interesting vehicles!
On our day off in Bishkek Todd and Alex walked around for hours looking for a map. Zane spent all day trying to fabricate a replica QLD rego late after his was stolen in Almaty. A trip to a graphic designer later and with some help form a local with some awesome skills, an aluminium replica was installed on the bike. Wish a splash of water and some dust to ensure it didn't look out of place the job was done.
We finished with more shashlicks at a restaurant opposite the hotel where the Socceroo’s had stayed a few nights earlier during their clash with the Kyrgyz team.
Bishkek to Osh
On the way we met two German motorcyclists travelling in the opposite directions. We exchanged advice for Mongolia for advice for the Whakan. The day included two passes at 3500m and a long tunnel that was a little scary. It was narrow, wet, dark, and filled with stagnant diesel exhaust fumes. Two cyclists died in this tunnel a year earlier from carbon monoxide poisoning. Later we were to meet many cyclists heading in the opposite direction – hopefully they survive the tunnel!
In Osh we met two couples who were four wheel driving around the world separately – both had some amazing setups with their vehicles. One was a 105 Series Landcruiser, the other a Mercedes G Wagon dubbed ‘The Beast’. And it was a beast. We had dinner and drinks with these guys on our last night before departing for the Pamirs.