Westbound Update #13…..
Here’s some more Fotos from Kyrgyzstan……
Favorite restaurant on Izzchy-Kol. Stove is outside.That’s my dinner she's cooking... can't see it, but there's a huge orange flame above the pan. Best meal of the trip....hot and spicy stir fry..... Thank you Super Chef Lady.
Camping Kyrgyz style.... along the river. Traditional felt rug for yurt floor..... Issky-Kol looking south....mountains in background.
Hard to fault the location.... mares milk for sale. Lunch with Marcos and Hans... Naryn, 8 days after our first meeting at the Kazakhstan border. A nice house and an old truck...what more could you need? Note the satellite tv dish.
Thanks for coming out to visit me... A beautiful summer day in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. Near the Saturday market town of Kochkor.
Some nice sweepers.... heading south toward Tor-Ashuu Pass....3586meters. Kids. Now that's a long walk to the outhouse....
Westbound Update #14. Kazakhstan and Central Russia….
Kazakhstan has lots of natural resources…. oil and natural gas. They’re spending big time on infrastructure, namely expressways linking major cities. This will be great for future travelers, but the massive road construction projects make for long dusty detours. They have contracted with the Chinese to do the work and it looks well engineered…… elevated road beds and thick concrete slabs.
The GPS routes me through Astana, the new capitol. It lies mid-country. It appears sort of artificial to me, like it needs constant irrigation and watering…. the surrounding countryside is semi-arid. Streets are lined with immature trees; buildings are gold and blue glass, modern high rise condos/apartments, new churches and malls. Not worthy of upsetting traffic to take a foto.
Northern Kaz turns green with wheat fields that stretch beyond view… these must be the large cooperative farms left from Soviet days… no farm houses, just small villages with a huge grain elevator every 50 kilometers following the rail line.
Russia, the Urals.
I plan to stay in Troitsk at the Russian border and get an early jump at border proceedings the next morning…..oops, Troitsk is in Russia and Kaz has no border town. All the better to get it over with. (I should have known that a ‘sk’ town would be in Russia.) I turn around and use my remaining Kaz money to fill the tank. Troitsk turns out to be a Tsarist town, with a nice but mostly abandoned city center. The first two hotels are ‘complete’ (full) on a week night, what goes? But the old Tsarist Grand Hotel has rooms and it’s within walking distance of a Subway. Two story log homes dot the downtown streets.
There’s an old public amusement park that was abandoned years ago… trees and weeds growing through the children’s rides… great movie location.
A 50 kilometer northerly connector gets me to M5, the Trans/Siberian highway…. except now, I’m not in Siberia. This is Central Russia. (My Kazakhstan adventure and western exit made for an un-ceremonial end to Siberia.)
M5 varies from being a four lane divided expressway (1/10th the time), to a regular country road the rest of the time…lots of trucks. Within an hour on riding M5, I spot two Subways and decide to stop for lunch at the next one. There is no next one.
The first full day of Russian riding gets me half way between Ufa (YOU-fa) and Samara. I stay at a road house. The scenery is mostly pine and poplar trees, little agriculture. The next day gets me past Samara where I cross the Volga River on a huge dam and head south toward Volgograd. This is Russia’s bread basket, and it’s a big basket.
(I mistakenly omitted a few ‘map tiles’ when I composed my OSM maps of this area and my GPS isn’t working since northern Kazakhstan. There’s a sense of panic when I discover this… (I’m addicted to GPS?) but M5 has marked by-passes for the big cities so all is well. I regain GPS after Volgograd and head to Sochi.)
Volgograd, (on the Volga River) formerly Tsaritsyn, formerly Stalingrad…. site of the epic Battle of Stalingrad. The battle that changed the course of WWII; two million killed, the entire city leveled. My first thought was…. how could the Germans get enough stuff this far East and still have enough stuff left to wage a fight? This is a long way from Germany. I arrive at noon; get a cheap room at the formerly grand Hotel Volgograd and head for the “Museum of the Defense of Stalingrad”. It’s sobering. How can anyone claim victory? The Russians do.
Next, I take the tram to the 83m high statue of Mother Russia, dedicated to those who lost their lives defending Stalingrad. Impressive.
Good pizza at the “Grand Café” at dusk on the shaded sidewalk alongside the hotel. Volgograd was a good stop.
The Urals peter out in the south, no mountains are sighted. Crossing the Volga puts me in Europe and I don’t even know it…
From Volgograd, I head west and south toward Sochi, site of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Sochi is on the northern coast of the Black Sea and is basically on a 600 mile dead-end street. While it butts Georgia 20 kilometers to the east, the border is closed due to an internal war within Georgia. Too bad.
The coastal road is rugged, turning into the mountains with hairpin turns when the cliffs drop straight into the Black Sea. It’s slow going. 100 kilometers before Sochi, I spot my first McDonalds since the one across the street from my New Seoul Hotel in Korea….it’s been two months and I stop for a Quarter Pounder and Coke…..my first ice since Seattle. I miss ice the most. Life is good.
Sochi. I was expecting rows of brand new hotels readied for the Olympic crowds… hoping to have my pick at bargain prices. But no. Sochi is so big that it swallowed any new buildings without showing. (Maybe the mountain ski areas have more conspicuous hotels?) I settle for Hotel Primorskaya, built in the 30’s and well worn. It is however, right on the “Promenade” that overlooks Sochi’s prime beaches. ($40, no a/c.)
Sochi’s a beautiful city. Lots of shade, palm trees and a breeze off the Black Sea make the warm temperatures tolerable. Watching the swimmers cringe as they walk on the baseball size stones has me doing the same in sympathy….well heeled Russians come here and it’s probably the best beach they will ever see. The beach walk has a ‘Jersey Shore’ feel. Trees and cafes line the streets; every third store is a liquor store, lots of BMW’s, Mercedes and Lexus plying the streets with trophy wives driving. Life is good here.
The big plan is to meet Ahmet in Georgia on July 1st…. and I’ve got to retrace the 600 miles to get back north and east so I can enter Georgia on the only safe border crossing.
Endless wheat fields, Northern Kazakhstan. Giant grain elevators every 50 kilometers. Wood houses in Troitsk, Russia.
Museum of the Defense of Stalingrad. Old mill building left as a reminder of Battle of Stalingrad. 1942. English on left, Russian on right.
Mother Russia, Volgograd. Russia's bread basket, south of Samara.
Powerful old Soviet art... all over Russia. My hotel, 1930's Hotel Primorskaya, Sochi.
Sochi beach quality. Sochi beach just below my hotel.
Westbound Update #15……. Georgia
The size of West Virginia (?), as green as Ireland and mountains higher than the US…
I got and early (5:30am) start and beat any traffic out of Sochi, stopped at the same McDonald’s that I hit coming in for breakfast (Turkish McD’s don’t serve breakfast….all the breakfast meats contain pork) and rode a long 525 mile day, putting me ahead of schedule of reclaiming my 1200 mile (total) Sochi detour. Met two guys on Africa Twins coming north from Georgia, one from Germany, the other from Belarus who confirmed that I was on the right path and that the landslide affect area was open for passage. Stayed at a ‘road house’ a couple of hours north of Georgia.
Russian hotels have towel heaters in the bath room…. They’re actually the ‘radiator’ that heats the room. It was a hot ride and my roadhouse bathroom is 140 degrees…. They can’t turn the heat off.
The next day dawns threatening and begins to rain as I approach the border crossing. I get soaked before I can stop to put on my rain gear. There’s a line of heavy trucks at least a mile long waiting to clear… don’t know if the holdup is Russia or Georgia?? I ride past them all. A misplaced Russian moto customs document causes some anxiety until I find it, but Georgia entry goes well.
The only road from Russia into Georgia is called the “Georgia Military Highway” and it follows a mountain river up a deep and steep gorge, over a pass and down into southern Georgia. The highest mountain at 5047 meters is higher than any in the US, but it hides in the clouds. The landslide that I dreaded (that closed the road and buried nine truckers a month ago) is negotiated without trouble despite the heavy rain. The mountains are lush green, the river is a grayish from the glacier silt, sheep graze on the verdant slopes as the road ascends into the clouds. It’s beautiful.
I’m wet under my raingear and it’s getting colder as the road climbs. I enter a small mountain village that’s so quaint it could be in Austria, see a small hotel with a restaurant next door and make a quick decision to turn around and think about an overnight, taking a gamble that the rain will finish by morning. The nice hotel is only $30; I’m on schedule to meet Ahmet in Tbilisi Georgia (the capitol) day after next, so I take a room. The room’s damp from the mountain weather but I hang my clothes to dry and walk the village, using my umbrella for the first time. It takes fifteen minutes to walk the entire town, I go to the restaurant for an early dinner, no Coke but ‘Georgian Lemonade’, a fruit flavored fizzy drink. There are a dozen US Marines in civilian clothes hogging the tables, but they invited me to share a table….they’re spending their weekend here from duty in Tbilisi. It’s Sunday. Nice guys.
Monday morning is dry and I’m happy that I stopped….at least for the first hour; when I reach the pass it rains all the way to Tbilisi…
The Georgian mountains are rugged. Pastures reach high with sheep that appear as moving dots, then rocky snow covered peaks. Very scenic. The poor road conditions (and non-existent traffic) ensure a slow ride that allows me to take it all in.
I arrive Tbilisi and go to the city center looking for a hotel for meeting Ahmet on Tuesday. Wet slippery streets and heavy traffic scare me, so I head back north on the road I entered and that Ahmet will be coming in on from Batumi. My GPS says I made a mis-turn, so I pull over on the right and wait for traffic to clear so I can do a u-turn. When I complete the u-turn, there’s a cop car facing me with his lights flashing waving for me to pull over in the median in front of him. Oops. I shrug… I’m at his mercy. I tell him I’m looking for Hotel 444…. He points in the direction I was originally headed, take a left…. and lets me go. Thanks.
It’s Tuesday morning, hot and muggy and I have to vacate my room by noon. The hotel girl tells me that Batumi is an eight hour drive, putting Ahmet’s arrival at 4 or 5 pm…. I decide to keep the two bed room for another day and enjoy the a/c. At 2pm, I’m next door having lunch on a sidewalk table at a donner shack when Ahmet rounds the corner on his 2007 R1200GSA….. we see each other simultaneously. It’s early enough to ride, but the room is paid for and we decide to stay, walk and talk and have a nice dinner.
It’s good to be with my friend Ahmet.
Back in the US, Ahmet couldn’t find his own bathroom without his GPS…. But he’s GPS-less and had arrived Tbilisi at noon and it took him two hours to find me. (I had emailed him the name, phone #, web site and email address of the hotel). He carries a phone. (The hotel girl had it wrong…. judging by the condition of the road from the north, she was correct, but when we leave on the western road, it’s an expressway and the best road of the trip.)
Wednesday morning we get an early start for the Turkey border, ride for two hours and stop at a roadside restaurant for breakfast….cheese pie, freshly baked in a wood fired oven… good.
For those that don’t know, we met Ahmet and Emel at a BMW Club monthly meeting at Barb and John Fischer’s house three years ago. They are in the Turkish Air Force and were taking classes at Wright Patt. AFB in Dayton, for a Master’s Degree. Ahmet’s in Logistics, Emel flies an F-4 fighter jet. Ahmet had bought an R1200GSA and I helped them plot two western USA trips…. They have traveled more of our country than most Americans… They became good friends.
German and Belarus on Honda Africa Twins coming north from Georgia. Georgia Military Highway landslide area. Nice Cafe/Resaurant next to my hotel, Kazbegi, Georgia.
Old Monastary Kazbegi, Georgia. Georgia Military Highway, Georgia. Monastary, near Pasanauri, Georgia.
91 Kilometers to Tblisi, 1239 to Tehran.Towns in Southern Russia and Georgia had natural gas pipes routed above ground, very unsightly but easy to maintain? Ahmet arrives Tblisi on his R1200GSA...in front of Hotel 444.
Cheese pie and ‘Georgia Lemonade’ for breakfast, near Turkey border southern Georgia. Restored castle, fort, monastary, and mosque, Southern Georgia. Beautiful day to ride with Ahmet.
Westbound Update #16…. Turkey with Ahmet and Emel.
Ahmet’s wanting to meet me in Tbilisi turns out to be very serendipitous… more later.
It’s a 3 ½ day ride for Ahmet to get from Ankara (capitol of Turkey) to Tbilisi. He arrives at the Georgia border and is turned back because he doesn’t have the proper paperwork for his BMW. He has taken a week holiday to ride with me and could not wait for his new title/registration papers to arrive via post. Georgia customs is not sympathetic. He turns back to Turkey but the BMW won’t start. A Turkey border guy tries to help and Ahmet tells him the story…the Turkey guy knows a Turkey guy who knows a Georgia guy and in what’s not a common practice, the Turk talks to the Georgia official and convinces him that all is legit. Ahmet’s bike starts and he gets into Georgia.
The big Georgia border town on the Black Sea is Batumi and since Georgia is a Christian country, there’s booze, gambling and women. Ahmet says what happens in Batumi, stays in Batumi.
Tuesday morning he rides east to Tbilisi to meet me. Wednesday morning we head back toward Batumi on the nice expressway, but turn south just past Gori to take another rural border crossing into Turkey that must be new because it’s not on my map.
After our Cheese Pie breakfast we arrive at the border around noon. The customs computers are down for three hours, but not to worry, I can’t enter Turkey anyway because I don’t have moto insurance. While waiting for the computers to come up, Ahmet deals with the nice passport control guy who gives Ahmet the phone number of an insurance agent in the next town, 40 kilometers further. Ahmet’s phone battery quits, the passport control guy charges it and the insurance guy emails my policy number to the passport guy who gives it to the customs guys… and the customs guys let me in, hoping that I stop at the insurance guy to pay him… so far everything is on the honor system…. by 4pm the shadows have moved ten feet to shade our bikes but now we’re in. (note: I needed moto insurance to get into Korea and Russia. Korean handled by Wendy Choi and the Russian by the ferry guy in Zarubino…. I did not need proof of insurance for Mongolia, to re-enter Russia twice, nor for Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan or Georgia…. ) We detour into the insurance guy’s town and find his office with some difficulty…. pay cash, 30USD for three months coverage. I’m legal.
Without Ahmet’s language and negotiating skills, I’d still be waiting at the border, wondering…. “What’s going on… “
Ahmet tells me that there’s a line of trucks a mile long waiting to get into Georgia, just like I witnessed at the Russian border. There were only four cars waiting after the four hour wait for the computers to boot up and I’m wondering why the truckers don’t use this crossing??? We find out minutes later.
After the border, the road climbs two mountain passes, high enough to have lingering snow in the shady spots…. above tree line. Lots of hairpin turns and the going gets slow. It’s getting dark as we follow a mountain river that’s draining into the Black Sea. There’s a huge new dam project going and we pass three other older dams downstream, all with generating plants. Our evening destination is Borcka, a dam town. We ride an hour after dark with some light rain, but the roads are good.
Teacher’s Houses…. Turkey federal employees (teachers, postal, police (yes, the police are federal) and others) have organizations that established modest hotels in popular cities for their employees. When the system was going bust, they opened the ‘houses’ to the public, foreigners included. Each modest room has three single beds, no a/c, and clean bathrooms. Ahmet pays 12 dollars, I pay 17. Good deal. We stay in another ‘Teacher’s House’ the next night, same deal. When I leave Ankara, Emel makes a reservation for another in Cappadocia, a real tourist town, but it’s 60 dollars and has no a/c, so not such a good deal. The ‘TH’s” remind me of Di’s community centers…. old men gather and play board games all day, I fit right in.
The first two days we ride the mountains in the north east that border the Black Sea and Georgia. We visit three National Parks, but don’t think Glacier or Yosemite, think Hueston Woods. It cost five bucks to enter a National Park, but there’s no difference between being in or out. There are private vendors, restaurants, souvenir shops, cafes etc inside the parks… These would be good scenic moto roads for a lighter bike, but the curves are too tight for a loaded touring rig; we’re on the brakes constantly.
Ahmet’s front tire has a slow leak and the rubber is cracking making it hazardous. We stop, air up and ask about a bike shop in town…. basically across the street. The guy has one tire 110-80-19 but it’s a semi knobby like a TKC80…. It’ll do. Ahmet buys the tire, the guy takes us to a mechanic who removes the wheel, and then the mechanic takes it to a shop to change the tire….. about an hour and half lost, less had the tire guy not left mid transaction to go to the mosque. (It’s Ramadan).
After 2 ½ days of mountain riding, we ride the Black Sea Coast, basically from the Georgia border all the way west. The third night we stay at Ahmet’s friend Sadat’s private university dormitory, which is more like a new hotel, called biltepe. It’s a first class operation. The atrium has climbing wall, the fixtures and construction are first class. Sadat has just restored an R80GS to mint condition and displays it in the dormitory foyer. Ahmet stayed here on his way to Georgia and our stay is gratis… thanks Sadat.
The Black Sea coast road is a four lane divided but not limited access. 65-70 mph is good until the next town with traffic and stop lights. On most coastal roads I’ve ridden, the water is visible maybe 50% of the time at best…. not here, the road is right next to the water and is visible at least 95% of the time, excepting tunnels. Beautiful.
80 kilometers before Sinop, the high traffic route turns SW toward Ankara and Istanbul. We stay on the coast and the going gets much slower. The road winds inland to circumnavigate rivers with lesser bridges. On one stretch of inland road, we encounter a section that’s been freshly asphalted… but the crew went home without laying the gravel or chips…. It’s a long detour, so we ride slowly, but not slow enough….. our bikes are covered with dripping wet asphalt and I’m pissed. In all my travels, I’ve never encountered such disregard for people’s property. When we pull into a gas station after the encounter, a woman looks at our bikes and is agast…. She whips out her smart phone and takes pictures…. Maybe to laugh at us, but I think she was as upset as we were. I’m thinking we’ll lose a day just cleaning the bikes….. Ahmet’s RoadCrafter is stained from the knees down; my boots are black… what a mess.
Trouble is, I don’t think like a Turk. For Ahmet, it was just a case of finding someone to clean the bikes for us…. The gas station is busy with other guys cleaning their cars…. So we rode on to the next town, 50 kilometers further. Ahmet bought a gallon of ‘lamp oil’ (kerosene) at a gas station and next door was a high pressure car wash guy. He used Ahmet’s kerosene to soften the tar and pressure washed the bikes cleaner than they were before the tar bath. We lost a total of an hour and half for the entire ordeal. I sure was happy after the wash.
By now it’s getting dark and Ahmet finds a nice rustic ‘hotel’ that overlooks the Sea. Jonas from Switzerland is pedal biking across the world, joins us for some drinks and conversation before heading off into the dark to camp. He values our road condition remarks and we warn him about the asphalt section.
On our fifth and final day of riding together, we drop south to visit Safronbolu, an historical town known for its wood houses which Ahmet knows I would appreciate. It’s a lovely town, narrow cobblestone walks for pedestrians only, cafes and lots of shade. We visit one house that was restored by the city as a house museum. The town is named after the most expensive spice…. and was on the ‘Silk Road’ in ancient times.
After Safronbolu, we hustle to Ankara to meet Emel who has dinner waiting for us at 8:30.
Turkey/Georgia border. Great mountain roads, NE Turkey. Morning mist at National Park.
Old snow at 10,000 feet. Park scene. Children's shoes and one old man's boots outside mosque.
Small shop that prepared our breakfast cheese and salami sandwiches. Breakfast in the mountains...Ahmet. Trout dinner at restaurant overlooking the trout stream...
Ahmet riding into the clouds, near Georgia. Outside old wooden mosque, Aktas Turkey, right on Georgian border.