Archive | September, 2011

10th September – Kosh-Agach

10 Sep

It was surprisingly warm last night, hardly needed the big new duvet! Clouds had formed during the night keeping it relatively warm. Caught up with a few e-mails this morning before heading off towards Kosh – Agash which is only about 90 km down the Chuysky Trakt. After that it is just 73 km to the border. On the way we decided to fill up with water. The bottles and tanks total about 75 litres plus we have another 5 litres of bought bottled water. It turned out that it was a sacred spring.



In the trees you can see the prayer ribbons they are placed their by locals for which animism is part of their religion. It is basically a primal belief in the presence of spirits or spiritual qualities in objects of the natural world, particularly peaks and springs and their spirits are thanked with token offerings (ribbons, stone cairns, coins, vodka bottles) which you commonly find around holy trees and mountain passes.







I’m not quite sure I understand why vodka bottles should be included? Makes me wonder if camp fires are given the same treatment as they are also often piled up with them as well!




Again the views along the road were amazing and we stopped several times just to sit and look and sometimes fish.






The trees are starting to change colour now. It is definitely the end of the season. Lots of the little camps where you can stay in huts are closed down and some of the cafes along the way have been boarded up.





As we carried on towards Kosh Agach the scenery got drier and drier.




The town of Kosh Agach is a really dry dusty place, but people are still friendly and smiley.




It is always interesting to see how other people build!




The counterbalance on the crane is an old crankshaft and a bucket of ballast.

Final stop before we left to find a place to stay was the supermarket.




It may not be much to look at but has pretty much all you need. Next stop …. Tashanta.


I know we keep saying it, but any time now we are going to run out of 3G and there will be a big gap in posts. You can still see where we are by hitting the link on the home page …. as long as we remember to press the button on the spot!


9th September – Near Aktash (125km from Tashanta)

9 Sep

Woke up this morning to views across the mountains that looked very different in the early light.

The route between Onguday and Aktash is amazing. Fantastic scenery, good roads and the weather has been great. Here are some images on the way.

Bee hives and honey house. Sorry Sally could not ask them about bee diseases (language barrier!)

Every so often the road climbed up to a pass. Mostly the road just winds along beside the river and so there are not many big climbs.

Lots of places in Russia have ramps where you can repair your car. The villages often have shared ones for use by the community. In these remote places everyone seems to work on their own vehicle, and often have a spare one outside their gate. Even more Ladas in these villages.

Having a 4×4 would not be essential for the route that we have taken so far, however we would not have been able to access some of the best riverside spots or the camping spots above the towns. A good strong vehicle is also useful for some of the potholed roads we have been on.

We have started to see more houses that look like permanent gers. Some of them look very tempting to stay in, but we are very comfortable in Troopy and have slept in it every night except three since  leaving home. Two of those in Pskov (Olga’s friends flat) and one night in a hotel, where we thought we had arranged camping in the car park!

Every corner brings another fantastic view.

Everybody is busy bringing back their winter feed. We have seen some lorries with twice as much as this one, but have never managed to take a picture.

Further along the road we saw a massive fire in the mountains. Should be a good sunset!

Just before we got to Aktash, we saw our first glimpse of a snow capped peak. I think that we drive very close to it on the way to Tashanta.



Now we need to find a spot for the night.


We drove into Aktash and bought fuel, but decided to backtrack slightly to the village before where we had seen a spot by a stream. It seemed fine and the people who stopped by were friendly and so we decided to stay.





We will move about 60km closer to the  Mongolian border tomorrow.



8th September – Onguday

8 Sep

Last night was our coldest so far. We have not looked at the spot locator page and so not sure of the altitude, but we still are much lower than we will be as we get closer to the border. The camper has no insulation in the roof and the sides are basically tent material and so the inside and outside temperature is similar. Last night it was 2.7 deg C outside and 3.6 inside when I checked in the early hours. Forget saucy nighties, this is thermals and bobble hat territory!




However we have two duvets, two thin blankets …. toasty! When it gets colder we have a couple of fleece sleeping bags and finally silk liners. Only real problem is the condensation on the roof and sides when very cold. The clear blue sunny days make it easy to dry things and temperatures climb really fast as soon as the sun is out. It’s fantastic weather and because we are late in the season there are no mosquitoes to worry about.

Our day today was very relaxed as we do not want to travel too high too soon before we are due to enter Mongolia. We actually only travelled about 70km before we stopped for the day! We needed 3G to finish more paperwork (which we still only half finished!) and the scenery was nice …. so we stopped. It’s so much nicer when you don’t have to rush. During our morning coffee stop we spoke to two Russian bikers who were just on their way back from the Russian/Mogolian border. They loved the camper as they are really rare in Russia (any sort of camper). We have also only seen three caravans here and one of those was German.




The other odd thing is that we have not seen another UK number plate on the whole trip through Russia, and only about 3 or 4 European plates!

As our camp spot worked out well last night we picked another one on common ground just above the town. The views are great!




For us this is what this sort of trip is all about, stopping where you like and enjoying a new view every night!





Of course there are chores to be done, someone has to fry the veggies for the pasta sauce and drink up the excess Russian beer so that we have more room in the fridge for edible food in Mongolia ….. it’s not all fun!




And then there is laying the table in the dining area ….





We wondered why the table was less wobbly than usual …. only noticed that we had ‘plugged’ it into the middle of a cow pat when we came to put it away!

The evening was rounded off by a walk in the hills above our camp spot.



The landscape is much drier now as we have come over a high pass (Seminskiy) and this is a rain shadow area. As we travel east it is going to get really dry …. Gobi Desert! In the evening light it still looks green in the valley above the town. Hard to believe it is only half a kilometer away from the previous picture.










7th September – M52 to Shebalino

7 Sep

In the morning we had a slow start as Elvira invited us in for a shower …. too good an offer to refuse! So we had breakfast in the restaurant of the hotel so that we had contributed something for our night’s stay and shower!

We then headed off on the M52 further into the Altai. We feel that we are nearly in Mongolia but it is still 500km through the mountains. The road follows the river and there are loads of places to stop or camp.




Further along the M52 the road peels away from the main river and follows a smaller one. Our coffee spot was also a good place to have a quick fish.




Needless to say, we would not be having fish for dinner.

The landscape is still rolling hills and pine forest. Great views as you drive along a very quiet road.



We are starting to see lots more horses around. Most of them are ranging freely over the common land and through villages. I suppose that like the cows they head back in the evening. Some even take the bus.





We stopped between Barlak and Shebalino for Marjool to start work on the Vat return …… funny doing office work in the mountains near Mongolia. What would we do without the internet? Graham’s job was to change the oil and filter. We have only come 10,500 km since leaving home but the oil change interval is 6000 miles and so is just about due. All being well next time should be southern China. Maybe if we spoil the truck a little it will look after us through Mongolia. It’s much less fun draining the oil without the inspection pit.




Once the jobs were done we carried on to Shebalino and drove out the side of the village towards the common land. We knocked on a door and asked if it was ok to sleep there. They were again friendly, one family gave us a big bag of pine nuts to nibble and the family next door came up and asked if we would like to sleep in their house if we got cold! I hope that they would get the same reception if they turned up in our village looking for a place to park for the night?




6th September – Choya to Gorno Altaisk

6 Sep

Had  a nice quiet night in Olga’s drive. Starting to feel colder now … In the morning Tanya had invited us in for coffee and pancakes, cooked with her own fair hand.

At one point when we had distracted her by talking we thought one was burning …. Graham rushed over to toss it forgetting that the handles are cast iron and directly connected to the pan!! Luckily he threw it on the floor before it burnt his hand … after a good telling off from Tanya Graham sat down and stopped interfering …. not easy for him! Tanya asked if we wanted jam or marmalade with the fresh cow’s cream. We asked for jam expecting her to reach for the cupboard …. instead she disappeared under the floor with a look of extreme concentration and a cry of ” Oh man!” when she could not recognise the contents!! I thought for a minute that I was going to have beetroot on my pancakes …. luckily it was jam!

The breakfast was excellent thank you Tanya … and we enjoyed your company.

After breakfast we went for a walk around the village with Tanya and Olga. It is not as small as we first thought and has a good sized school that serves some of the neighbouring villages, a new hospital (nearly finished) and new kindergarden. The play equipment was amazing and the children so well behaved and dressed so smartly. We were invited in to take some photos and for Graham to have a game of football.

The children go to kindergarden from the age of 1.5 to 6 yrs old.

On the way back we saw another free range pig …. he was happy!

When we got back to the garden Tanya’s father was busy with the vegetable plot. He obviously works hard. He is really nice but we could not chat to him as our russian is so limited and he does not speak german.

And a nice russian truck …. great project!

Olga had gone back to work and soon it was time to say goodbye to Tanya.

I am sure that we will meet her again in England as she only lives in Germany, where she is studying.

We then drove back to our favorite coffee shop in Gorno where we updated the website and talked on skype to the Treadways (family who were planning to drive with us through China). Unfortunately they have a problem with their Land Rover Defender and are not sure if they can continue …. we will see, but in the meantime we wish them luck and hope that they can find a way to make it happen.

The evening will be spent in the supermarket stocking up for Mongolia. Not long now!

Once the shopping had been done (including another thick duvet for the cold nights) we headed back to the hotel where our friend Elvira works. Rather than stay in the hotel we asked if it was OK if we parked outside by the security building. You can see why Marjool felt right at home!!



5th September – Choya

6 Sep

In the morning we drove along the lake for a couple of km, but the areas are used by the military and so were closed. As we were heading back towards the bridge we saw a garden with lovely flowers and when Marjool stopped and asked if we could take a photo, the lady invited us in to take a closer look. She was rightly proud of her efforts.







She had made hanging planters out of plastic bottles.




We then drove back over the bridge to Artybash, and then another 0.5 km before we saw another place to stop …. slow progress but it just looked too good to pass.




Unfortunately we spoilt the view with the last bits of washing …..




We also used the solar shower (thanks Maybins!) to warm water for a rinse off. Works well!




We started back down the road towards Choya and stopped at a village for tea. We would have stayed the night but a few people who were a little worse for wear were difficult to shake off. A lovely place but we thought that it was better to carry on and find a spot next to a house (as normal) in another village. We do not feel threatened, but just not 100% comfortable … better safe than sorry.




We continued to Choya where we immediately felt at home! We drove along a street and spotted a man and a young lady working in the garden. It was father and daughter, and the daughter  (Tanya) spoke good english (although a bit shy to speak it) and perfect german. Marjool’s german is rusty but has practiced quite a lot in Russia and the Baltic states. We were invited to park on the drive which was very kind, and asked in for batter covered potato shapes and tea … yum!



Later in the evening Olga (Tanya’s mother) went out to show us the cow returning home. She was called Palena.



Olga milks the cow twice a day, then uses a separator. She uses the milk and cream, makes all her own butter and cheese and rears her young for meat. She has a calf at the moment. She is actually a teacher and does not have her own field. The cow grazes the common land and eats the waste leaves etc from the vegetable garden. They are not farmers.

They also have a large vegetable garden and store in the cellar to supply them through the winter.

4th September – Artybash (Lake Teletskoe)

6 Sep

After leaving the camp spot by the river, we headed back towards Gorno to take the road on to Teletskoe. The scenery was really pretty in the sunshine and there are plenty of good places to stop by the rivers and streams.




There are lots of traditional wooden villages on the way through, so plenty of places to overnight if you need them.




The cows owned by people in the villages are ‘free range’ they go off in the morning to graze on what seems to be common land, and then return in the evening …. mooing to be allowed back into their stable. You obviously need to be aware of them as they have right of way!




The hay is stacked for winter feed, but not sure how they keep the weather out as there are often no barns. Maybe once they are covered with frozen snow, they dig it out from underneath to feed the cows in the winter?





Every time you glance out of the car here you see nice scenes, either houses, gardens, old trucks or natural scenery. It would be a nice place to cycle as little traffic and loads of places to stop.




As we got to the lake the weather changed and it started to drizzle with rain. It was still a great view.




As we were admiring the view a couple of cyclists came along. It turned out that they had backpacked through South East Asia and then cycled through China on roughly the same route that we will be driving with the Treadway family. They were Russians returning home to a place near/in Georgia. They made us feel lazy and spoilt travelling by camper!

When talking to them we concluded that as foreigners it was easier to stay in villages. As Russians, they would be looked on with more suspicion if they turned up looking to camp outside someone’s house.


Our campsite for the night was a big bit of open grassy area at Artybash, on the downstream side of the bridge. This is when the lake spills out into the Biya River.  It seems OK to free camp all along the rivers in this area.




I was interested to see how people fished the river and a friendly fisherman explained that they use two floats with a trace in between with about 10 flies on. This is cast in across the river and allowed to swing around with the current. The fish caught are all small. Possibly it is very heavily fished through the summer and everything is kept for eating, however small.



That evening a dog arrived and stayed right by the car until morning. It was as though he had come to guard us! When we drove off in the morning he followed us for ages before he gave up. We wanted to stop and take him with us …. of course we couldn’t!




Last we saw of him in the mirrors, was him trotting behind us …… aaaahhhhh!







3rd September – River Katun

3 Sep

Woke up this morning beside the river. The River Katun that runs along the M52 is wide and fast flowing. Rafting trips are available.

It was a really warm day today, ideal for washing! We were going to wash it in the river and beat it over the rocks ….. even bought a bucket on the way to make it easier. Most shops in small towns and villages don’t have a window here in Russia, just lots of writing on the outside that we can’t read. This one was easier!

In the end the bucket only got used to wash Troopy as a sweet lady called Elvira (who helped us sort out the camping) came to our rescue and offered to arrange for all our washing to be done by the laundry in the hotel/cabins next door. She even delivered it back to us when it was ready. She also told us that wifi was available in the restaurant and so we decided to go over for a drink after banya.


In the afternoon Marjool sorted out the inside of the camper, re-organised food and packed away the now clean clothes. I tried to grease the propshaft again but could not get at one of the grease nipples. Only way to reach was to remove the flange of the propshaft (I know …. yawn!).




Every so often the owners dog rushed under the car and barked at me ….. so many dogs in Russia. I think every house has at least one …. usually more. This one was really sweet!




We met Elvira in the restaurant this evening and chatted in a mixture of Russian, German and English …… we mostly understood each other!

The bucket has been converted into a vegetable store for all the things we pick up in the village camping spots … it’s full!!

Moving on further into the Altai tomorrow.

2nd September – Still in Gorno

2 Sep

In the morning Marjool decided that, however awkward, she would  wash her hair today …… no wonder she appreciates it when we have a bit of luxury!

Having read the Lonely Planet guide we were not expecting to like Gorno Altaisk, but it is a nice place to sort things out, get supplies and to register the visas for the Altai. It has plenty of nice shopping plazas and plenty of banks and places to eat. There is lots of confusion regarding the need to register, but as we will be here for around 10 days and do not want hassle at the border, we decided to do it anyway. It is possible that if you drive straight through on transit that you do not need it, but local advice is that you do.

If you decide to register you can go straight to a lovely lady called Lioubov who runs a tourist agency called Aguna and it is on Choros Gourkina number 39/8, third floor office 313. It is a couple of buildings back from the one pictured below.

Lioubov will complete the whole process within in 90 mins including visiting the immigration office for you. We left her to it and headed off for a coffee and for Graham to get a haircut. Great coffee shop called Travelers Coffee on the main road Kommunistichesky number 26.

The staff are friendly and one speaks good english. There is free Wifi as well, so we spent a while there updating the website.

On the opposite side of the street was a good place to get a haircut. Explaining what you want requires some interesting sign language!

On the way back to pick up the visa registration we met a couple of bikers from Norway and Sweden who had just travelled from Japan via Mongolia. The had a great time!

By the time we arrived back the registration was complete. Thanks Lioubov and her assistant!

We are now on our way into the Altai. We are not sure about internet there so this may be the last post for a while …. At best we will keep up to date until 10th September, but it is uncertain! From what we have heard there will be few chance in Mongolia, but we will still be pressing the button on the spot location device, so our location will be updated most days.

On the way to Aya we saw another Land Cruiser with the Azalai conversion coming towards us. It had French plates and so we slowed down to have a look. They had the same idea and so we pulled over for a chat. They had been in Mongolia for the last two months and so were able to give us some good tips.



Just down the road from Gorno is a place called Aya that you can access by an interesting looking suspension bridge or drive around (about 2 km) to a new looking bridge. Once there we found that most of the food stalls and some of the cabins had closed for the season. Although we could have found somewhere to stay, it did not feel that welcoming. We opted to carry on down the M52 (not motorway, more an A road) for a few k’s until we came across some modest cabins by the river. It cost us 1000 Rub for two nights including a banya each evening.



Tomorrow will be a day without driving!


1st September – Gorno Altaisk (Altai Republic)

2 Sep

After leaving the village we drove south east on the M52. The landscape was quite a bit drier and the scenery pleasant rolling hills. The views through Siberia have been fantastic all along and you could see so far in every direction. The roads are excellent and the roadside stops are now more geared to cars and tourists rather than trucks. Driving is easier both because of the road surface and the reduction in traffic.




Today was suddenly warm and sunny again with a temperature around 27 deg C. Every so often you see more groups of dachas as you approach the towns or cities.



As you approach Gorno Altaisk you see the rocky cliffs that were once the banks of the river Ob.




We tried to find a hotel to park and have a shower in, but the first one we asked at were not interested unless we wanted a room. The parking was not very nice anyway. As we drove around we saw lots of nice windows and could not resist yet another picture!



We drove down a couple of residential streets and asked a very nice lady called Natasha. She had a nice smiley face and offered to let us park outside her garage for the night. Thank you!



Tomorrow we have various jobs to do ….. maybe we should find a shower  ….. no shower since …… don’t know when!!