After traveling through Kyrgyzstan, we always knew that Kazakhstan and Russia would be a long, hard slog and that’s exactly how it turned out with some 2,700 km covered in five consecutive days of driving.
Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world and it certainly seems that way with vast and flat expanses of nothing surrounding you as you drive. Towns occasionally dot this landscape but they’re a collection of buildings amongst this sea of nothing. Given the country’s size, there was simply no time to veer off route but thankfully we were able to see a few things that were en route.
Just across the border is the stunning 80 km Charyn Canyon, which you’re able to descend into and walk though. We were planning to camp but just as we started ‘setting up shop’, a massive storm erupted and we were treated to a ferocious thunder and lightning display while we sought refuge in the car. Thankfully, the storm cleared as morning broke and we were able to walk through the canyon.
We’d seen another rally car when we pulled up and would bump into the Norwegian team ‘Geographically Misplaced’ whilst walking. What started as a ‘Shall we convoy together until Almaty’ turned into a convoy that lasted two weeks and saw us cross the finish line together. Magnus, Reuben and Kore – it was an absolute pleasure and a real highlight travelling with you lads. Bringing the golf club was an inspired decision and I look forward to having you boys here in London. And to skiing in Norway!
After a night out in Almaty that included a large number of beers and an assorted horse meat platter or two, we would spend three long days driving north to Russia along some of the words roads we would encounter on the trip. Added to the car-swallowing potholes, the unpaved roads and the crazy drivers was days of torrential rain that turned roads in mud baths. The icy weather was also a complete surprise as we headed north.
Up until Kazakhstan, we had had one slow puncture in Georgia. Things would change quickly, though, with the number of punctures jumping to four within 24 hours. A double puncture in one stretch would mean we limped 20 km to the nearest town on a barely inflated tyre before we were able to fix for both $2!
We’d also heard that you had to register your visa if planning to stay longer than 5 days. We thought the drive would take two and thus we would be out no problem but as I said, two became three and we would exit the country with some 15 minutes to spare!
It was much the same as we crossed into Russia and headed for the Mongolian border. Although the roads were VASTLY improved and the scenery far more beautiful as we drove through the mountainous and lush-green Siberia, the weather remained the same – icy, cold and wet. Thankfully that would clear and the last two hours of driving along a windy road heading for the border town of Barnaul was fantastic.
It was whilst driving through Russia that a truck kicked up a stone that shattered our back passenger window. Thankfully there is not much duct tape cannot fix and Mark’s efforts worked a treat as the tape held all the way to Ulanbataar!
As we crossed from the paved no-man’s land on the Russian side into the unpaved no-man’s land on the Mongolian side, excitement was fever pitch. We’d planned for almost six months and had been driving for five weeks and this was the moment – we had reached Mongolia! It was a long 1,600 km to the capital but we had seven days to make it and were confident we’d be driving Julie across the finish line. That confidence would be tested at times but I’ll explain more in the next blog.