The winter weather has been wet in most parts of New Zealand with the occasional snow fall closing roads for a short period throughout the country and prompting an early opening on most of the countries ski fields.
It’s the first real winter I have had to endure in NZ for 7 years and normally at this time of the year am basking in the sun and warmer temperatures of Mongolia, Russia or Central Asia.
Must say that there are lots of good reasons to leave home in the winter months and the promotions in the general media to venture to a tropical island, participate on a boat cruise or enjoy a trendy river boat cruise in Europe are all very tempting and in most cases cost effective.
However, I suggest that if you save the above options for your “later in life” vacations and while you can, take a self-drive adventure in an interesting part of the world while the countries on our agenda are available to us to visit in safety. This will also surely give you a greater appreciation of the places visited on the boat cruises later in life !
Overland Journey’s biggest challenge is that of convincing clients that the likes of Russia are not what they have been led to believe. Always portraited as the “bad boy” of civilisation, dark and dingy and unfriendly, it’s a hard image to shake off especially when the media play on its reputation.
To quote the majority of our clients within 24 hours of arriving in Vladivostok to start an Overland Journeys self-drive tour. “Wow, this is not what I expected !”
Yes, the people are friendly, the weather is warm, even in May and the scenery and architecture is amazing. The initial impression sets the scene for the start of an unforgettable 81-day tour to London passing through no less than 14 countries.
Anton Zaglyadimov, “Events and Operations Manager” for Overland Journeys has been doing an amazing job developing and refining our website.
We seem to be reaching a wider audience and a renewed awareness and interest in Overland self-drive and escorted travel is evident.
Its true to say that we are leaders in this field of travel and now have a global audience.
Just recently, NZ 4×4 Magazine have released their July edition with a 8 page article (with some spectacular photos) of our January winter ice road BAM trip in North Eastern Siberia. Either pick up a copy of NZ4x4 Magazine or read the article online on nz4x4.co.nz. The inclusion of an international articles written by Overland Journeys will be a regular feature from now on.
Greg Paul and the old faithful 96 / 80 series Land Cruiser in conjunction with Goosey’s Customs the Pukekohe Ironman 4×4 dealer recently displayed our tour product at a home show at Pukekohe. It was a great weekend and met lots of interesting people with that were amazed that a NZ organisation arranged 4×4, classic car and motor home tours around the world ! Of course, everybody who did engage in a conversation was keen to participate in such trips but mostly filed their thoughts in the “too hard basket”
I can assure you that the hard part is making the decision to do such a trip. The rest is easy with our help and organisation !
Part of the Overland Journeys portfolio these days is making arrangements and advising independent travellers on Overland travel.
At the moment we have 2 motorcyclists on a 150 day journey from Singapore to Amsterdam via China, Central Asia, Iran and Turkey. It took some organising but the boys are having a ball and soaking up the experience on a daily basis. At the moment they are on the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan.
Another couple from Rotorua are currently in Moscow after driving their Land Rover Defender from the UK via Finland to Murmansk in North Eastern Russia. They have an interesting Itinerary in Russia, Central Asia and Mongolia. Their blogs provide interesting reading and if you wish to follow Dennis and Jenny’s travels let me know and we can provide you with a web address.
Due to some early issues with the LR we also provided a list of the LR service agents throughout Russia. All part of the Overland Journeys customised service.
Overland Journeys are proposing a “last minute” limited edition 30-day Central Asian tour from the beautiful Kazakhstani city of Almaty to seaside resort of Yalta on the Crimean peninsula now back in Russian ownership.
Cost: $US19500 for 2 persons twin share including vehicle hire. (Land Cruiser 100 series LHD)
Notes: Only two customer vehicles available plus guide.
Email or call for detailed itinerary and tour inclusions / exclusions now.
Almaty, Bishkek, Osh, Dushanbe, Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, Astrakhan, Krasnodar, Sevastopol, Yalta.
Dakar Rally Tour
The famed Dakar Rally-Raid is next year to be held entirely in Peru.
This is a huge surprise to the Dakar fraternity, but the sand dunes of Peru are what the Dakar is all about and the return to Peru and the dunes earlier this year gave the competitors and teams a taste of what the Dakar event is known for.
Its tough going and the duration of the rally has been reduced to 10 days, also a surprise.
We will be shipping our specially prepared Land Cruisers to South America for the 10-day event.
We are traditionally the only company that follows the Dakar from start to finish.
Due to the Rally only being on Peruvian soils this year and that its shorter in duration we have slashed the price in hope that all 15 seats will be filled in 2019.
This will be the last Dakar that Overland Journeys / Rally Tours run as rumour has it that it may be the last in South America.
Cost: $US8,000. Per person. (Seat in vehicle) Vehicle hire options are available.
See our website for more details.
The Best of South America
South America is on for 2019.
Following the Dakar tour which this year finishes in Lima Peru, we will be starting a self-drive tour (with vehicles provided) to travel to the Southern tip of the continent, to the city of Ushuaia.
The city of Ushuaia at very tip of the South American Continent is our turning point before heading back up to Santiago by way of a relaxing 3-day ferry trip.
This trip is “The Best of South America” and has morphed into a 50-day affair combining the best of all 4 countries at a crazy price of $NZ49k per couple based on share twin accommodation.
There are only 4 clients vehicles available for this tour so you need to be quick to accept this offer !
Finish: Santiago (Chile) on 8th March 2019
Cost: $NZ 49,000 per couple (4×4 vehicle included)
Details and Itinerary available now from email@example.com
Momentum is gathering for our planned “Across Russia” Camper Van / Mobile home tour from Vladivostok (Russia) to Tallinn (Estonia) starting May 2019.
Advertising in the two most popular Motorhome publications has yielded plenty of enquiries from adventurous travellers keen to experience Russia and explore Europe and the UK with their own wheels.
A trans Russia Motor Home trip is now possible due to improved road conditions.
It will be leisurely trip with several two and three night stops and city sightseeing trips arranged with local guides and lots of optional excursions to museums, concerts etc.
Email Anton to get information about this trip and obtain a tour prospectus.
Finish: Tallinn (Estonia) on 20th June 2019
Cost: $NZ37.000 (does not include shipping)
Silk Road Tour
Still taking bookings for the 2019 Silk Road Tour. We have just 4 spots left for this 81 days “Overland Journeys” adventure of a life time.
If time is a problem and you don’t have 81 days we have one vehicle for hire that is available to do the Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) to Volgograd (Russia) leg. It’s 54 days and takes in the best of Mongolia, the Pamir Highway and Central Asia.
Also, we have a couple of “seat in Vehicle” fares available. This will involve travelling with Greg in the lead Land Cruiser or the “TEC” (Trail and support) vehicle. This is a cost effective and relaxing alternative to driving at $NZ36k.
Note: We operate this tour bi-annually. The 2021 Silk Road Overland is almost booked out.
If your thinking about the Silk Road adventure we can get you organised now for the 2019 trip.
Experience the Baikal Amur Mainline
February 2019 is not that far away, and we are now looking for expressions of interest for our 2019 BAM Russian Ice road trip.
Yes is cold, but not cold as we know it !
It’s a dry cold and the skies are mostly clear every day.
The tour cost includes warm Russian clothing, warm hotels, vehicles and as much vodka as you like to keep your insides warm.
This is truly an amazing trip and an incredible experience that you will not forget.
Talk to us about it now or take a look at the 8 page article that Greg wrote on our 2018 BAM trip and see the spectacular photos on www.nz4wd.co.nz or buy the NZ4WD magazine July 2018 edition and you will be convinced. This is also a very cost-effective trip and is seat in vehicle or vehicle hire by arrangement.
Duration: 18 days. 18th Feb – 8th March.
Call us now to discuss this trip.
2020 Classic Car Tour
2020 will see us run our popular Classic Car trip and this time from Vladivostok to London. Details out soon.
We have escorted Classics across Russia on 3 occasions before and its proved to be popular.
The tour will end in the UK in time for the “Goodwood Festival of Speed” and the Silverstone Classic and Historic race meeting.
So, dust off your favourite classic and reserve the months of May, June and July to tour Russia, Eastern Europe and the UK.
Cost and dates to be announced soon.
“Special” Travelled with Overland Journeys previously, then you automatically belong to our “Overlander’s Adventurers club and are eligible for a rebate (don’t like the word discount) on your next tour with us.
We’ve all been there – the bucket list, to do list, if only I could list, closely followed by should I, shouldn’t I, can I afford it, what if? Well, what if you don’t? This is my take on travel, the bucket list and why you should just do it.
Lake Baikal early spring
Where should I go?
The “to see and do before we die” list is quite long. And then one day we realise if we don’t get on with it we won’t be able to for any number of reasons that are creeping (or running) up on us.
For some time I’d had an urge to do something a bit out there. It had to be a challenge. I wanted the road less travelled. Crowds have no appeal, be they locals or tourists. I was looking for something that would change my life. I’m not a 20 something going to find myself. I just want to go and find everything else.
Late 2016 and we made a decision to just do it and go on an Overland Journeys epic tour. The 2017 Silk Road from Vladivostok to London itinerary read like a story book of names of many of the places I had read about and dreamed about since childhood. My great aunt had been to the USSR in 1969. She brought me back Matrushka dolls. Maybe the seed was sown.
Richard wanted to take the Trans Siberian Railway. I wanted to drive the Pamir Highway – among other things. He loves trains. I don’t mind trains. He likes driving. The train doesn’t do the Pamir, often the views are not so scenic, a lot of travel is at night, he has trouble sitting still, I wanted a big adventure – so the decision wasn’t that difficult.
We’ve always been a bit DIY in many aspects of our lives including travel. I started planning our ultimate itinerary and rapidly realised the logistics were going to be incredibly time consuming and difficult even without taking multiple visas, languages and border crossings into account, never mind shipping a vehicle ourselves. I Googled “self-drive Overland tours Pamir Highway and Russia” and found Overland Journeys.
We weren’t sure that group travel was our thing; we didn’t know if we would get enough time (however much that might be) in each place; we weren’t sure if we knew enough about our vehicle (she is old and “different” and we had only had her a couple of months); we didn’t know if we were young enough, old enough or fit enough (i.e. what the mix of the group would be); we didn’t know how much driving there would be each day and whether that was what we wanted to do.
It was a fairly decent chunk of cash and there were a few unknown costs as well – fuel, meals, insurance and other extras. I’d had that fund ear tagged for a little building project. True to our form we just did it and sorted all that as we went along.
Was it going to be safe? Well you know “they” are shooting at each other along the borders; there are big earthquakes and floods and landslides; there are things that bite (a bit like our near neighbour in that respect); the water is dodgy; the food is dodgy, it’s very hot; it’s very cold; it’s high altitude; it’s extreme; the people are ruthless – we’d get mugged or kidnapped or worse. Or so we’d been told. Add all that to language issues, driving on the “wrong” side of the road and why would anyone do it? Why didn’t we just go for a nice long cruise? It just shows you don’t want to believe everything you are told especially by people who have never done it.
After meeting with Greg at Queenstown Airport he thought we’d fit in ok and we thought we should just quit over thinking it all and just do it. He seemed pretty relaxed about it all and we figured if he wasn’t worried about taking a group of mixed abilities, health and backgrounds into those environments why should we worry. He’d been there. We hadn’t. So it was a case of commit and be determined to make it the best experience we possibly could for ourselves and our companions.
We really weren’t sure about group travel but as we very soon found out there are distinct advantages to being with like minded people. It doesn’t mean we lived in peoples’ pockets.
We saw guns – lots of guns on guards, patrols, borders, police, and security. None of us was shot at. In fact, I felt very safe the whole time. We got used to police checks. It’s just how they roll. As long as all the paperwork is in order, especially the insurance and the car registration, we had no problems. I’d like to think we did our bit for international diplomacy. I don’t think most of the very young policemen had seen a New Zealander before. Don’t take photos or film security guards, military or police, even train guards and there is no problem. If you ask nicely they may just let you or not. In which case smile & say goodbye.
Vladivostok had always been on my bucket list just because it was there in the Far East of Russia and nobody I ever spoke to seemed to have a clue where it was.
Vladivostok to Dushanbe was not quite halfway.
We drove across some massive landslips on the Pamir. Our intended route from Kalalaikum was blocked with a bridge out so we had to take plan B. None of us were hit by falling rocks or earthquakes. And if that was Route B then Route A may well have completely blown my mind. We’ll find out next time.
Had I been planning our route I might not have worked out that there are certain border crossings that, while on the map, may not be used by foreigners, only residents of the two countries on the border. There are lots of things that Overland Journeys organises that we would not have known about ourselves – possibly when it was too late. Some visas cannot be applied for anywhere except within your home country so thinking you’ll just take your time and wait and see when you get to a border is, often, not an option.
Things that bite
One of our group managed to get a tick embedded in his skin- and it was dealt with. Because we started out early in spring and it was still cool there were few mosquitoes and sandflies until later on and even then they were not in the plague proportions we expected. We didn’t see any wild tigers or bears or snakes or anything else remotely fierce or dangerous.
It was hot, it was cold, it was high altitude and low altitude, it was extreme in some respects and yet, at the time, it didn’t feel stressful or unbearable. We both had smiles a mile wide day in day out. At no time did we ever feel we wanted it to hurry up and end.
Yes, we had mechanical issues. Yes, we got sick a couple of times. Yes, we were challenged. Was it insurmountable? No. People pitched in and helped out when and how they could. We made a great team and that is part of the success of any group travel. We all knew that if someone needed something and someone else had it, it would be available.
Did we have enough time in all of the places? No, and would we ever? I rapidly came to the conclusion I may not have seen every single thing I thought I wanted to but I saw and experienced other things I had no idea existed. It was all new. It was all an experience that I would not have been having anywhere else.
In many of the countries we visited, tourism is a relatively new thing. We enjoyed local fare – sometimes what we ordered (or thought we ordered), sometimes not. More than once I said, “it is edible be grateful”. More than once we were stunned by a beautiful meal prepared with the most basic of facilities. Just don’t expect to order a fillet steak and fries on the side outside of the big hotels and do expect seasonal fruits and vegetables. None of us starved!
As one of our travel companions said “I’ve become a “yes” girl. If I’m asked if I want to do something I say “yes”. I may never have that chance again.”
I absolutely, completely agree.
We hope we were good ambassadors for our country and for Overland Journeys. We hope the people we were in contact with felt our appreciation and our joy at seeing their world.
Before it is too late
So there are places on our “to do list” that have been wiped off the face of the Earth by war and natural disaster or made inaccessible by political disagreements or have become so overrun and crowded by tourists that the attraction has diminished somewhat. Yes I know I am one of the tourists and there is irony in wanting to go and experience the world sans other tourists.
We never know what we are in for with our health or wealth despite the best planning and precautions for both. Since we have returned we have been especially shocked by the deaths of one of our group and the brother of a friend.
We have seen too many people plan to do it “later” and there was no “later”. We have also seen people plan their finances only to have someone else spend that money for them as an inheritance or a rip-off.
I hope that’s explained how I feel about travel and why you should just do it if you have the desire. It will be a long time before places like Syria will be back on our “to do” list.
A fitting last leg to our 21,000 kilometre drive through an incredible balance of contrasts.
An Overland Journey of unexpected, sometimes exasperating but always superb (sometimes on reflection) challenges.
Contrasts. From beginning to end. World history retold from passionate local guides to witnessing in real time the country’s folk going about their seasonal business.
Contrasts. From 30meters below sea level at one point on this whole overland journey to 4,600meters above sea level.
From the lowest temperature of icy cold at the beginning in Russia to 45degrees in one of the Stan countries.
From the remote, early spring, adventure camps to the unexpected, comfort bed delights found behind a back street,
To crisp cotton sheets in a beautifully located luxury setting.
Contrasts with dust so frustratingly blinding to ‘Holy Cow’ exclamations of wide eyed pure scenery.
From roadside stalls of fresh spring strawberries, fat flavoursome watermelon and locally caught dried fish, to our tailgate lunches sourced from shops without a single symbol that we recognised on a tin or packet to know what we were buying.
A contrast to sumptuous dinners rivalling any fine dining establishment here, compliments of Overland Journeys.
A thoughtfully chosen bunch of couples daring enough to become a convoy.
All smart enough to know that Greg Paul will tantalising lead them through a maze of contrasting countries, geography, and histories.
Nearly three months touring, tripping and tracking our way through Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kurgikstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Poland, Austria, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, France and then to finish safe and sound in ‘Mother’ England was the best journey I have ever experienced.
An added joy was having the young, professional cameraman, Nick, along with us capturing our memories so well. Thank you to Deb who undid every problem I gave her.
Greg Paul you are truly amazing and Warwick and I thank you so very much for every minute of your incredible Overland Journey.
The group is now done to 18….. with the departure of Barry and Val. They set off on their own as was planned heading for Romania. After a week of assisting the youth education programme that they have helped to set up, they will continue onto England.
Had the remaining group not been distracted with the anticipation of heading off to Obrien’s Irish Pub to watch the All Black/ Lions game there would have been tears I’m sure. And what a game in a great place. They had reserved a room for us and set up a projector and large screen. Fortunately or perhaps not, the Lions supporters kept to the other room although cheers from both sides added to the atmosphere.
Three of the ladies, Alli, Enid and Sam, chose to set off and find the railway station that reportedly had wonderful tiled mosaics. it was a perfect Saturday morning for a brisk walk. Then a nice adventure thrown in trying to make themselves understood at the metro.The purchase of tickets were necessary in order to descend the 2 very steep and very fast moving escalators onto the platforms a very long way down. It was quite exciting.
Delicious coffees were then enjoyed sitting in a picture book, garden cafe. Kiev was indeed a wonderful 2-night stopover.
The excellent, guided city tour the day before had set us up with fascinating knowledge of the area’s history. And to think we were actually staying in the same hotel where snipers had chosen to fire from and kill a hundred local citizens. Both riot police and demonstrators were victims. This took place just 3 years ago during a demonstration protesting against the illegal vote count in a recent Presidential election. Last night we watched from our hotel room as a peaceful but loud procession made its way down the memorial street.
This blurb is being written as we make our way to Odessa 400 km’s or so away. We were all a bit smug thinking that 5 hours should see us cruise down the motorway. Wrong.
We learned that unfortunately our wonderful English traveling friends, David and Vivien are to leave us tomorrow as David has a detached retina. Time had to be made before we drove off in order for their flights out of Odessa to be arranged.
Then off we all eagerly set. David and Viven are in Greg’s vehicle while Nick is driving theirs. Fortunately he had arranged a local navigator to assist with this leg. Lucky young Nick.
However within 20 kilometres the 3 lanes of traffic heading South came to a grinding halt. We all crawled for about an hour at least through roadworks and then a traffic accident.
However as dusk Is upon us now we have satisfied tummies after a quick sit down dinner stop. Viven and David’s last supper with the group. It feels strange.
The scenery is still interesting and stunning. There is wheat, sunflowers and other crops patch working their way forever on both sides of the road.
Two hours to Odessa.
Our group is now at the 60 day mark of their expedition.
At the time of the last newsletter they were all in Mongolia (hope that you all watched the video from Nick (click here). Proves the saying a picture is worth a thousand words what a fantastic way to show case Mongolia!!. Better still is being there yourself.
Since their departure from Mongolia they have travelled back into the Altai region of Russia, through Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan into Tajikistan and have spent the last 10 days in Uzbekistan. That’s a lot of Stans!
They go back into Kazakhstan for a couple of days, and then enter Russia for the last time, heading for Volgograd before turning west to the Ukraine, a new portion of the route for Rally Tours. The highlights of this sector are Kiev and Odessa.
Thank you Sam for your wonderful contributions with the blogs, and creative Alli has penned a poem about the Pamir Highway with some wonderful images to bring some more context.
Check out the gallery – Nicks fistful of cash.. a fistful of SOMS (Uzbekistan) Purchasing fuel in Samarkand – no fuel stations in this part of the world….The car wash…DushanbeGreat digs/accommodation!!
Silk Road concludes in London 22nd July, and there ends this 82 day expedition having traversed 11 countries, so many time zones, and experienced all weather conditions. We are planning another Silk Road Expedition for 2018, subject to a minimum number of bookings. Please contact Deb to indicate your interest. She will provide more information.
BANGKOK TO MAGADAN July 1st – August 31
The long-awaited tour is almost upon our group that leaves New Zealand, the UK, Russia and Australia for this brand new 62-day adventure this weekend.
“Permits in hand?
Steep roads, long drops, remote towns, strange food
You ain’t seen nothing yet …”
This was all we knew to expect of –
the Pamir Highway
Scenery unseen before – rugged, steep and huge
Mountain passes, fertile valleys, raging rivers and steep gorges
This was what we saw
Along the Pamir Highway
Horses, cows, sheep, goats and yaks
Donkeys aplenty with one to three aboard
All this to we saw
Along the Pamir Highway
One lunch stop by a river
Brought four young boys joining in
A cool game of frisbee
With young Nick and Barry
Along the Pamir Highway
Dusty villages with cheerful waving children
Made us feel like dignitary – hope we did the same.
Homes and gardens hidden
Behind tall metal gates,
Rock walls and woven fences
All this and more
Along the Pamir Highway
Carpets being scrubbed by very young and old alike
Alongside flowing springs – right on our road – would you believe?
Along the Pamir Highway
Watermelons, apricots on sale beside the road
Vegetables a-growing for winter overload
Along the Pamir Highway
Afghanistan across the river
What intrigue is happening there
Along the narrow, winding road
Connecting pastures green and yellow
Over from the Pamir Highway
First night in Osh, oh my gosh
Next was Sary-Tash, and dinner without legs
Onto Murgab – scene from Mars and Star Wars
And buzzing Hotel Pamir
Two lovely nights in Khorog
With market bargains and garden delights
Ten hours to Kalaikum at thirty k’s per hour
Then a royal night in Karen
Along the Pamir Highway
How could we forget the pot-holes, humps and hollows
The munted asphalt and piles of gravel
Awaiting placement for repairs.
The narrow passes and tight squeezes
Rocks above suspended at the ready
All along the Pamir Highway
Car-wash in Kulyob, tar-seal ahead
En route for Dushanbe
Are we there yet?
Slight skirmish with the speed
All sorted without fee
Along the Pamir Highway
Let’s not forget Feroos and Parvel
Our trusty companions and guides
Thank you for taking us with you
Along the Pamir Highway
All this and so much more
We may never be back again, but –
We’ll never be the same again
After all we’ve seen and done
Along the Pamir Highway
UZBEKISTAN 20 JUNE – 30 JUNE
Basically, there is no petrol or diesel for sale in Uzbek apart from agricultural needs.
So because they have an abundance of natural gas and limited oil production everything automotive has been converted to run on Lpg
Diesel and petrol that we obtained in Samarkand was Black market.
Our guide, Marat , was able to source petrol (benzine) and diesel to be bought to the hotel car park.
In plastic bottles and containers which came in a local lada car.
Paid for it in US $s. Probably about 75 cents US a litre.
There are seperate stations for LPG and Benzine.
This morning driving out of Bakhara we passed a Benzine station thar had a queue backed up half a kilometre each way.
We see a lot of disused stations because prices are now State controlled. Hope the poor last guy gets some before it runs out.
When Robin got his Benzine it was syphoned out of a taxi that Marat had organised. It was only 80 octane.
Local currency is called Som.
Through our guide we are getting almost double the official cash rate in exchange for US dollars.
It means it’s cheaper to buy souvenieers etc using Som however it’s tricky to understand .
There seemed to be only one Bank, Kapitol, where you could use a credit card. It wasn’t working apparently.
In Samarkand Warwick wanted to exchange $100 US dollars into local Som.
The teller accepted the note but then returned two $50 US notes to him.
So another teller was found who had good English.
He took his official badge off and took Warwick outside to the money lender on the footpath. Here he was able to get Warwick more than double what the bank could have given him. It was bewildering but rewarding for us.
Getting back to the story of the Hotel fuel fill, the final payment that Marac gave to the local fuel suppliers was in Soms and could have filled a backpack . The supplier asked him if it was all correct and Marac replied with ” count it”. That was met with a shrug and goodbye.
1 US dollar resulted in 7,000 Som. Stacks and stacks of notes.. Big bunch of money.
Working it out now we know that $1 NZ equals 5,000 Som.
Just as we have all come to grips with it all we will be moving back into Kazakstan in a few days where it’s different currency again.
There is a notebook page full of scenes, incidents and moment reminders to assist when there is a chance to sit and write this blurb. However, this incredible journey won’t stay still and around every bend, there is, even more, new sights and stories to try and describe. Take the optional drive for instance to view a couple of our Kyrgyzstan guides favourite places.
At our lakeside lunch stop, we looked over gin clear water to snow-capped mountain peaks while surrounded by apricot trees. Five minutes later we are maneuvering around red rocky outcrops with the dust settling on a treeless landscape. But, “there is gold in them thar hills”. The Canadians are mining it. Gold represents 30% of Kyrgyzstan’s GDP.
Earlier that morning Robin and Clare had followed the command of a roadside policeman to pull over. He was not happy that they had tints on the front windows and wanted them off immediately.
He also indicated that he would take Robin’s international licence for 4 days after which he would need to come and show them that this had occurred. Lucky for us we had Maksat, the guide with us who was able to suggest that he would personally see that the tints were removed as well as those on David and Vivien’s vehicle. A thank you of 1,000 Soms ($20) helped. While this was going on the rest of the convoy were parked up around the corner. The agricultural area had a few surprises. Wild marijuana is growing by the paddock full.
Everywhere there is evidence of the old days and ways sitting next to the new. The man riding a horse slowly along the furrows with another broad shouldered fellow manoeuvring the wooden plough. While later we have to almost stop in order to let a large, modern tractor towing a hay maker cross over the road from one paddock to the next.
A very young boy holding a stick with a metre of rope on the end keeps a cow from going on the road. The children provide such joyful moments as the vehicles weave their way around potholes that lie like discarded hoops and frisbees. Oncoming and overtaking locals scare the what’s it’s out of us. Overladen hay trucks teeter around dusty corners. Donkey and horse driven carts plod along the roadsides. Old European cars, maybe from the 70s, dart in and out of the convoy. We always let them in.
Yesterday, however, we had a good 3 hour run into Bishket on a new sealed highway. It took us through an incredible drive. Down a valley surrounded by high mountain peaks. These triangular stacks often had great stone walls at the bottom of them to keep rocks and snow slidesat bay. This is snow leopard country. They like it the high up to 4,000 metres. There are only about 200 snow leopards left.
Drama of the week. Nick, our young, creative camera guy. Crashed his drone. It was while he was filming high above the Charyn Canyon. The frustrating part was that we could see it sticking up on a bush which was on a rocky slope across a formidably flowing river. It was still sending film of the car park. The locals will try to retrieve it maybe on horseback at some point. In the mean time, Maksat has managed to use his know-how and find another drone for Nick.
And then there’s the delightful surprise boat ride on an enormous salt water lake where Nick takes a dive while the oldies envy his youth.
And on we go ……..
The rear ends of the 4WDs all have their distinct personalities. Following the convoy as ‘Tail End Charlie’ allows a lot of time to become more familiar with this interesting facet of the vehicles.
Take Sue and Richard’s red, 6 wheeler that is travelling smoothly ahead now. It is distinctive in that it is an 80 series which has been customised to a ute capable of carrying a slide on camper. From Tail Ends point of view, it has a truck like square form. Richard has put a serviceable ‘box’ with bat wing style access each side. Fantastic for this sort of trip. Better still if Robin heeds the 3 reminders so far to put the wing down before moving off. After a few false starts and bloke brainstorming their fuel pick up problem has been sorted.
Robin and Clare have a one off for this 2017 trip. It is a Nissan in amongst all the Toyotas. The green Pathfinder is also the only petrol driven vehicle. Two red fuel containers sit unmoving on his roof rack with his spare tyre. Tail End can distinguish it from a distance. From back here it is lower than all of the others however it hasn’t hindered them in any way at all so far.
In fact, it navigated some serious ruts, rocks and mucky inclines on the 1,000 meter climb a few days back. It was a great advantage to have mud tyres unlike the Landcruiser and Surf that needed a winch by Greg Paul. Greg rated that track a 41/2 out of 5 difficulty day.
We observe Greg and Alli’s blue Surf’s, rear end more regularly than most. Taking advantage of the slightly slower pace near the back of the pack it can make for more photographic opportunities and time to smell the wildflowers.
The only 200 series Landcruiser belongs to Mo and Trevor. Four, red fuel containers and two spare tyres sit atop this smart silver vehicle. An easy on the eye driving style makes following them a breeze.
They didn’t need winching on that fun, optional afternoon. The following day though he had a blowout, possibly from something that damaged the inside wall of the rear right tyre.
Brenda and Alan have a 100 series Landcruiser. Can’t comment too much at this point about their silver backside as it tends to be tucked in further toward the front.
The soft, rear springs were replaced in Ulaanbaatar as they’d had been bounced around a bit too much.
Val and Barry have a meticulously well prepared 80 series Landcruiser. Dark blue. They have had trouble with the left front shock absorber bushes. It has cut out 2 or 3. Some time ago with leader Greg’s encouragement, Barry broke from the bunch and entertained with a couple of tricky Mongolian river crossings.
Vivien and David are driving an Overland Journey’s 100 series Landcruiser. It’s a yellow diesel canister that is the telltale identifier from behind. Their RT speak is also unmistakable as they are the only adventurers that haven’t come from NZ. The soft English accent makes a great balance as the sometimes serious, sometimes humourless banter flows up and down the convoy.
Three flat tyres, two in one day for them.
Brian and Enid are also driving one of Overland Journeys 100 Series Landcruisers. Another silver one which makes it a little harder to pick out. All’s fine and dandy with them.
For many days the dust covering all their backsides and swirling like a sore eye, campfire smoke made it very hard to know who was who.
But now we have come through the border into Kazakhstan. Quite a quick one for Greg with a 2-hour processing.
The last of the team are waiting at the border booth to acquire their insurance papers.
Then we will gladly tuck in behind once more for the final leg of our 550 ish kilometre day. There is a time change from 7.30pm to 6.30 pm.
Words cannot do this place justice. Mongolia that is, with its many changing and breath-taking scenes and experiences.
The National Park of Hustai is a World Heritage site for several reasons. The most memorable were the animals.
In particular and most famously are the reintroduced native, Przewalski horses that are multiplying and running free.
This was their original home and we were warned that on our late afternoon driving excursion we may not see any of the elusive herd. However, we were so, so lucky and saw many of them quite closely. They are an unusual stocky looking breed with a mane that only grows to about 120 mm. A bit like a broom.
Camel riding and tobacco snuffing came the next day on our way to our second out of eight, night sleepovers in gur tent sites as we pass through this incredible region.
Because This particular overland journey is a couple of weeks ahead of its usual start we have the bonus of being among the first at places that are just emerging from the harsh winter.
Gorgeous mini irises sit in a bowl like clumps along with yellow buttercups and tiny snapdragons. Amongst the rocky outcrops coming into last night’s stay were other alpine beauties.
Our group is evolving into a very compatible and fine bunch.
Our Mongolian guide, Tamir who has assisted Greg each time he has been here, is traveling up front with his driver Mr Altai, a modest native Mongolian with years of tourism driving under his belt.
Between the Two of them and Greg, the rest of us hardly have to think. Just cruise.
The timely notifications while negotiating crumbling road potholes via our two-way radios is invaluable.
On our way into this provincial township, Greg had to rescue a local van out of the bog.
It was a perfect setting with a single Gur family. Absolutely stunning scenery.
It was near the place they had fun slipping and sliding last year. 27 k’s at 10 to 40 k’s.
It’s hot and dusty in this biggish town.
We have all stocked up on Chengis khan vodka and beer. Oh and fruit.
We are currently in a lovely cool cafe that is owned by an Australian, Murray who has been for here for 7 years. There is Internet contact. Greg had us choose our meal requests which he phoned through earlier. Big hamburgers, and Aussies meat with lots of other choices. Alls wonderful.
Out and about in Ulaanbaatar (17 May-21 May)
Our hotel accommodation is perfectly placed close to the central city and although the living city sounds were heard from our chosen open window I was excited that a new adventure was beginning.
Tamir our regular guide has lead the group through museums, temple sites, walking Ulaanbaatar streets and enjoyable local lunch dining along with directing us to our various requests for banks, shopping, eating, post office and laundry outlets. And the list went on.
A fantastic clear but cool sunny day enhanced the following day as a self-drive out to the very impressive Genghis Khan statue took place. It was intriguing to see the new residential developments along the recently engineered highway on the outskirts of the city. Equally fascinating were the original Gur sites and traditional Sharman areas bedecked with blue flags sitting quite fine in amongst all this modernisation. In the meantime, the temperature has dropped to a 3degree overnight.
This morning there was a light dusting of snow on the hills while the rain had eased down in the car park where the 4WD were getting their final set ups for tomorrow’s next stage.
Today the city streets were traffic still and closed for a marathon that ran passed our hotel.
What a wonderful day we all had to do our own various missions on our free day.
It was now comfortable for us to explore and go a little further out of our comfort areas to find the bits needed. When we arrived at Genghis Khan site the first thing that greeted us was a Beautiful big eagle. He was tethered to a stake and his handler was allowing paying tourist to don the protective goose and Kate this gorgeous animal sit on our arms.
Tamir (Tamir is our regular guide when we visit in Mongolia) explained the origin of the training of these birds from stolen nest eggs and grown to assist with hunting down foxes and rabbits and sometimes wolves in the latter days. They are released into the wild after 5 years usually.
Another fun highlight of that tour was Nick donning a hired traditional costume. He then had to convince the young attendant that he did really need to Wear it down into the galleries.
The Mongolian people we met are just so friendly and helpful.
Off to the desert we go.