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.
The Silk Road adventurers all arrived safely into Vladivostok.
Time in Vladivostok was spent, clearing the vehicles through customs, a sightseeing day, shopping for the necessary food goodies and getting ready to leave. A dinner with the NZ Honorary Consul on the Thursday 4th May night, a great night had by all.
As you can see from one photo, the weather looks like the fog in the Waikato. There sea fog! Does clear for a sunny day though.
This group consists of 20 people, mainly kiwis and a couple from the UK, including Greg the tour leader.
Before their departure, Greg will have briefed the clients about the borders crossing, authorities, driving etiquette in Russia.
Their departure from Vladivostok now marks the start of the adventure as they go forth towards Mongolia, (and beyond) which will have them arriving there on the 16th June. There are plenty more days to navigate the Russian roads.
Please check our blog for regular updates photos and soon as we have some video footage we will direct you to our YouTube Channel
SOUTH AMERICA 4×4 self-drive in Argentina & Chile
23rd January. 30 days Santiago to Santiago via Ushuaia…“Fin del Mondo” Tour.
After the Dakar has finished, Greg will be repositioning vehicles back across the Andes to Santiago to prepare for the next 4×4 self-drive adventure.
Spectacular Southern Chile and Argentina.
This tour will be comparable to the self-drive that took place in January 2016. Starting in Santiago, driving down to Ushuaia. Our itinerary takes in the very best of Argentina and Chile, zig-zagging in and out of Chile and Argentina all the way to the southernmost tip of South America or at least as far as you can drive.
Once we have reached the end of the road we head for the port town of Puerto Natales and take a ferry boat to Puerto Montt. This this is a 3 night/4-day cruise through the fiords and channels of the Chilean coast. Spectacular!! The boat is a similar size to our own Cook Straight Ferries running between the North and South islands of New Zealand.
This “fin del Mondo” (road to the end of the world) tour is costed with Land Cruiser hire included. If you want to ship your own vehicle to Santiago that is ok and the cost will be adjusted accordingly.
South America is now a popular and safe destination. Experience it with Overland Journeys before it becomes too popular and the costs escalate.
We are taking expressions of interest now for the 2018 tour and have just 5 vehicles available for hire.