Mayan Prophecy Countdown
I had a nice breakfast this morning with only some small complaints from inside and I had already worked out my days plan. From here it was about 1,100km to Almaty, but on the way was Lake Balkhash, that was 400km and seemed like a nice distance to do after not riding for a while, Yesterday’s 200km was a hot ride and I am sure today would be the same. I was getting my appetite back which was good as I needed to build up my strength. I headed off around 9.30am and did not get far before them traffic cops busted me. I was on the inside lane and going past a bus when a traffic cop pointed at me to pull over. By the time I saw what he wanted I was not going to pull over where there was merging traffic and nowhere to stop, no way was I going to just pull up in the middle of a lane, I would get cleaned up!!! But, he radioed ahead and I had to stop anyway, luckily those screeching brakes were from the other lane and not behind me!! Check this out, it goes for three minutes, but I have cut a lot out.
So, I got away with that one, even though it was a bit scary at first, I nearly had to break out my Koalas!! LOL, I start again and finally leave town around 10am and head south :) Not much to see and do on this section of road, but occasionally a feature may pop up out of the landscape, like a hummock with a soldier statue on it, which was overlooking a tank base!!!
I could faintly see what could be hills in the hazy distance sometimes, but not in the direction I was travelling. A nicely painted house in the middle of a tiny one street town in the middle nowhere caught my eye. The land is so monotonous, seeing a hill or outcrop makes you grab a photo, just for something to do!! Anything that was not flat and dry and empty was fair game.
Just before 1pm I stopped for fuel and had a breather, it was hot and I needed to top up my water anyway. This is where I noticed I had lost my newly repaired tool tube :( All I had left was two stainless steel straps hanging there, what a bummer. The only things in it at this time were the extension legs to my Kermit chair, but that is another expense for the future. I will now have to sit closer to the ground, so much for that repair, but it is gone now, somewhere in the last 250km, I am not going back for it. It is probably better off not being there, it was constantly whacking my swing arm and eating away at it.
I caught up on some emails during my nice shady break, it seems Lorraine is now in Almaty and looking for a bike. The last one she broke and left in Siberia to be fixed, sold or shipped out. A few of the others in the group are in Uzbekistan and heading to Kyrgystan, some were getting visas in Almaty already and some I have no idea where they are, scattered, but gathering :) Anyway, I only had a short ride to Balkash after lunch and along this stretch were many many examples of those grave markers along the road, even though the people were from a long way away.
My first indication I was getting close to the town of Balkhash, was the smoke stacks. This brought back memories of what Craig Idema had told me a while back, he never stayed in town because the smoke was blanketing the town, but this was about 2 months ago. Well, I had been battling a side wind all the way down and it was hot and ferocious, like a furnace, but I decided to ride into town anyway and I could see the wind was from a direction that was taking it away, so that was all good. I had decided not to camp until I was well again and after 4 hours of blast furnace, I was cooked and dry and probably a bit dehydrated.
Quite a lot of towns out here just happen to have an odd MIG fighter lying around after the collapse of the CCCP, so they shove a stick up its tail pipe and mount it in town somewhere, well why not, if you got em flaunt em :)
I had chosen a hotel from my GPS map, just so I had a destination. It was in the centre of town, but after a discussion I decided against it. It was only 3pm so I had time to look elsewhere. This place had aircon, but no internet downstairs in the cheaper rooms, if I wanted wifi AND aircon, I had to go to the third floor where the rooms were very pricy! I had another waypoint and started to head there and spotted a biker going the other way and gave him the nod, as you do. Within two minutes he was parked up behind me and on the phone to his friend, trying to find me aircon and wifi at a reasonable rate, you just have to love the biker community, especially in foreign countries :) Meet Roosya, not sure if that is the correct spelling, but that is how it sounds and Carl, even bikers wear manbags here :)
We were soon joined by Alex, who is the club president. Roosya actually speaks better English, and I guess I could have gone and spoken to the hotel myself, but he said no, let Alex do it, he is president, that is his job, LOL. It seems they get many many bikers come through this town and they are always helping them out, what a great club :) Alex came back and had sorted out the hotel details and they suited me, so I booked into the hotel I was heading to anyway. :) It seems there are not many choices in town. I learnt from Roosya later that here in town they had enabled high speed internet about 8 months ago, so there is not much need for wifi, but I guess that will change once people get hooked and start using smart phones more :)
They left me there but would come back later to take me out for dinner somewhere :) I managed to get a few internet things done then went for a walk into town, well, even though I stretched it out, it was only really a few blocks of the city centre. The big cultural building had statues of miners which must be a local product, and I found out later they mine for gold and silver, lead and tin and the smelter is worth big bucks. But, they don’t invest in stack filters, nor care about the local population, so when the wind blows wrong, the town stinks and gets covered in crap! There was a big statue of a guy on horse and when I asked Roosya, he said that was a local Gigit, or hero and was actually Kazakhstan’s first biker, one horse power, although I think he may have been pulling my leg a bit there :)
Check this photo out.
What do you notice? The STOP sign is in English, that is what struck me. Anyway, a few hours later, Roosya came and picked me up and took me to a cafe/bar where they served beer and shashlik. We were joined by Alex the president, and another club member also called Alex and his girlfriend. I decided to try and find out what was causing me problems, and I reckon it was the veggies, so I had shashlik and beer without vegies and would see what happens :)
You might think from Alex’s singlet he is a Harley fan, but no, the shirt reads Sex, Beer and Rock and Roll, I want one of them :) During the evening we talked about many things, one of them that STOP sign I showed earlier. The outcome of the situation is this, not gospel, but educated guesswork and as Roosya is a lawyer, there may be some truth in it. So, when westerners come to this part of the world they are already trained to stop at traffic lights, BEFORE the lights, so there is no need to tell them to stop on a red light. BUT, Russians and other ethnic groups apparently have no clue, so they use the CTON word, black on white background, to show those drivers where they MUST stop, and it is not half way over the crossing. But, there are areas of town where it is mandatory to stop, and the locals know this, but westerners don’t, so they put the recognised white on red background STOP sign where we need to be told where to stop. It sort of makes sense now :) It was a great night, top hospitality and real nice people, one of my best days of the trip so far, it really makes up for the rotten days and makes you want to carry on :).
So, when the bikers headed off late that night, Roosya took me back to my pad and I printed out a few photos for him, an easy task to do, even the security man got into the act. Thanks for everything :)
Cheers from Balkhash