China – Mini Update

Quick update – all is well and we have a rest day tomorrow so I’ll be doing a blog update as soon as I get pictures uploaded and sorted (yes, we’ve been lazy).  Have to do a tire change in the morning and then I’ll hit the computer.  In the meantime, “HAPPY MONDAY” and here’s a view of banana tree plantations from my “office” during today’s ride.
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Also, here’s a picture of my two loves – they’ve been through a lot the last 10,000 miles and 66 days!!

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We have three more nights in China before crossing into Laos.

China -Great Wall and Buddist Temples

Sorry for the lack of posts but we’ve had some busy days and not great internet access so will keep this to a summary.

As promised, here’s some images of the Ancient City of Jiahoe near Turpan.
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From Turpan, our next main destination was to visit the Great Wall of China – a part that many tourists don’t visit  the most western point.  Many western sections of the wall are constructed from mud, rather than brick and stone, and thus are more susceptible to erosion.  We got to see some of the reconstructed part as well as ride our bike right up along the old part – chance in a lifetime!

From there we headed up the mountains where we hit the early signs of winter – wet and cold – not fun on a motorcycle but hey – we’re riding in China!  Xiahe and Langmisu were our main destinations and they both have a heavy Tibetan influence with many temples and monks everywhere (even in the Apple store).

Here’s some pics to recap the last few days.

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Our bike at the western section of the Old Great Wall

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Brian about to tackle the umpteen steps up the wall

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A modern section of the Western Wall

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Brain and Ger successfully down the other side

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Ger had to slide down off the Old Wall section – dirty pants souvenir

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Lunch after scaling the Wall

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Well worn Prayer Wheel in Xiahe

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Hundreds of Prayer Wheels in many sections – probably half a mile.

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Women saying their prayers – almost like slow lunge squats.

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Pity about all the garbage

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Burial sites of the Buddhas on higher ground

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Nighttime group public exercises

China – Kashgar to Turpan

11 Sept:  Completed all the required documentation (driving License and Registrations) by early afternoon (including purchasing our Chinese SIM Phone cards for emergency calls) so we got a late start out of Kashgar for our scheduled 280 mile ride to Kaplin.

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Chinese Drivers License

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Chinese Bike Registration

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Brian about to get his picture taken – required along with passport to get his Phone SIM Card

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The typical Highway Rest Area Bathroom won’t win any cleanliness awards from Ger.

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The men’s toilets aren’t anything to write home about.

When we got within 15 miles we were stopped at a police checkpoint and our guide was told that Kaplin was “closed” and we could not continue and stay there.  Hmmm. On a side note, the police here are quite friendly and even while we were stopped they were taking pictures and joking with us (in Chinese of course) – a pleasant change from Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan.

The next place with available lodging was in Aksu a further 80 miles so we continued on.  It was getting late and we had to ride in the dark and quite frankly it was dangerous – crazy drivers, scooters and tractors with no lights (sometimes going in the opposite direction to us), numerous tractor trailers with headlights as bright as they could be blinding our vision.  It was a miracle that we all made it unscathed a luckily we pulled into the parking area around 11pm seconds before a huge thunderstorm rolled through (that would have made the ride hell).  We unpacked and found somewhere close to eat and didn’t get to bed till around 1 am.

Our next scheduled stop was in where we got to stop by an ancient Buddhist Village on the Silk Road (Sabash Buddhist).  We attempted some Chinese food again for dinner and so far so good.  The breakfast food is getting stranger – this morning we focused on Rice and Tea but tonight we’re in Korla (Oil companies and wealthier population) so hoping for more familiar food in the morning (a stronger western influence here with some oil companies) – we even ate at “Pizza Hut” tonight and had a “Dairy Queen” cone afterwards!

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Everyone wants their picture with us.

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Even this sales girl in the mall store in Korla wanted her picture with two western old farts.

Breakfast in Korla wasn’t too bad – fried eggs were available, vegetables and actual bread so we didn’t go hungry! Destination for today was Turpan and the ride brought us up over a mile-high rugged, barren moonscape where temps dipped to the 50s. The west of China resembles the western USA with desert type landscape.

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The west is very barren

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Red Hot Chili Peppers drying by the roadside before being sorted.

Enroute we were refused gas for the bikes at one station and we had to go off the highway to a town to find a station that would sell us some.  Bonus!!  This station had more than one “kettle” to fill the bikes and they even had a 10-litre one so a 10-liter and a 7-liter filed me up.  Safety is paramount and (supposedly) it’s very dangerous to fill motorcycles at the pumps – much safer to haul a 10-litre open-top can of gas across a 50-yard forecourt and over  obstacle barriers.  The barriers are to stop vehicles from entering the station – one has to have their papers checked and logged first before being allowed to the pumps.

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50-yard Dash with 7 Liters of gasoline – love the fumes on a hot day!

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Filling the tank from a kettle is an art and requires many hands!

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All personal and vehicle details are checked and recorded at a barrier BEFORE you can proceed to the gas pumps.

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Another future BMW Rider!

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Another biker looking for some gas!

In Turpan we ventured out for a Chinese meal of rice, chicken (lots of bones and red peppers(not for eating) and broccoli.

Afterwards we strolled through the night food market where the smells were very enticing but not sure about the hygiene

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That “was” chicken.

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Welcome to Turpan – lots of grapevines here as shown covering this road.

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Is that a Chicken Foot?

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Three on a scooter (sometimes 4)

This afternoon we visited the Ancient City of Jiaohe on the old Silk Road (first built in 60BC)  – some pictures later as it won’t let me upload them now.  Tomorrow we start our ride through the Gobi Desert before turning South.

“Talkin” ’bout China Now!

We apologize for the information “blackout” but WordPress, Facebook, Dropbox, Google Search (Bing works) and some other web sites that one can use to “get information out” have been blocked or hard to access. I managed to get access to FB and WordPress from my phone WiFi and if you’re reading this I “broke the code” for the laptop as well!! This will be a quick summary of the last three days and I may have to update without pictures first. Will try to add some pictures later if this is successful.

8 September 2014: Enroute to Tash Rabat we went off-road for a few miles to visit a museum at an old fortress on the Silk Road before on to Tash Rabat. Our stay at Tash Rabat was wonderful. The site was 9 miles of gravel road (and one river crossing) off the main road. Ger got to tour the old Tash Rabat House where travelers would stay in the old days of the Silk Road. Ger and I “upgraded” to our own Yurt and we camp-cooked our dinner before the sun went down. Ger went and toured the

After dinner we adjourned to the main Yurt for some tea and to share my birthday cake with the family and one Australian who was staying there. This turned out to be the best Birthday ever (well, since maybe 5-yeras old anyway).

As stated earlier we all made it through to China on Tuesday, 9 September through one pre-check border 40 miles before the Torgart Pass (3,700 meters high), another border gate at the pass where we were met by our Chinese Guide (mandatory “escort” if bringing your own vehicle) and then another border (scanned our bags) 3 miles the other side of the Torgart Pass and then the (Main?) Border (after another 60 miles) where we had our Passports Stamped (and bikes/vehicles sprayed with I don’t know what – insecticide?) and then another checkpoint where we had our passports checked before making it to Kashgar. It was only 170 miles from Tash Rabat but with the altitude, sun, all the checkpoints and the Kashgar traffic (thousands of scooters (many electric) from every angle) we were all pretty much drained. A quick shower and quick dinner before hitting the hay!

10 September 2014: Our day in Kashgar was spent completing remaining requirements (bike insurance, drivers license, bike inspection). So, we all followed the guide out to the Motor Vehicle place (DMV) approx 30 miles away. Enroute we all needed gas and were declined gas at two locations (due to some restriction on foreign vehicles due to recent “troubles”) but finally found one location to gas up. Motorcycles are not allowed to fill-up from the pumps (safety?) so we had to park off to the side of the station and bring gas over to the bikes in a 5-gallon open-top kettle (yeah, that’s real safe). Looking forward to this for the next 30 days!! Once at the DMV the guide took care of everything with all the paperwork that we had provided (6 months earlier) and all we had to do was show our turn signals were working and show the Vehicle ID Number.

Once back at the hotel we got to stroll around the streets for a while and had our first taste of a Chinese version of McDonalds (playing it safe as three others were sick today again).

Today (9/11), we head off from Kashgar if all our document requirements have been completed – if not, here for another night.

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Kyrgyzstan – Last Few Days

5 Sep 2014.  Our next Homestay destination was in Kochor approximately 150 miles from Bishkek so we were able to plan a leisurely day and explore around Lake Issyk Kul (largest fresh water lake in Kyrgyzstan).  Avoided getting stopped at all the police checkpoints enroute except for Chris who was 4th/last in our group in a 40 KPH (24 MPH) zone.  They said he was doing 46 KPH.  While stopped Steve and our Kyrgyzstan Guide got pulled for doing 50 KPH but the guide was able to sweet talk their way out and they continued with all their money!  Lake Issyk Kul was nice (10th largest in world) but not what we expected.  The ride around the North Shore was too flat and straight for our liking so we turned back after about 15 miles and headed towards Kochor.  Before leaving the lake we managed to find a road down through town to a “Promenade” and Ger got a chance to take a dip in the water.  Ger and Brian walked down to the lake while I guarded the bikes and met a  guy walking a flock of Turkeys.

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On our way out we stopped for gas and a random guy started yelling “English” (only English word he knew) at Chris.  He gave Chris a present of a traditional hat and then wrote his contact info on paper (I think he either owned a Homestay or wanted us to come stay with his family!).

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The route to Kochor from Lake Issyk Kul offered (once again) amazing vistas and we even successfully navigated a 30 KPH (18 MPH) speed checkpoint!  The GPS coordinates provided for the Homestay were pretty accurate so we got close on our first attempt and then our Kyrgyzstan Guide heard us pass and waived us in.  BONUS!!  We have an indoor toilet, indoor shower and WiFi!!!  Before dinner we took a short walk to the edge of town and watched the sunset.  Temperatures are definitely dropping ( about 45F as we’re at 1800 meters – a little higher than Denver) and we had to wear our warm clothing for the first time.  Dinner was again wonderful (although I limited my quantities after recovering a stomach bug from the day prior).  We had salad, bread, a kind of meat/vegetable soup and then a main course of noodles (homemade as Ger witnessed), meat and vegetables.

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Kochor Homestay Dinner

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Chicken Coop with Cow Dung stored for winter fires, Kochkor

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Evening/sunset view from Kochor Homestay

Side note:  The KR Children are wonderful.  Everywhere we go, many come up to us and extend their hand for a handshake (even 2-year-olds).  This little guy came out to greet us as we arrived.

6 Sep 14:  We had only 75 miles to cover to our next Homestay in Naryn and on “normal” roads it should have taken us under 2 hours.  However, we left “normal” behind us a few weeks ago.  Enroute, Chris,Brian and Steve wanted to go up to a Lake Son Kul but the track was approx 30 miles each way of gravel (which got worse and steeper around the lake) so we headed up with them only 5 miles before heading back on our own after a coffee stop and pictures.  Much of the road was a “washboard” and I thought the bike was going to disintegrate under us.  The road was so bad that Steve got a puncture in one of the truck tires from the sharp rocks and the others didn’t arrive until near dark.

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Schoolboys in remote village enroute to Lake Son Kul

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Panorama of view from road to Lake Son Kul

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“Washboard” Road – not good for motorcycle (or any vehicle)

When we returned to the main road we found that is was about 30 miles of road construction and poor surfaces so it took us about 3 hours to go the remaining 30 miles. 

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Mountain Pass Road Construction

We arrived at the Homestay well before the others so gassed up the bike for probably the last time in Kyrgyzstan and replenished our stock of Ciprofloaxin for tummy issues – over the counter here and only $0.65 for a packet of 10.

Our Homestay didn’t look like much from the outside but was comfortable on the inside and they offered to do washing and had a courtyard were the bikes were secure and where we
could catchup on maintenance and oil changes. 

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kr_naryn_girl Naryn CBT Homestay

I stayed around and changed my oil and filter while Ger strolled down to the local market with our guide.  Here’s some more scenery pictures from our recent riding day!

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Tonight may be our last internet for a while as tomorrow we’re staying in a Yurt at Tash Rabat (approx 50 miles from the Chinese Border).  We’re scheduled to cross into China on 9 Sep and will be spending 2 nights in Kashgar to get our Chinese Driver’s Licenses etc….

Kryzkstan – WOW!

Before we continue, here’s a holdover video taken by Chris’ Helmet Camera from Kazakhstan showing our ride into Atkobe (you’ll hear Ger’s opinion of the crazy traffic at an intersection around the 10-minute mark).  http://youtu.be/m0XgUpt_nzk

Back to the present. We made it out of Kazakhstan and into Kryzkstan without any issues except for a delay at the Kazakhstan border while they used a passing semi-trailer rig to fix a camera and light fixture overhead (they used the passing trailer to put a ladder on top of the trailer to reach the overhang).

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Steve and Ger hamming it up while waiting for border to re-open.

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Using available resources (trailer) to fix the lights and camera

KR border guards and customs were very friendly and helped us fill out the necessary customs forms and we were on our way.

The hardest thing about blogging about Kyrgyzstan is trying to spell it correctly and to try to capture how wonderful the people and scenery are in words and pictures (can’t be done)!! Unfortunately their tourism industry is basic but has lots of potential. Lots of mountains and scenery here and our route to Talas (only 45 miles from the border) took us past Kirov Reservoir with magnificent panoramas. We stopped at the dam to take some photos but were “shooed” off by a security guard (we must have looked like potential bombers).

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Reservoir Panorama

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View from road

Enroute to Talas, 2 cars drove up alongside us (30-40 MPH) and handed Ger apples and then tried to hand us tomatoes but I waived them on as it was getting a little dangerous!!  After arriving in Talas we spent about 30 minutes trying to find our “homestay” for the night and a taxi driver led us miles through town to within half a mile and refused to accept any money. The “Homestays” are part of a national program called Community Based Tourism “CBT” very similar to what we know as Bed-and-Breakfast “B&B”.

We all were accomodated in one house and were treated to tea, bread, jam, biscuits and sweets shortly after we arrived. Later, we had our first home-cooked meal (salad, potatoes, meat (horse maybe or mutton?) in over a month in their “Yurt” (or Buizu sp?) in their back yard.

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Ger awaiting her meal in the Yurt

The next day we headed to Toktogul (only about 120 miles) for another Homestay – this one a little more “basic” with an outdoor shower and “traditional” toilet. Enroute, we bumped into 2 guys from Reutlingen we were in Plieningen) and exchanged stories and info on the roads.

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Meeting Germans from the Stuttgart area – small world!

Again, our host family in Toktugul was wonderful (Mother teaches French in the school and the daughter-in-law had been to New Mexico and South Carolina) and the food was excellent (Rice in peppers for dinner). They also had some local crafts for sale (you can guess what happened next). On our way to the local store we bumped into Max from Illinois who is assigned to the town as an English teacher for the Peace Corps for 2 years. He came back with us to have dinner and shared some of his experiences living in Kyrgyzstan.

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The older kitchen stoves outside.

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Horsemeat available at all price points!

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Delicious and simple meal

Our third day was spent exploring the roads around the vast Toktogul Reservoir which offered some magnificent mountain and river views. We spent our third night in a quiet hotel in Chychkan Gorge next to a peaceful flowing river and we set off for Bishkek the next day. Right before we departed we heard another motorcycle pass through and we caught up to him at the top of the pass. It turned out to be an Italian on a 30-year old BMW R80/GS wearing sandals and a North Face Parka complete with Tartan luggage on the back and Tweed side tank bags. He had been on the road for several months through Iran and Turkmenistan and was making his way back through Kazakhstan. We chatted for a while sharing stories before continuing our separate ways.

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This guy was amazing! Loved Iran – hated Turkmenistan

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Ger’s new Mountain Man boyfriend. She taught him to use her Camera Phone to take a picture as well!

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The route to Bishkek (the Capital) was also awesome and took us over another 3000 meters plus (over 10,000 feet) pass.

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Brian arriving at our mountain top tea break stop

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We stopped at a Yurt for tea and saw how they milk the horses (I didn’t know horses gave milk) and make the fermented horse milk and other products.  Ger got to try her hand at churning the milk in a cow hide container.

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Trying Yogurt Balls – not our cup of tea.

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Churning the milk before it goes from the leather container to the wooden churn.

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Butter, apricot jam, yogurt balls and a brown (I forget exactly) butter type thingy

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Roadside clearance sale on yogurt balls.

After we arrived at our hotel in Bishkek we met this AWESOME young lady from the Czech Republic.  Dominika is a a 22-year-old Mechanical Engineering Student who has been on an solo adventure – she certainly has some stories to tell (especially from corrupt Kazakhstan police).  She has a Facebook Blog (in Czech language but FB offers a decent translation from computer versions) at https://www.facebook.com/DominikaNaCeste/timeline.  We hope she is successful as she departs today back towards home.

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kr_dominik Dominika and her trusty Yamaha 250

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Found some Bushmills at the local market so had an impromptu Taste of Ireland with Chris, Dominika, Ger and Steve.

Started drinking Kefir to combat any “irregularities”

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Meeting our fellow motorcyclists yesterday was inspiring and humbling.  It shows that you don’t need a super motorcycle and super gear to have a great adventure – just something mechanically sound, an open mind, a desire to learn about new cultures and an adventurous spirit.    Today is a rest day in Bishkek and Ger is in town at museums and post office while I take some time to update the blog.  We will likely lose internet again after Bishkek keep tracking us on our Spot Tracker link.