We were warned… Leaving Russia is like being pushed through a door and having it slam shut behind you. In this case it’s an oven door, and we’re on the inside, staring out though the glass back at mother Russia. You can’t go back, the only way is forward, and the only option is the semi derelict, comical road leading off from the border towards Atyrau. Deep breath, pack your pants carefully and go. The road is just complete bollocks for miles and miles. It’s low 40s and I’m sweating my tits off. There is sweet FA out here except camels, heat and potholes. After about 300km we stop for fuel. It’s so fecking hot out here that they have people pumps next to the petrol pumps. You stand there while the attendant sticks the pump into your mouth and pulls the handle in .. the numbers spin round until you’re rehydrated and the pump cuts out. I took 20 litres .. not bad …
Into the shit we go again .. lots of lorries crawling about through the mess, clouded in dust, spitting and howling in low gears and pumping out dense cancer clouds. Overtaking these things is a test of faith. You’ve no bloody idea what they can see and you’re completely and utterly blind.. just the feel of the wheels crashing and sliding about underneath you as you open the throttle and hope. You can chew the air as you pass, crunching the sand between your teeth.
We’ve seen nothing for miles and miles. You begin to think you’ve missed a turn to ‘humanity’ and you’re heading off into hell. Then a building appears in the distance.. its a truck stop of sorts.. a small cafe where people can get out of the sun. Ride across the powder sand and into the sanctuary of the building. i think the over timer went off ages ago and I’m well overcooked ..
Get some eggs and bread and as much liquid as they can carry from the kitchen.
There are a couple of the truck drivers sitting at another table and one of them is trying to talk to us. Or rather he’s just trying to talk .. it’s proving quite difficult for him due to the fact he is absolutely shit faced. He’s so drunk he forgets to swallow when he drinks so when he opens his mouth, all the liquid he just poured in comes running out and down his chin on to the table. He’s a fucking mess. Him and his mate get up, walk out, fire up, drive off. We’ll be trying to overtake him in a few minutes ..
Get to Atyrau and its stupid hot now.. about 46 .. and my sweat glands are all wide open and gasping like coy carp being fed. Come to some lights. Sit. Wait. Watch the bars climbing… the bike was running like a bitch on the way in and it’s really unhappy. Do I switch it off or not? I’m in a big queue .. pushing it in this heat will be bad .. eventually I chicken out and turn it off. The lights go green.. turn the switch .. hit the button … “fuck off” is the replay from the engine bay … Horns are blasting behind me.. people are squeezing past rushing to beat the lights .. 3 more changes of light later .. try again .. same answer .. fuck you bitch…
I wait 10 minutes .. try again and it starts. I’m taking no prisoners and I spend the next 10 minutes punishing the bike in the heat. Making it scream. Making it suffer. I get to the hotel and its hot again so I just get a couple of water bottles, fill them up with stinking water and pour them over the engine. The whole lot fizzes and hisses like a cat in a cage, bad smelling steam filling my nostrils. I take the panels off – it’s losing water but it’s not obvious from where. All I can do is refill it and hope it shows itself one way or the other… something to fill my mind with as we head across the barren wilderness ..
Next morning we know it’s a long hall across blank lands. Running the gauntlet between shadows 100s of miles apart. Someone left the oven on overnight too and it’s roasting. Go to the petrol station, take my fuel can off and go to get it filled… “Niet” .. sod off mate, just fill this up .. I’m not in the mood for arguing .. I’m in the mood for watching a human torch run the 100m in 5.5 seconds to that river over there … “Niet”.. WANKER!!!!!!! As luck would have it a police car pulls on to the forecourt and I grab the copper as he rushes for the air conditioned sanctuary of the shop. Show him the can, point at the ‘benzine’ stamped in it .. and he tells the attendant to just do it and stop fucking about .. As we’re filling up there is a huge smash on the road outside as 3 cars play metal origami. I award the prize to the white Lada whose front end now resembles The Shard. As if by magic, out rushes the policeman .. perhaps they have Minority Report out here .. he was just waiting for that to happen.
Out we go. As usual the wind is playing in the emptiness that starts as soon as you leave town. Running around in circles, rushing from one side to the other, breathing in and breathing out, playing blow motorcyclist and trying to score points by putting you in a ditch.
It’s hotter than yesterday.. my nose is burned 5 layers deep and feels like a thick piece of cardboard. Whose bloody idea was this? Jesus..
Get petrol .. on a 1 to 1 ratio with water .. sit in the shade and feel my tongue return to normal size as it sucks up liquid like a sponge. Watch a fat bloke go into the shop .. I think he was looking for a recharge too – he’s bigger coming out than he was going in ..
It’s the middle of the day and the sun seems to be sitting about 100m off the ground.. we can see a cafe … one two three .. go .. like running across baking tarmac in bare feet .. oohhh ahhhh ooooh ah ah ah ooooooo … and we in .. safe for now.. get to the sinks .. get half naked .. run my shirt under the tap and put it back on .. nothing like a bit of thermal shock to get your heart pumping ..
Even out here in the absolutely middle of bum fuck nowhere we meet friendly english speaking locals keen to cross their lives with ours for a few minutes… crossing tracks as we make our separate ways across the planet. We get talking to a Tajik oil worker making his way back from Aktau on the Black Sea coast. He gives his number .. ‘any problems just call me’.. You’re unlikely to get that on the M4 services ..
We’re heading to Beyneu near the border to Uzbekistan. Someone has been along the route with a humanity hoover and removed all signs of life, then you get a small congregation of buildings where they have emptied the bag..
The heat is getting almost unbearable now, and humid too. We’re stopping as often as we can.. which is every couple of hours out here. We’re still at least two hours out. Just counting the Ks.. reeling it it .. making all sorts of promises to mind and body if it can just keep it’s shit together until we get there.
‘There’ is a small hotel amongst the collection of random buildings that is Bayneu. Looks ok. There are 3 French GSs (what else..) outside, looking used .. and abused. Fuck me.. it NEVER fails to amaze me how some people pack .. OK.. I’m going on a long trip .. best get onto the Touratwat website, tick the ‘select all’ button and throw as much unnecessary shit at the bike I as can, attach it to wherever there are spare nuts and bolts to hold it on. And I’m going to camp.. so what I need is a 3 ring circus tent, a 15 person gas barbecue and cutlery for 3 peice place settings .. and see these massive panniers, they have a lovely flat space on top.. a place to stash my dinner jacket, 15 pairs of shoes and as much other unnecessary shit as will fill this oversized bag that arrived from that other overland website .. in fact 2 of them turned up so I can pack my paddling pool too .. and pillion .. I’m not carrying a pillion am I .. seems a shame to waste that space .. I’ll put another fucking great body bag up there to rest my back on .. and then I’ll strap a pair of tyres on the front .. just enough room for me .. perfect ..
Yea.. perfect.. that’s why you’ve tuned up here on a 6 month old GS with a pogo stick for a rear shock mate .. that’s why you’ve had to crawl the last few 1000K feeling like you’re in open sea on a small boat .. Anyway.. enough ranting .. now .. the French bit..
I haven’t got a problem with the French per se, but this lot are a bunch of arrogant wankers that pretend not to speak English and just reply in monosyllables, and they treat the hotel staff like low life and I do not like that at all .. Most bikers you meet on trips like this are friendly and keen to swap experiences, share knowledge and just enjoy being alive but this lot have all taken C@*T exams and passed with flying colours. It’s not often I meet such a complete bunch of twats ..
So we check in and the lady gives us a room downstairs. It’s fine.. the AC is noisy but who cares. Then she comes in all apologetic and says she has got a better room upstairs so we move up there, We’re going out to get some provisions .. where is my wallet? Shit… I’m starting low on the panic scale .. holding it at level 1 .. it’s here somewhere .. it has to be .. when was the last time I had it .. 2 hours ago .. level 3 .. 2 hours in 46 degrees away .. in a truck-stop .. am I really sure it isn’t here? Ask the hotel lady if she has seen it .. nope .. level 6 … I have a spare card on the bike but no spare driving licence .. 7 .. FUCK IT.. I’m going to have to ride back 2 hours and see if I left it ..in 46 degrees .. and then back.. I get on the bike, ride down to the shop and buy a load of liquid .. get on .. head out .. level 8 …
As I’m hankering down.. looking at the long black like heading out into the wilderness I feel a buzz in my pocket .. they’ve found it.. When we moved rooms it had fallen out of my pocket and gone under a couch. One of the hotel ladies had crawled about looking for it and found it .. Hallelulia ..I instantly release the panic pressure valve and I’m down to a 0 .. go back to the hotel, grab the cleaner lady.. give her a big kiss and a cuddle, have a giggle .. thank the goodness of human nature .. and hate the Frenchmen even more for treating these lovely ladies like dirt ..
We go for a wander round the town. Christ.. what future do these people have out here, trapped in a small prison of a town surrounded by sand.
Next morning we’re up early. We’ve a long way to go and a border in between. I go down in the dark and see 2 of the hotel women asleep. They sleep under table in the dining room with a big sheet over the top to turn it into a tent. Fuck sake … their smiles are instantly on though as they make me a breakfast of eggs and sleepy dust ..
Today is 500km to Nukus .. 499km of which is almost totally uninhabited. I need extra fuel, I’m going to put some in my pockets .. some in my wallet .. and I’m going to literally fill my boots..
Get to the fuel station. They’re used to this. People stocking up for the long journey. They don’t care what you put fuel in so I fill a few water bottles and my can and strap them to the back then head out of town towards the Uzbek border. The signs aren’t good.. a sand road leads out into the desert . but as if by magic it turns into a brand new spanking smooth band of blackness. Get to the border, the road stops and its back into the sand to ride past the queues of trucks waiting patiently. Get to the front and the border looks shut… time to fuel up ..
The gates open and we’re let through and out of Kazakhstan in an instant. Only to join a huge queue into Uzbekistan. The traffic is tunnelled into a narrow concrete channel and it’s full to bursting with cars waiting patiently in the ever growing heat. In Italy this would be a horn fest, in other places this would be a fight, but here its just quiet. People get out there cars and usher us to the front, squeezing past with microns to spare. We’re like animals in a cage and women money changers patrol up and down with shopping bags full of cash .. yes really .. low denomination notes mean you can’t carry Uzbek currency in a wallet, you have to wear a rucksack. We get to the front and go inside. Uzbeks are like the Kazaks, super keen to encourage foreigners so we’re pushed to the front again but we refuse and let the ladies in front go first. I am British after all …
Hand over an inch of currency for some insurance. This place feels like the desert equivalent of the Restaurant at the end of the Universe, full of weird creatures all waiting for .. who knows what ..
When the planet designers were planning this area they just thought bugger it… nobody will want to live in this hell hole.. we won’t waste any time, effort or resources on it, we’ll just leave it to scorch under the blazing son. Shadows are too precious so we’ll allocate … none ..
Riding out here you just begin to wonder.. mostly you wonder if you’re going to die. It’s so hot here you fully expect to see Beelzebub stretched out on a towel by the side of the road.. glass of warm blood in his hand.. soaking up the rays .. keeping his lovely red tan topped up..
There is nothing here.. absolutely nothing. I’ve ridden in some hostile places before but this is special. It’s blank, flat, featureless and its waiting to kill you. There is absolutely no relief at all.. anywhere. I’m wearing my leathers.. and I’m spending all my time convincing myself that there must be an end to this. I’m genuinely trying not to panic, to hold my nerve and just ride into the wobbly mirage in front of me. All I’ve seen is a dot on a map, a symbol on a screen, and I have to trust that’s the truth.. that there is an end to this nightmare road.
I’m getting really fidgety and my tongue is filling my mouth. I’m having real trouble concentrating. I’m a MASSIVE idiot and don’t ever carry enough liquid with me . .ever. .despite being told by everyone I ever ride with. My riding buddy has a camel pack and gets through gallons a day.. I sometimes have a 500ml bottle of juice with me, but today that’s in the past .. that was hours ago .. the road from the border is a bastard for the first 100km so it’s been slow going, and now I’m so thirsty I would drink my own piss .. if I could piss that is .. but then something appears on the horizon. Something that isn’t just sand. It’s a semi derelict building.. with some trucks outside.. its the loveliest thing I have ever seen in my life.
Park under a cover.. and the heat is immediately reduced. I take a look at my temp gauge, probably only about 30 here out of the sun
Ummm .. nope. Get inside.. past the inevitable Globe Busters stickers .. and into a room of fat sweaty bodies and flies. Whatever .. who cares.. there is a fridge promising cold drinks .. at 45 degrees .. so I buy the bottom shelf and start pouring. I just sit .. I’m a fly landing strip .. I don’t care. They’re walking about all chatting to each other .. comparing shit .. complementing each other on their bad breath .. I just cannot be bothered.. I can feel the first 10 glasses going straight to my ankles.. then my knees, and by the time I get to my 3rd gallon I’m beginning to feel human again. That was hard. That was really hard. But it’s not getting easier any time soon. I’m feeling like a water ballon with legs as I waddle outside to sit in the shade with the other mentalists stupid enough to be here.
Leave the sanctuary and run from the sun towards Nukus. Still no fuel. The problem is that 90% of the cars in Uzbek run on natural gas so proper fuel stations are very few and very far between out here. By the time we get to Nukus my buddy on his GSA is reading 1 mile range. Nukus is the end of the world if you’re going west but it’s the door to civilisation the way we’re going. Shops .. milk even .. a decent resturant and hot showers ..
Next morning, the usual in a new country, go find an ATM. I find an ATM, then I find another, and another. None of them work for me. Uzbek ATMs only work for people with local bank cards. This was a public service anouncement . You need to find an international ATM, usually in a big hotel. A kindly local directs us to one and we press in some big number and stand back .. you know those card tricks where they send hundreds of cards flying in the air out their hands .. exactly…
We’re headed for Bukhara today. 550km.. easy peasy.. we’ve done the hard bit now. I bet there are Starbucks every 10ft from now on .. Fact is, these towns have grown up around oases and once you leave you’re quickly watching civilisation dissappear like end credits in your wing mirrors. Back to the desert and and the relentless heat again. And in public service anouncement No2… never ride past a petrol station out this way.. or you could very easily be in trouble. I went past one .. then hit a new concrete dual carrageway. Ahhhhh ‘new’ will mean proper services and regular fuel .. I’ll just carry on .. I’ll be fine .. I tell you what .. the people that built this road must have bought a very very big bag of sandwiches and a 100 gallon thermos with them.. bloody thing goes on for 150 miles with nothing… NOTHING .. then a LPG station .. then NOTHING again. Nothing but heat and scrub desert.
By the time we get to Bukhara the Bitch is back in to binary mode again. On or off… fast or stop .. shit or bust.. our hotel is hidden down an alley off an alley off a smaller alley somewhere. I’m bursting the bitch and she’s tearing a strip off all the walls with her noise, look in the mirrors and it’s all dust and falling masonry. Good job there is nothing important round here .. Get the hotel and we’re told to bring them through to the inner courtyard as even the flies will take off with stuff from your bike round here. Then 2 minutes walk out to the square
I’ve always wanted to come here. Anticipation is often one thing, and the reality is another but not here. Go for a walk back in time .. way way back ..
Amazing place. Just amazing…
I need a shave .. and I’m sweating .. there is a droplet on the end of each follicle on my face.. I look like a dandelion covered in dew .. so I go hunting for a barber .. looking in the shadows .. looking through windows and doors .. looking for someone tooled up with a cut throat razor .. I see a little white shed with a chair in it .. and a man in white.. that’s a good sign.. no blood .. unless he puts a new shirt on after every shave. Fuck it.. my feet are sore, my bollocks are picked in sweat and I’d rather risk my life than walk another foot in this heat. Go ahead mate, do your worst.
Here we go.. lather/fly food first. Give me a good covering and let the flies come and play all over my face like little kids in mud. They’re having a great time while it’s taking me all my time not to twitch as the blade blade slowly skims my jugular. I think the bastard adds something to the lather to keep the flies on his clients rather than on himself… clever man .. still… I don’t have any of the near death experiences I had with the Nigerian and leave with a face like tight silk hugging a warm breast. I like it here .. I like it a lot.
From Buhara its a short hop down to Samarkand.
This time the hotel is a hostel down some sort of urban assault course, open drains and ditches, tight tight .. bugger me this is tight alleyways. Get to the hostel and somebody has bought a tank, loaded it with BoHo shit, parked in the courtyard and spent two days firing at every wall and crevice. Apparently they hit the fusebox too .. no electric. 46 degrees again and no AC. Just before the hostel as we rode in I noticed a pool of water in a small square. Possible a fountain.. possibly a pond .. definitely water based, and definitely my next destination. Dump the bike, walk down the road.. climb in … oh fuck me yes …
So I’m sitting in the pond .. clothes on .. as you do.. and some small kids see me and decide they’ll jump in too. They’re in.. they’re out .. they’re drinking enough of it to give me the shits for the rest of time .. then there comes some shouting from down the street .. the kids stop .. then jump out and run for it as the noise gets louder and louder until a bloke with a raised fist and spittle dripping down his chin comes into view. I’m guessing this is his pond I’m cooling my testicles in .. and bathing isn’t allowed .. OOOOOOOkkkkkkkkkk.. He looks at me. You can see the decisions going round in his head.. I look at him .. stop pissing in the pool immediately .. and smile .. he just looks .. turns .. leaves .. another win for international relations.
I squelch back to the hotel, change and go and feet my eyes on some more sights ..
A quick breakfast surrounded by youthful women.. never a chore .. then head out towards Tajikistan. It’s complete unknown to me. I’m expecting it to be … interesting..Pamir we go