Just an update, while I've got free access to internet, and the illusion of having something worth bothering you with..
I'm now in Kazakhstan, about 200km from the capital Astana, and things are better. I felt a bit like this North Asia chapter has been more about getting through it, than enjoyment. So when I stumbled on a friendly bike club (first motorcycles I've seen in weeks), I decided to take a couple of days off the saddle.
The club (Bike Pride – Karaganda) sprawls over four floors of a block, and is combined with a graphics printing business. At this minute they're printing out a world map for my pannier! They've been good to me, as have so many folks, and put me up, fed, internetted and watered me.
The family that took care of me in Uzbekistan, lead by the father Mirzo, were just amazingly good to me. Insisting that I stay with them and their extended family, in both Bukhara and Tashkent. They fed me, and were always quick to suggest a course of vodkas. They nurtured me when I was too ill to venture further than the toilet, and gave me bags of gifts as I took to the road again. Mirzo even tried to pass me a wad of cash as I left! Incredible.
I managed to get out of Uzbek without the fine that I was losing so much sleep over. Once again proving that the problems you do run into are rarely the ones you worry about.
Riding through this part of the world has been pretty desolate, which is fine for the first few days, when your mind thanks you for some space and time to sort through things, but after that it stagnates and wishes for some scenery to look at. For days I've been riding along straight flat asphalt, always just pointing towards the horizon and often battling with a head wind.
At times I've found it hard travelling alone. I had a bit of a down point when I got to Kazakhstan, feeling vulnerable, and isolated.
The last night in Russia, I camped with a group of 3 cyclists heading from Holland to Australia, and they told me of a chap they'd just met coming from Kazakhstan. He'd had a rough time of it, having been robbed at knife-point three times, once being led to an ATM to withdraw extra cash. Before he left the country he was robbed a fourth time by the police!
So I entered the country feeling sure I'd be robbed at least once, possibly violently. When I had a front tyre blow out on a deserted road on the first day in Kazakhstan, I felt sure the moment had come, but for some reason felt calm in fixing the problem, and the only people that stopped were just interested in me and the bike.
I've now been here long enough to relax, and loosen up. I feel much more confident here, and if I get robbed, it's just part of the journey.
I ran out of petrol for the first time yesterday, but was fortunate and pushed Honda the 50m to the next petrol station. The previous day I got dangerously low, and stopping at an HGV cafe a chap took me under his wing, fed me, then led me to the next police stop, where the three of us flagged down any non-diesel looking vehicles and gently demanded a litre of their fuel. I had about 7 litres in no time, and no one would accept the money I offered.
Police have actually been great, everyone asks if I've had problems with them, but they've been cool. Usually stopping me, but only to ask questions. usually where I'm from, if the Honda is kick-start and two stroke, and what the top speed is. My offers to show documents are usually laughed at, and I'm sent on my way with enthusiastic twisting motions of imaginary throttles.
Incidentally, many of the police in this part of the world are no more than 2D cut-outs like billboards, but I guess they have a similar effect, to a point.
At border crossings, I've seen how difficult they make it for some people, vehicles being stripped in the search for hidden naughties, and belongings meticulously rifled through.
But I've so far got preferential treatment, and only once been superficially searched. Often they've just asked if I've got any drugs or weapons, and taken my answer as good enough. The officials are nearly always more interested in chatting about the bike or football, than paperwork.
Three times I've been stopped for speeding. The first in Bosnia, where the cop waved me on the instant he saw my UK number plate. The second time in Russia, where the young cop and I chatted for a while, before negotiating a bribe of 100 roubles, which is something like 2 pounds.
The third time was yesterday in Kazakhstan, where I was enjoying the sweeping country road too much to notice the police car until too late. They showed me a wonderful photo of Honda and I banked over as we took the curve of the road, and indicated the recorded speed of 80kmph in the 50 limit. There was the briefest mention of dollars, before they talked themselves out of it, and sent me on my way with a flurry of smiles, best wishes and handshakes.
Wild camping a couple of days back was a welcome highlight to the featureless travel across desolation. I pitched the mesh inner tent, and it was so nice to be so open, and part of the surroundings. Giving myself time before nightfall, I read and wrote, before lying back and watching evening turn to night. No light pollution meant a vivid star-scape, and waking in the night I was greeted with a brilliant array of natural night. Breeze flowed through the tent, and I didn't feel in the bubble created by the opaque fly sheet.
Mongolia next, and I've been given a good route from a chap that knows this part of the world well. Good dirt he describes it as, smashing. Honda's been great off road, I hardly notice the weight now. Taking a short cut a few days back (which unusually didn't involve back-tracking, getting lost, or significantly increasing journey time), I found myself on an unpredictably surfaced road. Good stretches of asphalt would periodically change to massively pot holed areas. Pot holes often the size of hot-tubs. I searched for a better analogy, but this seems as apt as any. I failed to avoid one of these craters, and as Honda and I lunged into and out of the void, the rear bottomed out and ripped the straps off my tail pack.
Honda's doing well, though my hyper-sensitivity to possible problems is always throwing up interesting new noises. If I get to America I'll do a full strip down and hopefully relax a bit and stop building imaginary problems.
Anyhoo, that's more than enough eh.