Saturday, 12 July 2008

In Wolf and Bear Country

We set off from our last camp and drove towards Semey. En route we got chatting to a friendly farmer who gave us some deliciously sour horses milk.

He used to be a scientist at the nuclear testing site and it was interesting to hear about it all. We had about a half hour conversation with him, despite absolutely minimal common language. His use of hand signals was fantastic!

After Semey and crossing the fifth longest river in the world the landscape changed dramatically once again to giant fields, like the ones in Ukraine.
We camped in a small copse and had a cracking few games of Flop. We also discovered that the rough roads had an adverse affect on our Landy. We’d probably driven into one too many potholes too fast and sheared off a section of suspension.

The next day we crossed the border back into Russia. The Kazakh border guards seemed interested in everything we had. We had a good throw around of the Nerf with them in their big inspection shed!

In the first town we came to we got the vehicle ‘fixed’. The garage we unwittingly chose was staffed by three cowboy mechanics. One was off his face on vodka whilst the other two welded the piece back on using a ‘Sputnik’ welder and not bothering with a welding mask! It was a bit of a bodge job but we think it’ll hold.

The next day we made it to Barnaul, our biggest city in a long time. We had a cracking few days getting some supplies and sampling the nightlife. We chanced upon a friendly Russia journalist, Dmit, who interviewed us for the regional newspaper, and the lovely Jenya, a local who kindly showed us around the city. Many thanks to them both.

Barnaul is now two days behind us. We camped last night in a beautiful glade in some hills high above the road. It was terrific apart from the incessant mosquitoes. I’ve never been eaten so much in all my life. There was a constant high pitch whine in the air as they orbited your head!

Today we drove high into the Altai Mountains, a range that many Asian cultures have originated from and believe to be spiritual. They are certainly very beautiful. For most of the day we drove along fantastic roads with forested mountains and hills rising on either side.

After an incredibly invigorating swim in the melt-water river, we turned off the road late in the afternoon and crossed the ricketiest bridge I’ve ever driven across. It was apparently rated to 7 tonnes but I didn’t really trust the Russian engineering. I wonder when its last safety check was! We then drove up a track cut into a high cliff as it rose above the raging torrent.

We’re camped up in a hanging valley, high above the river. We’re not sure but we think we can hear wolves howling in the distance. At the end of the valley stand snow-capped mountains. Tomorrow we shall attempt to climb one of them.

- Spike

Police stop count: 19 (including one friendly chap who just stopped us, asked us where we were headed and sent us on our way!)

Playing on the iPod: “Buck Rogers” by Feeder

P.S. We’re not exactly sure what the piece we broke on the Land Rover does. It’s a metal bar situated just behind the front axle and running parallel to it. If anyone would like to look up what it does and send the answer to the sat phone that’d be cracking. Many thanks!

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