Monday, 4 August 2008

Jack'll Fix It

There’s a Chinese curse that says ‘may you live in interesting times’; we’d written off this section of our journey through Siberia as likely to be uneventful, but as we skirted round the top of China it appeared we’ve been cursed.

The road around the northern bump of China is very much a work in progress, with sections of fantastic new tarmac interspersed with long stretches of bone-shaking gravel. This doesn’t seem to stop huge numbers of Japanese cars being driven back from Japan along this route to be sold on in Moscow or wherever, they must lose so much value on the way. We were on one of these bumpy parts when the problems with Roxy’s turbo surfaced again and we lost all power. This time however, a wire needed to be resoldered, and since our soldering iron works off the mains, we got a fire going. Whilst we were doing this a motorbike pulled over beside us, we mustered our best ‘dobriy dyen’ and were a little surprised when a broad Yorkshire accent replied “Just stopped for a brew then?”. Simon was on his way home (the scenic way) after teaching English in Japan, we obliged and brewed up some tea (Earl Grey courtesy of G4 - fantastic!) and had a chat while somehow we managed to solder our wire back in place. This done, we bade farewell and continued making miles through the endless forested hills.

Field Workshop

I imagine that, like me, most of your ideas of Siberia begin and end with ‘cold’. We’re seeing it at the height of summer though, and despite having some of our worst weather yet we’re still having glorious warm sunny spells. The colours when the sun comes out are almost too green, almost too blue, and look like they should belong on a Windows start-up screen. Sadly the clouds came in force around the time of the solar eclipse, so we don’t even know if we would have been able to see anything!

Shortly after the eclipse time our next incident occurred; we were heading into some woods to camp when Roxy came to a crunching halt. The tree stump had been well concealed beneath deep undergrowth, but it was a vicious one and Roxy came to rest with all her weight on the steering rod, bending it dramatically and leaving the front wheels pointing in quite different directions. We eventually freed her from the stump’s evil clutches around midnight and set alarms for an early start to try and straighten it out and be able to drive again.

trying to free roxy

Trying to Free Roxy

Still Trying to Free Roxy

First up stepped the lump hammer, but despite being wielded with great enthusiasm it couldn’t touch the dent. While we came up with other ideas we did a rough and ready mend of the coolant pipe, which had sprung a leak - we do like to collect our problems, the roof rack’s broken again too. But back to the steering rod, we passed our Bush Mechanics 101 by jacking the vehicle up on the rod and letting gravity do the rest - it’s pretty near straight again now.

Jacking the Steering Straight

Apart from the roof rack, which we’re discussing around the fire now, and the relentless attention of mosquitoes, that’s all for problems at the minute! To finish I’ll mention a nice little meeting this afternoon; we’ve noticed people tend to be friendlier at this end of Russia, and this was a good example. We’d pulled over for a photo, and a huge lorry travelling the other way stopped, a man and his son came over to see who we were (we get lots of looks, I don’t think many British cars come out here!). After a stilted chat they got a photo of us, then when we thought they’d gone the boy came running back over and gave us a little fluffy toy monkey which is now hanging proudly in our window.

We’ve stopped tonight in the Jewish Autonomous Region, which I don’t know much about, but sounds like it’s had quite an interesting history. Tomorrow we’ll stop in Khabarovsk for supplies and maybe see to the roof rack before pushing on towards Sakhalin and the Pacific.

Police stop count: 26 (one very jolly and one very grumpy today!)

Playing on the iPod: ‘Me and My Monkey’ by Robbie Williams

Starry Siberian Nights

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