How we tried to fill in the missing piece of road for the shortest crossing of the Altai, bumped into Adam in the back of beyond, flouted permit laws and immensely enjoyed the non-corrugated gravel roads of the southern Altai.
After we crossed through the Russian border we said goodbye to Andrew and Jon as they sped off to Barnaul to find a TIG welder. As we perceived the border to take some time we hadn’t planned anything further than Rubtsovsk so we rolled in early to find a hotel and a good welder to put our awning back on for us. After yet another night in a cosy hotel (we were only there to register!) we hit the road east. Back in Almaty Michael told me about a track he had found using Google Earth that linked the existing road with another 30-40km further east making it the shortest possible crossing of the Altai to Mongolia. Our Russian Atlas showed something similar with a ‘path’ also linking these roads which ran for some 60km. Advice from other adventure bikers was to take these small roads anyway as they passed through traditionally Altaic villages. So a small detour to see if this route was possible seemed like a good idea.
How we got super efficient with our time in Almaty, dined on fresh lamb at Kolsay Lakes and drove for days through storms to reach the Russian Border.
The border couldn’t have been much more farcical. First the Kyrgyz customs wanted their document (which we were never given on entry). I tried explaining we were never given one, told them which border we came in through and told them to call them as it was a ‘Kyrgyzstan problem’ not ours. Eventually after much pacing around they let us through until we tried to exit. One guy wanted everything out. He tried to take the GPS off the dash saying we shouldn’t have it, it’s a security issue blah blah blah. He tried to take the microSD card but I told him he wasn’t having it and put it in the cubby box. Then he wanted everything out of the back of the 90, so I did the usual and offered for him to take it out himself. He demanded we did it so very slowly we pulled things out. Computers first, opened the fridge then our bags. When Lisa started waving her underwear around he soon told us to pack up but we were not done yet. He kept prodding the trailer with his pointy metal stick, everything got poked. Paintwork, boxes, clothes, I was slowly starting to lose my patience with him, his attitude and his nonchalant regard for our worldly belongings.
How we reconvened with other overlanders in Bishkek, had a drunken night out with prostitutes, tried to climb a mountain and finally used the packraft.
After a freezing final night in Tajikistan we (reluctantly) exited the country encountering few problems (the usual “problem” requiring $25 to sort out soon disappeared when we settled back into the car offering to wait for the right official to arrive) and took the long road down to the Kyrgyz border. We were ushered through the gates and into Kyrgyzstan with barely a glance at the car (minus a required customs declaration which will become apparent later), taking less than twenty minutes. It was lunchtime and obviously not a convenient time to check vehicles!
How we ended up back in the Wakhan Corridor, drove the eastern half of the Pamir highway and saw a meteorite entering the earth’s atmosphere.
The day after we returned from Afghanistan we set about reorganizing all of our gear as we had left a number of things at the Pamir Lodge including the trailer. It took a fair amount of time which was further delayed by the number of other overlanders at the lodge. Whenever groups of travellers get together, not a lot gets done other than drinking, eating, relaxing and chatting, and as usual we all went back to the Indian that night for a lot of drinking, eating and… well, chatting.