Monday, July 27, 2009

July 25 to 27: Goodbye Kazakhstan, Hello Russia!

After 20 lovely days in Kazakhstan, we said goodbye to our friends (see me & Roma figuring out the train in Ridder, below) and the country - or so we thought! After deciding to take a train from Ridder right to Biysk, Russia so we could get right into the "good stuff," biking through the Russian Altay, we got on in Ridder on the 25th and were on our way. (we decided to take a train to Biysk once we fouund out that the border crossing 60km east is closed to foreigners as we talked about in our last post)

Mike, eating our "last meal" at our very favorite "Kafe Lakoma" in Ridder. In our week here, we literally became regulars at this place - great food, nice and cheap, with a whole buffet of amazing desserts for like 50 cents each.

About two hours into the train ride, the police controlling the customs process came and told us that, between Kazakhstan and Russia, foreigners cannot cross the border by train. He said we could cross by plane, bus, car, bike or foot, but that it was not possible in the train. We were confused, as we have heard of many people doing this, and argued with him, especially since the train staff had assured Roma and myself that we would have no problem with our bikes on the train, it would be easier crossing the border, etc... all knowing full well that we were from Canada. The train staff was also confused and surprised, but then also mentioned that they had never actually had a non-Kazakh or Russian citizen on their train before....

The police who broke the news to us also mentioned that, at the town near the border, he could drive us and our bikes to the border in his car and have his brother pick us up at the border and drive us to the nearest train stop in Russia, and should be able to do this in time to get us on the same train (since the next one only came two days later), all for $200US...... This raised a few red flags. From what we've learned about Kazakhstan, the police are one of the few things to be careful with, and $200US is an exorbitant sum for the 30km we'd have to travel, about 2x the price of the train ticked for the whole 1000km trip! All that to say, we said no thanks, and got dropped off after dark in Shemonaika, a small town 20km from the Kazakh/Russian border, leaving us without a train, taxi or place to stay still feeling a little suspicious about the whole situation. Thankfully, at the train station after asking around for a bit, a very nice couple led us to the local hotel (which would have been impossible to find without them) and we had a lovely, evening in the hotel (Mike very hospitably doing vodka shots with other guests) before scouting out our options the next morning.

It all worked out, we ended up bussing it from Shemonaika to Barnaul, a much faster border-crossing option than by car or bike (2 hrs vs what looked like a 4-5hr wait in the cars) and met yet another fantastic and friendly fellow from Ridder who now lives in Barnaul (Max)- proving that these great people from our favorite Kazakh town continue to follow us even into Russia!

Bikers seemed to abound in Barnaul, we even managed to hook up with this group of 3 adults and 10 kids that just finished a bike around the Altay region we're about to head into. They were camping out in a park near the train station, so we joined them for a few hours at their camp in Barnaul until our 3 AM train left for Biysk.

Jen sleeping on the train to Biysk, after a very tiring 24 hours without sleep....

So here we FINALLY are, three days later in Biysk, VERY excited to finally get back on the bikes again. Due to the heat and the timing of our Russian visa, we did much less biking in Kazakhstan than we planned. We had a great time nonetheless, but are now super pumped to spend the next two months far away from busses and trains, camping much more and hotelling much less, both of us excited for the bike trip that we feel we're only really starting now.

We've got more reflections on our time in Kazkhstan that we want to post, but the Blinny (Russian crepe) joint we're getting our internet from is about to close, so we'll save that for later.

Tomorrow morning, we're back on the bikes, headed towards Gorno-Altaisk and then the rest of the Russian Altay, and we should be crossing over to Mongolia in a week or two. The "SPOT" will be back on, so you can follow our progress on the tracker. We're not sure how much internet we'll have, but from what we've heard, the next few posts should be packed with some great scenery.


(Mike in "BlinnyMaster" that is about to close, which has free WIFI if you are ever in Biysk)


shail2chouhan said...

cool blog

Nathan Yelland said...

Hey there mike and jen it sound like your trip has been pretty amazing I hope that everything is going well in russia and mongolia now so take lots of pictures and hope to hear frpm you soon.