left Irbit, we were just like crazy : there we were, riding
with all our bags and stuff, and OUR bike !! We couldn't really
believe it... So, after a few pictures here and there, off
we went : bye-bye Irbit ! And after the first hour of riding,
we stopped at the first crossroad to look at the map : which
road were we to follow, by the way ...? While riding, we were
looking all around us, eager to see as much as possible :
small hills, dark little wooden houses, and the road being
renovated everywhere, filling the air of dust because of the
trucks driving just as fast on the gravel roads. We were exulting,
thinking with delight to all these people who had foretold
us all sorts of troubles with those "unreliable" russian bikes
whereas we had already made more than 400 km around Irbit
without a problem... When suddenly ... the throttle handle
broke and turned loose. Oops ! We were only halfway to Tyumen,
in the middle of nowhere... what were we going to do ? But
after a good sandwich, and trying different things, we eventually
managed to somehow fix it with a piece of climbing rope. We
were just crossing our fingers that it wouldn't break in the
middle of some busy street of Tyumen...
But we eventually made it, at the slow rhythm of 45 km an
hour, which was to be ours during the first 2500 km of our
engine. And as we arrived before the "Biblioteka" of Tyumen,
it was beginning to rain really hard. Luckily, the journalist
that we had to meet there invited us to stay in her apartment.
And she even told us that her son, who was working in a garage,
would weld the throttle for us... Nice ! We eventually ended
up staying 3 days with Irina and her son Maxim, eating blinis,
visiting Tyumen and its newly renovated museums and reopened
churches, and drinking cold beers at midnight in some hot
springs with loud music coming out from the cars... It was
not that hard in the end...
as we were, we wanted to go further, and see more of Russia
!! We wanted to go to so many places and had only 3 months,
and a meeting point with some friends in Irkutsk at mid-september.
So we had to make a choice... We decided to go and see this
mythical Altay mountains, that we had never heard of before,
but apparently were gorgeous... So we rode. Six to eight hours
a day. We soon got sun strokes on our noses of all that sun...
The trans-siberian road was much better than all what we had
expected, with thousands of trucks going either way, an endless
plain of either harvesting crops or forests of birch.
At noon ,we
would stop at some stolovaya on the side of the road, to eat
some plain meal, soup, salad, meat-filled pasta ... Of course,
at the beginning, it was a bit funny, because we couldn't
read the menu, and would just observe what the people would
get, and then repeat exactly their words... And actually,
one of our first stop in a stolovaya was one of the nicest
ones : when asking our neighbours what was the word in russian
for watermelon... they invited us to share it with them, as
well as their bottle of vodka. And we discussed for half an
hour about our itinerary, their experiences of Lake Ba´kal,
their armenian origins, Charles Aznavour...It was really pretty
nice. And in the end, even the cook herself came to talk with
us, tell us she too was a foreigner, she was from Georgia...
In the evenings, around 6 or 7, before the night would really
fall on us, we looked for a place hidden in the woods to put
our tent for the night. No fire, no lamp, we were afraid at
the beginning of every noise : would that be some russian
bandits that would kill and rob us ?... But after a while,
we got used to it, and saw that the peasants that we would
see sometimes in the morning cared nothing about us, they
were only looking for mushrooms... Yet, I still have to admit
that I always slept only with an eye, listening to every noise,
imagining that the trucks that we heard were coming towards
us, while Laurent was snoring loud...
August, 30th. After
leaving Barnaul, the landscape began to change, small roads
winding along the Katun, a beautiful light green river that
comes directly from the Glaciers up there, up and down the
hills... Even the villages were different, with pretty and
freshly painted houses. The women were gathered together to
sell their apples, carrots, potatoes... Even the air seemed
lighter, and the atmosphere sounder. The people seemed friendly.
It felt nearly as if we were in another country ! Before really
entering the Altay Republic, we settled our camp near the
Katun, and actually stayed there 3 days until the rain stopped.
The next day,
we happened to tow an old man's "IJ" sidecar. That was an
experience ! He invited us to stay with him and his wife in
their cabin.They really had not much : only one bulb in the
whole house, a big brick stove for the two heated rooms, and
no running water. They ate nearly only what they could grow
in their garden. As for the toilets, as in all country houses,
it was an outhouse at the other end of the garden, with some
old newspapers to use as toilet paper.
We eventually left to go and see the Altay, at last. And the
more we went into it, the more we loved it. Winding roads,
bigger and bigger mountains, and still the Katun running through.
The weather had got back to hot and sunny without a cloud
: just so perfect ! At about half way to the frontier towards
Mongolia, we stopped at some pass, to enjoy the landscape
and let the engine cool down ... It definitely didn't look
like Siberia anymore, with some buddhist cloth strips in the
bushes, and asiatic faces in the cars... And there, we made
one of these magical encounters, with the "Barnaul moto Klub",
a bunch of guys travelling around with their bikes. To us,
they seemed like aliens. We had all the perfect gear, waterproof
bags, good vests, heated handles... when they had newspapers
under their jackets, and plastic bags to keep everything dry...
But all that didn't matter, we were all enjoying the pleasure
to travel on bikes in good company, and we stayed at least
an hour talking as much as we could in the sun. It was a rare
When we arrived
in Kosh-Agash, only 40 km from the frontier to Mongolia, on
a dream-like evening, we were mad : We should have been able
to stay at least a week, or a month here ! It was a huge semi-desertic
high plateau, surrounded by mountains and glaciers. And with
Mongolia just so close ! After a night out in the open, gazing
at shooting stars, we went around the irreal village of Kosh-Agash,
madder than ever, looking at the map, wondering whether we
might try to go through the Mongolia border without the visas
: maybe they would think we were russian ! But in the end,
we resolved to remain serious, and turned back to the valley.
But someday we'll come again !!
After that, things were easy, one goal, Irkutsk !!! The date
set to meet our friends in Irkutsk was coming dangerously
close, and we were still thousands of kilometres away. We
had exactly one week left to get there. We rode, and rode,
until we were too tired to continue. We were happy when sometimes
we would go further than the forecasted 400 km a day. And
after our stove broke, we resolved to have nearly all our
meals in stolovayas until Irkutsk : that would still be some
time saved !!!
But we arrived,
at last, exhausted after so much riding, especially with hundreds
of kms of gravel roads between Kemerovo and Irkutsk, due to
renovation of the transsiberian road everywhere. After a memorable
party on lake Ba´kal with our friends, with some 3 bottles
of vodka, toasting to Russia and friends, we spent about 2
weeks in Irkutsk and had a great time there. And time was
running, again ! This time, it was not some friends to meet,
but the end of our visas... And the end of the continent was
still so far away ! We would never have time to travel through
Buriatia. Moreover, a long part of Siberia has no road at
all, the only way to cross is to load your vehicle on the
train. So, we took the train right away from Irkutsk to Khabarovsk,
and put the bike and the sidecar (separated) in the "bagages"
wagon. Nearly 3 days in the train, to see all those isolated
villages along the railroad, with some tracks sometimes, where
only big 4x4 or sidecars would venture... Even if we had had
time, we would probably never have made it !!!
the athmospere was once again different. We were now very
close to China. But this asiatic influence seemed mainly to
benefit to the city, way more prosperous than other siberian
ones. The climate was also much cooler. On the other hand,
there was a big problem for us to solve : we wanted to stay
there for some days, but as foreigners, all the cheap hotels
or pensions would refuse to accommodate us. We had to go to
the Intourist, which cost ... 100 $ a night !! Oops... So
we turned around, and eventually went to the language university,
where some students in french were amazed to see us here :
we were the very first french people that they ever saw here
in Khabarovsk !! Of course, they helped us find us a cheap
room in the university dormitory. We got the sidecar back
from the train. It first seemed all OK. We reassembled it
on the quay, and were glad to drive it again... But back in
our room, we saw that our bags had been all opened and several
things were missing : gloves, a small torch, hi8 tapes, a
radio, and several gadgets that we had taken to make "presents"...
That was fair enough. We had so much when they had so little.
And at least they didn't take anything essential, like the
tent or sleeping bags !!
We made some new experiences with our new friends, like watching
a movie dubbed in russian... Interesting ! And found at last
a windshield for the bike that was getting really necessary,
for the weather was getting colder now.
The road was not too long across Ussuriland to reach Vladivostok.
We saw no tigers. But seeing the ocean (already ?!!) was a
big emotion : Wow, this was the end of the continent !!! And
we actually felt that deep inside... Vladivostok was really
a very nice city. Full of sailors, and hidden fighter planes...
Full of ocean, big ships and beautiful sunsets ! We had the
chance to meet Alexandr, from the Iron tigers, the bikers
club of Vladivostok, right away when we entered the gates
of the town. But our main goal was now to find a boat or a
plane to leave Russia, either to Alaska or Japan. But going
to Alaska meant returning to Khabarovsk. On the other hand,
the boss of a shipping agency offered us a special discount
on his ship to Japan : the bike would travel for free... So...
we would go to Japan !!!