The Altai Region of Russia is a tourist mecca for those living in Novosibirsk, Banual and Bisck the three large cities in the region. And it was summer so everyone was looking for fun in the sun. It is a mountainous area that has the Katun River running right through the middle. There are guest houses, cafe's and hotels on every bend in the river. And there are plenty of attractions if you can appreciate the Russian style entertainment.
I preferred to stay away from these busy, noisy places so decided to move up the river to Chemal. By chance I stopped at a 'Kafe' for a feed and met a guy who operates a rafting business. He invited me to stay with his family for the night. His wife and two kids lived in this basic rented building that had four apartments. We shared a few of his rafting videos. He was one of those high energy guys who just does not stop. I decided to go rafting with him the next day with a group of his friends. There were just three paying clients (including me) and I am not sure how they actually make a living out of the business. The Katun flows rapidly downhill and at times just boils. It was a lot of fun!
I camped for three days at a cabin style ground. Turned out to be a hoot as I met two Russian champion women rafters. Olga just lived for the sport and was financially supported by sponsors for her training and equipment. The group turned out to be big drinkers too and I soon found myself toasting to almost anything that came into our heads. Vodka is a very social drink but it catches up mighty fast when you get into a few rounds. I was finding the language barrier very tiring and decided to move further into the mountains near Mt Beluka the highest hill in Russia. The ride was very relaxing with reasonably good sealed and gravel roads. I had been riding for about 4 hours when I was confronted by a miltary road block and there were at least 20 cars banked up waiting. Nobody could explain to me (in english) what the purpose of the block was but I was not allowed to continue with an Australian passport. I was pissed off because this was obviously some local regional dispute over territory and I had riden a long way to be turned back just 50 kms from my destination of Tyrungur. Remarkably I headed back just a few kilometers and stopped by a small river to relax and make camp and a man wandering by invited me to stay with him and his son at their house. I stayed for two enjoyable days with them and learned much about traditional life as a herder. He took me hunting and I helped them fell two huge pine trees in preparation for their new house. I also helped construct a new dunny (toilet) in an afternoon. They were pretty well self subsisting off milk and meat products for their livelihood.
My journey continued west to the Kazakh border where I managed to get arrested by the border officials because the Mule's passport had expired two weeks prior. Thus I had broken Constitutional Russian law. The Mule was impounded and I was taken 70 kms in a Russian jeep to be repremanded, reported and fined for my efforts. All this because of a mistake with the entry date of my Kazakh visa. So instead of taking 6 hours to cross the border it took two days. Despite all the who-ha, I was treated very well by officials. It was inconvenient and the paper work that was prepared was horrendous.
Kazakhstan was a breath of fresh air after Russia. The people were friendly and waved at me everywhere. I made a huge dash for Almaty some 1300kms south for my plans were more than three weeks behind schedule and I was going to face further visa problems if I did not make up some time. Kazakstan is cheap, modern and a great place to travel. Almaty has to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world with its snowcapped mountainous backdrop to the south. David Berghoff from Stantours delivered my new passport, Iranian Carnet de Passage and pemits for the Pamir Highway to me for the 'Stans' at my Hotel (bless his heart). En route, I managed to fit in a complete oil change and wash for the Mule. It was done at a tyre garage in the rain at 9pm. Not pleasant!
I now have to prepare for a big dash through the Pamirs in Tajikistan to the south in less than 10 days. My rear Conti TKC tyre needs replacing soon so I will have to get one air freighted to Uzbekistan from the UK.
So far it has surely been an adventure and somewhat tiring. However my health is holding out (despite losing lots of kgs) and the Mule has been simply outstanding. I cannot give this BMW enough praise for being so reliable and enjoyable to ride.
My next deadline is the Turkmenistan border on the 10/08/09 for I must use an escort to make the trip through Turkmenistan territory.