Posts for May, 2013


Mayday parade Yakutia style (Yakutsk, Russia)

Journal entry for Wednesday 1st May, 2013 (day 28, miles 0)

May 1st, May Day is a big celebration in most of the ex Soviet countries and it was no exception today in the city of Yakutsk. Inna (our young lady interpreter) offered last night to show us around during the parade and as arranged she was at our door just after 11:00 am and out we went to join the crowds along Lenin St where the parade would march. In addition to a parade celebrating labor (workers, as is traditional) the Yakut people have added their own twist to the day and many groups marched in traditional costumes and at the end of the march a circle dance (Osuokhay) was performed. The traditional time to perform the Osuokhay is the summer solstice, and it is still performed then, but a small version was performed today in the Square of Friendship (one of a number of squares in the city). The circular nature of the Osuokhay celebrates the unity of people and nature. It was a great day for photographs of interesting people and costumes.

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Russian Easter, our repair plans - I am off to Berlin (Yakutsk, Russia)

Journal entry for Sunday 5th May, 2013 (day 32, miles 0)

This morning Alexander picked me up at 5:30 and drove me to the airport. GXV has shipped a box of parts and tools to our son Brendon in Berlin and I am off to collect them. It turns out that today is also Easter Sunday for the Russian Orthodox Church so Alexander also delivered a couple of hand painted Easter eggs for Nina to enjoy while I was away.

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Yaw harps, Nina's day at the Homus museum (yakutsk, Russia)

Journal entry for Monday 6th May, 2013 (day 33, miles 0)

Today Maria organized for Nina to go to the Homus or Jewish Harp or Jaw Harp Museum. She saw more of the costumes and way of life of the Sakha people but the highlight for her was the display of the variety of jaw harps from around the world and the enthusiastic performance by one harpist. Jaw harps are made of bone, bamboo, wood and metal, come in many sizes and are found in many different counties from Africa to South America but not Australia it seems. Even Abraham Lincoln was photographed playing a jaw harp. Nadia from the local university came over to translate.

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Diamonds (Yakutsk, Russia)

Journal entry for Tuesday 7th May, 2013 (day 34, miles 0)

Today was a day of beauty. The Yakutia territory nearly 1/2 the size of Australia has a lot of wealth in its minerals especially gold and diamonds and it was this Maria took Nina to see at the museum today. In a beautifully modern, climate controlled, environment she was able to see some original nuggets of gold, as well as cut and uncut diamonds followed by ornate jewelry from the past and the present. All very beautiful. No photographs allowed and in fact one could only see the display with the help of a guide and the lighting was timed so that if you asked too many questions the lights went off and one had to move on.

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Rob returns with replacement parts and tools (Yakutsk, Russia)

Journal entry for Wednesday 8th May, 2013 (day 35, miles 0)

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Victory day, Yakutia dinner, ice tunnel (Yakutsk, Russia)

Journal entry for Thursday 9th May, 2013 (day 36, miles 0)

I arrived at Yakutsk airport at 8:30 this morning with some very heavy luggage, but in good spirits as my return trip had gone off without a hitch. All my concerns about how I would get all those parts and tools through Russian customs were for nothing as I just walked through the nothing to declare gate without any problems. It so happens that May 9th is celebrated in Russia as Victory Day and there is a big parade (a bit like Australian ANZAC Day) with wreath laying, and speeches by prominent people. We spent a couple of hours with Alexander, Maria and a very large crowd watching the proceedings. Nina got a lot of good photos.

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Fixing the truck (and other interesting observations) (M56 - km 130, Russia)

Journal entry for Friday 10th May, 2013 (day 37, miles 76)

Today was the big day. Would all those parts and tools be sufficient and enable us to fix our truck. Of course before we could even start the repairs we had to get to the truck and as previously this required a trip across the Lena River on a hovercraft and a couple of taxis. It was quite surprising to see how much the river had changed in the last week. It was still filled with ice, thus preventing navigation by traditional boats, but now the ice was mushy with large sections of open water. It seemed that the current condition was harder for the hovercraft as the price was 50% higher than last time we traveled.

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Pot-holes as far as the eye can see! (Solov'yosk, Russia)

Journal entry for Monday 13th May, 2013 (day 40, miles 2762)

The past three days have been a real test of patience and endurance as we picked our way along 1000km of rough roads to arrive at tonights camp near the village of Solov'yosk a mere 45 km from the southern end of the M56 (or the Lena Highway, the road to Yakutsk). Tonight we are in an old gravel pit next to some water and have enjoyed a few minutes in the waning afternoon sun. We are looking forward to getting a respite from this road and its pot-holes, and hope that the M58 (the main Vladivostok-Chita road) west is in better condition.

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Back on the M58 - a chance to cleanup and install the new water pump (M56 – 1340km, Russia)

Journal entry for Tuesday 14th May, 2013 (day 41, miles 2905)

Today we escaped from the pot holes of the M56 and to our relief the first few hundred kilometers of the M58 west towards Chita were paved and smooth. The last 45km of the M56 took us about 1.5 hours (which was consistent with our average speed over the previous 3 days) and then with relief we arrived at the large and elaborate intersection between the M56 and the M58, turned right (west) and commenced to eat away at the 990 km between us and Chita.

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Now the refrigerator! (M56 – 1738km, Russia)

Journal entry for Wednesday 15th May, 2013 (day 42, miles 3103)

Late last night Nina noticed that the refrigerator seemed not to be working; and sure enough after a little investigation it was clear that the control panel lights were operating but the compressor was not running. Hence nothing was being cooled down. We could not believe it; yet another thing in this camper that had stopped working. We spent a little while discussing where we could get a new refrigerator and how we would cope without one. Then since it was late (like 22:00) we knew that Roger at GXV would be awake and at work so we called him (actually sent him an SMS to call us). His reaction mirrored ours, "you have got to be kidding".

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Washing the truck again (M58 Road Side Parking, Russia)

Journal entry for Thursday 16th May, 2013 (day 43, miles 3311)

We started the day with an over cast and cold morning (38°F) as our route continued through hilly forested countryside. Mid morning the trees disappeared and suddenly we were in a grassland of wide valleys and rolling hills. By lunch time the sun was out and the weather was warm and finally looked and felt like spring. Mid afternoon we found a creek that we could get down to and spent some time washing the truck and topping up our water supply. The electric emersion pump we decided to bring for this purpose has already justified its existence.

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Chita (M55 Road Side Parking, Russia)

Journal entry for Friday 17th May, 2013 (day 44, miles 3462)

The highlight of today was a drive into, and a look around, the city of Chita (Чита). Though our visit was not without its challenges. First amongst these was that the entry road from the east was closed, though we only worked this out after we tried it and came to a dead end. The entry from the north was open but the road was in what you might call a rough condition. In places it was simply mud and gravel and was presenting a 4x4 challenge to some of the smaller vehicles.

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Best and worst of our vehicle (M55 A field beside the road, Russia)

Journal entry for Saturday 18th May, 2013 (day 45, miles 3742)

Today we wanted to cover 400+km and be close enough to Ulan Ude tonight so that tomorrow we could get to the city mid morning to spend some time there looking and doing chores. As it turned out the weather was not great, 39°F this morning, cloudy and windy all day, and the road, though paved, was terrible. So today we got to experience the best and worst of our GXV expedition vehicle.

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Baikal, still iced over (Lake Baikal, Russia)

Journal entry for Sunday 19th May, 2013 (day 46, miles 3889)

The M55 enters the city of Ulan Ude (Улан Удэ) from the south along the Selenge River, and this morning in bright sunshine it was a pleasant, even pretty, drive. At first glance the city appears modern but with a different feel to the other Russian cities we have so far visited. A lot more timber fences around the outer suburban houses, some Buddhist shrines and generally a more "Mongolian" feel (though I should probably say Buhrat, as that is the name of the dominant local indigenous peoples).

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Baikal, washing day (Lake Baikal, Russia)

Journal entry for Monday 20th May, 2013 (day 47, miles 3889)

It turned out to be a lazy day beside the lake. Initially we had intentions of moving on and exploring the lake after doing some washing. But overcast skies and cool weather meant the washing dried slowly and as the day wore on it became obvious that we were not going to move. Hence we settled into some reading and periodic checks of the washing.

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Exploring the Baikal coast (Cafe M55, Russia)

Journal entry for Tuesday 21st May, 2013 (day 48, miles 4130)

Today we needed to move on so the plan was to explore Baikal's east coast by following the road north until it headed away from the lake. Fortunately the day was sunny and warm and the exploration was both pleasant as well as producing some great views (and we hope photographs).

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Response to the ExpeditionPortal thread about our problem

Posted Tuesday 21st May, 2013

About a week ago I discovered the thread on Expedition Portal that someone had started about the problems we had with our vehicle near Yakutsk. Since then I have followed the discussion with interest (using my iPhone) but because of lack of real internet connection have not been able to contribute. So this post will for the moment be my contribution. The reason for doing it this was is that I can prepare this post offline and send it to our website even if my connection is slow.

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A crappy weather day (Angosolka, Russia)

Journal entry for Wednesday 22nd May, 2013 (day 49, miles 4323)

There is not much to say about today. The weather was crappy, windy and dusty when we woke, and during the day rain arrived and made for a miserable day of driving. For most of the day we followed the southern shore of Lake Baikal but did not really see much of the lake as the railway occupies the prime real estate next to the lake shore for the entire length of the coast. Also today the road was crappy. Most of the length was paved road that has been patched over and over again but with some sections that have simply fallen apart and it is now a combination of gravel and broken pavement. Our new strategy for bad roads is simply go slow enough that it is not too tough on the vehicle and its occupants.

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Mongolian Visa (Irkutsk, Russia)

Journal entry for Thursday 23rd May, 2013 (day 50, miles 4381)

What a difference a day makes. This morning we were greeted by bright sunshine and as the day wore on it became warm. An early start got us into Irkutsk by about 10:00 and we easily found a parking place on Gagarin Boulevard right next to the Inturist Hotel and right beside the Angara River from where we walked about 1 km to the Mongolian Consulate and within 10 minutes had submitted our visa application; pick up passports with visas 3:00pm Friday.

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The Baikal road (Listvyanka, Russia)

Journal entry for Friday 24th May, 2013 (day 51, miles 4423)

We occupied ourselves this morning doing some chores in the truck and then some grocery shopping at the famous Irkutsk market while waiting for 3:00pm and our Mongolian visas to roll around. This is the third time I have been to the markets in Irkutsk and it still facinates me. There is a large indoor food market selling all kinds of vegetables, meats, fish, nuts and almost what ever you could think of as well as a wide range of prepared food ready to eat. Now that the weather is warm there is an outside extension selling vegetables and plants.

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A morning in Listvyanka (Sludyanka, Russia)

Journal entry for Saturday 25th May, 2013 (day 52, miles 4531)

After admiring the view from our overnight spot we headed down the road to Listvyanka and found a spot in the lakeside parking lot. It was still early for the Russians, the parking lot was sparcely occupied and all the souvenir stalls and food stalls were just being set up.

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Good bye Baikal (Cafe M55, Russia)

Journal entry for Sunday 26th May, 2013 (day 53, miles 4713)

Today we simply retraced our steps on the M55 as it traversed the southern shores of Lake Baikal. The weather added to the sense of "having been here before" as the day started with low cloud and rain (same as last time on this section of road). But as the day wore on the sun appeared and we got the benefit of a more spring like day

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South to Mongolia (Road to Kyakhta, Russia)

Journal entry for Monday 27th May, 2013 (day 54, miles 4849)

Today we turned south towards Mongolia and the next chapter in our journey. The weather was cold and windy as we continued to retrace our route to Ulan Ude and then onto the A165 south towards the border town of Kyakhta (Кяхта). Not far down the A165 we stopped for morning tea and bumped into another overland vehicle. A couple of Austrian guys in a expedition truck that they built themselves(on an ex-Austrian army Steyr chassis). They have been on the road since March and started in Turkey, through Iran, Georgia, Azebijan and Russia and like us are on their way to Mongolia. Their truck is larger and heavier than ours, 17,000 KG versus 11,000. We had a chat about their experiences in Iran while sharing our morning tea of Russian cream cake.

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Border crossing (Darkhan, Mongolia)

Journal entry for Tuesday 28th May, 2013 (day 55, miles 4997)

Ok, so today was all about the border crossing. In the body of this post is more information about the experience and process.

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Tranquility and Chaos (Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia)

Journal entry for Wednesday 29th May, 2013 (day 56, miles 5113)

What a contrast today was. The first part of the day we traveled south towards Ulaanbaatar through beautiful grass lands with remnants of winter snows to offset the bright blue sky. It was spectacular, and tranquil. Then we hit UB and it was total chaos.

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Visas (Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia)

Journal entry for Thursday 30th May, 2013 (day 57, miles 5113)

Today was visa-day. Our plan was to see if we could work out how to extend out Mongolian Visa from 30 to 60 days. The first challenge in this plan was to get a taxi to the Immigration office near the airport. So armed with the word "airport" on a piece of paper in Mongolian and a photograph of the Immigration office (courtesy of a travel forum) we stood outside the Oasis and waved at passing cars (many cars act as informal taxis), within minutes we were on our way. Except for more chaotic traffic the drive was uneventful and within 40 minutes we were deposited in the parking lot of our destination the Mongolian Immigration office.

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A visit with Eba and Uuno (Ulanbaatar, Mongolia)

Journal entry for Friday 31st May, 2013 (day 58, miles 5113)

Today we met Eba and his daughter Uuno. We had been put in contact with Eba by a friend in the US ( who met Eba when he was studying in the US) and had been stayiing in contact with him by email during our journey across Russia. Today he called and we arranged to have lunch together at the Oasis. We were surprised to find he was accompanied by a cute little 6 month old daughter.

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