The only thing we have booked is our ferry from Vladivostock, the rest we will make up as we go but here is a list of countries and approximate dates .
20 Countries , 12,000 miles +/- 136 Days 88 miles / day @ average 50mph 1.75 hours driving / day!
“Any long journey sounds worse than it actually is, when you sit and worry about it. But just stick the truck in gear and that first mile is one less that needs doing !” Is what I’ve been telling myself and anyone daft enough to listen to us for the past four years !
Inspired 35 years ago by some guys I met whilst working in Africa who were doing an overland trip from London to Cape Town in a Landrover! I have always wanted to do something similar with that travel bug firmly taking hold. Sue and I have travelled extensively and have talked for many years about an Overland trip. With two grown up kids and semi retirement around the corner we came to the conclusion that it’s – Now or Never !
The light bulb moment came when we were watching the Rugby World Cup in 2015 at Sandy Park, home of the Exeter Chiefs. When Sue said “lets go to the next World cup. Where is it going to be held?” “Japan” was my response, and that was the start of it. After 31 years of thinking about it,we had four years to get ready to go!
We had been looking at different vehicles for some time and had concluded that an ex-military Landrover Pulse Ambulance, based on a Defender 130 with the respected 300 TDI engine, would suit us down to the ground. As a confirmed Landrover fans, it didn’t take long to convince us this would be the right vehicle for our trip. Being big enough but not too big , comfortable enough but not too comfortable and reliable enough but not too reliable ( I like a challenge). Bought on an online auction without seeing her, she duly arrived and the conversion started in Spring 2016. We have christened her “Amber” the Amber-lance,and a new colour scheme to suit the name was applied in December 2017. ( Otter Amber is also our favourite local beer). She has been used on several shakedown trips and adapted to our own designs and requirements which has allowed us to let her evolve into our mobile home from home.
Roll on to spring 2019 and a looming deadline fast approaching .We were planning on leaving on 28th March , the day before Brexit,but after a slip and a fall resulting in a snapped patellar tendon, an operation and hours of physio, our new deadline is to leave on 1st May latest, to arrive in Tokyo by 14th September, my 60th birthday! Just in time for the start of the Rugby World Cup . What could possibly go wrong ?
There’s light at the end of the tunnel.So it’s the start of the end game ,or beginning of the end ,or just our last blog ! For now!
Ambers last road trip for a while heading for the docks at Kawasaki just south of Tokyo.
Mt Fuji With first snow cap of the winter . We must have seen Mt Fuji about 10 different times from various angles and every time.Its just Sugoi! If you know what I mean!
Bye bye Amber you’ve been a good girl and have earned a well deserved rest,just don’t embarrass yourself at the docks with all that clean concrete and taking a leak or not starting when you arrive in Southampton for the New Year celebrations!
She’s just getting a good looking at by a Japanese customs official and shipping agent before we kiss her goodbye and wish her a safe journey homewards! Wow it’s really strange being without her!
And even stranger without these two who are heading back to Blighty and work !,
Having left home on the 1st of May and today being the 5th November that makes it just over 6 months ,188 days to be exact and to be pedantic it equates to 4,521 hours.
Of which I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed every single one (except for the hour after loosing the Final against S Africa)! But even that was tempered by a great evening out after the match meeting up with fellow England supporters .We certainly do celebrating losing well.Which is more than can be said for some of the other teams!
After a good win against Australia and a few celebratory pints, things are looking up !
Even the mighty All Blacks had to huddle together!
One great moment which will stay ,is this one ! England facing down the All Blacks Haka. Which was done with respect and dignity even though England RFU were fined for breaking a rule it was worth every penny as it set the mood for the game of the tournament!
With Exeter Chiefs very own Luke Cowan Dickie over the line along side Billy Vinapola naughty boys!
Cousin Owen Farrell accepting the bow from the All Blacks!
Fire met with Fire! England v South Africa in the RWC Final A great build up and fantastic atmosphere .The game didn’t go as planned and South Africa were crowned the Worthy winners!
Where I must confess The Bottle of Otter I had been carrying out in the hope of delivering it to Ben Moon just had to be opened.
It had been with us all the way from Otter Brewery in the Blackdown hills stashed away in Amber,smuggled across borders,strapped down and constantly drooled over but not opened until all hope of Ben Moon being called up had faded. Which was about half way through the second half when things were looking a bit grim! Sorry Ben I just couldn’t resist it any longer!
After match celebrations spent with many of our new friends.It has been an unforgettable experience being with these guys and many more met along the way.See you next time chums!
Another great character who we had been in contact along the way is this shy retiring guy John Richardson who drove his Land Rover solo from the UK getting as far as Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia before it experienced catastrophic transmission failure so had to be left and will be retrieved some time next year. A true gentleman of the road – In the nicest possible way!
Our route to the Final was not without incident and they don’t get much better than this one!
When I bought our tickets for the England games ,1/4 finals, Semi final and Final I must have had a Glastonbury festival ticket buying panic moment as I managed to purchase the 3rd/4th play off Bronze final tickets instead of the Final .To be honest I wasn’t sure England would go all the way so decided to buy once we knew for sure.
Well having beaten, Australia, New Zealand in the knockout games it was time to start looking for tickets. With a week to go this should have been easy. With the power of the internet, Facebook resale sites and loads of leads coming in from all over the world but there were none being sold at face value that we could purchase.Refusing on principal to buy tickets from those wishing to make huge profits ,highest price we had been offered for a standard ticket was £3,500
So I made a sign for my hat and wandered around with it on and a look of desperation around the popular NZ hotels and bars to no avail .Time was now running out with less than a day to go I posted a picture and a shout out for help on Facebook and was inundated with advice, suggestions and wishes of good luck. There we also several friends and contacts who had emailed their contacts .
Through the power of Facebook the BBC heard about our plight and wanted to do an interview about our journey so we met up with the three man BBC team about 15:00 did a quick chat to camera wearing my hat and tickets wanted sign.This gave the production crew time to prepare it for the U.K. 13:00 lunchtime news program which was then repeated at 18:00 and then again at 22:00 ! We were certainly getting the attention as my phone just kept pinging with lots of messages and support.
A long story short but I eventually decided that time was running out and reluctantly concluded that to pay a little over the face value would be OK as it was from a friend of a friend of a friend from New Zealand . Price agreed and payment terms arranged I was having difficulties making payment which lasted for about 3 hours of losing signal, battery, patience and then finally card was blocked! Things were getting a little tense I can tell you!
My brother Simon who is resident in Tokyo could see this was going nowhere so suggested he paid from his card which was a great relief as time was cracking on !
Simon was typing in the details with just the send button to hit and at that very second my phone pinged an email from the Rugby World Cup organisers offering two tickets FOC! They had been contacted by a complete stranger to me, a Mr Bill McCafferty who had sent an email to both the RWC and Jaguar Landrover advising them of our trip and predicament which obviously hit the right buttons as offers from both came in. So to all friends ,family ,Facebook chums and the mysterious Mr Bill McCafferty The RWC organisers and Landrover. Thank you so much for all you did it was such a relief to have finally obtained tickets after a journey of a lifetime it brought a tear to the eye!
Some random shots of some memories of our last few days in Japan thanks to our resident navigator and photographer Sue.
This handsome chap is Kai my nephew who we had some great bonding time with.A potential overlander of the future!His Parents Simon and Tomoko have been fantastic hosts being so generous allowing us to base ourselves with them and ensuring our stay was eventful and full of memories to take home.Thank you so much Simon and Tomoko. Arigato!
So now leaving ,thank you Japan and the Japanese for everything we have experienced . I have never travelled in a country like it before, so different in so many ways but so familiar in others.Much to learn from their culture and respectfulness of others .We will definitely be back for more Onsens,Chicken slabs,and other treats!
If anyone is thinking of going to the Olympics next year just book your flights it will be a fantastic event I’m sure.
Our view out of the window this morning is of some of the mountainous terrain we travelled through and over on the way out.Which seems a very long time ago,it’s been a blast and a life changing experience.
Which I only hope anyone who has managed to read this drivel so far ,might just be inspired to do what ever has been niggling away at them for 30 or 40 years ! Go on you know you want to!
What could possibly go wrong? Just remember it’s when things go wrong that the best memories and friendships are made!
What’s next ? I have no idea what’s around the next corner, except for planting 400/500 trees to offset our carbon footprint.Which will be a job for the winter months and then let’s see what happens next spring .You never know Brexit might have happened , we will have a new government hopefully and England will win the Six Nations, Calcutta Cup and The Grand Slam!
Bring it on.Come on England!
Thanks for following us it’s been like travelling with friends .With over 13,000 views of swinglowsweetchariot.blog I just hope it will have inspired and encouraged those who want to do something a bit Bonkers!
What an Incredible country , Fantastic food and Wonderfull people. One of few Japanese words I have learnt is ‘Sugoi’ which in English means Awesome! Even this doesn’t do the country justice. From the Sea on the South West coast up and over the Japanese Alps to Tokyo and up to Hokkaido then back to Tokyo down to Osaka and then to the eastern coast with its wild beaches and magnificent mt Fuji so far it’s been Sugoi truly Sugoi!
When you book a camper van in Japan be aware that the average size of a Japanese person is considerably smaller than us giants which applies to all the accessories from plates to chairs! All five of us managed to squeeze in and travelled around Hokkaido as well as eating and sleeping in this little chubster!
As you can see by the size of the accessories including the plates and chairs these little campervans are designed for the average Japanese family not us giants !However we all managed to eat ,sleep and travel in reasonable comfort.It even came with a Porta Potty ,which went unused thankfully as you can just imagine the arguments I’m sure.
The Porta Potty was the subject of absolute amazement not in its workings but in the way the hire company handed me an envelope with 9000¥ in upon arrival to pick up the truck .I had booked and had paid a deposit back in January so was pleasantly surprised when due to a special offer which they were running in September of a free Porta Potty they refunded me the cost of said Potty! I found this astonishing as I wasn’t to know there was a special offer being advertised .I just thought that this was a genuine good will gesture showing their honesty and integrity I wonder if the same would happen in the U.K.?
We watched the opening ceremony and Japan Russia in the Sapporo fan zone which was a great experience with supporters from all nations cheering on the incredible Japanese team ,Sugoi indeed!
The next evening we had been invited to a rugby themed evening which had been put on by the Sapporo local government .Not really knowing what to expect we turned up at the registration desk to be told we weren’t correctly dressed as this was an official event ,but if we liked we could visit the bar downstairs and watch New Zealand v South Africa on the big screen.Imagine my delight when ordering drinks at the bar I was told it was a free bar and food would be served shortly.So in true Farrell fashion we got stuck in and had rather more than our fair share of Guinness and great grub. Sugoi again!
Then to top the evening off we were offered a lift back to down town in a VIP coach where we bumped into the British ambassador again who we entertained with a few of my finest Rugby songs including ,a French man went to the lavatory,Fisher man Fisherman home from the sea and Blackbird I’ll have E! He laughed his head off and giggled all the way home a great end to a truly entertaining day . Thank you,to the tax payers of Sapporo ! Sugoi and Arigato!
So to our first game in Sapporo after a little tour of the area near the stadium we stumbled across a council run fam in the centre of town and to my utter delight the had a collection of vintage tractors I’m in Heaven!
They even had a New Holland crimper on display. The kids really enjoyed my guided tour of the machinery shed and were impressed with my knowledge of all things agricultural, Sugoi I heard them say!
Got our tickets and off to the game England v Tonga Its been a long time planning ,driving and thinking about it but we’re here and ready for the Rugby!
I won’t go into the details of the game as I realise that not everyone reading this is a Rugby fan and also because I can’t remember much of it ! But a good game and result!35- 3 I seem to remember Sugoi!
Back to Tokyo the following day and headed for Osaka to pick up second camper van which the kids have for their cosy sleeping arrangements
The sleeping arrangements were a bit cramped so Hazel opted for the hammock ,Wise girl! All ready for England USA game and another resounding victory despite the Trump supporters !
A double celebration with England winning and Hazel hearing she has got a job to come back to! She will be the new reception class teacher at Hemyock Primary School ,the very same school she attended 21 years ago ! Very proud parents. Double Sugoi!
Next up Japan v Ireland ,what an atmosphere what a game another Sugoi moment
Sunrise watching Mt Fuji wake up ,no words available!
Yet another Sugoi moment as we were just cooking up supper on the beach one of the Hairy Handlebars arrived for Gin o clock! By absolute coincidence George had cycled up from Tokyo and had pitched camp on the other side of the lake where he spotted Amber and came and joined us for supper and a few days together.Sugoi!
The last time we sat around the fire was in the desert in Kazakhstan so many a story to tell.
One of our favourite wild camping spots underneath an upside down bridge by the wild sea !
A game of French cricket on a Japanese beach underneath the upside down bridge But where’s Amber?
Bullet train up to Tokyo for the weekend to see England v Argentina just like flying but without the hassle so smooth,quick and comfortable .Why can’t all trains be like that?
A boisterous bunch of Argentina’s supporters who were in great voice before the game unfortunately it didn’t last long as the red card sending off put an end to that and the game ,shame as they were great fun!
Met up with an old New Holland work chum Dan Halliday who was out for the game Long time no see Dan let’s do it again in France 2023!
Back down to Shizuoka by train to meet up again with Dougie and Emily who we had met whilst travelling through Uzbekistan.These guys from Bristol took a couple of weeks to convert their van left the U.K. last November travelling through Europe then basically the same route as us !So cool ,great company and an inspiration ! Our free parking spot for a couple of nights was a graveyard which was buzzing with mozzies and-crawling with spiders!
Next game Scotland Russia with a resounding win for the Sweaty Socks!We salute you!
We experienced another display of honesty and integrity from the owner of the Air BnB we had booked for the two days we were due to spend in Yokohama to watch the England France game . Due to the imminent arrival of Typhoon Haggis the game was cancelled so we asked for a partial refund ,as we were advised not to travel as weather conditions were worsening with the eye of the storm hitting Yokohama on Saturday afternoon .To our complete surprise he immediately refunded the full amount and said he was really sorry that we were unable to visit Yokohama and wished us luck with the rest of our trip! What a guy SUGOI ! We also had a full refund from RWC ticketing office which made us feel a lot better about missing out on the game.
Australia v Georgia guess who we were supporting? Not much Waltzing Matilda tonight even though the Aussies won they were pretty quiet in the stadium with a few glum looking faces . Bring it on Australia v England next weekend in the Quater finals
First sign of something brewing out at sea! These waves were getting bigger and bigger as Typhoon Haggis gets closer .Compare the size of the waves with the industrial poly tunnels. No swimming today!
A big sky with cloud building and wind increasing so decided to head inland away from expected high tide with rivers overflowing and a 12 m sea surge ! “Let’s get the truck out of here” I was heard to say!
We found this little sheltered corner in a country park which was great ,as by the time we had parked up the heavens opened and didn’t close for 15 hrs along with a ferocious wind and a quickly rising river beside us made for an exciting afternoon ,evening ,night which we spent in the back of Amber eating Japanese Pot noodles ,a few beers and a great Japanese film on the lap top Sugoi,Sugoi,Sugoi!
It had been the worst Typhoon for 60 years with over 40 deaths and destruction covering a wide area including the area we had just left .It was a terrible natural disaster which I guess we’ll all have to adapt to these type of events as the world gets warmer and wilder!
The biggest game of the knockout stages was to be Scotland V Japan .We found an Irish bar with big screens showing the game which Japan won scoring some wonderful tries the whole bar went wild ,what a game
This picture says it all, not very focused,bit blurred and full of Japanese Joy!
Japan are through to the quarter finals which is fantastic for the country a real boost after the dreadful weekend! SUGOI!
So next we head south en route to Oita for a great weekend of Rugby .The Hairy Handlebars joined us again for some great fun along the way . Great news Hazel and Douglas have won a competition for two tickets for the Australia game ! How Sugoi is that?
Golden Temple in Kyoto
Monkeys doing what monkeys do best
Trees just starting to change colour
Another wild night with the Hairy Handlebars
Cycling around the islands
A very sobering experience visiting Hiroshima’s Peace memorial Museum and the surrounding area ,with this building still standing ,having survived the blast! A really moving exhibition with some very graphic displays of how the residents of Hiroshima suffered at the time of the blast and for many years later .
A shocking reminder of how brutal war is and why we should always remember how the generation before us suffered, sacrificed and lived through several wars and be grateful of the freedom we have to be able to live in relative peace and travel unhindered.
Sport is a great leveller and opportunity for countries to compete in a civilised way .If only all conflicts could be resolved by a game of Rugby!
We just need to beat Australia on Saturday then New Zealand next weekend and then meet Japan in the Final .Now that would be Truly SUGOI wouldn’t it !
After 4 months on the road to the day ,19 countries ,3 ferries and 27,000 km our arrival in Japan felt like our little adventure was nearing the end .How wrong was I !
Our arrival in Sakimento in South western Japan was great with the heat and humidity it really felt like we had made it!So with time on our hands we set off on a leisurely pace , about 25km to our first wild camping in Japan
Not a bad spot for the night and a swim in the Pacific before breakfast!
The humidity eventually reached 100% ! In other words it’s raining! Really heavy, warm drops as big as golf balls! But as always Amber was the best place to be!
Another day another beach this one with squeaky white sand and a natural Onsen filled from a hot spring .Heaven on earth!
Followed by an ice cold shower from a stream!
And another swim snorkel
Just in case you were missing some tractor action check this little beauty out 60 hp on rubber tracks! It’s blue but not paying my pension but worthy of a stop en route.
Met up with our friend from Culmstock Jude Zebedee who had just completed a section of the “celebrate the Austin 7” having travelled in an 80 year old Austin 7 across eastern Russia with Chris Blakley who we hope to meet up with at one of the games.
Another wild camping spot complete with mozzies, horse flies,BBQ n beers!
Exactly 27,835km from Home our Tokyo hosts, my brother Simon, his lovely wife Tomoko and my nephew Kai who I’ve never met before welcomed us with a bottle of champers and a tight parking spot with a couple of inch’s spare Amber fitted in perfectly if a little bit of a surprise for the neighbors!
We arrived at Simon and Tomoko’s house just hours before Typhoon Krosa .We barely managed to sleep with the back doors open with all hell breaking loose outside but such an experience with a force of nature so strong it managed to knock out all trains in Tokyo for the next day!
Kai’s mode of transportation to school known as a mama charr swing low sweet chariot!
Next stop Narita airport to pick up Hazel,Douglas and Alex
Hadn’t seen Hazel since March as she’s been traveling around South America and Doug and Alex since early May .Awesome to meet up again!
Let the Party begin!
Strange shot of Amber as we travelled through down town Tokyo through the skyscrapers
First experience of a conveyor belt Sushi restaurant and yup that was just Doug’s pile of plates!
Next official duty delivering some Otter bitter to the British ambassador Paul Madden who coincidentally originated from Ottery st Mary a few miles from home! We were given a tour of the embassy which was a bit surreal as only a few days earlier we were wild camping in the woods!
Note beard trim and clean shirt and I don’t mean Douglas!
The British ambassador was so impressed he said he would like to place an order for embassy events! Wahoo! Get my commission ready Patrick (owner of Otter brewery)
Also managed to leave a sample with David and Maki the proprietors of a great English themed pub in Tokyo The Hole in the Wall .Fab place with great atmosphere and cracking English grub! Mmmmm Pie n Mash Yum scrum in my tum! If you are in Tokyo and need a bit of English nourishment check this place out.
The big day arrives! 60 years old who would believe it!
A smiley birthday breakfast!
A great start to the day in our Air BnB and ending up in the Hilton thanks to Simons generosity
Decorations done in style thanks chums!
Just happens to be Tokyo towers 60th birthday as well!
Birthday surprise my sister Nicky flew out to join us a great shock completely un expected
And then a most incredible Japanese meal in Gonpachi restaurant which was the inspiration for one of the fight scenes in the film Kill Bill .
The evening ended up being invited to a rugby themed party which is all a bit of a blur so you’ll just have to try and imagine the rest of my Big Day. Thank you everyone who made it such a special day and all the birthday wishes from all my chumlies !
Anyone guess what’s happening here!
Leaving Amber at Haneda airport to fly to Hokkaido for England’s first game.
Hello chubby chunkster our new home for five of us for the next week whilst we tour around heading for Sapporo and England’s first game against Tonga!
Come on England!
Red in the morning Shepherds pie tonight!
As Amber had behaved herself impeccably the two weeks I had factored in for breakdowns and prolonged border crossings etc were now two weeks spare time, so we parked up in Vladivostok and did some sightseeing,shopping,laundry and planning our next moves which were to take us In search of some good beaches we had heard about south of Vladivostok. However Typhoon Korsa had other ideas making our little Vladi vacation a wash out with torrential rain and strong winds.this picture don’t do it justice but will be a reminder of Bloodyvostok -oops sorry I meant Vladivostok
One of the original Trans Siberian trains which was given to Russia to help the war effort,Lenin and friend and boat tour around harbour!
We did manage to park up on a deserted campsite where we met Sasha the campsite clown who arranged for us to have a Banya, a Russian Sauna complete with daft hats and birch twigs, as a parting gift we swapped an Exeter chiefs hat for these beauties !
Also managed to give Amber a wash in the rain ready for South Korea!
Just waiting to load onto ferry the Eastern Dream
Good buy Vladivostok I hope you dry out sometime apparently they have had just five days of rain free weather this summer maybe that’s why the locals were so glum!
Our bed on board basically the floor with a thin mattress,rather be sleeping in Amber.
A guide to how not to behave on board for those who needed it
Our arrival in South Korea was an absolute pleasure with happy smiling officials and customs officers who could not have more helpful offering iced coffee whilst attending to customs procedures and paperwork ,what a contrast to some of the other border crossings we had encountered,and finally a beach side parking spot for the night half an hour north of the port .Warm water,sunshine and golden sand now we could relax finally!
South Korea is a modern hi tech country with fantastic roads and hundreds of tunnels some light up as you drive past with flashing warning lights and strange noises to keep you alert.
I had been advised by my brother Simon who lives in Tokyo that there have been a lot of anti Japanese demonstrations and riots in South Korea and that it would be a good idea to cover up any Japanese flags on Ambers rear end so out with the gaffer tape and job done the anti Japanese protests were against trade embargoes historical issues with atrocities carried out in the Second World War and other ongoing issues.
So even Derek the Otter had a little make over .Happy to say we didn’t encounter any issues except for seeing many large roadside banners advising the public to Boycott Japanese goods.
Next a visit to the DMZ the de militarised zone on the border with North Korea!
A Greeting from Greeting man ,a travelling statue who travels to places of conflict around the world instilling a peaceful attitude and an unarmed welcome! Very fitting in this memorial to the Korean War in the early 1950’s where thousands of people lost their lives but joint efforts from many nations including Great Britain managed to push North Korea back to the 38th parallel basically where they had attacked the south from ,taking approx 90% of the peninsular before the Americans South Koreans and other UN forces managed to retake this lost ground.
A memorial to those who lost their lives in a war where not one side won or lost but many lives destroyed .
in the middle of the DMZ is a no mans land with fully armed guards looking at each other over a strip of land varying in width between 1and 4 km with millions of miles of barbed wires , mine fields ,electronic sensors and electric fences which the North Koreans have had to switch off due to power shortages !Now a tourist educational centre this is the entrance to the 4th tunnel ,which was discovered by the South Koreans in 1990 the tunnel was the fourth found and was being dug by North Korean forced labour to enable its military forces to invade South Korea this was still being dug whilst peace and reunification talks were being held !We entered the tunnel and took a small underground train ride where it was clear to see the drilling’s and excavations which had been carried out. Scary stuff as there is still a possibility of other tunnels yet to be discovered through this huge mountain range where Rocket Mans slave labour could still be burrowing away into the South.
Another fabulous Buddhist temple incredible statues ,temples and shrines
Whilst we were visiting the DMZ we met a guy who is the principal of a middle school in a town off our intended route .He invited us to visit and meet his students and staff so we made a detour through some stunning countryside and eventually found the school of 30 students and 7 staff. We talked about our trip and took questions from them in English which was a great experience and then gave them a guided tour of Amber and a game of touch Rugby which was great fun as they had never seen a rugby Ball before.
A great experience meeting the kids who were so polite, interested and good fun!
We were given a gift of a chopping block made from 400 year old local wood as a parting gift .Awww thanks guys.
Next an aerial zip wire which gave me the Collywobbles just thinking about it!
Loved it !just like a big kid screamed all the way down .You wouldn’t think I am to be 60 in a couple of weeks!Our last supper on the continent a proper old feast at at fishing village Raw fish, Scallops and spicy fish stew Yum Yum in my Tum!
Back on the boat Japan bound Thank you South Korea it was a fab week! We will be back.
Thank you Simone for our Emergency Gin bottles, it wasn’t an emergency but it felt like a celebration was in order leaving the largest land mass on earth of Europe and Asia for the relatively small island of Japan, best G and T for a long time!
Red sky at night Shepherds delight!
So the sun sets on Korea I wonder what’s install in Japan.
Next stop Tokyo and pick up the kids and then on to Sapporo for first England game!Come on England!
Vladivostok the Golden Horn bridge recently built in 2012 for an important APEC summit which links mainland with Russky island . Vladivostok was closed to foreigners between 1958 and 1992 so only recently modernised and now a major tourist attraction full of boat loads of South Korean and Japanese tourists along with us to two from Devon!
As Amber has behaved herself with no more major hiccups along the way we have decided to take some time off from travelling and chill out for a week here in the Vladivostok area as next move South Korea with a weeks stopover which will use up the breakdown time I had factored into our journey.Good girl Amber!
So to our journey from Ulaanbaatar to Vladivostok ,which was a long slog with little excitement except these memories
As we were heading north out of Mongolia we saw approximately 30 pre 60’s French vintage cars all heading south having just crossed the border heading for Pekin ,China.We waved as they went past but they mostly ignored our friendly gestures with long unsmiling faces and stern looks of concentration on the truly awful road conditions which we had been used to for the last 2 weeks but they were only Just experiencing for the first time! Eventually we saw this old Renault broken down by the side of the track so stopped and offered assistance ,the problem was just a simple wheel change as the tyre was a bit soft, but monsieur Le Muppet didn’t have a jack that worked or a wheel brace to undo the wheel nuts !So out with the air bag jack and tools again and got him sorted .I’m sure he must of felt foolish and embarrassed enough, as he gave me a nice bottle or Bordeaux red wine for my efforts and wished us good luck at the Rugby World Cup!”Allez Les Blue” Pah!
For you tractor fans a bit more tractor porn ,but alas it’s not what you think it is ,no this one isn’t paying my pension .it’s a Chinese copy of a New Holland tractor working some ground down.
The other thing of interest here is the smoke / haze in the air.It’s difficult to show the extent of the smoke but the forest fires in Siberia have been pumping out massive amounts of CO2 and smoke for several days now and it is effecting a large area with reports of smoke reaching Alaska already! We were driving east so out running the smoke as we head towards Vladivostok so no real impact apart from making the view a bit dull but some Interesting sunsets.
Smoky sunset somewhere in Siberia!
Evidence of previous forest fires with areas of burnt trees stretching for miles!
Decided that we needed a souvenir from Russia as road particularly long and boring in places so was looking out for a 60 kph speed sign as 60 being somewhat relevant to us both this year.We couldn’t find one especially when no other cars about ,but did manage to find this beauty at a point exactly 1959 km east of Chita so if you ever breakdown in this area just remember it was an important year!
Must get a haircut soon!
The only piece of New Holland equipment seen in Central Asia ,what a beauty! It broke up the monotony for a while and made me think “glad I’m not at work trying to fix one of these buggers, with grumpy farmer moaning on ,as they can sometimes do”
And now for some serious Truck porn this gurt monster truck had some very pointy wheel nuts for stopping anyone getting too close!
One of the down sides of Siberia are the mozzies and horse flies but get the right hat and all is sorted for a while at least!
Mozzie nets and coloured lighting do a great job as well ,one of the things I did to Amber before we left was to install a LED light strip with a colour change facility where I’ve found that they least like purple , bit like me really ,and this acted as a deterrent.
Just when all was going well with about 400 km to go it was time for a puncture , Amber had picked up a bit of wire and required a little surgery to remove ,repair and replace said tyre, which my new friend Nicholas the Great resolved for the price of a couple of pints in the Culm Valley inn!
Nasty piece of wire puncturing the tyre picked up from an off road track the day before.
Wow that was interesting wasn’t it!
Managed to fill up with water at a public tap for free which was a bit of a novelty, but great to be full for the days ahead .We have about 60 l capacity which is enough for about a weeks worth of kettles,cooking ,washing up and hand face n bits washing!
Managed to find this cracking free parking spot near center of Vladivostok for the night, well beggars can’t be choosers!
This was the rather colourful graffiti which greeted us when we opened the doors this morning.
Don’t know what she means I look like David Bellamy!
Better do something about it soon as they might not let in any stwange and wonderful cweatures into South Korea which is where were heading next assuming this doesn’t delay proceedings !
I don’t think we need to be worried about Rocket man for a day or two ,or do we?
I’ll let you know how good their aim is next time!
“Sayonara” for now !
If you want even more click on this link for an interview with Karin from landcruisingadventure.com who we met in Bishkek and is a full time Overlander with her partner Coen who have been travelling 2003 and still not got there!
Well seeing as you asked, yes we are getting there !
18,000km done 4500km to get to Vladivostok! With 23 days to do it in.
Currently in Ulaanbaatar capital of Mongolia having a well deserved couple of days rest and recuperation after an eventful and exhausting couple of weeks crossing this huge country with so much to see and experience.
Bit of a tight squeeze but we made it! Through this narrow gorge in the middle of the southern Gobi desert but before we got here a lot of kilometres traveled and bumps and experiences along the way!
Bit more tractor porn! They like to bale their hay on the green side with no worries of it catching fire . I gave the driver a lesson in roping down a load of hay with a Wagoners knot he was really impressed that a foreign tourist should have this skill and trundled off down the road with a smile and a wave.
On the side of the road there are these very handy inspection ramps which I couldn’t resist driving up on and giving Amber a good check over from underneath and to my great surprise not a leak in sight all present and correct except for a split rubber boot on a steering ball joint which I managed to resolve with an old inner tube wrapped around the joint and held in place with a couple of cable ties to keep the dust out another bodgetastic moment!
A selection of random camping sites just pull off the road and get out of site of police park up crack a beer and chill out!
No it’s not a grizzly bear! It’s me doing some essential pant washing in a river much needed after a sweaty day or four! Sue wouldn’t allow her photos to be published
You’ll be pleased to know we are keeping the culinary standards up and still managing an odd Gin or two.
I even dressed for dinner well I changed pants! Yum Yum pork chop and risotto my fav!
Leaving Kazakhstan at Russian border 8.5 hrs wait finally got through just as border closed for the night at 11:00 in a thunderstorm .Awoke to this view of where we had parked up in the dark.Wow we have arrived in Mongolia at last.
Travelling east in the middle of nowhere ,we stopped to help a pregnant lady with a small boy who had broken down .I fixed her leaking radiator hose and filled up with water from our mobile shower Jerry can so might not get a shower for a day or two!
Onward and Eastward in dusty conditions with some interesting roads to contend with and still Amber trundles on!But which track to take?
We attended a traditional Mongolian wedding and festival after a full days drive into the Alti mountains the groom was the son of a famous Eagle hunter so quite a Do with plenty of food and entertainment including ,wrestling,singing and dancing,and various horse related sports.
Mongolian wrestlers in action lots of flesh and tight pants !
Tug of War with a goat skin as a rope.He who grabs it and pulls it hardest wins !
Tradition says if the man wins the race then he can claim a kiss,if the woman wins then she can keep her man after Whipping him all the way in this race between male and female.
Staying the night in a yurt / ger just had to be done.
After a 4 hr journey heading to the northern part of Mongolia we encountered some streams which turned into raging rivers which we managed to cross four of but had to turn back as the fifth was just too wide and wild so four hours back to where we had started
Rain,mosquitoes and river crossings what more do you need for an exciting day!
Really wild camping with these wild camels for company notice the two humps as opposed to the single humped versions painted on the side of Amber.
After a day of extreme heat 44 degC I was looking forward to a nice hot shower from my Jerry can which was great until this desert sand storm blew in I just managed to finish showering when the dust arrived and covered me in dust .Incredible strength of wind made it difficult to stand up so we retreated to Amber for shelter.Thankfully no photos of a dusty bear!
Just when things were going well cracking on at a steady 80kph the road bridge had given up apparently this collapsed in 2017 and it’s still awaiting repair!
Some wild life shots from our resident Photographer ,Navigator and Co pilot!
Sometimes the road just craps out and you choose whichever one looks the best!
Which sometimes means you park up in very remote areas ,as we head even further into the Southern Gobi desert ….
This remote spot called the flaming cliffs was our destination where we were lucky enough to follow a guide who showed us the site of some dinosaur eggs laid 80 million years ago!
This gorge was formed by ice which cuts its way through , unfortunately for us the last of the winters ice had melted only last week but made for a great walk.We then drove to the other end and camped for the night with a Dutch couple Denis and Mieka and Felix and his dog Essa!
And that brings us back to Ambers tight squeeze!
We then headed due North heading for Ulaanbaatar the Capital of Mongolia and found a wonderful campsite for the next few days where we could shower,do laundry chillout and write this after a day visiting some Buddhist monasteries and other sites.
So our next challenge is 4500km to Vladivostok with the first 200km of road reportedly very difficult conditions with recent flooding and treacherous road surfaces awaiting us.
But on the way we have other issues to be a little concerned about
Raging forest fires in Siberia with smoke already in Ulaanbaatar and Putin announcing a state of emergency we will be travelling east hopefully south of the worst of it!
And just in case we hadn’t had enough excitement so far we need to be looking out for incoming missiles from Rocket man!
As I say on these occasions “NEVER A DULL DAY IN A LAND ROVER”
See you in Japan!
Sometimes it’s not enough to just ask are you OK? Sometimes you must ask again just to be sure.We had had a difficult day with many things not going to plan,of which I’ll detail later . The experience we had made us both think that sometimes you just have to go with a gut instinct and act.
We were heading out of town about 25km from anywhere it was about 19:00 and starting to get dark added to which the intense heat of the day had turned thundery with dark heavy rain clouds opening up when we saw in the distance a solitary European young girl pushing her bike up hill puffing away, she was not dressed or equipped as other cyclists have been just normal clothes and a pretty shabby pushbike with no tent or other equipment it was just as if she was out for a pleasant cycle. So we stopped and asked her was she OK? To which she replied “I’m fine really ,I’m fine” in an English accent.We offered her some water but she declined and off she went pushing her bike on up the long assent which we had just come down so we knew what lied ahead for her 25 km of hard slog .
We set off down hill heading further out of town to find a camping spot for the night as it was getting late and the rain was imminent and we had had a difficult day ourselves With my head full of our own problems. After about 10 mins we decided to turn around and see if she really was as Fine as she was claiming ,she obviously wasn’t and when I asked again are you OK ? The smile on her face told us all she was far from fine,she was very happy to climb in the back of Amber with a snickers and a sprite from our fridge in stony silence obviously relieved to be in a safe place and possibly suffering from a bit too much sun.We drove her 25 km back to town just as the heavens opened in biblical fashion and dropped her off with her bike as it was just getting dark to find a guest house for the night she was so pleased and happy to be in a safe place, a different face to the earlier one which gave of that slight look of concern but trying to convince us she was “fine ,really just fine!”
The reason I’ve documented this is not to blow our own trumpets ,but to highlight that sometimes, just sometimes people aren’t “Fine,really just Fine” and it’s good to ask a second time just to be sure.
When mean Wild camping I mean Wild!
We found this dried up river bed which suited us just great as well as these vultures!
Nothing like a cold beer and a foot wash at the end of the day!
Yurts up in the mountains not for show but for living in !
Marmots all over the place up in the mountains
Picked up our Mongolian Visas after a couple of days great service from the embassy staff in Bishkek
Met up with these two legends of the overlanding community Coen and Karin check out LandcruisingAdventure.com. They have been on the road since 2003 and a great inspiration and fonts of all knowledge, had a great evening with them getting advice for our next stage via Russia,Mongolia and onto Japan where they had spent a lot of time. Awesome chance, meeting with Coen seeing Amber and inviting us to supper so thank you guys and thank you Amber for catching the eye of another overland nutter!
Side of the road beer stop ! Very refreshing but non alcoholic!Just as well as we picked up a speeding ticket doing 64kmh in an alleged 20! Just after trying a pint of this wheat based cold drink.The police officer had parked his car in front of the 20kph sign so well hidden ,I could sense he was quite cross when he pulled us in .So I decided that it was a fair cop and paid up ,treating it as a road tax. Excessive vehicle speed was the cause of an earlier accident we had witnessed where an articulated fuel tanker had flipped on its side on a narrow mountain road earlier that morning spilling its load of diesel and resting on the edge of a 50m precipice .So from then on ,every speed trap we passed well below the limit as we waved at the police to their disappointment.
Another wild campsite this time beside Lake Issyk-Kul which never freezes in winter even at minus 30 degs as it’s heated by hot springs and was great for swimming in
We had stopped for a coffee and this guy arrived sharing coffee a biscuit , he was the local farmer and very proud of his crops and cattle which he showed us .He was wearing the traditional Kyrgyzstan hat which he explained is to symbolise the many snow capped mountains which surround the area.
Another bit of tractor Porn! This one isn’t paying my pension thankfully! They do like to bale their hay green.
And now to the tricky bit!
After travelling on tracks like this with severe corrugations, poor old Amber suffered a bit, unsurprisingly! We had been doing quite a lot of off road and these tracks are the worst ,with regular evenly spaced bumps in the road which set up severe vibrations throughout the vehicle and the only way to overcome is to travel at speed and keep out of the ruts! This however had its downsides which we experienced eventually.
Earlier on in our day of rescuing lone female cyclists we had been in search of a birds of prey centre which was down this track, with lots of shaking and shuddering giving us and Amber a good old shake down.After climbing up hill for about 3km I applied the brakes and nothing happened ! No brakes is a serious issue at the best of times and where we currently were ,this was no laughing matter! Upon inspection I could see we had lost a brake pad ,the retaining pins had shaken out shearing the locking pins and letting the pad fall out! I concluded that the missing brake pad would be back down the track so off we went for a walkies hunting for brake pads, pins and springs! In 30+ deg heat we looked long and hard eventually finding the errant brake pad but no pins. So back to amber and strip down brake calliper to get pistons back where they should be and then improvise with some tent pegs?
The saga continues when I try to find some replacement pins in Almaty after travelling 400km with tent pegs holding us together and bump into Leigh and Steph who are better know as GrizzlyNbear check them out on youtube !These guys have been travelling for 10 years in their Defender 130 and demountable camper and have an incredible video library of where they’ve been and what they have been up to – well worth a look for some inspiration .
These guys were a great help in advising where to get replacement pins ,which were available to order but a two week wait ! Leigh introduced me to a local 4wd specialist who ran a workshop in Almaty. Thinking they might have some secondhand bits and pieces I arrived full of hope but no luck as Landrover Defenders are a rarity in these parts ,with Toyota’s being the most popular and no chance of parts compatibility. So I had a rummage around in their old nuts and bolts heap and found some used bolts which were the right dimensions and with a little grinding down and drilling holes, bugger me ,we have pad retaining pins! I reassembled the brakes and then spent the rest of the day having a maintenance day checking oils, changing rubber bushes on steering damper,and a general grease around having had engine oil change earlier, I’m happy that we are fit to hit the road again and ready for the next adventure packed day, what ever it might bring!
Yea were fine, really fine, honestly ,but thanks for asking !
The second highest highway in the world!
Leaving Dushanbe with a happy Amber! Clutch sorted,water and diesel tanks full and fridge replenished with supplies.We’re off to tackle the Pamir Highway which has been one of the main objectives of the trip and one that has been constantly on my mind concerned about the route,the altitude and Amber of course!
I was once advised by an old work colleague “The time to worry is when you don’t worry” So full of worry and concern ,listening out for new noises ,smelling new smells,feeling new vibrations and looking out for leaks and general issues with Amber we progressed up and up through the fabulous Wakhan valley heading along the fertile valley floor checking out the local agricultural practices in this very poor undeveloped part of the world
These guys could win any ploughing match on sheer effort alone!
These were the military helping out with cultivation’s with a bit more technology and cow power!
Onward and upwards through the Wakhan valley through villages with children, teens, adults and old folk all waving at us with genuine smiles on their faces and a true welcome which is pretty awesome as we have noticed those with the least have been the most friendly !
Amber to the rescue! Waved down by a worried looking truck driver with a problem we soon realised that he was well and truly stuck in the sand and had been overnight as it was only about 07:00 am .Amber always a willing workhorse was hitched up and soon straining at the leash dragging the truck out with cheers from the onlookers who had gathered for the spectacle!
With 82 hp, 4wd ,low range and diff locks engaged along with two Otters,two Collies,and six Camels ,out she comes onto the hard surface with lots of whooping and hollering from the crowd of on lookers!
Good morning Afghanistan!
After finding a wild camping spot off the road we settled down for the night to be waken by this stunning view of Afghanistan on the other side of the valley the next day.With sunshine illuminating the fields of crops all ripening at different times it made a really colourful sight worthy of any art gallery.
Crops being harvested by hand field by field as was done in England 100 years ago! this shot was taken by Sue and her fab new camera which was able to zoom into the other side of the valley and pick out these black clothed Afghanis working away !
This one says it all ! It kept us on the straight and narrow with a reminder that this area is mostly safe if you don’t wander off where you shouldn’t which is what happened last year to a group of cyclists who were captured by the Telitubbies, oops I mean Taliban and murdered !
Good morning Pakistan, Hindu Kush
Again running along the valley with Pakistan and the Hindu Kush on opposite side.Didn’t realise we were so close until looking at a map!
Good morning China!
Barbed wire fence signifying Chinese border better not let Donald Trump see this!
Several shots of the road up from the Wakhan valley which don’t really do it justice as it was the most amazing drive with very steep,rough tracks and stunning views!
At the top of the pass !
Altitude a real challenge for not just us but Amber as well with very cold morning starts and poor quality fuel she struggled a bit with black smoke and temperature rising our fuel consumption dropped from about 8km/litre down to about 6 km / litre
If anyone has been at altitude for a while will also confirm it effects the body in different ways the most obvious being the need to pee! Normally a 2/3 times a day I was peeing about 8/9 times but keeping fluid levels up to avoid dehydration.
Snowball fight anyone?
And back down the other side time for some Amber TLC!
Checked gearbox oil leak as I was convinced oil leaking from oil cooler pipes and thinking it would not be a good place to have transmission failure turned out all ok but satisfying to know I needed have been worrying again !
Still chasing the brake squeal which was now coming from the last wheel to be checked cleaned and reassembled in the desert sands with the help of our air bag jack along with std jack which was sinking in the sand!
Before our arrival in Osh I thought Amber deserved a birthday treat as she had been through some messy places and was looking a little grubby!￼
All that was needed next was a celebratory pint or two with thoughts of Glastonbury happening as we supped our beer!
Met these crazy French guys on motorbikes and had a great night with plenty beer and Pizza where I realised I could still understand and speak French which got better the more beers we had Equip extraordinaire! Allez les Blues! But not too much
Our next stage is onto Bishek to apply for our Mongolian visas ! Wish us luck,
Says it all really ,seems strange but we’re over half way with 100 days till kick off! currently In Samarkand,as intriguing and mysterious as it sounds a fantastic experience watching an amazing light show projected on to the mosque and madrassas by 36 massive projectors and commentary in English truly memorable might be worth a watch on you tube!
Decided thar Derek the Otter was a bit lonely so invited some friends to join us for the journey to keep him company .He looked a bit shocked when he first saw his new mates but has got to know them as Kaz, Uze and Taj!
Hit a swarm of giant locusts this one got caught up in wiper blade about 5 inches long glad we’re not on bikes!
I want one like this early Ford 40 series prototype! Seen en route !
Russian built combine harvester! hand feed, and dumps straw in gurt heap to give workers something to do I.e.load it on a trailer and carry back to farm loose!
Next up into mountains to wild camp at seven lakes ,interesting off road drive getting more and more challenging until after 20km had to stop about 3 km from lakes as clutch lost its fluid requiring a top up and peddle pumping to be able to engage gear and turn around on narrow mountain pass!
First symptom ,wet left foot! First reaction have a beer and think about consequences of being off road fairly remote and 240 km from nearest town without proper clutch operation as this is indicative of clutch master cylinder failure as fluid drips down onto drivers foot!
Managed to creep down to near civilisation and picked up 3G amazingly! A quick search on I overlander app found Anar Maul a German guy running a garage in Dushanbe who communicated via WhatsApp identifying part required by sending a picture of the offender and vehicle serial number within ten mins he confirmed it would take 5 days to arrive in Dunshabe which was great to know .With our enforced slowdown and still 230 km to go we crept over the 2700m high mountain range with slick gear changing ,multiple top up stops and a soggy left foot!
Wild camped in dried up river bed track ,lamb chops on the bbq and a pensive nights sleep.
Up and up to the summit at 2700m and a truly scary 5km unlit tunnel full of Mad trucks, crazy cars,stinking exhaust fumes, blackout darkness and amazingly idiotic drivers which all contributed to a frightening experience adding to the dodgy clutch one I wouldn’t want to repeat! For those who like scary films check my Facebook page for dash cam action.
Phew! Had to stop for a breath of fresh air and a view!
Onwards and downwards towards a fairly remote lake where the President has his holiday home so we were expecting great things and weren’t disappointed at this wild camping site
Decided it was time for some enforced R n R and found this amazing guest house with level parking and a spring filled swimming pool where we stayed for a couple of nights. Making good use of our mozzie nets ,not for the first time amazing how the security of a net helps the sleep!
Constantly brought presents of melon,almonds and cucumber by Jasmine-a our hostess it was difficult to leave as next stop was to be Dushanbe and clutch repair.
After a tricky drive into town and checking into a hotel in Dushanbe I spent a pensive night wondering if part would turn up,would it be the right part, was it going to be a Chinese rip off, could I change it myself ,would it work?And all those things that keep you from a good nights sleep.The appointed hour arrived when part was to be at garage so I decided to wait an extra couple of hours ,as there is always the possibility of a no show. I found the garage ,the correct part was there it had been shipped from Moscow. In 33 deg intense heat managed to change part without any dramas, except for a thunder storm and heavy rainfall the first rain we had seen since Hungary which was a great relief from the heat.
Offending part removed and replaced with an engine oil change done by Hamid and his great sun/rain shelter great service from these guys .I will sleep well tonight after a few pints of the cheapest beer in the world at £0.70 a pint I struggled to drink £2.00 worth!
They even sold cigarettes in this awesome beer garden ,cowshed cafe Awesome day!
Feeling fuelled up and ready for the Pamir Highway and Kyrgyzstan our next country.
Sorry its been a while,its been a busy few weeks with plenty happening and little WiFi so that’s my excuse!
Leaving Turkey after following the Black sea along its shoreline was a pleasant change of scenery . Our first strange border crossing from Turkey into Georgia was interesting and tedious at the same time with Passports, Visas, V5 doc (vehicle passport), International drivers licence (1949 and 1968 versions),vehicle insurance, road tax, vehicle searches, sim cards, money changing. All taking a part in the palava of border crossings which have become part of the adventure as each border is different. Each item has its own time and place but there was always a pleasant smiley customs officer , policeman or armed military type to advise where to go next so although each border was different we haven’t had any real hassle yet! But you guys reading this will soon need to be following these procedures when Brexit finally happens! I cant imagine the French CRS being overly friendly at Calais next time your heading south. Oh and don’t forget the queues of trucks lasting for miles!
What a fantastic country ! Awesome scenery, great food , stunning wine and the most friendliest, hospitable people we have encountered so far. This may have something to do with the fact they like a drink or two, being a mostly christian country so not having Ramadan as was the case in Turkey.
The other interesting fact about Gory was that was heavily bombed in 2008 by their not so friendly neighbour the Russians ,with bombed out buildings still to be seen. We just happened to be there for independence day where a display of military equipment was just loading up great stuff seeing them load this gurt tank at speed!
Time to get moving out of the slightly depressing town and up into the mountains via the Georgian Military highway which goes up to the Russian boarder up and over 2400m of twisting roads and up to the snow Line!
Having spent the journey from Hungary and the huge downpour ,in radio silence I thought it a good time to fix the on board sound system as it came up with a message stating “take to Kenwood service center” so with a bit of google searching decided to see if we could find one in Tbilisi using Google maps, which eventually located a back street hovel who looked like they were dealers for every stolen piece of electronic goods available with a website so you could order whatever system you wanted! Decided plan B would be to do some more google research and found a video of how to unlock and reset all functions . Wahooo it worked and we now have the ability to blast out a few tunes en route!
Our super useful app Park for night led us eventually to this small eco friendly winery is stunning surroundings where Niki and Mya a young couple are producing and exporting all over the world their organic range of natural wines
We headed into Baku and eventually found a hotel which could fit Amber in and set off down town to find a place to watch the Rugby final Exeter Chiefs v Saracens .Stumbled across an Irish bar with BT Sport and convinced the landlord it would be a good idea to put the rugby on . A great game enjoyed by us two accompanied by several pints and the pub dog so not a huge crowd but we did our best to cheer the boys on. All I can say is that Saracens deserved their wages that day! If you know what I mean.
Sunday morning feeling, glum,jaded and trepidation creeping in after the Rugby and with our next stage of the journey crossing the Caspian Sea, a point of no return, we made our way to the port and parked up with the big boys all waiting for the next ferry to Kazakhstan .The temperature hit 42 Deg so we sat in Ambers cool interior and waited it out until cool enough to venture outside and cook special pasta and enjoy our traditional Sunday sherry .
Monday morning and still a full day to wait in turn for the ferry. I thought it a good time to stop the brakes from squeeling every time I braked.It also gave me a chance to use my recently purchased airbag jack before it’s needed in anger.A quick brake pad change before it got too hot and job sorted without any dramas all be-it a lot of interest from the other truckers who had never seen anything like Amber before let alone a gurt big air bag to lift her up with. Feeling rather pleased with myself having sorted this annoying issue I didn’t even test drive her to ensure all sorted until 12 hrs later when loading began only to find squeal still there coming from front wheel not rear as I had thought !Ah well another excuse to get the air bag out another day.
40 hrs after arriving in the port we started loading onto boat at 20:00 finally got to cabin 02:00 going to sleep thinking that we’re finally off,to wake up in an oven at 07:00 still in port ! Eventually got going by 11:00 for a 30 hr crossing to Aqtau in Kazakhstan calm flat crossing It was a great enforced rest with access to all areas on board including captains bridge where the English speaking captain advised us not to take any more than 1/2 litre/person of alcohol through customs as very strict Muslim border controls.Hummm bit of a worry as with all we had stashed in Amber I reckon we would have had about 20 peoples quota! So we met up with some English and French cyclists and had a few sundowners to lighten the load.Turned out two of the English guys were cycling to Japan for the Rugby as well so lots in common including a thirst. Ben and George are raising money for the men’s charity Movember they are known as the Hairy Handlebars and Sunnie who is cycling to Shanghai for Save The Children.
Fearful of loosing Ben Moons beer I managed to persuade the boys to smuggle it through customs in their pannier bag, they were more than happy to help with this important mission. Still intact and just a little warm we retrieved it a little later on the side of the road.Just as well I did as the very stern military boarder guard was not impressed with our opened bottle of sherry and a couple of bottles of Georgian wine which I thought I’d show him ,leaving the rest in their hiding places.He suggested that he could look the other way if one bottle of wine could be his, to which I agreed.After a prolonged customs process and other border issues to attend to he arrived for his bottle just as we were about to leave ,hoping no one would see him but another officer arrived and that was that ,the wine stayed with us as we waved him goodbye!
Parked up on the sea front for a swim in the Caspian Sea with a lot of interest from local kids and families so I got the Rugby ball out and had a great time passing to ball around and giving guided tours of Amber .
We set off from Aqtau in search of the valley of balls which was recommended from IOverlander another fab app with parking sites and loads of other good up to date information after about 10 k of off road desert track we arrived at this magical place where the wind has eroded the sandstone into these huge stone balls.
As my old boss used to say Onward and Upwards ! Our next stop was to be a truly memorable evening were we set up camp away from the road ready to welcome the boys with a ,too cold to hold beer,warm shower,and bbq on the fire pit.Awnings up for some shade Amber made a great base for the night,they arrived about 20:00 after cycling through the heat of the day which was up in the high 30s
Waved down after a particularly bad stretch of road by a German guy and his nephew heading for Laos with this camper van.Wheel bearing cap had fallen off allowing the grease to drip out as it was so hot stripped it down cleaned up and reassembled with fresh greaseI had on board then found the cap wouldn’t stay on properly so out with the hammer and glue Sorted! He then bought us supper and a few beers.
The Aral Sea In 1960 this area was covered in 25m of water with a thriving fishing industry .Today it’s desert with abandoned ships and not a drop of water in site. Caused by Russian cotton production and gross stupidity!
Uzbekistan is a very gas rich ,diesel poor country with very few stations serving diesel .We were told that sometimes it is impossible to obtain so we had to fill all our Jerry cans and bought two extra giving us a range of about 1280 km so this was a bit of a worry as we needed to do about 1800 km. You can imaging our relief when having used a full tank and two Jerry cans we found a station with fuel Phew!
Well that’s about all I can manage for now. Should now be up to date have missed out loads so if you want to see a more detailed route with more shots and descriptions head on over to the Polar steps app search for Sue Farrell and ask to follow and you will see our tracker working away as we head even more East!