A Travellerspoint blog

25 September 2010

The air travellers arrived at the Intercontinental Hotel to find Rob and Colin checked in, showered, rested and looking a million dollars. I was relieved to find Colin’s health restored and that we could continue. After a beer and hamburger for lunch things look a lot better.

Mickey had been out with the Krygyz Concepts people, located a garage that will repair our cars and should fix our electrical problems, and arranged for the transporter to deliver our cars there tomorrow - another great relief.

Cocktails and dinner tonight and a rest day tomorrow until the cars arrive.

Posted by nbrice 13:18 Archived in Kazakhstan Comments (0)

24 September 2010

I had a good night's sleep and time to think in the morning. I had breakfast with Jeff Robinson from car 8 (the 1928 Dodge tourer) who has been suffering from the night driving with poor lights. He was run off the road in the dark last night causing minor damage. There are crews from two Lagondas and the 1920 Stutz in the hotel who are trucking to Almaty where we have two “rest” days; I made an executive decision to do the same. After much negotiation, delay, and signing of documents the cars left on a transporter at midnight, to arrive on Sunday afternoon which will give us a day for repairs before setting off for Shymkent - a 730 km journey, hopefully over paved roads.

With Jeff and his navigator Rob, Mickey and Andrew from the Stutz, we went to arrange tickets to fly from Semey to Almaty. There were six available when Jeff and I checked earlier in the morning but when we went to pay there were only four. Plan B came into effect. The drivers would fly and the navigators would travel by sleeper train.

Colin and Rob hightailed it to the station and after Rob bought tickets to the capital Astana instead of Almaty, things were sorted and the correct tickets obtained. Then they boarded the wrong train. Station staff helped and they eventually made it onto the right train and found their first class 4 berth sleeper cabin. Two locals had claimed the lower berths. Colin climbed into his berth and slept for 18 hours of the 20 hour journey. The cabins were best described as cattle class as in Queensland Rail K wagon cattle trucks.

Posted by nbrice 13:15 Archived in Kazakhstan Comments (0)

22 September 2010

I woke at seven, after an hour's sleep, dressed and went to the dining room for a revolting Russian breakfast, then to the car. Peter Banham confirmed our alternator was kaput and charged our battery. This enabled us to keep the engine and fuel pump running and we travelled over 200 km towards Khazak border and Semey before the battery was flat and we stopped. The sweep mechanics caught up with us and loaned us a battery and we were off again. About 15 km from the border the engine died again. The mechanics were right behind us, swapped batteries and towed us to start the engine but there was no response. There was fuel to the carburettor, power to the coil and it was getting late for the border crossing so it was decided to tow us there and check further while we were in the queue. Almost immediately Peter found that a connection to the coil had shaken loose. With this replaced the car was towed and started immediately, but was misfiring, so the idle speed was increased to reduce the chance of stalling. We cleared customs in less than two hours and set off on the 110km journey to Semey. We had no chance of making it before dark. We pushed on in the failing light then fell in close behind the sweep mechanics' car to use their lights for the 70 odd km left. It was quite dangerous with the oncoming traffic. We reached the outskirts of Semey only to be stopped by the police. No problems as they only saw us as a photo opportunity. After sitting in the driver's seat for some pics the officer waved us on our way, pheww that was lucky. The mechanics led us into the car park of the Semey Hotel at about 8:30PM, our earliest finish yet. We took our bags into the lobby to pick up our key to find about another 10 people from the rally arguing with a young blonde receptionist. The hotel was full and there were no rooms for any of us. It got quite heated, one participant produced money and she found two single rooms. We were on the room list but our room had been given away. The rally organisers were nowhere to be seen. Finally Dinara, a representative of Krygyz Concepts (the in-country tourist agents) arrived. She offered us rooms in another hotel which we agreed to. We left the Semey Hotel and our car and she drove us to the NomAD hotel, a very comfortable establishment. We had a bite to eat then up to our rooms for a shower and some much needed sleep, after less than four hours' sleep in the last two days. Colin said at breakfast that he didn’t make the shower but sat on the bed and woke up hours later. He is still very unwell, weak and needs to rest for a couple of days before continuing. I had a large bath tub and fell asleep in it under the hot water - it was heaven.

It is impossible to convey how relentless the schedule is. If you slip behind they call it playing catch up to rejoin the rally. In reality the rally is so full on it is almost impossible to catch up unless you are prepared to drive day and night over terrible roads which will wreck your car. The fatigue is worse than either of us have ever felt before. In spite of this the camaraderie is brilliant: the stories will be told and retold with added embellishment for many years to come.

Posted by nbrice 13:12 Archived in Kazakhstan Comments (0)

21 September 2010 - part 2

The Princess has traversed all but 25km of Mongolia on the back of a truck and Colin has chundered across half of it. The car’s problems may prove to have been its savior as the terrible roads have wreaked havoc amongst the cars. Most have damage, some are terminal. The old girl would have shaken to pieces.

Further to Val’s notes from my phone call we were the last competitor through at 4:45 PM after 8 hours of waiting. We then faced a 700km drive into the night which should have taken probably 10 hours. The scenery was quite spectacular through winding valleys following rivers down from 8,000 ft above sea level. Night fell and the scenery remained spectacular in the light of the full moon. We caught up with a few cars that had had problems. Our reconditioned engine was running sweetly. Colin was still quite ill from his stomach bug, unable to eat anything, barely able to keep down any fluids, and very weak. We stopped for a chat with Liz and Greg Newton who had some problems with their lights and were travelling slowly, they settled in behind us to continue. Unfortunately during the night our lights started to fade: it was obvious the alternator wasn’t charging and the lights were draining the battery. Up ahead we saw the sweep mechanics with Tim Scotts motor bike. We pulled in behind them to check the problem. Our alternator had given up the ghost: fortunately we had a spare. The mechanics fitted it, checked it was charging then we were off again. But we had lost valuable time and now wouldn’t arrive to our hotel and beds at Belokurika until about 5:00 AM. But the lights started to fade again and we were slowed as a result. The voltage dropped so low our trip computer ceased to function and we followed the sweep mechanics into the hotel at five AM. The engine cut out, and our batteries were dead flat.

Well at least time for a shower and an hour's sleep before getting up to fix the car and setting out for our next destination. Well, the best laid plans etc: we strolled (or staggered - Colin was all in), into reception to be advised that the hotel was full and they had a room for us in a nearby building. We did as directed and followed an old man to a nearby Soviet era apartment block, met the “floor lady” and dragged our sorry arses and bags up four flights of stairs totally exhausted. The apartment was indescribable. A bedroom with double bed made up with blankets no sheets, stained pillows with no pillow cases, and a living room with a dirty couch. The toilet was filthy - no toilet paper and a bathroom complete with rust stains and dirt and no soap. Colin freaked out and wanted to return to reception and give them a serve. Histrionics would achieve nothing except a further loss of sleep, so I convinced him to shower and get some sleep.

I insisted he take the bed and get some sleep after a hot shower (thankfully there was plenty of hot water). I fell onto the couch wrapped in dirty blankets and dropped immediately into a deep sleep at about 6:00AM.

We later heard stories that the hotel was using some of the rooms as a knocking shop before the competitors arrived. I worried about the stains on the pillow and dirty blankets.

Posted by nbrice 13:07 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

21 September 2010

Well, we're back with the other rally cars. We broke camp this morning and only had about 40kms to drive to the Russian border. We had to go through the Mongolian Customs and Immigration, then line up again for the Mongolian Military. We are now in line for the Russian Military, then Russian Customs and Immigration. We estimate it will be at least another two hours before we are cleared into Russia, then it’s approximately a seven hour drive to our overnight stay at Belokurikha Resort. 3 a.m. before our heads hit the pillow I'm afraid. Unfortunately, Colin is feeling the effects of his Mongolian diet, but can now drink water again without problem(s). We're hoping he might tackle an apple a bit later…

Note: Ron's translation of Val's interpretation of a recent phone call from Norm. :)

Posted by nbrice 23:58 Comments (3)

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