26th August – Ulan-Ude
(above: Bypasses in Siberia. A “good” street. A mud-loving kids dream… which I am not.)
Stuck in Ulan-Ude might sound like the title of a pretty weird story but it isn’t. Pierre and I separated a few days ago as he was keen to do some off-road riding and so headed to Olkhon, a peninsula on the eastern side of the Baikal. After a few days of heavy rain it hit me that the road off the Olkhon peninsula is flooded, but he hopes to re-connect tomorrow or the day after.
We travel to learn, and this is what I have learned over the last few days_
- Don’t trust a Siberian when it comes to the quality of the roads. A stretch of rubble becomes “good” and even a hint of tarmac is classed “very good.”
- I am a whiner. Whilst I have my thoughts firmly set on a warm shower after six or seven hours of rain and temperatures of around ten degrees, I see locals with no tops on selling berries by the side of the road in a Mediterranean mood.
- Great equipment pays off! I will never accept the evil jokes from my mates when buying the latest functional second layer or comparable (even if there are already another three in my closet). Staying warm and dry in these road conditions is a prerequisite to reach Vladivostok in one piece… at least, for a spoiled German postwar kid like myself.
- I am vain (some of you might have guessed). Riding the bike into cities like Ulan-Ude after three or four days on Siberian roads comes second only to Caesars return to Rome after beating the Barbarians. Cars and buses slow down, the honking starts, trolley bus passengers rush to the window, phone cameras galore and you know what? I love it. “From Berlin? On THAT???” These questions never fail to make me happy.
- Buryatis are nice people but lousy drivers. The Italians of Russia, so to speak…
We are not far from the Mongolian border and here Russia has an Asian face. Buddhist temples and shrines can be seen along the roads, and there is a more accessible and less tight atmosphere. Europe feels ever further away.
29th August – Chita
Nothing prepared me for this land. How often have I read about the near mystical place it holds in the poetry, literature, music of Siberians? Even the word “Siberia” had a special sound, a dimension that goes beyond a local title. As a child I envisioned Siberia as a harsh, rough remote corner of the world, hostile to human life, but nothing could have been further from the truth.
This land is completely and utterly overwhelming. For days and days every ascent, every hill, is opening up vistas onto a land of biblical dimensions. Hundreds of rivers on their natural beds disappearing at a far, far horizon, between seemingly untouched forests and fields. It does not have the intimidating spectacle of – for example – the Grand Canyon or Victoria Falls, but it puts everything in its place by its sheer dimensions and the harmonious, paradise-like composition of its landscapes, free from any human involvement, as if in an act of justified modesty, since nothing man made could cope.
My Russian born friends back home always suffered under the extreme tightness of Europe, and despite the seemingly better life, were homesick in a way. At times it seemed overly romantic, but I understand them now. There is a liberating tranquillity in this land, and a way to breathe that must be with you, and missed dearly, wherever your life might take you.
I had a few difficult days in Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude. Tough riding, exhaustion, the constant rain, and being stuck in Ulan-Ude, which is not exactly Pisa, all added to a little travel blues .It disappeared the moment of getting out of the city and into the land. Riding a motorcycle on a mild summer evening, with the sun setting over this land, must be one of the most touching things one person can do in life.
30th August – Chita
(above: he earned his medals fighting my forefathers… no bad feelings and lots of laughter with that German kid.)
We are leaving Chita tomorrow for the long ride to Chabarovsk, 2,500km along the Baikal-Amur-Magistrale. This is the remotest part of our journey, and we will have find places to sleep along the route. Petrol also becomes a topic, as the distances between stations are too large for Pierre’s KTM and so canisters are needed. The quality drops and the prices rise. But speaking to some truckers and an Italian couple who have been travelling by bike for eleven years (!), the road conditions are better than expected and so it might only take five days, and not the ten or twelve we had reserved. So maybe there will be some time for a side-trip into China, or to the north. We will see…
Andreas from the Circus and Pierre from the Eastseven are on their way to Japan… by motorbike. Andreas is sending us regular updates and you can find the whole archive of the trip here.