Bilderverkauf aller 50 km / Pictures on Sale every 50 km

Monday, December 21, 2009

140 Litre Diesel Problem

18th of November:

We were driving through rainy landscape all the day. The street is bad but interesting villages surounded by autumn. It is noon when we are close to the border, it is raining and we do not feel to stay and decide to cross the border that day. We have to wait a long time at the Azerbaijan side. Finally we can cross the bridge to Georgia. Welcome in Georgia! After we get checked from the custom, they find 60 litre of our 140 litre of additional Diesel in 20 litre tanks. They say it is a problem and we have to go back in the neutral zone (bridge) to throw it away. I want to ask a truck driver if he wants to buy the Diesel. The customs get angry and say I should go in the neutral zone to sell it. That means I have to leave the country again. I go out, on the bridge are a lot of cars and everybody is wating to enter Georgia. For them it is funny how we put our 7 tanks on the bridge, but I succed and sell it to a Turkish truck driver. He can speak a little German and is like a Papa to me. After selling our cheap diesel (:(( we leave the neutral zone and enter Georgia again. This time they do not check again; should I have kept the 80 litre that they did not find? (:) Anyway I could at least sell it and for the firts time we did not need a visa anymore. It is already night, after some kilometeres it is not raining anymore and we decide to make a camp in a field.

(N 41.75702°, E 46.10201 °)

Autumn days in Azerbaijan

15th-17th of Novemmber:

From the grey mountain steppe we driving down through colorful landscape. It is autum and sometimes the sun comes out which makes us allways really happy. Our last destination before we leave Azerbaijan is Lahic. It is also a mountain village with a unique culture. Old and new stone houses build in their own style. The houses have special constrution. Its walls look like layered, 50 cm stone after that a 10 cm wood layer filled with loose stones (I could see this, because somebody just buil a new house(:)). I was guessing it is because of earth quakes. I asked the guy who was buildiing the new house and he told me it is true. Lahic is also famous for its copper smiths and carpet weaving. The anchestors come from Persia and the local language, which the speak here is very similar to what they speak nowadays in Iran. The village is surounded by mountains and mixed forrest which is now standing there in its most beautiful atumn colors. Nevertheless, the village is not as impressiv as Xinalik. We open our tent at the parking of the guest house with the oldest Hamam in the village. They say it is around 300 years. But what is a Hamam. Instead of going to the Banja as n Russia, now we go to the Hamam, which is some kind of steam bath. This Hamam is under the ground and looks almost like a cave. After deep cleaning we chat long time with the owner and go to bed.

(N 40.84305°, E 48.37744 °)

There is nothing else what we wnat to see on our way to the border, but we have a sunny day and that is why the landscape seems to explode in thousand of colors. I can not stop to make pictures especially at the places where you can see the white peaks of the Caucasus behind. We make our camp at a river with sun and the mountains behind us.

(N 40.94428°, E 47.61391 °)

We wake up and the Caucasus disappeared. Again it is a rainy and grey day. In Shaki we buy an electric Samowar and some special cups Kotomi already wanted to buy in Kazahkstan. She is happy and I am, because in Kazahkstan I told her that we can buy it later. But all the way until here we did not see this kind again. Azeerbaijan was the last chance (:). It is too cold and rainy to do anything else. In a mobile shop we can use the internet and we upload some pictures. Not in the mood for a cold and rainy camp I ask in the Doener shop for some homestay. For 3 Manat per person 1 EUR = 1.2 Manat we stay in the house of a nice Russian woman and try for the first time our new Samowar (:).

(N 41.20032°, E 47.16887 °)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The "President" of Agdara

13th-14th of November:

Baku would offer us the best road to finally to West to Lahic another mountain village, but in my map is a secondary road which leads through the country side. Well we have a good weather and decide for this road as it is for sure more interesting than going back on this high way to Baku. We just manage a few kilometre this day and sleep at a very wind place. (N 40.90846°, E 49.13717 °) When we started to sleep the wind is strong but we and the tent can stand it. But it gets a hell night; almost no sleep; storm from all directions, we call it air bombs. We think the whole car including tent and us will be frazzled into thousand pieces.

From asphalt to stony road, from stony road to muddy road, from muddy road to almost nothing that is what we experience this way as a secondary road in Azerbaijan. Everything apart from the interest of the FAMILY or something which is not touristy is just forgotten area. But again this are the most interesting places for us. On our way through a village we get again invited for the tea and buy there some bread and honey. In the villages it is easy to ask for the way, but mostly the only answer we get is to go straight. for them there is always just one way to go. And in their mind this is the only way you can see. For us it is different, I see a lot of ways and always have to ask again. Then we are in some kind of mountain steppe, sometimes you meet a hunter and only close to villages some farmer. The description here are like: over hill, then down, through the river and then straight. We are coming closer but I have a better feeling after I am using the Russian Military maps. Fortunately I have the maps for this area and since the seventies nothing changed in terms of the dirt roads. To be sure and to ask about the way I drive to the village Agdara that is shown in the map. There we meet Parviz, who cleans up a small river together with some kids from garbage. We get invited from him to stay in "HIS Village". Later he explains us that he will be major of the 100 people village at the 23rd of December. He gives the kids, his loyal followers, some flyers with his CV and a picture. They feel quite important now and putting them around the village. That means there will be some kind of election, but he already said that he will be the major at the election day. It seems he is the only candidate of this forgotten village anyway. When we are walking through the village he acts already like the "President" of the village. Everywhere we have to make a picture with the kids around him; in front of the school, the dirt road, the mosque .... Just for the pictures a kid has to get for him his long black coat. I am ask him what he promise to do for the village and he answers that he want to make the streets better and the usual "THINGS". Well, after seeing his empire, we go to his brother Muschfik where we have good food and a nice time with his family. His father is 83 years old and I tell him that my grandmother is in the same age. He is some kind of dreamer and just has a new idea. He says lets bring them together via internet. I tell him she can not speak Russian or Azeri. He does not care at all. Everything is possible, you know the internet is just translating when they are speaking with each other. That is a nice idea and maybe possible in 10 years or less (:). But the father seems to be very tired, he do not want to live anymore. He tells me tat he has to do nothing and somehow no more reason to live. Just to weak and the need for help. Well, I think luckily my grandmother is still very strong and she is needed from us. She always has to do something, go to some sports group, meeting friends or cooking for us delicious food.

The father is still talking and seem to enjoy to use his Russian again. He tells us that in the Soviet times it was a lot better than now. Being the boss of the Kolchose at that time still makes him proud. Everybody had good live and now it seems to be worse. At least for this village in the middle of the mountain with bad street connection nobody seems to care.

(N 40.6921 °, E 49.0184 °)

Two Different worlds in the Caucasus

10th-13th of November:

From Baku we go to the north along the Caspian Sea. It is again cold, grey and rainy. In Guba, just before the Caucasus starts, the fog is so dense that we can see almost nothing. We "really" look forward to the night. As usual there are no street signs and I have to ask for the way to Xinalik, which is a small village in the Caucasus mountain. Coincidence again, the guy I am asking for the way has a uncle there and we get his phone number just in case we want to stay there. Furthermore, he tells us good news; going up from the lowlands to the mountains means that there is no more fog up there; just sunny. Right now hard to believe but we decide to drive until the rain and fog stops. Sometimes I have difficulties to find the way. The street gets more and more narrow. We are driving through villages and forest covered in fog. Suddenly we are in a very steep canyon and the fog disappears. Yeeees, it is cold but wonderful. It is already night and the canyon above us is like a gate to the stars. We find a place, which is just big enough for the car and the roof tent. Fortunately their is almost no traffic. After cooking we just go to bed while using all sleeping bags and blankets we have, but knowing the next day will be warm and sunny (:).

(N 41.2158 °, E 48.27761 °)

Sunny morning, yeeeeeessssss. It is long time ago that we had such a nice weather. Just some sun rays and the mood gets so much better. Although this fascinating canyon does not allow that any sun ray reaches our tent we know that soon we will come out of the shadow. You drive slowly out of the canyon and in front of you the Caucasus mountains with its snow covered peaks builds up. I do not know why but for me such a scenery is always fascinating again. I can see thousand of mountains and I never get tired; I see 3 cities and I do not want to see anymore. It is hard to explain why it is like that. Maybe nature gives everybody different interest.

A car which just overtake us comes back showing us that the way will end soon. Well I do not believe it since the other cars did not come back. But suddenly we are in front of a landslide and only a dirt road leads down to the river. In front of the river a TV group makes an interview. They also ask us for an interview and want that we say that this way is impossible, that it is a big problem for us. I just say I think it is possible. Driving through the river is at least no problem with our car. It is funny since the TV "Lady" gets a little bit mad because I am not answering as she want (:). We drive through the river and going on to Xinalik. While washing our plates and pots at a river in the sunny warm air, some hunters with 3 big Off-road cars are stopping beside us. First they are curious and are asking what we are doing here. As they recognise we are just tourists they invite us to come in their mountain hunting house around 20 km Off-road after Xinalik. Nevertheless, they warn us that the way is really bad. It sounds interesting and we decide to go their for that day and after that we will go back to Xinalik. At one hand we will see these hunters that seem to be part of the FAMILY and on the other hand one day later we will be in Xinalik with its unique culture having even their own language.

World I: After Xinalik their is a military control since this area is border zone with Russia. As the hunters already told them that we will come we have no problem to get the permission to go behind.The landscape going up into the mountains is really amazing, but the way is sooo steep. I never drove something like this before. Sometimes we stuck in the mud, we have to drive through a river bed with big stones. Like a snail we slowly going up to the pass, which is still covered with snow. After the pass a wide valley opens. In the end of the valley there is a mountain that looks like a wall. The rocks of the wall are in a shiny red illuminated by the deep standing sun. The valley is like a big pot and the bottom is a grazing ground for the wild animals. There are several ways to go and I am not sure. I just follow the one with the freshest tire prints. And there it is, the luxury hunting house in a side valley. Looks like a house in Beverly hills, surrounded by a fence and having a small security house in front. It feels surreal in this nice landscape. First we get invited by the security to tea, bread and cheese. The hunters already went out to trace the wild something; sorry I do not know the name. After some time they come back and we get to see the inside of the house. Luxury; bath, TV room with big chairs, grate, several sleeping rooms and everything in European style. The funny thing is that everything looks perfect but nothing is working. The heating, the three different satellite dishes and also the grate. Ok it is on 3000 m height with almost no street. Finally everybody is sitting their with warm jackets in the cold. The most important looking guy starts to play with another the game Domino (:). I figure out that actually only this guy is the boss. All others are just his security. Next morning the security finds the wild "something" for him. Then they bring him to the place; he shoots it and everybody is happy. To feel the difference in the peoples live of another country is interesting, but here we feel it is a little bit crazy. One day with these people is enough and we drive back to the village Xinalik, which actually would have been our final destination the day before.

(N 41.22107°, E 48.0366 °)

World II: We enjoy the way back to Xinalik in this beautiful landscape. At the military post we have to open everything. They just want to have some gift and as long as they do not get anything they do not stop searching for something. Taking a tomato can and asking what is in there. Looking at our onions and wondering for what we need it and so on and so on. Finally I just wait and sit there and again we can go on. In Xinalik I call the number of the uncle from the guy we met some day ago. He is still at work but he tells me I should already go to his house. Xinalik is a really fascinating village. The houses have really special stone architecture with a lot of glass wood balconies or stairs. The houses are arranged on a hill in some kind of labyrinth structure. Around there you can see up to the high peaks, which are covered with snow. From the upper houses you can look on to the roof of the lower ones and below the village is a wide valley. We come into the house through a wooden door and going up the stairs to the main part of the house. All this front part is closed with some wood-glass frames painted in blue colour. In the second floor you find everywhere carpets. They explain us that they are all made by the mother. The carpets have original and special Xinalik design. Some years ago they sold one of it to a museum in London for 8000 USD. Kotomi fell in love with these carpets. Next day I asked how much it would be. He starts with 5000 USD and the minimum is 3000 USD. They tell me it needs two years for one person to finish one carpet. I can believe it, since in Samarkand we saw similar ones and there also two people need around one year for the same size of carpet. Anyway, this is not a carpet in my price range and I tell him he better sells it to some rich people, which will pay also the 5000 USD. Apart from the carpets the village is realy interesting. Only here a special language is spoken. The village was in former times so isolated that their are almost no similarities to other languages.

We stay in this magic place for one day and experiencing again great hospitality of the people in this remote area.

(N 41.17954°, E 48.12826 °)


9th of November:

On our way to the Caucasus we pass Baku again. I have to do several things in the internet, like extending my health insurance, writing mails etc. Therefore, I need to get the settings for my Azerbaijan SIM card to get it work with the internet. But there is no NAR shop. NAR is the phone company. By mistake I went into a car tuning shop. The owner speaks very well English and helps me to get the settings by calling his brother who is is expert in such things. We get a tea and can use his WLAN for free. I have to do a lot of things and Kotomi too. Finally it is evening again. We leave the place and want to go North, but my phone rings. The guy from the car tuning shop calls and asks if we would like to have a dinner with his family.

Since he is still building his house he is living together with the family of his wife. Mother, father and a brother who can also speak English very well since he is flight assistant. Both young mans would like to leave Azerbaijan. They have the feeling they can not changing anything or it would be to dangerous to try it. That it was also Hartmut told us. Most of the young and well educated people leave or try to leave the country. So what is the reason. The government is basically "The FAMILY". Each department, like tax, immigration ..... is working like a own company. 20 % of the income of each department has to go to the president and the other 80 % are there to run the department. That means just spending the really necessary for the department and all the remaining money goes into the pocket for the department head, who is member of the family. But even between the family members, sorry departments they have to pay. Actually the country is really rich because of the oil. Like every oil company has to sell 80% of their production to the government (family) for a fixed price of 10 USD per barrel. Only the remaining 20% they can sell by their self to the world market price, the other 80% are sold by the FAMILY to the world market price. Unfortunately this money goes in the pocket of the family which means there are a few very rich people and the others just try to survive. Only for the family necessary infrastructure is build, like a street to the president Dacha, all other things are left as they are. The remaining money is spend in this expensive shops in Baku, but that means they are just for this super rich people. Everybody tries to get something from that big money. Like our friend with his car tuning shop. Last time he had a Customer of the family who bought some 20000 EUR expensive car bumpers for one of his 10 cars.

Well that is all politics but with this it is easier to understand why they want to leave the country. Some years ago some people tried to change something, but finally they were in prison or dead.

We have a warm bath and go to sleep at the new friend s house.

One of those Days

8th of November:

Breakfast with Hartmut in his favourite restaurant and after that washing and drying some of our clothing. In the afternoon we go to Baku since we got an invitation from one of the guys who are working at Toyota. He calls us several times and ask when we come. Well finally we are in Baku and we call him to ask where to meet. He excuses and says he need some more time. Almost in the night we get to meet in front of Soviet Dom. His friend and he are around 20 and still studying. As part time the one is working for Toyota and the other one as driver for an oil company. They want to show us the city and we are driving up to some hill where a monument from the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan is located. From there you have a nice view down to the town and the Caspian Sea. All the town is illuminated. Left from us the build a huge hotel in the mountains, which has the shape of a ship. Below us are the super renovated old houses of Baku. Everything is shiny, almost each house is illuminated. Both are really proud of there modern and shiny city. For me it is interesting, but somehow I feel it is too much; it is quite artificial. The town does not have flair, it is just new and renovated. In the city you find a lot of really expensive shops and for normal people as you and me it seems there exist not that much. Of course at the suburb you can find the small shops. From time to time the police closes the street in front of us. Then we know in some minutes the president will come around here with a bunch of cars driving with high speed through the city. Everybody says, now he is coming back from his hard job. If you are living in the direction of the presidents Dacha you can be also lucky since the streets are wide and new. In the other direction from where we came we had traffic jam waiting almost two hours.

It is getting later and the one who invited us gets more and more nervous. Finally we find out that there is a problem to stay at his house. The problem is that he just decided we could stay there without asking his family before. He is still living together with his mother and sister. The father is working in Denmark and I think that is the problem. Inviting foreigners and the head of the house is not there is some kind of Taboo. That is live so we have to find a sleeping place outside the town. We stuck again in the traffic jam and it is again raining. No place to put the car, but we find a muddy road that goes in the step. Would have been better to stay one more day in the Shirvan Milli Park of Hartmut, but that is live.

(N 40.26664°, E 49.59774 °)

In Cold Coffin on Caspian Sea, "Hartmuts Park"

4th-7th of November:

We went around 11 am to the port as the guy told us the day before. And we were lucky this day in the evening the ferry will start. He filled out all documents and then the stamp marathon of three hours was starting. First as usual some stamp from the Customs. But where is the custom, there are a lot of buildings with a custom sign. If you ask then they point in some direction. In this way you have to ask several times again. The papers from the ferry company were filled out wrong. They put my name name as owner of the car, although I told him it is registered on Kotomi. I have to go back and get the corrected documents. 10 sheet of paper get now a stamp at the custom. I asked them for the port police which is the next point on my stamp route. Well I get an direction but this time I need some time to find the building since there are no signs at the buildings. The police is training outside in the cold and the boss from whom I get the stamp is playing a computer game. He looks very serious on me and ask what is my purpose and seems not convinced that I am a tourist. Anyway, I get my stamps and he can play again. Next stamp is from the head of the port in some building there! Hmmm !?!?1? I visit a cafeteria and everybody is laughing when I am asking if the boss is somewhere here in this building. I get a new direction, again nothing written and everything closed, in another building they send me back. Finally, I find an older guy who invites me for a tea and then he tries to call the boss. I stay there some while tell our story and get some more warm tea, which is very nice since outside it is really cold and windy. Yesssssss I got my last stamp. Now I want to bring the car into the harbour but they do not let me in. They do not care that the ferry office guy said we should bring it in. After trying it two times our car is inside the port area. We still have to wait until 9 in the evening. 9 pm the ferry arrives. Waiting again until 12 pm to bring the car on the ferry, wait until 3 in the morning and the ferry starts.

On the ferry you find no warm place, the blankets are dirty and even you paid more you come in a 4 person cabin. Of course they offer you another one if you pay additionally. Anyway the ferry feels like a cold coffin from inside on the Caspian Sea. Almost one day we need to go to Baku and the sea is not so calm. Early in the morning we arrive in Baku but the ship stops and waits until 7 to go into the port.

Customs as usual. But port officer that is new. A surprise they want that we pay for the length of our car. 40 USD per meter. Well I was wondering why the car in Aktau just cost 20 EUR. This was just the fee for the paperwork in Aktau. In Aktau I asked them if there are any other costs but they said no. Another 50 USD we have to pay for insurance and street usage. Another 10 USD bribe, because they say it is not allowed to have a car with the steering on the right in Azerbaijan for more than 3 days. I am telling them we have a lot to repair at the car and that it is impossible to leave Azerbaijan in 3 days, With 10 USD and a lot of crying (:)we get the car custom paper which is valid for 1 month (:). With all this we got some help from Aleksei with whom we had a nice time on the ship. He is coming originally from Kazakhstan but now he is living in Germany. We have to go to the custom boss, he looks strange on us, as if we are criminals. Anyway it seems he do not want us to pay anything, but the other Kazakh guy has to pay something for whatever.

Just if somebody else want to do this trip: the ticket price for one person is around 80 to 100 USD. Ask for the cheapest since although you pay more they put you first in an dirty cabin. For some 10 to 20 USD more you get a better one.

In Baku we meet Hartmut the father of Stephan. I do not know if I wrote about him but we met Stephan in Irkutsk. Hartmut made the invitation for the Azerbaijan visa for us. (Unfortunately we did not know that there is an Azerbaijani consulate in Aktau. There you get visa same day without invitation!). Together with us he drives to the Toyota service to find some new shock absorbers. It seems impossible since it is a Japanese version of the Landcruiser and not a European version. Anyway the second Toyota service can help us, but one spring is broken (This was the strange sound I heard in Aktau (:(( ). I can not get this spring it in Baku; same problem Japanese version. They weld it with no guarantee; of course. In Germany nobody would weld a spring. I just hope it will hold until Germany, although I am sure it will not. At the service the people make tea and bring a cake for us. They even wash the car. Toyota hospitality!

We do not want to stay in Baku. it is just an expensive city. Except the old town which looks perfectly renovated there is nothing. Just 100 km in the South there is the Shirvan Milli Park (national Park) in which Hartmut was director. We can stay there in a weekend house. This is quite nice since it is rainy and cold outside.

The next day Hartmut comes and makes an excursion with us. It is really fascinating with how much energy he tries to change something. His explanations make the flat steppe to a really interesting place for us. We see Gazelles and several birds who's names I forgot. We get a lot of background information related to Azerbaijan's "Family Republic", nature and people.

(N 39.75193°, E 49.14892 °)

Big Hallo Again in Aktau

3rd of November:

Again we have around 100 km of this terrible road but then thanks god or the Kazakh government we have a good road. My father is calling me at the phone and I stop at the side of the street. After some while a car stops in front of us and a man jumps out. He looks really happy and I recognise him. It is the guy we met almost two month ago. He, Volodja, was driving with his Suzuki motorcycle through Kazakhstan visiting his friends. I am really happy to see him and he too. Anyway we wanted to call him that day anyway. We decide to go to the harbour to check the ferry schedule to Baku. After that we go to a Banja to warm us up and to clean. After Volodja came back from work we meet again. He already organised a place to stay for us. One of his motorcycle friends has a hotel and we can stay there for free until the next day. In the evening we have a chat together with him and another friend who can speak very good English. And one good thing we can get the ferry next day and do not need to wait for 7 or 10 days as other people told us.

(Somewhere around here N 43.65345°, E 51.1702 °)

On a Ghost Ship

2nd of November:

We buy some stuff in Beyneu and start our way on nice asphalt. I wonder why the truck drivers said this street to Aktau is horrible. But soon I understand why. After 10 km the asphalt ends and the street gets sometimes so bad that I can only drive 10 km per hour. We drive through a dark grey kind of something. Even worse it starts to rain. The street gets muddy and slippery. My broken shock absorbers are a real pain now and looking in the steppe feels like looking from a ghost ship on to the ocean where the grey fog connects with the dark almost black water. I get really tired of this street. But I do not want to drive 3 days here. Therefore, I try to drive as long as I can. At a point where we drive down into a canyon which is made of white rocks, I guess from former and bigger Caspian Sea, we decide to stay. Camels racing out of a side valley. The white walls of the canyon disappear in the grey fog. I guess this landscape is quite interesting if there is some sun. Now I can just guess how it would look like.

The car is covered with yellow brown quite liquid mud. Each time you take something out of the car your trouser is full with that stuff. We are looking forward to get some possibility to wash. (:)

(N 44.09831°, E 53.18419 °)

Again the Custom Game

1st of November:

At this cold and rainy day we pass the border. Last time we crossed the border to Kazakhstan we had a lot of trouble at Russian side but just some time was needed at Kazakh side. Well this time we had to wait a long time in the rain and mud of this outer border post. Everything is under construction and the custom stuff took us quite a long time. There are a lot of trucks which go to Russia. 20 tones of grapes, textiles from China or Uzbekistan. To speed up the process I see a lot of people putting some money in the passport. Well finally we had all documents and go on. As promised the street is just a dirt road left and right steppe and some camels from time to time. It is really cold and I decide to ask at a farming house in the middle of nowhere if we could sleep there. He is a little bit surprised, but finally we can stay there overnight having it almost to hot.

(N 45.05148°, E 55.70911 °)

You always meet two times in life

29th-31st of October:

By coincidence we meet again Klaus and Joelle on the way to the border in Qunghirot. They are looking for Diesel it seems. I follow them because they did not recognise us. Since we had same problem with the Diesel the days before I want to help them. When I knocked their door they were surprised since they thought we are much behind them. It was nice to see again. We went together to the place where I got the Diesel two days ago and we got the promise that in one hour there will be Diesel but for a price which was 10% more than last time. We agreed and eat some Schaschlik in the Shaihana of his cousin and talking what happened recently.

After the Diesel project we go to the market to get some food/beer and spend our last Uzbek money. Some kilometres out of the city we make a camp together. We have a nice evening together in their warm camping car.Talking about their family and how it is to speak two different languages with the kids. Well this is interesting for us since for us it will be the same. This time the beer taste much better since it is not freezing cold around us. The other days nobody of us is normally in the mood for beer; we just want to have a warm tea or coffee. Thank you Klaus San and Joelle (:).

(N 43.08293°, E 58.54631 °)

Next morning we have breakfast together with Klaus and Joelle. Although the border is not so far we have to spend to days until there since the visa starts at the 1st of November. The street goes northwest and just straight through the steppe/desert. Bushes, sand, a lot of small marmots, few camels, a lot of gas trucks. I have always a salty taste in my mouth from the dust of the street. The sky is grey, looking up or down makes no difference. In both directions almost no contrast. (N 44.06556°, E 57.40209 °) Next day the same; just driving through the steppe. Around 10 km before the border we are making a fire and cooking. It gets cold and rainy. (N 44.82633°, E 56.12521 °)

Beached Ships in the Desert

28th of October:

In the morning it is cold again and the tent is frozen from the inside. I remember the words of Nadja in Irkutsk when she said we will arrive in Uzbekistan or Kazakhstan in the winter. I am just happy that it is not yet snowing, but it is not really nice especially in the morning hours. Anyway, it is a really sunny autumn day and we have nice warm fire. As long as there is no rain or snow everything is fine.The trees around us are colourful. The leaves are yellow as the sun and some turn into orange or red. Around here it is silent, the only thing we hear are the falling leafs. It is like in the winter when big snow flakes are falling down, just now they are colourful leafs.

From here we start to Muynoq, a former fishing village at the Aral lake. We are visiting the beached ships which are standing now in the desert. There is something like a monument and around there some pictures which show how fast the Aral lost his water. Now the coast line is around 150 km away. Maybe in some years there will be no more lake at the Uzbek side. In Kazakhstan a huge dam was build to separate a small part of the former Aral lake. This lake still gets water from another river. It seems at least in this region the lake could be saved. Also the micro climate around there is stabilized. In Uzbekistan there is almost no hope. This year was the first year that some water arrived in Qunghirot which is still 100 km away from here. The last 3 years there was no water.

We go back to the place where we stayed the night before. I was thinking to drive to the new coast line of the Aral lake but with our broken shock absorbers this is no fun. Therefore, we decide to go slowly back to Qunghirot to arrive at the border at the 1st of November when our visa starts.

(N 43.31464°, E 59.05763 °)

No Diesel in this remote region

27th of November:

It is fu*** cold in the morning, snowing, cloudy and windy. Also the Shepard's around us feel cold. A small boy drinks with us a tea and has some bread. He is proud on his sheep and cows and shows them all to me. The older boys made a fire. We go to there to warm up give them some bread and say bye bye. But the small boy left before us and stole one of our towstrape. I had the feeling he was disappointed that he did not get my watch, which is actually a present from my father. Anyway we follow him ask him why he did it. Since a older guy is there he is ashamed and starts to cry. Finally we go back to the place and he gives us the towstrape back cries and runs away.

On the way to the Aral we need to get Diesel. Since two days all petrol station have nothing. Even at the gas stations there are long rows of cars waiting. For me it is a little bit strange since in this area most of the Uzbek gas is produced. I ask everywhere, go here and there go there. Finally a truck driver knows a place where I could get it. It is even cheaper than officially and I get 160 litre. I am curious from where they have the Diesel and he tells me that it is from the diesel trains. Sounds same like former GDR. Nobody feels responsible and I guess they steal it from the governmental train company. Anyway for me it is good I do not need to worry anymore that I can not reach Kazakhstan.

Now we can go to the Aral, but once more on this streets I need to ask for the way. The guy ask for a ride and we bring him to his house which is on the way. Again we get invited to tea which ends in a full lunch. He is repairing trains and most of the men in his family work on the Uzbek gas fields. It seems that they have a quite good live and do not worry about the Job. The guide book says this is a forgotten and deserted region, but due to the gas it seems it has changed.

This day we make our cold camp under big trees. And we have a lot of wood there to make it warm and comfortable. In Uzbekistan we always find a wood, which was sometimes hard in the other countries. The people do not need it here as they "swim" in gas.

(N 43.30036°, E 59.0534 °)

Uzbek hospitality

25th-26th of October:

We escape from Khiva in the direction of Aral lake or better what is left from it. There is still enough time until our Kazakhstan visa starts. Therefore, we decide to use the small roads. On the way I ask a tractor driver for the way and where I could get Diesel. He says that he has some and we should come to his house. But first tea, marmalade Khiva style Nan. We want to go on but he suggest we could stay and leave tomorrow. Since it is already afternoon it sounds like a good idea. Narynboi, that is his name, has to go to work in the evening. He will bring the cotton from the field to the factory with his tractor. Meanwhile his wife and we are cooking together with his grandkids. Today's meal is Plov with the chicken which was killed just in that moment. After the meal we are quite tired and go to sleep soon. And again the difference to Tajikistan is that the house is heated even so it is not so cold yet. Everything the kitchen, the rooms, and even the tandor the traditional oven to bake the bread is heated with gas. (N 41.53339°, E 60.39912 °)

Next morning we get a delicious chicken soup, chatting some time. His wife shows us how they make their own bread in the tandor. Narynboi gives us 30 litre of diesel as present and we go on to Nukus. In there we are buying some food and try to get Diesel once more. No diesel everywhere but hopping that we can get it tomorrow in the last town before the border. 50 km behind Nukus we stop and put up our camp in this cold grey steppe. It looks like rain.

(N 42.63024°, E 59.17129 °)

One more Historic town, Khiva

24th of October:

The night was cold especially in the morning, we go on through the "desert". The landscape changes and their are a lot of cotton fields again. We are crossing the Amu Darya river and along the way cotton, cotton, ....... Without this river there would be nothing. The river is extensively used for the cotton. Therefore, almost no water reaches the Aral lake. But it is hard to blame anybody.The main income is the cotton and gas. And when we buy new clothing than we are probably also a reason for this disaster at the Aral lake.

We arrive in Khiva in the afternoon. It is an old historical town, which had markets for slaves and all which was traded along the silk roads. Again the town is more like a big souvenir shop. Only early in the morning or late in the evening it is possible to see the town without the souvenirs. Now it is not season, that means we can be happy. I guess in the season it is even worse. We stay in a guest house which is almost empty at the time.

Next morning Kotomi wants to visit some more museum. I did not buy ticket since I was disappointed from Samarkand. You go in the museum and what is in there a souvenir shop. After she went in some of the museums she tells me that it was the same in here. Outside there a lot of French tourist. For me it is already enough, I do not want to see such towns anymore. The French making a marathon through the old town and in between they stop by the local wedding party to dance with them in their sports dress. Others seem to be just disappointed because they can not run.

(N 41.37795°, E 60.35889 °)

Relaxing Desert

20th-23rd of October:

We leave Samarkand and have again our freedom. But on the way to the lake Tadakoel where we stay one day we stuck. The starter lock from the car, which was damaged in Irkutsk when the car was stolen, does not work anymore. I still could drive 10000 km with the damaged lock but now it is impossible to start the car. A friendly Uzbek brings me to a car service but unfortunately he has no time. He explain me which wires I should cut and then I could start the car with the wires. Somehow I do not like the idea and I find a way how to take out the lock without cutting the wires. Until the end of our journey a tongue!!!! is our new starter key. After the lake we go to Bukara, just eat something there, go in the historical "souvenir shop" and leave. I feel the same as in Samarkand but even worse. After Bukara there is just desert, sand and some bushes, nothing else. I feel really relaxed. After all the impressions of the last months it is nice to see and to hear nothing. There are no people, no buildings just silent. I really enjoy driving on this straight street through this almost empty landscape; my brain gets a rest. No impulses from outside; time to think We decide to stay in the desert one day before we go on to Khiva.

(N 40.04274°, E 65.63876 °, N 39.91316°, E 64.91548 °, N 39.97502°, E 64.24047 °, N 41.19159°, E 61.84499 °)

The Invisible Net of Western Civilization

18th-19th of October:

Uzbekistan has a lot of historic places. Samarkand is one of these and the next place we want to go. Since we do not want to open the tent in the town we decide to stay in a hostel. In the hostel we meet of course a lot of people from all over the world but not from Uzbekistan. Everybody relax and need to tell some story. So what these stories are about? Mostly how can I get the Visa for country xx or where can I find the cheap hostel. Going out for dinner or lunch, buying some souvenir and coming back to the hostel to relax. That is what most of the travellers do. Most of them are long time travellers. Some "just" 6 months others 1 year and even 20 years. But what have they all in common if they do not hitchhike or have the own car? Mostly they travel along the Guide book like a Lonely Planet. Taking a bus from hot spot A to hotspot B. Meeting foreigners like their self. And of course if you do not hitchhike you almost do not have another chance. I feel that some of them are still at home just staying at a place where they need less money to survive and to have fun. In Samarkand these days I really understood what I always was missing on my backpacking tours; It is the contact, communication and learning from the native people. I am really happy that I have with Kotomi together the chance of this independent travel. We mostly go to places which are not in the guidebook and meeting their the local culture and people. I feel that beside the nature this is the most interesting part for me. Just seeing some monument which is historic does not make me happy, just meeting foreigners which can tell me only things I already know from home does not make me happy;The people of the country I am travelling in, their stories and seeing their everyday life makes me happy. In this way I can learn sooooo much.

So we are in Samarkand and there are a lot of historic buildings to visit.Of course we are here now and we visit them. The Registon, graves of the Khans and historic persons. Paying an entrance fee for most of the places is normal, but having the inside full with souvenir shops is not normal. Anyway that is how it is here. In Samarkand and also later in the other historic cities I somehow feel like in an Arabic and historic Disneyland.

(N 39.65602°, E 66.97924 °)

Sweating in Urgut

17th of October:

In the morning I feel better and we decide to go on. But during driving I feel hot and really exhausted. I could not enjoy Samarkand that day. Therefore, we go to Urgut were we make a camp in mountain side of the village. Urgut is famous for its Sunday market where we will go tomorrow. A lot of people pass by and invite us to stay in there home. I really do not feel like it. Although you are guest it is sometimes quite exhausting to be. You have to concentrate quite a lot since the language is different. Furthermore, it is not just one person, sometimes there are 3 person which try to communicate with you at the same time. Communication in Russian, hands and feet's or they just use local language. I have to say sorry but I promise we will come there in the evening after I had a nap.

The Nap means 2 hours sweating. That is what I learned from my mother when I was a kid. Always when I got a fever or more heavy cold I had to sweat in two or three blankets. Increasing your temperature and kill the evil virus and bacteria's. I did the same again, 3 cups of hot ginger honey tea. Just drinking it as fast as possible. After that just take all blankets you have. Soon you will sweat like in a Sauna. You also need a towel to wipe the sweat away, otherwise you will get cold. With this method I need two days to overcome this cold. Kotomi almost need one week since she did not want to do this sweating procedure.

After sweating we went to our hosts. Normally only the man is allowed to invite the guest. Once the guest are inside the house the woman start to take control over everything what is happening. Often now the mans have to jump when the wife tell him to do this or that. The family is in our age and he does not know Russian so well. He is already one of the generation, who did not need to go to the Russian army anymore. Still somehow we can communicate and having our dinner together. The house is still under construction and he is complaining that he always has no money. I look at the house I can understand it. If the house will be ready it will look like a castle.

(N 39.36193°, E 67.2324 °)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Thanks to the Soviet Union and Wedding Rush


15th of October:


We get our Visa at the Azerbaijan embassy and as usual Kotomi does not need to pay anything. In these moments I wish to have a Japanese passport. Another guy from Japan we meet at the embassy. He came all the way from China by bicycle and his final destination will be also Germany. He is happy to get our invitation to stay in "our" house when he arrives in Germany later than we do.


As there is not much interesting stuff for us in Tashkent we want to leave the city as fast as possible. But first I change my expensive USD on the black market for the true rate (:). Buy a UZcell SIM card to be connected to the world. Now we are on our way to Samarkand, Bukhoro etc. the historic places of Timor and the Silk ROAD. The way to there is not so interesting from the landscape. It is flat area covered with cotton bushes. This time of the year they are harvesting. Mostly students and kids are sent by the government to do this work. Most of the cotton production is in the hand of the government as well as the gas and all other major industries. Small business is allowed for the private person. A big difference to the countries we visited before is that the wealth of the country seems to be shared with almost all people. The difference between the rich and the poor seems not to be so large.  


It is hard to find a camp side for this day as all the land is used. Either there is a village or a cotton field. We find a place beside a field. Just 5 min after we stopped there a farmer and his cows visit us. We explain him that we just want to stay here one night in the tent. He insists that we come to his house and family to stay there overnight. As usual we start with tea and it ends with big dinner. Meanwhile we recognise the differences to the other countries. The oven is not filled with shit. Here they have the same simple oven as before but they just connect a gas pipe to it. Also his very old UAZ Offroad car is running with gas. He says it is much more economic than petrol. After some time all his brothers and uncles came one by one to visit and to say hello. As always at least one of the older man made their military service in the former GDR. This is always a good starting point and from the beginning they feel the former friendship. Actually for us it is really good that there was something like the Soviet Union before. Otherwise we would have to learn all local languages to be able to communicate. 


(N 40.69072°, E 68.70423 °)


16th of October:


From the uncle we got the invitation to go with him to two wedding parties in the morning. We stood up around 6 and then the wedding marathon is starting. One younger relative picks us up with his MATIZ. This is actually a Daewoo but produced in Uzbekistan. Also the other cars we could mainly see here are produced in Uzbekistan. Anyway he is a quite fast driver and since he is driving always 100 km/h also in the town we get stopped from the police. The uncle goes also to them, some handshakes and we go on. At the first wedding party there are around 600 people. Everybody gets a seat and we start to eat Plov to drink tea and get some fruits. Always new people come and other people go. I ask how many people will be there in total? He guesses it will be around 2000 people. I ask him if he knows all of them and he ensures me yes he knows them all. Anyway this is just the first day and now in the morning there are only mans. The night before woman and man were already celebrating. But actually this day is still not the final wedding. The future husband still needs to ask today his future wife if she wants to marry him. She can say no today and then he has to come back tomorrow with a present and ask again. Normally this game can take 1 to 3 days until she finally agrees. After she agreed the final wedding party will be held. Such a wedding ceremony can cost up to 10000 USD. That is one reason why a lot of young guys tell us they can not marry since there family does not that much money. The only way out is to steal the bride. We heard already about this custom in Tajikistan. You can steal the bride. After that the fathers have normally to agree to wedding but the ceremony will not be that big and expensive.


Well, after the first our Formula 1 driver brings us to the second wedding party. An Uzbek want to marry an Azerbaijani girl. Same ceremony, but more luxury and less people. We ask why? They explain us this is more like a "Mafia" party. Mafia not like Russian Mafia; killing any people etc., Mafia in terms of business and corruption. That means there are not so many "normal" people invited. The food is almost the same as on the other party. And as on the other party I can not see the future husband and the bride.


After those two parties we go back to the village and we are back on the street. I feel not so good and it seems I got this virus which Kotomi had before. We stop in some cotton field, get a special Uzbek Melon as present from the farmer and I go to sleep.  


(N 40.09688°, E 68.30376 °)


Green Taschkent and The Sunny Boy Ambassador

14th of October:


First thing I recognise, the streets are good and almost all cars have a lot of gas bottles everywhere; on the roof, below the car, behind the seats. One reason is the price; it is much cheaper to drive with gas since Uzbekistan has large gas resources. Second reason you can not enter Tashkent with diesel car. At the police check point they ask us if we have a small piece of paper which specifies that your car is clean enough. We have not, so we have to buy, but nobody cares about our 14 year old car with its old Diesel engine. 


Quite fast we find the embassy of Azerbaijan. The ambassador a young guy gives us some documents we have to fill out and asks us to come back at 3 a clock. That means we have enough time to pick up the things Kotomi's friend left in the Japanese centre for us. One bag full with Japanese food and other things which were stolen with the car.  The place is located close to the big and shiny part of the city. Expensive hotels, skyscrapers, bank of Uzbekistan etc. Just in one in the hotels where I try to get money from the ATM there is an international cotton conference. Cotton is one more export good except the gas which Uzbekistan has a lot. I feel quite funny in there since all running around in suits and hunting for the free buffet.


As I said I wanted to get some money, but the only ATM machine in Tashkent, which accepts VISA  is empty. We asking for other ATMs but searching almost half a day we could not find anything. In all other countries it was no problem to get money at ATMs, but here it is. Later I understood why. The exchange rate between the Uzbek Sum and other foreign currencies are fixed by the government and the banks. This exchange rate is around 30% worse than the "true" one. ATMs are connected to a world wide system which would not allow the fake exchange rate. Well the only way to get the true exchange rate is to change USD on the black market, which is actually illegal. But getting USD is also not so easy and expensive too. Therefore, the best is to bring a lot of USD or EUR cash with you. Unfortunately we did not know that, we just had 80 USD. Anyway we got some expensive USD and went back to the embassy. It is 3 a clock but the ambassador is not there, it is 4, 5 and 6 a clock and he is not there. Finally he calls and tells us we should come back next day. Even so there are opening hours, it does not seem to matter. We try to find a cheap hotel. It is in the Old Russian style and cost too much but for this night we have no other chance and we get the "mandatory" REGISTRATION. This registration thing is again weird because everybody tells us something different. You have to do it every 3 days. Some say you have to do it in the first 3 days. At the border they do not check and even did not know about it when we asked. You can be just unlucky and be stopped somewhere. And dependent on the day the rule is like this or that. It seems to make it correct; just go to the hotel everyday. Of course we did not do that (:). But one thing I have to say: The police in Uzbekistan was much better than the Tajik one. This was totally opposite from what we heard before. But maybe they had now such a bad reputation in the recent years that the president gave the order not to stop the foreigners anymore. To us they were almost unnatural friendly. 



(N 41.2739 °, E 69.24057 °)


Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Great Custom Gaim and Afraid of FEVER

13th of October:

From Kohjand is just a few kilometer to the border of Uzbekistan. As always, before we leave the country we have to do all custom documents for the car. Then we can leave the country, enter the next country, and we have to do the custom again. The immigration is normally no problem but the custom are always like a Mafia, they always want money for something. This time the Tajik custom want that we pay a penality. They blame us that we stayed more than 15 days with our car on Tajik streets. That is really stupid because nobody told us. In non of the documents it is written that they are only valid 15 days. Furthermore, our visa is one month, so why they make car documents which are only valid 15 days! But I was prepared since Klaus San told me this story and that they always try this. I just did not do anything and stayed there and wait. Everytime they came to me I told them this law is not correct and it is there mistake if they do not do proper custom documents. They called some big guys in Dushanbe, because I said this law does not exist anymore. Finally after one hour we go through and nobody ask for anything anymore.

First step entering Uzbekistan is a desinfection of our car, we have to drive through some desinfection bath. Second we have to pay for it. Third, our temperature is measured. Luckily Kotomi has no fever although she feels very bad. I wonder what would happen if she would have a fever. We could not enter Uzbekistan and we also have no Double entry Visa for Tajikistan !?!?. The Uzbek custom again takes long time again. All documents have to be filled out two times. The lady there is very friendly but very strong. She is not the boss but she is comanding all people including us. First they want us to take out all of our stuff to put in there small x-ray. Fortunatelly we do not need to do this, just taking out the stuff and open the tent and show. After one more hour all documents are ready and we are in Uzbekistan.

We are driving almost until Taschkent. We sleep at a lake not far from the capital city. We can open our tent at the area of Uz-telekom. They have some company daschas there. A young guy takes care of the area, his father comes, and we have a tea and tomatos from his garden together.

(N 40.94832°, E 69.32232 °)

By the way, I am a little bit slow in writting. I am two month behind and just if you want to know where we are now, we are in Turkey N 37.73934°, E 37.92722 °.