Even though we have rushed through Kaz we only have a week left on our Russian visa and are worried we won't be able to cover the amount of km we need to in a week. However, we needn't have panicked, compared to Kaz the roads are a dream! No potholes, no unexpected bumps, just tarmac - we can barely remember what this is like. Tigger is very happy.
My first impressions of Russia are of surprise. It is so totally different to Kaz at the border. There are small orderly villages, proper roads and as we leave the small built up area we head into farmland with huge fields of single crops. Something we haven’t seen in Central Asia. The overall feel for this corner of Russia is that it is so much more organised that what we have seen for the last couple of months. We have one-night wild camping just off the road in a young wood that hides us from view. We settle in a clearing amongst tall yellow flowers and bright purple thistles. A tiny little oasis of colour and gently rustling leaves. Would have been a lovely spot to stay for a couple of nights but we have to get on to the border with Mongolia and the promise of a good hotel in the big city.
Agriculture and lots of it! Well they do have a lot of people to feed
Our wildflower camp stop
We gave Tigger some purple thistle eyelashes - he looked very dashing!
This was our last night's camping before we get to the large city Barnaul on our route and treat ourselves to a hotel - 6 days constant driving and camping with no shower we are ready for a little R&R for sure. We don't have a sim card as only staying in Russia for a week and aren't sure of the word for "Hotel" in Russian - surely it will just be "Hotel" it is everywhere else in the world Barnaul is a big city it will be easy - No! We drive around for what seems like hours and eventually spot the world "Tourist" it is a hotel - hurrah! - well, a sort of hotel, the rooms come themed with a picture menu and I think we could possibly hire by the hour! We opt for the Matrix room which is interesting - it does have wifi so we spend the evening searching for another hotel to stay.
Well, this made for an interesting night!
We find a hotel which is less seedy but a little boring and business like however it does have a rather nice cafe/restaurant which is where we spend most of our time on the computers, drinking coffee/wine and eating cake - ahh civilisation. ( Ahh indeed! The cake is very good here. A little too good if truth be told. Eclairs, 5 at a time and 10 once! ) While we are in the cafe/restaurant we are inundated with Brides - at varying times at least 20 different couples come into the cafe area complete in wedding attire have some photos taken, have a cup of tea and leave - bit odd
Russia has been a wonderful surprise in the eating and drinking department, it is virtually western we even get Heinz Baked Beans in the Supermarket and real wine. John is very fond of the cakes and is on a mission to try every flavour of eclair that exists.( Yes, I just said that ;-) )
Real food at last - not a bit of boiled mutton in sight!
We also bump into some Mongol Rally guy - think Tigger is in love!
After recharging our batteries and having eaten too much cake and drunk too much wine we head off in the direction of Mongolia. We have been in contact with an Austrian couple Klaus and Andrea who we will be travelling with us through China so we arrange to meet with them in the next town and travel with them to Mongolia. It takes us three nights to get to the border and the camping is fun, we pick up a couple of hitchhikers for two of the nights (they have a tent - Tiggers hospitality doesn't stretch to B&B) ( A hippyish blonde Russian girl who has temporarily teamed up with a beardy Brazilian young man who is very keen to keep telling us how crap the UK is. Thanks a lot buddie. Perhaps you would like to sod off and stop accepting our hospitality and free food! – Some people eh? ) Klaus and Andrea introduced to a game called " Cards Against Humanity" which if you have never played it is the most un-PC game ever! Was a bonding game for the Austria/England group!
Camp Tigger and friends
The Russian scenery has been a big surprise it's very pretty and alpine. We find some great camp spots along the way and are disappointed we can't stay longer, we don't even have time to explore as our visa is about to run out. One night we stop off at a grassy spot by a small fresh stream and set up camp. We gather dead wood for our fire and get settled in. Just before dark we are surprised that a car stops and a young couple set up their tent and a small fire. In true Russian style and form, the young man returns from the woods with a tree trunk for the fire which is so big I doubt that I could have lifted it let alone set fire to it! Our Russian hitch hike chats with them and discovered that they are members of a professional traditional singing group and she invites them over to share our fire. They then treat us to a couple of songs which is extremely atmospheric and a surprising and fun end to the evening.
Our last night before the Mongolian border we camp on the Russian Steppe among the Birds of prey with our dung fire and cocktails ( urgh! You wouldn’t sell many tickets to that gig describing it like that! ) Klaus, with his usual boyish enthusiasm, talks us into storming off the road and straight up the nearest hill across the grassland. There are faint tracks that we follow that lead us in the direction of a farm building so we veer away and up the hill in the opposite direction. More tracks but they don’t look as though they have been used in months so we think we are safe to settle here. Right on top of the hill. Just over the brow I walk into a magnificent Kite just sitting on the edge of a gully. It seems quite un-phased by my appearance so I manage to get within 5m for some great photos. There is plenty of dry dung around so we gather this up and make an excellent coal-like fire to drive off the night chill. The two girls knock back of a couple of bottles of wine and we had a relaxed campfire chat before hitting the hay. That’s my version of the event. Not like a woman to use fewer words than a man to describe something J
Excuse me it wasn't a couple of bottles of wine but some serious cocktail making with vodka, cranberry and secret herbs to make a delicious concoction not known by man which I now name "The Red Russian"
Camping on the Russian Steppe - and yes that is Chrysler Voyager!!
Always time for cocktails darling!
Our dung fire - and it keeps the mozzies away as well
He didn't seem to mind us getting fairly close
And then off he went
We had only thought of Russia as a transit between Kazakhstan and Mongolia hence why we hadn't planned to spend much time there. Oh how we wish we had researched a little more. Once you get into the Alti region it is stunningly beautiful, the food is good the people friendly and there are wonderful places to camp. Out of all the places we have been to so far our biggest regret is not being in Russia for much longer and it will be top of the list to re-visit in the future.
Some views along the way
Wish we could have stopped longer
The Alti region is a must - we will be back!
Through the Russian border with ease and surprisingly there is a 20km no-mans land to the Mongolian side. I wonder what would happen if you stopped here? Well, we weren’t about to find out so its swiftly in and out and through the cattle trough to de-bug our vehicles as we set tyres on the Mongolian steppe.