I don’t want to bore you with more border crossing craziness, but this one is hilarious. Of course, they close for lunch after a very busy morning processing 3 Mongolian cars & 1 German van. Nothing has come through from Russia – who would be crazy enough too. Finally lunch over, time for inspection. Every page of both of our passports are examined, John has to fill in pages for GR2 in duplicate, & then everything is poked and prodded. Not us, but GR2! They even look behind the towels hanging in the bathroom & underneath our pillows! No way can I participate in the fun – I am banned to the waiting area.
No more complaining we are in and have no more border crossings for ages! Time for that long 3000 km drive to Vladivostok. But first we need to head north to the city of Chita. There has been a lot of rain – so bad there has been massive flooding. The army trucks are out in conveys to help. But the sun is shining today, making everything sparkling & emerald green. After a long day we stop beside the lovely Oron River. Perfect for a BBQ. We plan to head upriver to the Tsugol Datsan (a Buddhist monastery) tomorrow morning. John wanted to go tonight but I insist we stop. He is right. In the morning we head up in the rain! So only a few patchy photos of the lovely old building.
Today is driving in the rain all the way to our next Datsan at the town of Aginskoe. More photos in the rain – John is smart and offers to make coffee. On to Chita – the road is full of potholes & puddles. We have a few errands and some exploring to do. SIM card, map, groceries done. It is actually a lovely city. A gorgeous cathedral, some lovely old wooden houses and a huge plaza. After yummy soup at a local restaurant we head out. At the traffic lights a guy in a 4x4 stops to chat & leads us to a tap to fill up with water. Only diesel left to get, but the rain starts again in earnest & it is astounding how fast water can rush across the streets.
Once the rain eases off the scenery is magic. We really didn’t expect this in Siberia. Stop for the night beside another river. We plan to get a lot of miles under our belts in the next few days so that we build up a time buffer in case we want to do something extra or we have a drama (fingers crossed we won’t). So, most of the day on our bums. Fortunately the scenery is great & the road not too bad – just have to watch out for the frost heaves. Finally stop at a roadside truck spot after a long day.
All this time we have been keeping an eye out for Herman, Connie & Jack in their SLRV Commanders, and this morning we see them coming the other way. We turn around, flashing our lights madly. A fun few hours follow while we catch up with travel news. But time to head on. They are going to Lake Baikal & we are off to Vladivostok. We end the day tucked off the road, well out of sight for a peaceful night. Then more driving. Later that day we reach the city of Khabarovsk on the banks of the massive Amur River - head to the riverfront to explore. There are 2 gorgeous cathedrals (reconstructions as the originals were destroyed by the Soviets) and spend a few hours walking around town.
In the morning we pop in to a workshop recommended by a mechanic we met. It is raining yet again, so a perfect day to stop for a grease & oil change and a few minor repairs. Again, we have another cracked leaf spring – those Mongolian roads have a lot to answer for! Before we know it, we are on the road again. Another night tucked off the road and then the final leg to Vladivostok. It is late when we arrive and sea mist is curling around the city. We have a camp spot picked out on the beach at Russky Island just out of Vladivostok – it is perfect. Right on the beach.
The mist is still thick in the morning, so we decide to “do” the museums. First stop the Old Machine Museum (where else would John want to go?) Then in to the city centre – and of course into crazy traffic. Not a carpark in sight. In fact, in many places they are double or treble parked. The Friday markets are in full swing in the central plaza adding to the chaos. We head back to where I spied some parking & walk back to town. By now the mist is clearing & we can really appreciate this gorgeous city surrounded by hills & harbour. The bridges are spectacular. We give the next museum a miss & head up the hill to catch the funicular to the lookout over Golden Bridge. Then John decides we will drive up to Eagles Rest lookout – but crazy traffic & ever decreasing (in size) roads means we change tack & head out to the lighthouse with its lovely views. Finally, time to crawl through traffic & head back to our beach (and swim for John) for the night.
It is Saturday when we leave this lovely city & we get great views as we follow the ring road out. No sea mist this time. Time to head back west for 10,000km right across Russia. I have been reading the Lonely Planet & found there is a place a mere 25kms off the road that have Amur/Siberian Tigers. Can’t find much online, but I now really want to see them, so with a bit of arm twisting we hunt the place down. Not a single sign! (even in Russian). Well sadly the tigers have been gone for 3 years (so much for using an out of date LP), but he still has some Asian Bears & Lynx. So back to driving…..
The next day we pass through Khabarovsk again & stop after 200 km at a lake. Perfect spot for a swim & maybe camp, but when the bitey flies attack we decide to carry on. As we turn to leave our new truck driver friends start yelling. Noooo. The decision is that something is wrong with the diff (loud grinding noise when we turn) and we will have to turn around & return to Khabarovsk to the workshop there. Chita is simply too far away at over 2000km. So, the next day we are back in the workshop. They give GR2 a good check. The diff appears fine & they give it new oil. While we are there we get our brake shoes replaced. Then time to start on the 2000km back to Chita. Can’t resist camping at “our” lake so that we can swim again.
A few more big driving days before we pull in to Chita. We fill up at the same water tap, the same supermarket & eat at the same restaurant. All reassuringly easy. By the time we head out of the city it is raining again & already the streets are awash. Definitely more work needs to be done on drainage here! We head off in the rain finally pulling over for the night in the least muddy spot we can find.
On the road again. Amazingly when we head down a side track to explore a lake at coffee time we meet a group of 8 Chinese motorhomes on “tour”. The vehicles are mainly German ones that have been imported to China. Then on through magic mountain scenery to Ulan-Ude. Here we are heading to a designated camp spot to meet up with the 2 SLVR Commanders. There are also a few other overland vehicles here – so it is a fun night chatting around an open fire.
In the morning, after lots more chatting & a few chores – we head back to the city to explore. The cathedral of course is lovely, the Opera House huge & the Lenin Statue the biggest we have ever seen. Time to move on. Lake Baikal here we come.
We spend three nights camped right beside the lake in various spots. The first night on a lovely sandy beach popular with the locals. They are all sunbaking. John has an incredibly quick swim (so of course I didn’t bother)here in the middle of Siberia. The next morning is cold & wet. How the weather changes here, so a misty wet drive along the southern end of the lake stopping for the second night beside a rocky, surfy beach at Vydrino. Again, it is wet in the morning, but finally clears, so we decide to continue straight through the city of Irkutsk so we can reach the western side of the lake in lovely weather. We wander the seaside town of Listvyanka before finding another quiet spot beside the lake for our third night
And of course, it is raining again as we head back to Irkutsk. We stop to visit the Kazan Cathedral, as recommended by friends. It is one very magnificent technicoloured cathedral. The rest of the day is all driving, which ends with us camped beside a cute lake. The village is close by, but we are ignored by the locals. So, it is on to the huge city of Krasnoyarsk, which is about midway between Vladivostok & Moscow. We hunt down an Isuzu workshop because we still have a horrible creaking noise in the diff. It is late in the day so they will start tomorrow, So we overnight in their secure carpark. One of the guys we meet there takes us on a tour of the city. Much easier than in GR2 and he knows the best places to take us. Thank you so much.
We removed the LSD parts in the diff & now no noise. So, after 2 long days we head out. There was no rushin’ these Russians.
There are many more numb bum miles to go…….