Singapore at the window…

Blimey! Three weeks since the last post from us, I do apologise!

We have covered a fair amount of mileage in that time but not so much that we couldn’t slow down a bit and take time to do some pretty great stuff in Thailand and (west) Malaysia.

After the north of Thailand, Bangkok and Pattaya, where we left you last, we headed towards the coasts of the Gulf of Thailand and Andaman Sea… the first seaside we had had on this route with the truck and we are water babies at heart so it was a refreshing change. We camped with the sound of the waves and the swishing of palms. We spent a night on a liveaboard at the Similan Islands and enjoyed two days of beautiful diving amongst humongous boulders and lovely corals. We have hiked in to jaw dropping caves and floated around in the ocean next to a Siam Junk (aka sailboat). It’s been fantastic but also rainy and we haven’t been able to trust the weather enough to camp as much as we would like to. I should confess we even had an accidentally massive night out and only knew what we did after finding the photos on my phone the next day. We slept in the car park we had driven the car to with the intention of a quick meal and an early night sleeping at the beach. Ha! Fitbit told me the next day we went to bed at 5am but we don’t know what we did past 11pm the night before. The restaurant owner bought us tequila shots… I blame him.

We have also faced facts in the last week or so… we are jaded and a bit over it and more than ready to get the car and ourselves to Australia for the next chapter and a new environment. This is why we are holed up on the Singapore border, on the 29th floor of a building overlooking the expanse of water we have not yet been able to drive across. Today we went on foot to Singapore and collected the permit that allows us to drive the truck there…. our faithful carriage is booked to sail the high seas this Sunday !! Tomorrow we will join the queue of vehicles on the causeway and wait our turn to drive the last 20ish km’s of Asia. There are many routes to take through Europe, Central Asia and Asia and you can’t pick them all but come tomorrow we will have driven ourselves from London to Singapore, yippee! It was 1955 when the first ever cars set off from London to reach Singapore… and they were Land Rovers [insert smug face here].

So chaps, just a short post today. We have some more detailed information we can add on Singapore for other overlanders but will do so after we have crossed this last land border.

Oh yeah, also, there are Christmas decorations everywhere in Malaysia and Singapore. It has come as a bit of a shock, I feel quite weird about it actually! It’s roasting hot, dripping with humidity plus I can’t believe we have been travelling that long already… crazy.

x J&R

A Frank shaped hole…

I’m really not sure how many people read this anymore, I realise the posts have been patchy at best… padded out with photos and so on. It’s not always easy to find things to talk about on this journey you know. I’ve guessed that once we’ve added some photos and appropriate tags to Instagram it feels like everyone probably has a reasonable grasp on what we are up to and the blog borders on redundant.

We haven’t talked much about our vehicle either, there isn’t a great need to I guess when it remains such a faithful companion… that can change at any moment though so who knows, maybe I’ve just jinxed it! We are maintenance mad and obsessive with tyre pressures and daily checks, it pays in spades. Just yesterday we spent some time at Land Rover in Bangkok to purchase oil, oil filter, plug and a new bonnet catch and switch. Ol’ Orange is now suitably fitted out with new parts and brimming with fresh oil. We’ve been a bit lax with some things, namely the issue where the alarm goes off at random because the car thinks the bonnet is open haha! It’s been doing it for about two years but now it’s like new again. We have made changes to some of our equipment since Africa in 2012 and will likely make one detailed and vehicle focused post at the finish line when we know for sure that everything has worked to its fullest potential. We have even more changes to make after this trip! That must mean there is another in the pipeline… ?

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, this route has been kinda lonely… lonelier than Africa anyway and certainly without Frank’s love and affection (and stinky breath) to cheer us. It’s also fair to say we are the misfits of the overlanding world, pretty much always have been! It never fails to amaze me how willing people are to offer their opinions on our vehicle, often ill informed or just plain old sanctimonious. It gets me down but luckily bounces right off Richard… every time we have to smile politely and nod along with the judgement being handed out it just makes us more determined to carry on. I was looking at continents of the world the other day, by Christmas/New Year this beloved vehicle of ours will have covered 4 of 7 and that determination I mentioned earlier will help us complete 6 continents, just you wait and see haha!

One crucial change for the future is how to accommodate our furry friend Frank, I can’t leave him again for this length of time… not bringing him to Asia has been immensely difficult. We have missed him desperately and for me it has affected my ability to fully enjoy the ride. These are entirely selfish thoughts of course, Frank is probably the happiest he has ever been living on the beach in Auckland and this is exactly why I sent him ahead instead of bringing him with us.

So what else have we been doing? Heaps! It feels like last week that I posted about our break in Phuket and heading off in to the jungle for a few days! We had a really really great time in Laos, for me the best country on the route by a long way. So beautiful, so genuine and authentic. We headed north east from Vientiane, via the Buddha Park which was really great and on towards Phonsavan and the Plain of Jars. Typically we much more enjoyed getting drunk with locals and other tourists at a late night cafe than the Plain of Jars itself but at least we are honest about the fact we are terrible tourists. We’ve always enjoyed the social element of travel more than the sightseeing.

From Phonsavan we headed south on this nice little route that Google Maps suggested, why wouldn’t you take it when it’s almost 100km shorter than the alternative… we can give you many reasons why it turns out! When you’re driving along a beautiful new road surface and eventually notice there are no cars coming in the opposite direction you start to wonder what lies ahead. Mwahahaha! Land slides, destroyed bridges, mud pits, vertical drop offs in thick thick cloud… you name it. The “road” was so bad we had to stop, sleep the night and carry on the next day. It took a full afternoon, a nights sleep and all of the next morning to cover roughly 200km’s and we loved every bit of it.

At the end of this road we found Cool Pool spring for a much needed swim and then 2 gloriously relaxing nights at Kong Lor Cave. Then past the Limestone Forest back to Vientiane where we tried and failed to cross the border in to Thailand.

After a couple more nights in Vientiane we went back north past some of the jaw dropping scenery we had enjoyed on the way down from China previously. I specifically chose a camp area in the mountains that offered staggering views but also refreshingly cool air which we relished for the short time we were there. Then on to Vang Vieng where we came across a little camping gem and spent three nights melting in the heat and moving our bodies as little as possible. By the third night there were 6 overlanding vehicles there of all shapes and sizes, all of us trying to figure out how we would get to Thailand when we really shouldn’t be able to.

The uncertainty of being in a country where you can’t easily get your vehicle out again is too much for me. I like to know where we are going next and how we get there… this is not how it works in Laos at the moment! After considering all the options we made another attempt at the Vientiane border and after being rejected a second time and with yet another cancelled immigration stamp in our passport the customs chaos did a sudden and unexpected 360 and said they would allow us to pass… a second stamp in the passport, a couple of customs documents for the car and we were sent on our way speechless and disbelieving at what had just happened. It was about 24 hours before it really sunk in!

We have been busy little bees ever since, putting distance between us and border customs as quickly as possible! We headed north to Chiang Rai, Pai, Lampang and so on. We chose some small roads hoping to find some adventure but everything here is so beautifully paved, it’s a nice change from the road craters of Laos.

And here we are, slightly shell shocked and baffled after a visit to Walking Street in Pattaya. Sleeping in the tent at Plodd Stop with our little USB fan and headed for the west side of Bangkok tomorrow to start heading south once again.

We’re coming for you Frank! Promise!

Time to get a move on I suppose…

We’re really pretty keen to get on the road again after a long break… it’s been about 2 and a half weeks since we last made some progress in the truck. The old gal has been resting in Vientiane while we flew down to Phuket for 12 days and caught up with the Markwick crew for an extra special birthday. Safe to say many hours were spent floating in various bodies of water drinking cocktails and beers! Happy hours!

We’ve purchased ourselves a USB fan for the tent! It’s so hot here in Laos but hopefully cooling down in the next few weeks…? To get any sleep at all we were going to need some air flow though and after stopping in about 6 different places Richard convinced a guy in a computer store to sell him his fan that was plugged in and running on the desk haha! A bit of a clean and she’ll be good to go in the penthouse.

The tortured tyre that has survived three (!!) roadside DIY plugs was entirely flat on our return from Phuket so we finally sought some professional attention and had three hot patch repairs. The repairs were quick, inexpensive and more importantly we avoid another tyre rotation and having to purchase new spares so that was really good news as we figured the tyre was toast, and fairly so.

Apart from the 3 days of mutual food poisoning and the mouthful of tiny ants I ate with my Creamy Caramel Whittaker’s chocolate the other day, Vientiane and more specifically our hosts, Andy and Meera, have been truly fantastic. We have got lots of little odd jobs done that there just simply hasn’t been time for until now.

Oh also, I should add that we collected our Cleanwaste loo while in Poo-ket, this is a very exciting addition to our camping equipment I can tell you. All though it’s a little too late to the party it completes the picture for camping comfortably… it’s the most comfortable we can get with our chosen set up anyway!

Tomorrow we head towards the northeast a little and do a 5/6 day loop to take in some scenery… I’ll be pestering you all on Instagram and Facebook soon enough don’t you worry.

X J&R

Laos; leave your eyelids at home…

You won’t want to miss a thing! WOW! It is so truly beautiful here, there just isn’t a picture I could ever take that would do this landscape justice.

It will take the breath from your lungs, the words from your mouth and the heart from your chest.

We crossed the border from China almost 3 days ago. The first night we waited 11 hours for a barge to take us across a 15 metre wide river because the vehicle bridge has “a problem”… it’s been like that for two months haha! We arrived at the bridge at 8pm and boarded the barge at 6.45 the next morning. Suffice to say we were very tired but arrived in Luang Prabang at 7am to find a whole host of excellent cafes with strong coffee made from locally grown and roasted beans, heaven.

It has literally been thrill-a-minute driving here, the roads are chaotic (if they are still in tact) but after 5,000+ kilometres of Chinese highways we are absolutely loving it. There are animals and birds and toddlers and school kids and bikes and mopeds and trucks and cars everywhere. While trying not to take a life you are also trying to avoid catastrophic sized potholes and falling down a mountainside… very excited to see the rest of this fabulous country.

We saw many beautiful things in China but only ever behind walls built for collecting ticket money. The cities seem fantastic too but we never stopped for more than a night and that was frustrating for us. We enjoy modern cities and what they have to offer but we just didn’t get a chance to do what we really wanted to. We would travel China again in a heartbeat but we wouldn’t take the car… it’s too restrictive having a guide, especially one who thinks he’s on his own tour and not yours. A guide who insists his impossibly tiny budget be adhered to at all times. A guide who paces around while you eat your breakfast and then immediately and relentlessly starts eating once he is inside the car. A guide who pulled so much on the back of the seat I thought he was going to snap the blimmin’ thing off. Gah! Don’t take your own car to China… but do travel there, it’s actually fantastic!

We loved a lot of things and didn’t love a lot of things. We saw incredible sights but had to pay through the nose for the privilege… although the worst ones were paying through the nose and then finding it a bit crap. We were so attractive in our orange vehicle that people would circle us on the highway (awkward) or overtake us and then slow down to have a good look (infuriating). We had fast smooth roads but each one came with a hefty toll attached (approx 500 NZD in total). We must feature heavily on China’s mobile phone photo albums too because people took pictures of us all day and all night whilst doing the most ordinary of things (boiling water for instance). There were endless pretty photos to add to Instagram and we would recommend a lot of really unique and interesting places to visit… we will go back for sure and see more of China.

We are tired, the car is filthy and all three of us need a bit of down time so it’s perfect timing to meet the family in Phuket for 12 days. My precious Pa’s 70th birthday celebrations! Can’t wait!

The humble ham and cheese…

… we won’t ever curse it again, because if we do it might be another 8 weeks before we can find bread, ham or cheese! The amount of noodle pots and boiled, plastic coated sausages we have had to eat… my god.

(A big load of bull!)

Anyhow, we made it in to China! Obviously. The photos of amazing sights have come at you thick and fast… I was called a Facebook pest the other day so I do apologise. The first two days were taken up with formalities and paperwork at the border town in the north. We had a very quick, very smooth process and it actually took half the time we were told it would which was great. Our first drive in China took us to the Great Wall at Badaling… approximately 600km’s which is easily done on Chinese highways but a word of warning to any future overlanders, there is no fuel for over 370km’s outside of Erenhot! When you leave town with two thirds of a tank things get a little worrisome.

As soon as we were free of the border our guided schedule kicked in and we have been flat sticks ever since. Today we had a day off from driving and camping which was greatly welcomed. Much sleep in a very comfortable bed, excessive showering and some tasty food in beautiful settings has refreshed and revived us for the next stint… tomorrow Xi’an and the Terracotta Army!

China has been very surprising for our first week. At the attractions we visit we are often the attraction… Richard is particularly popular with his height. I have had a small child pressed in to my arms for an impromptu photo shoot, poor child looked utterly terrified as I grimaced for their cameras. There are people with big smiles that grasp you by the arm or neck for a selfie and then the others that take photos of you thinking you don’t realise (those ones are kind of annoying admittedly, best just to ask). But absolutely everyone we come across is friendly, helpful, welcoming and wishing us a safe journey… really very nice people. So yeah, surprising and eye opening and so far a wonderful country to travel in.

I have two small gripes however; the road tolls are quite phenomenal, there are toll gates absolutely everywhere and they aren’t cheap! It really is something that should be budgeted for! Then the entry tickets to absolutely every conceivable sight, often expensive and on two occasions have put me off seeing whatever it actually was.

Will try to post more often as I was threatened with a blog shutdown today! Eek!

J&R

The star of Mongolia…

Well, we have certainly faced our fair share of adversity in Mongolia… sometimes there are places where everything seems to go a bit wobbly and for us that was this incredibly picturesque country!

Since the last post however; we have met loads of inspiring overlanders, the tent has not tried to escape the roof rack again, we have rescued three cars from rivers, streams and bogs, kept ourselves out of trouble in those same rivers, streams and bogs! Repaired two tyre punctures. Faced many many hours of difficult “roads” [slow, skeleton shaking, suspension screaming, Jo moaning, Richard wincing, mentally exhausting “roads”] that displayed immense vistas and unforgettable experiences and our route through China is now sorted (again).

We are leaving Ulaanbaatar tomorrow and crossing the Chinese border on Tuesday however we are travelling alone and not towards Nepal. The collapse of the last remaining vehicle bridge to Nepal from China has caused a real headache for us and our travel companions who have had to completely rethink their entire route. It really is very sad and so frustrating but we have had to make a call and that call is to head to Laos on our own which is a bit lonely (and a lot costly) but this is overlanding and we have to carry on. Can’t miss Christmas with Frank can we?!

I think the photo stream from Instagram tells most of our story over the last couple of weeks. The drive to the border south east of Ulaanbaatar will complete the star of Mongolia which you are possibly curious about. In our usual fashion (totally disorganised), we drove directly south from Russia to Ulaanbaatar where we got some recommendations of things to see which meant travelling north again then west, then back to UB where we followed a recommendation east then back to UB where we took ourselves south west and here we are again… in UB… about to drive south east. If I had any way to accurately describe the driving style in Mongolia you would understand that 4/5 visits to UB is not good! This city has taken back that 5 years Richard gained from swimming in Baikal!

I don’t know how much we will be able to communicate during our 22 days in China, we will do our best of course but it may be Laos before we speak again.

J&R x

“How’s the serenity?”

I’m not sure I have enough vocabulary to describe the situation we find ourselves in right now… but it does allow me the time to put together this update at least.

We are in the north(ish) of Mongolia, we have just returned from a jaunt out of Ulaanbaatar that involved one night at Amarbayasgalant Monastery and another at Khovsgol Lake. Tonight we swung in to a ger camp looking for a shower, a toilet and an early night. After extensive negotiation we managed two of these three things… the shower (filthy) and a toilet (filthy with no paper or soap) but most definitely not an early night. In the middle of these utterly idyllic surroundings that include flowing rivers, mountains, huge skies so on and so forth is a DJ and a crooner that make me want to cry myself to sleep. If, in fact, sleep was actually an option.

So, get this right… this other thing that happened today; the tent nearly came off the roof at 100kph [insert clean underpants here]. There’s this track which is more potholes than surface to get round the west side of the lake, it rattles and bumps and jiggles you all about… from the end of that track is a newly built asphalt road that in many places has collapsed creating suspension destroying troughs. To save your suspension from these troughs you achieve quite a lot of ABS assisted braking and with the previous jiggly road that rattles the nuts off everything, including the tent clamps, you find the tent is hanging over the bonnet and off to one side. Ultimately not too difficult to put right as Richard is really great with these sorts of things but if that tent had actually come off…? It doesn’t bare thinking about!

What else has happened since we posted last, we had one lovely evening at Lake Baikal with the sun out, mid-20’s and generally very pleasant. The next day it was 13 and we were walking around in very low cloud and rain that didn’t lift again for a number of days sadly. By the time we had to cross to Mongolia we had seen little of Baikal but enjoyed a fun few nights in Irkutsk and a bit of budget luxury in Ulan-Ude where we had a hotel with heated pool and sauna!!

The change of scenery in Mongolia has been gladly welcomed by both of us plus it seems that half the world’s overlanders are in Mongolia… we have been quite alone the last two months and now we cross paths with other overlanders at least once a day (they even helpfully highlighted our tent issues today but at the time we were clueless as to why they pointed with concern at the roof of our vehicle!). It’s been really great to meet so many people and enjoy some company plus what we have seen in the north of Mongolia is really quite breathtaking, I think you could describe it as biblical in many places. We both said yesterday, in one absolutely enormous valley, that it just looks like a huge and perfect painting. Without a camera it is impossible to capture with accuracy.

Anyway, our next bit of news is that our pre-arranged border crossing to exit China has been destroyed in an earthquake. Our plans are in disarray and we need to reroute. Possible for us, at great expense, but not possible for our China travel buddies and so we have a lot to sort out. This has come to light with only a week to spare and with a very tight schedule that really didn’t accommodate drastic changes… just small convenient changes, haha!

Because of the changes to the China route we now have a little bit of tweaking to do on the truck while waiting for new paperwork to be done and all while hoping to still see something of the Gobi desert if there’s time.

Hashtag, this is not a holiday.

Requesting your positive vibes for China please!

J&R

Swim for your youth…

Feels like an opportunity to celebrate a milestone, we’ve reached Lake Baikal! For some reason this was geographically an important point in the planning of the trip plus it’s pretty nice here too…

From here we are heading south and this is very close to being our most easterly point, at least until Beijing and then the end point of Melbourne anyway.

Apparently you add 5 years to your life for swimming in the brisk waters but I was not inspired… Richard was though and enjoyed the slowest entry in to the water ever known to man, credit where it’s due though! Brrr…

The lake is an interesting spot actually, it holds 20% of the worlds unfrozen fresh water! It is the largest (volume) and deepest lake and is approximately 25 million years old.

Some quick stats for you because I’m very hungry and want to have dinner!

  • Over 8,000 miles travelled
  • Crossed 5 or 6 or even 7 time zones (not entirely sure!)
  • We are 7 hours ahead of London, at the same time as Perth and 4 hours behind Auckland
  • Put diesel in the car 39 times in 8 weeks

Etc etc etc… nosh time!
X J&R

The orange washing machine…

So much to tell you about the last week or so! However, what is important to mention right now is that we are seated in a watering hole in Barnaul and there are drinks and shots and dishes of food flying at us from all corners of the establishment! The locals and patrons here are so friendly and want us to eat and drink their national favourites. Someone even sent the live musician to our table for a special song. It has happened in so many places! It’s very humbling and we have been taught a great lesson in hospitality while in Russia and Kazakhstan.

Anyway, back to the correct timeline, the last time we posted we had had a good night out in Turkestan and were only one night away from Almaty… after using every minute of the midday check out from the hotel in Turkestan we spent all afternoon and evening driving, about 10km from our planned stop and with the sun starting to touch the horizon we picked up a horrid great screw in one of our new tyres. Fortunately our sleeping spot for the night was flat and had a lovely mountain view (mountains!!) but that was it because it was also covered in goat poop, locusts, spiders and massive ants that would bite! Richard was forced to face his insect demons and lay down amongst said insects in an attempt to plug the hissing hole while the wheel was in situ. When this didn’t work and we had to remove the wheel to make the repair was when things really got interesting! After lifting the car enough to remove the wheel the jack started sinking back in to the ground so after we celebrated Richard’s first successful tyre plug we realised the axel was nearly on the dirt and we couldn’t get the wheel back on. The only option left, now in the dark and by light of one head torch, was to empty the car and extract the air jack from the darkest depths of our storage options. The story goes on but it was 3 hours, a lot of aggressive bugs and much dirt later when we were all back in one piece and putting the tent up.

We arrived in Almaty, amazed that it can take 5 days to cover only a portion of one country and very ready for a shower, clean clothes and clean sheets! We spent two nights at European Backpackers sleeping in the noisy street but enjoying a lot of time with other overlanders and travellers with myriad stories to tell and laughs to share. We picked up the essentials… 6 litres of oil, a filter and a sump plug and departed for some long awaited sightseeing.

We reached Kolsai Lake number one a little late (actually a lot late) and so we weren’t able to do the 6-7 hour walk to the second lake which was disappointing but still managed an hour or so around the edge of the first one where some friendly locals insist we try some of their freshly fried bread which was totally delicious! After checking out some of the nearby “guesthouses” in Saty we opted for a steep 4×4 track down to a rocky river bed and slept there instead… the rushing water from the surprisingly large river provided some excellent white noise and for the first time felt truly hidden away. The next day we headed for Kaindy Lake and its underwater forest… it was spectacular and we again met so many friendly Kazakh people wanting photos of us and the truck. Even without the unique lake the track up to the mountains was really great fun and we realised just how long it had been since we had put the truck through some of its paces and enjoyed a small bit of technical challenge. Was worth it for the drive alone!

From there we collected some Norwegian backpackers/hitchhikers and made tracks for Charyn Canyon… the jewel in the crown I think. We asked our hitchhikers to walk in to the canyon for safety as we had read the track in to the canyon was “hairy” and we were not disappointed! The first few hundred metres was super steep, lumpy, bendy and narrow. Of course the truck handled it with ease but the climb back out the next day made me weep a tiny bit at the top. When you can only see the sky and you don’t know if you have the power or grip to carry all our weight up and over the edge things get tense! For me. Not the other one of course.

We came across a sizeable crew from Discover Earth who were very keen to film us and our car on a number of occasions… not sure if that means we will become TV stars but no one asked us if we wanted to partake!

Our night in the canyon was one of the most memorable and after a further few days of hot and dusty trails we were willing to try anything to get refreshed and clean so it was a dip in the fast flowing waters of the Charyn River, our first experience! We entered the icy water breathless and cursing but exited feeling very alive, snap frozen and clean as a whistle… we dressed with numb skin and enjoyed a small camp fire set off by an intense moonlight that had me up most of the night gazing at the blue lit canyon walls.

While in the canyon Richard was told about a singing dune, a white mountain and a town called Basshi. Eventually we put the broken pieces of English together and decided we would go and have a look… the warning words of “bad road” really didn’t cut it! I’m not sure it was worth seeing given how awful the drive was through the Altyn Emel park but I can’t deny it was unique and picturesque so each to their own.

After sleeping the night next to a 700 year old willow tree, that Genghis Khan touched when he visited the area, it was time to get serious and head back towards Russia. We were 2 days behind schedule and we hadn’t known how much worse the roads would become. Let’s go with ‘roads in name only and not actual roads’, remnants of what used to be a road and possibly more like driving on the moon than planet earth. After three plus days of continuous driving in these conditions the front suspension started making some worrying noises, we were physically and mentally exhausted and I had nearly rearranged my face on the dashboard a number of times!

Tonight though, we are set to depart Barnaul, Russia in the morning where we have had the front anti roll bar bushes done on the truck (no booking necessary and for less than a quarter of the price in the UK!). We have done 10 more tonnes of laundry, some personal beautification, lots of photo uploading, supermarket shopping so on and so on and so on… chores chores chores! We are aimed at Lake Baikal but that is 5 to 6 days from here so we’ll update you in a week or so.

J&R

Haircut by JetBoil…

I think we might need to post more often! There’s a lot to remember at the moment, we are moving quickly and covering quite a lot of ground… it’s quite satisfying to see our blue dot on Google maps:

Not an awful lot to report on the last part of Russia, the roads are shrouded in tall tress and forest so you can’t really see anything and then there’s no campgrounds to be found either so we have started to use petrol stations, truck stops and “wild” camping. In Aktobe we slept in the street outside a hostel, it was £1 each for use of their showers and washing machine overnight so we tied some ropes from a gazebo across the inside of our tent and hung up the wet clothes. The heat and the wind had them bone dry in under two hours so we washed two loads of laundry… the rooftent got a lot of attention but we left it there in the middle of the city all day and no one touched a thing. We met another overlanding couple from Germany who were on the home stretch after 11 months travelling the world so we had a lot to talk about during the afternoon and late in to the night.

We have a little shower pump thing that you can stick in to a bucket and have a quick wash but mostly we are wet-wiping and it’s been a blistering hot and dusty trail to this point. We treated ourselves to a hotel here in Turkestan, we were dreaming of the shower yesterday afternoon when trying to rest ourselves and the car in the 40 degree heat, that poor machine just works so hard to do all this for us.

Turkestan has been a welcome reprieve and a genuinely lovely little place to take in some culture. Between 40 and 45 km’s north of the town is an archeological site called Sauran, an ancient silk road city. It was the coolest thing we’ve seen since we left London I think, but we haven’t seen much of anything other than Russian architecture so maybe we are over selling it? Nah, it’s pretty awesome. We even went hooning around the sandy dusty off-road tracks that encircle the site and gave the poor truck a bit of a hard time. Last night, after the longest cold showers ever, we had dinner at Turkestan’s “it” place, Edem Terassa. It was a bit out there but heaps of fun and it was packed with locals (and a few tourists as well!). About every half an hour the dance music would suddenly blast out of the speakers and the young guys and gals would all jump up for a dance, 10 minutes later the music would go back down and everyone would be back at their tables. Later we took a walk around the area of the Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yawasi which is totally enormous and apparently one of Kazakhstan’s most important buildings. It was close to midnight but all the local families were out in the dark at a makeshift street carnival, playing games and entertaining their kids… it was fantastic.

Kazakhstan in general has been welcoming and friendly; people always want to talk to us about where we are from, what we think of their country or town or food and so on. People wave and welcome us to their towns. It’s been quite heartwarming and puts me at ease. In terms of the landscape? That’s a tricky one, something Richard said made me think of the following description… it’s so flat that sometimes you think you are going to drive off the edge of the planet. The sunsets are some of the best we’ve seen though and if you can find some lumps and bumps in the surrounds then that’s probably the best place to camp for the night.

Ah, the hair cut by JetBoil, I nearly forgot about that. So we are on to our second water boiling device. The first having fizzled out with a whoosh in Prague taking all the fluffy bits off the cardi I was wearing at the time. The second device almost went the same way yesterday but Richard managed to revive it after losing a fair amount of hair on the left side of his head and the ends of his eyelashes!

There’s probably more to tell you but checkout time is looming and we are trying to reach Almaty tomorrow which is 11 hours of driving from here (doesn’t seem much but it can take a full day to do what is described as “5.5 hours”).

x J&R