Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Day 53 Wednesday August 20th. Kuanda

Another absolutely fantastic day!

We awoke to dry weather and so waited for the sun to dry off most of the dew from the tents and then packed and away.

After the spanner work last night on Paul's bike where we discovered that he had a very weak spark which we could improve by shorting out his side stand switch we set off eager to see if we had fixed the problem. No such luck however as soon as his bike started to get wet it started to misfire. What we do seem to gave fixed is the total stopping when under water. This has confirmed to us that the side stand switch was influencing matters, but not totally responsible for the misfire when wet!!

Straight off we encountered deep rocky pools stretching right across the track. These pools were difficult to ride. The first problem is determining the the best line to take. Because the water is muddy you have to do this by walking through the pools checking for boulders and water depth. Soon everyone had water well over their motorcycle boots and it became pointless trying to keep your feet dry. This process of riding through these pools proved very tiring and with the sun rising and the temperature rising we were all sweaty and exhausted. Sometimes we managed to ride across individually and sometimes we needed people at the sides of the bike to help stabilise it when it hit a large rock. Even when the dips in the road are not filled with water they take some riding when strewn with large rocks. Your wrists get tired from the constant shocks they are receiving from the handlebars.

We passed through this rocky/pool section of track and then came across more river crossings with dilapidated bridges that needed some of the logs and planks rearranging before we could cross.

Sometimes we felt confidant just to ride across individually and sometimes we had a person standing at the sides of the rider just in case they lost their balance on a loose plank etc. at one of these bridges we met a russian called Alexander who was trying to cross with his vehicle. He was very respectful of the journey we had made so far, but indicated that there were at least four more similar bridges in worse repair yet to be tackled.

Then after about 24 miles from our camping site and four hours of riding we turned a corner and there it was the infamous Vitim Bridge across the river Vitim. We had all seen the videos on YouTube, but nothing prepares you for the height, narrowness and the sheer drop at the edges. We parked our bikes and all walked across the bridge to assess the riding condition of the carriageway.

We then had lunch to reflect on our options, had a discussion and agreed that each person could ride the bridge as they wanted.
We had company from a nice dog whilst we were having our lunch,

Paul went first and opted to straddle the bike and proceed at walking pace with a person positioned at either side just in case he lost his balance.

Next it was Dave who opted to ride across unaided, and did a magnificent job. Full credit to him for having the nerve to take it on.
Then came Geoff who opted for the same arrangement as Paul, and finally came Frank.

After riding the Vitim bridge we all had a big grin on our faces,and had loved the adrenalin rush from the concentration. I bet Dave had a fantastic feeling after riding it as he did. Well done to him!

Shortly after crossing the Vitim bridge and on a high of achievement Geoff managed to loose control of the bike and it spun him around and trapped his right ankle under the bike as the back end continued to drive and spin the bike around. It all eventually stopped and luckily Geoff had no serious injuries, just minor bruising to his right ankle.

Later on we saw Alexander returning back in the opposite direction
And we stopped and said hello. He wished us well, but telling us we had more obstacles yet to overcome.

We arrived at the village of Kuanda where we knew we had a problem river crossing. All the research that Paul had done indicated that there were only two possible methods of traversing the Kuanda river. You have to either use the railway bridge, or arrange for a big six wheel Kamas truck to carry over your bikes. The river is 5-6 feet deep here and the road bridge has totally collapsed.

We met a local biker who was riding a CBR 1000 Honda bike, and he took us to the local shop. We went inside and purchased drinks, beer, provisions and immediately a group of people gathered round enquiring about our journey.

We asked about an hotel, and were told there was one. Our helpful biker friend took Geoff and Frank to the hotel. We use the word hotel, but there is nothing to suggest an hotel. Geoff went inside a building the ground floor of which was a construction site, the first floor had doors with no labels. When you opened them you could be in a toy shop or haberdashery! Geoff made enquiries about an hotel and seemed to get negative responses. On the way out from the building he was called by a woman on her way in saying yes hotel. She took him back to the first floor, unlocked another unmarked door and we were into an accommodation block with two twin rooms, a kitchen, a toilet and one washbasin. The washbasin had two taps but only one produced a brown coloured liquid. Geoff asked about a "douche" but the woman dictated that we would have to ride our bikes to a "banyan", which at the time he thought was a communal bath house.

Geoff and Frank returned to Paul and Dave to consult on a decision to find Dave two pints of beer wetter and best pals with some guy called Sergio. Dave indicated that Sergio had offered to put us up at his place, and so not wanting to refuse Siberian hospitality we all followed Sergio and his two female companions.

We went east out of town for about 4 miles and eventually pulled up at the railway bridge crossing. Then for the next hour there were discussions back and forth between ourselves Sergio and the railway guard, and it transpired that Sergio had not in fact been offering to put us up but to be an intermediary in negotiations to allow us to cross the railway bridge. The first price Sergio suggested was 3000 rubles, but the bridge guard was saying no. Sergio came back and said he wanted 6000 rubles. Geoff went to negotiate directly with the bridge guard and failed to get him to name any price. He was shaking and unhappy and didn't want to know at all.

Sergio then suggested he get in touch with the person who carries people across the river in a Kamas truck. Phone calls from Sergio to the Kamas man indicated that the river levels were too high even for the Kamas and we would just have to wait and hope the levels dropped.

We decided to return to Kuanda to camp close by and buy more beer.

Four bikers then proceeded to trawl around town looking for a suitable camping place. We settled on a small piece of land just behind the local football pitch.

This apparently had a footpath through it and every so often a person would come along walking their dog. One such person was a young woman who spoke some English. She talked to Dave trying to suggest we not camp but use the local hotel. We told her we had been to the hotel, but we now had the tents erected and were happy to just camp.

She went away and came back a minute later with a phone giving it to Dave to talk to another person who spoke better English. The same message went back and forth.

Eventually the person on the phone who was calked Tanya turned up at the campsite and insisted that we use their "banyan" to wash, clean our clothes, and then they would feed us.

Tanya's husband Andrias duly arrived in a UAS jeep and took us and all our dirty clothes back into town. We arrived at a wooden fence through which there as a wooden shed guarded by a ferocious dog in what you would describe as an allotment.

The shed turned out to be the "banyan" a sauna.

It had a huge caldron of hot water and two milk churns of cold water. There was a ladle for spooning out the water, four hand basins, and a shelf containing soap and a mixed collection of cleaning materials.

We were given towels and so proceeded to strip naked and get washed. We were having a good time recovering from our tough day and bonding as only naked males can when Andrias came in and he stripped down, and then we started drinking vodka and then a stronger spirit like poshine that he had in a plastic bottle. Every so often Andrias would get up and throw cold water into the area below the hot water caldron and steam would billow out into the sauna.

As time went on and we were starting to get more and more relaxed we were getting concerned that the women would be wanting us to come out of the banyan for the food they were providing. Andrias was not at all concerned and was happy just socialising without any language skills and drinking. At one point he just got up and went into the allotment and came back with a bunch of chives. These complimented the vodka and spirit beautifully.

As time passed and we became more relaxed, Dave who had consumed more vodka and spirit than the rest of us tried to refuse another shot and poured half of his drink into Andrias cup so not to waste the spirit. This triggered a hostile reaction from Andrias who went outside and made himself vomit, then came back inside took the remainder of the spirit still inside the plastic bottle and threw it away into the allotment. We all looked at each other wondering what had happened, and there then proceeded to be a somewhat subdued period where we all got dressed not knowing what had happened or what would happen next!
The women arrived and were cross with Andrias who duly ignored them. We then all got back into Andrias's UAS jeep and he drove us (drunk) to the local shop to buy beer. At the shop he bought a tin of beef and some biscuits insisting these were presents for us!!
He then drove us to a house just adjacent to our campsite where Tanya, Andrias wife, his sister Elana and his mother were waiting to feed us.
Food detail???
We had beer with our food, by which time it was past midnight, and so after thanking them all profusely we went back to our tents. They said in the morning they would give us breakfast and make enquiries about crossing the river.
We tried to establish exactly what we had done that had so offended Andrias, but the women who spoke some English just said to ignore it it was just Andrias!! (We suspect not because when we were drinking in Severobaikalsk there had been a time when Geoff had tried to share some of his undrunk beer with Alexis and Vladimir had indicated that that was a no no situation!)

We were all overwhelmed by the extreme generosity of spirit that these people had shown us. They obviously felt it was their duty to look after these foreign visitors to their town.

More later

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  1. The sauna sounds just like it should be. Reminds me of home. Apart from the vodka! :)

  2. Yep.....your all nuts.......fantastic.