Lorraine Johnstone


Lorraine Johnstone

Always travelling, never at home

Europe » Russia » Siberia » Kyakhta August 2nd 2012

Back in Irkutsk we collect our visas from the Mongolian Embassy and set off on the 700km ride to the border. We wind our way through heavily wooded hillsides heading towards the south-western tip of Lake Baikal. There are very occasional glimpses of the lake but mostly its views of taiga covered hills disappearing off into the distance. There are more birch trees, with their gleaming white bark, than we have seen before. And quite a few “drunken trees” too – where the top of the tree is arched over gracefully and is almost touching the ground. They occur when the permafrost melts/shifts so we are going to see far more of them when we eventually head north towards Magadan. Eventually we leave the hills behind and drop down to the lake shore at Kultuk. For ... read more
its all taiga forest as far as the eye can see
in amongst the fir trees there's more white barked birch tress than we've seen before
we're starting to see 'drunken trees' too

Europe » Russia » Siberia » Lake Baikal July 31st 2012

While our Mongolian visas are being processed at the embassy in Irkutsk we go off for a couple of days R&R on Lake Baikal. The easiest option is to ride 70km down the nice straight tarmac road to Listvyanka but when do we ever do anything simple and anyway we went there 2 years ago. So instead we set off to explore the Olkhon Island a mere 300km away from Irkutsk. The first stage is a 250km ride to the “ferry port” at Sakhyurta half way up the western shore of the lake. You don't get to see the lake until the last minute when you are a few km away from the ferry – just about the point when the tarmac stops and the dirt starts. For most of the 250km we are riding through ... read more
heading along the western side of the lake...
... through rolling green countryside
we are in Buryat territory where shamanic shrines line the roadside

Europe » Russia » Siberia » Irkutsk July 28th 2012

From Krasnoyarsk to Irkutsk its just over 1000km. This is supposed to take us two days with a night camping in the forest. On 500km ride days the group usually sets off at 6:30. Now 6:30am and Edwin are not natural partners so he usually announces that we will set off at 7:30 and catch them up. So far we have always been able to catch them up - in fact, somehow or other, we usually set off after the group, do 2 or 3 hrs worth of detours for sightseeing and still get to the hotel before the group!!! I think its due to the fact they they like to re-group at petrol stations and all fill up together (it takes much longer to fill 12 bikes than 1 bike!!) and regroup to have lunch ... read more
the open road
and its not all straight
and lots of wild flowers too

Europe » Russia » Siberia » Krasnoyarsk July 25th 2012

The first task of the day is to cross the border back into Russia. We're braced for the usual hours of hanging round when suddenly its all over and we're through. 30mins to leave Kazakhstan, 90mins to get into Russia - its the smoothest & quickest crossing we've had As soon as we enter Russia the landscape is totally different. The Western Siberian Plain is still flat, like the Kazakh steppe, but there's no grassland, its all crops - giant fields of sunflowers, wheat, potatoes. The European style houses have gone and we're back to gingerbread cottages. The roadside cemeteries have gone and we now have onion domed chapels. We head north, through the fields, to Barnaul where we cross the River Ob whose banks are full of locals sunning themselves. Its the world's 7th longest ... read more
its all change as soon as we cross the border
the European style houses are replcaed by rows of 'gingerbread' cottages
road-side cemerties have gone and are replaced by onion domed chapels

Asia » Kazakhstan » East Kazakhstan » Semey July 22nd 2012

From Almaty its a 900km dash north across the steppes to the Russian border. The landscape is identical to that 2500km to the west that we were riding through several weeks ago; long straight roads through the flat steppe, lined by stumpy trees with enormous eagles perching in them. The eagles aren't actually that big its just that the trees are so small and the eagles look really comical perching on the tiniest of branches. We do get the occasional change in scenery as we are skirting round the foothills of the Altai Mountains to the east and sometimes we have to leave the flat plains and go up and over. But somehow this just emphasis how flat the land actually is – as you reach the crest of the pass the flat steppe land stretches ... read more
... and steppes lie between us and the Russian border.
as in western Kazakhstan the roads are lined with stumpy trees in which enormous eagles perch
in contrast to western Kazakhstan its not all flat - we are skirting round Altai Mts

Asia » Kazakhstan » East Kazakhstan » Almaty July 20th 2012

We're up early to find a large flock of sheep and goats descending on our camp site. I don't know who was more surprised, us or the shepherd who appeared over the top of the hill on his horse to find a dozen or so tents & bikes on his grazing patch. Having re-directed the flock he disappears off, back over the hill, and returns a few minutes later with another flock and two of his mates – I'm sure he rushed back to get them and said “you'll never guess what I've seen over that hill. After watching us for 10 minutes and waving they ride off to gather the flock and ride on. From our camp-site its an easy 180km ride to Almaty. As we get closer the flat steppe land disappears and it ... read more
he was so suprised he went to get his friend and they just sat and watched us
en-route to Almaty across, the usual, flat steppeland
as we get closer it gets decidely hilly

Asia » Kazakhstan » East Kazakhstan » Almaty July 18th 2012

From Kakakol we continue our circumnavigation of Issyk-Kul lake. We're heading up the eastern shore and our 1stdetour soon arrives. Some sketchy instruction and a GPS co-ordinate take us down a gravel track to what should be an old Soviet submarine/torpedo testing base. We don't really expect to find it but, amazingly, the co-ordinates lead us straight there!! The derelict main buildings and rusting cranes are all fenced off but by the shore are the old jettys and all sorts of strange slipways and pipework. None of the locals cycling past seems too bothered by us wandering round taking photos. Close-by is the Przewalski Memorial to the man the horses were named after. He was a polish born Russian geographer, biologist, spy, explorer and enthusiastic Great Game combatant. He made his home here on the edge ... read more
the remains of the Soviet torpedo testing base
there's cranes, jettys and chutes all along the lake shore
the locals don't seem too bothered by us taking photos of the old Soviet base

Asia » Kyrgyzstan » Karakol July 16th 2012

The first task of the day (after our early morning swim in the lake) is to track down an eagle hunter, there are supposed to be several in the area, we have a couple of names, Arstan in Bokonbaev & Ishenbek in Kadji Sai (an ex-uranium processing town) but no directions. We stop each local we pass and ask for “berkutchi” and get pointed in the right direction. Then, like buses, we suddenly find 2 – a local gent is signalling for us to follow him round the corner to his friend's house while the young girl running down the road after us is telling us, in English, that her grandfather is a berkutchi. We end up visiting both. They very proudly show off their eagles, caught as chick, and genuinely used for hunting rabbits etc ... read more
Ishenbek & his eagle Genna
she is only small 4kg but can catch a fox
more eagles & falcons

Asia » Kyrgyzstan » Kadji-Say July 14th 2012

From Bishkek we make a 5 day, 400mile, circumnavigation of Lake Issyk-Kul – you could manage it in1 day if you didn't stop to look at all the exciting things en-route. Firstly there's the scenery which, as usual, is stunning. Then there are the bus stops – yes the bus stops; they do a cracking line in bus stops in Kyrgyzstan. And then there are the totally random statues that just pop up all over the place; snow leopards, mountain sheep with big horns, eagles, local heroes, MIG aircraft – the range is endless. Plus of-course Lenin who appears on rooftops and mountainsides and standing, gilded in front of derelict buildings. 80km from Bishkek is the Burana Tower – in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by fields. It was once a capital of the ancient Eastern ... read more
beaches backed by the snow capped Tien Shan
Bus Stops Kyrgzy Style
the roadside is littered with stautes in the most random of places

Asia » Kyrgyzstan » Ala Archa July 14th 2012

Ala-Archa National Park, Kyrgyzstan - 14thJuly 2012 – mile 10.229 Our legs are in shock – they have been asked to do some walking, they are not used to a whole day without the motorbike to carry them round! Ala-Archa is a spectacular canyon only 40km south of Bishkek in the Tien Shen mountains. To be fair most of Kyrgyzstan is spectacular – 97% of it is covered in mountains and the tallest peaks of the old USSR are found here. We're only walking up small peaks. Its very pleasant climbing up through the spruce and juniper woods, past all the wild flowers. Every now and then we pop out of the wood and get views of the steep sided mountains surrounding us with their snowy peaks and glaciers. If you're a real ruffty-tuffty you can ... read more
Edwin out of his motorbike gear and ready to hike in Ala-Archa National Park
the Ala-Archa river gushing past
climbing up through the spruce forests

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