The Road of Bones

Friday 12 Sep 2014
We didn’t make it to the ferry yesterday,  125km short. So we left the campsite early this morning to catch the Aldan river ferry before noon. Beyond that is the “road of bones” right up to Magadan.

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This 7 footer Canadian motorcyclist came from Magadan. So if he’s ok then we’d be ok. The ferry terminal is just 20km ahead and it’d be an 1 hr ride.

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Passing time on the 10km (1.5 hrs) upriver ferry ride.

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The road of bones starts from the ferry terminal. Nothing unusual about it except for its history. See Wikipedia for details. What’s amazing about it is the amount of massive upgrading the Russian authorities are doing to it. Based on a Presidential directive the upgrading started in 2008 with an upward bow of a highway called the Kolyma Highway M56 to Magadan. The old road of bones has fallen into disuse; but it’s still there for the diehard 4×4 offroaders who loved to ford rivers and repair makeshift bridges.  If Stalin was around he would certainly be pleased.

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It’s also very scenic.

At last light Thomas decided to camp. It was drizzling and the campsite was below the road with quite a slope to negotiate in the dark. Anyway we all got down safely, pitched our tents and Jeremy set up his kitchen.

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As for me the car has been my bedroom for the last three nights and it’ll continue to be for the next three.
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Saturday 13 Sep 2014

Destination Ust-Nera again. A fine sunny day. The views were simply awesome

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The roads were dry. However there were as many punctures as yesterday because of the gravel road surface. So there were many stops even before Ust-Nera.

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We arrived Ust-Nera at 8.25pm and found a tyre shop. Already last light and I was hoping for a hotel. Yes, no camping but our Russian handlers only managed to get us a dilapidated apartment. But with hot water, flush toilet and kitchenette.

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Sunday 14 Sep 2014
It’s to Susuman today just under 400km away ESE. More punctures further delays. Didn’t make it to Susuman. Camped out 70 km short of the town.
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Monday 15 Sep 2014
About 680 km to Magadan. Must make it today, maybe in 12 hrs. It’s now the destination not the journey. Rolling by 9am.
Along the way there are many villages and townships,  but mostly abandoned. Reasons being that they were settlements for the exploitation of the natural resources ie coal; and these have run out. Now gold and diamonds are found and some of the townships have remained (like the one where we stayed at Ust-Nera.) The mine owners, however, are not keen to develop these townships because they know the exploitation wouldn’t last forever. Thus only basic services were available; no maintenance of buildings or roads; and no hotels because tourists were not expected.
Not many punctures today. But Car 8 had a major problem when its LR wheel came off and rolled to the other side of the road into the drain. It was 8.30pm. One wheel stud had sheared. Temporary repair was done and we drove into Magadan with no further incident. Arrived hotel at 11.15pm, had dinner and checked into our rooms. Hotel had good wifi. But a hot bath and shampooing hair were more urgent. I was also lucky to have a single room.

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Magadan 16 Sep 2014

Magadan was the end of the road for me (and for four others as well.)  The rest die hard adventurers were to drive back to Vladivostok via the old road (of bones) which was abandoned when the Russians built the new sections of the Kolyma Highway (bowing upward as in the picture.) Why wasn’t I keen to do it?  Several reasons: (1) the thought of doing the campings all over again (2) I’ve seen enough of Siberia for my brag list (3) money.

Kolyma Highway M56Anyway, I was glad to see Magadan and walked around the city and to learn of its infamous history. Magadan was the seaport that received the prisoners delivered by the Trans Siberian Railway to Vladivostok for trans shipment to the gulags.  Thus the memorial sculptures at the city square told the sad story of the Stalinist era.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat night we had a farewell dinner at this seafood restaurant.  Had to walk for quite some distance from the hotel because the cars were all away at the workshops for maintenance and repairs.  We had a good time.  Actually only John Jarvis and myself were leaving the group tomorrow morning to fly out to Vladivostok via Khabarovsk (the other three – Aman Yong, Dr Sharanjit and Cliff left on the 15th.)

IMG-20140922-WA0005The next morning 17 Sep, we left the hotel and made a stop at the “must see” tourist attraction of Magadan; that is the Mammoth and Tears of Sorrow, the Mammoth being historical but the Tears of Sorrow being in memory of all those who suffered during the Stalinist era, in particular the prisoners of the gulags.

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Siberia

Thursday 4 Sep 2014
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Woke up early this morning. But hotel Momin in this border town Mongolia had run out of water. What lousy luck. Breakfast was ok; and we departed by 7am to arrive at the CIQ complex 8am but to a long wait. Anyway the Mongolian handlers from Genco did their best to get us as group given some priority.
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So by 10.45 am we were out and into Russian CIQ complex. More waiting to be processed which included 100% check on all cars. We were only cleared by 4pm. Phew.
Anyway, the 220km drive to Ulan Ude was very pleasant. Good roads and beautiful scenery. It was like driving in the English countryside.

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We were supposed to be in a yurt camp tonight but Thomas rearranged things and we stayed at the Baikal Plaza 4* hotel instead. Our Russian handlers were also very helpful.
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Friday 5 Sep 2014
Washed T-shirts and boxers at hotel. Had a good night’s sleep after updating websites. Hotel had good wifi.
Morning was very cold. Olga went to change money and Convoy went shopping for provisions. Then off to Lake Baikal some 200km NE of Ulan Ude. Camping by the lake tonight.
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Arrived campsite about 3.30pm. Not bad with toilet facilitues. Setup tent and Jeremy the kitchen. He whipped up mee hoon goreng. Wonderful. For dinner he’s preparing nasi lemak.
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Saturday 6 Sep 20

Very cold last night. No wifi but SMS ok to contact home. Should have bought Russian simcard. This morning foggy. Departed for Yakults 5 days away north. Hence 4 more campings, but with last night’s experience should be better organised.

It rained all day well into the night. Thomas decided no camping but had to divert to Chita for hotel accn. It’s another 7 hrs drive, ETA 1.30 am. It’s better than camping!

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Sunday 7 Sep 2014
Hotel at Chita ok, warm room, hot shower and flush toilet.
Today, we’re driving to Mogocha some 600km away NE. Camping. Weather expected to be same as yesterday.
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Campsite not good. Still raining. Looks like I’ll be sleeping in the car tonight. Another campsite was found. And I did sleep in the car.
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Monday 8 Sep 2014
Quite comfortable sleeping in the car last night. But it continued drizzling whole night and probably into tonight. But we’re going into a hotel at Bolshoy. So that’s ok. Let it piss all night. Our car demister went kaput. Used toothpaste, ok so-so; today bought Sonax spray at Mogocha. Worked beautifully.

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Arrived Bolshoy 8.15pm. Full refuelling before motel above next to the petrol station. How convenient (but they don’t have wifi.)

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Tuesday 9 Sep 2014
Destination Aldan today. Apparently there’s a hotsprings campsite there. It’s a 600+km distance and I don’t think we’d make since there’s a lot of roadworks slowing us down. Looks like the Russians are actively developing the Russian Far East especially now that they’ve found gold and diamond in the region. The town of Tynda is certainly a modern creation.

Russian policemen. Happy to serve in Tynda - the boom town.

Russian policemen. Happy to serve in Tynda – the boom town.

We didn’t make it to Aldan, 200km short. But Thomas soon found a campsite by 7.30pm just before it got dark. Where? By the roadside just off the main M56 highway. And everybody got to work setting up their tents and Jeremy his kitchen.
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And Choy and I would sleep in the car like we did night before.
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Wednesday 10 Sep 2014

It was cold last night. About 3°C according to Aman Yong. Looks like I’ll have to use double sleeping bags and double warmer packets from now onwards.
After breakfast and calisthenics we rolled at 10am for Nizthni on the east bank of the river at Yakults 750km north. I didn’t think we’d make it when at 3.15pm we only reached Aldan the town we were supposed to be yesterday evening; with another 500km to cover. The weather, however, was nice and sunny. But roadworks and diversions were still aplenty.
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It’s  8pm now and we’re searching for a campsite; and Thomas did find a nice one. The weather is great but very cold and I’m not pitching a tent tonight.
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Thursday 11 Sep 2014
I survived -7°C last night. Even our water in the bottle froze.
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And Thomas also said it was the coldest he ever experienced. Well, it might be worse along the “road of bones” for the next 4-5 days.
Cliff Go who left us at Ulaan Baatar rejoined us us today at Nizhne. We’re bypassing Yakutsk (and hotel) to make up for time.
After lunch and refuelling we left for the ferry terminal but didn’t quite make it. So we camped by 8pm.
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Mongolia

Friday 29 Aug 2014
Border crossing today from Erenhot, China into Mongolia. We were told to expect the worst ie delays and waitings. But we were cleaed by both countries’ Customs & Immigration in 3 hrs (9-12). However, once inside Mongolia, the process of currency exchange took quite some time. Anyway, we rolled away around 2.30 pm and drove north for lunch at a Yurt camp in the middle of nowhere. We got there at 4.30 pm for a surprisingly good lunch.

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Then a bit of sightseeing of a monastery in the middle of nowhere.

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Saturday 30 Aug 2014
We drove north to Genghis Khan memorial village some 400 clicks away.
The roads were bad in many places, so Thomas decided to go off road. It was quite fun driving in the steppes. Finally we arrived at Genghis Khan’s “village” – very interesting reconstruction of 13th century lifestyle. Then to dinner and another yurt camping. Facilities were sub-standard and I had to postpone the big job.

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Monday 1 Sep 2014
Autumn officially starts today in Mongolia. It’s getting cold. But I had a pleasant night last night sleeping to a warm fire from a wood fed fireplace in the yurt. And a good English breakfast with my favourite cereals,  the cornflakes. Last night it was a chicken dinner and yesterday’s lunch was beef steak. I hope it’ll be just as good at Ulaan Baatar (UB) where we’re going to today.

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Got into UB @ 10.45 am after a 75km drive, to a massive traffic jam. UB have half the population of Mongolia which is 3 million.
It was a busy afternoon since GENCO, our Mongolian trip handler already planned for some excursions before and after lunch. First a visit to Genghis Khan museum, Genghis Khan square and Parliament house. Then lunch, after that traditional massage, followed by theatre of traditional song and dance, BBQ dinner and back to hotel around 9pm.
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Tuesday 2 Sep 2014
It’s sightseeing day again today. After breakfast the car owners/drivers sent the cars for servicing, while the rest of us went off to the big monastery.
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After that to Russia-Mongolia friendship monument on top of a hill. And then lunch. After lunch it was shopping at a dept store; but there was nothing much really. No match for KLCC.
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The cars receiving a much needed maintenance.

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Buying provisions for camping in Siberia

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Ulaan Baatar from the hill
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Wednesday 3 Sep 2014

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Farewell to those leaving us here

We’re going to the Russian border town of Darkhan today about 200 km north. But first refuel to the brim, including jerry cans. Fuel is more expensive in Siberia.
No highways but paved roads with long sections of offroad conditions in many places.
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We arrived Darkhan around 3.15pm and stopped at this pub with everything Texan. Good lunch with wifi. At 4 pm we drove further north to the border town of Sukhbaatar arriving at 6 pm. Another opportunity for full refuelling before we bed for the night.