RIGHT- SO ...The challenge of getting broken Grettle back to Bishkek turned into an ordeal not fit for the faint-hearted...
The nice man who had towed me to the Kazakh border during breakdown number 1, had stayed in touch, and kindly offered all the help he possibly could.
He was in Astana, but got through to his nephew in Almaty, who came to the rescue, and turned up outside Amigo Hostel in a large car to give us a lift. Unfortunately it was not large enough for dear Grettle, and after two attempts at squeezing her into his boot, we gave up, and drove off to find a taxi rank. I had a small budget of 10,000 Tenge to get us over the border and back to Bishkek, so we went off with the intention of some serious haggling.
A large, red-faced Russian man with close set eyes, and an untrustworthy air about him, agreed to take us there for 15,000 T, and not a penny less. Beyond my budget, I shook my head and began to consider hitchhiking instead. The kind nephew however, insisted on paying the extra 5000 T for me, and gave it to the Russian taxi driver, before waving goodbye, and leaving the two of us to go back to the hostel and load up Grettle.
Unfortunately, the taxi was not the ideal Vespa carrier either; the seats inside, although they could be folded down, could not slide forward to make enough room to fit Grettle in upright.
We gave it a try however, heaved her front wheel up, then her rear end, pushed and pulled and huffed and puffed, but it was clear she was simply not going to fit!
The taxi driver started getting angry, and turned an unnerving shade of red as he began shrugging his shoulders impatiently, shouting god knows what into my ear, and flinging his arms up in defiance.
Although a small bike, little Grettle is still the sum of a hell of a lot of heavy metal and must weigh around 100kg, so trying to pick her up with only two people was a challenge, and one that clearly the taxi driver felt he had neither signed up for, nor had any patience for!
Trying to think of a solution, and stay calm, i suggested we tried to fit her in through the passenger door instead of the boot. This worked well but unfortunately she was an inch too long for the doors to close. I pulled the tow rope from my bag, and suggested leaving the doors open and strapping Grettle in securely. This went down extraordinarily badly and triggered yet more angry yells, violent hand gesturing and mutterings of Polizia!
So, once again, we squeezed and pulled, lifted Grettle back out of the car and tried a third way; to flip her side ways and lay her on top of the folded seats. I got some extra help from the hostel, and now had a team of people and quite the crowd, as we heaved her once again into the car. At last we had done it...every bit of Grettle was now inside the taxi and all the doors could close...SUCCESS!
Unfortunately, the taxi driver did not see the situation as a success in the slightest, far from it. During the shoving and pushing and pulling, Grettle had torn a small seam in one of the seats, splashed a bit of oil on the covers, and smeared a trail of black rubber along the ceiling where her handle bar had been forced, might i add, by the taxi driver himself!
He was furious about his car and refused to go anywhere, so yet again we carried Grettle back out of the taxi. He then refused to give back anymore than 2000 T of the 5000 T that the nice nephew had lent me, shouting that if i complained, he would give me nothing at all! He stormed off in the taxi, and that was that!
I messaged my friend in Astana updating him of the goings on at Amigo Hostel, after which he kindly organized a third vehicle to come to the hostel and pick us up.
While I was waiting for it to arrive, I received an email from Dad, saying that the road Currier had refused to take the second hand engine after all, for the same reason that it couldn't be flown. Having then got in touch with a specialist Currier, he informed me that even if it was possible to take the engine by road, it would take no less than 28 days!
If i had to wait an entire month, probably more, for the engine to arrive, there was not much chance of reaching Ulaanbaatar before the beginning of September, at which point my new job would have started, and I, no doubt, would be stuck in the middle of a river somewhere in Western Mongolia!
A bit of a sticky wicket eh?
If the engine could neither come by air nor road, what was I to do? Was there any point in going to the hassle of carting Grettle off to Bishkek, when there would be no parts to collect there? After all, it was certainly not proving an easy task!
Desperately searching for a plan C, I made a hurried phone call to a number of a mechanic in Almaty, that I had been sent by a Kazakh friend a couple of weeks previously. I hastily reeled off the current situation and asked if he thought there was any chance of finding help in Almaty. To my amazement and relief, he not only spoke English, but also said he knew a scooter expert, who could take the engine apart that evening and find out exactly which parts i needed, so that I could send them separately from the UK to Almaty in a few working days! He seemed to think that sending separate parts as oppose to sending an entire engine would be no trouble at all by air. He advised me to stay in Kazakhstan and cancel the lift to Bishkek.
This proved a little tricky since the third van had just arrived, and an awkward conversation in Renglish then followed, as i tried to apologize and explain that i didn't need the van and would not be going to Bishkek after all!
Having cancelled the lift and beginning to feel a little warn out (it was by this point about 12am, and the Grettle loading saga had started at least 6 hours previously) I got through to the scooter expert; Egor, who showed up only moments later to pick up Grettle and take her back to his work shop.
He was a very nice young man, and believe it or not, had three Vespas of his own! He proudly showed me a picture of himself driving a tangerine orange Vespa in an exotic backdrop, before getting down to some serious Grettle business. Amusingly, it transpired that Egor knew Grettle already; apparently she was quite famous in Kazakhstan after a series of pictures had been posted over Facebook and shared between the Kazakh community of the two of us last year. It turned out that Egor was a big supporter and very keen to do everything he could to help out!
I found a traveler in the hostel that spoke both Russian and English, who kindly agreed to come out to the parking lot and translate for us. Once Egor knew of all the problems I had been encountering of late, we formed a plan for the next day, before he and his friend took Grettle away. They did so in a truly inspirational way; with his friend driving a scooter, and Egor sitting on Grettle, the friend drove beside and slightly behind Egor, with his leg outstretched and pushing Grettle along with his foot. As i saw them both whizzing off down the road, it suddenly occurred to me that the bolt holding Grettle's back wheel in place was a little loose, and so I rushed inside to send a hurried sms to Egor telling him to take care. Thankfully there were no accidents, and I received a message back moments later, telling me that both he and Grettle were safe and sound in his work shop, and he was about to begin the big dismantling.
I went to his place the next morning to see each and every part of her destroyed engine on the work surface. We took photos of all the parts i needed, doing our best to translate them all from Russian to English, so that i could tell Dad exactly which bits we needed from the second hand engine we'd already brought in the UK.
A rather pitiful looking piston...
Along with the piston, the parts needed are:
chain oil pump
and front variata...
Quite a list!
Having got all this information through to Dad, I stayed in Almaty a couple more nights before taking the bus back, once again, to Bishkek. I couldn't linger much longer in Almaty because my two week Kazakh Visa was about to expire and there was no knowing how long the dismantling, cleaning and sending of the engine parts would take, let alone, if it would pass through customs at all!
So 2 weeks ago, it was sent back from the Currier in the north of England, to my mechanic down South in Bridport; Clive,who kindly dismantled it, cleaned it, and wrote a letter confirming the latter. Last Friday it was successfully sent off from the UK to Egor in Almaty, and with any luck will arrive today or tomorrow! HURRAY!
I have applied for my THIRD Russian transit visa while here in Bishkek, have been granted 10 days to cross the country from the 31st July-10th August, and told it will be ready to collect tomorrow morning, so IF all goes to plan, it looks like I might finally get into Mongolia by the first week of August!
I'm waiting with baited breath to hear word from Egor about the arrival of Grettle's organs, and hope to set off for Almaty tomorrow afternoon, having collected my Russian visa.
As Chris rather marvelously put it, it seems as if I am playing Central Asian pin ball at the moment! The border guards between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan are already suspicious of my frequent appearances at passport control, and the last time I crossed through, I was rather heavily questioned about it. The whole story of the Vespa sounded so ridiculous that I can only imagine they think I am smuggling drugs at this rate! Having said this, with any luck, tomorrow will be my fifth and final visit to this particular border, and the last of Kyrgyzstan!
Since leaving Grettle with Egor, it has to be said, my time in Bishkek has not been TOO taxing- I have found a hostel here with a pool, have my tent pitched beside it for $5 per day, meeting some nice dorks, eating plenty of shashlyk, and partying probably a little too much!
Very excited at the prospect of being back on the road at long last, and will update you with news as I hear it....until then, Adios!