Well to put it lightly, things have not gone QUITE to plan...
Grettle has been awfully sick, seen many doctors, broken down one too many times, and the general consensus is, that the specialized treatment required to make her well again, is one that must be issued from the UK...a new ENGINE!
To step back a couple of weeks, I had a wonderful trip around the stunning Issyk Kul and Son Kul lakes in Kyrgyzstan, whilst waiting for my various visas. I traveled with the Israeli chap mentioned in my previous post; Eldad (driving the 125 cc motorcycle), and two french chums, who hitchhiked and hopped on various machrutkas to keep up.
Grettle kept her spirits up for a good 1000 km and made it up to 3500 meters over the mountain passes before giving up the ghost entirely back in Bishkek. We camped along the lake shores, swam in the icy water, cooked up meals and generally had a very merry 10 days together...
It was having got back from the lakes that the trouble began...
Having finally got all the necessary visas sorted, I set off in high spirits to meet Eldad in Almaty, from where we would set off together to the Russian border and begin the epic journey across Mongolia....or so I thought!
I had just crossed the border into Kazakhstan when a loud bang brought us abruptly to a sticky halt.
I was in the middle of nowhere, had absolutely no Kazakh currency, no working phone, no internet signal, no cigarettes, and to make matters worse, the only sign of life near by was a small Muslim cafe where there was of course, no beer, and no fags!
No-one spoke English but the few Kazakh locals that loitered near by soon got the gist of the problem, one of whom kindly brought me a local sim card. I contacted the only person I knew in Almaty; Michael; the chap I had met on an adventure around the singing sand dunes a year previously, and the man who I had just finished a painting commission for. He managed to get through to Alexander, the nice Kyrgyz mechanic who knows Grettle all too well, and as it was, had opened up her engine to check up on things that very morning!
My hope was that Alex might appear like a knight in shining armor, pick the two of us up, and get us back to his shop in Bishkek for examination and fixing.
Having finally got through to Alex, it transpired that he had lost his passport and so could not get into Kazakhstan to collect us, but offered incredibly kindly, to come as far as he could; to the Kyrgyz side of the border, where he would meet us with a car, and get us back to Bishkek.
The challenge then was finding a way to get Grettle back to the border...
Whilst pondering over this, I was brought lunch by a man with an entire set of gold teeth and a wide grin, who had muttered about a truck coming at 9pm to pick us up. As time tends to go in Central Asia, 9pm came and went and i wondered, as the stream of cars grew thinner and thinner, how i would make it to Alex by the pre-arranged time of 10pm. My sim would not carry through to Kyrgyzstan where Alex was, and every phone call i tried to make would cut out in a matter of seconds. This combined with the fact that Alex barely spoke any English, made any plan, let alone a change of plan, extremely testing!
Thankfully, a nice young Kazakh man came to sit at my table, and to my surprise spoke very good English. He was eager to help but unfortunately his car was far too small to fit Grettle inside.
A look of horror appeared on his face, as I drew an old and rapidly deteriorating piece of rope from the broken underbelly of Grettle, tied one end of it around her head lamp, and dangled the other imploringly by the back of his car.
I had only just finished persuading him that towing the two of us would be very safe indeed and no problem at all, when, just as he pulled out of the parking lot and onto the main road, the rope snapped in two!
Oh dear! I thought, hoping this had not put him off all together. Luckily, it had not, and off we set on the second attempt. Time of the essence, I would periodically text him from Grettle, letting him know it was safe to up the speed, and receiving responses such as 'safety first!', he slowly towed me the 30 km to the border. The rope broke for the second time just before the gates...it was perfect timing, and all was well, we had made it!
I pushed Grettle back through border control, and through several astonished and perplexed looking police officers, to find Alex waiting, as promised, at the gate with a car.
We reached Bishkek at midnight and I hopped out, thanking him enormously for all his help, and spent the night, or what was left of it, at Nomads Home.
The following day it transpired that her injuries were severe, more so even than eight months previously when her engine had to be rebuilt. It was in fact exactly the same problem; one to do with the output valve, which had broken along with many other important bits and pieces inside her engine. I was told the only solution within my time frame, was to rebuild the engine head once again, using Chinese parts, which, i was warned, had an unknown but most likely short, life expectancy.
Without another option i opted for this. It took three days to fix her up, and dear Alex worked on her solidly, finally finishing at 1am on the third morning. I went to pick her up in the dead of night, and now extremely late to meet Eldad, who had been waiting in Almaty for me, set off at crack of dawn to meet him that morning.
All was well, and it was a delight to be back on the road. I tracked down Eldad in Almaty and we set off towards the Russian border late afternoon. The weather was atrocious, the wind unyielding, and the rain so heavy I could barely make out the road through my open helmet. We camped on the shores of a lake just north of the city, witnessed a stunning sunset, and slept in collapsing tents as a ferocious storm broke out that evening...
All was well until the following day, when a large puff of black smoke and a small explosion marked the start of the soon to be - epic saga of the Grettle brake-downs. Exactly the same thing had happened again-
The first thought that came to mind was that Eldad could tow me as far as the next village where we could find internet and sort out a plan. The only one that we both agreed could possibly work at this point, was ordering a new engine, and one that was designed for a Vespa, since clearly Chinese organs inside my Italian baby, were simply not going to work...this had been the third breakdown caused by the same problem, and so severe this time, that the engine had stopped rotating altogether.
The two of us looked a little ridiculous it has to be said, a 125cc towing a small Vespa at snails pace down the highway. I was having a splendid time but unfortunately Eldad's bike; Blitzy, was not, and eventually the extra weight became too much for his small engine.
I hailed down a passing car, the driver of which agreed to tow me to the village 30 km away. It was a fun ride, and we whizzed along the highway, at times faster than Grettle had ever gone with her engine intact! Terrifying bits of off-road or gravel surface would send my stomach into my mouth, as the two mad drivers in the car, zoomed at the speed of light through the rubble, every time almost sending Grettle and I into the dust.
Thank fully we made it in one piece but unfortunately, the idea of internet in this village was highly optimistic; we arrived at a cluster of closed shops and very little else, and it soon transpired we would have to get her to the next city; Taldykorgan; about 100 km further north.
Waiting with thumbs stuck out once again, eventually a nice man pulled over and we heaved Grettle into the back of his van...the perfect Grettle carrier it has to be said...
We sped along happily until reaching Taldykorgan, where he dropped me off at a small hotel. We heaved Grettle out of the boot and having thanked him very much, booked my self in for a night to sort out what on earth to do next.
Before any of this however, it was time for an icy cold beer and a relax...the last two days had been fairly chaotic to say the least! One brew, as it usually does, soon turned to two, and then three, as I was joined by a group of bikers who showed up moments after I had. After the late night, Eldad went on ahead in the morning, and I was left, terribly hungover, feeling a little low, a little alone, and very stuck in Taldykorgan!
Later that afternoon, I manged to get through to my dear old stoats (parents) in the UK and we came up with the plan of flying an engine out on the next available flight.
By the evening, we had found a second hand engine for 175 squid, which would be sent out this Saturday on a flight to Almaty. Fantastic news! It even made it potentially possible to reach Russia in time for my transit visa...
The fact that the engine would land in Almaty, meant of course that i then had to find yet another lift 300 km back south in order to sign for the engine when it was scheduled to arrive in a few days time.
So once again, I stood by the side of the road, attempting to flag down any car that looked like it was big enough to haul Grettle inside.
A crowd of people soon gathered around intrigued by this unusual spectacle, and soon i had a team of helpers. One of the men slipped 2000 tenge into my pocket to help out with the cost of the ride, and another appeared with a large sheet of paper which he taped to the front of Grettle, and scribbled on it AATA (ALMATY) in large letters, next to the address of the hostel i planned to stay in.
She had soon gathered a lot of interest; a chap approached to study my sign curiously, and eventually agreed to take the two of us to Almaty for 5000 tenge (about 10 dollars).
We all heaved and squeezed her into the boot of his car, after which the usual photo shoot took place, with lots of Kazakh men grinning widely, making peace signs arm in arm around Grettle, until finally it was time to go. Fairly relieved, I hopped into the car, along with a family of three, and off we set, for Almaty...
I arrived safe and sound a couple of days ago, but I'm afraid to say the saga continues....
Yesterday I received a call from dad informing me that the airline had rejected the engine for safety reasons, and so my plans for fixing her up this Saturday and making it into Russia before my Visa expires have been thwarted badly!
So...Plan B...By Road!
My wonderful parents are currently in touch with a road Currier and we are waiting to hear on a quote and a time frame for delivering the engine by road. This will most likely take over two weeks, by which point my Kazakh visa will have expired, along with my Russian Visa, and so the plan is to head back to Bishkek and wait for the engine there.
Will update you soon...presently trying to find yet another lift with Grettle down to Bishkek. I have my fingers crossed the Currier team can make it a hell of a lot quicker than the three months it took Grettle and I to chug slowly across half the world!