The searing highs and tremendous lows of Moscow to Uzbekistan.

17 July 2017

After a couple of fairly smooth border crossings into Belarus and Russia (4 hours each), we
eventually made it to Moscow for a well earned night in a real bed that doesn't move, unlike the
ones in the van and also a sample of the local Russian tipple – Beluga Vodka, drank outside The
Rising at 6am for breakfast the next day, we set off on our way to Volgagrad (formerly Stalingrad),
a 500 mile straight shot to one of the most important cities in modern Europe. Site of the famous
World War II battle of Stalingrad, this was one city we felt we had to stop and take a look at! As we
approached the city from the North, the city skyline was dominated by the famous statue 'The
Motherland Calls' - A gigantic World War II memorial site. Every single member of the crew was
blown away! The site is a truly beautiful testament to one of the most horrific battles in modern
history and a memory none of us will soon forget.

Next stop Astrakhan and the border with Kazakhstan. It was a long journey with road turnings we
needed to take incorrectly signposted, or not signposted at all, and that's not to mention the nutty
Russian drivers. It took a bit of trial and error and a lot of team work but we eventually made good
progress throughout the night and the following morning. After a stop in Astrakhan to freshen up
and make contact with loved ones at home, we were off to the border. As soon as we were through
the Russian exit border we noticed a real change in attitude. Long gone was the aggressive,
accusatory demeanour of the Russian police and check-point guards. I wouldn't say we were
welcomed with open arms by the Kazakhs, but there was certainly a lot more willingness to help
and an effort made to communicate in English.
This was the first border where Dan had to be processed separately to us with the vehicle, so Kylie,
Luca and I had to go on foot through the border. There was a slightly anxious wait as we were quite
late in the day and we knew this wasn't a 24 hour border. Being stranded overnight would have been
a real issue for us, but fortunately we made it through in good time, despite Dan trying to use
Kylie's passport!

So far so good in Kazakhstan we thought. The border crossing took probably three hours tops and
we made up a load of time on the schedule we'd fallen behind on. If only we knew what to expect
was to follow. We knew the road out of the border was bad, but we couldn't have predicted how
bad. At points the road just disintegrated and the pot holes were more like 'pot-craters'. It was like
driving on the moon. Progress was painfully slow, and more importantly, there was a real
possibility the van could tip as it is so top heavy. Running low on fuel, we decided to use the
reserve diesel in the tank on the roof to lighten the load. Two wheels also came off the roof (with
one rolling 100m into a field...Scott will get that...), along with the two extra seats we'll need in
China and also the Jacks we need to put our off-road tyres on with.

After crawling along for hours like this, we eventually made it to a town and topped up fuel and
figured out the road we had to take in order to get onto the recently built road south towards the
Uzbek border. Despite this being a 'major road' on the map, Kylie and I averaged 20mph tops for
about 4 hours. The road was awful, with some more questionable driving from the locals. Potholes
appeared from nowhere and again the road just disintegrated in places. How Dan and Luca slept at
all is beyond me. Fortunately by the time Kylie and I handed over at around 4am, the road had
improved somewhat and the boys were able to make decent progress south...not that Kylie and I
would be able to tell you as we were both dead to the world!
On waking up later this morning we're now racing towards Uzbekistan (a potentially tricky border
crossing) on a beautiful, flat road with the biggest issue being avoiding roaming camels!
Despite the road situation, we are loving Kazakhstan and the inquisitive locals who just seem to
want to help.