14th - 23rd August 2003
When we arrived in Chadan, Ju was ill with a stomach bug and we were both tired. All we wanted was to find the hotel and recuperate. So our hearts sank when we saw the only hotel was shut for renovation. Luckily a couple of friendly policemen took us to the "Technical Institute" which appears to double as a hotel in the holidays. The drinking water came from a well 100m away, the washing water came from a puddle over the road and the toilets were out the back, but it was only $2 a night and the guy in charge was friendly without imposing on us.
Once the antibiotics had done their work on Ju's gut fauna we were back on the road, which took us across a series of low passes over dry steppe. The mountains either side of the road were barren and we didn't see many settlements. The first afternoon a thunderstorm brewed up over the mountains, so we camped early before getting wet. In the evening the skies cleared and we got a rainbow:
We stocked up with food at Kyzyl-Mazhalik, near Ak Douvrak. It was eight days since we were "2 days away by horse", thanks to the direct route being a steep sided canyon with too many deep river crossings. We had a long conversation with a cow herd who told us how the price of vodka had gone up thirty-fold since perestroika so now he had to drink industrial alcohol.
Next day we crossed a low pass into the river valley which led up to the Sayanskii Pass, at 2206m.
For two days we pedalled steadily uphill. On the way we passed a several yurts where we bought milk and Ju was given some interesting pine cones. We also passed the derelict remains of a village, there was a building with a "Stolovaya" (restaurant) sign over the open door frame but only cows visited it now. The night before we reached the top of the pass we had our first frost and our first day without changing in shorts at any time. The leaves were beginning to turn yellow and autumn was on the way.
According to the Lonely Planet this area has a "dry central Asian climate", a quote we repeated to each other every time it began to rain! Eventually we reached the top of the pass which is the border between the Tuva and Khakassia Republics.
Freewheeling down the other side the landscape changed first to dense pine forest and then lower down to birch forest identical to the Siberian Taiga. We found a lot of interesting insects and larvae in this area and saw large numbers of long-horn beetles. The picture below is typical of the scenery:
We came to our first village since buying food in Kyzyl-Mazhalik, we had little left except tins of fish, noodles, bread and stale biscuits so we prepared a long shopping list in anticipation of buying more food. So you can imagine our disappointment when the village consisted of a few houses and a derelict petrol station! We tried asking someone if they knew where we could get milk or potatoes (the two things they were most likely to have) but they didn't get the hint and told us the next village, 40km away, had a shop. When we got there the following day it was also shop-less but a friendly retired couple sold us potatoes, onions and four fresh fish from the river, that night we had fish and chips! There was also a "tourist complex" for rafters on the adjacent river and that had a cafe where we got a hearty lunch.
Next day despite a couple of unmarked 1000m passes we reached Abaza which is the railhead. We thoroughly enjoyed the remote and beautiful Western Sayan Mountains, but with winter only a couple of months away we needed a little help from the trains.
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