The main goal of this trip was to visit Mongolia and Central Asia and that segment has now been completed, ahead of schedule.
I departed Bermuda on 31st March. After some training and administrative tasks in England, I departed Bridgwater on 6th April. It is now 7th July, so in three months I’ve crossed Russia from Ukraine to Lake Baikal and then visited Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan (twice) with two additional entries into Russia. It’s been a great three months.
My initial route planning was fairly accurate with respect to mileage and the time required. The trip schedule has me arriving back in Ukraine on 14th July (so I got here 8 days ahead of schedule). The projected mileage on entering Ukraine was 15,063. The actual mileage to date is 15,579 (25,071km) which is as close as anyone could have expected. I’ve become quite comfortable driving long distances in a day, where needed, and those long days pave the way for more non-driving days along the way. In fact, driving the Defender is an enjoyable part of the trip regardless of where I am.
The stand-out countries for me have been Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they are also the two countries that offered the best off-road driving experiences. In Mongolia, the ability to virtually drive anywhere at all without restriction, and to camp wherever you chose, was very appealing. A lot of the driving was on dirt roads and there were a fair few occasions when I had to drive across rivers/streams. In Kyrgyzstan, it was the mountain passes that got me excited. Simply driving the passes was fun but the views were amazing and made the experience magical. I think the highlight of Kyrgyzstan was driving the Kaldama Pass from Kazarman to the Fergana Valley. It was an awe-inspiring drive that I shall never forget.
I expected Uzbekistan to also be a highlight of the trip but, in a way, it signalled the end of the adventurous part of the trip. The off-road elements of Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan along with wild-camping were all an adventure. Uzbekistan became more touristy. Due to government registration requirements, all nights had to be spent in hotels. And the driving was all on sealed roads. For sure, I enjoyed visiting the Silk Road cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva and seeing the amazing historical buildings there, but that sense of adventure wasn’t missing. I was just another tourist who happened to be travelling in my own vehicle.
The Defender has been terrific on this trip. I’ve been particularly impressed with how she’s performed off-road and at how she’s taken the rough road conditions in her stride. There have been some minor niggles that have required some attention but nothing serious. I’ve ensured that she’s had regular servicing and she’s due to get another check-up at the Kiev Land Rover dealer tomorrow. Hopefully she’ll continue her flawless performance for the rest of the trip.
I’ve been impressed by the friendliness and helpfulness of the people I have met in all of the countries. They have seemed genuinely interested in the trip and, more so, in the Defender (she’s had a lot of attention in every country). I’ve enjoyed eating in places ‘where the locals eat’ and getting to meet regular local people. Mostly, we could only communicate with smiles and gestures, but somehow we managed to understand each other at least a little bit.
Throughout the three months, I’ve been pulled over by the police countless times. The majority of the encounters were friendly and ended promptly when the officers realised I didn’t speak Russian. There was one attempt to ‘fine’ me for a non-existent speeding offence. I was lucky to not get a ticket for an actual speeding offence. And there was one occasion where an over-zealous officer wanted to search everything in the car. Getting pulled over became an expected feature of the trip but it was generally harmless. And I managed to get through three months without a fine and without having to pay a bribe.
I now have over two months to complete the rest of the trip. I’m extending my stay in Kiev to six nights so that I can get onto a tour to Chernobyl on Thursday. That will also mean that I get to see both World Cup semi-final games here in Kiev. Then on Friday, I’ll make my way south through Ukraine to Romania and then west through the Balkans. There are still twelve more countries to visit (ten of which will be new countries for me). Whilst I hope that there will still be opportunities for wild-camping, I suspect the majority of my camping will be at recognised camp-sites. And I expect almost all of the driving will now be on sealed roads. The rest of the trip will ‘feel’ different to the adventure of crossing Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan, but I expect that I still have some great places to visit ahead of me.
So, whilst a major part of the trip is now behind me, there is still a lot of travelling to do and a lot of places to see. I’m loving it!