by Tuomas Patanen

Once again, as it is prone to do, the Expedition Portal forums have served as the repository for another amazing journey, this time in the form of a drive from Finland to Kyrgzystan in a Volvo 240 Wagon. Forum member “Pata,” took the time to share his journey in a multi-page thread and we felt it was worthy of our home page. Presented as it appeared on the forum, this is a great read.

 

 

You can visit and participate in the original thread here:

Central Asia tour Finland-Russia-Kazakstan-Uzbekistan-Taijikistan-Kirgistan

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So, you might have read about our previous adventure, Caucasian challenge. I did promise that we are about to do new adventure to Central Asia.

 

Here it is as promised:

 

We did sell our trusted Defender and we bought Discovery to replace that. Most important thing was ac and more comfortable car. But, when we applyed visas Kaz visa was difficult for us. No double entry visa, what ever we tried to do. Probably because we beat them in ice hockey world championship tournament… There was only two weeks before departure an decisions to make. Discovery was too expensive to leave there or to sell with reasonable price. So to the plan B, car ads magazine and find and buy as cheap car as possible. We end up buying Volvo 240 station wagon year model 1988, with just a bit over 400 000km driven.

 

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Day 1 Tuusula Finland – Allmost Moscow Russia

 

Again it was an early start of the day. Last things in to the car and we started to head to east border between Finland and Russia. Nothing special before border. Finland’s side was drive trough, Russian side took half an hour. After we got to Russian side first thing was fill up gas tank. Fuel is about half of price compared to Finland, so we did leave with almost empty fuel tank. There is gas station just after border so no problems. We drive around St-Petersburg and kept heading to Moscow. About six a clock we started to look for motel or cheap hotel to sleep.

 

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Day 2 Around Moscow to Stupino Russia

Early woke up, after good night sleep. We started morning writing our breakfast wishes in russian language on piece of paper. Because no-one spoke any other language than russia in this motel. Paper did the trick and we got almost everything what we hoped to get. After that we hit the road. From previous year we learned that you have to go round Moscow on outer ring road. Yep, we tried. Next time I will go even more round… 400km drive took around 13 hours. Just sitting in traffic jam all day. Local way is to go pass where ever or how ever you can. That slows traffic even more. After Moscow traffic was fine and we reached city of Stupino in the evening. We have looked central hotel before we arrived, but we just couldn’t find hotel were it supposed to be. After we asked local milis they guided us in the right place.

 

 

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Day 3 Stupino Russia – Volgograd Russia

Breakfast in hotel room and after that we hit the road. Roads here are straight and long. Big country with long distances. We headed towards Volgograd and days leg was around 700km. Nothing special about days drive. Volvo had some hickups during the day, but we didn’t find any specific fault. We did change new spark plugs and it did helped little.

 

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You can buy dry fish as a snack from the gas station…

We arrived in Volgograd and we found hotel right away. We probably got most expensive room in hotel with private sauna and own jacuzi. Only problem was Northern Karabach visas in our passports from our previous trip. “Why this?” “I have been there.” “What have you done there?” “Tourist trip” “Why?” ” Well, because I can..?” that was this examination during hotel booking. And it kept going like half an hour. They did took copies from all the visas during that process.

After we got the room, we went to local supermarket to get breakfast and some drinks for evening. We even got some local champange for jacuzi…

 

Day 4 Volgograd Russia – Astrakhan Russia

Long sleep this morning. After that nice breakfast with one boiled egg, one sausage and small portion on porridge. Days leg was only 400km so no need to hurry. As we headed more south all the time, landscape started to change more. No trees, just grass. And long straight road. We drived along mighty Volga river and it was nice to stop once in a while and enjoy wind to cool you down. We arrived Astrakhan in the afternoon and founded our hotel quite easily. We booked ourselves in hotel and started to wait other teams to arrive. After that we headed out to town, there was lots of memorial statues.

 

 

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Day 5 Rest day in Astrakhan

Day 5 was rest day for us, we have allready done around 2500km in four days. So today we didn’t drive at all. I did small maintenance to car. Our third team member Maria was also arriving today and other team’s as well. After Maria arrived our life changed easy. She speaks fluent Russia so no more language problems. We had a dinner in the hotel restaurant and after that we head out to town to see night life. Anyway plan was to go and grab one or two beers but we took wrong door and we ended up to local high class restaurant. We had some champanje and tiramisu and of course shisha pipe.

 

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Day 7 Astrakhan Russia – Beyneu Kazakstan

Early woke up, and we had a hot day! No shadow at all and temperature inside car was aroun +40C. We started early, because we had long way to go. Again day was eating miles to go in central Asia. Days leg was almost 800km with border crossing. We leave from Astrakhan and first part of the road was bad. After we got to Kazakstan side roads were better. We did see some turtles and camels in the way and landskape is almost desert. We stopped once in a while to buy water. But there isn’t much to stop. Just desert. We were still on the road when sun was going down. After dark there was one guy on side of the road waving flashlight. First i drive pass, but we did stop. Inka said that it was Jack from team Canada. So we turned around and drived back. They had problems with started in their car. So we helped them to get car back running and after that we continue as a two car convoy. We were first to arrive in the hotel and we had a possibility to get room with shower! All others arrived in next two hour and we had lot to talk about with all new people. Canadians offered our dinner and some beers because we rescued them from the side of the road.

 

Day 8 Beyneu Kazakstan – Muynaq Beach Uzbek

In the morning we give Canadians push start. Starter was gone, luckily car was with manual transmission. We headed to border early, because it’s difficult to go pass this border. Roads were gravel, with big potholes. Dust, avoiding holes and extremely hot. We stopped before the border to buy some water and stuff. Road conditions were really bad, but it was getting even worse. We reached border quite early and started to declare ourselves out of Kazakstan. Our papers were fine but Canadians had a rental car and one paper was missing. So, they had to wait others to arrive. We hopped in the car and drive to “no mans land” between countries. And then everything just stopped. We had to wait that officers end their lunch hour. Inka and Maria scouted what was happening. They negotiated with border officer and suddently all the trucks moved a side and let us go pass. Nice!

We got first place in the line and then all hell started. It was hot as hell and when they started to do inpection of our luggages and car I thought that this wouldn’t end ever. First everything inside the car out and to be x-rayed. After that all phones, laptops, ipads to be checked. All photos and videos must be shown. To avoid porn and religious material entering inside the country. All together it took like 4 or 5 hours. I cant even remember anymore, it was so annoying.

 

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Landscape was totally desert with camels in Uzbek side. We decided to take a shortcut trough desert to be more early in the camp site. We followed tyre marks and gps in the middle of desert. Some points were little bit tricky, Volvo is not an offroad car after all. But we managed to drive trough desert anyway. All off road driving in Finland was good basis to go there.

 

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Day 9 Muynaq beach Uzbek – Khiva Uzbek

In the morning we woke up in sunshine and some cows making noise. We spend our night on old dock, place which has been place for fishing boats when there was water. Now there is several meter long drop on bottom of the sea. We took some photos and did some repairs for the cars. This day was on good roads, with some problems. No gasoline anywhere. There was some petrol stations but no petrol. Only way to buy petrol is look on side of the road for bottles filled up with petrol. That was a sing that there was 10 to 15 litres gasoline for sale. And quality of gasoline was very poor. Around 80 octane and it has been continued with some solvent. Probably gasoline was around 60 octane and lots of dirt on it.

But we managed with kazak gasoline all the way to Khiva without any bigger problems. We arrived to Khiva in the afternoon and founded hotel after small detour. Our hotel was just on the edge of old town, so not long way to see some sights.

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Day 10 Khiva Uzbek – Bukhara Uzbek

We started our day with the best breakfast ever. It was huge and there was everything what you could hope. Even coffee! After that we went out to see old town and bazaar. And there was everything and much more what you can imagine. And then we hit the road again. First stop just before we went out of town to buy some frozen water bottles and snacks for days drive. First 60km went ok, but after that it hit us. Poor fuel started to make some problems. 500m at the time and after that car just died. After small waiting it woke up again and again after 500m it died. We limped to small town and find a car repair shop. It was sunday and mechanic was home, but people did call him to get some help for us. I started to find fault by cleaning all the fuel lines, fuel pump, fuel filter and so on. But nothing helped. I started to think that would it be possibly on electricks of the car. We checked sparkplugs, wires, distributor, coil and so on. But nothing.

 

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It took several hours to find problem, but nothing seemed to help. I started to feel that this was the end of the road for Volvo. I called other that could they come and pick us up. Other guys, told that no worries they will come to rescue. Luckily there was this Russian mechanic with them. He did took look under the bonnet and couple test runs and we have found problem. Fuel quality is so bad that it jams injection valve. Small knocking on the side of injection unit and we did manage to drive 30-50km. That was enough to get us going.

We reached Bukhara about 2 or 3 am and we open up our breakdown bottle with others. And some other bottles too… We went to bed after 6 am…

 

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Day 11 Restday in Bukhara

This was a rest day for us. No driving, but lot of things to fix. Everybody had something to fix in their cars. We did go to local car bazar to find oil, belts, tyres and other stuff to keep us going. Even these guys don’t have much they are ready to help. I spend my day fixing car and girls went out to see town.

 

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Day 12 Bukhara-Samarkand Uzbek

We started day quite early because heat was not so bad. Our car suffered about this heat a lot. I did couple wentilation holes in the bonnet to help car to cool down. And it did helped little bit. It was so hot that radio and clock stopped working. We chose to drive on the main roads, because car wasn’t so reliable as I would hoped to be. Biggest problems caused heat and poor fuel. Polish girls had major issues with their Suzuki. They burned head gasket and car was done. Belgians towed them in Samarkand and our local guide managed to get car in the shop right away.

After we got to Samarkand hotel, we take a quick shower and after that straight to see the Blue Mosque. But we didn’t go inside because the pricing. Locals payed 3000 local money but our price was 16000 per person. I felt little bit cheated.

 

 

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Day 13 Samarkand UZB – Dushambe TAJ

Days are starting as usual. After breakfast you pack your bags, routine check’s for car and so on. Today we drive trough country side to get in Tajikistan while the border would be open. They close that border on 7.00 pm so you need to get there before that. Inka was feeling a bit sick today so she took place from team Canada’s car and enjoyed a good sleep in car with AC. Good solution because she felt better after days sleep in car.

By the time we started to reach border we realized that we are in a hurry. Clock was allready 6.00 pm and we still had more than 40km to go. And roads aren’t so fast there. We reached border just before it was closed for that day. Paperwork wasn’t so bad as we arrived but it still took some time. We told that there is still other people coming and they promised us to keep border open. How nice was that! We reached our hotel in center of Dushanbe just when sun gets down.

 

Day 14 Dushanbe TAJ – Tavildara TAJ

In the morning Dushanbe was like any other big city. People were heading to work and school, it was nice too just sit on breakfast on side on busy road and watch people. Hotel it self was old and Soviet style. Todays drive was easy, mainly on tarmac roads and only 200km. After good lunch we hit the road again. We turned to smaller dirt road and I starter do hear some kind of banging from the chassis. I stopped car and crawled under. It was the right time to do so, because all these bumps and potholes had loosen our front axle. Luckily bolts were still there, so tighten them with some silicone in thread keep them in place. First I thought it was only a bearing, but no. Team Canada reached us while we were fixing our car. We drived rest of the leg together and reached our residence quit early. We waited others to arrive and started to make dinner. Jack had great Georgian red wine with him and we had some pasta for dinner. Perfect! Tomorrow is going to be big day, we are hitting to Pamir highway!

 

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Day 15 Tavildara TAJ – Khorog TAJ

We woked up in the morning around 7 am. First a cold shower and after that we started to make breakfast, porridge and some decent coffee… Part of the group has arrived in the middle of the night. British girls had a major problems with their Fiat Punto! Yes, you read right. They already lost their brakes and now there was a big gasoline like somewhere in fuel line. We managed to do fix in fuel line and we were ready to hit the Pamir Highway.

We started early, because roads are bad. We teamed up again with team Canada. I guess that Finns and Canadians are similar people so it was easy to get a long without any hassle. We leaved Tavildara and first we had to get by on probably million sheep what locals were moving some other place. Just drive trough little bit faster and sheep’s will give you way. It is chaotic but normal there. Before Pamir highway we had to do first bigger river crossing. Volvo did great job and I was happy that I had build a snorkel before we leaved home. Now it was useful.

 

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In the beginning of Pamir Highway there is control post. They kept us waiting about two hours, because there has been some fighting in that area last night. Finally they let us go. Landscape was great! Snow topped mountains, green grass, gravel road and great people. I let photos to do the talking. We started climbing on mountains and there was still snow on side of the road. Days highest point was 3456 meters from sea level. And yes you feel bit dizzy in your head. Ten meters walk was like running a marathon.

 

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We started to get down from mountains and stopped for lunch by the river. Snow was melting in mountains and there was pure water rivers here and there. And it was very cold. You could chill a can of soda in couple minutes just putting it to stream.

 

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When we were sitting at lunch it finally hit us. We have drove about 50km and days leg was around 280km. It is going to be long day. You could only drive like 30km/h with Volvo because roads were so bad. We drove on bad roads and reached hotel on around one clock in the night. It’s crazy to drive on dark, because you just don’t see anything and you can not avoid hitting these holes in road.

 

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Day 16 Khorog TAJ – Murghab TAJ

After some sleep we worked up and started to plan days drive. We were sitting in breakfast and British girls told that they have serious problems with Fiat. They planned to find a mechanic to fix critical things and after that they will catch us somewhere. Team Belgium and Polish girls with Samurai are somewhere in Uzbekistan and they are trying to get Samurai in shape. Hungarians are still somewhere on the road, but ok. People are around Central-Asia but that’s what adventures are made of. Everyone had their own experience.

We were looking at map and planning route when it hit us. An earthquake. First I thought that someone is rocking table, but no it was an small earthquake. Nothing catastrophe, but still an earthquake. First time for me. We decided to take easier route on tarmac road, because I wanted to give car an easier day. We had to pay some “environment taxes” to checkpoint officer that he let us drive this route. We didn’t have permission to drive there in our passports.

 

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Maria started to get crazy and talked silly on the back seat. We were thinking what is wrong. We stopped car and immediately I get it. Fuel tank was leaking, but when we drived windows down fumes were only at the back seat. Fuel tank had a bad leak on the seal of tank. I did add some Plastick padding to stopped from leaking. It did help little bit but it didn’t stop permanently. So we decided to filled just halfway.

 

We reached altitude of 3600m from sea level. And it was beautiful.

 

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We reached to city of Murghab in the afternoon. Place was small family owned hostel with 5 rooms. But it was the best place so far. Owner was 23 year old guy with he’s family.

Place was high, still in 3600m above the sea level. I had an some small headache and it is one symptom of altitude sickness. And only cure is to go down if it hits. But luckily no one didn’t get it. The owner was very nice guy and he did speak some english. He asked if he could read our latest edition of Lonely planet. Of course we borrowed our book for him to read. After couple hours he came back with smile on he’s face. I asked about what makes him so happy and he told that he’s hostel is mentioned in lonely planet! Now people will come here, he told. And yes I can recommend this place:

 

 

SARY KOL LODGE
Murghab
Tel.: +992 935 321 383
N38 10.920 E73 59.209

 

They offered us an hot bucket of water and plenty of cold water to “shower”. Dinner was great and huge. We waited late other to arrive but there were only us, Canadians and another British team. Hungarians arrived on very early morning. But British girls were missing and we couldn’t reach them by phone or radio.

 

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Day 17 Murghab TAJ – Sary Moghol KIRG

After a good night sleep we hit a road again. Owner offer us breakfast and we give them a blanket from our sponsor as a gift and thanking them of their hospitality. We drive off the city and then up to north.

 

You can actually see a barbwire fence on background. Personally I started to look highway bandit again… =D

 

We reached Karakul lake and some of us decided to take a swim… water was refreshing. This lake is quite high around 4000m from sea level. Lake is made by an meteor hit some 5 million years ago. This is in top 5 of most beautiful places where I have been.

 

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After that we did reach a border to Kirgistan. Border is up on the mountains and it is easy. Just a question “Any drugs or guns?” just say no and you are good to go. There is again one river crossing on no mans land between borders. Sharp rocks on bottom of a heavy current river. Then it hit us. I smashed car chassis quite bad and gearbox was teared off on drivers side mountings. And to make this easier, Maria started to have heavy symptoms of altitude sickness. We have to drive car of the stream and stop to see can we still drive. I told Maria to start walking down from the mountain, because there wasn’t no help to arrive.

I crawled under the car and watched damages. Gearbox was still there on engines side and one mounting on other side of the car. I could hold it up by hanging in shifter but not for long at one time. We decided to drive down to help Maria and see if we could do temporary fix after we were more close to sea level.

After we got down to about 2000m from sea level we stopped in no mans land to see if car could be fixed. We also opened our famous road side restaurant and made some lunch. I started to look up about car. Mounting was teared quite badly and there was no way to fix that without welding equipment. We stapped a rope around cars floor to hold up gear box up so we could drive to next village. Rope holded about 30km before it melted on exhaust pipe. After that a short brake, new knot in rope and back to highway again.

We found our accommodation in Sary Moghol village. It was time for family stay as a guest in local family’s house and a yurt. We asked if there was a welder in village and yes there was! I get to welder and asked if he could do this repair. He was busy to fix a customers tractor and he said no. I asked if I could rent he’s welding machine and do it by myself. “after one hour” said the man. We get back there after one hour and he took out the welding machine. Self made machine without any adjustments for power. And it was meant for bigger steel. First we unplugged main power line to he’s house and attached that to welding machine. Just to make this fixing easier there was a thunderstorm coming…

 

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I got moral and beer support from team Canada’s Pat. It was so far most difficult welding what I have done. Welding machine was just too powerful to do so thin metal. If you have ever welded anything you know what I mean. But we got the job done and Volvo was running great. At this point we crossed our Volvo with name Lemmy. Because Lemmy don’t die… (litle bit Motörhead humor…).

We had a great dinner with the family, they offered their best and it was great. We were still missing half of the people who started this adventure. Little concern was running in our heads, because there were no way to reach them. Phones just don’t work there. Thunderstorm kept going all night and it was cold. After a quick hot shower in Banja we were ready to hit the bed.

After that I went back to welders place to pay a rent of welding equipments. Then we hit the road again. Roads were much better and we drive together with Canadians. We were usually first to leave, because we wanted to stop once in a while and get there early. We were headed to Toktogul and plan was to visit in the city of Osh were Marias mother was born. Plan was to look their old house in Osh.

 

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We were driving towards Toktogul and I started to have a feeling that something was wrong. I couldn’t tell what, but you know the feeling. After 50km of driving we came to place where is a small village and a huge roadblock. Villager had made big roadblock to prevent all traffic between south and north Kirgistan.

 

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Lady in the photo is a sister to a man who is in picture. They claim that man was arrested without proper cause and asked us to call our embassy’s and to our local newspapers in back home. We tried several times to explain that there is nothing we could do and we don’t want to be part of any political disagreements. They didn’t let us go and they told us to wait two hours. So we did wait. Our group started to gather on roadblock and we inform them about the situation what was going on. We let Maria and Jack to work as an diplomat from our group side. Maria speak’s fluent russia and Jack was a good negotiator.

I started to look maps, and tried to find a detour. But nothing was available, even people in village told that there is no way around this place. I scouted this roadblock and I did find a place to drive car on the shore bank of river and driving on bank like 400 meters you could get back on road again. I quietly told people that I have discover the route.

 

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I did understand that they don’t want to tear down their roadblock. But we were there as a group, if we decided to rush trough, someone would be left behind or stopped anyway. So we kept on negotiating. They pressured us to call everybody, but we decided as a group that we don’t do that. “You wait! Two hour.” was the answer. And so we did. We started cooking and eat a lunch, and we didn’t let them disturb us by waiting. Finally Maria did an Oscar acting. Couple tears, and a story on her mothers birthing house in Osh… It was truly heartbreaking and they let us drive on riverbank to other side.

 

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No time for photograph’s, just get trough there. We continued towards Osh with team Canada. Other’s kept on going to Toktogul. We promised Maria that we will find her mothers house, because that was one of the main reasons Maria joined to this adventure. So we headed Osh and started to find a hotel or other place to stay. We find a decent hotel with free rooms and decided to stay there. Cold beer’s on terrace after a shower was a proper ending for the day. But there was an pleasant suprice, we got call from British girls. They had wrecker Fiat totally and they hitchhiked to Osh. They got trough that roadblock easy, because they traveled with local bus. Just of the bus and back to another bus on the other side. They asked us to book room for them as well and so we did!

We waited them in the bar and it was nice to see them again! We sit long in the bar and catch up about what has happened. They had quite an adventure, in the middle of the adventure. But that’s a another story.

 

 

Day 19 Osh KIRG – Togtokul KIRG

In the morning after nice breakfast we started to look Maria’s mothers old house. Like always, ask locals. We have a map what Maria’s mother has droved for us, and it did help a lot. We found a nice gentleman who did speak some english and he promised us to take us there.

So we did find that house. Couple photos and back on the road again. We decided to head to Toktogul were we supposed to stay last night. Team Canada give up and they decided to stay in Osh couple of days and fly direct to Bishkek. So british girls took their car and drive with us. After goodbyes we started our drive to north. We drive in peace because it we weren’t in hurry. We stopped to buy fresh watermelons on side of the road and took some photos. We keep in touch with UHF walkie talkies and suddenly there was an reply from Polish girls. They were in Toktogul! We decided to meet them there!

 

Day 20 Toktogul KIRG – Bishkek KIRG

Breakfast at the hostel and after that we hit the road again. We had to climb over the mountains to reach city of Biskek. Roads were smooth tarmac and after 2 weeks of dirt road it was nice for a change. When we came down from the mountains, our brakes did overheat and dissapear. So we managed to stop on side of the road and cooled them down. After that we did stop every once in a while to cool our brakes.

 

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We drived in nice and cool weather and reached city of Bishkek. Suddenly I did see red light’s flashing on behind. It was an traffic police and they wanted us to stop. Imogen drived pass me and pulled on side of the road little bit further. They told in radio that they didn’t have car papers with them, they were still in Pat’s pocket. That could lead us to trouble. So, I was tourist again, without any language skills. Maria told me from backseat what to tell. We chatted a while, they asked where are we from and we told Finland. Then cop asked for “souvenir”, we gave him a sponsor blanket in nice gift box. And he was happy and told us that we are welcome to Bishkek, but please drive slowly and tell that to your friends in other car. That was it. We navigate trough the city of Bishkek and we were first to arrive in hotel. Bags in the room, quick shower and after that cold beer on side of a pool. Slowly everyone get there and that was it, we did it!

In the afternoon we kept small party with pizza and cold beers. Everyone told stories about what has happened and what they had experienced.

 

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Days 21 and 22 Bishkek

We decided to stay in Bishkek couple days before heading back home. Our plan was to sell Volvo there and fly back home, because we didn’t get double visa for Kazakstan. Selling car was easy, some local guy bought it to spare parts to he’s another Volvo! After we had sold car we head back to hotel where part of the group was preparing to start their drive back home. After goodbyes we headed to pool to spend and afternoon. In the evening we book our home flights and went to eat with this group what was still here.

 

AFTERWORDS

It was an adventure. Great one, but some things I would (and I will do) differently than now. Car was great, but it was so rough for car that next time I will go there with an 4×4 car. It is pretty exhausting to drive car with small ground clearance because roads are quite bad. For that reason we missed big part of Pamir Highway. Climate can be hot as hell to chilly in the night. So prepare for everything. People are nice and food is good. No one had any problems with stomach. Uzbek is a tricky place to buy fuel, because there isn’t any. And when you find some it is bad quality, so prepare for that.

 

Would I do it again? Yes I would. Actually I have hopes to go back there with motorcycle, but we will see what happens…

 

See you sometime, somewhere. Keep exploring!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuusula Finland to Bishkek Kyrgyzstan in a Volvo 240 Wagon

About the Author: Tuomas Patanen