That was our third motorcycle tour of Russia and in all we’ve now ridden almost 20,000 kms in Russia alone – ten times the length of NZ. While we feel at home here, quite familiar with the people, the way of life, the driving style (!!!), the food, and the hospitality, the health system – the sheer size of everything Russian never fails to impress. Whether it’s the factories with their towering smokestacks, the rail and trucking network that carts enormous volumes of freight around, the size of the fields, the forests, nothing it seems is done by halves in Russia. It is simply mighty in scale. And it’s diverse – ethnically, religiously and culturally – which makes moving around most interesting.
Russia is less urbanised (72%) than New Zealand (87%) and the small towns and villages really are the charm of the place. A curious mix of very traditional ways of life – peasant style – infused with surprising regionalisation of modern service providers (education institutions especially) and of course the large scale primary industries centred around oil, timber, gas and coal. And the remote locations of some of its largest machinery manufacturing plants has never ceased to amaze us – suddenly appearing amidst forested landscapes you come across big factories and accompanying towerblocks housing the workforce.
We would thoroughly recommend people visit Russia and get out beyond Moscow and St Petersburg to where 88% of Russians reside. And it’s cheap to visit – petrol is NZ$1 per litre, accommodation is commonly under $50 (we often found digs for $20), meals are $10 maximum. A 30Gb simcard will cost $5 per month so you’re online continually. Language is a barrier but certainly not insurmountable and everyone can use Google Translate on their phones for the tricky stuff. And you’ll find food staples that you can get almost everywhere – Plov, Borsch, Goulash, Puree and Lagman are café stalwarts and having salads to prevent overdosing on meat is easy.
Our roadside surveys suggests 30% of cars in Russia (east of Moscow) are Right Hand Drive while 80% of those in Mongolia are. Both countries drive on the right – so imagine how exciting that is when an oncoming vehicle wants to pass a truck say, they stick their passenger out into our lane. If the passenger is asleep they come all the way out to see if it’s clear. By then we have had to drive off the road. This is the most dangerous aspect of riding in these countries – you are mere fender fodder.
So we’re signing off from this season’s ride now – our 21st offshore expedition from 20 years of being lucky enough to do this stuff. We still have a couple left in us – ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ and ‘Last Legs’ are both on the drawing board. But for now, the bikes are headed back to the shed and we switch to other travel modes for a while – Joanne’s off tramping in North Korea after which we’ll both head to Japan for the Rugby World Cup. Au revoir.