MR 2006 | A Few Good Men - Bishkek, KG to Burubajta, KZ
After a solid couple days of R&R in Bishkek, the cars and crew were recharged and ready for another trip through Kazakhstan. On the way out of town, we hit the main bazaar which is aptly named. It is basically a whole lot of shipping containers filled with just about everything, from stereos to apples to funny looking elf slippers. Patrick and I purchased the latter. The border was only 10 or 20 miles away and in that time the first signs of a stomach bug began to propagate. Both James and I were hit at the same time and were forced into the worst imaginable position, using a gas station ''bathroom''. This is beyond bad and you are lucky enough that I will tell you all about it. Every time we stop, we eagerly search the premise in hopes of finding a Western style bathroom. Instead, we typically find the infamous ''hole in the ground''. This fine facility is generally contained in a shack with a tin roof and no windows. This means that you can't see a damn thing and its hot as hell, all complimenting the worst stench you could ever imagine. Its the ultimate insult to injury, first the food makes you sick, then the toilet elevates it.
We made it to the border and settled in for the anticipated fiasco on the Kazakh side. We quickly obtained stampy stampy (their own words) from the Krazystan guard and pulled forward to the Kazakh side. The guards were flying random hand gestures like they were in a Puffy video. After some further pointing and mumbling, it was deicphered that we were being sent to the exit door. We wander in and find the obligatory angry female border guard ushering us to the front of an enormous and agitated line of locals. In what may be a world record time, we zipped out of the border and forward to Almaty. Two emergency stomach flu stops later and we were thoroughly lost in Almaty in search of the Fiat dealership. Andy and James drove off and returned an hour or so later unsuccessful. We left Almaty, slowly, very slowly. Rush hour traffic in the Stans is painful at best. Luckily we have a car that doesn't idle, luckily Patrick had to deal with it. The mountains around Almaty are spectacular, absolutely massive. Just like Bishkek, there was still a touch of snow atop the peaks. I would love to snowboard here.
We played the gas gauge game shortly outside of Almaty, with three of four cars on E for a half hour or more. Finally a dodgy gas station was located and those without raging stomach issues negiotated a decent exchange rate. With light fading quickly, we deftly located a fantastic camp site in the middle of the Steppe.
The Fiat drives into the sunset
In the morning, all were feeling better and quite confident that progress would be made. We were performing our morning car checks, when Andy declared he may have bigger issues. There were water droplets on the oil pan dipstick indicating a possible head gasket issue. No one, especially Andy was all that excited about a mid desert head gasket change. Unfortunately, upon attempting to start the Fiat it became obvious that something was definitely wrong. Amid looks of despair, the tools came out of the cars and the work began. Andy worked away as we played a little wiffle ball. Things were progressing well until he ran into the rocker cover bolts. Apparently, the Italians do things differently, this is when the state of shock sets in. Not one single allen wrench between all of our cars would fit the bolts, forcing Andy to remove with smaller wrench thus rounding the heads. A couple rounded completely so we beveled the heads with a file and hammered a socket over the top. Hey its the desert and its by any means necessary. Andy was able to negiotate the rest of the disassembly without any real issues.
Andy at work on the head gasket
With the new head gasket in place, it was time to rebuild. I went to work rotating the tires on the Fiesta to minimize the uneven wear propagating from the front left tire. Soon the murmur of new problems started making its way across the camp. Andy had snapped a head bolt while applying normal pressure. No words were spoke other than, ''Well all we can do is keep going.'' The assembly continued. Upon the first fire, things looked pretty bleak, the car sounded the same as before the minor operation. The inevitable discussions started about how Andy and James were going to make it home. Before anything hasty was done we decided to throw everything at it possible. After some new sparks and rearranging of random wires, the Fiat sputtered to life. We all rejoiced and hit the road. Things were looking up for the convoy.
A montage of the time spent replacing the head gasket on the Fiat in the desert
About 30 minutes down the road, Andy and James had to stop for some radiator water. Nothing too alarming as this had become a common practice. As the day wore on and the stops became more frequent, we started to suspect the worst. One last engine rebuild was decided upon and a semi suitable campsite was located. Shortly into disassembly, we ran into a insurmountable obstacle. The allen bolts on the backside of the rocker cover were going nowhere. The towel was thrown in.
The car scavenging ceremony was performed in the morning as the remaining cars vied for differing goods. Andy and James decided to push on until the car completely died. We were leading the pack down the dirt track and managed to take the one possible wrong turn, only Andy and James were dumb enough to follow. It was upon the turnaround that the Fiat gasped its last breath. Andy and James grabbed their essentials and started the long walk to the road.
The Long Walk - Final Resting Place of the Fiat