Category Archives: Caucasus

Route Thoughts

Tashkent:  09.05.09

(note track maps now updated in the Trip Data section)

One of the principles behind choosing the overall route was where possible I was going to try routes that I felt were lesser travelled or untravelled by western motorcycle travellers … in doing that, documenting them will expand the knowledge base on sites like Horizons Unlimited.  I also had the chance to explore some regions that have had a long standing interest to me, like the North Caucasus, Kalmykia et al.  So this is a chance to review some of those routes as alternatives for those planning on heading out on the great trek east, to Mongolia, Vladivostok, Magadan or wherever.

Lets start with the Balkans.

Its a bit out of the way for most people heading east thru Ukraine, but our experience in the Balkans was very good.  Inexpensive food, accomodation, great biking roads, plenty of good fuel and a real sense of adventure going thru places like Albania give the Balkans a real thumbs up from me.  Sure there are a couple of highlights heading thru Czech Republic and Slovakia, but in general its all over very quickly and its all very tame.  The Balkans was better preparation for conditions in the CIS, while still remaining very close to EU countries in case of problems.  Borders were no problems at all … very quick, and the only  point I would make is definately take a green card from your insurance company.


Certainly more interesting that the Ukraine in general.  Ukraine lasks the diversity of Russia and for me is just one of the countries I push thru on my way to Russia, tolerating the overzealous cops and border officials as par for the course.  (in terms of dodgy cops and border officials, recent years has seen a marked improvement on the Russian side, while the Ukraine is still dodgy as you like … such that Russia is notably more transparent, open, efficient and less corrupt than Ukraine)  Perhaps the main areas of interest in Ukraine are the Carpathian mountains in the east and Crimea in the south.  I missed the Ukrainian Carpathians (having seen them in Romania) and the interesting scenery and ethnic history of Crimea definately helped break up the Ukraine.  Travelling that way also allowed me to head pretty much directly into the Caucasus once I entered Russia.  Also found a cracking bike mechanic in Yalta … that alone could be a reason to have Crimea on a route east.  Any teething problems can be nipped in the bud there at Valera’s place.

North Caucasus:

This has largely been avoided by western bikers, partly because of a lack of knowledge about what is there and to a lesser degree a fear about safety.  I hope this blog has shown how much interesting peoples and cultures can be found between Adegeya in the west and Dagestan in the east.  On top of that you have Europe’s highest mountain range.  Considering how dull a long ride across Russia can be if you stick to the main routes I personally thing taking in interesting regions like the North Caucasus should be compulsory.  The last thing you want from Russia is an endless chore of just eating up miles for the sake of getting across the country … one of the most interesting counties in the world in terms of both peoples and geography.  If I could only recommend one thing from this trip so far, its to go to the North Caucasus, with a bit of knowledge about the region and you will get a hell of a lot out of it.

The Beyneu Route:

The two main routes to  central asia for western motorcyclists are to go via Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan or to go down Kazakhstan thru Aktube to Chimkent.  There are plenty of reasons to look for alternatives, such as the Beyneu route I took.  (a) the ferry from Baku to Turkmenistan has no schedule.  Its not unheard of to wait 3-4 days for the ferry, spend a day or more on the ferry and then wait in harbour at Turkmenistan end for another 2 days before unloading.  On top of all that uncertainty, Turkmenistan may give you a 5 day transit visa, and may insist on a tourist visa.  The Tourist visa requires you to be escorted thru the country at great expense.  in any case, the visas are not that easy to get, and the only thing worth seeing in the country is the Darvarza burning crater, I can think of 100 reasons not to travel thru Turkmenistan.

(b) travelling via Aktyubinsk (Aktube) means you miss the highlights of Uzbekistan.  You wont see Khiva, Bukhara or Samarkand.  You wont see Khwarezm or the Karakalpaks.  Of the 5 central asian republics, 3 are countries I reckon you definately want to see … Uzbekistan for the culture and food, and Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan for the mountains and mountain roads.  Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are (in my book) “missable”.

Putting that all together, and the route through Beyneu should be the main route.  The route of first instance !  I would recommend it.  The Kazakh side is pretty dull, but you do get to take in all the interesting bits of Uzbekistan without going out of your way.  And it is a route that is reasonably well used by Russian and Kazakh bikers!

The Nogai

25.04.09, Terekli Mekteb, Dagestan

Internet is a little tough from here … its kinda done by GPRS … someone connects a mobile phone to a computer and internet access happens that way.  I have had trouble uploading photos … bear with me.  I should have proper internet access tomorrow night and will upload pics from the last 2 pic-less posts.

There was no motorcyling to be done today, so I sat back and let my group of hosts, predominantly Shamil and Begali, run the day.  I didnt really know what was in store but thought I would just go with the flow.

The day started with a visit to the village of Nariman, just 5km or so from Terekli Mekteb.  One of the gang looking after me had arranged a school visit.  Russian schools work 6 days a week, but only 4-5 hours a day.  So despite it being a Saturday, the school was in.  For me faces are a great thing to photograph.  There is a lot to read in an interesting face and I decided to take a lot of pictures of faces.  For a lot more detail, see the photos section.  I will upload a bunch of Nogai faces, but only will have a couple here on the blog.

Of particular interest at the school was a class doing national studies …national meaning Nogai.  All the Nogai kids in Nariman learn 3 languages – Nogai, Russian and English.  It was encouraging as to be honest I had hardly encountered any english speakers since entering the former soviet union.  The hotel receptionist in Kerch was about the only one I can remember.  It’s a complete contrast to Moscow where just about everyone seems to speak English.  Thats what you get for going to less visited areas.  Its been testing (and probably quite good) for my Russian but it does get tiring as I never get the chance to switch the brain off and communicate in English … except on this blog.

In the national studies class, some boys were doing woodwork, another kid was playing the national instrument, a 2 stringed guitar thingy called a dombra, and a class of girls turned their english lesson into a chat about motorcycling around the world.  Not sure if I won any converts about to boost adventure motorcycle sales, but I got some great video of the kid playing the dombra and some fotos of the classes.

Next, a bunch of the senior guys in town rustled up assorted cars, food and drink and took me out to a place sacred to the Nogai.  About 35 km from Terekli Mekteb, in the middle of absolutely nowhere is a small clump of rare trees.  Thats pretty rare out on the steppe / dune country around the Nogai land in itself, but these trees have special properties, or at least they do for the Nogai.  The air under the trees smells different to the surrounding air – its a cleaner, fresher feel.  And apparently its always cool under these trees, even when its 50 degrees outside, as it in in Summer.  But theres more.  Apparently the air under the trees cures illnesses too.  One of the guys told me he brought his son there when he had bronchitis, sat him under the tree for a few hours while they played cards, and he was cured.

I dont know about all that stuff, but it was an honour to be taken to a place that is central to their identity.  A fire was started and food prepared.  It was a genuine Nogai barbeque, out there in the dunes of Dagestan.  As we prepared to eat, 2 young Nogai cowboys came riding in, having just caught and bridled a wild mustang.  No-one knew them (they were from a nearby farm) but they were invited to join the feast, while a few of the older hands helped tame the wild horse.

A lamb was produced (from where  I dont know) and butchered on the spot to help satiated the barbeques appetite.  I was apparently still the guest of honour and had to politely turn down the traditional honour of cutting the sheep’s throat. I had eaten enough anyway and wandered off to photograph the emptiness of the dunes that lay between the Nogai country and Chechnya.  Chechnya was only 3-4 km away but there was nothing that cound be seen for at least 15 km around, apart from one small farm 6-7 km away.  It was a lovely desolate spot in the wilderness.

Kavkaz – Part 3

Continuing a theoretical journey from west to east through the North Caucasus … having been to Adegeya, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and now Kabardino-Balkaria, the next three republics in line are Ossetia, Ingushetia and Chechnya.  Politics being what it is, I shant be going to any of them.  But here is some background info for the curious.

The Ossetians (also known as the Alans) are the only predominantly Christian North Caucasian people and as such have long been (for centuries) Russia’s closest ally in the region.  – Most of the peoples of the North Caucasus are nominally islamic, but in reality that religion is not at all strong here, apart from perhaps in Chechnya.  I have not heard a single call to prayer from a minaret (or even seen a minaret) since Crimea.  The mosques I have seen look more like social clubs for the elderly.  None of the Nogai I spent time with went to the mosques or turned to prey to Mecca even once a day let alone 5 times.  Yes they call themselves islamic, but with the same degree of conviction that the average Brit or Australian  will call themselves Christian if pressed on the question of religion.  Put it this way, I have only met one person since arriving in the muslim North Caucasus who actually doesnt drink.

With the long history of working together, (and with centuries of precedent of Russia being the ultimate defender of Ossetian interest in the Caucasus) Russia ultimately had no choice but to step in when the Georgians decided to push adventurism beyond sensible limits last August.  Unfortunately, that conflict is still pretty fresh, and both North and South Ossetia are now heavily militarised.  I have been advised by friends in Moscow that an attempt to ride through North Ossetia now will mean getting stopped every 10km for thorough document checks .. and thats the best case scenario.  So I will skip Ossetia.

Next door to the Ossets / Alans are the Ingush.  Ingushetia was formerly joined with Chechnya but have more recently fought against the Chechens for independence.  Now they have their own republic within the Russian Federation, but its a bit of a disaster.  Last I heard there was still a civil war raging within Ingushetia between rival family clans vying for power.  Its a definite no-go-zone.

Then you have the Chechens.  Not much needs to be said about the Chechens as they are already the best known of the North Caucasians in the west. In my book, travelling solo on a motorcycle through Chechen country is just asking for trouble.  Things are apparently slowly returning to normality in Chechnya after 2 wars with Russia in the recent past, but in general, if you can avoid it, you dont want to mess with the Chechens – they are seriously hard core.

Finally, the last republic in the chain is the ‘relatively’ peaceful Republic of Dagestan, lying beside the Caspian Sea.  And thats what my plan was for today … make it to the Nogai centre of Terekli Mekteb in Dagestan.  My meetings with the Nogai in Cherkessk have encouraged me to learn more about these people.  My knowledge of them before was basically about their history, but I am aware that most westerners have never even heard the word Nogai, let alone known about their history.  So this is a great chance for me to delve a little deeper, and shine a little light on the Nogai people.

I left the simple Hotel Elba and prepared to backtrack 100 km down the road to Baksan.  There is only one road in and out of Elbrus, and its pretty much a straight line from Baksan on the ‘Kavkaz Highway’ (for want of a better name) and Elbrus.  It meant going past Tirnyauz where the police obviously had a donation centre for their retirement fund set up.

Paying up to the police is something that is just part of life in Russia.  The cops here get paid peanuts and this kind of behavior is ‘sorta kinda’ tolerated by the state because the alternative would  mean raising their wages to much more acceptable levels.  Having said that, there has been pressure in recent years to minimise that sort of behaviour, but naturally enough it needs to go hand in hand with higher wages.  Initially the donation requested yesterday was 1000 rubles, but I deliberately fished into a pocket where I only had about 580 rubles, for just such an occasion, and the guy sighed and said OK OK .. so 500 it was.  Its actually the reason I left the UK with 2 wallets.  I have always travelled in Russia with 2 wallets, one main one and a second with a small amount of cash and expired plastic cards.

It used to happen all the time in Moscow … Police have the right to stop you on the street for a document check (passport is required to be on you at all times) and they also have the right to hold you for 3 hours to “verify” the documents are genuine etc.  So in effect they would often stop foreigners, and threaten to taken them down to the station for 3 hours to verify the documents … and the donation you gave them was just to buy back your 3 hours of wasted time.  Thus, I always kept a second wallet with a small amount of cash in it.  They would take whatever you had.  If you opened a wallet that had 5000 rubles in it, it would cost you at least 1000, if you open a wallet with 120 rubles in it, they cant really take more than 100 (2 quid).

It doesnt seem to happen anymore, but I have become accustomed to the whole second wallet system, but unfortunately that plan blew out the window in Odessa … and I am using a strategic combination of pockets to keep assorted funds in now.

Speaking of funds, while in Cherkessk I received my PIN code for my new Ukranian debit card.  I now have a source of plastic funding again.

So I began the day in sunshine, but in  pretty cold temperatures.  I didnt know how cold it was, but by the time I reached the police checkpoint just North of Tirnyauz, they chaps there informed me it was -1 there.  In which case it was probably -5 or so up at 2000 metres where I had overnighted.  Different guys were manning the checkpoint today but waved me on once I told them I had been thru the checkpoint yesterday afternoon on the way up.  – first obstacle of the day avoided.

My modified plan for the day was basically to get to Terekli Mekteb while avoiding Chechnya and the Mozdok area.  Nadia, the lady who runs the Russian Motocycle-Touring organisation, had informed me that Mozdok is a major military centre, surrounded by dozens of proper checkpoints.  Checkpoints were a major waste of time, so I was keen to avoid that.

I couldnt find the road I needed out of Baksan.  The GPS maps I had ( have a lot of roads on them but they are not exactly accurate. … only indicative.  Usually they are out by 2-300 yards and up to 5km sometimes.  So I left by a road which was roughly in the same direction, and 20km out of town found some tractor tracks beside fields and took a 6km steppe tour before reaching my road.  I snuck past two police checkpoints while they were busy with other motorists (so far it was a good day with the police).

By now I had left Kabardino-Balkaria and was back in Russia proper – Stavropol Region where Mr Gorbachev had risen to power back in the 1980s.  I took some lovely peaceful back roads past towns called ‘Progress’, ‘Sovietskaya’, ‘Prolitarnaya’ etc etc.  Some of these town didnt look like they had changed much since Gorbachev’s day.  The roads were pretty potholed, and the few cars that were on my route drove pretty slowly for purposes of pothole avoidance.  But it was pretty countryside – as flat as Holland and just as green.  Just the towns and roads were in worse shape – well maybe not if you compare to Rotterdam 😉

I stopped for lunch and to refuel at a town called Kurskaya … pretty much a one horse town.  I drove thru the whole town before realising the 2-3 shops I had passed WAS the centre of town.  Lunch was a couple of cold cabbage pirozhki, a soft drink and a bounty bar.  Since I hadnt had breakfast it was pretty damn tasty actually.  A couple of Russian traffic police came in while I was there and bought their lunch without even thinking about asking me for documents or looking at me as a source of alternative funding.  Ahhh … its good to be back in proper Russia again.

So far, the only two dodgy police incidents have occurred in non-Russian republics with non-Russian officers.  The second was yesterdays donation, but the first incident had occurred soon after I crossed into Karachaevo-Cherkessia about 4 days back.  A 40 zone on the highway (for road repairs) required me to slam on the brakes and crawl along.  I checked my speed on the GPS as I suspected something may be ahead.  I was doing 37 km/h.  A cop stepped out holding a radar gun, waved me over, and said I was doing 67 km/h.  I was invited over to his car, but I insisted adamantly the whole time I was doing 37. Eventually he gave up, and gave me back my documents and let me go.  I dont know if this is just that anti-corruption drives are more advanced in the Russian regions or because of cultural reasons, but so far, when it comes to the police officers, I will take the Russians every time thanks.  Word of mouth has it that some other non-russian republics (Bashkortostan was mentioned on a travel forum recently) also have very bad reputations for dodgy police.

I love visiting the various nationalities in Russia (as this blog and my route show) but from what I have seen so far, the police in those regions are not as civil to travellers as those in Russian regions.  its a pity as it does leave a small sour taste in the mouth and makes the solo motorcycle traveller feel a kind of sense of relief when he crosses back into Russia proper – it may not be as interesting, but it has a safer more civilised feel to it.

I filled up with fuel.  My economy was the 2nd best of the trip.  I had gone over 530 km on about 20 litres of fuel … it was 26 km / litre (3.8 l / 100km).  From the fuel stop it would be 80km on minor sealed roads to Roshino, the last town in Stavropol Region, before another 70km to Terekli Mekteb in Dagestan … much of that distance would be a dirt track across the steppe. I was stopped by some police beside the highway, who started asking for my documents, then stopped and said , ‘ah you are the traveller yes?’  They said something about seeing television from Moscow about me or about ‘the traveller’ (puteshestvennik)?  I didnt catch the full detail of what was said and I didnt ask for clarification because they gave me back my documents and waved me on my way.  Strange.

30km after refuelling, I reached the town of Aga-Batir … the name suggesting I was approaching Nogai territory.  I was stopped at a police  checkpoint by the sole Russian officer manning the post and had me come into his office so he could note my details in his book.  He was very friendly and even apologetic.  But he was incredibly slow.  He explained this by saying he had been manning that post for 20 years and I was the first foreigner he had seen go thru there.  Well that was good enough for me.  This trip is about taking new routes into this part of the world, so I forgave him for taking his time.  One thing that puzzled me, when in his office, his computer screen was open for registration details, and had on it Tirnyauz – Terekli.  Now I had told him when I stopped that I was headed for Terekli Mekteb, but how did he know I had come from Tirnyauz???   Did he know it in advance? The day was getting stranger.

Back on the road and the road to Roshino from Aga-Batir was deserted.  It wasnt a bad road at all and I covered the 50km in under 30 minutes.  I had been advised to tell the police in Roshino that I would be heading across the steppe, but damned if I could find them.  Roshino was a sleepy dead end town if ever I saw one. I stopped to ask some locals where was the track across the steppe.  I thanked them and went to restart the motorcycle, but the battery was flat ???  The locals tried to push start me several times, in first gear …nope, in 2nd gear … nope and not in 3rd gear either.  the compression on the big 650 cc engine was too high and no matter what gear I as in the back wheel would just lock up.  I remember trying to clutch start a BMW 650 in Bolivia a few years back … it was easier there with steep hills everywhere, but here the locals just couldnt get enough speed to make it happen.  We pushed the bike 300 metres to a local who had  battery charger.  Within 30 seconds on the charger the bike started.  I killed the engine and let the battery charge off the charger for 30 minutes.  In that time all sorts of local yokels stopped by for a chat, including the local police and some very drunk unpleasant characters.

I was keen to get out of there and back on the road to Terekli.  It was by now 4:30pm and I wanted to make sure I got the dirt track out of the way before dark.  I said goodbye to the guys who helped me, ignored the jostling by the drunk locals and hit the road … or rather the track.  It was a cool track, exactly what the bike and suspension are set up for.  It wasnt graded, just a couple of wheel ruts through the dusty steppe land, but trucks used it and I passed one travelling in the opposite direction, at about 5km/h.  On the bike, I was zipping along at 70 km/h, and in my excitment must have got a turn wrong somewhere or taken a wrong divergent track because when I finally stopped to look at my GPS, I had gone 20 km east and was now heading North.  There was a road about 10 km further north of me so as long as I was heading North or East or anywhere in between I would hit it … I continued on.  The next time I stopped to look at the GPS I realised I was now in Dagestan and only 2-3 km from the road.  When the road came I was really disappointed.  That 30 km or so I had done on the steppe track was the most fun I had had on the bike since the start of the trip.

It would take me less than half an hour on the sealed road to get to Terekli Mekteb, so I texted Jamal, the son of Abrek in Cherkessk, that I was 30 minutes away.  Jamal was working in a bank in Terekli and said he would meet me.  I figured I would just find the centre of town and text / call him again once I had arrived.

I was clearly in Nogai country now.  The faces had that mongolic – turkic blend that is clearly Nogai.  I passed a group of young Nogai lads fixing a broken motorcycle by the side of the road and chatted with them before realising I had people waiting for me in Terekli and continued on.  On the outskirts of town I was waved over by a bunch of fairly official looking guys in a group that included about 5 cars.  These werent police, they were a welcoming party that included the head of the local school, the local historian and the head of the bank that Jamal worked at.

A photo session followed, before I was taken to one guys house, showered, fed, and pampered, before being taken to another guys house where I was offered more food.  All the while we were taking about the Nogai.  I explained to them that people in the west have never even HEARD of the Nogai, let alone know anything about them, and if I could shed the tiniest bit of light about them outside of Russia, then I would be very happy to do so.  This was the subject of many toasts.  It was then decided that I must spend at least a day in Terekli where I would be shown the local museum etc etc.  That was part of my plan anyway.  It will be a good day for the video camera.

As it happens, my initial draft timetable had me arriving in Terekli Mekteb on this date.  By accident rather than design, I am 100% on schedule.

Kavkaz – Part 2

23.04.09 Elbrus, Kabardino-Balkaria

Before I begin …just to clarify …”Kavkaz” means The Caucasus, in Russian.

After an evening at a birthday party in which the food was all Nogai, the guests were all Nogai and most of the language spoken was Nogai, I returned home to Irina’s and packed my bags and settled in for the night.  The Nogai language is Turkic based and is closest to Kazakh.

I was encouraged when I looked out the window on waking up.  It was still going to be cold today, but the sun would be out and I needed to get a move on.  Niccolo’s comment that the Uzbeks do not have I.T. on their borders has me thinking of trying to make it to Tashkent before flying to Moscow.

If that worked I would probably not be a week late in Siberia (Tony take note … of my state of confusion)

I left Cherkessk with the sun trying to break through and the temperature pretty much right on Zero.  I wore a hood thingy under my helmet and across my face for only the second time in the trip and turned my EXO2 heated vest up to full power.  The ground in and around Cherkessk was now clear of snow but all the surrounding hills were still wearing the surprising white blanket from yesterday. My route from Cherkessk to Kislovodsk wound gradually higher into the hills until I was at 1400 metres.  Cherkessk was around 450 metres, so I would imagine it was -4 to -6 ish up there.  Fortunately the road was pretty much clear of snow / ice.

My descent into Kislovodsk was greeted, of course, with a police checkpoint.  They ordered me off the bike and into the office.  Actually I didnt mind that.  the office was warm.  I had to produce more documents than at any previous document check … passport, IDP, ICMV, russian insurance policy and even the customs form for the bike.  Eventually they were satisfied and I was allowed to go, but I reckon it was a 20 minute unscheduled stop.

The plan had been to cut into the hills south of Kislovodsk and pursue some mountain trails towards Tirnyauz on the way to Mt Elbrus, Europe’s highest mountain.  The weather being what it was, I decided that was now not a realistic option and took the paved road past Essentuki and Pyatigorsk.  Once I turned off the main road and settled in for the 100km road down to Elbrus the scenery started getting all interesting again.

Just as I began to think that I was having a lucky day with Police and checkpoints, a guy in a police Lada zoomed up beside me and ordered me to pull over.  he claimed I had overtaken a truck on a solid centreline.  I cant recall doing it.  I was checking out the scenery and listening to my tunes.  But he was adamant it was a red Kamaz truck. He threatened to take my drivers licence in.  I didnt respond.  Eventually in frustration he rubbed his fingers together in the universal sign for ‘money’.  Aha … now I see where he was coming from.  I was invited into the police car to settle the issue.  And on the record, that all there is to say about that for now.

5km further down the road, on the outskirts of Tirnyauz, there was another police checkpoint and request for documents.  I told the boys I had just met their colleagues down the road.  A few phone calls were made and they seemed to realise I had recently purchased a 500 ruble (12 EUR) ticket to the policemans ball.  With that news, I was waved onwards.
I stopped in the grubby town of Tirnyauz to look around.  It was full of abandoned factories.  Perhaps in Soviet days it had been a boom town, but now it oozed a sense of decay.  What amazed me though was how young the populationo was – kids everywhere.  I stopped and chatted to 3 Balkars.  I was by now in the autonomous republic of Kabardino-Balkaria … home to the Kabardins and the Balkars obviously enough.  The Balkars are the ultimate mountain people of Russia.  Related to the Karachay in the next republic along.  There has been talk of rejigging the republics boundaries to pair the closely related Karachay and the Balkars together and also creating a ‘greater Cherkessia’ by putting together the related Adegey, Cherkess and Kabardins  … a grouping we tend in English to refer to as ‘Circassian’ peoples.

Since leaving the main road at Baksan (at about 500 metres), the road had been steadily climbing. No windy turns, no steep gorges … just a slow steady climb up the wide valley floor.  By Tirnyauz I was at 1300 metres. By the village of Elbrus I was at 1800.  The road continued on for another 15 km and I decided to ride it till the end.  After the village of Elbrus, hotels could be seen beside the road.  As there were none in the 100 km prior to that, I decided to hit the end of the road, turn round and grab a cheap hotel.

At the end of the road was a ski resort.  Pretty primative by western european standards, but high up at 2359 metres – according to the official Sibirsky Extreme GPS.  Lifts were still running and skiiers and boarders still wandering about.  Heliski helicopters were still flying overhead.  With the peak of Mt Elbrus (5642m) less than 10km away, there was bound to be good snow higher up, and there was plenty higher to go.  Unfortunately overcast conditions limited my abilty to fotograph the big mountain itself.

A carload of 20 something Russian party lads and lasses from Pyatigorsk invited me to ‘party with them’ up in their hotel room, but I just wanted to get my own hotel room.  I had passed a cheaper hotel a few km back down the mountain that had internet and sauna (I wonder if they work this time) for 500 rubles (about 12 EUR) so I headed there, checked in and called it a day.

Unfortunately, all day today I struggled to find “good air” for the fotos … but there was something in the air today that made it a bit unclear and the pictures are a little washed out.   Not much I can do about that.   It was just a bad air day.

PS … If you want to see what Elbrus looks like on a decent air day and without clouds around it … here is a link to a picture from May 2008 …