More goodbyes, new friends
9/07/2011: Urumqi to Baojiadianzhen 109.58km
Another pretty crappy nights sleep partly thanks to the (as matt calls him) peasant of a china man in my room and the fact reception had put two people in the same bed and had to sort it out at 2am so when my planned early start came upon me and wasn’t in a massive rush then the fact the supermarket didn’t open till 10am and the main factor i really didn’t fancy cycling today. My stomach was still a little off and i had no energy, i had also become quite comfortable hanging around with Ian and Matt who both are good blokes, but Ian would be leaving today and Matt was meeting his Mum and Aunty so even if i did stay i would be on me lonesome.
After a much delayed start i said my finals goodbyes sad to leave my two new friends who i owe a lot for helping me out when i had my shocking dose of food poisoning. I joked to them about tonight when i would be most probably sat in my tent eating horrible noodles wondering ‘why the fcuk would anybody want to this,’ but the thought depressed me a bit. I did finally bite the bullet and left and had very few problems finding my way out of Urumqi and getting myself onto the Motorway. I like travelling along the motorway stopping at the rest areas, its a lot less stressful so when it comes along i take advantage of it especially on down days like these but i did have a little party as my speedo ticked over 10,000km. As the day wore on i decided to get off the motorway if i was to find a suitable camping spot but even then there always seemed to be someone around or a house, it wouldn’t be impossible but it wasn’t as easy as it has been with the sun not dropping till 10pm.
I then caught sight of a group of 4 cyclists, could it be, yes they were fellow tourists, 3 were Chinese so naturally didn’t talk the other Ray was American who did talk and could speak Chinese. He had also just met them on the road and said they were on some crazy mission, they were riding very slow so me and ray left them behind and decided to share a hotel room. We rocked up to some out of the way ‘pointless’ town which homed a very upmarket hotel which was the same price as my 10 bed hell hole in Urumqi. It was handy and stress free having Ray around as he spoke very good Chinese, he is just cycling this way to meet a friend who lives out here but has done lots of tours around Tibet and lived in India and Beijing for a lot of years. We went out for food and i regained some appetite again and got yet a greater insight into China, mainly why such a swanky hotel is in a ‘pointless’ average place as this, the reason is somebody has a lot of money and a fancy hotel is a nice little earner for the relatives to run. For 4GBP it’s a bargain.
10/07/2011: Baojiadianzhen to Usu 157.62km
Despite Ray being a monster snorer i slept like a log, so well that i over slept and we weren’t on the road till 9am a little later than i had hoped as im pretty keen to put some kilometres down but its nice having somebody to cycle with again and take some attention off me. I wasn’t sure what Ray was doing, whether he was going to cycle with me to his friends house a few days down the road or take his route underneath the mountains. As we rode on ray uncovered some important information in regards to the weather, it was going to hit 35C today, 37C tomorrow and rise further through the week. I have a plan to avoid the heat, even though im over 3000km west of Beijing China still sees fit that the whole country should be in the same time zone, so now im 2 hours ahead of the sun, i.e. where the sun would be at midday normally is 2pm here strange and locals sometimes run on Beijing or local time, its confusing but it means less time cycling with the sun in my face burning my now red nose (i could apply for the role of Rudolf).
Rays plans became apparent when he told me his turnoff was coming up, we took a break and i headed down with him so i could rejoin the motorway, i don’t know why i like the motorway i guess its just the fact i have to past big signs saying no bikes allowed, but there is no shade and very little places to stop and its lined by a barbwire fence so i cant pull off to camp somewhere. Now alone i rode on, i was aiming to get to the end of the motorway which meant i still had 120km to ride which i think was a bit much, i wasn’t feeling my strongest thanks to my stomach and saddle sore was biting due to the heat. I wasn’t eating much but i was knocking back the fluids, i reckon i drank about 6 litres before i stopped.
My plan had been to camp but when 7pm my stopping time came round building were everywhere, industry all around and i didn’t feel like camping today so i headed into the town nearby where i was told there was a hotel. It was a rather bustling town and when i did find a hotel i got a bit grumpy with the crowd of hotel staff that gathered to watch me try get a room, eventually i shown to the 5th floor where for 10 Yuan more than my luxury room yesterday i had a grotty shit hole next to the communal dunny that you could smell in the room a little. I tried to haggle the price down seemed to have success before they changed their mind, i huffed and puffed. A policemen then showed up and took my passport and the crowd then had a good old laugh as i was told to leave with the man in blue. Ray had told me about this last night that he has been checked into a hotel that is not licensed (i.e not expensive) to have foreigners and a policeman i has discovered him staying there and made him change to a more expensive hotel that i allowed foreigners. I was first taken to a Fullerton hotel which are bloody expensive and this was no different. I tried to explain to the policeman all i have is 120Yuan and couldn’t afford it, i still didn’t know what was going on as nobody spoke English but i decided i would be a stubborn bugger and not pay more than 40Yuan. I was then taken to another expensive looking hotel where they wanted a 100 Yuan, again i refused but i think there were no other places. The policeman seemed pretty determined to check me in here and my passport was already being processed and still i refused even in view of a beautiful girl who i guessed to be a hotel guest.
The policeman then ushered me to the big comfortable chairs in the lobby where i tried to look as pished off as possible, it seemed we were at a stalemate and i still didn’t really know what was fully going on until the beautiful girl who had been at the reception desk came over and asked if i needed any help in perfect English. She helped out amazingly well and when i asked if the policemen would let me go so i could find a place to camp i was told it wasn’t safe, what to they know. Two more policemen joined the fray but the original two left soon after. They left me and the girl alone and seemed to be making a lot of calls and running about making more photocopies of my passport. The beautiful girl who was interpreting told me she was Uiger and a student, this was also the first time she had been able to use her English. My anger seemed to go chatting to her and as i had been now going through this hotel business on for almost 2 hours i gave up and said i would stay here. I took another age as we had to wait for the other police officer to come back. The room was very nice but not as nice as where i stayed last night and double the money though i suspect the policemen added 200 Yuan to the 100 i paid. Everybody came to the room helping in some way by either carrying my bags or in the case of the beautiful girl interpreting. I was then offered to go to dinner with the two policemen which i accept now more relaxed and less angry, in fact i quite liked these two policemen and felt bad about the attitude i gave. The policemen paid for my diner then took me to the shop where they had a bag of shopping prepared for me, they told me to add more things which i did and they again paid. They really were sound guys and they took plenty of pictures of the strange cyclist who cycle through but this episode really sums up china i can hate it in one breath then the next be so touched by it, it sends me round the bend on a straight line.
Rage, Rage, Calm
11/07/11: Usu to Petrol Station 10km West Jinghe 173.38km
As far as days go for me this was a quiet one. I was tired getting up, i snoozed my alarm twice as i felt cream crackered and my planned early start never happened it was still 9am before i was on the road. Before leaving i needed to go to the bank as yesterdays happening had left me with 30 Yuan. Unfortunately neither of my cards worked in the one bank i could find and i quickly found the angry man grow a little giving the ATM a slap in displeasure. I had enough food for today at least so as long as i found one before the end of the day or early tomorrow i would be fine, if i didn’t well that is a bridge to be crossed when i come to it. I rode on and soon had a car pull out on me to which i let out a huge frustrated scream at the driver as i drew alongside, my angry man grew bigger still. Soon after this event a bus pulled alongside me then pulled in forcing me to brake before being squashed between the bus and kerb, i didn’t stop as i swerved round and while i did i punched the side of the bus as hard as i could scaring a few passengers then i again let out another scream of frustration at the driver who could give a toss.
The rest of the day was pleasant enough, it was a clear day and very hot, not as hot as Thailand but its getting there. I had as much of my face covered as possible so all that showed was my forehead to minimize the constant burning of my face before it falls off. I had a slight tailwind for the day also though as i neared Jinghe it seemed to be a headwind which after a day of solid riding was hard, my saddle sore is shaping up to be jolly sore with time and the bottoms of my feet was feeling the pinch. Getting to Jinghe i had done 160km and it was 630pm, the obvious thing would have been to find a hotel (after a bank as i still had no money) and stay here but i had no desire to after yesterdays episode with the rozzers. While in the bank i again had a whinge at somebody who seemed to push in while queuing for the atm but somebody who spoke English said she had been queuing but disappeared for 5 mins then came back, i just gave in even though the place was offered back. The ATM worked thankfully and the guy who translated for me in the back offered to help me do some shopping, he was a cool kid who was in his final year of High School. As promised he help me with my shopping, which i really didn’t need help with but he was interested in what i was doing and wanted to practice his English which i don’t mind as he seemed a pretty savvy lad.
I thank him and headed off again hoping i would find a good place to camp nothing seemed to fit the bill until i came to a petrol station just before a toll both. There was a few shops one had a clean concrete floor, a shelter and a girl who spoke English. I asked her if it was ok for me to sleep outside their shop and i got the ‘OK’ i think. There i a few trucks rolling in and out but i hope it will quieten down when its dark. I have about 220km to the border which i hope to make the day after tomorrow, and tomorrow’s plan is to reach the lake which is around 100km away and spend a few hours there, with any luck i will make it around midday, but now im tired!
12/07/11: Petrol Station 10km West of Jinghe to Lake 100km from Kazakhstan border 123.70km
I slept awfully last night, the crickets kept jumping on my, other insects had a piece of me, the cars and trucks all seemed to shine their head lights on me, it was terrible, not to mention very uncomfortable. I wasn’t at my best getting up, my stove seemed reluctant to work so i had to search for the hot water to make my tea and so yet another planned early start went down the dunny.
It was just after 9am when i was on the road and the thing i noticed was the heat, i stopped at most opportunities for a drink, i made good time again but the road began to climb and i really struggled, i wa thankful however that the road was heavily used by trucks meaning i could certainly find a tow up what i knew to be a long climb. At around 2pm i stopped for lunch at an eatery mainly for the shade, had i known i was going to be ripped off i wouldn’t have but worse things have happened. While eating my very expensive unimpressive lunch i noticed i had a slow puncture but i had an even bigger problem the lever on my pump to engaged the nosel to the valve was broken and i couldn’t do it by hand. This i where i even impressed myself with my ingenuity, there is a pin in the lever so i removed the pin from this and my spare pump, with the lever of my spare pump i used a knife to make the pin hole bigger to perfection and zombiefied the lever to the pump, i was and still am quietly impressed with this little bodge of mine as the pump now works perfectly.
Back on the road i was going through a vast empty valley with mountains on both sides, there was a lake up ahead where i plan to camp and spend my last night in China but first i had a pretty big climb which in the heat was not going to be fun. Fortunately the trucks were about to grab a tow off and i was towed up the hill almost ripping my arm off but i held on for dear life, even when the road levelled out and the truck was hitting 40kmph i held on and my arm is suffering now. I let go just before the lake came into view and my it was beautiful, so blue with snow spotted mountains all around, this would be the perfect place to spend my last night in China. I rode around the lake a bit hoping to find a shop then a suitable camping spot. The camping spot came first when i saw a tent with two bicycles parked aside already by the lake so i jumped off the road a trundled on down.
The bikes belonged to Stefan and Mel a swiss couple and unfortunate for Stefan he was ill. It was a perfect little spot and much cooler now i had a bit more altitude. As i stopped early i had time for a swim and a spot of fishing, the fishing was a fruitless as ever but the swim freshened me up no end. Feeling relaxed i spent the night chatting to my new swiss friends who are both heading to Almaty also, the best bit is they even had beer somebody had left. I watched the sun set over China for the last time hopefully , tomorrow its a new country, new problems. So for China, its goodnight from me.
One last Chinese Hoorah
13/07/2011: Lake 100km from Kazakhstan border to Chinese/Kazakhstan border 106.12km
Waking up i felt good, my first good night sleep for a few nights, i slept so well in fact i didn’t hear the dog barking next to my tent that woke Stefan and Mel. The morning was cool and i took my time packing waiting to see what my swiss friends were going to do, the answer was good so when they packed up at 1030 we hit the road. The pace was good, Stefan despite being ill was keeping pace and Mel was setting the pace. We stopped after a short while at a touristy spot which didn’t have many tourists and lots of people wanting us to ride their horses for a price. We stayed for a while getting some food before heading through the most amazing valley which was down hill for about 20km, if this was china’s send off it was a good one.
We made good time with a tailwind and took a break at a petrol station making use of the shade it provided. Riding on the heat of the day became strong, we stopped at any shady spot we could find and when the chance for ice cream came along we didn’t pass it up. We reached the border town too late to cross into Kazakhstan so went in search for a hotel. Mel went in to do the talking and the woman’s touch seemed to do the trick as we got a twin room for all three of us for 100Yuan. After showering we had food a sweated in the room as the air conditioner didn’t work which is why i don’t feel like writing too much now.
Kazakhstan, donkey transport
14/07/11: Chinese/Kazakhstan border town to 5km south of Koktal 60.41km
I felt crappy getting up today, the heat of yesterday and the night had got to me and it was still hot in the room, it was a slow start as we would gain two hours when we crossed the border. After searching for a supermarket that didn’t exist we back track to do some last minute shopping before leaving china for the last time. The border was the busiest i have been to, we were immediately hounded by money changers who weren’t impressed with my Mongolian money and soon got the message i was no good for business. The border guards were armed ready for world war three it seemed with everyone carrying a gun which makes one respect their authority a touch more. We checked out of china no worries i headed over to the Kazak side to check in but unfortunately for me my Kazak visa sustained a spot of water damage and smudged the ink but it was still readable. This caused some concern for the immigration officer who then took off with my passport not telling me anything. I anxiously waited for what felt like an age before it was all sorted out and i was allowed into Kazakhstan after spending 2 hours crossing this mental border.
Straight away the differences were notable, first was the road was much poorer than in China, building work was left unfinished whereas in china its very much being built and the landscape seemed suddenly different, much more long grass and trees which sent my hay fever off after a three year absence. We rode on to the first major town where we withdrew some money and took our time to soak in our strange new world, one thing i do like is the seemingly very popular Lada motorcar, having owned a Lada Niva 4x4 in Australia many moons ago i was loving seeing so many around, second only to the donkey and cart which i believe is more likely to get you there than a Lada.
We rode on a little further until we headed south towards Almaty just before Koktal and found a smashing place to camp as the day was getting on. My swiss friends did the main bulk of the cooking making me rice and vegetables as we took shelter from the rain under their tarp that was attached to the bikes to hold it over us though we did have problems when the wind got up. As it now gets dark at 830 instead of 1030 we went to bed early ready to see what Kazakhstan really has to offer.
More easy riding
15/07/11: 5km south of Koktal to 5km West of Shonzhy 90.66km
Having realised its not far to Almaty considering how much time i have before my Kyrgyzstan visa starts im not busting to put in the miles so now im taking easy with my swiss friends. Cycling wise i still like to ride fast or as fast as i can be bothered but the breaks are much longer, for example today we stopped at a rest stop for 2.5 hours missing a good bit of the midday heat, its all very leisurely. The down side is there isn’t much interesting to see, the land is flat and towns are few and far between, there is only so much a passing Lada can do to tingle ones excitement.
So it was just a smooth going day, the only stress i had was the struggle to get the tent pegs to hold in the soft sandy ground where we decided to camp and as i write its just about to start to rain so its not so smooth after all, i just hope the wind doesn’t get too strong that it pulls the pegs out the ground, sodden weather!
5 better than 3
16/07/2011: 5km west of shonzhy 2km west of Kokpek 90.79km
The rain of the night never amounted to much so i slept very well but the swiss bikes seemingly did not. First Mels bike had the problem of the bolt coming loose which i decided to cure the same way as me and Loon had when his bike did the same back on the Laos/ China border and thus far the bodge seems successful. Stefans bike however proved a greater concern, first the hub sounded like it was ready to cease up but a good dollop of chain lube fixed that then i noticed the hub was loose which is not good and potentially a big problem. After a bit of humming and haring we decided to try and fix it which isn’t a big job but between us we didn’t have the tools, like magic an Australian couple who Mel and Stefan knew from Urumqi pulled up and between the 5 of us we still didn’t have th tools so it was a matter of hoping it didn’t get worse.
We hit the road a group of 5 with new additions of Aaron and Jackie who rode in the pedicabs i owed with Russell back in Sydney a few time. Its great cycling in a group and the camp was a lot of fun. We found a great location next to an irrigation canel which we could wash in and Aaron had bought a bottle of vodka with cost the equivalent to 1GBP which we drank while Mel and Aaron played the guitar, this truly is the life.
Melons, Big juicy Melons
17/07/2011: 2km West Kokpek to 30km East of Almaty 101.77km
We had 140km to go to get to Almaty which for me alone would be no problem but everyone goes at a different pace and when your in a big group you naturaly travel slower so we were up early and away earlier than i have been for a while. Our convoy of 5 made good progress and i felt good until i put a 7KG water melon onto the back of the bike which i could really feel so when we stopped at 1130 i made sure the dam thing was eatern, me and Aaron did the majority of the demolition job.
After our little break we headed off again, we had made good time and might make it to Almaty but we then had an extended lunch thanks to a Swiss couple who came by in their off roader camper van that has been to a few countries. Mel was the one who spotted it as it was about to drive on by and got up waving her arms and Stefan followed begging to be taken back to Switzerland.
The swiss couple were very energetic and full of life and gave us a lot of information for the road ahead in Kygzstan and for the others a lot more information about the Parmiere Highway which runs through Taijikistan near the Afgan border. By the time we had set off again it was now 4pm and the likelyhood of getting to Almaty was massively dimished so we stocked up of food and water for another night camping.
As with any major city the road was getting much busier but along this stretch as the road isn’t in the best condition it made the loud busy traffic unbareable at times and constantly swerving to avoid pot holes a bit dangerous. We eventually decided to stop around 30km to 40km from the city and took a dirt road which some children said was Ok to camp up. We pitch in farm field and we were approach by a couple of blokes, they were father and son, the son was called Becksham who i called Beckham and in return he called me James Bond. He was a really nice guy offered a game of football which i certainly didn’t have the energy for but he gave us a watermelon and a rock melon before leaving. We managed to get through the watermelon but the other would have to wait another day.
As for me i was left wondering what to do, i need to obtain an Uzbec visa but i have heard from many people Almaty is very expensive but i guess i will have to find out for myself how expensive, i really have no plan and at the moment just enjoying the company of the others which will most sadly come to an end tomorrow.
Get your stress on
18/07/2011: 30km East of Almaty to Almaty 60.77km
Riding into Almaty was truly crazy, the roads don’t seem adequate for such a busy city and the heat made it all the more uncomfortable. I had no real idea of what I was going to do in Almaty, with any luck there would be some cheap accommodation as from the information I had been getting I seems like I would have to stay for a while waiting for visas but for now I went with the flow, Aaron and Stefan were navigating us through the city to the immigration centre so we could get a registration stamp which has to be done within 5 days of entering Kazakhstan else you cop a $150 fine or more. There is no real need for the registration; it’s just a way to waste my time. As we rode around Alamty I really got a feel for the Russian influence here, there is a very former communist western feel, it’s in a void that doesn’t really fit in with Asia, and it makes Europe feel much closer than it really is. Another thing that kept me entertained riding around was the amount of beautiful women that seemed to be around, I have never seen such a high concentration in one city.
The search for the immigration office wasn’t going well until met a couple of Swiss guys who pointed us in the direction of the office where we began the pointless beaucratuic procedure of giving our passports away for the day, they did want to hold onto them for an extra day but I still had not formulated a plan as to what to do so I asked for t back sooner which did not seem a problem. We then sat around before deciding to look for somewhere to stay, things seemed to come to a dead end until we got an insight to just how expensive Alamty is courteous of a very lovely English couple from Somerset. They told us that the cheapest they could find was 2000tenge which is my whole budget for a day but that’s for them sharing, but they had been staying somewhere for 2600 tenge, they then raised my hopes by telling us of a campsite at the top of a chair lift, my hopes were soon squashed as further investigation to a campsite proved fruitless so instead we ended up in a very expensive pub using the internet to decide what to do.
This is where I got really stressed out, everybody seemed to be able to formulate a plan and as visas were not issues for them right now they were all prepared to leave Almaty tomorrow, I was not so fortunate as I would have to spend a week here but I was not keen to be spending so much money to stay here and I didn’t want to be left on my lonesome so briskly again, which sounds very sad. Aaron and Jackie seemed to have come up with a plan of action first so they headed off planning to leave tomorrow, Stefan and Mel were coming up with something they just needed to iron out a few things and I was frustrated not knowing what to do.
I decided to head over to the Uzbek embassy to find out what I needed to apply for a visa, I found the embassy pretty easy but getting information was not as easy as I couldn’t find anyone who spoke English and all the information except costs was in Cyrillic. I did eventually managed to find out you have to fill out a form on the internet and print it off as for having a letter of invitation etc I had no idea. Riding back to where I had left Mel and Stefan was all up hill and in my frustration I rode it as hard as I could, I got back just as they were checking into a hotel next door which at 2600tenge seemed the cheapest option and despite my pleas for a discount they would not budge on the price, I was being a bit erratic with my thinking and I really didn’t know what to do so I went outside for a little cry and figure out what I should do. Every time I have been in a sticky spot something seems to come along and give me a solution in this case it came in the form of two Italian motorcyclists. I got chatting to them and they told me that they met lots of people waiting on Uzbek visas in Bishkek a place I was told was not possible to get and Uzbek visa but I still had the problem of my Kyrgyzstan visa not starting for another week at which point Stefan came along and suggested I go to the embassy here tomorrow and ask about changing the dates, it should not be a problem one would think.
Feeling much better about things now I checked into the hotel to along with the two Italian motor cyclists and sorted my head out about a much needed shower. Myself and the Swiss went over to the immigration office to pick up our passports where we met Aaron and Jackie who had a fruitless time with the hotels and were still bed less, to make things worse for them the immigration office couldn’t find their passports. Lucky for me I got mine no worries and soon after so did Jackie and Aaron. There seemed to be a bit of a gathering emerge here, the Swiss guys we met earlier had come to pick up their passports, we bumped into the English couple who were about to register and the Italians motor cyclists came along to register though it turned out for them they did not get an entry stamp for Kazakhstan so technically on paper they were nowhere. We all arranged to meet up for a beer in a pub near the hotel we were staying in though the English couple from somerset who were so sweet did decline in favour of an alcohol free night. I had already spent way more than my budget allows so now I didn’t care I had a beer or two and a pub meal to burst my budget bubble. It was great being with so many who have all just come together each on our own wild adventures and talk about what may lie ahead. It was late by the time we finished in the pub and as I had not eatern for most the day I searched for some food before bed feeling much better about my situation which if things don’t go my way tomorrow im still stuck in this money sucking vortex in central asia.
Where there’s a will there’s a way (I have the will)
19/07/2011: Almaty to 15km West of Almaty 41.74km
Today I had a lot to get done if I was to leave with Mel and Stefan my bestest best friends of this part of the world. After breakfast first on the list of to do’s was the Kyrgyzstan embassy to bring the dates of my visa forward. The embassy was close to where I was staying and I didn’t think there would be a problem to change the dates but my optimism was soon smashed when I was given a blunt no and when I persisted I was ignored to my frustration but I wasn’t giving up that easy. I kept on with my pleas until a lady from the embassy who spoke excellent English came out of the doors and again told me no. I was told by someone about a German guy who entered on a Kazak visa so I posed this proposition to her and to my complete surprise the rumour of the German seemed to be true, she told me I could enter only if it is a tourist visa, which I believe it is, and can only stay within 3 regions until my Kyrgyz visa is valid. Being persistent is worth its weight sometimes but then I got a bit of a bonus, I then met a French couple in the embassy who said they got their Uzbek visa back within a day this goes against all the horror stories I have heard but these are the first people I have spoken to firsthand about their own dealing in my excitement I headed to a internet cafe to fill out the Uzbek form which must be done over the internet as it makes life more difficult. Mel and Stefan said they were not planning to leave till 4 ish so it would give me time to find out how quick I could get an Uzbek visa back. Upon telling Mel and Stefan the news they also decided to lodge an application before leaving to see how quick we could get the visa.
I had a few bits to get done before the Uzbekistan embassy opened so arranged to meet Mel and Stefan later. We all headed down to the embassy not really knowing what information to bring, it was an anxious wait for our names to be called out when the guards would open the gates to let us into the embassy office to lodge an application. Mel and Stefan went first and were told the earliest they could get it back was the 22nd, much too long to be waiting in Almaty as it would be cheaper to wait a week in Bishkek. There may not seem much point for me asking the same without expecting the same answer but there seemed to be a magic around me today and things were going right so I tried. I was given the same answer but I tried to dig a bit deeper for a solution (I was resigning myself to staying in alamty till the 22nd which would be expensive) when I was told I could make the application here and pick up the visa in Bishkek as they did not need to keep the passport, GREAT SUCCESS. So Mel and Stefan put in an application after all.
It was getting late so we raced back to pack our things and get the hell out of the money vortex that is Almaty though in all fairness I think it would be a great place to live and work for a spell. In summer time there would be some mountain biking to be done, winter time snowboarding not to mention the football pitches I saw around and even a bit of rugby, plus the women here look stunning. I’d say Alamty is a bit of the Monte Carlo of Central Asia but is even more extravagant and out of place. Another thing to note is the change in driving style, cars don’t try push their luck at the lights, and they stop at zebra crossing and don’t beep their horns nonstop which is taking some getting use to.
We didn’t rush about leaving the city as we just needed to cycle far enough to find a camping spot but we couldn’t resist leaving without putting a donar Kebab in our bellies. While we ate the French cyclists from the Kyrgyzstan embassy came walking past and we got chatting. It turns out they had been cycling Mongolia around the same time as me with a couple of Belgium cyclists and were told they could not cross the Bulgan border (this is the border I crossed) into china. It kind of was a little cherry ontop of my day not because they didn’t cross but because I found a way over the border, well I rolled up and was let across but I did send plenty of emails out and one went to the right person who told me what it wanted to hear.
It really was time for us to leave the city and find a camping place before dark, the traffic however was crazy and the air very polluted, but after a time it did thin out enough and 15km to 20km from the city we found a camping spot. From our camp we were able to look back over Almaty and the first thing that struck me was the thick grey pollution cloud hanging over the city, it’s awful to think that people breathe this air for years and decades at a time, this isn’t the dirtiest city in the world either. I was over joyed that things went my way but they could still falter, I still fear crossing the border on a Kazak visa will be tricky and the Uzbek visa may not come through but for now I feel triumphant.
20/07/2011: 15km West of Almaty to 125km West of Almaty 111.03km
It wouldn’t be till tomorrow before we would make it to Kyrgyzstan where I would withdraw more money but this meant I only had 800Tenge (less than 4GBP) to get me through , Mel and Stefan had about 2000Tenge between them so we decided to pull our resources together so we didn’t have to withdraw more money.
As we rode along with our dwindling funds the sight of an apple tree by the road brought me to a stop and not having much in the way of fresh fruit in my possession I filled a sock with as many apples as I could so they would be secure on the back of the bike, the Swiss couple did the same. Stefan was the first to try and as I guessed they were very bitter but we formulated a plan to make some sort of dessert out of them tonight.
The weather today was not as unpredictable as we could see the rain and thunder storms approach but it was very changeable. Luck for us we hit a petrol station at just the right time to escape the weather, as Stefan sat down to read I relaxed on a window sill where the tiredness caught up with me and I slept for a short time. I had been feeling pretty lethargic today on the bike, I had no energy to get going, all I wanted to do was sleep, whether this is my body begging for a rest or my rationing is not sufficient I’m not sure but when the day neared an end the Swiss were keen to keep going for 30minutes more and asking me what I wanted to do I opted to stop as I didn’t feel too great. We took a side road and amongst the long grass we found some shorter flat areas which were perfect to set up camp. We then made a huge pasta dish which I ate with no problems and then the experiment with the apples was put into action. We sliced them, added lemon, water, ginger, raisins and lots of sugar and simmered for about 10minutes to which left us with the most sensational dessert ever, restaurant quality is the term I would use. As the light faded the evening entertainment was the flashes of lightening coming from two separate storms a few kilometres from our camp, luckily they passed us without giving us too much of a soaking.
21/07/2011: 125km West of Almaty to Bishkek (Kyrgzstan) 113.26km
It was a slow start to the day, i had very little energy and 200 tenge (1GBP) till i get into Bishkek where i will withdraw some money but luckily Stefan and Mel were looking after me with a n ice cream every now and again. At lunch time i was about done but we still had a lot of kms to go before we made it into Kyrgzstan. For lunch i got some noodles on the go and as we sat in our shady spot we were given the most beautiful gift of all in the shape of a cold bottle of coke which between the three of us went down very well.
After lunch we thought we would be pushing time to make the border before it shut but with a full belly i was as good as new and was a man on a mission. When i hit the border town much soon than i expected stopped to let the swiss catch up and spend the rest of my money which went much further here. I bought a round of ice cream, a big bottle of ice tea and fruit juice and i even left an 8 tenge tip which left me empty of Kazak money. Now i had the worry of crossing the border, as my visa is not valid for another week i was relying on information that my Kazak visa would be sufficient to cross into Kyrgzstan. I need not have worried as it was the quickest border crossing to date i wasn’t even question or told about the conditions of being in on the Kazak visa or asked where i would be staying.
Riding into Bishkek was trouble free though when we stopped to have a kebab (after we had withdrawn some money out) we realised we had no clue as to where the guesthouse was. We ask where there was a hotel and pointed down towards the Hyatt which is massively over budget . Coming out of the Hyatt a passerby asked if we were looking for somewhere to stay, it turned out he was staying at the very place we were looking for. His name was victor, he was from holland and was also cycling. As we walk with him he told us some of his stories one was quite interesting about being robbed by three men in iran while sleeping in the dead of the night, this thing that impressed me most was he confronted them landed a punch onto one of them and got most his things back, its a situation i don’t want to be in and don’t really know how i would act. As we got to the hostel there was so many bikes already there, even Arron and Jackies bikes were there so at least there would be a few people to chat to.
22/07/2011 to 28/07/2011
Being in the hostel was great for the time i was here, at first with all the cyclists (there was a group of 11 crazy Spanish cyclists at one point of a day) around was great to share stories about the road and there was plenty bicycle mechanics going on it could have been a working bicycle shop.
The reasoning for my longevity in Bishkek was due to vias problems, the Uzbekistan visa should have been there and ready for us the day after we arrived but nothing turned up so we waited and was told to come in on the Wednesday, which then turned into the thrusday which then turned into a joke as they claimed not to have any visa or even evidence of an application, Mel kicked up a stink about this then apparently a cry which got us somewhere with the visa officer telling us to make a new application and we could have it that day which was splendid considering, i also got a Irainan visa application in the works and a backup plan if it falls through.
Waiting around the hostel (of which i spent most the time living in the tent) the majority of cyclists left though there was a core group of us who for various reasons were stuck in Bishkek for longer than we planned. But then as all good things come to an end the time drew near to leave to much relief and sadness as i would have to say goodbye to Mel and Stefan though as we were chasing the same Uzbekistan visa we would leave the same day.
Bishkek as a city is rather charming with plenty of green areas, impressive stautes around, beautiful women on the street and the impressive snowcapped mountain range that over shawdows the city. Its also the same mountain range that i would be cycling towards as would most the cyclist heading to Europe would pass through.
As the final full day came the Belguim couple who had been waiting for their landrover to be repaired left and it dawned on me, for the time i have been here waiting i could have cycled across a whole country! But it also dawned on me how much i have to cycle to be in Italy for November, sunddelny i feel very close yet still far away to home and even Europe which is my next big mile stone.
29/07/11: Bishkek to Sosnovka 84.81km
Going to keep it short as its late and i really want to sleep. I was late leaving Bishkek, first my plan didn’t materialise to get up early then i opted for an easy morning. Before leaving i managed to sneak a heavy bag of rocks into mel and stefans bags but then i said my good byes and rode off.
As i rode i tried to block out my loniness again, i have been lucky to meet so many good people and where i really miss them is when i stop for a break and at camp, when im cycling im happy alone but the not cycling alone bit takes some getting use to. I rode 25km when i got some new friends in the shape of two polish cyclists, one spoke good English the other spoke good Russian. I don’t know much about Poland or polish language so i asked a few questions and got some interesting responses. They were both cycling to Osh same as me but i wasn’t sure about sticking with them a part of me was missing and i knew what it was, the firends i had made in Bishkek but they were all gone, i was really missing riding along with Mel and Stefan though i think it was time to go our own ways before we began to get on each others nerves and spoil a good thing. I wasn’t sure about sticking with my two ppolish friends but the more i thought the more i really couldn’t bare the thought of camping alone and decided to stick with them at least for tonight.
They were both carrying rosemary beads and it was later i found the Russian speaker of the two was a Decon and they normally stayed at churches, i haven’t camped at a church yet so this could be a new one to tick off. As we got to the last town before the mountains really hit us we went in search of a church and after sometime waiting we were allowed in. Nobody really spoke any English really so it was left to the English speaking pole to interpet but i was left not understanding most of what was going one. As it was warm we opted to sleep under the stars which i rather like and now there is millions of them filling the sky. We were fed by the priest and his family and sat and talked in Russian but going to bed late....im almost falling asleep writing this...tomorrow i have a 3500m pass t get over which i was going to give some comparisions about but am to sleepy to now.
30/07/2011: Sosnovka to 15km south of Too Ashuu Pass 72.46km
Before breakfast this morning we were all whisked away in the car, why I don’t know nobody told me in a language I could understand, the reason became clear at a freezing cold stream, to take a dip. I dont think any of us really wanted to fully immerse ourselves but the priest insisted we did. We all did this and I would say it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting and to my surprise I made least fuss after my dip. We then had a tour of the church which the two Polish guys prolonged significantly then had the most wonderful breakfast with the best jam I have had in a long time. We eventually got pack but the two poles although they have to cover a lot of kilometres each day (from what I gathered) to make a flight didn’t seem in a big rush. We said or thanks and goodbyes to the priest and his family, his son was an absolute gem, before what I thought would be a quick stop in the shop then attack this mountain.
It was 1030 by the time the poles had finished eating and drinking yet more coffee and we finally got going. I decided I would cycle on ahead and have a long lunch and if they didn’t catch up I would go. As I cycled I came across two Kyrgyz guys riding unladen bikes the same way, I chased them down (this is a game to me) and tried to see how long it would take them to catch me at lunch.
At lunch I was a bit disappointed with this monster pass, the road wasn’t as steep as I thought but I hoped it was all to come. I took voltek (the younger of the poles) 45minutes to catch me in my break and the Kyrgyz guys were close behind. I decided to wait for the other pole and he was 1 hour 15 behind and he didn’t stop, just kept going.
I gave him a 15minute head start then tried to see how long it would take me to catch him, I guessed I had him in my sights after 20minutes but then I grabbed onto a truck and blitz them both. I could have held on to the top and indeed the road was now steep with hairpin bend after hairpin going straight up but I felt my conscience telling me to let go as this is the biggest pass I would cycle and to do it hanging on a truck is not the way. I let go which wasn’t easy considering I could see the road going straight up but I really enjoyed the ride.
When I got to the tunnel which almost signals the top it began to rain and I felt hungry so stopped and it gave the chance for the Polish guys to catch up. I put a jacket on as it was freezing switch all my lights on as I heard a few horror stories about the tunnel but before I left the two Kyrgyz guys came rolling out of the tunnel, how they got ahead I have no idea. I also spoke to a Russian guy who I thought was American at first such was his accent, he also gave me reliable information about the border I want to cross, I hope its reliable.
I then went through the tunnel and although it was rather narrow, bumpy and full of carbon monoxide it was ok, reaching the other side I was rather disappointed as instead of a fantastic view there was a toilet which people decided to Sh!t and p!ss around instead of in but heading down wards the view was spectacular. I overtook a few of the trucks that had passed me up the hill and I hit a new record speed of 79kmph, I would have hit over 80 but with the sight of an oncoming car I lost my nerve.
I set up camp a little early so the two Poles may catch me but 2 hours after I had set up when I was getting dark they plodded on by seemingly unable to see me or just ignoring me I don’t know, still I want to cycle my way, my pace for a while so I doesn’t bother me.
Pass number deux
31/07/2011: 15km South of Too Ashuu Pass to 5km East of Toktogul 137.64km
My stomach felt as unpredictable as the weather today but unlike the weather my stmach held. It was a chilly morning as a result of being at altitude and setting off i didn’t ride far before i met the two Polish guys who had camped a few kilometres down the road from where i did, apparently they didn’t see me when the cycled past. It was 930 and they looked a long way off being ready so after a chat i bid them farewell and rode off all by my lonesome rather eagar to get to Uzbekistan.
Had anoter pass of over 3000m to get myself over today but i was rather looking to it. The landscape was beautiful,a clear mountain river running alongside where i cycled , horses were the dominant in the valley which had snowcapped mountains just behind. The horse popuarlity confused me somewhat as there were few of any other animals such as sheep or cattle which are normally kept in which to survive on. In my disturb mind a possible answer came to pass, there were lots of stalls selling a white liquid in bottles and while having lunch when i saw a lady doing what i thought to be playing with the horses private parts i decided not to drink the white liquid.
The weather looked gloomy and i narrowly escaped a thunder storm which sprung up behind me. Dogs were also plentiful and i lost count of how many chased me as well as the amount of times i had to wave to my adoring public but i refused to wave if i was being chased by a dog.
Once i had hit the top of the pass i spent the last few hours of the day going downhill, to start it was very cold and a little wet, any bare skin stung with the chill of the air but when i got lower and the warm air soaked through me i began to really sting as there were lots of bee farms and i bumped into numerous bees flying over the road, eventually one of the little buggers stung me on the cheek so i slowed down before i swallowed one, i then got a puncture, grrrrrrrr.
The day was getting on so grabbed some supplies at a town then found a caredully hand picked camp spot on top of an ants nest, smashing end of the day.
01/08/2011: 5km East of Toktogul to ?????? 120.82km
As I sat eating breakfast I noticed how much this part of Kyrgyzstan reminded me of central otago in New Zealand where I spent some time earlier in my trip but here the mountains were much higher and much more impressive. Riding on it didn’t take long to get to the lake which looked perfect for a swim in the clarity of the day. I rode around a bit to pick up some supplies and a few cold drinks as the temperature was up. The road was either going up up up or down down down which in the heat was a bit of hard work, at least the up was. I found a spot by the lake and to my surprise the water was warm so I jumped straight in. After my swim I did some washing and had lunch before I head off into the hills again. The hills seemed a bit extreme they went up forever and the biggest of the day which tried to kill me rewarded me with cold drinks at the top which made it worth it (sort of). I was even more relieved when the road set off on a long downhill.
Such was the heat I was stopping at almost every shop to buy a drink; I’m not in a big hurry due to waiting for a response on the Iranian visa so I was enjoying the views that in Kyrgyzstan are something worth savouring. After the last town and nearing the end of the day I entered a rather spectacular gorge which had a beautiful river running through it. However it’s not ideal for someone looking for a camping spot but eventually I found one that even came with fresh ice cool running water from the mountains and for the second time of the day I was able to have a wash, happy days. I had hope to camp by the river but there was no easy way back up once I was down and no guarantee that it would be good ground for camping but this spot would do splendidly.
Hot, it’s hot, harden up boy
2/08/2011: ?????? to Near BazorKorgan Reservoir 150.05km
The plan was for a short day today as I was close to the first border crossing point with Uzbekistan and I felt unwell which I’m guessing is a result of too much sun. Plans change quickly, I gradually felt better as rode through the day but it was a very tentative start and after meeting two French cyclists who had just crossed the border from Uzbekistan I decided to go full hog to Osh for two reasons, the first being it wasn’t that far to Tashkent and it made no sense sitting there a week waiting for the possibility of an Iranian visa, the second reason and main one is they told me its relatively expensive there.
The day had become one of the hottest days I have known, not since Thailand I have felt the heat this strong (speaking to an American cyclists a few days later he told me it was 50C few hundred kilometres in Uzbekistan!) and like in Thailand between 12 and 4 the heat is almost unbearable though I did solider on through it and as a result I reckon I drank 9 litres of fluids half of which were sugary drinks.
Finding a camp spot took much patience which I really didn’t have thanks to the deterioration of the road and driving standards along with it. As I searched for a place I seemed to encounter endless farmland with people everywhere either working the fields or selling watermelons but persevering I found a spot on top of a hill overlooking a reservoir. I have had enough of Kyrgyzstan now but I think the heat has brought out the road rage of the drivers and my grumpy side but I should make it to Osh tomorrow and hopefully find myself a guesthouse.
3/08/2011: Near BazarKorgon res to Osh 118.05km
I decided today that a watermelon would be the cure for the heat so for lunch my plan to buy a watermelon. I was stirred out of bed at 6am when a flock of sheep were being herded past my tent and as a result was on the road by 8am but even then it was already hot and straight away I was stopping at every shop to get an ice tea. I also had a conflict in my maps today and when I was waved down by a policeman and told I would have to cycle around the lake to get to Osh I was a little gutted to find that Google maps was correct! By about midday I stopped by one of the many watermelon stalls to purchase my watermelon. I had a bit of a chat with the sellers who asked me how do I pay for the trip, they then asked if I get money from ‘mamma and papa’ I said ‘ no money from mamma papa’ but I not sure if they misunderstood but either way they took sympathy on me and gave me the watermelon for free. I had asked for the smallest but still for one person I managed to eat half of it before falling asleep under a tree. Waking I ate a bit more watermelon before packing up and cycling onto Osh which was pretty close but I still needed one more stop to get an ice cream.
Getting to Osh it was a busy town under some construction, but as always I had no clue of where to go but spotting some traveller types they took me to a cheap guesthouse where I got a dorm for 300com (5GBP). I did the normal things, food bit of washing, shower etc but I made a decision to take a day off as I only had 400km to Tashkent and I was a bit saddle sore and needed to give it a break. After dinner returning to my room it was full with fellow travellers mosquitoes and another cyclist.
I slept awful last night thanks to the swarm of mozzies that buzzed all night in the room. I got up and went for breakfast with Lala a French girl i had been chatting to, i was most intrigued when she guessed my age to be 31! She was on her way to Tashkent so after breakfast she packed up and left and i caught up on my dirary before going to an internet cafe where i got some rather bad news.
It was the type of news i had been dreding aout Jess (my dog) is not it the best of health and my mum was waiting on test results from the vet to find out how serious. I instantly feared the worse and even though my mother had said don’t panic i was instantly looking at flights from Tashkent back to London and spending e-mails. It may sound daft to many to get upset about a dog but this dog is a very close family member and i miss her as much as i miss anybody else. Finishing the trip doesn’t really matter much to me anymore.
When i returned to the guesthouse i spoke to an American cyclists who when i told about my plight asked me what is more important, finishing the trip which culd be done another time or seeing Jess before its too late and spending what remaining time i had being there. He also said that don’t try and think you have anything to prove to anyone as it you who has to live with whatever descision you make.
These were good words but first i needed to hear from mum what the vetetanrian results are before i act, in the meantime i need to cycle to Tashkent where a descision would be made. Most of the day was spent chating and hanging around with the other number of cyclists who had come to the guesthouse but my mind was else where pondering over otions and trying to think rationally.
A French couple in the hostel gave me an uzbekitstan sim card which was no longer any good to them so at least i can now be in touch and find out any information while im on the road. I have realised though what is really dear to my heart, possessions the trip, i would give them all up for Jess to be OK.
Uzbekistan, final decision
5/08/2011: Osh to Sahnhan 85.7km
Yet another sleepless night, mosquitoes and a heavy mind were the main reasons so once again it was a late get away. I spoke to Almar who is in fact from Holland not America and i thanked him for his support then i was off and i would make a final decision when i found out more about Jess’ health.
The Kygz/Uzbek border was strangely quiet and on the Uzbek side rather slow and frustrating and it wasn’t till 3pm before i was through. As i cycled i thought about Jess and broke down in tears but never stopped cycling. Everything i was doing felt absolutely pointless, again i just wanted to be able to see Jess and i don’t want to lose her but i was hoping things were not as bad as i feared.
Changing money was difficult in the end i had to change $20 as there appeared to be a lack of ATM’s. I rode on till 730 before just past an eatery i found what i thought were two abandoned houses, apparently they weren’t and being discovered i was taken back to the eatery and told i could sleep on one of te outside tables. I then was invited to eat with some very interested locals and we ate and drank beer before i changed to green tea.
I called home before bed to find out any updates on jess, i spoke to my mother who was rather tearful and the news did not sound good, i made a decision to be on the next possible flight to England i could get and i even kidded myself that i would ride the 320km needed to get to Tashkent (it was actually a lot more but the road signs said thats what it was).
Again i didn’t sleep well i maybe only got 2 or 3 hours sleep.
6/08/2011: Sahnhan to Tashkent (hitched) 77.56km
I was up and away what i thought was 620am but as the is a change of time from crossing the border it was only 520am. I left without having any food (i didn’t feel like anything) but i kept some in my handlebar bag which i ate as i powered through the morning and after 2 hours on a flat road i had cycled just over 50km which i promise you is decent time on a bike that weighs over 50KG and i was stopped frustratingly by every police stop but i was no longer entertaing them instead i made it very clear i just wanted to leave.
After 2 hours riding i stopped for a drink and waved down a passing van, they could not take me to Tashkent but could take me 70km further down to a big town where i might be able to pay somebody to drive me and bike to Tashkent. As it happens the driver i had met yesterday and luckily i had been friendly so he was very kind to me. At the town of Quqon i was let out and carried on cycling till i found a mini van station found a mini van and i was on my way to Tashkent or so i thought. It cost me $40 and i did this with little attempt to haggle as it didn’t matter to me anymore.
It was very hot outside but i didn’t seem to notice, nor did i make any effort to speak to the driver. 100km from Tashkent we stopped for lunch and then things really did turn to ARSE! I was told i had to cycle from here to which i refused and told the slimy little toad to drive me as that what he had been paid for, i yelled why would anyone who whats to go to Tashkent want to be dropped off 100km away and cycle it in 55C heat (i only found it was 55C later).
Both sat in the front somebody else had come to assist before he said he wanted another $20 to go the rest of the way, in the blindness of anger i began to slap my thighs and yell (no it was not the Hakka). It seemed to send some message that he was a total wanker and he droped the price to $15. I again made the point i gave $40 to Tashkent and he is a slimy little toad whose legs i will feed to a French person. In the end i gave aproximatly $4 but it was in their own curreny.
He still didn’t drive me right into the city but instead i was maybe 15km away so without any pleasenttries to the toad of a driver i took my bike and cycled off not before i had given him a torrent of abuse which i don’t think he understood but made me feel better.
I didn’t have too much trouble finding the airport but did have trouble getting a flight. At first i was told there is no flight to London until one of the few people who spoke English in an international airport said they could not do the booking here but said he would drive me down town to a booking office. I waited in the restraunt, had a cup of tea before the very kind English speaking man came back, said the flight was $500 (much chaper than i had seen on the internet) and it leaves on Tuesday which is the next available, i guess it will have to do. Leaving my bike unattended at the airport we first went and i withdrew some money $50 at a time as Uzbekistan doesn’t believe in ATMs then went to the booking office which was so quick im not sure its a really ticket. I spent the night in the hotel reflecting and what i had done and what i have missed out on but there is no shred of regret inside of me. I have course would have liked to have returned as planned but in the time away i have learned new skills, made new friends, learned more about the world than anyone can ever do in a libary or from TV, i have found out about my own character and most of all i have had an amazing adventure which is now a closed chapter in my life but will live with me forever. To those i have met on the way and those who have been supportive from back home i thank you endlessly as i would never have been able to keep going for 3 years without the support i have been given.
The Tasmaninan Tiger will ride again somewhere.
THE END (for now)FOR JESS