IN Dushanbe (Tajikistan capital) for several days as we waited for our visa extensions- a gentle lulling back to the comforts of civilisation such as running water, fridges with chilled drinks and the ultimate gastronomic high of a Lebanese restaurant serving felafel and hummus. Vegetarian food is not easy to find here and my excitement at spotting veggie kebabs at a open air restaurant was somewhat tempered when I also spotted the lumps of mutton fat threaded onto the skewers.
Several other travellers passed through town while we were there- mostly people in search of visas eg for China and Pakistan, we also saw Corinne the Swiss cyclist I had met in Samarkand - she had actually cycled through the tunnel of hell on her bike.
I took Thelma to a mechanic to get the rubber gaiter that Ann had brought out with her fitted. The plastic bottle substitue that Vlad had used as a temporary measure had stood up well to the rough condiitons we had put it through.
I stayed to watch and learn from the mechanic-it's a job I have done before in the heat of Mozambique, and i was perfectly happy to let someoen else do this messy and tricky task. Or at least I was until he split the gaiter - I was speechless when I saw what he had done. There are no BMW parts available in Central Asia and he had broken my only hope.
He didn't seem too concerned and rummaged around his workshop coming up with something similar from a Daewoo which he quickly cut to size and fitted. It looked OK and he assured me it would last all the way to Mongolia and back to England- yes, I thought, it has to. I promised him a return visit if it didn't work.
Looking ahead to our onward route I found conflicting opinions about the roads. There are two routes, one heads due east and is the most direct though high across mountain passes to the Pamirs while the other (heading south) is twice as long; apparently all the public transport takes the southern route.
Nobody could give me a clear answer about the dangers to be faced on the eastern route- poor road conditions was the most common answer, I suspected there was more to it than this. One bloke I spoke to - whilst I was using his office desk to re-inforce my map with sellotape, was a bit more forthcoming, despite the fact that he only spoke two words of English.
He pointed to the eastern road on my map and mimed men wearing long robes with little hats and beards taking potshots at vehicles -
" Mujahadden?" I said.
"Da" he nodded and enquired if we had mujahadden in my homeland.
I thought of some of the more fervent Cornish nationalists and agreed that yes, we have something similar in my country, maybe on a different level though as they tend to wield letters to the editor as their weapon of choice rather than Kalashnikovs.
As we had not remembered to pack our bullet proof vests, Ann and I decided that we had better take the southern route and had a final cold beer to celebrate getting visas and leaving the city.
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