July 25, 2009 GMT
Highlights from Kyrgyrstan
Horseriding for a day though the world's largest walnut forest on horses that had wooden saddles, not the most comfortable of rides with my notoriously bony backside.
Riding some of the best roads I have been on - steep mountain tracks, challenging enough to be enjoyable and high enough to experience eagles swooping in at 3000 metres for a closer look at the bike
Tobi and Claus catching us up having ridden from Germany to Kyrgyrstan in nine days! just the thought of it is enough to make my backside go numb again.
Tobi collecting dry cow dung for a local style fire - more smoke than any flames unfortuantely and that was only with a bit of petroleum assistance.
Lunching in a yurt with a family who invited us in when we turned up in their village looking pathetically hungry
Trying kymys - fermented mare's milk the nomadic families don't cultivate anything but have lots of horses so they make their alcohol from the milk. Kymys has a poor reputation but to be honest it was OK, tasted a bit like scrumpy (rough cider) but with a yoghurt after-taste. I was ready for seconds but thought I had better not as I still had 100kms of riding to do that day.
Camping at 3000 metres and the rain freezing to the outside of the tent.
Followed by swimmimg in the lake at the same altitude- a brief but refreshing swim, the others would not believe me when I said it was a similar temperature to the water at Porthcurno.
Trying to get close enough to the yaks to get a good picture but getting a bit spooked by the nasty look in their eyes and so retreating.
Doing a river crossing very nicely but then dropping Thelma in a big muddy puddle (whilst transporting a dozen eggs)
Annie opting out of the river crossing on Thelma, searched for an alternative and ended up on the back of a very small donkey with a young child perched behind her "driving" the donkey through the stream (sorry Annie, through the raging current), this was made all the more comical by the fact that Annie was wearing full bike gear including her helmet. The piece de resistance of the performance was when she fell off on the other side of the river and landed on her backside - a great crowd pleaser as always.
Posted by tiffanycoates at 02:49 PM
July 15, 2009 GMT
We had a final couple of days in Tajikistan staying at the remote town of Murghab - a very bleak place where there is nothing green and all the food has to be imported as nothing grows. It was a sociable time as first we saw Al and Dave from the 'Stan Clan, my Horizons bike riders' group- they are on a whirlwind ride through to Vladivostock (Pacific coast) via Mongolia and have just six weeks left to get there- which is a lot of hard riding.
We then had Tim and three other friends from the GS Club come through and stay over - they are doing a journey similar to mine but have gone in the opposite direction - they left England the day beofre me and raced across Russia to reach Ulan Baatar in 18 days, a saddle sore experience. They are now heading back to England and should be there in five weeks I think. They have got a landrover as support vehicle so they've got a few more luxuries than we have, it was really nice to see familiar faces, especially in such a remote area. Ever the hostess, I cooked up a big pan of mashed potato for tea and fed them all. We then had a bit of international money market dealing as we exchanged currencies for the various countries, at one point there were five different cuurencies on the table.
Two days ago we took the final road heading north towards the border - there was a very high pass, 4700m which was a bit chilly, Thelma wasstill pulling strongly though which was good news. At one point a golden eagle was soaring overhead, but it was a bit camera shy. We also had to ride through some herds of yaks which were scattered across the road and they were in no hurry to move out of our way as we rode at walking speed past them.
They are incredible, almost prehistoric-looking and a bit fierce in appearance, as always a healthy respect for any animal (says the woman who ran away from an anteater because it gave me a funny look).
The border crossing was very straightforward, a half-hearted attempt by the guard to extort money and we were through which is good as it is the second highest border crossing in the world and oxygen is at a premium, we were not keen to hang around, especially as there was snow underfoot and friends had been caught up in a snowstorm here a week ago (soemthing I had neglected to tell Annie). Kyrgyrstan almost straight away looks very different to Tajik, incredibly green, yurts dotting the hills and herds of very healthy looking horses roaming around.
We camped in the hills for a night before heading into Osh, the country's second largest town with a fantastic bazaar so loaded with produce we have dubbed Osh the Land of Plenty.
In many ways it feels like I have been transported to Penang - there is the hustle and bustle of south east Asian commerce, lots of street hawkers selling stuff from indvidual pram wheels, to second hand saucepans and baby clothes, there is also a lots of street food which I am enjoying; "yuk gusht" is the phrase for "no meat". There is also an amazing range of nationalities here, we had lunch with some Uzbekis, dinner with a Tartar (Russian) and morning tea with Kygyrz poeple, and as we are very close to the Chinese border there are also a lot of Chinese poeple here.
The Uzbeki family have helped me out with the dodgy Daewoo repair, which as I suspected did not last very long, I now have a part from a Zazda, soviet-made car; Rakim the mechanic was extolling the virtues of soviet machinery and quoting Brezhnev as he replaced the part. I will have to see how this new part fares, I don't think the roads here will be anything as bad as the ones in Tajikistan.
Posted by tiffanycoates at 02:46 PM
July 13, 2009 GMT
High Altitude or was that Attitude Riding?
We had reunions and rough riding along the Afghan border, as we encountered other travellers we'd previously met and tackled tracks that were steep and narrow and which were covered in sandy gravel. Our loose front indicator went flying off along one precipitous track, I had to retrace our route to find it. Not that indicators are any use out here as they are never used, but I know that in Kazakhstan and Russia, the police are very keen to pull foreign motorists over on the slightest pretext and a missing indicator will be a big bribe.
It is now safely re-attached with trusty gaffer tape to the rescue once more, one of my bodge job specials, the local Tajiki drivers have already re-done my rear indicator, they thought my twigs and tape repair was hysterical and highly ineffective (which I'm inclined to agree with them), so they have done a much better job.
Tape is also holding the windscreen on- I don't think there is much point in repairing the windscreen properly until we are on roads that make it seem unlikely we will drop the bike - so that might be in about another 10,000 miles.
We took the long loop round through Wakhan Valley - seems like it was nicer and more interesting than going straight across the Pamir Highway- which is all tarmac, though the tarmac was a lovely treat after the high and incredibly remote mountain pass out of the Wakhan Valley.
We were spotted some camels at 3800 metres, I didn't know camels lived at such heights - I think they are wild ones, they were on the Afghan side of the border. We also had a wildlife spotting of ... Siberian beavers (or according to Shaia, an Israeli backpacker we met) that's waht they are, they're golden coloured with long tails and live in holes in the ground, they moved too fast for us to get a photo or a clear look at them.
More soldiers playing silly games and they tried to hold us up on the Wakhan Valley - only two of them and my theory is that they're not going to waste their expensive bullets (if they've got any in the first place). So although they had stopped us and pointed a large gun at us I told them
"This is NOT a checkpoint, you get no documents"
and we rode on - I did advise Annie to duck down in the unlikely event that they might start shooting.
The only place to show documents is at the proper checkpoints where there are barriers across the road and there is a some sort of officer in charge, not the young conscripts that are out on foot patrol and answerable to no-one.
We bumped into my support van from the Kazakh desert halfway up a Pamir mountain - he had even remembered to bring hot chocolate as requested, we again went in opposite directions after a beer evening - Baltic 7 the beer of choice, though transporting 10 bottles of it three miles up a mountain side in my topbox probably wasn't such a good idea - lager-scented sleeping bag anyone?
Out of the valley and onto the plateau that forms the Pamir Highway - it reminds me of the Bolivian altiplano - a high altitude area, ringed by mountains and fairly flat for hundreds of miles. We had our first sight of yurts and also a yak, though to be honest it was just the severed head of one - it looked huge. They took it off to the kitchen before Annie managed to get a photo of it.
Posted by tiffanycoates at 02:44 PM
July 03, 2009 GMT
We had heard that the route we were taking would be challenging and they weren't wrong. First it was incredibly hot as we followed the river with 1000 metre cliffs on either side and no greenery anywhere except the very occasional oasis village.
The track deteriorated and was very tricky to ride with dried river beds to cross, some still with rivers to cross - I reminded Annie of the key point when crossing a river - keep your mouth shut as sometimes the water has a nasty habit of flying up and straight into the helmet.
We crossed a bridge with broken metal plates covering it like crazy paving but with sharp edges and big gaps to negotiate - not nice on two wheels. Then we reached a bigger river, Annie got off to walk while I promptly dropped Thelma in the deepest part - a bit too blase about it, I should have done a recce first and walked through to judge the depth and uneven boulders underneath.
Luckily a lorry driver who happened to be washing his lorry mid-river waded over when he heard me screech "Annie" and between the three of us we got Thelma upright and onto dry land. I checked for signs of water entering the engine, which mainly consists of looking at the air filter under the fuel tank to see if it looks wet - is anyone has any other top tips about what signs to look for, please let me know. If water has been ingested and then the ignition switched on the engine can blow up, so the consequences are pretty severe.
I nervously turned the key and Thelma started first time - great, the only damage seemed to be a missing mirror which is probably halfway to Kabul by now. On the plus side however, the neutral light which has not been working for a couple of weeks was once more operational, obviously immersion in fast flowing water was the key; maybe I should have washed Thelma more regularly.
The next river was a nightmare to look at - much deeper with massive boulders, very fast flowing and to add an extra spice it flowedover into a 20 foot drop. I wasn't taking any chances with this one and carried some of the bags across first whilst also doing a thorough recce- the water was very deep in places, and I was almost knocked off my feet several times, the riverbed was also extremely uneven and covered in slippery rocks and boulders, we watched a land cruiser struggled to cross. The shallowest part was right next to the 20 foot drop off and that would be the line we would have to take.
We enlisted the help of two blokes who were passing, and explained with fairly graphic sign language what was required of them ie to accompany me and the bike across and to ensure the bike did not fall over. However they were unprepared for the speed that I neede to tackle the water with and got a bit left behind, just about managing to catch up as the current got hold and Thelma started to tip over. They grabbed the pannier racks and struggled to keep their footing as I slid off the seat and revved up to try and drive Thelma onwards, a few slippery rocks kept us stationary briefly before we got some momentum going and I roared up and over them and across to the other side - we had made it!
I felt such a sense of relief and achievement but also a feeling a dread, how many more of these were there.One of our helpers did quietly ask if we were heading to the Pamirs, and when I replied yes, he just raised his eyebrows, not a good reaction I thought.
I kept that little exchange from Annie - she was ferried across with the lastof the panniers by a kindly jeep owner and didn't even get her feet wet.
Next we faced a waterfall which was landing on the road, luckily this looked worse than it was, though I did get completely drenched.
Cars and trucks were being held up as there was a semi-official one way system in place for some stretches of the road ie east to west on the even hours and vice versa on the odd hours, but the road workers deemed that we were OK to pass through which led to more hair-raising encounters with massive chinese lorries on the narrow track going round sharp bends, once more we almost ended up in the river below a number of times.
It really was a tough ride. We had a break in the shady garden of a friendly family- it was the first sign of habitation we had seen for 40 miles and we were desperate for water- which turned out to be only available from the stream running through their garden- needs must and we glugged it down.
As the sun was setting we reached a restaurant with outdoor eating consisting of two shaded platforms covered in carpets which we sat crosslegged and ate out of a communal plate of rice - also known as plov or pilau in this area. The woman who served the food enquired if we needed somewhere to sleep and showed us what was basically a trucker's dosshouse above the kitchen- a stuffy room with five narrow beds side by side. We were so exhausted that we said yes and then negotiated to have the room next to it with mattresses on the floor and the hopeful possibility of no room mates (truckers or otherwise). We dropped off to sleep straight away - it was 8.30pm; a late night intruder was shouted at until he left the room - there was no way of locking the door so I stacked some of our stuff in front of it.
Posted by tiffanycoates at 02:40 PM
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