My Last Adventure in Kyrgyzstan

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Don’t crush the lamb!

 I did not have the strength to continue pedaling through the city (my fever seemed to have returned and the sea of fumes made me nauseous) I decided to take a local cab to the guest house, and after some bargaining I put my bike and panniers in the trunk and off we went. We soon stopped to pick up more passengers, “What is going on” I said in terrible Russian, “this is a taxi cab not a minibus”. My jaw quickly dropped and I watched in awe as I saw that the two passengers and driver stuff a full-grown, live lamb into the trunk with Gaby.  Bishkek, Capital city of Kyrgyzstan yesterday afternoon.

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This is probably hundreds of times better than the treatment of live stock in the United States! I just wish he/she didn’t urinate on my panniers!!

After my epic trip to the Pamir Mountains I didn’t expect to find the rest of Kyrgyzstan to be anything as exciting…. Boy was I wrong. My last few weeks in Central Asia would push me to a new level both mentally and physically while I climbed icy, steep, snow-capped mountains, through extremely isolated remote territory, and shivered through the coldest nights of my life.

One of the several passes en-route to Song Kol

One of the several passes en-route to Song Kol

From Osh, my destination was Song Kol lake, a remote body of water located 10,000 feet above sea level in one of the coldest and most remote regions of Kyrgyzstan. Always looking for a challenge, I chose the most difficult route, traveling 400km on rough, muddy, unpaved roads following the river as it passed through desolate valleys, and tiny villages. Foreshadowing the difficulties I would experience on the journey, I departed on a cold, rainy day. The weather report had forecasted sunshine but as always in Muslim countries Inshallah “God willing”. The rain became so bad that I spent the entire second day in my tent perched on the edge of a cliff, teaching myself the Russian alphabet and patiently waiting for the storm to break. With a few zip ties and alligator clips I was able to make a small window in my tent so I could at least look at the snowy mountains I would be crossing soon. After 36 hours, half a bottle of vodka, and a few naan, the sun finally came out and I pedaled to the city of Jalal-abad where I hit the local Bazaar for supplies. Jalal-abad was a warm city with a small university. College students traveled around the busy streets on vintage Chinese bicycles and older folk lounged and drank tea in the park. A very friendly city, with plenty of resources for the traveler.

Kyrgyzstani local who invited me for lunch near Jalal-Abad

Kyrgyzstani local who invited me for lunch near Jalal-Abad

An hour and a half and $20 dollars later I had the following items stuffed into my panniers;

A pair of black sport shoes, 1 lb of raisins, ¼ lb. of kebab spice, ¼ lb. of chilli powder, 3 lbs of eggplant, 2 lbs of onions, ¼ lb of soup base, 1 lb of paprika, 3 heads of garlic, ¼ lb of fresh chilli peppers, 3 lbs. of apples, 3 large naan, 2 somsas, 1 pack of cigarettes (for public toilet use), 1 liter of gasoline, 1 liter of water, 1 liter of fermented cow milk, 2 lbs. of sugar, 1 liter of oil, 1 lb. of pasta, ½ liter of vodka.

The sun finally comes out

The sun finally comes out

With a Gabriella exceeding 55 kilos, I pedaled toward my first mountain pass. The summit was completely covered in snow and after 3 hours of slowly climbing switchbacks I encountered a group of drunk Kyrgyzstani’s drinking vodka and shooting a shot-gun. They quickly invited me to some bread and cold lamb and gave me a few shots of vodka because “It’s going to be so cold at the top of the mountain”. Refreshed and with a slight buzz I climbed the rest of the pass and nearly froze as I descended 6,000 feet in a shadow. Finding water is never a difficult task in Kyrgyzstan, but what is difficult is find it in an area where there is no livestock. Even at the summit there were sheep droppings and cow dung, does Giardia propagate in such cold conditions? I didn’t want to find out so even after finding a relatively clean source I boiled all water I consumed, this would be my practice throughout Kyrgyzstan, however I doubt that boiling water at +10,000 feet does much to sanitize.

Icicles at the top of the pass

Icicles at the top of the pass

The next afternoon, after pedaling hours along a brown river I stopped at a small house to ask for fresh water. The owner invited me inside and I walked past stacks of cow dung collected for combustion during the harsh winter. After filling up my water containers I was offered fresh-baked bread, kefir, and candy, I was even offered a place to sleep but decided to continue down the road to find a secluded campsite. While loading up Gaby with the new-found supplies a Land rover with a German license plate passed and pulled over. How funny it is to see western tourists in remote regions! A well-groomed couple, with clean smelling clothes got out of the car and came over to greet me. They had both gotten fed up with their desk jobs in German and decided to sell everything and hit the road, two months later they were in Kyrgyzstan. They had an extremely fancy Rover that had a tent built into the roof of the car. They talked of cooking sausages and drinking cold beer and I quickly asked them where they were going to camp that night. They seemed a bit concerned that it was getting too cold to sleep outside but I convinced them that my worn single ply tent was a lot colder. Unfortunately, after we said goodbye they drove off and I never saw them again. I could only dream of pork sausages and beer.

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After an extremely frustrating 10,000 foot climb, (switchback after switchback with what seemed like no end in sight) I descended into a huge valley, flanked by tall snowy mountains. At an elevation of 5,000 feet the valley floor offered a warmer campsite, and after talking with a few locals I learned that Song Kol lake was completely covered in snow and that the road was closed.

Road to Song Kol

Road to Song Kol

It had taken me close to 5 days of hard riding to get out here and at this point I was not about to turn back. With the thought of sleeping in the snow at an elevation of 10,000 feet I went from door to door in the local village looking for extra clothes. I quickly found a thick wool jacket and along with some vegetables, pasta, bread and vodka pedaled the final pass to Song Kol Lake. The last 2 km were covered in snow and ice, requiring excessive patience while pushing sockless in the cold snow. From the summit I looked down at the Song Kol and realized that I was about to descend into a large crater, similar to that of Crater Lake in Oregon. A real winter wonderland in mid-October, everything was white with fresh snow and only the turquoise color of the lake broke the repetition of color. Somewhere, past the lake was a small road that would take on to the Capital city where I would connect with my flight to Japan.

Gaby at the summit

Gaby at the summit

I pushed on from the summit and slowly made my way toward the lake. The snow had a muted effect on the sound as the crater was completely silent. Once in a while the wind would pick up and a small howl could be heard but other than that, the area was devoid of life. The sun set as I arrived at the muddy banks of Song Kol Lake, tired and freezing I set up camp for what would be one of the coldest nights of my life. The ground was too icy to push my tent stakes into the soil but my tent quickly froze to the ground, and required no extra help to keep stationary. Within minutes of the sunset all my water began to freeze. A thin layer of water would freeze instantly in a pan or on the ground, and my thermos of hot tea froze inside my tent! I slept with all my layers of dry clothes and my new wool jacket but had trouble moving about in my sleeping bag because my body became so large with all the excess fabric. My pattern of sleep for the night was the following; 2 hours of sleep, 1 hour of shivering, and so on until the sun rose. By that time everything was covered in a layer of ice, and all my water was completely frozen.

Song Kol Lake on first visit

Song Kol Lake on first visit

It was too cold to stay another night; I packed up and headed in the direction of Bishkek. Again the road was covered in snow and required hours of pushing before I finally dropped down to a temperate altitude. I made up my mind to head to warmer conditions and leave the mountains behind but a few days later I met a Japanese couple, Keiichiro and Yuki, who inspired me to return to Song Kul. Keiichiro had been traveling by bicycle for over three years but moved very slowly, as it took him close to 3 years to pedal across China (Shanghai to Kashgar) . His partner Yuki, was an intensive Care nurse who after working several years decided to give up a career for the open road. They had been pedaling together for three months and were now headed for Uzbekistan. After a night of vodka and Chinese Hot Pot (Kei carried over 2 kilos of condiments including many hard to find Chinese soy and Chili sauces), I decided to join them the next day and travel the difficult road back to Song Kol Lake.

Yuki and Kei pack their mountains of gear

Yuki and Kei pack their mountains of gear, Kei was not a fan of a bump ride so had his tires at half pressure

I should have paid a litter more attention when Kei said it took him close to 3 years to cycle across China, because this Japanese couple was super slow!! The first 30 km approach to the pass took them all day, and the next day when we climbed the pass I had travel back down to push Kei’s bike up through the snow. They were such a sweet and carrying couple though and even though it was a few hours from dark didn’t seem to be pressured by the quick onset of below zero temperatures. Kei even wanted to stop and help a ground of 5 men push a car through the snow but I convinced him otherwise.

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We camped by the lake for 2 days and I quickly learned that Kei and Yuki could speak some Chinese. We had many funny conversations and told stories of our travels in China. In the two days we spent together, I also had the opportunity to learn what random items Kei carried in his bulging six panniers. (His rear rack was stacked so high that he could lean back while pedaling). He was the type of guy who could not throw anything or give anything away so he carried many items that he had never used. For example he had a 20 foot roll of X-mas lights he had gotten in China, a full color printer and scanner, 4 I-phones, a Mac computer, two tablets, two sets of speakers, two solar panels and a movie projector! When he set up camp it was like a DJ preparing for his set, Kei had wires and electronics everywhere! Both of them really liked Japan Pop so in the silent serene atmosphere of Song Kol I listened to sappy Asian love songs. Kei also had a special tempura cooking set, and two fishing rods but we couldn’t catch anything in the lake. At night I joined Kei and Yuki in their handmade Gor- Tex tent for movie night, Kei had close to 5 GB of bootlegged films, but we watched the 90’s classic Cool Running’s instead.

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Fresh water from melted snow flows down the crater to Song Kol Lake

The evenings were just as cold but did not seem as bad with company. Kei worked hard to make Yuki comfortable and throughout the freezing cold evening I could hear him boiling water to make their sleeping bags warm. This is extremely classic among cycle touring couples, where it seems that the man has to put in a lot of extra effort to make his women comfortable. Once again it’s not bad being alone.

Song Kol

Song Kol

I woke up on the third day with a bad headache and decided to depart. I wasn’t sure if I was getting the stomach flu (Kei and Yuki tended not to boil the water, but rather make it warm and I drank a few cups of coffee from them the prior evening) or if I was experiencing symptoms of altitude sickness. It took me a while to say goodbye as Kei and Yuki wanted to depart with me, meaning I had to wait close to 2 hours for them to pack up their gear and push their bicycles to the main road. Luckily enough our paths drifted apart after 3 km as they headed south, and I north. Unfortunately for me by the time I finally started pedaling my way I had come down with a fever and was experiencing chills and breathlessness as I climbed my way out of the crater. I was getting worse by the kilometer, and soon I could barely pedal. I got off and pushed but the Gaby felt like a train. “Fuck!!” I thought, “If I don’t make it to the top of this pass and out of the crater, I may not survive another night down here”. The thought of crawling in and out from under the broken zipper of my tent fly in the snow at minus 15 C, with an upset stomach, forced me to push on.

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Slowly I made it down and quickly started feeling better as I got below 10,000 feet. I pedaled passed several farm-houses and eventually found a room with an English teacher in a small village. My fever was bad, I was borderline delirious and she offered me a back room near the barn. “It is cold inside but I will give you a heater” She said. Fifteen minutes later she returned with an old 1970’s Soviet Union heater with a new looking power cord. “My husband works at the power station and he fixed this, it will keep you warm”. I plugged it in and fell asleep only to be awakened a few hours later by the smell of burning plastic, I turned on my headlamp to see that the power cord had melted and was beginning to burn the rug I was sleeping on. I safely unplugged the cord, but was left with the terrible smell of burning plastic, and sheep hair from the rug, and the damp onset of frost.

Finally down to a low altitude cycling through a gorge

Finally down to a low altitude cycling through a gorge

I said goodbye and pedaled the rest of the way to Bishkek, I was still feeling sick but wanted to get to the capital ASAP to prepare for my coming flight. The English teacher referred me to a guest house in the city but when I arrived I was quickly overwhelmed by the terrible traffic and excessive exhaust. I have not pedaled through a capital city since Baku, Azerbaijan, and had forgotten what its like pedaling during rush hour. Bishkek is by far one of the dirtiest and most polluted cities I have visited thus far, with locals spitting in all directions and cars honking in long lines, waiting at blocked intersections. I didn’t have the strength to continue, so decided to take a local cab to the guest house. After some bargaining I put my bike in the trunk and off we went, but stopped after a few kilometers to pick up more passengers. Before I could ask what was going on I saw two men with help from the driver stuff a full-grown, live lamb into the trunk with Gaby. It was absolutely shocking sight to see a live animal treated like luggage. The four legs were tied, and the men grabbed the animal by its ears, the lamb could do little to struggle as it was stuffed in the corner next to my rear wheel and crank set.

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After two hours of driving in gridlock we finally reached the guest house, I unloaded my bicycle and panniers, all my gear smelled terrible as the lamb had relieved itself several times on the journey. As I paid the driver he attempted to go back on the deal saying I owed him more. I refused and tried to leave but he grabbed my rear rack and held me back. “Haram”! (Forbidden in Arabic) I shouted. “Call the police if you want but I am leaving” I said. I pushed away and entered the guest house but was soon bombarded with him yelling outside and pressing the call button over and over. The owner told me to pay him so that he would go away, as he was yelling threats about violence, I told her that if she was scared she should call the police but that I would not give another penny to the dishonest, lying, crook of a man outside. I took a bath and could still hear him yelling outside, “I hope this doesn’t go on all night” I thought, like some sort of protest outside an embassy. I finally got in bed and went to sleep. It is now morning and I have 2 days before leaving for Japan.

Journey to the Pamirs

A moss covered lake near the highest pass, Alai mountains

A moss-covered lake near the highest pass, Alai mountains

Deep valleys and long canyons on the road to the Pamirs

Deep valleys and long canyons on the road to the Pamirs

The polluted city of Osh, Kyrgyzstan offers a brief respite from the hardships of the road. A local three course meal costs as little as $2 and roadside food vendors sell a plethora of fresh comca and dumplings. A culture that would be Chinese had Buddhism been the major religion spends the day working long hours in office buildings and industrial manufacturing plants and evenings in fancy restaurants that line the main strip. A 30% discount on all produce can be found in the morning at the local bazaar where vendors compete for business selling local fruits and vegetables, and arguing over small variations in price. The zealous traveler is quickly reminded of the beautiful countryside when one looks to the south, where snow-covered peaks have an orange glow in the evening sunset.

Looking back after 60 km of climbing

Looking back after 60 km of climbing

After reading countless tales of Marco Polo and other earlier explorers crossing the vast mountain range separating Tajikistan from Kyrgyzstan, I was excited to for the journey to the Pamir Mountains. It is said that Marco Polo crossed the range during winter time, but after my brief trip to the region I find that very hard to believe. Unfortunately I was unable to receive a Tajikistan visa, as well as GBAO permit which is officially required for travel within the Pamir’s. But from several accounts from various tourists and cycle enthusiasts I heard that there are relatively few check points when traveling through the mountains on the Krygyzstani side of the border. With no rush to get to China, I stocked up on supplies at the bazaar, checked out of my cheap guest house and pedaled south.

Looking down from the highest pass 3,600 meters

Looking down from the highest pass 3,600 meters

Departing from Osh, the two lane road climbed through the Alai Mountains. The small road was often filled with trucks carrying coal from one of the largest coal mines in Kyrgyzstan located in the valley between the Alai and Pamir mountains. When there were no trucks there were herds of sheep and cows moving from village to grazing, and children in uniform walking to a from school. Everyone seems to know the word “Bye” and when cycling through each village I was greeted with waves and “Bye”….”Bye”….”Bye”. The road followed the river, and the first two nights I camped at its side. I watched the landscape change as I slowly climbed above 10,000 feet, trees vanished and hills became barren. The wind also took on a shape edge that seemed to cut through even the thickest clothing. On the third day I awoke to the smell of burning brakes and instantly knew that there was a steep climb ahead of me.

Summit 3,615 meters

Summit 3,615 meters

Slowly I pedaled from 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) to 3,600 (12,000 feet) climbing the tallest pass in the Alai range. Snow and bits of hail greeted me at the top. There is no break from breathing when cycling at this altitude. By this I mean when I stopped breathing to swallow I would get out of breath. At the summit however the air was so cold that it almost felt like taking a drag off of a cigarette, in that you could feel its contact with the phylum in your lungs.

First glance of the Pamirs

First glance of the Pamirs

I descended the pass to the large valley between the two ranges, and quickly realized that I was in an environment of extremes. The valley floor never dropped below 3,000 meters, and has the strongest winds in the country. It is not uncommon for the wind chill to bring evening summer temperatures to 0 C, and in the winter the average temperature is -35C! I soon realized that I was ill-equipped to handle these extremes especially as the effect of the elevation slowly permeated my body.

Morning sun on the mountains

Morning sun on the mountains

I had to remind myself that days before departing for the Pamir’s I had spent a full month pedaling through the arid deserts of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, during which my diet consisted of mainly melons, bread and a few tomatoes as heat seldom brings the felling of hunger. On many occasions I pedaled all day without more than a few bites of bread. My body took on a new form, that of a desert nomad handling a daily average of 120 km and temperatures of +45 C.

Valley floor facing south towards Tajikistan

Valley floor facing south towards Tajikistan

Within hours of descending to the valley floor my head began to ache and my limbs felt like they were underwater. However I denied the invitation to stay at a warm guest house and instead loaded up on bread, salted meat, and vodka at the small of village of Sary Tash. I searched for more clothes or even a pair of shoes but could not find more than a pair of wax dipped work gloves that are so bright they seem to glow in the dark.

Camping spot here the base of the Pamirs

Camping spot here the base of the Pamirs

Half wondering if I would find myself back in the village again by evening I followed the Pamir highway and slowly inched my way to the Tajikistan border. My first thought was to attempt to sneak my way into Tajikistan but when I got closer to border I noticed that there were barbed wire fences and heavily armed patrol guards. “Maybe they will have drinking water and by asking them they will see how cool I am and will then be obliged to let me enter visa free” I thought. I approached the border and when the patrol man walked up to me I asked “Do you have any drinking water”. He didn’t seem to understand so I asked my second question “I just want to spend one night camping in Tajikistan, do you think you can let me through visa free?” The second question seemed to get through the robust skull of the camouflaged individual, and he laughed. Back to plan “A” I thought so I grabbed my empty water bottle and shook it upside down. The guard then opened the gate and invited me to dinner with the rest of the unit stationed at the post.

Blonde tall grass on the foothills

Blonde tall grass on the foothills

The guard told me to go into the station and wait in the dining room, not sure which door lead to the kitchen I opened door after door and interrupted some sort of interrogation which almost got me kicked out of the station! Lucky for me my new friend appeared just in time. Soon after I was sitting at a table with 6 armed patrol guards who quickly started to act like normal Central Asians, after the bottle of vodka was passed around. Bread was broken for everyone at the table, and we ate a large chunk of cold lamb fat with chai and bowls of vodka. The guards were ecstatic when they heard that I was from America and quickly asked questions in broken English mixed with Russian about Mike Tyson, Arnold Schwarzenegger and O.J Simpson. After close to an hour of festivities I noticed the sun falling low in the sky and decided it was time to bid my acquaintances farewell. “We have nos, then you leave” a large Russian looking man said to me. “OK”, I said as he pulled out a large bottle from the refrigerator. I had tried “nos” on several occasions in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, but Kyrgyzstani nos is an entirely different beast. I was poured a small handful of green pellets the same size and shape of sprinkles. I put the handful of sprinkles under my tongue, one of the fastest methods of delivering a drug to the system. “Holy shit…this stuff is strong” I thought, either the nos was especially strong or the combination of alcohol, nos and elevation had just gone to my head. I felt like I was completely drunk and about to vomit so I jumped on Gaby and pedaled away so that I could be alone in my discomfort.

Water from the spring

Water from the spring

I pedaled back in the direction I had come and passed a small spring unnoticed on my arrival. The cold, clear water had a sobering effect on my mind and I decided to camp nearby. The drilling in my head continued but the sound of water kept me calm.

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I am not sure exactly how cold it got that night, but I awoke the next morning with completely frozen water bottles and icicles all over the inside of my tent. However the cold sensation could not distract me from the morning sun gracing the snow-capped mountains. Tall, blonde grass swayed in the wind, clear passed over timeless rocks and the Pamir’s overpowering presence had a magnifying effect on my heart. I was completely surrounded by snow-capped peaks all over 4,500 meters. I spent the next 3 days camped near the spring deep within the Pamir’s. Each day I would walk over the smooth rocks in the valley and climb small peaks only to realize that the beauty was unchanged. The evenings were just as soulful as the daylight hours, for when the sun went down the galaxies appeared. The evening sky was split in two by the white Milky Way glob. The evening begins with the fall of Scorpio in the south and the rise of Orion in the north. Freezing and wearing all my clothes I would delay putting on the tent fly, completely enthralled by the Kyrgyzstani night sky.

Remote moss lake found while hiking the Pamirs

Remote moss lake found while hiking the Pamirs

It was on the third day that I noticed cumulus clouds and felt the wind picked up. Like a large white sheet, fresh snow was being blown off the top of the large peaks, making each peak look like it had a tail. The morning sun was covered in a thin layer of grey clouds, and I could feel a change taking place. I decided it was time to break camp and find a valley at lower elevation where I would be safe from a snow storm. I pedaled 50 km towards the east and took side roads that lead me to a gigantic coal mine. The mine was noticeable from miles away, in that it looked like a volcano of ash. Surrounding the mine was a workers camp made up of trailers, mud brick houses and broken beer and vodka bottle. Pedaling over inches of crushed coal I rode through the camp only to notice that it was empty. I continued on and followed a small river around the mine and into a canyon. The wind continued to get stronger, and my fingers and lips began to feel numb. I quickly needed to find a place to hide from the storm, as it was getting dark and colder. Finally I came upon a large rock that had an enclosure which would protect me from the wind and rain. Without much thought I quickly set up camp but not before the rain brought down a small avalanche of rocks from the top of the large rock. “Shit that was close” I thought, I could have been sleeping when that happened!! My tent and ground tarp were now soaked and I looked around for another place to camp. “What would Baba do” I thought? I am too tired to go on and there is no shelter here from the wind. I mustered all my remaining strength and picking up large rocks from the river bed built a temporary wall in front of and behind the tent. The rock wall had a noticeable effect on the wind. The sun fell and the wind slowly died down. I set up my tent a second time.

One of the many abandoned mud houses near the coal mine

One of the many abandoned mud houses near the coal mine

Packing up to leave valley where I built rock walls to protect from wind, large rocks are propping up Gaby

Packing up to leave valley where I built rock walls to protect from wind, large rocks are propping up Gaby

Soon after the wind picked up again and was so strong that my tent began to rip. It was pouring raining but I had no choice but to leave the tent and find more rocks to hold down the tent from the wind. After about 20 minutes of work I was wet, cold, hungry and I couldn’t even get my stove to start because of the wind. I searched my panniers and found a packet of soup mix, I mixed it with cold water and drank it with mushy, rain-soaked bread.

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Once again the open road

Once again the open road

The next day it was time to depart and head to a lower elevation. I climbed again the large 3,600 meter pass but quickly descended below 3,000 meters. Once again I saw trees, animals, and inhabited villages. The evening temperature was well above freezing and for the first time in 4 nights I slept well!

Lower elevation river campsite

Lower elevation river campsite

Departing through road valley roads

Departing through road valley roads

I am now back in Osh and am soon departing to explore the northern regions of the country. I have booked my flight to Japan and will be flying from Bishkek (the capital) to Sapporo on Oct 21st. There is plenty of remote mountainous territory here; I just hope I can get to it before the snow does. Tomorrow I head north to Jalalabad and continue on dirt mountainous roads to the remote lake of Song Kul. I will then cycle to the nature reserve around Issyk-Kul lake, visiting the historic city of Karakol and then on to Bishkek. My posts in Kyrgyzstan will be infrequent as there is no internet to be found outside the cities. I will touch base again as soon as possible.

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Tajikistan truck full of wheat heading for Osh

Tajikistan truck full of wheat heading for Osh

Ciao from Osh, Kyrgyzstan     -Julian

Good-Bye Uzbekistan

Pedaling and climbing through the Fergana valley. I was pushed by a strong tailwind, dust-covered the sky, trees and road, and I saw the sign “Qashqar 450 km.                                                      September 21 less than 300 miles from China

A work of art, and a gift from the baker fresh Uzbekistani naan

A work of art, and a gift from the baker fresh Uzbekistani naan

I have just crossed the border into Kyrgyzstan, and am in many ways sad to leave the remote country of Uzbekistan. Hours ago I left a beautiful Uzbekistani woman behind, probably never to return or see her again. The last ten days have been full of challenges, and random encounters with spiritual individuals. My health has not been good as more than once now I have been sick from consumption (Vodka) and roadside food stands. It seems that on almost every opportunity imaginable (gas stations, super markets and restaurants) I am met by friendly locals who quickly pull out a bottle of local vodka and start filling rice bowls. No sipping,  and your only hope for survival is that there is plenty of bread on the table.

Dry, desolate mountains as I pedal down through the Fergana valley

Dry, desolate mountains as I pedal down through the Fergana valley

Uzbekistan, has by far the most abundant use of bicycles. Children, not yet tall enough to reach the seat or make it over the top tube, pedal with body slanted to one side, trying to keep up with me as I pass. Teenagers, and young adults pedal their girlfriends and wives on the rear rack home from school and to work, and older men transport propane tanks, and other various goods to and from their homes. Like all Muslim countries I have traveled to, there is a noticeable separation between the sexes. Restaurants, tea houses, roadside café’s are all only frequented by men, and very rarely do I see couples in public. Women out here work in the cotton fields, produce markets and pharmacies.

Polluted skies and large mountains of ash just outside of the capital Tashkent

Polluted skies and large mountains of ash just outside of the capital Tashkent

The eastern side of the large country was full farmland and plenty of open fields.  Each night I camped thinking I was alone only to be surrounded hours later by a herd of sheep or cows, followed by a friendly shepherd with a half empty bottle of vodka.   I will truly miss Uzbekistan. It has the most beautiful and hospitable people you could image, where it was not uncommon to have your groceries purchased by a stranger or have your panniers filled with fruit from a smiling farmer who refuses any money.

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I now prepare for the steep, cold mountains of Kyrgyzstan. Fall is in full swing here and two weeks ago the mountains were covered in a half a foot of snow. Once again my panniers will be filled to the brim as I pedal towards the Tajikistan border in hopes of viewing the legendary Pamir mountain range. China does not allow cyclists to pedal from the Kyrgyzstan border to Kashgar, so there is no point on entering China yet. I plan to spend 3-4 weeks cycling the remote regions then flying to Japan in mid-October. I will return again to Kashgar in the early spring of next year hopefully with a Pakistani visa, planning to pedal the Karakoram mountain range into the legendary Kashmir region.  -Julian

My forbidden shish kebab evening followed by stomach sickness was definitely a story to tell, for those of you who are sensitive to bodily functions such as diarrhea and vomiting you may want to skip the end of this post….. So pedaling through the small city of Ohangaron (About 350 km from the Kyrgyzstan border) I quickly befriended the local baker, who after teaching me how to make the local bread, told me about a super cheap hotel. I personally do not like hotels or guest houses, but in Uzbekistan every tourist must register at a hotel every 3 days, otherwise a fine of up to 8,000 USD can be applied! (This is another story as some hotels will often try to blackmail you if you do not have the correct amount of registration slips in your passport, I only registered a few times but was able to avoid trouble).  After a night around town, and eating several lamb kebabs at the roadside grill I found the mentioned hotel. It took me close to an hour to bargain the price down, and half way through my stomach started rumbling in an all too familiar way. At least I will be in a room with a toilet I thought and got a room for $3. After getting Gaby and all my panniers up to the second floor, I fell asleep.

Hours later I woke up with a fever, and terrible stomach pains. The whole hotel was dark, and it seemed that the power was out. I scrambled around trying to find my headlamp and my room key and while holding back the pain fumbled for several minutes on the 1920’s style hotel key, trying to unlock the door. After finally getting out of the room and fumbling again to lock the door, I searched the second floor for the toilet. No bathroom. The toilet was all the way down two flights of stairs and through a long corridor. Once there I learned that not only was the power out but so was the water!! The water must have been off for a while, maybe the hotel had no water as all the squatting toilets were filled with excrement. The sight of the bathroom, accompanied by the smell made me vomit and I decided I would have to be creative and make something work out in my room, as the bathroom was too far and too disgusting. Luckily, my room I had a small balcony, and earlier that evening I had purchased a large 5 liter bottle of water. I dispersed the water to a few bottles and made a make shift toilet by cutting off the top of the 5 liter plastic bottle. I used a few books and a piece of wood found under the bed to elevate my feet, and there it was a water bottle toilet.

All night I prayed that it wouldn’t fill up as I made countless trips to the balcony, my stomach was so painful. I had plenty of antibiotics in my panniers but I always try to avoid them and continue to do so in this situation. By early morning the fever and diarrhea were gone but now I had close to 3 liters of excrement in the bottle on the balcony. No matter how terrible the hotel was, I would never leave that for someone else to deal with. Disguising the bottle by putting it in a plastic bag I tip toed towards the bathroom but was met halfway by hotel staff who thought I was trying to steal “things” out of the room or hotel. I am not sure exactly what this lady was saying but she wanted to see what I had in the bag! “Can’t you smell it” I said and she looked inside, she made a stinky like face then walked away, I guess a 5 liter bottle half filled with diarrhea is nothing shocking in Uzbekistan.