måndag 27 maj 2013

From summer heat to snowy mountains

When I lest Fergana I had about 110 km to the border and planned to cross it the next morning. At lunch time I stopped at a store to spend my last Uzbek money and I thought it would be nice to sit by the river and eat. After buying some things I got on my bike but only cycled 20 meters when a man at a restaurant invited me in for tea. He was the owner of the place and also gave me a nice lunch before I got back up on the bike and cycled the last bit towards the border.

I got there faster than I had thought even though I got lost at one point and had to turn around when the road stopped. They don’t like to show people the way to Kyrgyzstan. Luckily there are helpful people along the way to ask. It was not a very busy border crossing and I wasn’t sure at first that I was at the right place. I cycled up to the gate and got the attention of a guard who walked over and opened the gates for me. There where contractions going on and the office was a table outside where I for the first time had to open all my bags for inspection. Strangely they never checked the hotel registration that everyone told me was so important to have. I took some time to through all the bags, but eventually I got the stamp and could cycle over to the Kyrgyz side. There they were more relaxed and the border consisted of two barracks on either side of the road and the cutest guard dog ever!
In the first barrack there was a huge man who when I came put on his hat before starting to write down my information in the notebook. It didn’t take long until got my stamp and it felt really good to be in Kyrgyzstan and it’s great that I don’t need a visa, it’s two months for free. Some of the first people I met in this new country waved me to the side of the road and game me a bag of cucumbers and a bag of delicious peaches. In the next small town I asked around for a place to stay and was directed to what they told me was a hotel. It was a little difficult to find since it didn’t have any signs on it and it didn’t look like much. And it wasn’t much either. It felt like some old Soviet military place, the room a slept in had five beds in it and when I had to use the not so clean toilet I had to find the woman who worked there to get the key for the padlock that was on the bathroom door. And as always I was bargaining for the price, especially at this place where she wanted way too much. We eventually agreed on a price that was half of what she started off with, but since I didn’t have any Kyrgyz SOM I had to wait until the next morning to go to the bank. A very good thing about Kyrgyzstan is that you don’t have to exchange money on the black market to get the right rate. But I had a little problem since the woman in the bank didn’t want to exchange 20-dollar bills which were all that I had. But after a little begging she agreed and I got some SOM. So I paid for my “fancy” hotel, bought a SIM-card since mine wasn’t working here and cycled into the mountains.
The road followed a nice valley next to a river that unfortunately had a couple of dams along the way. And another negative thing is that the crazy bike chasing dogs have made a comeback here. It was the worst in Turkey but in Iran, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan I didn’t have much problem with dogs. But here I have been chased many times usually by two at the time. For the first time in a couple of weeks I was sleeping in my tent when I found a great spot right by the river. I had almost forgotten how nice it is camping especially in a beautify valley with a view of the mountain on both sides.
The next morning started off with a long slow uphill. But on the other side I had a nice view of the Toktogul Lake below. And for the rest of the day a cycled around the lake, up and down many hills towards the town of Toktogul. It was a cloudy and a little cold day and at lunch time I could hear thunder closing in. I was hoping that I would reach Toktogul before it started raining, but it’s difficult outrunning a rainstorm when you’re doing 6 km/h up a hill. So once I got to the town I had been cycling in heavy rain for an hour. I didn’t want to cycled any longer than Toktogul because after the town the road went higher up into the mountains towards Ala-Bel pass at 3184 meters above sea level. And I wanted a good night sleep before tackling that. It felt good to wake up and hear that the rain had stopped after pouring down constantly since yesterday afternoon.
The road up there went through yet another beautiful valley. But I was moving slow because it was uphill almost all the time. I stopped to by some honey from a beekeeper that was really nice and invited me in for lunch. And it was a good lunch with lots of meat, potatoes and of course honey for the tea. Perfect energy for the rest of the days uphill.
Not long after that I met a German man who was travelling by foot and was walking back from Bishkek where he had walked to during the winter. He had to find another was east since China didn’t let his dog in to the country. He had some good stories and some information about the road I was taking towards Bishkek. When I was getting closer to the top it got colder and started to rain that after climbing higher turned into snow. It was a nice to get to the top after almost seven hours of uphill. And 3184 meters was a new record for me almost 1000 meters higher that my precious record from Turkey. There was also another milestone for me that day when I reached 15.000 km! It doesn’t feel that long since I passed 10.00 in east Turkey, and I realize how far I have cycled through Asia.

Going up you can’t wait to get to the top and glide down the other side. But going down wasn’t much fun since it was snowing, raining and I could not keep warm with the cold wind at me all the time. The road came down into a valley where I was stopped by a man in a car got out and wanted to have a little chat. He didn’t speak much English but we understood each other still and talked for a while and drank some Bishkek cognac. He wanted me to load my bike in his car and go with him to Bishkek, but I tried to explain that I wanted to cycle all the way. He probably thought I was a bit crazy to turn that down when I was cold and wet. We said goodbye only to meet again a few kilometers down the road where he had stopped by a yurt and waved me in. We had some tea and he arranged so that I could stay with that family for the night.
It was an interesting evening and I got to experience the life of Kyrgyz nomads. I also got to ride a horse and help bring in the sheep’s for the night. The family was very nice but since they didn’t speak a word of English we had some problem communication. And even if I had come down from the snowy mountain it was still very cold and the night I spent in the yurt I had on all my clothes and three blankets. I woke up to another rainy day. But that wasn’t the worst thing that morning. I had left my bike outside and had forgotten to take in the bag where I had my food. So during the night a cow had smelled the bread I had in the bag and ripped it open with its horns to get to the food. The bag had one big hole on the side, some smaller rips and one attachment broken. The worst thing was when I saw that the bag I keep my tent in had a couple of holes in it, but after a closer inspection breathe a sigh of relief that the tent was undamaged. And I’m hoping to find someone who can fix the bag here in Bishkek.
I tried to make the bad somewhat waterproof and got back on the bike and headed for the next mountain pass. This pass was “only” 2564 with a serpentine road winding up the mountain. I wasn’t in a very good mood after a not so good start of the day, and a slow climb up the mountain didn’t feel that fun. But I pushed on and once I got up a little higher I could enjoy the great view of the valley below and It was all worth it.
At the top the road went through a tunnel and when I came out on the other side I was met by a very thick fog, or clouds as it is called at this altitude. I could only see 20 meters in front of me and took it really slow, most of the time=) After a while I was out of the clouds and cycled down a nice valley. But it was still cold and I needed lots of clothes to keep warm. After all the hard work in the mountains the reward came here and I was following the valley downhill for almost 70 km! And once the mountains stopped the air was much warmer and the sun showed itself for the first time in a while.
I spend the night in Kara-Balta since it was still about 60 km to Bishkek and I didn’t have the strength for that. So I had a rest there and yesterday I cycled the rest of the way to Bishkek where I’m staying with a couchsurfer for the moment. Now I have to sort out my Chinese visa and hopefully with some luck I can get a three months visa. But I’m not sure I will, and then the option it to get a one month and then extend it once I’m in China. But it feels great to be here and there is no rush for me to cycle on since I can stay in Kyrgyzstan for two months. I won’t stay that long but it nice not to have any time pressure.

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