Days 141 Through 150

Day 141

Like I had to do a few days back, Blake too needs to deal with registering with the police. Like my experience, this takes up most of the day today. His registration was complicated a bit more too since we're not staying at a hotel and so we have to go searching for this specific tour agency which can get him some letter he needs. He also somehow got a business visa instead of a tourist visa, which confuses things even more... Anyway, with the help of our couchsurfer Alyia we get through everything. Have I mentioned how much I hate Kazakhstan bureaucracy...

On top of the registration Blake has a lot of work to do before he can start riding. He needs to unpack and reassemble his bike, add a whole bunch accessories, and then figure out how to get all of his gear on the bike. The latter involves a lot of trail and error, and can take a really long time to get right. It might be Day 141 for me, but its Day 0 for him. We're both up quite late prepping everything. I had forgotten what I pain in the ass it is to start off on a trip like this.

Day 142

Five days planned from here to Bishkek. We get out the door and make it about a minute before the main bag on Blake's bike starts falling off. The trails of day one... A bit of rope and we start off again. Its feels incredibly strange to have someone else here with me. The pace today was certainly slower than usual, as was expected. Hopefully that will change in a couple of days. Nevertheless, things go pretty well, mainly because, there's no wind! Blake is quite the good luck charm here haha. Into a town, towards the end of the ride, Blake starts to slow down. Still, he survived today a hell of a lot better than I survived my first day of biking.

Day 143

Today to Taraz. Nice views of the mountains to the south, pretty good road, and again no wind. Despite it being Blake's second day we don't do too bad on timing. In town we disagree about where to stay. He'd prefer just find a place and not have to worry about it. Being the cheapo I am, I insist on biking around a bit more to try to find a cheaper place. An argument that we commonly found ourselves having on our trip across the US as well. Anyway, we find a hotel and things get smoothed over quickly as we find a restaurant to drink some beer and eat some food. We make some friends who insist on paying for our beer, and we even get an extra dish comped by the management as a "Welcome to Kazahstan" gesture. I just can't get over how nice people can be around here.

Day 144

Nice day again, awesome road, great weather, no wind; this is really turning into the perfect starter week to get Blake up to speed. Our pace starts to quicken and we were almost up to my regular coasting rate today. Props to Blake on that one, it certainly took me a lot longer to get in shape out here.

Made some friends again in town, ended up getting dinner with them and drinking a bit too much beer. Oh well, it is Saturday night...

Day 145

I was sad to leave Kazakhstan today. Despite the barren desert, terrible winds, and difficult bureaucracy, the people here were one of a kind. Now to Kyrgyzstan, the "Switzerland of Central Asia" as Blake likes to call it due to its mountainous topography. Border was easy enough and we made great time into the town of Kara Balta. Haven't met a lot of foreigners in these parts, but today we ran into a Nigerian, recruited here to play soccer. Cool guy, we might try to meet up in Bishkek.

Day 146

Today was an easy short ride into Bishkek, although a bit traffic filled. We made really excellent time into town and it really ended up being just a half day of riding. That's great news because we've got a lot of crap to deal with before we leave town. From here to Kashgar, China we expect a lot of high mountain passes and not a lot of big towns. It's shaping up to be the most technical part of the trip, and we've got to make sure we've got our shit together before we head out.

Day 147

I strive to get off the beaten track, something I think I have accomplished quite well for the past couple of months. Kazakhstan might be one of the most undertouristed countries on the planet (despite tourism reportedly increasing 5 fold after the release of Borat haha). This provided some of the most authentic traveling I have ever been privileged to do. With this, however, comes difficulties. When you travel to places most people elect not to travel to, theres a serious lack of tourism infrastructure. Bishkek couldn't be more different in this regard. With its lack visa policy, unique lakes, and enticing mountain ranges, Kyrgyzstan has attracted a steady stream of travelers, including a decent amount of bike tourists. As a result, for the first time since Turkey, I am surrounded by a slew of hostels, a decent amount of quality bike shops, more people who speak English, etc. Perhaps the most important development, is that I finally found a proper place to do laundry! 73 long days it has been...

My shoes have become a bit of an embarrassment. Its been 147 days of biking in rain, dirt, and mud. 147 days of sweat, bike grease, spilt fermented camel's milk, and a million other things. At hotels I keep them in the bathroom with the door closed to contain their odor. I've never owned anything that smells as bad as these shoes do... Also, the soles have worn razor thin due to the five months of daily pressure against the pedals. Suffice it say, priority number one today is to get some new shoes. Off to the Osh Bazarre, millions of shoes to pick from, almost all way too small. Took some time, but finally found a nice stylish pair, only ones in the entire market that fit, so I kind of needed to take them...

When I was passing through Belgrade, Serbia, I met a girl from France who had a friend who lived in Kyrgyzstan. I remember she asked me back then if I was heading through Bishkek, and I had to look at my schedule because I didn't really know where Bishkek was haha. Anyway, here I am. Called up her friend Mansur, and Blake and I met him tonight for dinner. I really cool guy. He worked abroad, lived for a decent amount of time in France, spoke a million languages, and had a lot of local knowledge. It was really nice to meet him.

A couple years ago, while returning home from biking across the US, I couchsurfed in Chicago with a girl named Kat. She's a journalist, and was nice enough to decide to write a small article on my trip. Check it out here if your interested.

Day 148

I'm nervous. I've been doing a lot of biking lately, but when we leave Bishkek tomorrow, we'll be getting into something like never before. These mountain passes into china are high (to me at least). I am quite nervous about having to deal with the altitude up at the passes. We're expecting bad roads, cold temperatures, and isolated stretches. There's also a lot of reports of frequent, unpredictable snow storms. If we have any mechanical problems up there, we could be in some very serious trouble. Blake has insisted that both of us go to a bike shop and have a mechanic go over our bikes to make sure we're good to go. Seems like a decent enough idea to me.

Perhaps the biggest problem we may face could be the bureaucracy. There are two ways over the mountains to China, The Torugart Pass, and the Irekstam Pass. The Tourgart is much shorter from Bishkek and apparently more scenic, but its officially not open to international travelers. Apparently you can get through, but it looks like you may need a special permit. There's also seemingly a very good chance that the Chinese border guards will not allow us to ride our bikes from the border to the migration check point some 70 km down the road. This of course would be a direct violation of my rules, something I see as unacceptable. The Irekstam Pass is officially open to international travelers, but the internet offers contradictory reports on whether or not you can bike down that road either. It would also require us to bike several hundred extra miles to get there and over. Additionally, Mansur, who works in the Parliament building here in Bishkek, has mentioned that Irekstam might be about to close due to political unrest in the region. Getting into China without breaking my rules might prove to be quite difficult.

To make things even more complicated, Blake is under a time crunch to get back to a previously made commitment in Croatia. When it boils down to it, we need to take our chances on the Torugart Pass, because Blake simply does not have enough time to bike the extra distance through the Irekstam Pass. There's nothing else to do, unless I decide to ditch Blake, something that is just not going to happen since we both traveled across the world to bike together into China. Reliable information is impossible to be found around here. It seems the best thing to do is just start biking up the mountain and hope things go well. Tomorrow we head towards Torugart.

As for tonight, another night out with Mansur and his friends. Good times.

Day 149

Today the winds were strongly in our favor and we headed out of Bishkek and made good time on the road. Good vibes on the bikes, we were cautiously optimistic about the road that lay ahead. As we got close to our town for the night, we started sprinting in an effort to avoid the pending storm which was sweeping in right behind up. Upon arrival, we quickly realized we had a bit of a problem. There was no place to stay. With no hotel in town, and the storm starting to intensify, we were desperate to find a place to get out of the rain for the night.  Camping didn't really seem like a nice option in this rainy, windy weather which was projected to last throughout the night. Just when things looked like they might be shaping up poorly, a man gestured us towards a house, telling us we could stay there for the night. Wow! Amazing. What a nice guy.

We scrambled to get all of our stuff off of the bike and out of the rain. After we finally got under shelter things started to get a bit strange. It became immediately obvious that the man who invited us in was drunk. We walked over to a market together to get some food, and this guy only wanted some schnapps and a pack of cigarettes. It started to dawn on us that he was most likely an alcoholic. That would explain all those empty bottles scattered through out his house... But whatever, nobody is perfect, he still seemed like a nice enough guy. He took off to go do something as we sat alone on the floor of his unfurnished, one room house eating dinner. With the strong tail wind, we had made really good time into town, and consequently had a lot of time to kill after we ate. We waited over an hour, this guy was still out, so we decided to go walk around town. That's when we noticed he had locked us in. Ok, that's maybe a little strange, but he probably just wasn't used to having people over and forgot we couldn't get out if he locked the front gate. Besides, he was pretty drunk after all. We hopped the fence and walked around town a bit. When we arrived back, he seemed a bit upset. He gestured in his drunken stupor that we were not to leave his house without his permission. Again, a small red flag, but he was probably just worried about our safety or something... We sat around together for a while, with our only real interaction being accompanying him to and from the market to buy more liquor. He did talk a lot to us, but he didn't really seem to understand that we had no idea what he was saying. He just kept going on, for hours, with us just nodding and occasionally laughing if we thought he was trying to tell a joke. He was so drunk, that we probably still wouldn't have know what he was saying even if we spoke the same language...

It was getting late, this guy was not so pleasant to be around, and we really just wanted to politely go off to bed. That's when 5 of his friend came over... You could probably guess what they were all doing together. Yep, that's right, drinking. Now there wasn't just one drunk guy trying to unintelligibly talk to us, there were 5! Some of his friends were not only drunk, but really mean as well. There was the guy next to Blake who kept insisting that he pay him $100, the other man who was constantly putting his hands together in a really disgusting thrusting gesture, trying to get me to have sex with who knows who... After several painstaking hours, they finally left and we have the chance to get some sleep.

The House

Day 150

We woke up early today, eager to get the hell out of this guys house. Despite our pleas, he angrily insisted that we sleep on the floor right next to his bed. He then passed out, later waking up a couple times to run outside. Assuming he was throwing up... In the middle of the night he fell out of his bed and landed on our feet. Instead of getting back up into his bed, he stayed there, for hours, occasionally kicking around. Needles to say we didn't get much sleep. Just as we had hurried into his house the night before to get out the rain, we rushed out, not wanting to deal with this guy anymore than we needed to.

Despite all this, I still thought he was, at his core, a nice guy. He was a drunkard who had some terrible friends, but he had taken us in, and for that I was incredibly grateful. That perception changed this morning, when out of nowhere he insisted that we pay him $60 for the privilege of staying at his house. In a country where even a pretty good hotel costs about $15 per person, this was a ridiculous request, and we all knew that. That's when it dawned on us that he had probably locked us in last night intentionally because he didn't want to risk us leaving without paying. I thought about negotiating the price down, but then we decided the best course of action was to just leave without paying at all. We had paid for all of his liquor and cigarettes last night, provided a couple of laughs at our expense with his guests last night, and cleaned up his apartment a bit, so I felt as if we were pretty even.

I've never been in such a hurry to leave somewhere. Luckily we were able to get out of his house and close to the street in one piece. Outside we packed out bags as he stood and waited for us to finish, expecting us to pay on departure. Our plan was simple enough; pack up as fast as we could, give him a big wave and start racing down the road, ignoring whatever he might be trying to say to us. That worked well enough for Blake, but as I tried to get going, this guy grabbed my bike. Angrily insisting that I pay up. I dragged him into the middle of the street with my bike, hoping a car would drive by and help us out. Surely the town drunk grabbing a foreigner in the middle of the street wouldn't go over with the rest of the (incredibly nice and friendly) locals who lived in town. What would you know, no more than 20 seconds later, a car comes barreling down the road, honking their horn, and scaring this drunky off the road. Here's my chance, we sprinted down the road, shaking with adrenalin, feeling like fugitives or something. This is not the way things should be, I thought. What an unfortunate situation for everyone involved...

We sped down the road, incredibly worried that he might rally his friends to come look for us. After a couple miles, we hid our bikes behind some trees at a cafe and waited out the heat haha. For the next several hours on the road, I was constantly looking behind my back, tensing up every time I heard a car honk, or appear to slow down. I've never felt like this before, it wasn't a nice feeling.

Down the road a bit more, we stopped to get some supplies from a road side market. There was a very nice family who invited us over to eat with them. At the end of the meal, we asked how much money they wanted for the food, and they shook their heads, refusing to let us pay. Sure is funny how the people you want to give money to don't accept it, and the people you don't want to give money to are the ones who want it the most...

Head winds started making an appearance today, as did a rocky road. It was a bumpy, grinding, uphill ride into our town tonight. We're in a town right on Lake Issuk Kul, one of the natural treasures of the country. In incredibly contrast to our accommodation last night, we decided to stay at the nicest resort in town. Nice room, right on the lake, and only 20 bucks...

Lake Issuk Kul

View from the hotel