26.01.2016 - 26.01.2016
I'm having some difficulty accessing the full features of Travellerspoint, so photo's will be delayed, but hopefully be along shortly.
Happy New Year. Hope you all had a jolly one.
As usual I've been toing and froing over plans. I find writing a blog helps to add clarity.
I clearly overlooked just how difficult it is to cycle through a winter. I'm not sure how I did this. Cycling alone, in minus temperatures, through a vast and empty country is not your average idea of a cup of tea. But I was lured by the challenge, contemplating this in the easy autumn breeze of Tbilisi. In Turkey my senses where receptive to everything around; the smells and sights were swollen, often luring my focus towards mountain peaks, or a deep blue lake. But the cold and hard lands of Russia closed me off. No longer responsive to my surroundings, my mind reverted to memories and vacant thoughts, and my eyes where constantly transfixed on the slowly passing white dashes. It was Arduous and unenjoyable, so hence my decision to spend some time in Almaty.
A cracking new year! My French friend Laure, who I met in Thessaloniki decided to come and join. A good bunch of us headed up to LXI ski resort, for a few days of snowboarding, good food and Banya - a Russian sauna. After seeing the New Year in with sparklers and fireworks, the lights and lifts were switched on for an hour of night ski. Six of us headed up to the top. With much shrieking we stripped off every article of clothing and braced ourselves against the night air. Doing my best not fall over whilst removing my socks, the hysteria got the best of me and I fell flat on my arse, burying my most precious in 5 inches of snow. I retracted instantly, and with all naked and ready, we headed off one by one, like a bunch of monkeys descending from the trees. Word had clearly got around. I turned the last corner into the blaring glare of car headlights and a mass of spectators waiting with camera's. Eternally glory, or not, depending on your point of view, was achieved, and Laure scored a free ski pass on the merits of her breasts!
Back in Almaty and back to visa matters. My Chinese visa allows me to enter at anytime before the 28th of January, for a stay of two months. I sought to extend this date until spring, but was told this wasn't possible. It would require a new visa, and per the typical inconsistencies of foreign policies, I would be granted a stay of only one month. Extensions within China are possible, but are unreliable, and I'd imagine riddled with procedures. So I was back to square one, again contemplating cycling through winter. It seems a few months in a hostel is an effective buffer between perceptions and reality.
Now my Kazak visa was up, so a border crossing to Kyrgyzstan was necessary to obtain a visa free entry for Kazakhstan. My friend and I took a lift with two young English guys, who were on their way to India. We pulled out of Almaty at night, and it wasn't long before the car was being buffeted by strong winds. Watching the snow slither it's way across the tarmac, like a pack of snakes, I was instantly reminded of the realities of winter cycling. So one wasted Chinese visa, I'll wait until the leaves return.
After some nostalgic ramblings about dear old England, we rolled into Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Soon after winding our way around some neglected looking suburbs, we found ourselves sitting in a quirky hipster bar. Strange haircuts, varying displays of facial hair and small tin robots were all around - I could have been in Brighton! Old Jazz and Blues tunes were spinning away on the turntable in the corner, and my ability to talk to anyone was as broken as the record on play.
A few pints of excellent local brew and I was escorted to the stage, placed on a stool and handed an acoustic guitar. Responses to my rendition of Everlong and Banana Pancakes was marginal to non existent, so I reverted to some good ol'Blues. Feet began to tap, a few hands were clapping, and I even managed some incomprehensible heckling from a drunk. My reward was discounted beer - worth any measure of public scrutiny for a low budget traveller.
Nastia and I made our way back to her friends house, where I'd kindly been invited to stay. An early wake the next morning to make our way to a 'rally'. I wasn't sure if this was a car rally, or more likely, I thought for some reason, a social rally. An hours ride in a taxi and we were soon out of Bishkek, rumbling our way past white fields and rows of frozen trees. A spectacular mountain range rose in the distance. Kyrgyzstan is 95 percent mountains, making it a very popular country for outdoor enthusiasts in the summer months.
Still half asleep, I practically fell out of the taxi once we reached our destination. Three rally looking cars were parked up. Two Subaru Foresters, both missing their front bumpers, and a beaten up home build - with a snorkel made from house drainage pipes. The race was set to start in two hours. I fell asleep. Waking up a few hours later, the meagre three car group had grown to a seventy car gathering of angry terrain munchers. All shapes, colours, sizes, C02 outputs, tyre grips, exhaust sizes, ground clearances, and driver poses were on display. It was impressive to say the least. Unless the intention was to verbalise discontent using noisy engines, this appeared to be a car rally.
With a wave of the flag the first twenty year old Honda civic blitzed off the starting line with spinning wheels. Up to the first turn, brakes on, and a short bob over the first bump. The bumpers would bang against the chassis every time - if they had them. The ballsy conviction of each driver was undeniable. Excitement was all around, and the masculinity was palpable. Bonnets were up, leather racing jackets were on, and blonde girlfriends were held firmly around the waste. Like a scene from a low budget fast and the furious, I felt a little peripheral, though thankful I hadn't turned up on my bike. We were watching from a rather precarious first corner. A sense of relief would always follow after a car had made the first left turn, choosing to follow it's tyres as opposed to the spectators.
Towards the end of the race, a Subaru came flying around the corner, catching it's rear bumper on something. The driver decided to stop in the middle of the track, get out and asses the damage. With the spectators making no reservations for his stupidity, the next also came flying around the corner, managing to narrowly advert disaster by a couple of feet. Sufficiently aroused from my slumber by a surplus of excitement, we made our way back to Bishkek to indulge in some local food. I had a bowl of Lagman. This is one of the main dishes of central Asian cousin, and it's delicious - hearty, warming, and perfect for a winter filler. I tracked down a recipe. Give it a go! - http://www.sras.org/lagman. A Kyrgyzstan dinner evening at the Pink Cabbage Lucy? I DARE YOU!!
That evening I made my way back across the border, without a hitch. Back to cleaning the hostel, teaching English at a Jewish school, and scratching my feet with occasional adventures.
As some of you know, last year I ran a campaign for the creation of a National Litter Clean-up Scheme. Despite a reasonable amount of publicity it amounted to nothing. Compelled by the almost constant line of litter that has tarnished by road since leaving England, I've decided to give it another go, this time using the governments own petition website. There is currently no effective scheme in place to combat this nationwide problem. PLEASE JUST TAKE 2 MINUTES TO SIGN It, LIKE IT AND SHARE IT. If your not convinced then I recommend you take a short walk along any well used road to see the extent of the situation for yourself.
This is the link - https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/118853.
I hear you have some snow? Dust off those sledges and get out there!
A big thanks for reading and chow for now.