Goodbye Almaty, Hello Bishkek
22.04.2016 - 28.04.2016
So all is on hold once again.
From a reasonable place to start ….
Having filled up the last 6 pages of my passport with border stamps, this time the stout lass behind the desk, wearing an excessively formidable officers hat, told me in very certain terms that visa runs across the border is not acceptable or tolerated. So basically, my time was up.
I departed from Almaty a few days ago, waving goodbye to some good friends and what was by all accounts, a comfortable life! But the sun is again high in the sky, and no longer faced with the prospect of frostbitten toes and water bottles that have been frozen closed, the road again seemed like a good place to be.
And it is. The cycle ride to Bishkek was a joyous re-introduction, and reminded me of all the variety that comes from traveling. The difficult goodbyes over, I hopped on and headed off. The dust, noise and smog that is customary of any out of city road soon gave way to fields of young crops, rows of poplar trees, and the occasional village. In contrast to the glitzy modernism of Almaty, this was a refreshing trip back to reality. People living off the land. Each house was squared off with about half an acre or so at the back, used to grow vegetables, house chickens and, I can only assume for reasons of domestic hygiene and fertilisation, place the toilet. Children ran around the dusty streets dressed in colorful dirty clothes, pulling plastic toys on pieces of string, wrestling with each other, or addressing group politics using whatever medium suited their mood. The local traffic comprised of rusty of Lada's, tractors and a few donkey drawn carts. It was back to my usual unusualness. People staring at me from the side of the road, or winding down their windows to expel what I can only describe as a case of drive-by tourettes. I never work out what it is they shout at me. I'm too busy swerving to avoid the pothole that threatens to engulf my front wheel and send me over the handlebars.
I pulled into a service station which housed a small Turkish café. As seems customary with almost all Turks, I was waved over and invited to enjoy some tea with them. We spoke about Turkey and my travels through, and I managed to recount a few words in Turkish from the recesses. I made no reservation for my particular fondness for Baklava, and as hoped, a generous portion soon materialised in front of me, along with another cup of chai and a large piece of fresh bread. Mr I've forgotten his name and his brothers moved from Turkey 20 odd years ago to start up a business and a life on this stretch of busy Kazakh road. He travels back and forth to visit both ends of the family a couple of times a year. Before I could utter the first syllable in offering to pay, he silenced me with a swift raising of his hand, gestured that it was on him by placing his hand on his heart, and bid me a pleasant farewell.
Soon I was out on the plains, and peddling down the longest straight of my journey yet. A mighty 40 mile ribbon of tarmac progressing to a point seemingly no bigger then the end of a needle. The road ran alongside a line of snowy mountains to my left. They eventually curved over the horizon, feeding my curiosity with their disappearing profile. An endless green plane stretched off to my right, with a couple of distant thunderstorms dropping their load and bringing the light greens of spring into fruition.
Through a police checkpoint, a quick stop to superglue my stove and round the corner for the climb of the day. About 500 meters of up along a swerving valley floor. The road instantly kicked up to a gradient at least double of the 5% stated on the sign at the side of the road - a miss-calculation that although initially amusing, soon turned to irritation at the fact that the road clearly wasn't 5% gradient. I peaked out an hour later to the sight of wind turbines, dripping in sweat and joy. I'd passed about 10 lorries on the way up. They were descending down the valley very slowly and very cautiously, so much so that I think I was climbing at a faster rate. From what I could see through the slits in between the wooden planks, they appeared to be loaded with cabbages - a very common ingredient here, especially in the Russian dishes.
As with any climb, there is always the blissful reward, though this often depends on which way the wind is blowing. Fortunately for me the wind did not rob me of an effortless, glycogen replenishing freewheel, though it was easing me towards a rather ominous thunderstorm. Watching it track left, I approximated that we'd meet spot on, a few miles down the road. Thoughts of surviving nightly thunderstorms in Austria where proceeded by worse thoughts that it may have all been in vain. But fortunately my estimations where wrong, and the storm passed a good distance in front, leaving me with some well greased hairpins to cautiously negotiate.
Just before sun fall I pulled onto a small gravel road, which lead me down to a small meandering river. Pitched up on a grassy bank and it was back to the usual evening routine; pitch tent, cook food, read two pages, try and fall asleep.
The next day there wasn't a cloud in the sky. I headed off around 8 am, and the air was already warm enough for cycling in shorts and T-shirts. A few hours of very gradual downhill peddling, past some not even remotely plausible dummy speed cameras, through a quick and friendly border crossing and before long I was in Kyrgyzstan's capital city of Bishkek. The air was thick with noise and smog, and overtaking dumper trucks farted past, defecating on me with their hot exhaust. I was back in the land of Soviet architecture, palatial squares and numerous parks.
Since then it's back to the visa game. Bit of a stalemate at the moment. I'm trying to get another Chinese visa, but for some reason (certainly the case in Kazakhstan) their withholding tourist visas. Apparently they just do this sometimes. So tomorrow I'll go to the embassy here and see what happens, though I haven't heard good things. If no then possibly fly to Hong Kong for a Chinese visa, or as an absolute last resort, fly to Delhi and continue on from there. A lesson in patience and perseverance as always!
In the mean time I'm staying with Nathan and Angie, my Warmshowers hosts. Camping in their garden I can stay here for as long as I need, surround by bike tools, spares and other cyclists. I just met a guy from Somerset who is mono-cycling around the world! Carrying everything he needs with him, he'll be the first to successfully complete a circumnavigation of the globe on one wheel. I see the appeal. Dirty chains are a bummer to clean, though traffic must be quite difficult.
My wonderful friends at Loco hostel bought me a GoPro type camera, so I'll giving video blogging a go. Bring you some amazing sights of the road!
Hope all is good with all,
From Bishkek, a fond adieu.