Pedaling from the Black Forest to the Yellow Sea
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Posts from — August 2008

Days 155 and 156 (Uzbekistan): rest days in Gorskiy (my body says something I can’t figure out …)

The two days are remarkably similar, so I am folding them into one posting. Sherzod and I went to Kokand by bus and headed to the bazaar (on both days), the internet cafe (on both days) and ate something (one day only). We headed back to Gorskiy and spent the time with his friends, once at the local ice cream parlor (one flavor only, chocolate flakes optional) and on day 2 with a friend of his who had invited me to his home. I owe a big thank you to Sherzod who opened up the area for me in so many ways. We tried our way through a range of foods and drinks that I would have never been able to discover. It was tasty and new … like pumpkin somsa and apricot drinks and many more things. But he also opened up the thinking of people in this area, again something that would have been hard without him.

The bazaars provided some great pictures, take a look.

And because there are many more, head over to the flickr site if you like …

It was also interesting to find out more about life here. What stunned me was the very deep distrust people have towards the government, more so here than in other places in Uzbekistan. I knew it exists, but the extent was staggering. Every time I took a picture (almost), someone asked Sherzod where I was from. This is not a new question, rather it is the standard one. But the background was to find out whether I was a government spy … there were so many people that were afraid of this, that it really does make you think. On the other hand, come to think of it. Here is the token foreigner who doesn’t speak the language, stands out as he can … good starting point for spying I should say.

We also did some sightseeing …

And this is the place for men only …

I also started to feel the onset of not feeling well. I am pretty exhausted and will most likely be suffering from a stuffy nose and some headaches. I can feel it coming. This is probably the best time for it given that I will not be biking for a few days now.

But here are some more bazaar pictures from the second day …

August 26, 2008   No Comments

Day 154 (Uzbekistan): Baksuk - Gorskiy (OK, you can go …)

daily distance: 139km
total distance: 9823km
riding time: 9h

This day had some of the best and some of the worst biking has to offer. And overall, it was a great day. I left early after a terrible night’s sleep, too many trucks going by on two sides (the old and the new road) throughout the night. I kept waking up, tossing and turning.

The first few km went past a damned lake which also was close to the first checkpoint, one of many checkpoints that was to come today. I was a bit apprehensive about it as I found out in Tashkent that I am not having all the documents that I should have. I am lacking the official registration, which may or may not arrive still from Buchara. At any rate, I was hoping to get by without much of a hitch, but this is the road to the Fergana Valley - also considered a hotbed of problems by the Uzbekistan government. Thus, I had to register with the police, but that was easy. The guy kept asking me “How are you?” to which I replied that “I am fine, thank you very much”. I am sure he meant to ask where I wanted to go, but for what I know something along the line of “I am fine, thank you” is now put down as my destination in some big book. I was let go pretty quickly and continued along an ever more narrow valley along a river.

The road would eventually turn as I had gleaned from the map and the more I continued the more I knew the climbing that I would have to do would be steep. It was pretty flat at first, the climbing rather moderate. I was just seeing a road on my right - far up - when I was stopped again. This time, itw as the military. I don’t get this. Checkpoint after checkpoint, each staffed by a different service each with its own decision-making. This took much longer. Guy number one barks for the passport, scans me, my passport and my visa a few times. Alright. Let me go. Nope. He radios to his commander and after five minutes a guy walks towards us very slowly. This can’t be the head guy, he wouldn’t leave the compound. Sure enough, the same procedure. Scans the passport, the visa and then me. What is in the bags? I explain it to them and am growing a bit impatient. This is silly. If you want to smuggle something, would you do it on a bike? With a guy that everyone remembers because he is so different? Then they make me walk to the military compound about 200m away and after a while of back and forth I am allowed to leave not without the head guy coming out and eyballing me. Seeing no real threat, he lets me pass.

Then the road began to climb - seriously. It was steep and I gained altitude fast. As I was passing a little cafe, I meant to stop and just before a guy yells “water, water”. I figured that I didn’t need any and passed him only to realize a second later that my nose was bleeding heavily. This came out of nowhere. So I sat down for a while and waited until it was over and then some more.

I continued on until I saw the top. Here is the view.

It was great riding though, the nosebleeding didn’t bother me any longer and the climbing was actually a lot of fun. I also saw the first sign of Qashgar in China - a mere 10 days from here, but the way I am going a month most likely.

There is also a big fat sign saying that you shouldn’t take any pictures. Can’t hurt to snap one though.

Towards the top I decided to not take the road that leads over the pass instead of through the tunnels. No traffic and only one sentry at the top that didn’t see me and instead thought it was funny to take aim at the cars that were passing underneath.

The downhill was a) interrupted by another annoying checkpoint consisting of soldiers walking along the road and obviously being bored, b) fun at first only to turn c) atrocious. The road is bad. It is one where you cannot ride, but have to navigate to make it down in once pice. It is a mess. Once I was down in the valley, I was greeted by an unexpected view (a very wide valley, I had expected the Fergana Valley to be more narrow) and a headwind. Luckily I was still heading downhill for the most part and therefore could simply let it roll down towards Kokand where I was to meet up with the relatives of Nodira. The last 20km were a bit harsh, I didn’t feel like donig any biking anymore. But I got to where I needed to go, was greeted by Nodira’s family and we made our way to their home. I am extremely grateful for having the chance to rest up here for a few days. To what extent I will be heading to other cities, I don’t know. All I want is rest right now, I feel that I need it. Badly.

The evening was wonderful, filled with food and conversations about the trip and lots of other things.

August 24, 2008   No Comments

Day 153 (Uzbekistan): Tashkent - Baksuk

daily distance: 118km
total distance:
riding time: 6h

The day was pretty unventful … it was a day of covering distance after finishing up some business in Tashkent. I needed - for the umpteenth time - new headphones and with all other things taken care of, I left Tashkent rather late. It was hot and it was going to go uphill. Not a pretty outlook with how I felt. The two days of rest I had got weren’t enough and the only reason to leave was to cover some distance, get to the Fergana Valley and then staying put / not biking for a few days.

I asked for a place to pitch the tent, really wanting to be sleeping there tonight, but was again invited by a family who are staying their datscha for 7 months of the year, the remaining time living in a house about 15 km from here. It was all extremely basic, but it was also very homely. Would I want to live there permanently? Probably not …

After hitting the turnoff, the wind got behind me … I was heading left here.

This is a little window into the world of that day …

This sign reminded me of the first big bike tour I did some years ago … heading down the West Coast from Canada to Mexico. Some more recent pictures of a small part of this trip are here.

August 23, 2008   No Comments

Day 151 (Uzbekistan): rest day in Tashkent II (rumble in Tashkent)

What a day of rest it was - NOT. I had been told by the Chinese embassy that I should have a flight ticket to China in order to apply for my visa here in Tashkent. And that I also couldn’t apply if I was on a bike … that I would have to do this in Bishkek/Kyrgyzstan. I have no plans to go there really. After hearing how to get a visa here anyway, I am setting out to do what I need to do. This includes, among other things, a hotel reservation in China for some days. Markus tries to do this, but all the internet cafes do not support a secure line and so I am drawing a blank here. All the while the Chinese embassy was about to close and had they told me the right information yesterday, I could have taken care of this before. Darn.

Eventually I get to a place which lets me use my own USB key with a new browser on it and soon enough I am all sorted. I scream back to the embassy with a female cab driver wearing a hijab (bit of anomaly here - both that is) only to find out that the embassy sees it fit to close an hour early. What a bunch of … there will be another day for this.

For lunch I met up with Ravshan, a great person whom I had the good fortune to meet some years ago. He works as a translator and is hands down the best I ever saw. It was great to see him again after such a long time and we headed for lunch in a restaurant with his family. Then, rumble, rumble … a good size earthquake hit Tashkent just as we had sat down to eat. Nothing happened and the boogeying wasn’t as much as you may think. From what I hear, it was a 6+ on the Richter scale and there were no reports of any casualties or damage.

Later on that day I met up with Dinara, another good friend from a previous seminar here in Uzbekistan and who happens to get married in about a week from now (they are doing as she puts it a “democratic wedding” and will kill me for putting this into the blog I know). She is also gracious enough to invite me to her wedding and I happily accepted, meaning that I will be coming back to Tashkent (which I have to do anyway for visa reasons).

Great day, great people … what more could you want? A visa maybe …

August 22, 2008   No Comments

Day 150 (Uzbekistan): rest day in Tashkent

The idea was to get the first of a few visas today. The Tajik visa was apparently ready to be picked up and so I made my way to a German organization through which this was to run with the help of a friend. Everything was a green light - sort of. The driver came back and said that the Tajik embassy will only put the visa in next week. They are all ready alright, but the actual pasting in will only happen next week. Yay to the embassy here.

That being not-out-of-the-way, I hung around a few internet cafes to finally get moving on updating the website

It was an otherwise uneventful day, which was good for me. I met up with a friend of Islam’s who is also a biker and finally with Islam who invited me to his home where I met his family and his kids. They were a wild bunch, but a lot of fun to be with.

No pictures today … head over to the flickr site though for lots of pics from previous days.

August 21, 2008   No Comments