I’m going to be learning lots of things while riding the Pamir Highway. Lesson number one is not to camp so high. I’m at 4000m and it is bloody freezing. I think the temperature is preventing my stove from lighting. I tried it with the last of my kerosene, then the petrol I bought yesterday and then my butane canister. All the while a cold rain was blasting across my tent. I actually felt like crying. Unfortunately, I’d already cut up my vegetables before trying the stove. I tried to eat the vegetables raw but didn’t make it very far. Instead, I filled my stomach with bread, almonds and dried fruit.
I had a very restless night as I couldn’t switch off about the blatant thievery that happened yesterday. I was awake before my alarm, so I spent some time sending my newsletter to friends I made in Pakistan. Then I set about packing all of my gear. Eliza’s mother appeared around 8am and I indicated I was keen to have breakfast. While waiting, I did my stretches and particularly focused on my back. As I was packing my bike outside, the old lady appeared again. I paid her for my stay and left. I never saw Eliza again after she gave me all my money back and ever since yesterday’s ordeal the whole family in general has been avoiding me. This didn’t bother me in the slightest.
The rest of the day went pretty well and I loved the ride. It was so nice to be moving through an open landscape again. Leaving Sary Tash, the road takes you across the plains of Alay Valley and into the Trans-Alay Range. A few groups of kids ran out to the road to meet me. I was on edge the whole time though, as I got carried away imagining that the family would arrange for someone to rob me on my way out of Kyrgyzstan. I was cautious, then, when up ahead I saw two figures who were using their horses and leads to block the road. I stopped and transferred my knife from my handlebar bag to my shirt pocket. As I got closer I saw that they were just young teenagers, so I relaxed. They ordered me to stop. I couldn’t ride past so I did. One of them asked me for water. I explained I needed my water to get through the mountains. I made a move to go around them, but they shifted their horses in the way. One then threw himself forward and tried to open my handlebar bag. I pushed him away, shouted at them and told them to move. They refused. I jumped off my bike and went to push it around the back of a horse. The kids jumped on their horses and tried to get in the way, but I got past. Little bastards. I swore at them harshly, gave them a smile, then rode on. They returned to herding their sheep.
At the Kyrgyz border post, there is a customs office about 70m before a booth that acts as the immigration office. I stopped at customs, where a guy started a detailed inspection of my bags. He got bored after a couple of minutes, having only got through my handlebar bag and one front pannier. He wanted to know how much money I was carrying though. This put me on edge all over again as there is a story going round at the moment that the Kyrgyz border guards stole a cyclist’s wallet. I asked him why he needed to know. He gestured me into his office and showed me a customs declaration form. I said I’m leaving the country so I don’t need to fill one in. He pointed to the bit that basically says ‘you cannot take more than US$10,000 out of the country’. I realised that he didn’t want me to fill in the form, he just wanted to know how much US dollars I had. I counted it in front of him and he was satisfied enough to let me go. At the immigration booth, my passport was stamped quickly and I was free to go. I still had to ride another 15-20km to leave Kyrgyzstan though. During this time I came across a pair of cyclists, Natalie from Belgium and Ash from Australia, Perth in fact! We swapped stories and they became the first people I warned against staying at Eliza Guesthouse. They were disappointed to hear that the condition of the road ahead for them wasn’t as nice as they had hoped.
Part of the ride out of Kyrgyzstan consists of a very steep climb to the top of the Kyzylart Pass, at 4,280m. The really steep section wasn’t very long (less than 2km) but it took me an incredibly long time due to the altitude. I swapped between riding and pushing and I couldn’t go for more than 30 metres without becoming out of breath and needing a rest. The funny thing was that it only took about 15 seconds for me to regain normal breathing and feel strong again, but then I would only last another 30 metres before needing another breather.
As I crossed the Pass, I was surprised to discover that there is no Kyrgyz post at the actual border. Instead, you just ride on into Tajikistan without seeing anyone. The Tajik border post seemed abandoned when I reached it. When I reached a closed gate, I shouted out several times, but no one answered or came. I let myself through and was walking my bike through the eerily desolate compound when I heard a shout, its source unknown. I parked my bike and started looking around. Finally, a uniformed guy poked his head out from one of the buildings. I joined him in a little office (bare room with a desk and a map of Tajikistan on the wall) and handed over my passport and printed visa sheet. Without so much as a question, or even a word for that matter, the guy stamped my passport and visa and gestured that I could go. I returned to the bike and proceeded slowly between the derelict-looking buildings until I came across another gate blocking the road. Again I shouted out but no one came. Again I parked my bike again and went to investigate. I poked my head in the window of a building, out of which was coming delicious food cooking smells. I got the attention of the cook and he shouted out at someone else. Finally, a guy came to the window. He checked my documents and announced with a welcoming smile. ‘Welcome to Tajikistan’. The guy was young and friendly and he came out of the office for a quick chat. I asked if they had drinking water and he filled up my drink bottle from a barrel that he said contained clean water from underground. I thanked him and began the descent into Tajikistan. It wasn’t long before it was time to make camp. Everything was going well until the rain swept across the plain and I couldn’t light my stove. Now I’m tucked in bed and ready to catch up on sleep.
|Distance ridden today||56.21km|
|Average cycling speed||9.3kph|
|Total distance ridden||19,704km|