A desperate situation has had a very happy ending. Let’s start at around 5.20pm. I had just come across a trio of Swiss cyclists who told me they had an awesome soup at a teahouse near the military check post located at the bridge that crosses the Vanj River, 7km from where we had stopped to chat. They also said they saw some amazing food being prepared for dinner. If I was tired, this was where I should stay, they told me. As I rode on I slowly convinced myself that I should forgo camping and enjoy a night of comfort at this teahouse. Reasons in support of this included: I would get a hot meal that I cannot provide for myself, given my stove issues; there is a bridge between Tajikistan and Afghanistan in the area and so military activity is heavy and any free-camping spots would likely be found by foot patrolmen, who would tell me it’s unsafe and move me on (as happened to a couple travelling in a van last night); and I am incredibly exhausted and have felt out of sorts all day, so not having to set up my tent would be a nice relief. I should have clarified exactly where this teahouse was because by the time I decided to see if it is marked on Maps.me, I was far enough past it that turning around wasn’t an option. By this time I was really at the end of my tether with regards to exhaustion. With some small villages marked on the map within the next two kilometres, I decided to ride on in the hope that I would find a homestay.

I was just on the far edge of the first village when I spotted a place that I thought I could make home (albeit a tent one): lush green grass dotted with cows and goats, and shaded by a scattering of apricot trees. The tipping point was when I noticed a lady and a girl sitting under one of these trees. There was a boy at the roadside above this attractive looking field of fruit trees and as I parked up my bike and said hello, he said, ‘Sleep?’, gesturing with his hands together under his turned cheek. I said yes and asked with gestures if I could camp here. When he said yes, I asked if it was his mum sitting down the hill. Yes, it was. I approached the mum and her little daughter and introduced myself before asking if I could set up my tent here. The boy had come down too and after a private chat between them, the mum said yes. I asked if she wanted any money, wary of stories of others who have been invited to set their tent up in backyards, only to have money demanded after they have settled in for the night. The mother said no, she didn’t want any money. I chatted for another minute or so (the boy could speak some English) before retrieving my bike and setting up camp. Thus began my happy ending. The boy, who is thirteen years old, hung out with me as I set up my home, and the girl, who must be about ten, hung a little further back but also kept a close eye on my activities. The mother moved down the hill to a large apricot tree, which she proceeded to harvest. Every now and then the boy would throw a well-aimed rock into the tree next to my tent and down would come a handful of fresh apricots.

With the sun going down, I proceeded to eat the carrots that constituted part of my uncooked tea. I explained to the boy that my stove is not working so I couldn’t cook my rice. As I was crunching through a carrot, I was visited by an oldish lady who is the English teacher at a nearby school. We talked for a bit and at one point I realised the boy was telling her that my stove wasn’t working. The lady said she would ask if the family would cook me some eggs. I suggested that maybe if I gave some rice, they might be able to cook it for me, but she explained that the family’s stove is also not working (I think she thought I was asking them to cook me a complete rice-based meal, whereas I only wanted some plain rice with which I could fill my stomach). Fifteen minutes later the little girl delivered a couple of perfectly fried eggs and a piece of bread. In the meantime I’d been hanging out with the boy showing him photos and letting him ride my bike. As I ate the bread and eggs, the kids announced that they had to go home. I continued to eat while watching the kids round up their goats (and scare away two horny billies tagging along) and head home. After raiding a tree over a stone wall, the boy ran back to me with a handful of cherries, suggesting I can eat them as part of my dinner. He also said I could help myself to apricots from the tree too. I watched them slowly make their way to their home and was amused to watch the little girl trying to push and pull a large goat into its pen. By the time I finished dinner and brushed my teeth, it was pretty much dark. I crawled into my tent, gave myself a wipe down with wet wipes and then pulled out my diary.

The rest of the day had passed in fairly ordinary fashion. As I packed up camp, a fisherman turned up. I had woken up extremely tired and I continued to feel sapped of energy all day. Fortunately, a bit of cloud cover kept the temperature down. I passed several groups of cyclists through the day, all heading in the opposite direction of course. In the mid-afternoon I got a flat tyre, which I repaired easily enough.

Gifted cherries

Accommodation Free-camp
Distance ridden today 80.1km
Average cycling speed 12.7kph
Total distance ridden 20,507km