I woke up to the announcement that breakfast is being served: rice mash with a drop of honey, fried eggs, bread and green tea. After farewelling my generous hosts, I set about those tasks I wanted to complete before leaving Denov and venturing further into the unknown. These included: getting some local money, stocking up on electrolytes, finding some alcohol suitable for my stove, and buying some water and lunch supplies. I found the local money at one end of the car park serving the bus station, where I exchanged US dollars for a stack of som. In a bizarre situation, you get more than twice as much money when you exchange dollars on the black market than when you do with a bank. I had to ask around for a while before being led to the car park where the exchange was done in a relatively hidden corner. Everyone knows it happens, but still there is some pretence at hiding what goes on. I completed the next two tasks at a pharmacy. It took me a while before I could convey my want for electrolytes. What worked in the end was showing the staff the Russian words for diarrhoea and salt, and miming shaking a sachet into my water bottle. I found my stove fuel in the form of 96% strength sterilising alcohol, which came in 100mL bottles. The staff were reluctant to sell me ten bottles of the stuff until I managed to convince them I wasn’t an alcoholic and that I used it as fuel. The last part (water and lunch supplies) was easy and I was pleasantly shocked at how cheap everything was. I felt like a thief as I received my change and calculated the tiny cost.

When my breakfast had long given up its energy, I spied a shady spot next to a fresh bread stand by the roadside. I bought some bread that had only moments before been baked in a tandoor oven, then set up my stool in the shade and proceeded to prepare some tomato and cucumber sandwiches. I was making these on the ground when the couple running the bread stall brought over a little wooden table, a plate and some salt. I felt like a king as I sat at the little table. So civilised.

As I rode on I received a bit of a wakeup call. It was hot and it was empty. Did I have enough water? I wasn’t sure and I began to worry about my situation a little. I’ll have to be more careful moving forward as water becomes an increasingly scarce resource.

Just before the town of Boysun, I passed a series of roadside stalls selling water and here I stocked up on enough to get me through the night. I then proceeded to find place to camp. The track I chose to explore ended up leading over some hills to a rubbish tip. As I began to bypass the main piles of rubbish and get deeper into the hills, I saw someone waving from a small concrete building. Rather than ignore them and camp with the knowledge that people knew where I was but didn’t know who I was, I decided to approach the building and suss out what kind of people they were. I found three guys chilling out, learning that two of them work at the tip. The third guy (who ended up leaving) lives nearby. After a bit of a ‘chat’, I asked if I could pitch my tent in the area and they said it would be fine, indicating that they sleep here too. I decided to make camp close by.

With darkness coming soon, I quickly set up my tent and began preparing dinner, sharing a bunch of biscuits in the process. In return I received a few shots of vodka. Only one guy was drinking and he seemed intent on finishing the bottle he was carrying. He would offer me a shot, then pour a full glass for himself, downing it in a flash. While one of the two guys was happy to let me be, the guy drinking vodka made it clear he wanted me to share my food with them. I indicated that I only had enough for one person and he didn’t force the issue. After I ate my dinner (rice, tuna and tomatoes), I headed over to where they had rolled out their sleeping mats next to a fire and shared some apple and orange. Fresh orange is a bit of a treat in this part of the world (being much more expensive than other fruit) and I think they were quite happy to receive it. I saw that their dinner had consisted of plain bread and green tea. As I left their company, I witnessed a ritual that I had observed yesterday whilst staying with the family in Denov. While reciting a prayer, the two guys extended their hands forward with palms facing upwards. At the conclusion of the prayer, they lifted their hands to their forehead and ‘wiped’ their face downwards.

I don’t feel particularly threatened in the company of the two guys, but I have brought all my things inside the tent with me nonetheless. The moon is full so I can see everything around me, which is comforting. The guys are currently chatting and their distorted voices tell me they have tobacco tucked under their bottom lips.

A bit dry out here 

Accommodation Free-camp
Distance ridden today 92.36km
Average cycling speed 12.8kph
Total distance ridden 21,080km