27 September 2017
This latest update comes from Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, where we are currently marooned while we anxiously wait for our Chinese visas.
As we left Osh after a couple days rest and a fixed Suzuki, it seemed like progress to Bishkek would be a breeze. We were correct for the first day and a half, so much so that we treated ourselves to a 2 and a half hour lunch of freshly caught trout overlooking a picturesque lake. As we progressed further north, the roads continued to please, with immaculate tarmac winding through the mountains, road conditions we hadn’t experienced since entering central Asia. Frustratingly for myself, i got too carried away and ended up the wrong end of a policeman and his speed gun. Hastily hiding the bulk of my cash I sheepishly followed him to his car, where he threatened a $50 fine. Acting dumb and insisting I was not able to pay this (and fully aware of the bribing system that operates in the area) he rifled through my wallet and took the remaining 500 Som (around £5) I had left, a success i thought at the time but later realised i could have got away with less. We carried on, this time more aware of who might be waiting around the corner.
As evening approached, we realised there was still considerable distance to cover and there were no markets to buy dinner. As always happens, things go wrong at bad times. This time, Fred’s sprocket had come loose, and resulted in his chain falling off. This left us stuck on the side of the road, with a mere metre of space between the mountain slope and road. Darkness fell within 5 minutes, so the Suzuki’s time to shine came, using its lights to light up Fred’s Kawasaki and notify any road users of our presence as they hurtled down the mountain pass. Coming to the conclusion that it was not fixable ourselves, the battery on my bike then died meaning I couldn’t return part of the 250km towing service that Fred gave me just a few days earlier. Being in a steep valley at this point, there was no option of camping. Sticking out our thumbs in defeat, a small lorry eventually pulled over and took us the remaining 150km to Bishkek. Not the arrival we’d hoped for but ensured we’d get there in time to meet Frances and Slav (my sister and her husband) the following day.
With the only option of getting a Chinese visa through an agency in London, we took the bold move of waving goodbye to our passports as DHL shipped them home, leaving us with some photocopies as our only proof of identity. Now we wait anxiously to see if the Chinese embassy grants us a visa, a more complicated process than anticipated. Meanwhile, after not seeing a familiar face since Amelia visited in Tbilisi, my sister arrived and then treated us to a night in a nice hotel, luxuries we haven’t experienced all trip. Early the following morning Slav joined, and despite my brief episode of food poisoning whilst Fred was devouring the free breakfast, we hired a 4x4 (Lexus) and headed for Lake Issyk Kul. 4hrs and 2 speeding fines later (Fred this time twice falling victim to the relentless Kyrgyz police force, but he successfully greased the palms of both officers with 400 Som bribes), we arrived at this vast lake (10th largest in the world, 2nd largest alpine lake, 7th deepest) with snow capped mountains surrounding it. The area possessed all Kyrgyzstan's famed stereotypes, with numerous herds of horses lining the pastures between the mountains and the lake, while farmers of all ages were on horseback or a less fortunate donkey trying to contain the animals. Luckily Frances and Slav had foreseen mine and Fred’s lack of organisation and booked us all to stay in these idyllic yurts near the lake.
The following morning having eventually risen from our comfortable yurts, we went for a quick swim in the pleasantly warm lake then took the Lexus up a small road into the hills in search of a walk. Luckily time was limited so my unfit body was not subjected to any strenuous climb, but an hours hike gave us more dramatic scenery of the surrounding countryside and an elevated view of the lake.
Feeling refreshed we headed back to Bishkek in the evening and said our goodbyes to Frances and Slav, whilst myself and Fred now wait on the fate of our visas. Having reached this halfway point after 16,000km we’ve been reflecting on what we’ve already achieved and done, and the uncertainties of what lies ahead for us in China...
So thats it, we've been re-united with our passports containing our chinese visas!!
This brings to an end this first part of our trip. Its been an absolutely spectacular 3 months so far. Its been incredibly hard to say goodbye to our bikes ... We salute you! They gave us trouble at times, but that's only because we put them through hell. Plus, a trip without problems wouldn't be a fun trip at all. Dave managed to sell his, but I couldn't let go and opted to ship mine home to ride another day.
This was always our plan. Importing vehicles into China is a lengthy, painful and expensive process. Instead we are going to see what we can get our hands on over the border! There is also an issue around licenses, as China don't recognize international driving permits. This, and the import factor, puts off many overland travellers, but the challenge made it all the more enticing to us!
Its great to bring the last 2 weeks to an end. We've felt a bit hamstrung without our passports and the full use of our bikes. We've pretty much been on a UK clock at times, rolling out of bed at 1pm (UK 8am) and heading for grub before relaxing all afternoon and evening watching movies and catching up with friends until getting a late bed. Its been a bit of a shame, as Kyrgyzstan is an immensely beautiful country with so many amazing mountain ranges and lakes to explore, we'll have to come back for sure!
We did manage to get out for a horse trek on one of the weekends. Quite a different experience from motorbiking! Far more peaceful definitely, but not quite as exciting. Dave continued his cursed luck by being given the most unenthusiastic horse in the world. We were told the Kyrgyz bred the best horses in the world but we were quite unimpressed. I couldn't seem to get mine out of 2nd gear (I've been told its called trotting?). It was stunning though, can't deny that! And was also great to see Dave get ditched by his stubborn horse.
Once we found out that our Visas had been granted, we packed our bags and arranged to meet them in Osh, a city close to the Chinese border. We decided to hitchhike there to provide a bit more of a challenge, and got to meet some nice locals and travel in some seriously hench lorries. Got a spot of camping done too, almost forgot what that was like (bloody cold!).
Anyhow, we're aiming to leave to China now, so better wrap this up. Not sure how easy it will be to do updates anymore due to the Great Firewall of China. But we'll try!