Kyrgyzstan, expect the unexpected

No power. We’re in the capital of Uzbekistan and the power went down. Already for half an hour. Nobody really seems to care. It’s a normal thing in Central Asia. One of the normal things around here.
As normal as not having a toilet inside your house. Or running water. And without running water, also no hot shower of course. And when they do have running water inside the house, there’s no guarantee it will be hot anyway. Or the pressure will be enough to get wet in the first place. There you are, completely ready and naked to step into a warm and firm jet of water. Or that’s what it’s like in your fantasy. You open the tap, hoping for the water to be warm quickly. And nothing happens. At all. Bummer.

Ah, the lights went back on. And so did wifi. I’m surprised how often we do have wifi. Sometimes even in places where they don’t have a fixed phone line. Everybody owns a mobile phone. It’s funny to see the shepherds on their horse or mule, with dirty old clothes, looking like they came out of another world, but talking into a smartphone.

About a week ago, we were still in Kyrgyzstan, we did a hike and afterwards I wanted to take a shower at our guesthouse. In theory this was possible, because they built a small bathroom with a boiler in the garden. Especially for the guests. Next to the toilet, somewhere in the back of the garden. They dig a big hole, cover it with planks, or sometimes concrete, with a small hole in the middle to aim for. They build some kind of walls around it, with available material, and a roof, and put a bin inside for the paper. And with a little bit of luck they provide water, so you can flush. Or wash your hands. I’m still not sure what to use it for… It’s either in a lemonade bottle, a kettle, or a plastic watering can.
Back to the shower. It crossed my mind to try the tap first, before taking off my clothes, as I was already getting a little bit cold. But I didn’t and so I got a bit disappointed soon. I didn’t shower the day before and could use one. So I put my clothes back on and told the hostess no water came out of the tap. She was surprised and apologised shamefully and told me to wait 10 minutes. I thought she had to turn a switch or something and I had to wait for the water to get warm. I did have to wait for the water to get warm, as she put a kettle on the stove. When she came to get me she was carrying a bucket with a really big spoon inside and we walked to the shower. She put the bucket inside the bathroom and finally I understood this was my shower. I asked to be sure and was laughing at my own silliness.
But, I have to admit, I enjoyed this experience. In the end I was clean and warm. And as I didn’t know how much water was available, I only used half the bucket, which the lady was pleasantly surprised about. I told her smiling “cheap shower” and she apologised again.

Kyrgyzstan, land of nomadic people. Land of shepherds and yurts and horses, cold water, lakes and mountains. Lots of mountains. And they all look different. And amazing.
Monday the 12th of August we entered the country. Our hostel in Osh was close to Dolce Vita restaurant and so we (still with Bert and Roberto) spoiled ourselves with pizza, pasta, steak and white wine that night. This was delicious after weeks of old bread, noodle soup and lots of tea, cola and water.
Unfortunately Klaas was pretty ill the next day so after buying some fresh vitamins in the supermarket we pretty much stayed in the room the rest of the day. To our surprise Friedrich showed up that afternoon and in the evening he took us out for dinner as a thank you to Bert and Roberto for getting him through Bartang Valley safely. It was a fun night, except for the fact that Klaas was in bed.
We could use some more rest after the Pamir Highway and I didn’t mind having another quiet day at the hostel. I created order in the photo chaos on the laptop and in the evening we went out for dinner with four other motorbikers. It was another fun night with good food.
But then I got bored. We still needed a map of the Stan countries and I went to look for it, armed with my photo camera. Osh isn’t a really inspiring city, but in the end I took some nice pictures in a park. And I didn’t find a map.
On Friday Klaas felt fit enough to go to the garage for the maintenance we had planned. We both got a new rear tire and fresh engine oil. We did some cleaning and greasing and socialized with the other travelers who were working on their motorbikes. In the evening we met most of them again at Dolce Vita.
We were about to leave Sunday morning and start to enjoy Kyrgyzstan, but the evening before Klaas saw my tire was put on backwards. Silly mistake, I should have checked at the garage. On Sunday the garage was closed, so we had to wait until Monday. Bummer. I tried to make it a useful day after all by gluing the soles of my motorcycle boots. They had let go in the burning Tadzjik sun.
So finally, after a week in Osh we started to put our stuff on the motorbikes, but this time I didn’t feel well at all. We still went back to the garage and while they put my tire on the right way, I got rid of my breakfast. I felt slightly better afterwards, so we took off. We drove until Jalalabad, where we knew the asphalt would soon end. We found a place with a really big garden and got treated with fresh fruit and green tea. In the evening we had a nice conversation with the owner of the house. He’d worked for a Swiss company and spoke English very well. We learned some more about the country and their traditions.

The next morning we had to climb the 3000 m Kaldamo pass. We really enjoyed the fantastic wide and mountainous views and tried not to hit any sheep, goat or cow along the way. We succeeded and spent the night in the tent in a river valley.
This day I expected to see asphalt. As I wrote somewhere, we travel to expect the unexpected. But sometimes you just don’t! Boy was I disappointed. And mad. The washboard road was even worse than Pamir. The motorbike bounces in all directions and the vibrating sounds travel through your body towards your ears. You can’t see clearly either and that’s not just because of dust. The rear wheel loses grip all the time and just turns around without accelerating the bike. To make it even worse they put gravel on the washboards. A nice and thick layer, which makes you feel like you’re riding on ice. The front and back of the bike seem to completely try to find their own way. And that’s quite scary actually. And it drains the energy out of you fast, if it lasts too long. From the corners of your eyes you see fractions of beautiful pictures, but all you really see is ridges and gravel.
So we had no choice but to stop and catch our breaths every once in a while and to enjoy the views. Finally we made it to Baetov at the end of the day.
On Thursday the 22nd we went for Tash Rabat. Again over an unpaved pass, some dry river beds and gorgeous surroundings. At one point, riding standing on the pegs, I felt something slightly touching my hand. I thought it was weird for a rock to jump up that high, and saw the handguard was still in place, and my phone as well. It took a few moments to realize my mirror was also sick of all the bumps. Klaas was so kind to go back and try to find it for me. And he did. After a visit to the 15th? century caravanserai Tash Rabat and dinner, we made ourselves comfortable around the stove in our yurt. Trying to read was rather difficult though, as the moths really liked the lighted screen of my e-reader and turned the pages before I wanted them to.
After breakfast and some talking with Polish guys on motorbikes we left for Naryn. Luckily this was an easy ride and in the afternoon we made an appointment for Saturday, at the CBT office. This is short for Community Based Tourism and they have offices all around Kyrgyzstan. They function as a tourist info centre and also help to get the money to the right people by organising tours, selling locally made souvenirs and helping to arrange accommodation.
But the Saturday morning also didn’t go as expected. We heard a lot of no’s.
It started with: “Did you sleep well?” NO. Nice breakfast? NO. We saw body massage offered on the message board of our pension. So I asked if it was possible that evening. NO. And because CBT had phoned if we could stay at this place, let’s ask if we can for sure stay two nights. Good thing we did, because the answer was NO. And we had to leave for our appointment in five minutes. Now what?
We packed our bags and could leave them to pick them up later. So finally a yes. Now let’s hurry to the CBT office. Only three minutes late, I wasn’t really surprised to not see our taxi yet. But there was a girl in front of the office. “Did you book horse riding for today?” Yes we did. NOt possible today. Because a lot of rain fell that night, the waterfall and river would be too big and dangerous.
Luckily this CBT has wifi and real coffee, so we sat down inside for a while. In the meanwhile they had booked us a new place for two nights, and I downloaded a citywalk. A guy from the office took us to our new place and from there we started the citywalk. We learned a few things about the city, which was nice. And I repaired my fallen off mirror. In the evening we ate a really good shashlik in a yurt.
On Sunday morning, back to CBT. Again, our booked ride wasn’t possible, because it was still raining in the mountains. But this time they offered us an alternative and after a cup of tea we left for a small village in a valley at about an hour drive. When we arrived the guide was already there and he went to get horses from all corners of the village. We climbed our horses and took off, together with a young guy who came with us in the car. He was our translator and every now and then he told us something about the country, or environment, or Manas, the country hero. We had lunch next to the river, between the trees when a wedding couple arrived. We had to take pictures with them and have some of the traditional bread, but I’m not sure they really liked it. In the afternoon we were spoiled with soup, tea and sweets in a yurt camp, where the son of our taxi driver had his wedding party.
On the way back we had a different driver with a different car. He stopped twice to check on his front right tire and by the third time he finally decided it was leak. It appeared his spare also didn’t contain enough air, but luckily a flat tire is no exception in this area. Soon enough a car drove by with a pump. And we made it back to Naryn safely and before dark.
Monday we left Naryn and went to Son Kul lake. Looking for some quietness and fresh air we climbed another pass, which was quite difficult. Steep, rocky with a lot of loose stones and about 50 switchbacks we made it without dropping the bike. I was proud of myself. It was hard work, but I’m finally starting to learn I guess. We drove about halfway around the lake and found a nice place a little up the hill, to put our tent. In the distance we could see the horses drink from the lake in the setting sun. Amazing. Colours started changing and I walked around a bit, looking for nice pictures. “Spying” on the nomads and the cattle around the smoking yurts.
After a silent night and a quiet morning with a book I left for a hike into the mountains. I really enjoyed it. Cows and horses all around, a cowboy here and there. Being on my own again for a little while, enjoying the environment and finally, after deciding I climbed enough for the day, my book. I had just put away my camera and laid down to start reading, when a really big bird of prey came circling right above my head. I noticed because I could hear the wind flow over its wings. So it was quite close by, probably to see if I would be a nice afternoon snack. I quickly and carefully tried to get my camera from my bag, but of course the bird took off before I was ready.
The next day we left the wonderful lake and after four hours of off-road riding we hit the asphalt road and went to Bishkek. We chose a hostel and got a dorm room where I thought I recognized a diary lying on the floor. These shiny things are getting popular is what I thought, because it couldn’t be Martina’s, could it? She was in Mongolia?? Apparently she wasn’t anymore as we bumped into her a few minutes later. What a coincidence! So we enjoyed each other’s company for the evening and she left to fly home in the middle of the night.
In Bishkek we had some visa missions. We had already applied for the Iran visas and had to pick them up at the embassy. This was an easy job. We took a taxi, I covered my hair with a towel, we got a piece of paper, had to walk to the bank to pay, had to walk back to the embassy and half an hour later the visas were in our possession. Now we could apply for the Turkmenistan transit visa. Because they want to be sure you leave their country, you have to be able to show evidence of your transit plans. And so we did on Friday morning. We took another taxi, were allowed inside a gate, handed over some forms and photos at a small window, got another form to fill in, and a bill to pay at a bank 2 km from the embassy. We went back to the embassy, gave all the papers they needed and now we had to wait. For a week, or two. Nobody knew. Maybe we had to get the visas in Tashkent, maybe we could take the email confirmation to the border. It changes all the time…
As glueing my motorcycle boots failed miserably I had to look for an alternative in the afternoon. The motorcycle shop I went to told me they order their boots in Europe, so that didn’t help me much. Luckily someone we met before told me about a good outdoor shop and they had a nice pair of hiking boots in my (small) size.

The 31st of August was Independence Day in Bishkek, and Azema from the hostel organized a day with traditional food preparing, Boorsok (bread) and Plov (rice and meat) and tasting Kumis (fermented mare’s milk) and Maksym (fermented grains drink) and of course Vodka. In the afternoon we went into the city, to see some parks and after dinner we went to see a concert and fireworks at Ala Too square. It was a fun day with the mostly French speaking other guests and Azema’s friend who came to help with translation.

After five nights in Bishkek it was time to get moving again. We drove about 200 cold, but interesting kilometres and ended up in a motel in Suusamyr. Where they put on the generator to have some light in the evening. Again, no running water, no heating, and no inside toilet, but this time, some kind of sweet red wine. Which did the heating job for a while.
Via a few detours and a hike in a walnut forest in Arslanbob we eventually ended up in Osh again. At first we weren’t going all the way back to Osh, because we wanted to go to Tashkent more directly. But because of some neighbourly issues they closed several border crossings between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, or they’re only open for locals or travelers on foot or by bicycle. But now I was happy with this detour. When riding into town, slowly with all the traffic, and hot, my engine started to stutter and stalled a few times. After a little cooling down it was fine again. So we went to Muztoo (garage) again, to get our air filters cleaned and oiled.
A week after we applied for the Turkmenistan visa we arrived in Tashkent. We didn’t have email confirmation yet, so we waited for a little while and explored Tashkent a bit. We visited the bazaar, which is always interesting in a different way, and also the train museum, which Klaas really liked.
Thursday the 12th we received good news when Klaas called the Turkmenistan embassy in Bishkek, they approved our visa application! Yes! Happy about this, because now we can finally go to Iran, without having to take planes, trains, boats or whatever to get out of the Stan countries.
So we left Tashkent and went to Samarkand where we had some parts for the motorbikes delivered at Bahodir hostel by our friend Kees. We were welcomed back with big smiles at the hostel, but they didn’t have our package. Now what?
We knew by the tracking code it had to be in Samarkand, so the search started. First online with DHL, but that didn’t help me much further on Friday night. On Saturday morning I phoned the post office, but the answering machine said they were closed. So I got on the motorbike and went to the office anyway. I already knew where it was because it was the same office from where I sent a birthday present to my niece Sophie, a few months ago. When I got there I had to wait for a while, because the lady behind the counter was preparing a package. I thought she was done when everything was in the box, but I was mistaken. She went back into the storage room and came out with a piece of cotton cloth. She fitted it around the box and again went back into the storage room. I could hardly believe my eyes when she came back and had sewn the cotton, put the box in it and sewed the open side by hand! When the wax stamps had to dry, she finally put her attention to me. I showed her all the information I had on the phone, tracking code and my name and things like that. She told me the package was still in Tashkent. As her colleague was walking around with carbon paper I don’t think I need to tell you she didn’t have a computer on her desk to put in the tracking code. But I definitely wanted her to try a little better. When I started to think I wouldn’t get any further here, since my Russian is only a tiny bit better since I left home, she picked up the phone and started talking. In the meanwhile I was desperately trying to find the address it had been sent to, I forgot to note this down. But then I heard my first name and the street name I also recognized. She started smiling and at that point an English speaking man came in and explained to me I had to go to another office, which was new and not on the map yet. They would wait for me, because at one o’clock their lunch break would normally start. I was happy the package wasn’t in Tashkent after all, said many thanks to the helpful people and hurried to the edge of town. After a little search in the area, two schoolgirls pointed me in the right direction and when I entered the small building another lady started smiling while saying my name. After showing my passport and signing a small form I got the parts and at 1.02 pm I was back at the motorbike. Funny detail, apparently tonight someone from the post office (on a Sunday night??) handed over a piece of paper at the hostel saying where and when I could pick up the package. No need for that anymore.
Yesterday we got the email confirmation from the Turkmenistan embassy, so nothing will keep us in Uzbekistan any longer. It’s time to move on and add some new countries to our already long list! On to new and unexpected adventures. But not every day…

Originally posted: September 16th 2019

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