New day, new city, new country. After far too much resting up in Uzbekistan (10 riding days out of 29 in the country!), I am back on the road again, and am now in Osh, Kyrgyzstan. I set off from Tashkent last week, spending three days riding to Qo’qon, before getting a taxi back to Tashkent. My stuff had turned up, so I collected that, watched the rugby, stayed in the best bed I’ve slept in for months (flashpackers visiting Tashkent, check out the Poytaht Hotel), then got a taxi back to Qo’qon the next day.
Some fun on the way out riding up the Qamchik pass. Took me a fair while to get to the top, then when I got there I was stopped by 4 Army guys. They started hassling me about photos – apparently you’re not supposed to take photos anywhere on the whole pass. I thought it was just around the checkpoints and tunnels. I’d taken a photo looking back down, and they found that on my camera. So what do they do? Take another photo of me with the camera of course! One soldier wanted to buy the camera, and was getting a bit annoyed when I wouldn’t sell at any price, until someone else told him to back off, and I was sent on my way. The tunnels are no big deal to ride through there, the longer one – 1100m – is reasonably lit. Then rolled downhill until I found a nice abandoned building to sleep in. Too close to the road, a bit noisy though.
Interesting trip back in the car. Two railway workers were sharing the car, and after a round of introductions, passing around the photos and phrasebooks, we stopped at one of the roadside stalls. I thought for water, but no…shortly three cups were fashioned by cutting the bottoms off some 1L PET bottles, and beer was handed around. 8:25 in the morning, I’d had no breakfast, here have a cup of beer. Hmmm…at least the driver wasn’t drinking, probably just as well considering the excessive speeds on the way to Tashkent.
Bit of a miscommunication with someone else, and ended up needing to get a last-minute place in Tashkent. Stayed in the most upmarket place I’ve stayed in for a long time. The previous three nights I’d slept in a ditch, an abandoned building, and a flea-pit with cockroaches included at no extra cost. So when I slid into those clean smooth white high thread-count sheets, under cool air-conditioned air – I went out like a light, slept for 10 hours. The best breakfast of the tour was included the next day, and I made the most of it, eating maybe 5 courses. The Central Asian Youth Chess Championships was on at the time, with many of the contestants also staying there – I’m glad to see that miserable attempts at facial hair are common across 16 year old boys all around the world!
Back to Qo’qon to pick up the bike the next day, this time travelling with a mother and daughter. On finding out I was of a similar age to the daughter, and single, the mother got that glint in her eye – but not to be I’m afraid, gold teeth just don’t cut it for me. Later that night I stopped at a chaikhana to eat, and in hope of a place to stay. Fantastic place, and I met the whole family. Everyone came over for a chat, the boys, mum, dad, the cooks, everybody. Again, on finding out I was single, I was offered the choice of the girls to marry. Unfortunately they were just a little young – perhaps 16, not my scene. They offered me a place to sleep before I even asked – I was given a traditional Uzbek table, with an enclosure around it, and a water channel running below it. Very cool. So to any cyclists out there, the chaikhana on the left at the end of the woods after Boz, a little after the 322 kilometer marker on the road to Andijan, that’s the place to go.
That left me with around 75km to the border this morning, all fairly uneventful. For some reason the Uzbek customs officer didn’t like me though, and X-rayed all my panniers, and wanted to count all my $US. I had declared exactly what I had, but for some reason he wanted to count it. Had to get it out of various stashes around the place. A pain, and I can’t think for the life of me why they would want to count my money when I’m leaving the country. Oh and for any other travellers wondering, there were no questions about hotel registration slips. Just as well, since mine obviously don’t all add up.
Kyrgyzstan customs were very pleasant though, just short wait to write down my details, stamp my passport, and say “Welcome to Kyrgyzstan.” That’s more like the sort of treatment visitors should be getting. Looking forward to far fewer police around too…
A day or two here in Osh, then I may be offline for a couple of weeks, depending on how quickly I head up to Bishkek. No real hurry there.