Week 11

July 15 to July 21

On the way from Samarkand to Qo’qon in the Fergana valley, known for ethnic violence, islamic uprisings and abandoned Uranium mines, the road was in a desolate state again. I went into Dakar Rally mode and sped on a thin strip of sand on the side of the road past the marshrutkas crawling through knee deep potholes.

In Qo’qon I found a hotel and strolled through the central park in the evening hours. Chinese toys, sodas and ice cream were sold from small tables all over the park with its manicured lawns and trees. It was getting dark. On a brightly illuminated stage, a giggolo in his sixties was singing cheesy Uzbek pop songs to prerecorded backing tracks. Some people were sitting on park benches arranged in a semicircle in front of the stage, more were standing behind the benches. They were listening attentively as the guitar solo set in and the performer mimicked playing a stringed instrument.

I went back to my hotel. The heating in the bathroom was set to maximum and there was no way to turn it off. I put my hand-washed clothes there to dry. In the bedroom the AC was running at the highest setting. Every time I opened the bathroom door cool dry air from the bedroom collided with hot humid air from the bathroom. Large steamy clouds formed and I would not have been surprised in the least if the friction of the air massed had caused a thunderstorm.

The next day I went to the Usbek-Kyrgyz border. Half an hour after my arrival, the border guard, armed with an AK-47 in desolate condition and a bayonet with a wooden grip, finally felt that it was time to open the door of the border station to let me in.

The abandoned courtyard was dusty and bright from the midday sun. Several cheap Chinese-made glass doors were half open, spilling cool air from the air conditioned buildings into the heat and flexing slightly along their horizontal axis in the infernal breeze.

After several tries I found the right office and filled out some forms. The vehicle deregistration was a lot easier than the registration, but not entirely without pitfalls. After some time staring at his computer the border guard told me to drive in front of a camera and have a picture of the back of the bike with the number plate taken. I drove the 50m to the camera. Excitedly, an officer who had emerged from another building started waving across the yard, asking me to move the bike back just a little bit, and a bit to the left, then a bit forward and again a little bit to the right, then a bit back, and finally he made a thumbs up sign. I went back and the officer at the computer told me that there had been a mistake and I needed to go again. Cut, Action! The second try to take a picture also failed and the guy at the computer was getting angry. I went to the camera a third time, positioning the vehicle according to the spastic arm movements of the uniformed man across the yard. Then I saw two young women with large backpacks coming across the yard - Selina and Bettina, two Swiss medical students with whom I had had beers and a shisha some days ago in Bukhara. We said hi and when I got back to the counter, the man at the computer was even angrier even though the picture appeared to be fine this time.

Finally I was allowed to leave the country. Streamlined, efficient and clearly layouted, the Kyrgyz border station was completely different from its Uzbek counterpart. It took me 5 minutes to enter Kyrgyzstan. I got lost in Osh but finally managed to find the guesthouse to meet Selina and Bettina again. We ordered pizza and beer and then went to bed.

The next day I went to MuzToo, a motorcycle garage and rental place run by a Swiss man named Patrik. My rear break pads were completely worn and the metal-on-metal action had been starting to wear grooves into the rotor.

Efficiently and with great skill Patrik and his Russian mechanic Dimitry welded up my luggage rack. Since they didn’t have any fitting break pads they just glued a fresh breaking substrate on the old ones. They recommended me to do nothing about the bent front rim, which is my preferred course of action in most situations of life.

MuzToo motorcycle rental park.

Patrik with Rocinante.

Freshly padded break pad.

It felt quite good to be able to break again.

The next day I went towards Bishkek. The freshly welded luggage rack was much stiffer than before, coupling the panniers tightly to the rear end, and the machine was a lot more pleasant to drive. I passed the walnut forests of Jalal Abad, went along the Uzbek border and up into the mountains towards Toktogul lake. The scenery was a welcome change from the deserts of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan of the past weeks.

On the way along the curvy M41 I passed the site of a fresh accident. I’d seen some pretty severe accidents in Kazakhstan but thid one was the first where my camera was on. Accidents are quite a common occurrence in this part of the world since the giving of fucks has been outlawed on the streets of all countries ending with -stan and, by geographical proximity, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Particularly severely punishable offenses include breaking for or avoiding people and other vehicles. Lesser crimes include but are not limited to stopping at red lights and driving within the speed limit.

Accident near Toktogul Accident near Toktogul (video)

Toktogul Reservoir, Kyrgystan Toktogul Reservoir, Kyrgystan (video)

Cautiously I went on. The Tien Shan highway was climbing higher and higher up the Talas Altoo mountains. After Toktogul it started getting cold. The green but treeless plateau is only inhabited in the summer and has yurts of herders strewn all over it. It was late afternoon when I passed the Ala-Bel Pass at 3184m and evening when I passed the Töö Pass tunnel at 3229m. The light was getting dim and it was getting foggy. I wanted to camp somewhere but felt it would be really cold at night, so I decided to go down a few thousand meters and camp there.

In the end I found a nice spot on about 1500m, made my first working Coke can stove and went to sleep beside a small river in a creek.

The next day I went to the Burana tower and stayed there for a few hours, reading and relaxing. In the late afternoon I rode back to Bishkek and was stopped by the police. I had been speeding, i.e. riding at the speed everybody else was. Unfortunately, I agreed to pay a bribe of 30€, which was far too much. Angry with myself, I entered Bishkek when suddenly an SUV stopped beside me. Stanislav, a friend of Patrik from Osh, was telling me that there was a biker club in Bishkek and invited me to join.

At the club I met the owner of the only Kawasaki KLR 650 in Bishkek and we chatted for some time. Later I had the best shashlik I’d ever had. The big chunks of lamb had been roasted on coal to the perfect condition, served on a bed of sliced onion and came with a garlic-tomato sauce. The bikers were having a karaoke night, we had some beer and I went to sleep in the club house.

Perchi motorcycle club, Bishkek.

Biker karaoke!

Victor with his ‘05 Kawasaki KLR with 95’000km

The club house had rooms with large windows that couldn’t be opened. During the day, the greenhouse-like structure heated up to >60°C, and at night there is no way to let the cool air in, so I changed to a hostel with air condition for the next night.

At the hostel I met Tibor from Hungary who had taken a route very similar to mine with his BMW GS 650. He’d been stuck in Bishkek for the past five weeks waiting for replacement parts for his engine that had suffered damage to the cylinder head after overheating due to a radiator leak.

The next day I tried to find out how to get a Russian visa. I had abandoned my plan to go through China. Time was running out and no reports of people who were able to enter China on vehicles without hiring an expensive guide and going through a lot of hassle to get a local driving licence had filtered through, so I was planning to end my trip in Ulan Bataar. Visa requirements for Kazakhstan had been waived for Swiss citizens in mid July, so I just needed to get a visa to pass through 300km of Russian territory to reach Mongolia.

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