Leg 5 Summary: across Uzbekistan
From Day 44 (July 27th) to Day 60 (August 12th)
Leg 5 totals: 1269.1 miles, 16,597ft and 97:57 hours riding
Accumulated totals: 4855.5 miles, 92,110ft and 370.33 hours riding
Day 44: Saturday July 27th:
[No word from the team for a couple of days. Assuming wifi issues. Ed] [we heard from them on the Monday: so I’ve updated below: Ed]
We met up with some interesting guys last night they were from Portugal driving a beat up Renault from China back to Portugal. The car broke down 3 yrs ago and they had only just picked it up! Then we also met some Italian guys on motorbikes riding the Silk Road: they were in the same restaurant as us. Hence we are not the only crazy souls, just a little bit madder than them for doing it on a bicycle.
We had a border crossing today so we were all in out clean kit. Breakfast was at 08:00 so we had a bit of a lie in. It was a bit convoluted getting out of the town: we went all out of the town the wrong way then over the railway line and then back the way we came!
Our a road was still being laid so the first ten miles was like swimming through treacle. when we came to the finished section it was music to our ears. The forty miles flew past at speeds we had not achieved for a good four days. We had a little stop just before the border to stock up on supplies.
We got through the Kazakhstan side with ease though coming out of a country is always easier. Then it was on to the Uzbekistan side. To be perfectly honest we sailed through there too. We also met two USA travellers on motorbikes, one of them got stopped for some reason.
We had a little bowl of soup and a beer in the border cafe, though we were pestered by the guys wanting to change currency. We changed what we had of Kazakhstan money about a tenner: bit of a mistake as we should have changed more. We were soon on our way on a quite good road and with only 14 miles to go so we were there in less than an hour.
The town was nothing more than a village with a garrison and custom centre. We had a cup of tea just before the village and had to be careful with our cash. We rode into the village and out of the desert came this guy on a beat up old bike with a flat tyre. He wanted it pumped up. I could see Keith wanting to say get lost, but we needed the karma so we duly obliged.
There was a bank but it was closed. We tried the little shop but they did not take a card. We then met up with an Army guy and some Customs guys who arranged for us to exchange Euros to Uzbek things [Uzbekistan Som: Ed]. We celebrated with an ice cream from the shop and decided to ride on a little bit more and camp.
Just before we rejoined the main road we stocked up on water and bought 2 beers each for the night. I had the bright idea to drink the beers in the shade while they were cold, rather than carrying them and having warm beers. If I say so myself: one of my better ideas. After we drunk the beers in the shade of a bus shelter we rode on another 12 miles until Linney decided on the camp site. On his head be it!
Day 45: Sunday July 28th: First Camp
Fair play to Linney his chosen camp-site was excellent, free from camel poo and gerbils Ed will check the correct collective noun but we went for a sentry of gerbils. [A sentry sounds fine: google goes for horde: ED]
After a pasta meal expertly cooked by Linney and with Keith keeping a vigil on the portions it was time for bed. Keith had put the 2 man tent up with all the fly sheet stuff, Linney had just the mesh tent. I only lasted 10 mins in the tent as it was too hot, so I took my sleeping-bag and liner outside under the stars nothings – could go wrong.
It did get cold so I sacrificed my sleeping-bag pillow and got in the bag. Then it rained! In the bloody desert! I expect the camels loved it. Linney and I just covered our faces and slept through it. I quite liked it.
We all slept quite well. Breakfast was cornflakes and coffee after which we packed all the gear up. Just before we left Keith changed another bolt on his panniers.
We were on the road just after 7am, and as we are getting used to the rough roads we just took it all in our stride. Our main concern was water as we could not see anything along our intended route. With no WiFi it was just a case of carrying as much as we can.
After 4 hours of riding we did not come across a single shop, truck stop or anything. Not even shade, though thankfully we had been riding at a reasonable pace. So we sat down on a sand dune with warm water, peanuts and sunflower seeds – budgie food – Trill! Living it up and dreaming of Ice Cold in Alex.
With around 25 miles to go we rode on. As a lorry passed Keith waved and lifted up his water bottle. The lorry stopped and replenished all our bottles – good man. As we closed in on our destination Keith tried his luck on a building that looked like it was a cafe, in fact it was some sort of customs post, though the guy was really helpful and directed us to the hotel about 3 miles up the road. However lo and behold the water-seller across the road also had some chilled beers, obviously I had planned this, so we sat on the wall with a beer with the plan to ride to the hotel, eat, book a room and shower. and then plan the next few days riding. Think as it is a Sunday a few beers will do too.
We have no WiFi so we will try and and source a SIM card tomorrow. Linney will need it.
Day 46: Monday July 29th: Hitching
It was a bit of a quiet night last night mainly due to the road stop being miles away from anywhere. We just cleaned all the camping gear had a meal then went to bed.
We planned on an early breakfast in the morning, though the place was pretty busy at 6 in the morning. As we have nearly 70 miles before the next shop we stocked up on water and food (sadly, as it turned out, not enough) and set off just after 7am on roads that were on the whole pretty good. More importantly we had a bit of a tail wind.
After about 4 miles Keith’s back-pannier fell off. We all hoped it was not too serious as the road was pretty smooth. Luckily it was just not clipped in correctly. We were making pretty good time, when in the distance a could see a lone cyclist coming towards us. We pulled over and waxed lyrical on how mad we all were. He was from Shrewsbury (Jimmy Ritson counrty). After 10 mins we were back on our way.
Linney called a stop at around 40 miles where we sat on the edge of the road and had a drink and a Snickers bar. Linney is in charge of the biscuits so he gave Keith and I a couple each. We moved on after 10 mins happy that in the fact that we only had 30 miles to a small village with a shop and then another 14 miles to our hotel.
Within 10 mins the familiar shout went up. Linney had a blow out on his rear tyre. The tyre was split in two places. We managed to to patch the splits with bits of rubber and started off again unsure how long the tyre would last.
We did manage another 15 or so miles when the tyre blew again. Linney was all for patching the tyre up again and pushing on, but as we were taking the tyre off Keith flagged down a car. In fact two cars stopped full to the brim we people and luggage. We explained the situation and before we knew it Linney’s bike was on the roof rack of one car while he was squashed into the other car with his knees around his ear against a 40″ TV.
Off they went. Keith I carried on the remaining 17 miles to the hotel – with no biscuits! As the roads were good this took just over the hour including an impromptu stop in a workers canteen for a cup of tea.
When we got to Kunkhodzha Linney was already into his 1st beer. I also noticed two Surly touring bikes outside the restaurant. We eventually got chatting to the couple and they had started from London in May on the way to China. They seemed like a nice couple as we exchanged route information etc. It looks like we will probably bump into them along the way.
Day 47: Tuesday July 30th: Crossing the Oxus at Nukus
We all decided to have an early start in the mornings at dinner last night. So Keith set his alarm for 05:00.
Well that did not work, I got up just before 6, all I heard Keith say was FFS why did my alarm not go off, Linney quietly sniggered, I think he may have altered Keith’s alarm.
Anyway we were up and had the normal fried eggs and an extra treat of rice pudding for breakfast. With Linney’s new tyre we were full of confidence: just hoping the tyre lasts. On flat clear and smooth roads we smashed the first 30 miles, stopped for a camels milk coffee and then carried on until just outside Nukus had a little break and a bowl of potato and yak soup, while we decided on the plan for the night.
We roll into Nukus and stop at a bike shop and get a spare tyre and inner tubes for Linney. Then we go to a phone shop for a Uzbekistan SIM card and a bank. Well we managed the SIM card, the ATM at the bank did not work and the cycle shop was not there!
Linney had chosen a hotel on the right side of the city for tomorrow, so we just took our time rode to the centre of the city had a nice meal in an air conditioned restaurant and then set off for the banks and bike shops.
We had no luck with the bike shop and the bank was a bit of a palaver, none of the ATMs would work, in the end a kind bank lady directed us to the national bank, in parliament square, all a bit daunting. Anyway we manged to change some money into the local currency Som & get some US dollars as they seem to work best.
We just had the final couple of miles to go to the hotel and some well earned beers. Without wanting to tempt fate it was a good days riding with no mechanicals. Happy days.
Day 48: Wednesday July 31st: Following the Oxus
We had a meal In the hotel last night. Just a little meal as we had eaten quite well throughout the day, still no ice-cream so we had a water-melon.
We arranged to get up at 5:30 with a view to getting going around 6. Linny not to pleased as we’re going out without breakfast or water, though we stopped after about 2 miles for water and chocolate. The guy was really good and gave us three extra bottles. Great! Just a bit difficult to put on our bikes, but we managed it, and it cheered Linney up.
So we carried on the road which was a bit weird as it was a dual carriage-way but traffic was going both ways on each side! We carried on for a while on the correct side of the road, but the road seemed better on the other side, so we changed over.
We also met up with Hanna and her partner (will get his name later). At our first stop, they were having a coffee and soft drink as we pulled in and we had a nice little chat as we ordered our breakfast. Then they moved on. After the normal fried eggs and bread we moved on too.
The road was not great but least the wind was in our favour. We knew we only had about 50 miles left so we were in no real hurry. As we pulled into the next stop Hanna & partner had just ordered their meal so we had another little chat as we had coffee and chilled water. We knew we would be bumping into them all day, which is quite nice.
The road did not improve throughout the day, but thanks for small mercies, the wind stayed in our favour although the temperature crept up to the mid 40`s humidity was not that high so all was good.
My front pannier came adrift again so a quick replacement fixing was needed. It seems like we will have replacements in around 6 days time so hopefully we can manage till then. [They got posted today: Ed]
As we carried on riding we missed the stop we had arranged to have a meal in, so we just carried on to the outskirts of the town. Linney spotted some umbrellas so we stopped a few miles from the only hotel in town.
No beers! So we made do with an ice-cream, then a young guy came over who spoke really good English and offered his parents place to stay, though it did sound a bit crowded. We ended up going to the hotel and arranging to meet him for dinner later.
After we had showered, sure enough he was there (Zafarqrek) he took us to a restaurant which was OK, but not really good for me, ended up with a bag of peanuts, crisps and tomorrows cake.
Day 49: Thursday August 1st: Mosquito Camp
Well a bit of a disappointing meal last night. We had met a young Uzbek lad who wanted to practice his English, at first he offered us to stay at his house, but his shower was broken. So we booked into the only hotel in town and arranged to meet him for dinner. We just went over the road nothing special, but least he tried.
The room was baking hot, so I slept on the sofa outside of the room with the A/C on. This did actually cool the room down to.
We had breakfast in the room but I had my first dodgy stomach of the Tour. I just had a bit of bread and water.
We left just after 7 with the plan to crack 20 miles out then have a coffee and more breakfast. The road was really bumpy and uneven and it made it even worse as it was rush hour and market day in the town of Beruni. We stopped at the first place but it was not open we so moved on and eventually found a mini-market so we had ice tea and a Snickers: living the dream. We knew we had another stop in 25 miles and then a long stretch with very little showing on the map
The road did not get any better but thankfully the traffic calmed down and we had a bit of a tail-wind: thanks for small mercies. After another coffee and cold drinks and we moved on. Linney was a little concerned that the ‘Maps Me’ app he had downloaded did not show this road! We soon found out why! The road was virtually brand new, smooth as silk with a tail wind: happy days.
We soon hit the lunch stop where we met Hanna and her partner. Keith and Linney had a plate of meat, I just had a drink and dry bread and a lie down. My front pannier was playing up again so I replaced the tie wraps and tightened it all up. It did seem better. As it was so hot we had an extended stay at the restaurant and we finally moved on around after a couple of hours. With the plan to carry on for just over 25 miles, have something to eat, and then find a place to camp. Within 15 mins of setting off Linney had a puncture and we all had a go at fixing the inner tube but it was so hot the adhesive just evaporated. We ended opening the valve hole up on the wheel and putting an inner tube in with a schrader valve rather than a presta valve.
We soon completed the 25 miles once we got going. We stopped at the first place and Linney and Keith had a coffee while I had a chat with some guys repairing the Armco barrier. I managed to get a 6mm bolt from them for my panniers.
We moved on a few mile down the road, had a meal to save us cooking and a few beers and then set of to find a place to camp. With a view to camping before we came to some shops about 5 miles away. We settled on a half built house, not a good idea as we found out that it was infested with mosquitos and it was red hot. Just before we settled down for the night we spotted a lone touring cyclist, we shouted out, but he just waved at us.
Day 50: Friday August 2nd: Meeting Gavin
We were up really early mainly due to the mosquitos: never seen Linney move so fast in the morning. We were going at 6,and in fact it was quite a nice bit of a tail-wind and cooler. Within a mile Linney spotted the touring cyclist from last night just packing up his camping gear. On straight smooth roads we were rolling, but fair play within 15 miles he had caught us up. He introduced himself as Gavin from Plymouth. A nice guy and we ended cycling all day with him and owing him some money for beers! Bit of an Aylesham trait. We had dollars but not enough Uzbekistan Soms.
On really nice clear smooth roads we did over 100 miles. No mean feat on fully laden touring bike in 40 degrees plus heat and high humidity.
We finally pulled into a truck stop with a hostel and shower. Gavin expertly haggled the price down to 45 dollars for the four of us, but it was hot. A cold beer and a shower was calling.
We had quite a relaxing evening sitting outside in the shade talking about the experiences we have had on our travels and what we would be going through in the next few months.
Then to bed: it was not worth the $45 bunk beds as they had a wooden mattress. Hey ho probably means another early start in the morning.
Day 51: Saturday August 3rd: Skint in the Desert
Four of us shared a room (Gavin joined us) but it was a pretty crap place: no mattress. We may have been better off camping again. We were up at 06:00 and on the road by 06:30, good to get out of the place really.
We did have a bit of a cash flow problem this morning we had 50,000 Soms, sounds a lot but it’s about 5 quid! So we had to be a bit careful with our spending.
The road was really good for the first 5 miles and then we hit the bad roads again with a bit of a head-wind. We stopped after about 20 miles, for water bread and some tomato stuff we had in our panniers: once again living the life.
It was pretty tough going on with the road getting worse and it was just a matter of pushing through and enjoying the scenery (desert). We stopped again just after the 40 mile mark. We could only afford water, but Gavin did get us a snickers bar each, top man. I also manged to blag 2 bottles of ice water from the shop owner, once again top man. The ride was getting a bit harder as the day wore on, especially as we had not eaten very much.
With the final 24 miles to go we stopped again. I tried to change a 20 Euro note, but the Russian guy (truck driver) tried to rip us off, so we said no. Though I did blag another small bottle of ice water. On we went to Bukhara. We blew the rest of our money 10 miles out on 5 litres of water and a water melon. Really good how little things please you.
Rolled into Bukhara, sorted an hotel out pretty quickly, and Linney also sorted out the money and SIM card so hopefully we should be ok now, well as best we can.
The Bibi-Khanym Mosque is one of the most important monuments of Samarkand. In the 15th century it was one of the largest and most magnificent mosques in the Islamic world. By the mid-20th century only a grandiose ruin of it still survived, but major parts of the mosque were restored during the Soviet period
After his Indian campaign in 1399 Timur (Tamerlane) decided to undertake the construction of a gigantic mosque in his new capital, Samarkand. When Timur returned from his military campaign in 1404 the mosque was almost completed. However, Timur was not happy with the progress of construction, and immediately had various changes made, especially on the main cupola.
From the beginning of the construction, problems of structural integrity of the structure revealed themselves. Various reconstructions and reinforcements were undertaken in order to save the mosque. However, after just a few years, the first bricks had begun to fall out of the huge dome over the mihrab. The scale of Timur’s plans pushed the building techniques of the time to their limit, and the building’s integrity was not helped by the rushed nature of its construction.
In the late 16th century the Abdullah Khan II (1533/4-1598), the last Shaybanid Dynasty Khan of Bukhara, cancelled all restoration works in Bibi-Khanym Mosque. After that, the mosque slowly deteriorated and became a ruins gnawed at by the wind, weather, and earthquakes. The inner arch of the portal construction finally collapsed in an earthquake in 1897. During the centuries the ruins were plundered by the inhabitants of Samarkand in search of building material, especially the brick of the masonry galleries along with the marble columns.
A first basic investigation into securing the ruins was made in Soviet times. Late in the 20th century, the Uzbek government began restoration of three dome buildings and the main portal. In 1974 the government of the then Uzbek SSR began the complex reconstruction of the mosque. The decoration of domes and facades was extensively restored and supplemented. During these restorations, a band of inscriptions revealing Surat Al-Baqarah (The Cow) of the Quran was added to the main sanctuary iwan (a vaulted portal opening onto a courtyard) of the mosque. As of 2016, work on the mosque restoration was ongoing.
Day 52: Sunday August 4th: Ride & Paddle
We spent a pleasant evening site walking around the City of Bukhara looking at the temples and Mosques. All very impressive. It was good to look at some architecture rather than the desert and the contrast between the modern city and the old city was amazing. Later we choose an authentic Uzbekistan restaurant and had a great meal. Linney & I are feeling a lot better and Keith is nearly there.
Had a bit of a lie in in this morning: breakfast at 08:00 though we were all up just after 6 after a really good nights sleep. The phone rang a just after 7 saying that breakfast was ready. It was a really good spread; best we have had since we left Europe so we all had a good fill and filled our pockets up with the fruit and biscuits.
We were on the road just after 08:00 although we knew we had to stop fairly early to fill up and water. With Linney’s expert map-reading skills and picking a hotel on the right side of the city we were soon out on the open road. However the road was bad and we had a fierce head-wind. We knew we would face this for the first 25 miles or so. We stopped after about 18 miles as it was pretty hard going for tea and soft drinks. The guy did try and sell us everything in the cafe and he even came out with a tray of kebabs; we politely said ‘no thanks’.
We still rode into the head-wind but thankfully the road was getting better. We had heard that when we turned east the wind would be in our favour; no chance! We rode on all feeling the strain but just pushing through. Then we came to an avenue of trees and some welcome shade. It was like someone turning the power back on, it gave us a boost. Before we knew it we stopped at a little cafe for samosa, soft drink, a local chilled fruit drink and the new ice-cream and water-melon (probably the most refreshing fruit in the world).
Linney informed us we had roughly 32 miles to go. With the road improving and the wind finally coming into our favour, the shout went up ‘do we want to stop!’ All of us were nearly out of water so it was a ‘yes’. Keith spotted a paddling pool in a cafe over the other side of the road, so it was a no brainer, we had to stop there. Before I had got the water and soft drinks, Keith was in the pool. I quickly followed but would not be photographed in there till I had a beer. That was soon rectified when Linney said we have less than 10 miles to go and it’s a Sunday; happy days.
After the refreshing swim we lounge in the water with a beer. Soon we rolled into Navoi and quickly located a hotel. Again we had a bit of a problem paying, but the owner took us into the city to get some dollars and we were all sorted.
Day 53: Monday August 5th: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”
Last night we ate adjacent to the hotel in a bar restaurant which had pretty good food and it was just a short stroll back. It was good to have some good quality WIFI, so we all made good use of it.
With breakfast at 7 we were all ready to roll by 7:30. We got out of the city quickly and soon we were on the highway to Samarkand. We were unsure if we would go all the way today as it depends on our planned spares delivery. We knew they were in Uzbekistan but not sure where.
We had a little stop at 20 miles for a cup of tea and then rode on against an ever increasing wind. We stopped for a bowl of yak soup and tea for lunch. Still no news on the delivery so we just took it easy until the 80 mile mark.
We had another bowl of soup (nicer this time), with bread and chips washed down with a couple of cold beers. Then on to the fun! There was a possibility of a hotel about a mile away. So we went for it. As we turned into the lane all the fruit-pickers made a big fuss of Linney: he just rode through smiling. We came to some big gates where gate-keeper let us through, then on into the grounds through a vine covered avenue. It all looked very weird. One guy stopped me and asked what we wanted. When I said ‘a room’, he seemed to understand. He took us inside. We all looked at each other. Was it some sort of hospital or asylum?
The guy in charge said it was not a hotel, but we could stay. He instructed Jack Nicholson to take us to another building. We parked our bikes and handed over our passports to a nurse! Then we got shown to our room. No mention of costs yet.
We all had a shower and then went out as Linney thought he had noticed a shop earlier. He did but it was closed, so we just bought a fresh water-melon and borrowed a knife from one of the inmates who followed us to make sure she got it back. We had an early night after our melon feast with a view to getting away sharply in the morning though we have to get our passports back so that may delay us.
Day 54: Tuesday August 6th: Samarkand
Well we all survived! We were up at 6 and then spent an hour trying to to get someone to locate our passports. May be we were not going anywhere. Eventually we found a guy who was the “English teacher” (bit of a theme going on here) and he said ‘room 35 at 7’. It turned out to be more like 7:30. No problem. For a free nights sleep beggars can’t be choosers.
We quickly got away. They were lovely people but the place was eerily weird and we’re still not sure what was going on.
Once on the roads we knew we had only 22 miles to Samarkand: just a little pedal. When we were far enough away and brave enough to stop we pulled over to a nice little cafe, for dougnuts, fried eggs and coffee. We also booked a hotel in Samarkand whilst we were stopped and then completed the final 16 miles with ease.
We booked into the hotel, showered and freshened up, and then went into the city for a bit of sightseeing and parcel tracking with a haircut also on the agenda.
We all look smart in our new haircuts! We had already had a little look around the Registan Square so we headed west to look at the other sights and the architecture.
Day 55: Wednesday August 7th: A Day Off
First day off the bike today since 23rd June. The plan was to have a lazy breakfast, do a bit of bike maintenance, go to the local bike shops, and then do a bit of sightseeing. We still had not heard about our spares arriving.
It did feel a bit strange, getting on the bikes without all the baggage, and I also noticed that the drivers do not give you so much room! We cycled up to the first bike shop it was in the local football stadium. We found the stadium OK but no sign of a bike shop. I spoke to some players hanging around and they said he was having a day off today, same as us.
So we moved on to the next one, with Linney doing the map reading, through the centre of the city. All good fun, horns blaring, tyres screaming, us smiling. After the city centre we found a group of “bike shops”; none had the stuff we wanted, though one did have a front pannier bracket on a new bike, I tried to buy it, using all my charm, but I think my charm has left me since yesterdays haircut!
We went next door to the bicycle repair man (Monty Python sketch)! It was a bit like Dad’s back garden. It was a free for all! We ended up with some stuff we could strengthen our brackets with.The guy even drilled a few extra holes in some for us.
Later we had a meal out off the city communal bowl of Pilov (a local rice dish a bit like Spanish Paella). It was really nice. Then bit of sightseeing, a tour of the market and back to the digs to fit the supports to the panniers.
Day 56: Thursday August 8th: Distant Mountains
We were back on the bikes today after our rest day. Unfortunately the spare parts did not arrive in time [other theories: they rode too quickly, they run out of patience or they assumed the postal services were run by camels: Ed], apparently the pannier stuff is in Moscow and the tyres are in Tashkent! So we have had to make do and mend: nothing can go wrong.
With the bikes all ready we had breakfast at the hotel then set off around 08:30. Like always it was a bit difficult getting out of the city, but we were soon heading for Jizzakh. We stopped on the outskirts for water top ups and a bit of chat with the owners.
The road was pretty good but we knew we had a head-wind for most of the day so it was just a matter of pushing through it. The scenery was changing: first through fruit orchards, apple trees mainly [this is the part of the world where the apple was first domesticated: Ed], it made a really pleasant change from the desert and, in the distance, you could see the mountain ranges through the hazy sun: all making for different riding.
We stopped for a coffee and a soft drink, Keith said ‘No coffee? What sort of cafe is this?’, the guy just smiled at him and said we have char, so thats what we had. The head-wind was getting a bit stronger but we were making reasonable progress and with the knowledge that within the next 10 miles or so we should be finished with the climbing.
Day 57: Friday August 9th: Another Border Approaches
After yesterday’s swim training in the hotel pool and a relaxing meal in the hotel restaurant we retired to bed pretty early.
Breakfast was at 7, but we were up checking the bikes before hand (obviously not good enough). Had breakfast then tried to pay the bill, its never that easy in Uzbekistan, had to pay in Som, not dollars, so it meant a trip to the bank after all. It took me nearly half an hour to go through the passport hotel checks, I thought the guys would be waiting for me, however they had Linney front wheel off to change the inner tube. We then went to the bank, never easy even in the UK, we did not get going till 10:00 but at least we had some cash.
Once we got going we started to make good time on relatively good roads and with a nice tail-wind. We stopped for lunch after 3 hours of good cycling and had a nice meal in a rustic place. We all had the rice dish and tea.
Just after we left Linney spotted a small cycle shop and he managed to get another spare inner-tube so that was good. With a late start and over 80 miles to do we pushed on Keith taking the front. Before long he was nowhere to be seen. Linney and I kept a reasonable pace but could not see Keith in the distance. Before long the road forked; the left hand side going to Tashkent and the right side heading towards Bekobod – our intended destination. As the junction was a bit tricky Linney & I were unsure if Keith had taken the correct route.
As we pushed on with less than 15 miles to go we were sure Keith would have pulled over, but there was no sign of him. We even got stopped by some army patrol guys in the border zone. We tried to ask them if they had seen another cyclist but could not get them to understand.
With less than 5 miles to go we pulled over at a junction and decided to wait, just got our ice cream when we received a pin drop from Keith at the hotel; good stuff so we rolled in behind him, pretty good really as it meant Keith did all the booking stuff.
We had a quick shower and then out on the bikes to the local restaurant about 2 miles away for a few beers and a well earned meal.
[Sadly no photos were forthcoming for this day – I think they fell foul of copyright regulations: Ed]
Day 58: Saturday August 10th: Trouble at the Border
Another border crossing day. We broke with tradition and went with Dave’s kit, more about that later. [wtf: Ed]
Once again we are celebrities as we are the hotel’s first tourists. It’s only been open 6 months and it’s been mainly contractors from the new factory. Therefore we had the customary photo shoot before leaving. Keith had also done the due diligence on the border crossing – all good – more about that later also.
So we left in good spirits, knowing the border crossing was about 5 miles away. We threaded are way through the town and market and then we had guys saying ‘no you will not be able to cross’, but on we went, only be told we could not go through; ‘only locals not tourists’. It was not what we wanted to hear. We showed him our visa with a smile but it was still no go. Bit of a theme going on here. We had a little bit of a re-think on the side of the road. It’s 27 miles to the next border. Let’s go!
On the way Linney was riding no-handed as he re-routed us. It’s a big day but we may be able to manage it depending on how the border crossing goes. So we just went for the crossing full steam ahead. The roads weren’t so bad and we hit the border in good time.
We had a drink and then started the well-rehearsed process. We were soon through the Uzbekistan side and into the Tajikistan side. On we went. It was really chaotic. We did meet a local tour guide in the queue and he told us they let the tourists go first. In truth it’s just a free for all and we just stayed close by him.
Keith was first at the check and after about 15 mins they told him to go and take a seat. We were about four persons back in the queue. I went next and sailed through. Then Linney was through after a comment about how nice his hair was; he has admirers at every crossing!
We waited for Keith. Eventually the tourist guide came over and said there was a problem with the date on Keith’s visa. He gave Linney his number and said give him a call if we need an interpreter. Keith came out and said they will not let him through. We had a little chat. Not an option; all through or none through. I gave it one last chance and went back and asked to see a border crossing guy. I explained we had a typo on the visa which was a wrong date; it looked like he might buy it until the original guy came over and said ‘No’. We will have to re-route. [apparently Keith’s visa had an entry stamp dated the 16th, not the 6th. Wait 6 days and it’ll be fine. Fortunately the geography is kind and it was simple to re-route and avoid Tajikistan altogether and stay in Uzbekistan – see the map above: Ed]
So back we went to Uzbekistan. Within half an hour as we were riding we had a plan; ride till as late as we can, camp, then another big ride tomorrow and we’ll be back on track. Nothing can go wrong.
We stopped around half three for a bowl of soup, soft drink, and a quick beer; it was hot. We then pushed on, Linney doing his research no-handed said we had a possible hotel at 75 miles but that made for a massive day on Sunday. We said let’s just see how we feel, so we carried on.
Just outside the town of Almalyk I hit a massive pot hole and got a double puncture. With Formula 1 speed we had them done in no time (naturally accompanied by the normal swearing and cursing); no sheep were to blame this time [see the Durness tour: Ed].
We stopped at the first hotel Keith noticed but it was not a hotel but a wedding venue. We sent Linney in but we still could not get a room. Then we went to the only proper hotel in town. This was also fully booked with the weddings.
Plan B: eat then get a some food for the morning and camp. By the time we had eaten and got our stuff from the supermarket it was dark. So it was lights on and find a place to camp. We did about another 9 miles through the town of Ohangaren, picked some cold beers up and selected a lovely site on the outskirts of town. We set up camp, had the beers, and then bed. It had a tough day.
Barking dogs, trains and prayers theme for tomorrow. [I think Dale was raving by this point: Ed]
[Also I totally blame the border failure on a) the wrong shirt and b) the Slide Away bear not wearing the Tajikistan badge: Ed]
Day 59: Sunday August 11th: Trains, Dogs, Prayers and the first tough climb
After camping in some rough ground behind a petrol station we were woken around 5ish with freight trains rattling along, incessant dog barking and the call to morning prayers.
So it was an early start, with a bowl of museli and yoghurt, and on the road just after 6. We were heading for Kokand around 105 miles away athough this may have to be amended as there is a lot of climbing today.
The first part was just a steady climb going through little villages and towns. We stopped at the small town of Angren for a coffee and water. Once again we were short of Uzbekistan Soms. We located a bank but it was closed (Sunday). Fortunately, this time, we did have US dollars.
As we went further the road ramped up a little but nothing too serious. We stopped for a photo-shoot with some Chinese students by a dam on a lake. We exchanged contact details which may come in handy when we enter China next week.
As we got closer to the major climb we stopped at a tiny shop and sat in the shade. We chatted with the owner and managed to exchange some US dollars for Som. At least we could eat! The owner wanted to take us fishing in the river below, but we had no time so we said our thanks, done the selfie, and moved on to the infamous hairpins.
As we started climbing the signs just repeated themselves; ‘12% for the next 2km’, then again and again. We just got into the rhythm and rode. We stopped for water and ice cream when we were about a third of the way up. After the normal photo-shoot on we went, up and up through some terrific scenery and horrendous hairpins [Switch backs!: Ed], everyone waving and tooting their horns and cars and lorries breaking down as we carried on climbing. On we went Keith leading the way with me and Linney at the back. Linney of course was only lagging because of the photographs; both taking and being taken of!
As we waited at the top there was a tunnel with an army patrol guy who made a cross with his arms. Keith went over to see the guy while I was busy taking photographs. Keith was thinking were not allowed through the tunnel, but it transpired we were not allowed to take photographs in the tunnel. No problem.
We went through this tunnel and the next one before starting the decent. However we stopped for lunch before the descent really got going and discussed our options.
We decided to go for Kokand and book a hotel. I said ‘no problem we will be there before 7’. It was already 4 :30 with over 40 miles to go!
We started the descent and it was worth all the climbing with a wide road and a fairly good surface. Linney did hit a pot-hole which made his handle bars drop a little. After less than 45 minutes we had covered half the distance to Kokand. The shout went up ‘do we want to stop’. ‘Carry on’ was the reply. The road flattened out after the descent but we still kept up the pace, riding hard.
As we enter the busy city Linney switched into overdrive trying to skip lights and jump the queues as normal I tend to hang back then which nearly caused a pile up between me and Keith, but with good skills he managed to avert the danger.
As we pulled up to the Silk Road Hotel, it was 6:59. We’d done it easily. I went through the booking-in process as they assured us we could pay by MasterCard in the morning. They also gave us a complementary beer.
It was a really nice hotel so after a good shower it was down to the restaurant for another well earned beer and some good food.
Day 60: Monday August 12th: Bike Repairs (Again)
We had a really good meal last night and a great nights sleep. It’s amazing how much you like a bed after camping. I don’t think I’m designed to sleep on the floor.
Breakfast was at 7 and we were all ready to attack the big spread. We were not disappointed, though the waiters were fussing around Keith a bit more than he liked. I left Linney and Keith as they were on their 3rd sitting to go and start the palaver of paying the bill. We thought the card machine was out of action but the hotel manager phoned me and said no problem he would take us to the bank! Well in Uzbekistan it’s never that easy but eventually we found an ATM that had US dollars not Som. The deal was done!
Then we a big photo-shoot outside the hotel before we could get going around 08:30. With a plan to ride about 80 miles to Andijan. From the profile it looked like up-hill after the first 20 miles but with no major climbs.
We got out of the city pretty quickly and soon hit a good pace; it must have been the good breakfast. We kept the pace up for a couple of hours on surprisingly good roads. Keith gave a shout to say he had a problem with his back wheel so we pulled over adjacent to some melon sellers. Keith had his back wheel off and tightened a few spokes and got the wheel as true as he could. Linney really helped out and got a free melon from the guys and bought two extra ones for later.
Around the 40 mile mark we stopped for a cup of tea, like all English gentlemen should. It was green tea of course but we are getting to like it. We discussed what we could do about Keith’s wheel. The plan was to nurse it through to Osh tomorrow and then see if we could purchase a new one there.
As we moved on with a planned lunch stop in a town called Shankhrikhan. We soon arrived and passed two bike shops. We had no luck in them, but one of the guys took us to a bike repair place around the corner (just like Dad’s back garden back in the day). Sure enough the guy managed to repair the wheel; the rim has split, so he reamed the spoke-hole out with a file, put a washer on the spoke nut and trued the wheel up all for the princely sum 10,000 Som! We gave him 15,000 Som, which is about £1.50. We will still need to replace the wheel ASAP, but least it will get us through the next few days, we hope.
After the customary photo-shoot, and an extra one with Linney’s new Mum [Dale is determined to get Keith married off: Ed], we moved around the corner for some peace and quiet and to have a bowl of Yak soup and bread.
We then just rolled into the surprisingly big city of Andijan located a hotel (which was not as nice as yesterdays – we do have a budget!). We showered then went to the ATM again and found a restaurant for a few beers and a meal.