Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Kyrgyzstan



Thursday, July 9th

At around 1:30 PM, together with Brigitte and Fred (www.polops.blogspot.com)  and Pierre, we got out of Tajikistan. The landscape changed radically: it was a relaxing pleasure for the eyes to finally see some green. After 20km of no man's land, a stiff dangerous descent in quite bad shape, we officially set foot into  Kyrgyzstan. It had been a while that we didn't have such easy custom service. Kyrgyzstan is visa free for most of citizenships, no luggage check, no formula, and when it came to financial proof, we just drew our credit card and it was OK.

After weeks of beautiful but dried and bare mountains and fields of the Pamir, we were enthusiastic to find green grass, green trees again. Then we noticed big black loaded clouds behind us: the rain was pouring hard at Tajik side and was coming toward us. Oh oh!!!!


We put the turbo on and peddled with all our strength. The road was flat and comfortable but as usual, the wind blow fiercely against us. Brigitte and I took refuge behind Fred and Alessio and we arrived to Sary Tash completely exhausted while Pierre preferred to stop on the way. Mirbeak, the guesthouse recommended was full so we just stopped at the one next door - the owner seemed to be surprised to see us, as there was no sign anywhere!!!! 10 dollar/pers for a bed, dinner and breakfast, it seemed quite reasonable. Moreover, we had two big connecting rooms for us!!!! On the other hand, there was no shower but a bucket of hot water in the yurt in the garden. Well, we were not too demanding to complain about that but were happy enough to have a dry, warm place when finally the pouring rain caught up with us.

Our first impression about Kyrgyz people was that they were not very warm. It was almost mission impossible to turn on a smile. Shopkeepers were rude, people on the streets seemed cold and mistrustful. Our Polish friends, staying in other guesthouse even reported a weird ambience "we were her guests but she treated us like enemies" (!!!!)
The nicest person we know in Sary Tash was Aigul, our host, even though she stayed very distant for the first day. The next day, she was a bit more open and smiling, maybe because we helped her to carry the water from the river home.... She was astonished to see Fred and Alessio doing the laundry and I added an another layer, saying that they also cook (What perfect men we have, Brigitte and me :-) :-) )

(Aigul's little son, so proud of wearing his father's cap)


Saturday, July 11th

The way out of Sary Tash started with 2 passes, stiff and incredibly long! I, as usual on uphill roads, turned into turtle while the other speeded up like rabbits. They would have quite a time chatting on the top, waiting for me!!!!
We tasted the horse milk for the first time, offered by a young girl speaking quite good English. In fact, she was a Mathematics/Programation student in Bishkek, back home during summer vacation. Taking care of horses seemed slightly different from working for Bill Gates and we wished her to fulfill her dream soon.

After the efforts, came the comfort: we had a downhill of 600m of difference in height. From 3500m to 2900m in one short! Wouahhh!!!!



The scenery varied a lot: from mountains with green grass and free horses running around to red cliffs, so rich of mineral.


In some places, without the yurts and the kids waving and shouting "goodbye" (instead of "hello" in other countries) at us , with all those pines forest, we could have thought to be in Austria....


We were also surrounded by the nature's perfume: the grass, the herbs, the flowers... all offered us their best scent with which we gladly  filled up our lungs.


We crossed, on the opposite direction, a Korean guy who intended to be the first Korean cyclist over the Pamir with a Bromton (you know, this little folding bike!!!!). We don't really know what pleasure he could feel out of this but are sure that he would struggle a great deal. He seemed to be animated by some weird sens of competition: as we talked, two other cyclists appeared, the closer they got, the more nervous he became - he didn't want to be caught up by this couple of Slovenian who, on the other side, willingly spent some time chatting with us. We asked them to send our greetings and warm thoughts to Jeff and Xaviere, our friends from www.yeuxdenfants.com, as we knew they were somewhere behind.

Shortly before 3PM, Fred and Brigitte decided to stop, after 65km - the wind, faithful to our faces, was too exasperating to continue. But we wanted to be in Osh as soon as possible, so we said goodbye and continued confronting Eole for another 30 km. We had to peddle hard even on downhill!

In a random village along the road, a young boy gave us a middle finger (!!!) It was simply too much. Alessio braked sharp and made a U turn: what's your problem? The boy, as brave as smart, ran away and continue giggling as he found the (not a) joke funny. It put Alessio of course in not a nice mood and in an even less nicer mood when two boys came to our camp spot, wandered around without a word then left...

The next day, it was an another everlasting pass. The turtle that I was kept on going slowly, patiently but I had to admit that it became annoying at some point. It reminded me of those never-ending passes of Armenia: I got so bored and decided that the top should be at the next bend, then I looked up and realized that this next bend would be only in one hour or so...

But, even a turtle could climb a mountain, we finally arrived to the top around 1PM and met up there with the Polish/Slovak group who, despite all the efforts, stayed so joyful and punchy. The next 60 km to Osh would be downhill and flat, we decided to wait for Fred and Brigitte who finally caught up with us shortly before 3PM, after a long tea pause 500m away.

After having a big watermelon, we decided to give the peel to a cow nearby. She was so fond of it, followed Alessio like a big dog and even ate it from his hands. Fred tried to experiment a cow feeding and they both seemed to enjoy it



Monday, July 13th

We arrived to Osh around 9 AM. Suddenly, there were too many cars, too much noise, too many people.... For the first time, we enjoyed arriving to a city. In fact, after Pamir where we hardly crossed 5 cars a day, we'd been even craving for some noise!!!! We decided to go to Baiana, recommended by some other cyclists. The receptionist greeted us with a broad smile, which made us feel comfortable right away. She hardly spoke English so I, once more, had to use my broken Russian.
My Russian is more than basic but did help a lot. I sometimes wonder how I could be perceived and treated in Europe, let's say, in France with a level of French as low as my Russian. Is there any chance that people might think I am a bloody ignorant immigrant or, at best, a rude ignorant tourist???? Here, as everywhere in Central Asia and in Caucasus, people are very much tolerant and rather excuse themselves from not speaking French or English than to look down on me and my poor Russian.

So, in Baiana, we had a super deluxe room with perfect shower, huge bed, enormous living room (!!!) where we could store all our luggage, and jumbo breakfast for 1500 Som (around 24$, a fortune but worth every cent of it). Almost all guests were cyclists and we were happy to find Pierre and Maxime (www.maxlecyclochard.org). Jeff and Xaviere on the other side, stayed at an another guesthouse not far.

At the bazaar, we found the famous "Master of bicycles" who fortunately, had the piece we needed for my bike. He could be a master but definitely not a tender man: the way he hammered my fork made me almost cry of pain. Alessio had to stop him and found himself a smoother way to open it.

We also took advantage of bazaar to have fresh food. We had tremendous salads - our bodies were craved for veggies and fruits after almost a month of "starvation". What a pleasure to engorge all those fresh, delicious vitamins :-) :-). We also enjoyed real meat: 2,5kg of veal for 6 were just enough, not talking about puree, cheese.... :-) :-)

Thursday, July 16th, we finally left the hostel at 7:30 PM, just to roll a few km to set the tent in a harvested field.
Goodbye Osh, here are Potatoes on the road again!!!!

As we both were not in perfect shape, even though the road was smooth, we stopped after 68km, by a lake, under a big tree. It was the last day of Ramadan so people were quite over excited and we crossed some drunken since morning.
After a long nap, we opened the eyes at 4:23PM, just to have a glimpse of an yellow helmet disappearing behind the trees on the street: we knew one cyclist with this armor: Xaviere. Alessio immediately took my bike, ran after the helmet :-) and got back later, indeed, with Xaviere and  Jeff. We spent the evening together before splitting again the next morning, as we took two different ways to Bishkek.

But then, we caught up again with Fred and Brigitte. They saw us on top of a pass when they started from the bottom and stopped a car to send us a message. The car's driver was very much happy when he delivered the missive, with big gesture and big smile "two cyclists friends of you are behind!!!!".

That day, we stopped around 3PM, in a site that looked like an abandoned school.


It was not abandoned in fact but it was simply not very well maintained and closed during summer vacation. A young boy came, strutting a bit because it was his turn to keep the school's keys. Later in the evening, he came back with a gift from his parents: bread, kefir and cream. Kyrgyz could be colder and more distant than other Central Asian people, the mythical hospitality is still there somehow.

Sunday, July 19th, the suffering began!!!! We knew it: 100 km before Kazarman are shit, permanent bad roads with no asphalt but only gravels, rocks, bumps, uphill.... everything that make cycling painfully annoying or annoyingly painful.



Monday, July 20th. Fortunately, the weather was not too hot and Eole was elsewhere, otherwise, our battle against the road would have been even more difficult. Laboriously we gained meter by meter of those 1400m of difference in height, silently cursed the road, and some stupid guys who threw stones at us - I personally was too tired to show any reaction and just ignored their whistling and stones throwing....


3 PM, exhausted, I started being VERY grumpy. Fortunately, we arrived to the top, after 30km of uphill. Well, the downhill was not a piece of cake but a tough moment for our bikes, our arms and bums.... Then the wind rose, blew like crazy. We spent around 1h30 to find a place to set our tent.
After some unsuccessful attempts, we asked some nomads to set our tents near to them, their position and tents would protect us a bit from the wind.
The first family was very kind and showed us a small parcel behind their tents, between two families.


The woman from the second family didn't seem happy to see us there and almost asked us to leave "there is a good place to camp over there! If you are afraid of the wind, here you got the wind too". So I looked right into her eyes and said " We stay for only one night, tomorrow morning, we will go. The wind is so strong that our tents alone won't stand. But of course, if we bother you, we will leave. So, please, tell me, do we bother you? Do you want us to leave?". Then the two families argue for 10 mn before the woman, somehow despite herself, let us stay!


The wind was terribly strong and changing all the time, which made the tent setting a big proof of organization and coordination!!! Our "host" kindly offered us some cream, cheese and fresh kirmiz - the famous fermented horse milk, the national Kyrgyz beverage!

By the time we went to bed, the wind also stopped, we had almost a quiet night!!!!


The next day, we finally arrived to Kazarman around 12:30 and gave ourselves a long rest at a restaurant. We wanted to buy some fruits, while Alessio was choosing the apricots, the seller composed a big bag of different fruits, gave it to Alessio but pointing at me "this is for her" (!!!!!) In fact, we didn't realize right away but we already met him two days ago on the road. He offered us one big water melon, then another big melon but refused categorically our money - I had to "corrupt" his little son "give it to papa, OK?!"


The next 200km seem to be as bad, if not even worse, as what we had with relevant passes. Fred and Brigitte decided then to take a bus to cross the first pass.
Despite being food poisoned (Alessio) and having a horrible back pain (me) we decided to ride. It didn't last long. After 2h and several stops, Alessio, as white as he'd never seen the sun, asked for a pause and lied down, like a veggie, on the road's side while I watched out for a car big enough for the four of us (Alessio, me and our two bikes).

The first van didn't stop so I decided to stand in the middle of the road for the next time. The second one went only to the next village. After almost 1h30, we finally found someone willing to take us all with them. From the car's windows, we stared at the road (the driver drove like crazy, like all Kyrgyz drivers...) and knew that it was not worth cycling. In our state, we would have suffered too much!!!! The driver, very kind, was ready to bring us as far as he could but after 100km or so, we got off.

After 30 min, we arrived to a village and decided to we had rolled enough for the day (!!!!). When we asked a family with a "grassful" garden to set the tent, they simply declined with this unbeatable argument "Why do you want to sleep in the tent when you can sleep inside? We have a big room for you" (!!!) Indeed, the room was big enough for at least 8 cyclists :-) :-)

Aitolkun  normally lived in Bishkek but was back to her village for holidays. Very sweet, she offered us dinner, we declined several times - we could not bother her that much - but it was an error because it was delicious. To our thanks and compliments, she responded "and you didn't want it at first...." hahaha.

Friday, July 24th

We got ready to attack a new pass when Marko arrived - we already met up in Osh with this charming Slovenian lonely cowboy.


He kindly waited for us, well, rather for me because as you know, when it comes to stiff bad road, I am not a cyclist anymore but a turtle.... It took us more than 3 hours to arrive to the top, including chatting time with some mountain bikers, going downhill, followed by two 4x4 carrying tents, luggage, cooks, what a luxury (!!!!).


Around 3PM, we arrived to the famous Song Kul lake but it was so foggy that we didn't see anything. "It doesn't look at all like what I saw from internet" was our common statement :-) :-)

We set the tent quite far from the road and from any yurt. Anyway, a young boy, probably intrigued by our presence, came and observed calmly our bikes, our tents, our bags, us having diner.... We offered him a dish, which he accepted and gave back after two spoons: even a Michelin star's chef could not satisfy this exigent customer :-) :-). And he kept staring at us, almost absorbed, fascinated. We have to confess that we felt rather uneasy.

He kept asking how much our tent costed and when Alessio returned the question about this donkey, his eyes brightened like to say "What? Are you going to buy my donkey????". Poor little donkey, so cute, was beaten to blood. A moment later, his little brother came, on an another donkey. He answered to our greetings by a blank, cold gaze. When they finally left, with a defiant look, the little boy hit his donkey, right on his blooding head, the brother giggled. It drove Alessio out of him: he tok the bike, followed the boys, took their sticks and threw them away. Decidedly, we have very mix feelings about Kyrgyz!

The next day was an another exhausting one. Needless to say how bad was the road, how tired were we, how Alessio had to push my bike.... Moreover, it rained like cats and dogs, and all the kids we met were rude.... Fortunately, at the end of the day, we had a perfect spot with wonderful view of the sun getting out of the dark clouds, of the double rainbow


everything looked so fresh, no renewed after the rain that our tiredness and disappointment seemed to be washed away.



After a good night, our suffering also ended: we finally got to the paved road!!!! What a paradise :-)
:-)

(we cyclists, worship the God of Asphalt!!!!)


We caught up with Fred and Brigitte for lunch: they were staying in Kochkor. It would be our last encounter before long: maybe we would meet up again somewhere in Taiwan or Japan in winter...

Saturday, July 25th
We took the train to make the last 200km to Bishkek: the road is known to be boring and dangerous (for cyclists). It was very comfortable and cheap (2$ each, bike included).


We arrived to Bishkek at 10PM - too late to look for a guesthouse. The "Chief" of the station didn't want us to put the tent but kindly let us sleep in the waiting room. We were a bit scared of mosquitoes but finally had a good quiet night.


The next morning,  6AM, we enjoyed an unique moment when Bishkek was empty and noiseless :-). We decided to have a long rest here: our bodies, our bikes all need some maintenance :-) :-)

See you later!!!!

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