Itchy-wheels

The attic

Ni Hao all :-)

I made it safely over the “Attic of the World” to Kashgar, China.  First of all I would like to thank my parents and Mark for sending me packages and I especially would like to give a BIG hug to Magdalena for sending me a snow tiger all the way from Poland as a travel companion. A BIG thank you to you all :-)

Leaving Gorogh took some time as Scott’s GBAO permit had a wrong passport number on it but with a razorblade and some ink this problem was quickly ’solved’. The first days we cycled through the beautifully green Gunt valley. As we had heard about a cyclist being robbed here we decided to play safe and staid in a small village for the night. The next day after a hard climb we cycled over  the Koltezek pass (4254m) and reached the 4000+m Pamir plateau. Cycling at this height is quite strange as the air is extremely dry and thin so the legs are willing to do their job but the lungs are complaining. Now I know how a smoker feels after climbing some stairs. With the amount of air we had at 4000m in an airplane the oxygen masks come dropping down so you can imagine how it is to cycle here :-) Another funny thing is that everything you cook stays a little raw as at this height water already boils at 80C so pasta, potatoes and rice are rather crunchy to eat here.
The views were amazing as we cycled at the same height of the glaciers and with the deep blue sky we really had the feeling of being able to touch the mountain tops (all 5 and 6 thousanders) with our fingertips. The next day we took it easy in Alichur and acclimatized a little in a lovely  home stay we found there and we had a great time. The coordinates are: 37 45.068N 073 15.646E. The following days we cycled further over the plateau towards Murgab and the views became wider and wider and we saw the first yurts and yaks :-) A wonder how the nomads can live in this harsh place. 

Murgab itself is just a collection of some decaying tin and concrete buildings and the most uninviting ‘town’ I visited thusfar. Entering the town was not without problems because of a checkpoint. Scott was cycling far in front of me and got through without problem but for me it was different. When I approached the checkpoint a soldier opened the gate for me (as I presumed) so I salaamed him and cycled on). I heard some shouting behind me but I did not pay attention to it thinking it was coming from one of the truck drivers. To my surprise however, five minutes later with screeching wheels a Lada came to a halt in front of me with and a very angry russian soldier jumped out and demanded me to go with him to the checkpoint. To make his point a little more clear he even pointed his loaded gun at me :-) Well I’m used to this (see last update) and in the end it was no problem at all, It turned out I only had to register.
After a short night in a very rundown hotel we departed on a truck to Shary Tash (Kirgizstan) and I got off at Karakul to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the  ever color changing lake and the surrounding glacier-covered mountains. Karakul lake is an old meteor crater and with 3924 the highest lake in central Asia. It is salty because water evaporated really fast at this height so the shores are covered in a white salty ’snow crust’. As I had some somoni left I staid for the night in the comfortable homestay of Mr. Sadat and his wife in Karakul and had my first yak butter and butter-chai there, great stuff :-) Their comfy place can be found at 39 00.836N 073 33.692E.
The following day I had to climb over the 4289m Kyzil Art pass, marking the border with Kirgizstan and this was one of the hardest days I’ve had sofar. The wind was a blowing ice-cold gale coming straight from the Kirgiz glaciers blowing right into my face with around 8bft (it blew me of my bike 2 times) and the road was washboard and partly covered with big stones. Combined with the thin air I only managed 8kmh and I first reached the border at 17:00. The border crossing was hassle free although it was quite strange to first to have to cross the Tajik border post, and then a Russian one. So basically the russians still control Tajikistan.
The Kirgis border post was still 20km from there and the downhill was over a very bad landslide road through nomansland. The Kirgis border crossing was very easy and a very relaxed soldier looked at my visa and that was it, no forms, no stamps, nothing :-)

Kirgizstan itself is TOTALLY different from Tajikistan. Cycling down to the wide Alay Oronu planes everything became green with big herds of sheep, yaks and horses and the yurts of the nomads. In Shary Tash I did some shopping as between there and the Chinese border there is nothing to get and water is scarce. To my surprise they even had eggs and tomatoes, things I could not find up in the Pamir.
Upon leaving the town I stumbled upon a french-Belgian couple and we set out together towards China cycling over a VERY bad piste. The surrounding were amazing however with on the right hand side the wide grass planes with on the horizon the towering  6000m+ snow covered mountains of the Pamir. After two days of cycling we finally reached a river at the other side of the Erkech Tam pass (3546m) and there we met with Martin an Johan, the 2 Germans Scott was supposed to meet in Kashgar. So again: haste is waste :-) This is the only place with water between Sary Tash and the Chinese border and it is a great campsite, too. You can find it after the checkpoint in the valley (or coming from china, 20km after the border) at kilometer pole 241 at 39 38.929N 073 49.794E.
The next morning we thus set out with a group of 5, the invasion of china had begun! The Chinese borderguards were no match for us and op we cycled into the color full Chinese mountains. Ni Hao China :-)

Cycling in China is a great pleasure as the asphalt is baby bottom smooth and the Uygur are very friendly. And best of all, the food is extremely yummy and super cheap. One meal is around 30 Eurocents so I am rich again, Chinese food here I come! After 4 days we reached multicultural Kashgar where I’m staying now in the Seman hotel (39 28.245N 075 58.119E) which is LOADED with cyclists all heading to ‘the unmentionable country’ (because of the tourist police PSB) and Pakistan. A day before reaching Kashgar we met Claude Marthaler, a famous world cyclist and he had met 43 cyclist ‘up there’ (half of them chineese). A few km later we met Bal again so I had a small reunion there and 
In Kashgar I also met up with Toon.  He has left today for his trip through east ‘unmentionable country” as this route is less touristy and a little easier. So good luck Toon!

As the pills I got from Gorogh did not work I had a check up in the hightech hospital here and everything is ok. No more problems with blood cells and they could not find any parasites so according to the Chinese I am healthy. My toilet (and room mates) think differently though :-) Nevertheless I got some new pills and I will try them out the following days. In the meantime I will do some shopping as you can get EVERYTHING here in the bazaar and in the MEGAbig supermarkets and when I don’t shop I will eat and sleep :-) I will take some pics of Kashgar the following days so stay tuned and don’t forget to check out the tons of new pics!

Marc
 

Fighting back

Hi all!

I finally have the medical report and I have a shortage of white and red blood cells and this is all because of a nasty protozoa that I caught in Turkmenistan. It is thus not giardia (a flagellate) but it causes similar symptoms. You all might wonder why I keep going on about it but it affects my travelling in a big way as I was loosing my condition and health fast and could not travel the way I wanted to. Anyway, I have a new medicine now and I hope they will work, fingers crossed. Time to fight back!

Tomorrow I will leave for Murgab and then head for Kirgistan and China. I most likely arrive in Kashgar at the end of the first week of September so there will be complete silence for the next 3 weeks so don’t worry :-)

The next days I will thus cycle above 4000m through the middel of nowhere on the “Attic of the world” surrounded by yurts, Yaks and beautiful mountain scenery.
The part to Murgab I will cycle together with Scott and from Murgab onwards I will be on my own again. I might however have to take a jeep for a part of the stretch because I lost a lot of days because of those stupid Protozoa.

I will put all the pictures online in Kashgar so don’t forget to check now and then.
See you all later :-)

Marc

 

Cycling on the edge

Hi all! Marc here :-)

Greetings from Ghorogh at the border of the Pamir High Plateau (4000m+),  I finally made it after a very rough but beautiful 7 day trip.

No robberies and police adventures for me like Toon but I had some cycling on the edge as well. Cycling on the edge of the small rocky trails through steep gorges, cycling on the edge of the tajik border and cycling on the edge of my condition. It was a very though trip but I would not have wanted to miss it. Tajikistan rocks (literally).

Because of the visit to the doctor in Dushanbe I only cycled 50km and staid with a very poor but very hospital family in a school. Soon after this village the asphalt disappeared and gave way to  river bedding “pavement”, large rocks with small stones of gravel between them. I also had to cross quite a lot of small streams but with the heat it was quite nice to do so. The first 3 days of the trip I cycled over small trails through deep gorges to the base of the Haburabab pass (3260m). However, during the climb it started to rain and the road changed into a sticky glue so I camped near a chaighana (thee house) 1000m below the top and made some fish pasta. That night I woke up because of food poisoning :-( It turned out that you can not trust Russian tins. So I spend an extra day there being sick and recovering. The following day I set out at 8 ‘o clock for the pass and after a loooong but not steep climb I reached the top at 11. Another pass bites the dust! The downhill was very exiting and challenging over small hairpin loop trails with big rocks and through steep gorges. The gorges wind their way trough the mountains and the “road” goes up and down and in the end I had the feeling not getting anywhere. You cycle 70km a day but in a straight line it is only 40km and netto you only gain 20 meters in height.

After Khaleighum, at the base of the pass the asphalt started and from there I followed the border river between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Afghanistan was only 100 or sometimes even less meters away so I could salam the Afghans :-) They looked quite friendly to me and they live very harsh lives on the steep hill with just a small piece of land and one cow or donkey. No road, no electricity, no nothing. How they manage to live there I do not know. Not everything is as friendly and relaxed though as one evening a saw some older men walking with big Kalashnikovs on the Afghan site. Camping is not without risks either because of some minefields but there are signs warning you and most of them are far from the road anyway and they are few.

The second night I camped near the afghan border and when I was cooking my meal I heared some shouting and 3 Russian soldiers approached me pointing there big Kalashnikovs at me. Russian: Stand up, hands up! What are you doing?! Me: Erm, cooking pasta? Russian: We do not believe you! Me: Erm, ok, have a look in the pan then? Russian: Do not move!! Me: Ok, OK, then you look. Look, there’s my tent and bicycle. Then they relaxed a little and fired their Kalashnikov in the air to warn their commander. So he came with his jeep and off we went to the military base. It turned out it was located just at the other site of the hill where I camped :-) They checked my pass and luggage and they turned out to be a friendly bunch so I slept at their base and after a great breakfast and with extra food I set off again. The following days it was easy cycling on sticky Tajik asphalt. However, I am having Giardia problems again (the Dushanbe pills did not work) so on the last days I had to fight against my energy-less body to reach Khorogh. So today I had my blood checked and they will examine my feces for parasites. I will know the result on Monday. In the meantime I got quite attached to the lovely western toilet at the Pamir Lodge where I am staying. It is a great relaxed place and cheap (5$ a night) and I really can recommend it to everyone. It is rather hidden at the outskirts of the town near Gagarin high school at 37 29.223N 071 33.736E. 

The internet connection is OK (but expensive) so perhaps I will put some photo’s online within the next days, who knows… So stay tuned :-)

Marc 

Anzob

Hi All,

Marc here, I safely made it after a rough trip from Samarkand to Dushanbe. So what happened since the last update?

First of all I got sick again (Giardiasis was playing up) but I staid at the small farm of Abdulaziz and his wife Nilrifar and after some nourishing shorpa, black grapes and Lauchai (thee with LOTS of sugar) they got me up my feet again in no time. Thanks for the hospitality :-) The next day I visited a wedding with my host and had a great time there. Sadly he next day it was time to say goodbye as Tajikistan was calling me.

Tajikistan, what can I say about it? First of all it is a vertical country with beautiful high mountains and steep gorges. And then there are the Tajik “roads” and they are the most awful, most disgusting, absolutely the WORST dirt ‘tracks’ I have EVER encountered. Flooded, sandy, bare rocks, earth slides, deep holes, small patches of asphalt with loose stones, you name it, they have it. To call them roads is to much, basically they are just gravel tracks with big holes with sometimes a lonesome piece of ancient soviet asphalt. To reach Dushanbe I had to cycle on these ‘roads’ and climb around 2000m to the top of the 3378m high Anzob pass, the main aim of my first days in Tajikistan. Because of this it took me 4 days to reach Dushanbe. Despite the steep serpentine climb and the very rough downhill (washboard all the way to Dushanbe, my poor butt) the ride was fantastic through deep gorges and high alpine like landscapes. You want the real stuff? Forget the alps and come to Tajikistan :-) Your butt will hurt a lot but the scenery and the people are just fantastic!

Now I am recovering at Goulya’s and Claire’s place and organising a lot of stuff before I leave in 1 or 2 days for the Pamir. Yesterday I had my last wisdom thooth pulled as it was rotten(they somehow had ‘forgotten’ to pull it the Netherlands) and it was quite different than in Europe. Here you go to a clinic with rows and rows of dentist chairs and on the beat of some Russian techno music they pull it out in no time. Costs: 55 somoni (around 20$). Furthermore I organised my Kirghiz visa and after a loooong search I finally located the embassy in a small back alley. It is located at 38 36.022N 068 46.989E. Can anybody tell me why they always hide all the the embassies in small alleys and such?

I also received my parcel with electronics from germany and one parcel for Toon (I will send it to Kashgar) and after installing all the electronics I can now charge all my batteries while cycling :-) 12V legpower is enough to charge 4 batteries in around 4 hour. Thank you Wolf!

I plan to leave tomorrow or the day after and will head for the Pamir. I will have to cross some mean passes (4000m+) but the road is supposed to be ‘good” although in some areas rather remote. I thus will do some shopping and by lots of cookies, rice, potatopowder, pasta and whatnot as stores are going to be scarce (around every 100km).
I will thus be without internet until the 1st or 2nd week of September when I hope to reach Kashgar so in the meantime enjoy the pictures of beautiful Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. 

Cycle the world,
Marc