We spent a few lazy days in Osh, shopping for food, wandering round the biggest bazaar in Central Asia, and eating so much cake from a hipster coffee shop we found which could have been in Shoreditch instead of Osh. It’s funny how the further we get from home, the more we crave the food and drinks we are used to getting in the UK, but I have no shame about eating 4 rounds of cake with my blackberry smoothie.
We also spent a good few hours (while I was ill, again!) in an internet café figuring out our next plans and making the necessary bookings and visa applications. And so, our winter is now sorted. We will be spending a month cycling the length of Vietnam, from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi, enjoying the food and hopefully only getting the tail end of the rainy season, before spending a week in Hong Kong celebrating Jim’s birthday and (sort of) achieving our initial aim of cycling to China. Then we will fly to New Zealand and spend three months cycling around both islands, seeing out the norhern hemisphere winter somewhere warm! After this we hope to fly back to Europe and cycle home via some of the countries we missed out last spring, but those plans are not set in stone yet.
We left Osh after some lovely meals out, and having said goodbye to Maria and Jamie, who were heading straight to China before their visa timed out. Back in the rolling green countryside we headed to Jalalabad, where we said goodbye to Tim and Adam, Ollie and Ruth, and Sophie and Dosh, as they headed straight to Bishkek and we set off east. It was so lovely to spend some time cycling in a big group, and really nice to get to know such fab people. However the unlimited faff which comes with cycling as a group of ten was starting to get to me a bit. And it’ll be nice to just be Jade and Jim again.
The green hills and farmland turned to mountains and the road became unpaved. We camped at a sheepherders camp as we had our first thunderstorm in ages. Then followed the river and valley up to the bottom of Kaldamo pass. The gravel track got steeper as it wound up the mountainside in huge hairpins. The views were amazing as you could see the roads below and the valley stretching down behind us. Finally we reached the top, just shy of 3000m, and could see mountains and ridged hillside for miles.
Then we were treated to miles of rocky, twisting downhill, slow going and hard on the hands and back. The road was in turn rocky and sandy, and started to get a little annoying. But we were enjoying the views.
We arrived in Kazaram for a new experience – all 4 guesthouses were full! This had not happened to us before, and we had been quite looking forward to WiFi, charging the batteries and a proper bed. After a bit of a strop, and a stock up of food for the next few days, we headed out. Onto the worst road ever.
We encountered terrible, horrible, unrideable washboard, and got the choice of riding over it, being jolted and shaken and getting to listen to our bikes rattling apart, or ride in the three inch thick layer of pebbles, and constantly have the back wheel sliding out from underneath you. We persevered for about 20 miles. Slowly picking our way, changing lines constantly as the gravel always looked smoother on the other side (but wasn’t).
Then we started climbing, but the road didn’t improve. I had to walk, and pushing my bike was nearly as much of a struggle. We stopped talking, instead engaging in internal monologues about how stupid we were to cycle anywhere and how terrible our trip was going (well that’s what was happening in my head!). Finally we stopped for some crisp sandwiches at the side of the road, and decided to give up. Jim’s back rim was cracking anyway and we were not having a good time.
Half an hour later we were speeding along in Asalam’s truck, bouncing over the bumpy roads and enjoying the views of the hairpin roads and the mountains. Much more enjoyable. He took us about 100 km to Aktau, where the tarmac began again! Huzzah! Yes we probably could have cycled it, but it would have been a real slog, and there’s so many nice roads we could be enjoying instead! Also Jim’s rim needs to last until Almaty or we will be doing alot more hitching!
Jim’s words – Coffee, Banzoi, Bazaar, Faff, Short, Fairwell, Flock, Full and Lift.