Video: Central Asia

This is what we saw in two months as we crossed Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
During leg 3 we pedaled 1392km in 62days and also used a lot of public transport; 5 sleeper trains, a cargo ferry and a minibus.

For 29 of those days we were stuck in capital cites waiting for visas, however, that did mean we got to hang out with some great people, see the sights and rest our bottoms! The cost of visas and capital city accommodation/living has meant that Central Asia has been the most expensive leg yet. Crazy huh? Hope you like the video.

Back on the Bikes

With passports in hand we were now free to leave Tashkent, and after 30kms we finally left the suburbs to start heading out into the green countryside. By the end of the day and a total of 93km, it became apparent that our month off the bikes and bouts of sickness had taken its toll on our strength and fitness. We found a camping spot by an irrigation stream, rehydrated some instant noodles, added some cooked vegies, dined and fell into our tent absolutely exhausted!  Things weren’t much better the next day, when we only managed to complete 59km. There was a slight gradient so our lunch stop turned into a three hour snooze! After passing through more police checkpoints we eventually found a track off the main road down to a river and pitched the tent nicely out of sight. It had been a hot and sweaty day so it was great to jump in the cold river and have a wash! Later that evening we were very surprised when first a lorry, then an excavator came down the track, forded the (deep) river and stated work by moonlight! We assumed it was illegal activity but in the morning even more trucks went across and more digging started – mostly by hand!

Rebecca climbs out of our riverside camping spot / quarry and back to the main road. Continue reading

Time in Tashkent

And so our train arrived in the Uzbek Capital of Tashkent, where we would be staying whilst we applied for our Chinese Visa. The first two hostels we attempted to find no longer existed – a disadvantage of buying old guidebooks off ebay – but fortunately after cycling across the city, we got lucky on the third attempt! The hostel owner apologised because the only beds they had available were in a tiny room with just two mattresses on the floor and no other furniture. If we wanted to stay, we could have the room at a discount  and at the same price as a dorm bed – what a result!! We settled into our tiny cupboard and started getting ready to apply for our visa. Tim shaved off his beard, new passport photos were taken, and we spent an entire day ‘generating’ the documents that would be required to support our application. The next day we donned our smartest clothes and arrived at the embassy just after it opened at 9am only to find  that there was already a substantial queue. We knew the embassy would close at noon so we stood in line in hope. After three hours we were getting close to the front when some words were uttered by the guard and the queue dispersed, we hung around for a while to hear the words we suspected; “closed!” DOH! With the embassy only working three half days a week, we now had a day and a half to wait before we could try again!

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Uzbeks most wanted: Do you know these men? Continue reading

Central Uzbekistan

As with many of the settlements through which we’ve passed, Nukus was another sprawling affair with lots of wasted space between the mostly single story buildings. All this creating a very spread out town, with any trip requiring a ride in one of the many buses that are whizzing around. Bus! – actually a Beford Rascal Van. After looking in the guide book, we found that there was one main attraction in town and that it was actually around the corner from the hotel! After a 14 hour sleep we waited for the worst of the blazing heat to pass before heading over to the Savitsky Art Museum. It holds a collection of avant-garde Russian paintings that were deemed unfit by the Soviet Regime, and were rescued from destruction by Ivor Savitsky. Reviews rave about how inspiring and amazing this place is – maybe we were in the wrong frame of mind, it was OK, but like many things, not what you’d put up with in Europe – we rushed round before heading back to our air conditioned hotel!

With another desert section to cross before we could reach Samarkand, we decided to continue with our railway adventures and take the twice weekly train that was due to leave at 11am the following day. After a trip to the Bazzar to change some money (on the black market again), we jumped in the #54 Bedford Rascal bus and headed to the railway station to buy the tickets. Actually, they are not Bedford Rascals – Daewoo/GM now build them by their thousands in an Uzbek factory and sell them as the Damas, typically as a 7-seater!!

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Mini-rascals at the ready  –   8-up in the worlds smallest 7 seater!

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Sickness on the Sea

Wheeling the bikes out of the Kongrad station at midnight and through the police checkpoint we were immediately into a busy market. There was no street lighting but the stall holders had torches pointing onto their stands hoping to trade with some of the 2500 people who had just got off the train. Most people were getting into taxis, we were looking for somewhere to sleep.

Soon, a short, round lady approached us, “hotel?”, we were hesitant, sometimes you don’t want help. Quickly evaluating our situation (early hours of the morning, no lighting, no signs of any commercialism), we accepted. And with that we were marched off towards a small alleyway. Not fully sure of the situation we stopped. “Your hotel?” we asked: yes. “Your house?”: yes. Now we understood – with price checked (£7), we continued.  We managed to deciphered that showers where an extra 7000 sum (£2) and somewhere outside.  Her 19 year old son then arrived and we agreed and follow him for our second mystery adventure of the evening. We eventually arrived at the showers which were in another house on different dark street! Money exchanged we sat in the courtyard awaiting our turn. The shower was in a very nicely tiled wetroom, the toilet however was a shed at the bottom of the vegetable garden and over a earth hole. A hot and smelly affair! We slept on the lounge floor on vibrantly coloured mats, the bikes alongside. Breakfast was also on the floor!

Our Bed, and Breakfast, literally.

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