August 26, 2009


6.08 - 6.14

So after 7 km of somewhat difficult cycling through no mans land, I pulled into Kyrgyzstan immigration/customs. The Kyrgyz immigration office was basically two trailers in the middle of nowhere.
"Do you speak Russian?" - Kyrgyz immigration officer
"Uhhhh, no"

So a stamp was delivered and after registering in a few books, I was on my way. At the Chinese border I met Peter, a German cyclist who had been cycling the majority of his 52 years (some 100,000 km). He had just cycled through China some 3 months from Hong Kong, so we kept each other company while we enjoyed the beginning stretches of Kyrgyzstan. It was cold, the scenery was drastically different from the last few days in China. The Pamir range of Tajikistan came into view, which was absolutely breathtaking.

The last 4 days of China were mostly dry deserty mountains with every type of vegetation trying to stick into my skin and poke a hole in my tire. Now it was grassy rolling hills with white giants in the background. All of the road signs were now in Cyrillic (Russian), people were talking to me in Russian and I had absolutely no idea what they were saying (nothing new), I was indeed finally out of China. The road degraded from beautiful asphalt to noncompacted stones and gravel. I chose to bypass the majority of this washboard nightmare of a road and cycled mostly on the grassy plain that surrounded the road. The views were absolutely incredible

Finally standing on grass (Pamir Mountains in background)

We cycled until sunset and were waved into a house by an english speaking Kyrgyz girl. This was my first encounter with Kyrgyz people and their unprecedented hospitality. They cooked us diner, made us a bed of blankets on the floor and charged us absolutely nothing. I spent the night eating potatoes and naan, drinking chai and writing down Kyrgyz words to study while I cycled.

This is the house we stayed at

So I continued to Sary Tash, a beautiful town that connects Kyrgyzstan with Tajikistan. After a meal of 'Akaretchka' (Chicken in Russian) and Monteu (dumplings) I continued cycling towards Osh. The roads in Kyrgyzstan were much different than those in China. Most of the grades were a steep 12% and the roads were mostly dirt intermixed with rocks. The Chinese were rebuilding the road but were still a long way from completion. This was an epic day, the terrain turned into beautiful grassy rolling hills, the color green overwhelmed my sights. Kyrgyzstan has only been a country for some 19 years, previously part of the Soviet Union. Kyrgyz people are mostly semi-nomadic, like Tibetans, during the summer months they live in yurts high in the mountains to let their livestock graze on the endless grassy resources and in the winter they relocate to mud huts and houses in warmer areas. The average Kyrgyz person makes a whopping $300 per year. The population of Kyrgyzstan is said to be outnumbered 10 times in number by sheep, horses and donkeys. Kyrgyz kids are put on horses at early ages, I saw many kids who couldn't have been over 6 years old riding gigantic horses.

So I cycled some 250 km towards Osh, through some beautiful terrain. Along the road I was passed by a car with a Kyrgyz family on vacation in the mountainous region of Ali. They invited me to be a guest in their home if I was ever in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan.

It was about 6 pm, 2 days after leaving Sary Tash and the black clouds came rolling in. I was still 40 km from Osh so I decided to ask a local herder if I could pitch my tent underneath his barn. He kind of gave me this confused look like 'why would you want to do that?' then said 'dorma' and pointed me inside his house. The family and I instantly bonded. I saw a mangled bicycle hanging from the wall of their all-in-one barn/kitchen/diner room. I pulled out my tools and Neuron (the youngest son) and I spent a few hours repairing the bicycle until he was racing around the farm with a huge smile on his face. This family was great, they made me a bed of blankets, they hinted that I needed a shave, then proceeded to straight-razor shave my face, they killed a sheep for me and we had a feast of 'pilof' (rice) and sheep. All of this without being able to speak a lick of Kyrgyz or Russian.

The faces of kindness from the all-in-one room

Refreshed and on fire for life, I pulled into Osh and spent a few days enjoying Beefsteaks, a Russian dish of mashed potatoes, macaroni, and rice topped with a beef patty then topped with gravy and a fried egg and as always accompanied by a naan and bottomless chai. Beefsteaks turned out to be a big hit for me in Central Asia.

I had heard a lot of wonderful things about Tajikistan and the beauty of the Pamir Highway, so after some brief research I decided I needed to get a Tajikistan visa in Bishkek. The sooner the better so from Osh I decided I would begin to cycle towards Bishkek, some 800 km away, then hitch the rest of the way to time my arrival with the opening of the embassy on Monday (currently Friday). So I left Osh after another lovely beefsteak meal and headed towards Jalalabad. About 5 km into the cycle, a semi truck passes me with it's horn completely laid on. I kind of shrugged it off but noticed that the truck was also toting a bicycle in addition to the gigantic boulders on the flatbed. The truck then put on the brakes. "Get in" was Peter, the German cyclist, sitting shotgun. He was also on his way to Bishkek to sort out the 'bloddy visas' and he repeatedly put it. So another bicycle was added to the cargo and away we went, bumping down the road, trying to keep our teeth from chattering. The truck consisted of a Kyrgyz man and his nephew. I sat behind the front seats with the nephew, constantly ducking to avoid getting flagged by the Kyrgyz police. That brings me to another very interesting fact about Kyrgyzstan...the police are incredibly corrupt. They don't really do anything all day except flag cars from the side of the road and demand that they pay them money. It's actually quite funny, sometimes you are pulled over 5 times on the same street and the people don't seem to mind.

So we only rode about 4 hours towards Bishkek when the semi took a turn into a neighborhood, we pulled into a house and cut the engine; he had brought us to his house. We were then introduced to his family and they prepared us a feast of rice, sheep, naan and chai. They made us a bed of blankets and I was once again astonished by the unprecedanted hospitality of these people....this would never happen in the States, bring two random stinky strangers into your home and roll out the red carpet.

So we left the next morning, full of chai, bread and chocolates. We thanked the family for all of their kindness and began rolling down the road. The landscape was astonishingly green and beautiful.

We weren't exactly racing down the road and the police continually stopped us for bribes, so when we did finally arrive in Bishkek it was 4 am. The truck wasn't going through town so they dropped us off on the side of the road about 15 km from town (never once asking for money). Peter didn't have a tent so he just wrapped himself up in my tarp and slept in the field...52 years old. "You know another good place to sleep?.......a cemetary" - Peter said just before being dropped off in the field. Peter once slept in a jail cell in Africa because he had nowhere to sleep. He just walked into a jail and asked if he could sleep there.

The Kyrgyz truck driver and his nephew at their home

I love the kid's expression in the suit

From Kyrgyzstan with Love

Peter cycling on grass just before Sary Tash

Sary Tash

You can get a good view of the butcher by sticking your head up a t-bone's butt....wait

Out of China and into Kyrgyzstan

5.27 - 06.08
So I caught a train from Dunhuang (Gansu province) to Urumqi (the capital of the Xinjiang province) to arrange for my Kyrgyzstan visa. Like I mentioned before, I knew absolutely nothing about Kyrgyzstan except that it had a gigantic lake and it was said to be beautiful. So while waiting for my visa in Urumqi, I spent tons of time on the internet researching possible routes and planning my next move. I also enjoyed my first Pizza Hut since Thailand!

This was my pizza and the sign at the register. So much of China is lost in translation.

I met a Chinese man outside of Pizza Hut who owned a bike shop so we instantly bonded (of course we couldn't speak a word to each other) so he and I hit every hotel in the city trying to scout out a cheap spot for me to lay my head for the next 5 nights. What we found was absolutely perfect, a cheap hotel just outside the city with nice rooms....that night loud sounds awoke me from my sleep and it was at this point that I realized I was staying in a Chinese whore house, offering rooms by the hour to Chinese business men.

I really enjoyed Urumqi. This was my first introduction to the Uyghur people of China, a muslim minority that don't really have any business in China. They are more closely related to their persian neighbors in Central Asia but were swallowed by the expanding borders of China (command and conquer!). Their culture was unique and classy, they ate kebabs and rice dishes topped with lamb, the men wore stylish hats, rode on donkeys and congregated in circles, the women wore dresses and head scarves, they looked completely different from the Huan chinese that we'd experienced for the past 2 months. It was in Urumqi that I met two really cool people: a girl and her father from Qurghonteppa, Tajikistan. Fazilat, the Tajik girl, spoke extremely good english and the three of us enjoyed a wonderful night of exploring the city, eating lamb and learning about each others culture. They invited me to be a guest in their house if I was ever in southern Tajikistan.

So once my Kyrgyzstan visa was completed, I jumped on a train to Kashgar. Just outside the train station, I grabbed a quick bite before starting the boarding formalities. I sat down with what I thought to be yet another bowl of 'Mien Tay Ah' (noodle soup) but after a few difficult chews I looked into my bowl and identified something from biology class....I was indeed eating stomach. I almost vomited right there....I stood up and walked into the train station.

Kashgar is a major crossroads for cyclist, a central stop for people traveling along the silk road. I met a ton of cyclist in Kashgar, more than I'd met in the 3 months of cycling thus far! Most of them were on major cycling trips, having left from their front door in Europe and continuing east through China or south through Pakistan. Kashgar was even more rich with Uyghur culture than Urumqi. At this point I had almost spent 2 full months in China and I was eager to see, taste, experience something new. So I started the 250 km cycle towards the Kyrgyz border.

I reached the Chinese border (Irkestam Pass) 2.5 days later, excited to have started my solo adventure on the right foot and having all of my newborn ducks in a row. This border has only been open for a few years and was closed on the weekends. So I spent Sunday night in one of the most disgusting towns so far in China (and that's saying something!). "Tseu Sol?", I asked (Where's the bathroom?). They pointed me around the back of the building and I discovered landmines of turds lining the wall of the building. It was anywhere you pleased. Right on par for China!

So the next morning I got my things and headed for Chinese immigration. 'Zank you' from the Chinese immigration officer, a stamp followed and I was finally out of China! 2 months - April 8th to June 8th - were spent crossing China. I then began the 7 km of cycling in 'no man's land' between the Chinese and Kyrgyzstan border. Let's get it going!

Here's some pics from my last days in China:

Chinese checkers

Lagmien (noodles) and PBR

Making 'Mien Tay Ah' in Urumqi

Did I mention much of China is lost in translation?
This sign was over the urinal in the mosque in Kashgar

Colorful mixture of nuts and dried fruits in Urumqi

More noodle soup

My Uyghur friend Iziz selling polo on the street

Iziz and his daughter

Chinese people eat the weirdest things.
Tarantulas, scorpions, millipedes...

even deep friend starfish

These guys were super cool

August 25, 2009

The Vitality of a Southern Boy Turned Cyclist

So I must first apologize for not being a responsible blogger. With my last posting over 3 months ago, I've received emails from people asking if everything is ok, where I am and am I still alive? So first things first, I am indeed alive and well, quite more than that actually, I'm absolutely fantastic, a glowing ball of energy rolling down the road on two wheels. My smile seems to grow by the day, my legs are solid steel, my buns firmer than ever and my bowels are crazy as all hell.....I love it!

So I guess first I owe an explanation for why I haven't posted anything in over 3 months. In a nutshell here's the deal. Shortly after my last posting we reached Dunhuang, China (Gansu Province) which is where our route intersected train tracts. Our Chinese visas were within 2 weeks of expiring and the 1000 km of Taklamakan desert didn't exactly sound enticing to race across. So we decided to take a train through what remained of China (the gigantic Xinjiang province, which comprises 1/6th of China's landmass). However it was at this point that Spencer and Breckan, running low on time before the start of law school in August, decided to bypass the Central Asian countries and head directly south from Kashgar. So Dunhuang turned out to be a fork in the road for the rest of 'Team 7' and I, they would turn left in Kashgar and cycle south towards Pakistan. I would embark on a solo adventure and cycle west from Kashgar towards Kyrgyzstan, a country I knew absolutely nothing about (I couldn't even spell it). So we said our farewells, thanked each other for the time shared and the awesome memories and we departed in our own directions. (This was May 27th).

So I was to continue the rest of my trip alone (while singing 'Here I go again on my own!'). This was met with both excitement and anxiety as my two weeks of solo cycling in China was actually quite adventuresome but somewhat solemn. I actually wrote myself some words of encouragement just after I left the rest of the crew, a sort of pep talk before embarking on my solo journey (link to journal entry). The only problem was that my mother, the sweetest woman on the face of the earth, would have worried herself sick if she knew I was traveling alone, especially through a country with 'stan' in the title. So to save her some well deserved sleep (that she survived my childhood is deserving inside itself), I decided to lay low in the online world and I put the blog on temporary hiatus. Even my mother admits that she'd rather not know some things....but now I'm hoping to have gained some credibility for staying alive these past 3 months.

So that's the reason for me not posting for the past 3 months, as with China blocking blogger. My mother always taught me to stick with anything that I started and this is certainly no exception. So I'll release a few blogs from each country that I've been to, a sort of time release to prevent overwhelming your eyes and inboxes while maintaining the whole excitement of the unknown for my present experiences.

There's lots to catch up on....