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03rd – 7th June 2011: Samarkand to Dushanbe, the rollercoaster ride

August 15, 2011

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The next morning was a hot one – the sun rose early and cooked us in our tents, and by 630am it was unbearable. I was reduced to hiding in the thin shade on the other side of the warehouse to try and dose up on a bit more rest, slowing moving to being pressed up against the wall as the sun quickly rose to full height. This was when my hayfever started to kick in, as the fields around us were fresh wheat. It was going to be a long, tough day.

And tough it was, as we eventually got on the road and contended to head head towards the first pass, at 1700 metres. Of course this is not big by any means (specially when you consider we’ll be topping 4000m in less than a month) but it was a long, slow and arduous climb.

As we got higher the temperature cooled, and we sweated out the last of the booze, making for quite a cleansing ride. We made the pass by 4pm, and enjoyed the downhill towards Sharisabz, content that our first day had turned into a bit of a success despite the tough start.

We rolled into the edge of the town as it was getting dark, and were followed by a group of 5 young guys on bikes, intent on being a bit of a hassle. We ignored them, and stopped by a water pump to stock up and do pot wash. The kids followed us all the way, and stopped and stared and talked in Uzbek in our presence. Two passing older guys took offence to what they were saying, and apparantly in our defence, punched one of the kids in the face. There was a ruckass, all about us yet nothing to do with us. The kids disbanded, and the two drunks were polite and friendly towards us, and offered us a place to sleep in their farm. We were dubious as they were drunk, but we had little option. We managed to work out from their Russian ramblings that they had space for us to pitch our tents on their land, so we followed them, after they insistently picked up a big bag of meet and a single beer (at our polite refusal for more vodka). We followed them with little idea of what to expect, and were plesantly surprised to find that they were camping aswell. I say camping, but it was more of a shack on the side of a field, which i assume was their temporary home while they worked on the land. We pitched up, and joined them for a good meal of cold meat and salad, made polite pleasantries in next to no Russian, and sauntered off to bed.

The next morning our hosts politely waited for us to rise, made us breakfast, and necked a whole bottle of vodka beofre 930. We were on our way shortly after, contending with a rather odd drunken farewell in the early morning.

The day was flat and hot, but quickly turned to rain. This would be the case for the next two days, as we made our way towards Guzan and the start of the Uzbek mountains.

The most notable event of the two days involved dogs. Dogs, anywhere in the world, love bikes. I guess we are a slow enough moving target for them to chase us with intent that they might catch us. In this instance, two dogs leapt out of a house and hounded my and Julian for 400 metres. One was right on my ass, and was biting at my wheel. I made a move to out pace him, but it was to no avail. After aout 30 seconds he started to waver, and veered out into the middle of the road, losing interest. It was in that moment that a speeding car sped past, hitting the dog and killing her instantly.

The sound was like a popping bag – then the scraping sound of a dog skidding on its face at 50km/h. It overtook me, arse in the air, and slumped to a heap in the middle of the road. Julian whooped in excitement, having seen the whole thing and feeling there was some just deserves for a species of animal that causes us nothing but grief, but i was in shock. I felt guilty for playing a substantial part in the death of an animal, and was horrified to think of how easily that could have been me. We stopped up ahead to reflect on what happened, and on looking back saw the owner come out of his house with a shovel, drag that dead dog to the side of the road and bury it then and there, as if it was a natural day to day occurance.

After all the excitement, that rain started to pour, and Julian’s knee started to cause him grief. We reached ** and he conceded defeat – not wanting to cause any sustantial damage at this time before Tajikistan, he decided that a bus to Dushanbe was the best thing to do. We parted ways on the road, and got ready to do +100km each day for three days in the mountains to get to the border before the visas expired.

The day Julian left saw myself and Mathias pushing hard into the night, and by 130km we were dead. We stopped at a small restaurant to pick up some water, and were hastily offered a place to sleep on the Manjars outside. Zair was a delightful guy, and had seen us on the road earlier. He cooked up our dinner despite our refusal , and bought us a couple beers. We had the best cooking we had experienced in Uzbekistan, and had a good night with our great and unassuming hosts.

Uzbek’s rise early with the morning sun, and we were not allowed to slumber past 7am. This was not so easy after our long day before, but we were happy to be on the road early to get another big day in and get us closer to the border. The day was long and mountainous – we had two passes to contend with today, in searing heat and heavy road works, making for a very dusty road – not helping with my hayfever one bit. I also made a concious decision to stop smoking in Tashkent in preparation for Tajikistan, and the reignition of my lungs multiplied by the hayfever and the dust made riding very difficult. I was coughing a lot, and my chest was becoming very sore. by the middle of the afternoon i had to take a substantial break in the shade, remedying myself with big bottles of cheap orange soda.

We found a shortcut after a police checkpoint meaning we could miss out the second pass, and enjoyed a nice descent into the green valley that surrounded Baysun. We enjoyed the variance of landscape from barren brown mountains to green valley, and i took the time to pick cherries from the trees that lined the streets. We bought two kilos of peahes for 40pence, and had a great and long downhill all the way towards Shorchi, reaching a key crossroads by nightfall that was mission accomplished for the day. Exhausted and slightly sunburned, we tried our luck again with another restaurant, only this time it was an establishment among a large number of other restaurants, forming a truck stop. Transient places of this nature dont make for the best welcomes, and the owners of the restuarant grudgingly let us sleep on their Manjars, confused and probably a bit upset that we had no money to buy food, and proceeded to cook our own on their premises. Lights went out without a word at 11pm, and we were rudely awakened and asked to leave at 6am, after they demanded money for our sleeping. We declined, saying that we had told them the night before that we had no money. I think the gesture was more for us to leave than the actual request of money – the amount being so meagre that it seemed pointless.

Safe to say we were on the road bright and early again, which was good for our timing, but bad for our energies. We were totally exhausted, and rather grumpy. For some reason on the last days in a country, you start to become irritated by things that occur everyday that make that place unique. Today it was the constant question from people on the street of ‘Het Koda?’ ‘where are you from?’ every single person we passed shouted this at us. At first it was ok, and we replied in due course, blurting out the names of our respected nationalities. But after a while, we took offence to the question, finding it rude and intrusive. People wouldn’t wave or smile, they just wanted to know where we were from then they lost interest. It was as if they didn’t care for us as people, just like we were attractions in a zoo. It got too much, and by the last 20km, we were chomping at the bit for the border.

Eventually it came, and we were in less than good moods. I didn’t say a word to the border police, who also demanded to know where we were from with the graining question, this time shouted with authority. All i wanted to do was get into Tajikistan. The Uzbek guards didn’t make it easy for us, and demanded receipts for all the dollars we had in our possesion, as well as going through all our luggage and wanting to see the contents of our medical kits.

Once we crossed to the Tajik side, we were greeted with smiles, warmth and friendliness. People spoke Farsi and had an air of Iranian temperamant, which I found relaxing. Before long we were drinking another cheap orange soda just over the border, and our spirits were lifted when we cycled off towards Dushanbe and the shouts of ‘Het Koda?’ had been replaced with waves, smiles, and ‘Salaam’.

We attempted to push onto Dushanbe that night, figuring that the earlier we arrive there the more time we have to apply for the Kyrgyz visas and get on the road to the Pamirs. This didn’t work out, as we ended up cycling on a busy road in the dark and had a minor collision, causing my brake cable to break. It was no distaster, but we conceeded defeat and struggled to make camp on the roadside, contending to rise early and get to Dushanbe in the morning before the embassy shuts.

I camped under the stars in a building site, which meant that getting up early the next morning was easier as I rose with the sun. By 1030 I was in Dushanbe, and struggling to find the Embassy. I jumped into an internet cafe and met Pete, an Austrailian cyclist who had toured the world several times over. He told me of a great hotel where you could camp in the garden for $5, and there were other cyclists there too. He was also heading to the Kyrgyz embassy, and gave me directions. Before long my application was in, and i headed to the Advernturers Inn where Pete had suggested, to find Julian already camped up and enjoying beers with new bike friends.

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