Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Crossing into Real Stan #1

After waiting for a week in Kashgar for my Kyrgyz visa to begin (central asian visa's require you to nominate an entry and exit date in advance... something i did with terrible inaccuracy), I left and cycled the 250 kms to the border.

Those who know me know that I have at certain times in the past had trouble with travel related dates - arriving 24hrs late for my Bangkok-Singapore flight, more recently arriving 7 days early for my Broome-Perth flight.

This time i managed to arrive a day before my Kyrgyz visa began, a fact which was politely pointed out to my be the Chinese immigration officer before they whisked my passport away and told me to sit in the corner. As i was sitting contemplating spending the night at the tiny little border 'town', (about 4 buildings and 400 truck drivers... not good odds), they called me to see the senior officer, who was a very nice man, and told me i could either try my chances on the Kyrgyz side, or wait 3 days till Monday, (the border was closed on the weekends, something i hadn't realised) when the border reopened and cross then.

One day of communal truck driver good times I could handle, but three was definately pushing it! I decided to try my luck on the other side.

As I crossed the 7kms of no-mans land to the kyrgyz side, the beautiful chinese asphalt deteriorated into dirt and gravel and the solid Chinese immigration complex was instead matched by a shed and tin roof combo that would be better placed on an outback road in the Northern Territory.

As I got to the front gate trying to work out in my head which of three possible tacticts to take:
1- Idiot tourist "oh, i didn't realise it wasn't valid yet"
2- Tough guy "come on buddy, just stamp it, its no biggie"
3- Friendly but firm "you won't believe what happened... hahaha... no, but i REALLY need to get through."

I saw the first border security guards, a big soviet looking dude in camouflage gear, and decided that tactic 2 was out.

Luckily, guard #1 was just excited to see a bicycle, and after letting him ride it down to the immigration shed, i figured i had positioned myself well for a combo of tactics 1 and 3. Another guard took my passport and went into the office, i was told to stay out, where i underwent a 'customs check'

'Customs' involved a bigger, angrier looking ex-soviet camouflage guard pointing casually at my bags and then poking around with more curiosity than purposefulness at the contents. (There was an awkward moment as i tried to explain in sign language what the flashing yellow yellow plastic thing was, evidently "GPS" doesn't translate directly to russian). After 10 minutes of this (So far i hadn't used any of my super tactics...) they brought out my passport, stamped and ready for action, and politely told me to bugger off, which i was more than happy to do!!!

So began Kyrgyzstan.

The next two days were spent riding very slowly over huge stones and dusty roads along the worst road i've had so far, into the worst headwind i've had so far, to arrive at Sary Tash. A village with two streets (one paved), a small guesthouse, and about 17 shops selling biscuits and Vodka. I spent the afternoon trying to wash myself in a plastic dish with the radius of a small hoola hoop, with a small bucket of luke warm water, but the experience was made much better by meeting two german motorbikers on vintage east German motorbikes, and we had a great dinner together.

Kyrgyzstan is one of those countries where there's not much around, but its bloody beautiful. Outside the city, there's beautiful rolling green hills and amazing mountains. Streams and rivers flowing with crystal clear water, and sheep, cows and horses roaming freely. As you ride along, sheppherds ride up on their horses every now and again and plod along beside you, and i'm sure if I could speak any russian, they'd be up for a nice chat too!

Another two days has gotten me to Osh, the second biggest city in Kyrgyzstan, with 300,000 people. The town has a very ex soviet vibe to it, lots of 'cafes' (no coffee) selling kebabs and Plovv (rice with carrots and meat soaked in oil), and a great bazaar. Also a great place to meet travellers, a great crew was here when i arrived, and I even finally met a couple Aussies on bikes.

The internet is mighty slow, so no pictures yet, but will keep on trying.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

shervs i saw this guy on discovery travel and living who is riding a MOTORBIKE across aussie and getting filmed on his "amazing" adventure.

THEY DONT even know...
xo rissa