16.08.2012 50 °C
We left Tajikistan doing a 12-hour bus ride that was .. hum... CRAZY! Going through a DARK LONG tunnel (6 km long)- I have no idea how the driver could see anything and the road was so bad that the mini-bus (8 riders by bus) could probably have disappeared into the cracks of this "road".... and then the bus climbed two never ending passes (motion sickness anyone???) - several hours up and more than 40 minutes down. You could see at least 12 cars crashed at the botton of the passes. Well that was an experience that I could have done without
What to say abt Tajikistan? A country to return for sure - The Tajik people are kind and caring, the Pamir mountains (despite the conflict) was truly a breath taking adventure and the People of the Pamiris are gentle, generous and hospitable beyond words. I heard that the Tajik Govrenment is not allowing tourists to go through the Pamir mountains for the moment as the conflict is not resolved yet. This is a very sad!!!!
UZBEKISTAN - ISLAMIC ARCHITECTURE
Crossing broders to Uzbekistan was a very very very very strange process. The truck could not go through the border, so we first had to take all of our equipement (like Kitchen pots and pans, cooking stove, water bottles, rehydration salts, bags, bike through x-rays (????)- and then riders their 2 big bags, the kitchen stuff, water, etc through a no-man land zone (abt 500m) to load into the new trucks registered in Uzbekistan.
The temperature already started to go up towards the 40 celsius and will not stop getting warmer as we moved into Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan... It seems that only dogs, cars, and crazy cyclistes are out there in the middle of the day...normal people stay indoor until the evening when it starts to cool down...
ANd then came Samarkan and Buchara - 2 very very special rest days..
Samarkan is a jewel of Islamic architecture established around 700 BC (considered as the oldest inhabited city in central asia)- a big city that truly comes to life in the evening where families, children of all ages, parents, teenagers, tourists are out enjoying a stroll, and an ice cream in front of Registan Square which hosts 3 magnificiant Madrassah.. During the day, only the silly tourists are out to visits the mosques and Madressah all that concentrated in the old town with a very neat bazzar of fruits, vegetables, nuts and fabrics (truly worth braving the heat). Looking at the turquoise blue tiles domes and the massive carving works really transport you in another time... and makes our big modern building look so blend!!!!!.
It is said that restauration work - I think most of it done by Russsian... has taken some liberties but yet it feels very very special.
I will post pictures when I come back
The next rest day was in Buchara - a fortified wall city that also contains jewels of architecture. Actually a bit of a feeling of Marakesh meets small Europe old towns (as far as atmosphere) with bazzar shops approach and minaret and Madressah that are also out of this world.... I really really truly liked that city. The fortified walls (The Arch) date back 5th century AD.... I even went into an Hamman (oriental spa where women gather to bath...) in a beautiful buidling that was older than 500 years.
Buchara is my coup de coeur so far....
IN THE HEAT OF THE GARAGUM DESERT - TURKMENSITAN:
The broder crossing the Turkmnistan was again a very very very involved process... Border crossing will indeed be a very strange landmark of this trip!!! We completed the whole process (passports, forms, x-rays, carrying luggage through a no man land and in the new trucks) by noon AND THEN we started on our bike for a 135 km day with an average temperature of way over 40 the whole day, some head wind. I got to camp at 2030 and it was dark but still very hot. I must be drinking over 8-10 litres per day ...
The next 6 riding days in Turkmensitan were through the Garagum desert - an verage of 120 km/day with temperature reaching 50 degree celciusm. Historically karavan days along the silk road was covering abt 50 km - so we are not doing too bad ---I am drinking like mad, starting at around 0600 am but yet getting to camp only around 1500 - very long days with headwind, accumulated fatique and the heat that make you move even slowler. But yet for me rather magic days. I like the desert, quite a place to meditate and feel free on my bike...
Well I should say that one has to remain awake on the road because this is in fact a main road with CRAZY CRAZY TRAFFIC
Is there a difference between driving style in Central asia? One thing for sure, drivers in Turkmenistan are the craziest drivers that we have encountered so far... There seem to be no limit on speed and there is a no yellow line separating the road - but there is a lot lot of pot holes and bumps - result: The trucks are rather good leaving us some space BUT many many car drivers seems to find it perfectly normal to over pass these trucks when we are there, coming durectly at us. One needs to maintain his/her balance on the bike and decide whether or not to go in the ditch or try to stay on the road. There is also the scenario of the car coming from beyong you and "cheking you out" - coming so close that you feel the wind from the car door on your arms... all this in the mist of cars honking and waving at us either to say "hi" or to tell us to get off of the road!!!! A very funny / strange mixture of reactions.
But there is also the nice car drivers who will stop and offer water, fanta, coke or just want to ask what on earth are cyclists doing here? We have been told that abt 4 days before we arrived in Turkmenstan - some star went up, which indicates the hottest period of summer for Turkmenistan - well it is really hot here!!! Lucky us - From the beautiful freezing cold of the Pamir mountains (Tajikistan) to the blistering heat of the desert in Turkmesnistan
By the way, Turkemistan hosts the longest man-made canal - over 1300 km lenght to irrigate the country's cotton fields.. Turkmenistan produces american and egyptian cotton as the monoculture of the country. We often see an area of cotton plantation in the middle of nowhere in the desert as we bike and I have stopped a few time to communicate by sign with cotton field workers - often children as young as 12 years old working in the blistering heat... Hard life! We bike for "pleasure" in that heat while the cottong field workers have very little choice but to be out there.. It makes me feel very small... There is much to say abt contrasts in this country but I will write more on the subject when I am outside
Today is a rest day in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan .. a very very "futurist-weird" looking city. Big, a lot traffic (*read crazy) - buildings looking like a space shuttle, golden domes, huge rich appartment buildings, all that surrounded by a chain of mountain very close and then the desert... Before that we had a rest day in Mary , where we vistied Merv, a world heritage site that is a very central point on the silk road. It had a very strategic location and so was the seat of many takeovers... More than 1 million people in Merv were killed as a result of Mongols invasion in the 12th century.. It was a very powerful moment to be standing inside those fortified ruins!
We are leaving tommorow for Iran with a lot of trepidation abt what to expect, how to respect teh dress code (i.e., no sking showing at all on the bike and outside the bike...) One thing is for sure, everyone is saying that Iranians people are very welcoming.. I look forward to this part of the trip.
To those reading I apologize for typos and grammar ... . Give news whenever you can
Sonia, fargo (my bike) and orimou (my canadian mouse/friend on the bike following me acccros Canada, Africa abd now on the silk road)...