Quite a start!
11.07.2012 - 31.07.2012 32 °C
CYCLING THE PAMIR HIGHWAY
First contact with Kashgar, China: 2 armed guards at the door... maybe a premonition for what was to come in Tajikistan.
We did not reach the hotel before 2000 that night and I went to bed without eating.. Lesson 1: Jet lag plus no food are no good combination for a start the next day at 0800 am for 100km....
The ridding in China:
The first 3 ridding days were difficult for me - Heat, bad roads and long KMs in China. Major cramps on the first day and throwing up at the end of a big climb, sleeping curled up on the side of the road and in the truck on the second day.. then the sky cleared up and I was able to ride all complete days. I am slow but steady and knees and legs are working together -- I am so so happy
The Chinese border proved to be a challenge... We had to wait 3 hours for their "lunch break" to be completed and then chinese official confiscated some of our passports: Lesson 2: better remember countries you visited before in case a chinese official fancy asking you questions (really weird).... More than 4 hours of wait to get an exit stamp and then another 2-3 hours of wait to actually exit the country the next day.... most of that while waiting under heavy sun.... Funny but the broder crossings so far have been much longer than in Africa
Lesson 4: red hair with "russian" flavor name (Sonia) is not so good in China and Kyrgystan: Officials in both of these countries insisted that I spoke russian with them saying I have the "russian look".. What ever that means.. I am not so sure and maybe I dont want to know!!!!.
Then came the start of the Pamir Highway. THis was in fact a 7 day bike ride with 4 climbs over 4000 meters and at least 2 nights camping over 4000 meters.. ouch.. Beautiful scenaries, glaciers, high cliff mountains, wild goats, an isolated region where you get excited when one sees 15 houses or so... hard living conditions BUt yet, so very generous people... We also did some homestay and Yurts that are so colofrul inside (imagine a round wood structure decorated-isolated with very colorful carpets, an wood stove in the middle, the people would constantly invite us for tea anmd bread along the road sharing the little they have). Just very out of this world for me. The Pamir highway was built by Russia (as part of the Great game with UK to take over passagwe to India...) and his now alsô called the opium highway.. as ît is also a road for drug trafficing....
Altitude was there for sure but I managed to cycle all going slowly.Some of those climbs (and descends) were long with 8 and 12% grades at over 3500meters ... I was breathing like a train coming in...
The night in the tent were "well" freezing to say the least... supper in 15 minutes dancing around to stay warm and moving to yr tent at 1830 as it was the only place to get a little warm. Putting on all the clothes available, with the sleeping bag over my head and yet it is so so so cold. At 4200 meters there were hail and tents were well frozen in the mornings... Going to the toilet on these nights was more than a challenge... and it is surprising how the cold make you want to pee....
Then we started to descend - one full day of biking down from high altitude to something around 2000 meters.. well the contrast was major and beautifull all that in oen day ... we came down into green vegetation, fruit trees, a lot more people, houses, cars, donkeys, children, a shower and western toilets... in other words, the luxury of an hotel in the city of Khorog in Tajiskistan.. Well that luxury became less attractive the next day when we got stuck in the middle of a military operation....
Â small taste of military operation in Tajikistan:
In 1997, there was a civil war in Tajikistan and the Pamiri people have suffered a lot. There is still a lot of tension between the Tajik central government and the Pamiri (who have some very close links with their Afghan cousins on the other side of the border.. By the way, the Afghan border is just a bird view from where we where.. and the Afghan close to the borders are not the extremist forces... (but yet there were concern that this border could also become a hot spot...)
Back to the story, the day we arrived a general from the Tajik government was allegedly assasinated by the Pamiri people.. the army-Tajik government requested that the Pamiri involved be giving to them but the local Pamiri forces said no. The next step was for snipers, soldiers and tanks from the Tajik govermnment shooting in the main street of Khorog, with the Pamiri soldiers shooting back.... all that actually very very close to where our hotel was... The civilians Pamiri supported the Pamiri forces.. It was getting a little too hot for our taste..
The german, suisse, french, UK and USA embassies got involved to evacuate the foreigners which took a few days. But I should say foreigners were not the target. It was a long way out of that region through 4 by 4 jeeps convoys and an helicopeter ride for some of the cyclists (not me). But we all made it safe to Dushanbe (Capital of Tajikistan). There are many stories around that evacuation (and sometimes not all good stories) and yet what really matter is that -- thanks to the embassies and TDA -- we get out of there and safe.
We travelled about 16 hours in jeep to evacuate (and therefore lost about 6 days of cycling through an amazing amazing landscape of high cliffs, mountains but also green vegetation and rivers always bordering Afghanistan) . I would like to come back and do those 6 days of cycling but that will be for another time in my life...
In 2 days, we will move to Kyrgystan and resume cycling in the heat and desert scenaries. No doubt this is a trip of extremes.. I am so much looking forward to be back on my bike, taking on the sceneries, those briefs encounters with locals, the thrills of discovery. The next city is Samarkhan, one of the most glorious and beautiful city on the silk road journey!!!!
I promise to write a more interesting blog .. so much has happened in so little time that I seem to only be able to describe facts without much colors in them.
[i]["When your ship, long moored in an harbour, gives you the illusion of being a house, put out to sea"i] --- Well I have put my ship to sea, in agitated sea, with beautioful sinrise and sunset to seek adventure and better understand what is scared for me!!!
Sonia, Orimou and Fargo