After months of drinking soda water
Tonight, I feast on my favorite water! After spending the day under the unforgiving Cambodian sun, I found this beauty at the local mini-mart. Really, I’ve never felt myself dehydrate so fast, not even in the Uzbek deserts and I’ve been drinking a lot of soda water for lack of proper fizzy mineral water (even that abomination called Schweppes Soda water that Schweppes dare only sell in the third world). The last country on my road where there’s been proper sparkling water was Kazakhstan.
Where was I? Oh, right, Kyrgyzstan!
The next morning we got up not too late and set on our way to the border. Our map shows a little border crossing close to Fergana and that is what we aimed for. Until we met the Italians (again). They had been to the border but it was a locals-only border crossing and they’d been turned down. After a short chat with them about their support truck, which had broken down due to water in the fuel, we set off looking for that other border crossing, the Osh border crossing.
We got there almost in no time since we were very close and crossing it was a breeze, no hassle at all. THey wanted nothing to do with our visas, no need for them anymore. Osh i sonly a couple kilometers from the border and finding the Osh Guesthouse was also quite easy. One of the shortest rides so far. Pretty soon Chris and I had checked into the guesthouse and had an appointment for dinner with Christina, a German cyclist and her Finnish friend Henna at the California Café for a pizza (Yum!) and Neil had left to search for a hotel with private rooms.
The manager of the guesthouse, a bearded muslim wearing a kamis took us to a parking lot 500m away from the hostel to park our bikes and on the way we attracted a lot of attention among the neighborhood kids. With the bikes well kept, we went out looking for the pizzeria and not only did we find Christina there but also Neil, who had already spotted the local Chinese restaurant and took us there for a beer after dinner. I also had a very unexpected starter before my pizza: tarator! (they don’t call it tarator in Kyrgyzstan but that’s what it was).
We all spent two nights in Osh for various reasons. Me, I just wanted a little rest. On the first evening I exchanged information with Christina about the road I had planned from Osh. I was planning to go to Song Kul following the road marked on the map I got from Cédric. She confirmed that it was a very nice road to do and gave me some tips about the imprecisions of the map: villages that weren’t there and other villages that were. Also around that time I got hooked reading Iker Iturregi‘s chronicle of his trip in this region and had reached the point where he was telling about the exact road I wanted to follow, the Kazarman trail to Song Kul Lake. If you can read Spanish, I do recommend reading his adventure chronicle, he’s done one of the most difficult roads in the world, the 2000 km long BAM road in Russia in less than 4 days and broken the speed record for crossing a very scary and long bridge on that road. Most people take around 10 days to do it.
Osh is not a very interesting city but I needed the rest to get in shape and ready for the next days when I would be riding solitary mountain trails with my Z as the only company.
Since the China part 2 plan has gone down the drain for mysterious reasons, I had to do a bit of brainstorming to get my act together and keep going the way I want and the way that brings me more satisfaction. I don’t want to take a plane during this trip unless I really have to. This is not one of those times.
Today, I went down to the train station and bought myself a train ticket to Beijing. So there is a bonus in all this, I get to travel on the Trans-Mongolian Railway, part of the same network as the Trans-Siberian. Meanwhile, my dear Z will be shipped straight to Bangkok and will be waiting for me there until I arrive. From now on and until I get to Bangkok, I will be on foot. It will be a new experience but I have high hopes for this new part of the trip. It will be something different being back to depending on other people to get from one place to the next one.
After I got the train ticket, I went for a walk in the town center, checked rucksacks at the camping store (too expensive) and then at the black market (too cheap). Since I will only need this rucksack for a couple of weeks, I will go for the too cheap one and bring my straps, bungees and cable ties with me into China in case it needs « roadside maintenance ». Finally, I went for lunch inside the black market. I had already had lunch there yesterday with David and really enjoyed it: good cheap food, who could say no to that?
I sat at a random food stall and ordered a random dish from the menu around 4000 tugrugs. I have no idea what I ordered but a couple of minutes later I had in front of me a sort of prison tray with a full meal on it: soup, fried noodles with meat, Russian salad, two other kinds of salad and a strange but not completely disgusting hot white drink.
After that royal lunch, I was going to check the auto parts market for a couple of tools I am still missing and a 13 spanner for Lorraine who had asked me to kindly buy it for her but a sudden dust storm and the menace of rain convinced me to stick my hand out at the side of the road to go back home. In no time, a random local had lowered his window and was asking me where I wanted to go, I hopped on and went back to the hostel to finish repairing the bike.
Of course you don’t know what was wrong with the bike because I haven’t told that story yet but the rest of the afternoon was very productive: I put a new chain that Richard kindly agreed to sell me, I put the missing bolt in the pannier rack and finally I hammered my panniers back into shape, they are waterproof again. Actually, I didn’t hammer them myself, the hostel’s watchman saw me doing it and obviously thought that I was using the hammer like a little girl because he took the hammer off my hands and did it himself.
When I had finished with all my repairs and maintenance for the day, it was already time to go for dinner with the group. Today is the last night we are all together, from now on we more or less all go our separate ways. Neil is flying to Hong Kong, Iain is flying to Bangkok, Lorraine may be flying to Korea, David is driving back to the UK through Russia (I hope he doesn’t freeze!), Richard still doesn’t know and Chris is taking the same train as I am but will be crossing China a bit faster than what I have planned to. The group was created with the sole purpose of crossing China together on our bikes (+David’s car), now that we are not allowed to do that anymore, it makes no sense to stick together any longer. We all have different plans for the future and have already set them in motion but meanwhile, we absolutely had to find that English pub with the funny name that we had spotted a couple of days ago.
PS: Since my bike and I are going to be parted for some time, I have set up a new wallpaper on my computer, something to remember her by.
Staring at the language barrier in the face
Let’s have tea at the gas station.
Tea is big in Turkey. We’ve all heard about Turkish coffee but let me tell you, the real deal here is tea. It is everywhere. The first days it was a bit strange. I stopped close to a gas station to buy a salad to eat with my Bulgarian ham and some guy sitting at a table uttered in my direction: « Chai? ». I didn’t get it and said no. The following time it was easier. I stopped at a gas station, bought my usual Coke shaped caffeine dose and when I was leaving the cashier said « Chai! » and pointed with an open hand at the sort of tea dispenser you see at conferences and hotel breakfasts, a big metal cylinder with two taps at the bottom. One pours water, the other one tea. And it’s not mint tea like the Arabs, it’s plain black tea. So I poured myself some tea and wondered what the other tap was for. Yay! Double dose of caffeine!
Needless to say, I’m not the only tea drinker. Everywhere you look there’s people drinking tea, they have roadside stall serving tea and some bars advertise their tea price to attract customers (it’s usually 1 lira). But the day before yesterday it went a bit further. I had stopped for some gas and a rest at a one of the big brand gas stations here. Rest routine is always similar: get a cola drink (sometimes it’s Pepsi), ask for the wifi password if available and just sit there sipping the drink. Everyone leaves me alone if I’m looking at the phone, everyone tries to talk to me if I’m not. Either way it works for me. This time, there was wifi so I was left alone. Until I stopped looking at the phone and stood up. The eldest of the pump guys came to me and said… He said what? Yes! « Chai? ». I couldn’t say no. It was a special moment, the guy who pumped my fuel was now pouring me tea from the employee office. We couldn’t talk much, some other guy came and I heard them exchange the usual Q&A that is usually addressed to me: « Almanya? », « Fransa ». I waited for him to finish his tea and left. By now, I was getting used to their tea and starting to like it.
In the evening, after checkin myself in at a hotel in Persembe, I decided to go for dinner. I must be missing something because when I go out for dinner everything is closed and no one is having dinner but I found this little place close to the hotel and Mehmet was happy to serve me some tavuk with pilau (or chicken with rice for those of you who are not as fluent in Turkish as I am).
Did I say his name was Mehmet? Yes, this guy was really determined to have a conversation with me. When someone, probably his wife, mentioned the language barrier he played deaf and just kept talking to me not caring the least in the world that my Turkish vocabulary totals 20 words and most of them are food and roadsigns and that his English vocabulary comprised not more than 5 words. He grabbed my book and started to ask me about China and Henry Kissinger. Who is he? Where is he from? What did he do? Obviously this is what I think he asked me since I have no idea what he was saying but I answered anyway and the conversation was there. I explained my trip to him and called up on his friend Ekrem and soon we were having a lively chat, probably about different subjects but we didn’t care, it was fun. At some point his son came by, he spoke English and we clarified some points that weren’t quite clear on the previous conversation but he couldn’t stay so we went back to baby talk and scribbling stuff in pieces of paper to try to understand each other. They asked me many questions about myself: my age, the trip’s budget, my job, whether I was married. They advised about the beauty of the women from different countries I would find on the road. Really, it’s amazing the things you can talk about when you can’t talk.
And in the jumble of mimicking and scribbling they told me I should absolutely visit the Sümela monastery and the Uzungöl lake. The former for the history and the latter for the nature. This resulted in the most beautiful road I’ve ridden so far and the visit to a beautiful monastery perched on the side of a cliff for the first day and on stunningly beautiful lake with a little mosque on one side for this morning.
All in all, excellent advise.
PS: There is also a video of the road. This time I have removed the nasty wind sound and replaced it with some Andean music to make it easier to the ears
Now that I’ve had my Shopska salata with a glass of rakia, I can say I’m officially in Bulgaria. Ah! Such good memoires!
A short explanation is in order. This is rakia, R-A-K-I-A. It is Bulgarian and has nothing to do with Turkish raki, that’s the next country I’ll visit, I’m not there yet. Rakia is not anise flavored. That’s why I like it so much :).
When in Rome, do as the Romans and when in Bulgaria… well, drink rakia with your salad at the beginning of the meal. I learnt that on my first trip to Bulgaria in 2007. I love rakia so much I might as well buy a bottle for the road.
Oh, and how could I forget the main dish, Meshana skara, the typical Bulgarian mixed grill. Made mainly of pork meat, it sort of reminds me of home in Argentina where a barbecue always includes a bit of everything.
That was dinner but my lunch was also interesting. A bit lost (post to come), I stopped at a small village and had the awesomest döner kebab ever (dyuner in Bulgarian). All the more awesome because it cost me 1.5 leva (0.75€). When I decided to take a picture, I realized they had a promo of 2 döners for 2 leva. I wasn’t that hungry anyway. It was here: