Here I am, on the shores of the Mekong again (I love this river) for what could be the last time I see it on this trip and I bring to you the last tale of Central Asia, that fateful day when we all finally met, then split, then met again and finally rode into China.
The day started peacefully in that ghastly place where we were staying. It didn’t feel like a place to stay in bed long so I woke up not too late and went to the cybercafe. No, there was no internet at the hotel, what did you expect? Also, when I tried to buy a SIM card for the remaining day, I was told there was no 3G today and should come back tomorrow. Most of us had finished the work to do on our bikes the day before except for Richard who needed welding after his ordeal on that mountain road the previous day.
Little by little, most of us set off. Lorraine the first as she allegedly was the slowest, then Neil, Chris and I. David and Lyn had camped somewhere outside the city so we didn’t see them in the morning and Robin and Keely (still hadn’t met them) had already announced in one of their barking emails that they wouldn’t be coming to Naryn. We left in no rush but not so late that we wouldn’t be able to visit Tash Rabat, the famed last supply town in the Silk Road. The last place where travelers could stock up on water and food before the high passes and the fierce Taklamakan desert. The road was beautiful. On a high plain, surrounded by absolutely stunning mountain ranges of beautiful colors.
Until we took the little winding road to the left and ended up in another, completely different, beautiful valley and arrived to Tash Rabat where there was a gathering of bikers. Iain was there, Lorraine was there and Robin and Keely. Finally, I had met the last part of the group. It was a weird meeting because for a long time I had really wanted to meet them (Robin had been the one who had steered me away from another group and convinced me to join this merry band of travelers in a very cool email he sent me a long time ago) but for the last month they had been either disappeared or churning out very weird emails bordering on aggressive. While everyone chatted about the next day, Lorraine told me that the little yurt on the prairie behind us made a hell of a soup and so I decided to try it. It was very good.
And then went on to visit that big rock pile that people come to visit here. The caravanserai of old where merchants and other travelers rested before the harsh journey ahead.
I should remember that sometimes it is useful to have humans in the picture for comparison. That thing is huge, to get and idea, the small green thingies by the entrance are trash bins.
After a while we had all visited the caravanserai and decided to set off. There was talk of camping but I must have missed a part of the conversation because even before arriving to the main road, Keely, Robin and Iain had left us without me even noticing. Also, on this road was last time I have shown my finger to anyone on the road (and I have vowed not to do it ever again). This local car overtook us all and for some reason was matching our speed whenever we slowed down or accelerated keeping a constant supply of dirt in our eyes and windpipes. I got tired and overtook him, thinking he would surely understand why I had done it but no, he accelerated and overtook me, throwing again all the dust in my face. It was then that I deployed the deadliest weapon I carry on the bike, my left middle finger. Despite all the dirt he must have seen it because he promptly stopped, got off his car and started gesturing for me to stop and fight him, which I didn’t of course but got very scared that he would chase me all the way to the border and shoot me. It was then that I decided that I will keep the finger to myself in the future.
He didn’t chase after me and pretty soon we arrived to the Kyrgyz checkpoint. It’s the start of the border area, you are not allowed in without a Chinese visa but it’s still about 70km from the actual border. The Lonely Planet said there was very basic accommodation at the border but this only looked like barracks so we pressed on. The road was nice but it was getting late and we still hadn’t found the said “hotels” and camping at that altitude was a big no-no. Just when my hope of finding anything was about to die, we spotted Richard on the road, he hadn’t come to Tash Rabat because he had left later than us but he arrived first. The “very basic” accommodation mentioned by the guidebook is the most basic place I have ever stayed so far. It wasn’t a building or a yurt, it was a wagon. Inside, the wagon was split in two “rooms”, each with a sleeping surface. The one on the left could sleep 4 and the one on the right, 6. On the same sleeping surface. I can’t call that a bed, it was simply a hard surface with a bedcover. We piled up our stuff in the 4 people room, decided that Lorraine would sleep on the floor with my Thermarest and left the other room to the 2 truckers of unclear sexual orientation that were already there.
To be sure, it was really cheap compared to what we had been paying in Kyrgyzstan and they provided a very nice dinner in the other wagon.
The next day, while we were waking up and getting ready, the missing ones arrived and David started trying to start the car. David and Lyn had slept in their car as they usually do when they are given the option. The old diesel Range Rover was having trouble with the cold, the altitude, the glow plugs and whatever else can give trouble. It was very unnerving. We were supposed to be at the border at 9 in order to be on the Chinese side early to avoid any problems and by 9:30 the car still wasn’t starting. After many deliberations, we were about to cross the border without them when it finally started and with it our Chinese adventure.