The Almaty run

This V-Strom flagged me and stopped
And after a day’s rest at Bishkek’s Sakura guesthouse, where it’s cozy and warm, I was ready for the Almaty run. Now that we were going to Mongolia, we all needed visas. Neil and Chris had decided that they would try to get into Kazakhstan with their Kyrgyz visas and they left early with a shared taxi but for me it was out of the question to leave my bike behind when I could ride there and so at 8:15am, I was on the road to Almaty. There was no news from Iain or Robin and Keely so I figured they had their own plans for getting a visa.

I didn’t get lost while leaving the city this time. I had carefully studied the way out because I had no time to lose. I knew also that at some point on the way I would run into Richard, another I still hadn’t met of the China group. And I did.

The road was long and mostly straight, which that particular day was a good thing because I could ride fast but I did spend around 20 minutes talking to Richard, changing my Som for his Tenge and accepting the Kazakh SIM card he kindly gave me. It was very nice but it proved to be fatal to my tight schedule.

Off-road to Mongolia(n consulate)
The “track” to the consulate
When I arrived to Almaty the traffic was, of course, hectic. How could I forget to account for that? Well, my Parisian training always proves useful in these situations and I managed to skip most of it despite the big panniers on the back of my bike. Soon I was cruising on the high-speed lane of Sain Street towards the Mongolian consulate but alas, yet another obstacle was on my way. You see, Mongolia has almost no paved roads, it makes sense that the way to the consulate takes you off-road in the middle of the city. Wait, what? Yes, Sain street is in works right north of the street I was looking for so I had to make a big detour, get into some small neighborhood street where I wasn’t even sure which way I was supposed to go (thanks to Richard’s SIM, I had a working Google Maps) until I found it: the off-road track of course. Take it and you’ll get there! And get there I did and at the entrance I found Neil, Chris, and Iain. So much for the mystery of how he was going to get his visa. They were all waiting outside because they had been told that they could get the visa on the same day so I went to the door and begged to be received. When the guy said it was closed, I pointed to my watch and showed him that we still had more than 5 minutes to go before actual closing time and he was nice enough to let me in and apply but of course I wouldn’t get it on the same day (even when I begged). No biggie, I can come tomorrow, pick up the visa, then go to the bikers shop to try to get new riding pants and then leave to Charyn canyon without having to spend 2 nights at the awful but not quite the worst I’ve seen Djetisu hotel where they have cheap shared rooms only if you ask for “hostel”.

En 4L
En 4L sur la route de la soie

So in the evening I went for some Turkish kebab (it’d been a long time since Turkey and I was already missing it), had a walk through town, bought a replacement for my cigar lighter USB charger and had a drink with Iain and his new French friends, the guys from En 4L sur la route de la soie.

The visa was there, so much that the guy came out of the door with my passport ready when I rang the bell. Was I the only customer today? Did they have a camera? I didn’t ask. Next mission, the biker’s shop and my potential new pants. Except for the humongous traffic jam I got into where I was invited to lunch by some random car driver and his friends. I played dumb because I was sort of in a hurry and went my way amazed at the possibility of being invited to lunch by a random group of strangers. They didn’t have my size. How did I know they didn’t have it? Well, I tried ones that looked pretty cool and the sales lady said “Sexy!”. That’s how I knew it wasn’t my size, that and the fact that I had to struggle and remove the internal liner to get them on. Oh well, I would have to get my sewing kit out… On my way to Charyn canyon!

For a preview of Charyn canyon, here’s a video from a couple of guys who’ve been there before. If it doesn’t go automatically, you should advance to the 35m20s mark.

Changning District, PRC

China and Mongolia

I interrupt the continuity of this tale to do a little update on the China situation and the changes on my plan.

It seems that the Chinese government has decided to promote overland tourism in Mongolia. In a convoluted way, as usual with them bureaucrats. The Chinese government has decided that whoever enters China on his own vehicle via Xinjiang cannot transit into the rest of China and has to exit Xinjiang into one of the neighboring countries, that is: Mongolia, Kazakhstan (visa expired), Tajikistan (closed to tourists for now) or Pakistan (I don’t have the right carnet for the bike).

That leaves only Mongolia and that’s what we have decided to do. Enter Xingjiang, exit into Mongolia, ride Mongolia (I’m a bit nervous about this but we are a group and have a support car), try to get a new Chinese visa in Ulan-Bataar and then enter China again via Erenhot into Inner Mongolia. It’s going to cost us a lot more money and time but hopefully we will be in Laos by mid-October.

Now, I am in Naryn, Kyrgyzstan and hopefully will enter China tomorrow. I have just come back to civilization from the most trying days of this trip so far: the worst mountain road I have ever ridden, including many river crossings and camping at 2761m altitude with my summer sleeping bag and my tent being wet from the storm the previous day. I am back safe now and looking back it was a lot of fun. I will tell the full story and post pictures later. Now, I have to go and get ready to ride to China. I hope there is heated rooms near the border because I don’t want to camp at 3500m. See you on the other side of the looking glass… if I have access to the blog of course!

Трудоустройство, Naryn, Naryn Region, Kyrgyzstan

Lock, stock and China

Saturday – Garage sale

The living room
Lots of leftover flotsam and jetsam

This was a big success. I wanted to let go most of my things but I didn’t want to just throw them away, I wanted other people to use them and reuse them so I set up everything I wanted to leave behind in my living room and invited the whole building and all my facebook contacts in Paris to come and choose and pay whatever price they wanted to leave with my things. I enrolled the help of 2 wonderful ladies, Alice and Renae so that at times I could sneak out and start loading the truck I had rented to move the things I wanted to keep into Caro’s basement. What I didn’t count on was that Renae would bring along Léo (I should have suspected it though). Léo instantly felt that he had a mission that day: to sell all of my things at the right price and he instantly took over the management of the garage sale. It was pretty funny seeing him become the manager of his own bazaar, he was obviously having a lot of fun and there was no reason to stop him. He was just great and I had time to load the truck with Cleber, Dan, Florian, Khaled and Salim. Still at the end of the day all the big stuff was gone and a lot of the small things too but now I have a lot of work to remove everything.

Sunday – The move

Me and my sfuff
My life now fits in 6 cubic meters

I woke up early to take care of the big mess in my room, and I didn’t. To say that I did nothing would be unfair, I prepared all the soft luggage containing most of the clothes that I won’t wear anymore in the coming week and put them all outside while I waited for my friends to come so that we could set off to Caro’s. Little by little they came, except Salim who was exempted on account of a sort of intoxication and Khaled who was still sleeping on account of another kind of intoxication. Lucky I had called for backup and that Cleber was nice enough to stay and help when he had only come to pick up some stuff from the garage sale he couldn’t carry with him on Saturday. With the full team assembled, the Avengers set off: Adrian, Cleber, Dan, Renán, Santi and yours truly left Paris around eleven to move my most cherished things into a basement. Nothing left to say except that it all went well, my stuff fit alright in the basement with a lot of leftover space for the owner to still keep some stuff.

Monday and Tuesday – China welcomes me

Despite all that I had left to do in the apartment, the most important thing today was something else. After the LOI, it was time to pay a visit to the “China Visa Application Service Center“. A bit nervous about the whole thing, I went up the stairs and asked for a form and started to fill it when my number was called. Oh my! They are already calling me and my form is almost completely empty. “Never you mind, this is not the US embassy, we are not here to humiliate you, just go fill the form over there and come back when you are ready”, the smile of the lady behind the counter seemed to say. And so I did, came back and then the dreaded question came “your plane ticket, please”. No, you see, I arrive by the road… Oh, just wait. [phone call] Ok, go to counter 15. On my way! To the journalists counter! Now I was nervous, I had just been sent to the same counter as the journalists, what am I going to do? What will they ask me? A statement from my insurer actually, that was the only thing :D. And all is well that ends well, today I went to pick it up, here’s a photo.

Passport picture
My Chinese visa!

PS: Yes, 1 day, I was so impatient I paid for the express treatment.

PPS: I also received confirmation of the apartment checkout date: June 25th, Monday. Now I have a definitive departure date, I leave on Monday right after the apartment inspection. It’s ON!!!

Paris, Île-de-France, France

Finally, the LOI

It’s been a tough wait but I’ve finally received my LOI for China. Now I can plan my departure accordingly. I have an appointment with the visa office on Monday so, depending on the apartment checkout date, the most probable departure date now is Friday the 22nd when I’ll go camp with the Couchsurfers one last time and then leave directly from the forest. It seems fitting to leave from a camp :-).
Here is the happy email I received today 😀

Email with LOI
Happy email from Ms Liu

Aulnay-sous-Bois, Île-de-France, France

Kyrgyz Brussels

Here I am, in a city I don’t know and I have looked at Google maps for directions and even saved a few screen caps of what I should do to get where I want to be. And yet, the urge to improvise is strong and I take the bus in the opposite direction. That’s me, I do the opposite of what clear instructions tell me. Good one.

But what am I doing in Brussels? Well, this is part of the pre-trip paperwork and training. I decided to put all together in one trip to save time and lose money. One of the goals was intended, the other one was achieved by simply missing my train this morning and having to buy a new last-minute ticket or otherwise the whole planning would fall apart.

Today is the day I apply for my Kyrgyz visa, the last one before the Chinese visa for which I don’t yet have the necessary papers. So I arrived to Brussels quite early after arriving from Mexico yesterday and sleeping only 2 hours last night, thank you jet lag. Once I had properly fed my improvisation demon, I took the right bus and got to the consulate quite easily. Only to get sent to the bank where I was of course sent back to the consulate without achieving anything else than profuse sweating. No swearing though.

When I got back to the consulate, the Sikh that was on the same bus as me told me that I should pay at the post office but he didn’t know where there was one. Some other guy who was sitting there waiting just paid the guy behind the counter. And so did I.

Now I’m in London writing this post, with no passport and no receipt. I just hope that next Monday they will remember my face and give me back my passport…

London, England, United Kingdom