Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Crashing in Kyrgyzstan

After a 120 km/hr impact the bottom corner is the only visible damage, later we found the fuel bottle flattened as well
Mike is flanked by the 'driver' and the Police investigator
The venom, as they say, was in the tail. It was bound to happen sooner or later... the driving is so bad here that despite our best efforts to avoid disaster, Mike had a head-on collision with one of them today... We have avoided dozens of them over the last weeks but today he simply had no-where to go. He avoided complete disaster by taking evasive action as much as he could but the car coming towards him simply didn't give an inch. It is, unfortunately, the way they drive here... they just don't care about anyone but themselves and couldn't care less if a car, and especially a motorcycle, has to run off the road... all that's important to them is: they have to get through!

I'm not going to cover this by looking through rose tinted glasses, or even dismissing it lightly as we feel everyone should know about this. What has happened to Mike can happen to any of us. Mike is a good motorcycle rider. He is alert, very well aware of what is happening around him and rides defensively. He has made it through many a difficult country without any problem and has been on the road for three years and over 90,000 km accident free. His riding skills are better than most too, just look at some of the 'roads' he's been on! Not bad for a 19 year old.

The driver that hit him was on the wrong side of the road in a roadworks section. We ride with our lights on at all times, so he was well visible, and yet he simply didn't give Mike an inch. Mike took evasive action as much as he could but couldn't avoid his pannier hitting the car. Both were doing about 60 km/hr, resulting in an impact of 120 km/hr on the corner of the pannier. It ripped the nylon corner protector apart, bend the pannier frame slightly and cut open the corner of the pannier itself. The most amazing thing is that Mike didn't go down! The damage to the car was extensive. The cut corner of the pannier ripped open the car's tyre, while the front bumper, wing and door were all damaged too. The pannier is repairable, as is the frame, which is what we did later while staying at the Yurt in Tash Rabat. Seeing the minimal damage done reinforced our belief even further that these really are the best panniers in the world. After an impact of 120 km/hr the pannier didn't come off, is perfectly repairable, hasn't bend, twisted or buckled, still seals perfectly at the lid and protected the stuff inside it.

It's fair to say I was fuming. Ready to kill the driver of the other car for almost killing my son. Understandable I guess but there was more to it than just that. We are so fed up with the very poor attitude to driving here, the lack of any social behaviour on the road, the total lack of any form of driving standard and especially the 'I don't care' mentality... which in the end led to Mike almost being killed, that I needed to vent some of the built-up pressure. As the culprit is still alive I feel I restrained myself rather well...

As if what had happened wasn't bad enough, the tale then took another turn. The car driver blamed Mike... and wanted money...! Ok, I said, get the police out here then. I made photos of Mike's tyre track to show his position on the road, the other guy's car and the damage to the pannier. I then asked for his license, to which he was very evasive... perhaps he didn't have one. They called the police but told us the police wouldn't come as it was too far away. Then they said the police would come, then again that they wouldn't... I had enough and wondered if they had even called the police. Ok, I said, we'll go to the police in Naryn ourselves then... You should have seen what happened then! They were suddenly all on the phone... all of them! When I say all of them I should clarify that the car was chock-a-bloc full of people and there was another car travelling with them. The demands came again for money, to the point where anyone would have called it harassment complete with pushing and shoving. We stood our ground, started the bikes up, upon which they became really nasty! 

The last thing anyone should do at a time like this with me is grab my arm and start pulling it! The engine was running, the bike in gear and I made it very clear both verbal and with my fist that they would have to move out of my way and don't ever touch me again. We left! There was no way to recover the damage from them anyway, we had China waiting and couldn't see the point in pursuing this. In Naryn we filled up the tanks and rode towards Baetov when a Police car pulled us over. Apparently they had called the police then, although I'm still not sure if that was before or after I said we would go to the police ourselves.

What happened next is something you should keep in mind before making the decision to come to Kyrgyzstan. Like I wrote before, this could happen to you too (I would in fact argue that it will happen to you too when you come to Kyrgyzstan, unless you are very very lucky, as the driving is dangerously poor). In Kyrgyzstan the police doesn't simply come out, check tyre tracks and damage and do an assessment... No, the first thing they do is impound both vehicles...! I couldn't believe what we were told: Mike's bike was being impounded while he clearly had no blame in this at all. The other driver was on the wrong side of the road after all, the tyre tracks were totally clear on that. In fact the car was still standing on the wrong side of the road. It made no difference. Then they said to us that as no-one was killed, the investigation would have no priority and could thus take weeks... The second problem was that suddenly no-one spoke English... I made a drawing on a piece of paper, showing the situation (i.e. the car being on the wrong side of the road), which the policeman agreed with! And still the bike had to be impounded awaiting the final outcome of the investigation... We also found it rather upsetting that we were asked many times by the police if we were an American... what that has to do with anything I'll let you work out for yourself too, all I can say is that we needed to prove via our passports that we weren't. Yet the driver of the other car wasn't even charged for dangerous driving... You can't make this stuff up, Hollywood couldn't have invented it. Dare I say it was because Mike was the 'foreigner' here?   

The Kyrgyzstan police gave us one way out. If we would not claim anything, not the damage to the bike or any physical damage Mike may have himself, then they would let us go...?!? Having made a quick assessment of our situation we chose to accept. Mike was almost killed, the bike damaged and yet the other driver wasn't charged for anything. We were told later by a local that it was even worse than that when he said 'It does sound like you were told the truth at the police station. If you filed for damages there would have to be an investigation and a court date. Because no one was killed it does get placed on the slow train. All vehicles involved would be impounded till the case was over. If they knew or could bribe the judge then you would still loose.' What can I add to that? Welcome to Kyrgyzstan... I guess!?! As you can probably understand we've completely had enough, continued towards Baetov, and met some friendly local kids who decided to throw rocks at us as we rode past... it was a bad day already so why not. We filled up in Baetov, our last fuel stop in Kyrgyzstan and took a track towards the Tash Rabat Yurt camp where we had agreed to meet with our fellow travellers for China. The track was hard work, rocky, steep and with several river crossings, but was just what we needed to get our minds off things. The beautiful scenery was exactly what we needed too. I say track, but it is actually listed on the map as a normal road... even though the locals know it's only open two months of the year and completely impassable for most of those two months... they were in fact surprised we made it through at all. Like I wrote in the previous post: the roads here are a lottery and no map seems to know what sort of road it actually is. I'm glad we did ride it though as we were at least ending our visit to Kyrgyzstan with a beautiful ride!

That evening we did our best to find a quiet camp spot, to avoid contact with anyone. We needed some time alone after what had happened. Needless to say we failed again. Despite being at 3,100 mtr high (over 10,000 ft) and in the middle of nowhere, these people must have good binoculars and thus spot you no matter where you are. It didn't take long before we got our first visit, followed by the second... and the third...! Mike noted that the height we were camping on was comparable to camping on the top of a bloody big skyscraper planted on top of the highest pass in Switzerland...

The next day we continued towards the Yurt camp, stopped at the first one we found who wanted to charge 35 dollars per person per night... and called it a special price! We continued to the second camp, which turned out to be the one we were supposed to be meeting the others. Non of them had arrived yet but we had one day to spare so they would probably come later. We were met by a very friendly lady called Tursunay who not only speaks perfect English but also gave us a very warm welcome. When she heard about our stomach problems she made us a rice soup and a sort of semolina pudding which not only tasted great but cured it!

The best Yurt we found on this trip, comfortable for 6 and complete with a heater!
Fixing a crashed pannier, that's when high quality aluminium proves
hard to bend :-)
We fixed the pannier problem temporarily using probably the most basic hand tool: a rock! It worked. Tomasz from Holan had thoughtfully given us a couple of new nylon corner protectors, which we fitted (Thanks mate!) and we then waited for our fellow travellers. At the end of the day we had seen one, riding past to the monument at Tash Rabat first, planning to return after. It was only when he was at the monument that someone alerted him to more motorcycles being further on... Apparently there was another Yurt camp, which they were aware wasn't the one we had agreed on to meet and yet they had decided to stay there without informing us... Good start, I thought. It was embarrassing too as Tursunay had prepared dinner for all 6 of us of course... Meanwhile Eric was the only one willing to come back to inform us about this change of plan... and also said we should leave early for the border the next day... 'But the crossing isn't tomorrow but the day after!', we replied. Checking our paperwork again we found at some stage the date had been put forward one day... something we had both missed! We had a very enjoyable evening at the Yurt camp we stayed at and very much enjoyed Tursunay's company and her fascinating insight into Kyrgyzstan's history. We certainly stayed at the right Yurt! Tursunay can be found on The next day we rode into China, on which more in the next post.