Thursday, September 10, 2015

Entering Kyrgyzstan

Someone recently called it Adventure Riders Paradise, others said it was just gravel. We also heard that virtually all roads were asphalt and in good condition... and quite frankly that last remark (the 'good condition' part) would be very welcome. Having rattled through Kazakhstan for 4,500 km, I was 'in' for a bit of decent road. Nothing special, just one where you could take your eyes off the road surface for a minute... and look around you, instead of continuously scanning for holes etc. Well, we were in for a surprise...!

The last section to the Kyrgyzstan border was one of Kazakhstan's finest. It was so bad that we were riding next to the road again as this was simply the better option. It meant we had to take a couple of river crossings but that was fine. The other option was bone breaking stuff.

Leaving Kazakhstan was another fine example of the Kazakh government making it more complicated than necessary. Even though we had left Russia when we entered Kazakhstan, they still needed the declaration we had filled in when entering Russia... We have no idea why as it was a declaration which stated we would also take the bikes out of Russia when we left. We had left Russia and thus handed in the declaration when we left Astrakhan. 

There was a lot of confusion. The Kazakh officer needed a form we didn't have and also didn't make any sense for him to ask for. Imagine leaving Mexico, at the Belize border, and the Mexican border guard asking for a declaration that we had left the USA... I grabbed the paperwork for my bike and found the Russian border guard had put the declaration back in there... pfhew. The Kazakh border guard was happy, and we were happy that we could leave... but we still have no idea why it was needed. 

The formalities at the Kyrgyzstan border were simple. We had to pay 4,000 Tenge each for them to fill in the paperwork (which is rather hefty) but apart from that no problems. They opened the gate for us and we finally entered the land who's border we had been riding along for a couple of days now... and found ourselves on the worst road imaginable...! What an improvement... It didn't last long though, a couple of kilometres later we came at a T-junction and found the main road we took from there, even worse... Butchered up 50 year old asphalt covered in course gravel, rocks, holes, cracks and full of corrugations...! Luckily that didn't last long either, about 50 km or so. From thereon it was actually quite good. The occasional bone shaking sections and 'repairs' seemingly performed by a couple of toddlers with a bucket and shovel, but apart from that nothing drastic.

Getting some basic groceries proved to be a bit of a problem, plenty of shops but no money exchange at the border and no ATM anywhere... 'Where do these people get there money from?' I wondered as we rode through village after village without a bank or ATM. When we did finally found one and went 'shopping' Mike thought it hilarious that what I thought was cream cheese, turned out to be butter...! Since when does butter come in small round plastic tubs and in 10 different flavours? They even had walnut butter...! The 'strawberry yoghurt' turned out to be some sort of artificially flavoured smoothy and the bread looked and tasted like it was made from sawdust... Enjoy your lunch :-) It made us realise that Coca Cola is one of the few things you can buy world wide and actually know what you buy!

Believe it or not, I had just washed it before we left Kazakhstan...
The landscape here is stunning! It felt good to be riding in the mountains again after having been in the desert for so long. Kyrgyzstan is also very green... for which it needs rain... which luckily stayed away until later in the evening but then came down in bucket loads. We were riding along the north side of Lake Issyk-kul, which according to some isn't the pretty side, but we wanted to be in Bishkek on Sunday so that we could apply for the visa for India there on Monday. Processing will take two weeks (India officials work apparently very slow...), so our proper exploration of Kyrgyzstan would start on Tuesday while the visas are being processed. The road along the lake is classified on the map as a tourist route. Maybe because there are villages every kilometre where tourists can spend their money or perhaps because everyone seems to be on that road. We didn't find it particularly pretty, pretty boring in fact. The driving is insane and driving standards are poor, very poor. Even an Italian we met at the end of the day said the driving here is dangerous.

We had wanted to camp along lake Issyk-kul but found the north side one big tourist trap, complete with loud blaring music and the like. To make matters worse it was Saturday... We thus steered away from the lake and headed for the mountains for a place to pitch the tents. We thought we had found a pretty isolated spot where we wouldn't disturb anyone. We had just passed a half collapsed bridge with just one narrow track left and thought all would be good... until a Lada taxi drove by...? How the ? did het get across that bridge? And were was he going? Turned out there was a farm on the other side of the hill we were camping on. Three more cars passed but no-one seemed bothered.