Lost Highway

If I ask you to name 3 countries you’d like to visit in the world I am sure my next destination would be in everyone’s choice. Yes, sorry to make you jealous, you guessed it right, Tajikistan. Seriously when I planned this trip I had 4 main destinations in mind: Nepal, Myanmar, Papua and Tajikistan. Only Papua will have to wait for next time as it is quite expensive.

The closest village to the border on the Kyrgyz side is Sary Tash. That was my 1st  goal and I started hitchhiking from Osh. As the traffic is very little in these areas almost any vehicle would stop but they may ask for money sometimes. Among the lifts I got a truck driver bought me lunch as I helped a bit to load some stuff and I went with a fat-ass sheep on the back of a lorry.

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When I finally arrived to Sary Tash at 3 pm locals told me no vehicles would go to Tajikistan that late and a friendly one invited me to his train car where I slept and was offered lots of kumus (the delicious fermented mare milk I so much like) along with the usual tea/bread/butter/something else which makes for the nomads diet. The surroundings where very pretty.

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Next day I went to the police control post to wait for someone to take me. A soldier gave some food and told me to take a nap at their bus and he’d let me know if something shows up. After 3 hours the first vehicle going on my direction came. Two guys in a Kamaz carrying food to sell at a Tajik bazaar. We agreed a fair price and departed. Other travelers told me I was quite lucky, it’s common to wait much longer there.

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The road next to the border

We spent 3 hours at the Kyrgyz border side as they had to bribe a lot of agents to go through. They were pissed. On the Tajik side they just gave some food to the officers and all sorted in 10 min.

I love remote border crossings but this one was probably the best in my life. The shitty road, the altitude, the cold and all those police-soldiers around… It was more soviet than this

After the border we kept going. The truck was breaking every few kilometers so the guys had to get down to fix it. I started to feel real sympathy for the two poor fuckers. With all the adversities they still managed to  arrive on time to Murgab for the bazaar making a record time of 18 hours for 200 km.

sunrise
sunrise

Murghab is like an ugly dog, you like it because you pity it. It’s a shithole in the middle of nowhere, no trees God knows how many kms around. One interesting thing to do there is to ask for the internet. Everyone would send me from one place to another. At the end the route ends always in a place where an old man with a Kyrgyz hat (it’s him!!! I found it googling for kyrgyz hat, he was even wearing the same jumper, amazing!) will say ‘nyet’ crossing his arms. You won’t get online, you have to drive 6 hours for that, but you will know well the village and its friendly folks.

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My favorite part of Murghab was the bazaar, a bunch of containers that work as shops, all with the same stuff, a good place for stock on biscuits for going trekking. My friends were there with their truck, so was another friendly man giving me lots of apples any time I was passing by.

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Do You Speak Russian? Da, Vodka

So finally I managed to leave China and get to Kyrgyzstan. On crossing the border the color of mountains changes completely from brown to green. What the Chinese did to the grass? I told you they are planing something…

Not 2 minutes I was in the country a lady introduced my into its fine culinary delicacies. She gave a few hard-rock cheese balls. I am not a big fan of diary products but those are especially bad. And to help downing them nothing better than kumus, fermented mare milk that tastes even worse than it sounds. Apparently it is very good for your health and if you drink every day a bit from the same animal you will be very strong. I’d rather die.

The journey to Osh was long but the landscape pretty. From there I took a 12h night shared taxi to Bishkek, as everyone knows, Kyrgyzstan capital. When waiting to fill the car a big lady who could speak some English kept telling me I will help you, come. So she took me to a shop where we have a few vodka shots till we departed.

On the way soon we stopped by a shop. The lady said to me Come, I buy water. And she did buy a small bottle of water… and 2 beers… and a bottle of vodka. Here vodka is drunk with no mix and when a bottle is open it must be finished. So all people in the car where having shots and even sometimes dancing to the loud music.

When I waked up in the morning, still with the taste of vodka in my mouth the landscape on the road side was amazing, with all the Kyrgyz topics there: green hills, snow capped mountains, horses, yurts

I spent 5 days in Bishkek mainly dealing with bureaucracy to get visas, a pain in the ass in this area: no problem with Tajik and Kazakh but as expected for the Russian computer says ‘nyet’.

Bishkek is a pleasant leafy city and a good example of soviet architecture: big avenues, lots of trees and parks, big squares and monuments, lots of cement and of course some pretty KhrushchyovkasApart form that not much to see/do.

Bishkek
Bishkek

Once the visas were sorted I took another shared taxi back to Osh in order to tackle the Pamir Highway. About 30 min after leaving Bishkek the driver stopped next to a shop. I knew what for. I would be surprised if people buy apple juice, but there was no mistake, it was party time. They brought a bottle of the fermented potato juice which was quickly downed with some sausage and bread. Then another pit stop to get the 2nd vodka bottle. Again there was loud music, same tunes, and some dancing. Check the song below, it will may you want to drink vodka instantly.

I thought that transport prices in Kyrgyzstan were a bit high for Asia but well, not that bad as they come with free vodka, food and Russian lessons. Vodka, connecting people. If Ryanair and the Erasmus program are the glue of Europe looks like vodka was the one of the Soviet Union. Any shop here has a bigger choice on vodka than on food, starting at $2 a litter and you can get a shot in any street kiosk.

Difficult choice
Difficult choice

And if vodka is inexpensive donkeys are cheap as well, starting at $50-$60. Think about how many things you can do on the cheap in this country: getting a donkey drunk, drinking with a donkey, riding drunk a donkey, riding a drunk donkey, go clubbing on a donkey, ask for a visa at the Russian Embassy for a drunken donkey…

More Bishkek
More Bishkek

The Legend of Drunken Master

China was not on my travel plans, but it was on the way from Indonesia to Kyrgyzstan. The country is huge, which meant very long train journeys. I tried to book well in advance but still couldn’t manage to get any sleeper.

Train food. If you tell me you have been to China and haven't eaten one of this I don't believe you
Train food. If you tell me you have been to China and haven’t eaten one of this I don’t believe you

Apparently sleepers are like jobs in Spain, to get one either you need contacts, a lot of luck or s*ck c*ck. When you spend a full painful day sitting on a train you will realize the one-child policy was not such a bad idea as there are not that many little devils around compared to any other Asian country.

Sometimes a standing ticket can get you a better spot than a hard seat
Sometimes a standing ticket can get you a better spot than a hard seat

One thing that makes difficult to travel the country is the language barrier. English speakers in China are like girls at my University, almost do not exist and if you are lucky to find one better keep your expectations low. Trying to learn even the basics in Mandarin is hard work, if you don’t say things in the right tone they won’t get it. Even if I tried to repeat what they said it was wrong. I wasn’t even able to learn the numbers. I sticked to survival basics: ‘Are you Jackie Chan?’, ‘is your friend Jackie Chan?’, ‘is that guy Jackie Chan?’, ‘where is Jackie Chan?’. As well, when they asked questions my answer would always be ‘yes’. If they kept looking as it wasn’t a ‘yes/no’ question I’d say ‘Jackie Chan’.

5 mins working at the monastery, more than a monk in his whole life
5 mins working at the monastery, more than any monk in his whole life

And people just don’t get body language. You may be at a restaurant pointing at someone’s food and they won’t get you are hungry at just want the same that dude is having because it looks delicious. The waitress will keep asking you a lot of questions while you insist on pointing at the food saying ‘this! this!!!’. By the way Chinese food is amazing, only Tai can compare.

Man fixing my broken shoes.
Man fixing my broken shoes in Xian

During my time in China, I couldn’t update this blog as WordPress is blocked. Facebook is blocked as well which was a key factor in Chinese economic growth during last years as people at office actually do work instead of posting what they eat. I understand they decided to block some pages as FB and wp but Pornhub… nazis!

All around the place you can find the portrait of chairman Mao at houses, cars, money… as well as statues

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There are lots of people everywhere and many huge cities. And they are building lots of houses and other stuff. Sometimes you will see them constructing in the middle of nowhere. I don’t know what they intend to do but looks like they have a big plan.

Chinese copy everything, they even made a table version of Windows Mahjong
Chinese copy everything, they even made a table version of Windows Mahjong

The Bicycle Diaries

I really wanted to do the Karakorum Highway on a bicycle and in Turpan I met another friendly tourist who had the same idea and could speak some Chinese. We hitchhiked from Kashgar to Tashkurgan. At a checkpoint the police officers were asking cars to give us a lift. The driver asked us some money and as it was quite late we agreed for a fair price.

Some water on the way
Some water on the way

Next morning we rented a couple of so-so bikes (made in China…) in Tashkurgan and found a truck to take us to the Kunjerab pass, the highest border in the world ad 4800m. We cycled back to Tashkurgan in one day. A Tajik family invited us to their house to have some bread and yogurt. The journey was tough but the area very pretty. At night my ass was feeling as if I was living in an African jail. I looked around town for meat with Clembuterol to recover but couldn’t find it.

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Cheating

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The second day was the most difficult as it was mainly uphill. We slept with a Kirgiz family at their yurt by the beautiful Karakol lake. I was badly sun burnt despite of using a 30 factor sunscreen.

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For the 3rd and last day the road was quite easy but long, about 200 km. It was very hot. I drank 6 liters of water without peeing. It took me almost 13 hours with breaks, tough my mate was much faster. When we finished we were very tired, sun burnt and with pain in any possible part of the body. Anyway it was worth it, the landscape was amazing and the experience great.

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The Flying Spaguetti Monster

From Gansu I took a 25h train to Turpan, again hard seat, sweet… On entering Xinjang province you start noticing big changes on people. Wide-eyed Han Chinese leave place to Uighur Central Asian moustache faces. Goodbye Jackie Chan, hello Borat. Uighur women colorful gypsy style dresses are pretty cool.

Turpan is a pleasant town with some streets covered by vineyards.  Apart from grapes, melons are delicious as well. There is a really nice ruined city to visit. Turpan is 150m below the sea level in the middle of the dessert, the hottest point in China, an oven, usually over 40C. I got 44C! Good any shop sells ice cold beer.

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Another 24h seating on a train took me to Kashgar. This was probably the worst one, very hot inside and no water available, a nightmare. The main attraction in Kashgar is the animal market, not so special.

Sexy sheep, that’s an ass
Sexy sheep, that’s an ass
Happy donkey
Happy donkey

From there I did the Karakorum highway on a bicycle but that will go in the next post. When back I wanted to cross to Kirgizstan on a Friday but they told me the border was closed for the end of Ramadan so I had to wait till Monday.

I could see the end of Ramadan celebrations in Kashgar. Shit loads of people praying everywhere around the Mosque. Actually there were only men and by their praying position one could think it was the gay pride getting craaaazy.

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Releasing  a few pigs in the middle of that religious mayhem could be good fun.

Note that these are just stupid jokes. I don’t want to offend Islam and get people burning print outs of my blog. I just despise it same way I do to other false religions (Christians, Buddhist, Jews…). I hope one day everyone will praise the Only True Awesome God, The Almighty Flying Spaguetti Monster.

His Awesomeness
His Awesomeness

One interesting conversation at a shop, in Chinese:

–          Beer? – me

–          Muslim – shop keeper bringing a hand to his chest

–          OK. Julio… – me, bringing a hand to my chest – …Beer?