Friday, September 15, 2006

Canyons and Beaches

Leaving Almaty we have an extra day to spend before we can cross the border, so we decide to go for Charyn Canyon, south-east of the country.

Pretty boring roads on very flat country, with people on the side of the road selling various things. Just like in Russia, they seem to all sell the same stuff at the same place. It's 20 booths selling grapes, then in the next village 20 other booths selling just honey, then maybe only red peppers and later watermelons. Weird.

We stop on our way in a small market and eat a shashlyk for lunch. Then we reach for Charyn Canyon, where many Kazakh go for picnic on that warm Sunday afternoon. We were supposed to pay an entrance fee but the guy at the gate just let us in, another case of discrimination in favor of those crazy bikers!

We ride around taking pictures from above and find the way into the canyon: a very steep and very rough trail with deep holes. No big deal coming down, just pretty bumpy, and a very scenery ride down between the cliffs until we reach a river and set up a very comfortable camp. I go back up with an empty bike at sunset to do some video up the trail, and it was a bit tricky but made my way without a hitch.

The next morning the weather was excellent, and we left for the Kyrgyz border. We just had to climb up the canyon, and what was OK with a light bike, was very different with a fully loaded one! After a first missed attempt and I try again with a bit more speed, but with the baggage hanging behind the from wheel doesn't hold ground and I tip it over. Unfortunately it falls down on my foot, and although the boot took the worst of it, my foot will end up pretty bad at the end of the day..

The bike also took its toll, with a broken strap, a broken clutch handle and a dented petrol tank. No big deal, I was carrying a spares and the petrol tank will do just fine like that. The good thing about the human body is that it fixes by itself with time; it's fine when I'm riding the bike, it's the walking that's painful, so it's OK.

After a very easy border crossing (10 min on each side, very friendly border guards), the landscape changes from the dry steppe of Kazakhstan to grassy, tree-bordered fields. The road is in worse shape than in Kazakhstan but mostly sealed. Welcome to Kyrgyzstan!

Reaching Karakol, we decide to spend a day here so that I can heal my foot. I just sit in the hotel reading a book while Anders organizes the trip into China with Ali, it seems the paperwork can be done in time, so that's a good thing.

The next day we leave for Bishkek, following the northern shore of Issyk-Kul lake. We stop on the way in one of the many beach resorts, and it turns out to be one of the most expensive one.. We bargain our entry at the gate (first they asked 10$ just to let us in..) and bask in the sun on the very nice sand beach. The water is clear and warm, even at 1600m elevation. We leave barely resisting the temptation to eat lunch at the club house, but 8$ is a bit too much. We end up buying a piece of bread on the street and eat it with cheese and chocolate insted.

Time to leave for Bishkek, and after a getting my first speeding ticket, thanks to the radar-gun maniac in a downhill turn (76 km/h instead of 60, $2.50 "straf"), we land in Bishkek in one of our usual soviet-style hotel with stinky toilet and almost-functioning shower.. Next step is to get our Tajik visa. After a couple phone calls I had the LOI sent to us directly by e-mail, we print it and jump in a cab for the embassy; the next day we have our visa!

It's been a bit cold and rainy here, and we can see the snow has been falling on the mountains surrounding Bishkek.. Not a pretty sight when we think about the 3500-m pass that separates the north from the south of the country! Well, we'll just go and see how it looks. Or another possibility would be to detour to Naryn to meet with some Landy friends of Anders who we just missed in Karakol.

After a bit of planning, we found out we should be able to leave Dushambe for the Pamir Highway at then end of the month (!) and have enough time to be at our rendez-vous on October 10th at the border with China. Weather and embassy paperwork permitting, of course.


Blogger Erik Andreas Jörn said...

hey there,

awesome blog,makes mine look pretty amateurish ( am now in ub about to follow your trail. if you get a chance, send me a mail at also, how do you get the video on there? i have some cool video footage i'd love to post. happy/safe riding,

erik andreas

1:39 PM  

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