Saturday, September 09, 2006

Maintenance and wait..

Already 5 days in Almaty.. and 200km riding in the city traffic! We thought we would spend some time for the visas, and we got one for Kyrgyzstan, even paid a fortune for express, double-entry. But after that we suffered a few setbacks in this department:
- the LOI for Tajikistan was expired, we need a new one and Great Game Travel is really slow on that, so I told them to prepare it for Bishkek and we'll hit the embassy there
- the Pakistan embassy wouldn't issue us a visa if we don't have a visa for the previous country; we can't have our Chinese visa now without a LOI, so no Pakistan visa either
- we could get a visa for Uzbekistan (even with an expired LOI), but we also decided to skip it because we're running out of time (and to save a few bucks). It's really too bad because this country has so many historical wonders to visit in Smarkand, Bukhara and Khiva. I do miss the historical/cultural part in our trip.

Since then we've been busy trying to get spare parts for our bikes, new chains. Finally we had a good deal through Serguey at Silk Off Road, the local motorbike club. The guys there are just great people, very niceand helpful. We already have had a few beers with them, and they explained us how the bikers of all countries belong to the same family and that they were happy to see us visiting Almaty. 2 chains for 320$, that's about half-price from what we've been quoted..

We also need a new sprocket; we had 2 spares, but Anders changed his in Mongolia because the one he had was wearing out quickly. Unfortunately, as he didn't change the chain the new sprocket wore out again in 3000 km. So as it is impossible to find one over here, we had to ask for a mechanic to make a new one, and as we had a spare (new) we could give him a model to copy. It was supposed to take 2 days (a bit surprising), but eventually we got it after 4 days. Turns out the mechanic went to a factory making torpedoes for submarines.. Of course Kazakhstan doesn't have much of submarine fleet being landlocked, but the Soviet Union used to test their torpedoes in nearby lake Issyk-Kul in Kygrysztan, away from American ears and spy submarines. So we'll see if the "torpedo sprocket" lasts as well (or better) than the orginal.

Meanwhile we did the usual maintenance: oil and filter change. valve clearance, etc.. We also had to do some servicing of the clothing: we found a snowboard/motorbike gear shop, and got some replacement gloves (after 13'000 km not much was left of it, and we anticipate some cold weather in the mountains), a replacement rain pant for mine that was falling apart, and rain over-boots (for Anders who was starting to have wet feet under the rain).

On the trip planning, Anders received some not-so-encouraging news from Caravan Cafe (Anders got a new quote from his contact that's no so much better..). It will be difficult for them to organize everything for the 10th of October, the date our visa expires. They could do it for the 20th of October, but that's pretty late in the season: at 4700m on Khunjerab pass there's a 50-50 chance of it being to icy for riding, and therefore mandating a truck to haul the bikes over the pass. The other contact says she can do it in 15 days.. ? that's a bit complicated, with too many contradicting stories from multiple sides.

It just feels wrong to spend 2000$ to dash through a (tiny) part of a country without seeing much of it, merely giving away our money to the communist goverment. And still not being sure to be able to ride the pass if the weather is bad. I'm still in favour of the Afghanistan solution, much simpler and straightforward: go straight south off the pamir highway in Tajikistan to Kabul (this part of the country is fairly safe). That would save 2-3 weeks to the schedule (and mucho $) and give us some time to organize the transfer to Pakistan across Khyber Pass. But the security factor cannot be put aside, and of course I won't push for going a trouble area (both on the Afghan and on the Pakistan side; indeed the Pakistanis seems to refuse the crossing to foreigners, even with an armed escort). So we'll try the Chinese way and enjoy the Sunday market in Kashgar and the ride down KKH!

Personally, I also had a bit of maintenance on my hair and beard, so now I look less like a Tajik moudjahdin back from a party with Ben Laden..

So finally we can leave Almaty, city of easy money and sharp contrasts! Serguey proposed us a ride in the mountains on Sunday, but after Saturday night/full moon party at the biker's club, he's not up to anything! So we leave for Charyn Canyon and will cross to Kyrgyzstan on Monday.


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