Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Cycling through Clouds in Central Asia: A Much Better Face of China; Today: 63 km; Total: 2658 km

29 June, 2014

I didn't want to ride when I woke up this morning mostly because of the hardship, the heat, and the monotonous road I experienced in China yesterday. But, this is what it is. You can't have everything desirable in this kind of trip. Sometimes, you have to wait to see what's in the store out of a miserable situation.

I woke up at 5:30, stuffed my sleeping bag into its compression sack, and sneaked out of my tent. It was rather cool, not warm at all. I went back into my sleeping bag again. After a while, I heard Fausto, so I jumped out of my tent, washed last night dishes, and got prepared to the usual morning chores. We had a coffee and then some instant noodles. We eat pasta and noodles alternatively for every meal: cold pasta with vegetables, hot pasta with fortified sauce, instant noodles, and fortified instant noodles. Eggs in the morning is so special.

After breakfast, while we were packing up, a guy came to our camp. We greeted as we usually do with the locals, trying to be respectful and be patient with their questions... they all ask the same questions which, after a while, get boring: they want to know where we are from, where we started and where we are going. This guy did not know any English, so after a few attempts of making each other understood, he kept quiet as we continued packing. When we were all ready to get on the bike, he (with gesture) invited us to his house for tea. We agreed although we were full, but that's why we travel like this: getting to know about people and their lives.

His house was in front of the woods we had our campground. In the house yard, a young girl was washing dishes in a bucket. The guy made his family aware of having guests for tea. Then we were led into a room. I guess it was the guest room.  On the wall, there was a huge poster of a window with the view of an ocean. The window in the poster had curtain too. There were two identical posters of a big bowl full of fruits on each side of the other walls. There was a big green branch hanging off the ceiling. Later on, we found out that it was a plant that smells good. Great idea!

After 5 minutes, our host walked in with a small table. He put it in front of us and covered it with a patterned table cloth. Then came some bread, some Pamir Chai (tea mixed with milk) with a big dish of salad. Our host broke the bread for us, put it in front of us, broke some small pieces of bread and put them into our Shirchai bowl, and gestured us to eat. He did all with outmost respect. We tried to make some conversation with body language. When our bowl of Shirchai was half, he poured some and filled it up. We were really full, but we thought it would be rude to decline the offers.

After the food, we filled all our water bottles manually pumped from their well, and said goodbye to our unbelievably hospitable friends.

Since we started to ride in China, I have heard a lot of cars sounding their horns, many times. I was very annoyed by it. Sometimes, I thought they were angry at us riding loaded bikes on their way. Sometimes, I thought they were cheering us, but today, we realized that there is a traffic sign on some intersections that order the drivers to sound their horns!

Soon, we were riding on a very newly built and modern highway in the mountains, on many parts of which the speed limit was 40 km/h! There was a river along the road, so a couple of times, I washed my head and soaked my jersey to keep myself cool. After a couple of hours, the road turned into huge, long bridges meandering around mountains. Honestly, I firmly think that all those brides were not needed. There was one bridge after another. Is this to show off Chinese new face or what? The road and the bridges looked very new, but the bridges were already crumbling! I witnessed the cement of many parts--scary!

After passing through a couple of tunnels, I saw Fausto waiting for me by the lake we had been hoping to reach and camp by. There were many tourists around the lake after the tunnel. A couple of locals came to us and asked if we would like to spend the night in a yurt there. A man asked 50 won ($8) to offer us a spot by the lake!  We bought some noodles and kept riding to find a spot for camping. There was a fence along the road, preventing people from going off the road to the pastures or to the lake side, but there were some tunnels under the road for water to pass to the other side of the road toward the lake. So we used one of them and found ourselves a beautiful campsite by the lake, away from the road and everything.

I bathed in the lake and had a coffee. The sky was warning a thunderstorm, so we pitched up our tent and started preparing the dinner. Two guys (locals) in a Yamaha motorcycle came to us and had a little chat/body chat. One of them had a very interesting overcoat. It was a very old Chinese army overcoat with stars as buttons. He looked like a Chinese world-war II army officer. 

Friendly Cop

Massive Meandering Bridge

New but Crumbling Bridge

Cycling through Clouds in Central Asia: Goodbye Kazakhstan, Hello China; Today: 115 km; Total: 2595 km

28 June, 2014

At five, my alarm woke me up. I packed almost everything and the tent. Then we had bread, concentrated milk, and some coffee for breakfast. We left at seven before the heat lash us. After 20 km, all of a sudden, the desert gave way to a lot of greenery--tall trees, farms and lots of water. Even the road was very leafy! But again, close to the border, the desert started.

We passed the Kazakh border control without our baggage being checked. It was rather crowded though. We had to wait in a line in heat in the customs building and had our photos taken when left.

As soon as I got out of the building, I realized that I had a flat. The officer allowed me to change my tube there next to his booth. I did it very quickly. The cause of the flat? A bush thorn! I had seen this kind of thorn before. It is amazing how they can penetrate a Schwable tire when even glass has a hard time to do the damage.

The no-man's land on the Kazakh side was very ordinary looking-- some cows grazing, even some people living in that area! In the Chinese side, however, there was three km of road with cameras mounted on every fifty meters and barbed wires on each side: horrifying. The customs officers, though, were very friendly. They took picture with us, and there was a guy who had a big Nikon camera and kept taking many pictures of both of us as we were talking to the officers in charge. On a positive note. There was no other tourists--only us.

We asked one of the officers about the exchange rate and he said, 6.3 to a US dollar. As soon as we stepped outside the border control, many dollar dealers gathered around us. When we asked about the rate, they said, 5 to a US dollar. At last, one of them gave up and gave us 6.2 to a dollar.

We went to a restaurant and ordered noodle. It was good, but we didn't know what kind of ground meat they had used in it! Then we bought a lot of water, some Chinese instant chicken noodle, and took off in scorching sun. After riding for a couple of hours, and looking for camping spots, finally, we had to stop at 7:30 and we found not a very desirable place. There were some trees between the main road and a country road which could shelter us. There also was some running water by a farm. The water was rather muddy, but for smelly, sweaty riders like us, it was good enough to give us a shower. So when it got dark, I filled all my bottles with it and took a refreshing shower. I just hoped all the stuff I had heard about China being reckless about polluting the nature was not true.

When we put up our tent, we saw a Chinese couple walking curiously toward our camp. Later we realized that they were also camping in the trees just 100 meters from where we were. Later, they guy, with body language, invited me to their campsite for watermelon. I loved the idea. I had a lot of it, and took some for Fausto. For dinner, we had some fortified noodle, which means, adding some veggies to instant noodle. I hope tomorrow, China has better roads and people for us; otherwise it would be very disappointing. 

Friendly People

Cycling through Clouds in Central Asia: Ugly Part of Kazakhstan; Today: 90 km; Total: 2480 km

June 27, 20144

I could not sleep well last night either for the heavy trucks passing by although we were about 700 meters away from the road, or for the noisy mice behind my tent. I got out my tent a couple of times and saw really beautiful sky, full of stars. It has been a long time since I had seen a starry night like that.

We were camping in the desert; we needed to wake up really early to avoid packing up in blazing sun. We were on the road by 7:30 after having breakfast. We had a very fast start due to loosing elevation and a gentle tail wind. At 1 pm, we arrived in a village where there was a river. We bought pasta and water, and went to the river bank. How refreshing it was to take a bath in the river. Then a good pasta! But the temperature was really high. We waited until 3:45 to start again. Before that, some kids from the village gathered around us and tried to make some sort of communication. From there on, we were riding in boiling weather and in a desert! The road was also the worst with a lot of bumps.

At 6:30, with no good camping spot at sight, we had to either keep going and suffer until we hopefully find some good spot, or to seek shelter under the shade of some trees and wait for a little tolerable temperature to pitch up our tent. We stopped.

After having instant noodle, we are now trying to sleep. Tomorrow is a big day. We will cross Chinese border. 

The Kids from the Village Paid us a Visit

Cycling through Clouds in Central Asia: From Mountains to Desert; Today: 80 km; Total: 2390 km

June 26, 2014

I woke up to some noise and saw a big dog outside my tent. A little away from the dog there was a farmer with his shovel on his shoulder looking at our stuff. When he left, we started packing. We had breakfast and soon we were on a country road along the canal. After a couple of hours, this road joined the main road. By then, it was too hot to keep going. We stopped at the first cafe and had Shorba and tea. At 3:30, we were on the road again. We were carrying a lot of water because we didn't know when again we would be able to find water. After 19 km, there was a village where we bought some more food and at 6:30, we camped in a desert. It is a an ugly sight: full of plastic water bottles and arid. Unlike last night where I enjoyed a natural jacuzzi, tonight, I could not even wash my face since water is scarce.

Cycling through Clouds in Central Asia: Leaving Almaty; Today: 130 km; Total: 2310 km

June 25, 2014

We had already packed up the night before, so we woke up at six and left the hotel in half hour. After riding for a few streets trying to get out of Almaty's rush hour traffic, we found a road, along the main road and a canal which was not crowded at all. We were expecting some really bad ride going out of Almaty, but this road was surprisingly very quiet and leafy. We enjoyed it very much.

We rode about 40 km when we saw an army officer standing in the middle of the road with a small red flag. He ordered us to go back because there was a shooting practice going on up ahead. Then, we had to bike back about 10 km, 5 km up to the main road, another 10 km east, to be where we were some two hours ago. What a drag.

On the main road, we bought some water and found a place to cook and rest. At 3:30, we were on the road again. We happened to be on some road under construction-- and that meant riding on tar.

At about 6 pm, we filled all our bottles and headed back toward the mountains where we had been in the morning. It was very difficult to ride our bikes with all our bottles full of water up heal. I was carrying 6 litters of water with a lot of food.

Finally at 7, we found a beautiful spot where we could bath in some clean water coming from the canal. How refreshing it was. 

This Dude was going to England from China