I have crossed into the little known state of Kyrgyzstan and have reached the city of Osh. It has been a while since I’ve been in a dirty developing city, the Pamirs are certainly behind me now, I don’t like it. The fumes, the fumes, the beeps, erratic driving, the pedestrians – especially the stupid ones who step out into the road without so much as a sideways glance or the ones who push their prams, baby included, out into traffic as a mode of clearing a path, they all make for an unpleasant finish to the day. Not helped by the fact that I’m pretty knackered after only one day off since crossing the Caspian Sea nearly a month ago and even then that was a post incontinence recovery day. Wasn’t this supposed to be a holiday?
There is a Brit in the hostel travelling by motor bike who asked me if I’m worried that I am going to fast and missing things. Last time I checked motor bikes are a touch faster than pedal power, “yes but I can take stops,” he says. Well I can appreciate a good view and an alfresco luncheon by a mountain lake. But I have found him stopped in Osh of all places, there is a reason you have never heard of it. I also met an America who is more to my taste, yes an American.
What did you do when you left school? Me, I went to the small Greek island of Kos with the ladz; we drank, swam in the sea to wash the hangover away and if I recall correctly there was a spot of cross dressing involved as well. This fresh faced seventeen year old has travelled from Minnesota in the U.S of A, taught himself some pretty passable Russian using Youtube, flown to the little known city of Osh, bought a motor bike (he doesn’t have a licence) and its travelling through Central Asia on his tod on a whim. His parents and girl friend together with the hicks in his home town are baffled as to why he would want to do such a thing. I think he will be able to recall his exploits better than my week spent inebriated in Kos, I feel like I missed the biscuit on that one. Well done him, that’s assuming he makes it back home.
For various reasons I’m about one week behind schedule and with a short window of opportunity to cross Russia I have had to take the decision to hitch a ride. Why the Russians so generously have permitted me just ten days permitted passage I don’t know. Plus I need to get my Mongolian visa in the city of Almaty, Kazakhstan, it could take a good five days. It was a tough pill to swallow, a blip in my route map through Asia, but once accepted I am fine with it; its all part of the “journey” (he says pretentiously). I was delayed in Tbilisi whilst waiting for the Chinese consulate to issue me with a visa and my pesky friends came to visit me in Istanbul meaning I was not making the miles. My friends forced me to loiter in Turkey, sabotaging me, they forced me to drink far to much and have to much fun at the expense of my schedule. Damn them!
The drive behind this drive is to reach Mongolia in time for the big summer festival, the Glastonbury of Mongolia, men wearing brightly coloured underpants wrestle to the death (well until their opponent is on his back), prowess in archery is demonstrated and equestrian skills for which the fierce Mongols are famed as the jockeys aged six to ten race their steeds and the adults to. My ego and bragging rights are a sacrifice worth making to catch The Naadam festival.
Who knows I might meet future Mrs Morris as I hitch north, a Kazakhstani truck driver by the name of Kausar, with the fine features and physique you would expect from a fine lady baring such a name. Or I might have a crash, rolling a record number of times down a steep mountain side as the family car into which I find myself squeezed over shoots a hairpin turn, crashing through the barriers and bursting into flames but not before ejecting me with nothing more than a mere scratch and a touch dizzy; a miraculous story to tell. Hopefully the hypothetical family don’t suffer to much in the inferno.
Sods law is that as I sit with my forehead pressed against the cool glass window of the car, is that I could have skipped the dull desert rather than this annex of the Pamir mountains; passing pristine lakes perfect for camping and an evening skinny dip, climbing more snow capped mountain passes and sweeping down knuckle whitening descents I cant help but be a little resentful to the fact that I am stuck in the sauna on wheels and not with the wind blowing through my beard. The good thing is that I am clear still raring to cycle and not over this riding continents lark yet.
Jackpot, I’m squeezed in next to a women with two ample melons, unfortunately she is roughly one hundred years old and her melons are down at her feet, literally the floor of this vehicle is full of the large green fruits. The drive is without a doubt the most dangerous part of the trip I have yet experienced. We unnecessarily screech round progerias mountain bends and overtake lorries on blind corners as the sleep deprived driver speeds to reach the border. The people in this region of the world drive like absolute (insert own preferred profanity) . And my driver is no exception, why he insist on driving like this is beyond me, if we didn’t stop so bloody much we would shave hours off the journey or be able to slow the heck down.
For some reason we stop for tea after just thirty minutes; lunch after an hour, for an hour; literally ten minutes later we stop to splash our faces in a stream; next its a wee stop for the toddler; and the final straw that nearly makes the vain pulsating across by forehead explode is when we screech to a halt leaving a cloud of smoke behind us to purchase approximately twenty large water melons. I’m pretty sure they sell them in Bishkek, the final destination, that’s if I were to hazard a guess. To fit all these bloody fruits in the car we have to unpack the entire vehicle and load up these awkwardly shaped fruits.
In the grand scheme of this year missing a 1000 kilometres here and their so no big deal, I’m at the 15,000km mark and have one or two more to go. Its just a shame that it had to be in this mountain scape, I perhaps should have skipped through the droll desert stretch in Uzbek. You know what they say about hindsight. But I’ve got to get this Mongolian visa, they are a real faff to get hold of, and the Naadam Festival will be a highlight. In Almaty, passport in hand, I head to the embassy where I am met by a pretty surly officer as he opens the gates first thing, who subsequently evicts me from the embassy after just thirty minutes passport still in hand, so much for rush and the faff, there is a visa in it now.