Europe is over, Turkey is over and Iran is over, but the Silk Road still continues (a bit unexpectedly from the initial point of view...) It's maybe just crazy to get into Central Asia in the middle of winter. Well, I don't know what is exactly crazy since Central Asia is the place where you can never complain about whatever the governments may or may not do to you. I chose it myself and I know for sure that it will be a great experience as well and this is exactly what I'm looking forward to. So, let's get right into it.
In the morning Ahmad came to the apartment to bring my breakfast with his wife. What a nice guy.
This region of Iran in principle consists of deserts. Nevertheless it may rain like today, though it was not a big problem since it was just showering rather than pouring down.
There were a lot of couch surfers in Mashhad, though there were not so many who wanted to host me due to the tight police control just as in Yazd. However there were two of them who still dared. One of them, Foad, had his brother in Neyshabur which is just before Mashhad, where I could not find anybody. Nice. Sorry I forgot to take a photo there.
On the way to his place I dropped in at a small shop for sweets. The young guy running the shop apparently wanted to talk to me and he offered me a place to sit for a while, though obviously he just wanted to tout the sweets. Actually I'm getting the feeling that in this region the people are a bit more like him in contrast to other regions of Iran where they really wanted to help me. Or am I just making a beautiful past out of my trip in Iran?
For Foad it was the first time to use couch surfing. It is by the way a bit hard for people who don't have a reference to get a guest or to be hosted by someone due to the question of trustworthiness. So often I intentionally try to meet people who haven't got any reference so far to give them the honorable first reference.
Next day, Foad's brother was gone when we woke up. I didn't notice anything because I was simply too tired in that moment. Everyday I sleep like a log after a whole day of cycling. Foad was to travel back to Mashhad by bus so I departed early in the morning. It was a clear blue sky like my head during the whole day. Of course again there was no city no village on the way just some small settlements which are partially abandoned like the one on the photo. If I come back to Iran once again I will put my tent there and stay for several days without doing anything.
So, Mashhad. The last big city in Iran. There's another city called "Qoochan" which reminds me of a celebrated Japanese beverage my parents liked for a while because of its main character. From there I will to go to Turkmenistan. In this case I will not be able to go to Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan which seems to be extremely interesting because of the design mainly created by the dictator of that former USSR country. What a pity but maybe next time. (I don't think I'd be able to go there after this trip because it's very complicated to get a visa for Turkmenistaafter this trip because it's very complicated to get a visa for Turkmenistann...)
Finally one photo of Foad. In this gigantic house he lives with his parents and sister. The size of the houses in Iran is one of few legacies of the golden Persian empire I suppose. At least people in this country try to get the highest quality of the world. It's just a bit painful to see it because they do not have as much fortune as they used to have until forty years ago.
Following day, the city itself interested me as well but I really needed pedals for my bicycle and a string for my guitar which sprang out when I was in Sabzevar. I actually had a set of strings but they somewhat desappeared. I remember some moments where there were some kids touching the guitar bag so probably they took them away. Well, it doesn't matter so much anyway.
Do you see teddy bears on the photo? It's apparently explained that they are toys for children but in reality everybody knows that it's for Valentine's day. The problem is, the current government does not like this kind of stuff, because it damages the tradition of Islam where the parents are meant to look for the bride or the groom and the couple sees each other for the first time at the wedding? or something like that. It's a kind of blind dating which is a bit more exagerated, let's say blind wedding. Anyway, it's strictly forbidden for an unmarried couple to walk around together or touch or whatever, though it was a bit less dramatic because of the elections which are supposed to be held in June this year and the government does not want to make much calamity. Probably after the elections it will be strict again, they say.
Again, the American dream. KFC is something that could survive the offensive of the government against America because McDonalds has been completely torn down some twenty years ago I heard. There was one guy who tried to import it to Tehran and there were government supporters who were a bit more numerous at that time and they crashed the windows etc. I don't know exactly what happened. The owner then changed the name to SFC I think. You can still find chain shops of SFC in Iran with McDonalds inside.
This is of course Iran. Whenever there's a shopping mall there's at least one shop for wedding dresses. I don't know how often Iranians want to marry. I could have made a collection of photos for shops for wedding dresses after living here a while in Iran though I started rather at the end. Some people told me that since girls must wear black outside, they carry this kind of stuff inside regardless of whether or not it's a big event or not. Their frustration is balanced like this?
A European style bakery. According to Foad it's very famous in Mashhad and it's very successful so far I heard though inside was not very European (sorry no photo) with a lot of industrial stuff which does not really look European. It doesn't matter for Iranians now. If it looks European, it's sufficiently good.
I could have asked them if I can stay one more day but I also wanted to visit Diyako who organized a place in Sabzevar.
Diyako was a student in Geology but due to the military service which lasts by the way 21 months now in Iran and after the Iranian new year it will be 24 months (and before it was 18 months). He's now looking for a place for his Ph.D. for which there's an exam in Iran. This sort of issue is a bit complicated in Iran. I'm lucky that I'm now living in Europe (Japan, US, GB are also a bit complicated I find...) This is by the way his sister with her son on the photo.
And this innocent boy was playing on playstation when I arrived at their place like games like street fighter or sonic. They were my games when I was maybe seven years old... At that time the games were really interesting and sophisticated. Where's that good time...
Also for Diyako and his family it was the first time to host someone at their place though they seemed to be happy to have a visit. However, clearly they did not know why I was there because they asked me how and where I met Diyako etc. I had to explain a bit everything because exactly in that moment Diyako was not there. I hope they understood what I wanted to say :-)
Did I tell you that Mashhad is a very special place for Muslims? I don't know anymore why and I'm not interested in it anyway but there's the Holy Shrine in Mashhad which looks like an attraction in Disney Land. Diyako, his girl friend and I went there together in the evening, though I could not take a photo of the building because it was forbidden. But basically it is a huge mosque with illumination with red, yellow and green which looks like a huge traffic light whereas I was not allowed to whistle "electrical parade" in front of the building because it's a holy place?
There are even people coming from other countries to visit this holy shrine on foot, because it's a holy place? I don't know how the mind of this kind of people works but it's always interesting to see the people crying around the mausoleum of someone. The guy this time was one of twelve Emams who came to Iran for unknown reasons. At least I understood in Iran why Iranians, who speak a completely different langugage than Arabic, are Shi'a.
Then we went to the bazaar nearby to have seen the bazaar. Good, I saw it. Interesting was it.
Diyako explained me how the universities work in Iran. I can make a podcast serie for howstuffworks.com with the title "how Iran works", but anyway in principle its the same as in USA. The only and biggest difference I found was that in bachelor degree around 20 percent of what they do are religion lessons. I was almost freaking out when I had to participate in English classes when I was in Japan (yes, I was at a university when I was in Japan though I don't even know the name anymore) because it simply does not have anything to do with what I wanted to do at the university but Iranians even have religion at university... I don't know what it feels like.
Mashhad - Mazdavan - Serakhs
So far was Mashhad. It was a very religious city in total. But it's not my business. They just do whatever they want and it's fine for me.
The distance to the border was around 200 km. And there was pretty much exactly one village, Mazdavan? or something like that. Of course I could not find a couch surfer there. Even there's no hotel, pretty much nothing. So, what to do?
Anyway, I headed for the city, thinking it's not very far away from Mashhad so I started at noon. Six hours later, I found out that this consideration was somewhat completely wrong. I don't know what was so wrong but one more hour later, I was in the complete dark in the middle of nowhere. Just there were some cars passing by, a situation I had absolutely had to avoid because of wolves and dogs. Some minutes later, I could see lights somewhere near or far from where I was. It was indeed Mazdavan. I estimated the distance to be about 5 km. In the end it turned out to be more than 30 km. This kind of extreme under- or overestimation happens in this part of the world because of the desert. Horrible.
There were however some people offering me a bottle of water or fruits or whatever. Nice Iranian mentality. And the highlight of the day was that when I arrived in the city I could find a fire station where the fire fighters offered me a place to sleep, and this even inside! In the very last moment in Iran what a nice action!
Not only they offered me a place to sleep, but also dinner, shower and breakfast the next day, though when I was about to take a shower one of the fire fighters called me from outside:
"Hey! Don't use the soap!!"
??? Why ???
"Ahmad (another fire fighter) used it. It's dirty. You can use the new one"
Ah, the soap was dirty. Thank you for the warning, I would not have noticed it...
The breakfast looked like this. They didn't speak English at all so maybe the web address that I gave to them was not so useful but I hope they figured out at least how grateful I was for their help.
The road to the last city of Iran, Sarakhs, was not very easy but the beauty takes your breath away.
I stayed in a hotel there even though it was not very dark outside, just to update my website which I intentionally did not do for a while for the fear that it would cause a problem with the police. The internet in the hotel was incredibly slow but it was still internet so I cannot complain so much.
So far was my long history in Iran. Yes it was long, like two months and a half.
I was born in a non-religious family where no one speaks about God. From the Shintoistic point of view, the God is everywhere. In this sense yes. My mother often said each object has a God inside and therefore I have to have respect for everything. But she just threw the concept of "God" into my moral principles so it essentially does not have anything to do with religions. I personally don't believe in God. I even believe in determinism, though it does not really collide with the existence of "God". The determinism just makes it dispensable.
Yet, I still have a lot of respect for Islam, just as I do for Christianity and Buddhism. They make an order which we might be looking for in the contemporary society.
Is the Iranian society creating the order?
The answer is clearly no. This is something that contrasts the Iranian and the Turkish society. You can go to Turkey and see that the people have respect for Islam just as I do but in Iran far more than half the population hate Islam, but not because of Islam. Did Koran say facebook is forbidden? Did it say McDonalds is forbidden?
I'm someone born in a free society, where no one says men are dangerous. I don't really care what kind of fashion others like. Whether they want to carry a scarf or not, it's their decision. However, I don't understand if they say they are doing it because of me. In Islam they say women must carry a scarf because men become phoney or dangerous. Anyway, it was even a big surprise when I heard this story the first time, I don't know how many years ago. Indeed, I might find someone attractive, but I don't become phoney or dangerous because of that. It's like, I find a painting in a museum very beautiful, but if you ask me if I want to steal it or not, I clearly say no, or even more than that, I don't even come to the idea that I might be able to steal it. No, I just find it beautiful. That's all.
30 years ago, there was no satellite television, no internet. For them it was impossible to know what's going on outside of Iran. Now, Iranians know the reality of non-Islam societies and how well it's working. Sure, if someone wants to believe in it, just he or she can do it. It does not bother me that there are people carrying a scarf or whatever, but I'm painfully aware of the fact that Iranians themselves do not believe in it and they are just obliged to follow the rules. Does it really have to be that nasty, the society I loved so much?
Turkmenistan is a country of dictatorship (a statement that is making my re-visit to the country harder and harder, I suppose) so I had to expect a fairly long procedure for the border passing. Yes, indeed, it took a lot of time, but it first started from the Iranian side, which is not much better than Turkmenistan. Chiefly what happened was that the control officer found it too intersting to see a Japanese who spoke Farsi. He just did not let me go. He asked me what my religion was and I said there's no religion in Japan. Then he started to tell me how brilliant Islam is.
"Hey, did you understand how excellent Islam is?"
Yes, yes. Islam is brilliant (which was not a lie)
"So, you want to convert to Islam?"
Well, I'll think about that ... (which was a lie)
When I arrived at the Turkmenistan side, they told me it was time for lunch. The border control of Turkmenistan is a bit funny because almost all of them were clearly younger than 18. They did not seem to know where Japan was.
After the lengthy and tedious control I could finally enter Turkmenistan. It is a country of around five million people so I cannot expect a lot of cities on the way. The photo shows the first railway station where nobody was inside. It was just a very beautiful white building.
A new country and everything is pretty interesting, like this lonely abandoned wagon in the middle of nowhere. What's going on in this country?
By the way, I think I don't need to mention that the very first thing I bought in Turkmenistan was a bottle of wodka. It was a very long while in Iran...
However, on the way, there was a driver who wanted to offer me a cup of water. Ah, ok actually I don't need it but well why not? It turned out to be a cup of wodka. Thank you for motivating me to cycle further...
In the evening, I could be near the first big city, Tejen and in one of small shops I asked if I can put a tent in front of the building. They just said no need for tenting. They had small big tops like this one. Nice.
I did not mention anywhere but Turkmenistan is much lower than Iran, like maybe 600m or 700m lower. So even though I was in the north of where I was it was much warmer there. Hopefully it'll start to be warm when I arrive in Uzbekistan.
The people partially look like me I have to say. Well the guys on the left and right are Iranians but the green guy in the middle is almost far east Asian. I made this photo by the way at a gas station.
I think most of you reading this blog are living in a highly developed society, like Europe or so. When I went to Iran, everyone told me that the roads in Iran are very good. When I arrived there though, I just found out that they were just "normal" so I didn't understand very well what they were talking about. It was just because I was coming from the European side. Well, as you have already guessed it looks completely different if you come to Turkmenistan. It strongly reminded me of the Ukraine (cf. Surviving Ukraine)
And as far as I know the wind is blowing from west to east in this planet in general. But as in Turkey, it was here completely other way round. I think I don't have much luck in Turkic countries.
I still clearly know that I was so amazed when I saw a cow crossing a main street in front of me in Georgia. Later it became my daily life and I didn't really notice it anymore. After all, it might happen also in Japan or Europe. Just I have never seen it. However, I don't think I would ever be able to see a camel crossing the street in front of me again. It was very tall like maybe 1m80? and such an elegance passing from one side to the other like Madonna going from one side to the other side of the stage.
In the evening, I was just before Mary (nice name, though it's pronounced in a completely different way than in English) and since it was already completely dark I asked in a restaurant if I can put my tent there. They said okay. So, second night in Turkmenistan. My hair was getting again a little bit harder than before. My main concern is now the language, because in these former USSR countries there are now a lot of tourists having problems with the local police, not only because of the language but if you speak Russian, you will certainly have less problems of this kind (though Russian is pretty much the hardest language I've ever learned so far, maybe after ancient Greek and Latin)
Mary was a beautiful city, though it was a bit difficult to find a place to change money. If you happen to go to this city and have the same problem than I did, then just simply go to the main railway station and ask where you can change money. The people there were extremely helpful (though it looks a bit weird the former USSR style building with almost nobody inside) and they will tell you where the change booth is. It's actually IN the same building and the ladies in the exchange office were also extremely friendly and kind. Don't try to go to one of the banks in the middle of the city. There you might be confronted with the security guard only to be informed that you cannot change money there.
The current dictator (I don't hesitate to say "dictator" instead of "president" because you can understand the current situation better this way) likes white and gold. The national color of Turkmenistan is green like in many cases in Islam. So in big cities like Ashgabat or Turkmenabat you can see that the buildings are completely white and gold. There must be somewhere Aladin and Jaffar fighting.
For the first time in Turkmenistan the wind blew in the direction I was going to when I just left Mary. NICE!! But it did maybe only for one hour and both the direction of the street and wind direction changed so in total I was again confronted with wind. Probably you can see a clear drop in speed on the map.
As I said Turkmenistan is an empty country. One big problem with this was that there's no city between Mary and Turkmenabat, though the distance is more than 200km. I think it was the first time to have nothing for such a long distance... I was just wondering whether I have to put my tent in the middle of the desert, when I saw a hotel in the middle of nowhere. Aha? It was even a gigantic hotel which you might be able to see probably even in Europe. Hm, ok, I just ask if I can put my tent in front of the hotel, which is actually a pretty hinky action regarding the fact that it's a hotel :-) After a little while of negitiation I could have a room for ten dollars. Cool! It was clearly more valuable than that!
The coolest part of the story was that they were quite interested in my guitar. So, I played two Russian songs I learned in Germany (thank you Yuriy and Eduard) and then they started dancing. Apparently it's very rare to see a musical instrument in this country (as was in Iran). Then they offered me a meal and a bottle of Wodka. I have the feeling that there's only wodka since the beginning of Turkmenistan but why not? I said, just one shot.
In Europe and Japan we use something like metric units. In the United States maybe imperial ones. Well, the definition of "one shot" is nowhere defined. It's just depending on the understanding of the people. In Turkmenistan, obviously, "one shot" is equal to "one glass". Doesn't matter how much alcohol in it. "Just one shot". And of course the people in this country can chug it down in a flash.
After this shot, I was almost lying on the bed, though from my leaving consciousness, I could see one of the guys pouring another glass of wodka. It was the moment that I realized how fine the Iranian society was and how different it might be just by crossing a border going to the USSR. (back in the USSR! You know how lucky you are, boy!)
At least the rest of the night was funny and I could sleep quite well. I just could not charge the battery of my iPod and other stuff but since I'm anyway forced to stay in a hotel everyday when I enter Uzbekistan it will not be such a huge problem, I suppose.
Again, the wind was blowing from the wrong direction.
The border control might be nasty, especially if it's Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, both of which excessive controled states. So I wanted to have taken a shower before giving any bad impression. Initially I was planning to do it in Turkmenabat but it doesn't make a big difference if it's a day earlier or not, was my first thought.
Just before the city of Turkmenabat I could find a small shop in front of which I was allowed to put my tent. This night was by the way VERY cold. I don't know how cold it was but it was clearly under 0. It makes sense since I'm just going to the north. Fortunately, I will probably not stay in my tent in Uzbekistan and during the day it's quite warm in this region so it doesn't really matter, hopefully :-)
Without knowing what I looked like I was preparing myself, putting my tent together when there was a guy who was an inhabitant of the district and he invited me for a cup of tea. Well, I don't have a lot of time but it's a nice experience to have a bit contact with locals and I also wanted to speak a bit Russian which I didn't do for quite a while (though I don't speak Russian sufficiently anyway...) The small kids obviously saw a foreigner for the first time. What a shame that young people in this country do not forcedly speak Russian and it was much more a shame that I didn't learn Turkish at all when I was in Turkey. It would have been helpful not only in Turkey, but also in Azerbaijn, north of Iran and this region, all the -stan countries.
Anyway, I went to the local market of Turkmenabat to spend all the manat I had, where I met a guy who lived in Göttingen for a short while to learn German. Aha, interesting. He helped me to negotiate prices and what specialities the city had etc. But the main point of the history is that, now I see that I was completely black after one day of cycling in Turkmenistan, as you can see on the photo. What a misery.
I had estimated the total distance of 5km between the border and the place where I slept. In reality though, the way to Turkmenabat to the border control is long. It's actually not very far away but heavily winding. And it turned out to be more than 50km... Great initial estimation.
The border control on the other hand was not as tedious as I was expecting. On the Turkmen side again there were a lot of young soldiers but one of them helped me to process all the necessary documents. It's often like this if you travel all over the world by bicycle.
There was just one document on the Uzbek side, which I know is quite tricky: when you enter Uzbekistan, you must declare all the cash you have. At your departure, you do the same thing and if you happen to have more money than before, you will have a hinky problem (and according to other tourists you must be well prepared if something like this should happen to you because they'll check everything) The reason for that is simply Uzbekistan doesn't want to let the precious foreign currencies flow out of the country. So I checked once again the exact amount of money I had.
The distance between the border and Bukhara, the first city (UNESCO at the same time!!) was indicated as 97km and it was already 3pm. Hm ok, it's impossible to go there. However, as I probabaly wrote above, you MUST stay in a hotel in Uzbekistan, though the law says that you must be registered if you are staying for more than three days in one city so technically it's possible to go to another city every three days without being registered. Well, apparently the Uzbek authority doesn't let it go and the amend at the departure might be more than 500 € (however, it's quite questionable whether the fine is really going to the state. So far I heard stories varying between 0 to 5000 dollars without any official declaration)
Anyway, I don't want to be involved in any problem in this country. I was anyway cycling because there was no choice than try to go to Bukhara. About 10km away from the border, there was one taxi which was heading for the first village I don't know how it was called. He picked me up there saying, he doesn't need money for that because he's just going back home. You must be very wild to put a bicycle into a usual car. Uzbeks can do it.
Well, we arrived in the village, then he asked me if I want to go up to Bukhara for 40 dollars. The distance was still about 60km and apparently the oil in this country is way more expensive than Iran or Turkmenistan, like 2 dollars a liter. It's as expensive as in Europe... After a small negotiation, we agreed on 20 euros. Well, it was a very good guy so far, but actually he didn't want to drive to Bukhara himself but another driver who lives in Bukhara. And this guy was a bit dodgy since when we arrived in Bukhara, he chose pretty much the most expensive hotel in the city and refused to go to another hotel, saying all the hotels in Uzbekistan are like this. At the same time, I was not well informed of the situation in Uzbekistan, though I decided to take another hotel. It was a very cold night I almost thought I would take the first hotel for I don't know something like 50 dollars? No, no. I just go a while and I would certainly find another one.
I just had to ask some passers by to know the cheapest hotel in the city, Nasruddin Navruz Hotel. It was not very far away where I was and one night was around 12 dollars. Fine... Usually you should negotiate the price in this part of the world but I was way too tired to talk about money in that moment. I just took it for two nights.
So, I don't know anything about Bukhara but let's get to the UNESCO city. The first thing I had to do was money. How to change it. It's actually a little bit like in Iran where you have the official rate and black market rates. I just thought, if it's like in Iran, I just simply go to the bazaar and try to change money there.
At the bazaar though, it turned out that no one wanted to change money with me or they said a much lower value than the one I saw on wikitravel. Especially in shops for electronic appliances I had problems though I suppose they need a lot of dollar. Hmmm, why?
Actually they changed the law last year and it's now illegal to change money outside of banks, which means technically you MUST have it for the official rate. I don't know how the Uzbeks get money in this case but the black market rate went strongly down since then. What to do?
Well, there are not so many ways to get around so I changed it for a lower rate than I wanted to. It's just a bit dodgy since I know I have to stay in a hotel every day so I'm obliged to spend a lot of money in this country. Well, it's a good thing that I'm here in winter. At least I have another reason to want to stay in a hotel in the night.
In the afternoon I just walked around the city. Since I got money, I really wanted to use the internet first of all. The last time was in Mashhad and it's more or less important to update the website as often as possible and it's much more important to know where to stay exactly in each city because not only in hotels but pretty much everywhere in the morning (like at the bazaar) I had the problem that the people tried to rip me off a lot. I'm not very picky but the frequency is very high, I wanted to know where to stay exactly and how much other travelers paid. This is the worst aspect of being a tourist.
By the way, money again. I don't know how much inflation the Uzbek money has undergone but the highest bill in Uzbekistan is 1000 som, which is equivalent to 40 USD cents. So, if you change for example 100 dollars, you'll get a brick of money like this one on the photo. I suppose it's very easy to cheat but the Uzbeks have developed an ultra sonic counting ability which they train at the age of I don't know when. Anyway, it's impressive to see the skill.
I was just walking around the city when there was one small girl spoke to me in Japanese. Well, interesting. It turned out to be a student in tourism in Bukhara and she was learning Japanese and Korean because there are a lot of tourists coming from these countries, according to her. I have never heard of anybody going to Uzbekistan but it's very nice to see someone who speaks at least English. We walked around and went to the same bazaar again because I needed some more stuff for the further trip. Her English ability was a bit poor but I'm always glad to see someone trying to make themselves comprehensible.
At the end of the day, she asked me whether I can stay in Bukhara one more day. Well, I know that I need exactly 11 days to go to Osh, Kyrgyzstan and I have around 18 days in Uzbekistan though I don't need to wait because I don't need a visa for Kyrgyzstan. Anyway I decided to stay in Bukhara one more day because she told me she would show me the city. Ah cool, I didn't think that I would be able to find anyone who could show me around in Uzbekistan but I then simply thanked her and went back to the hotel. According to wikitravel it was the worst hotel in the city but I found the staff there pretty friendly, though the owner, who didn't speak English, was a bit rude.
Following day, I went to the rendezvous point at nine, as promised. I waited for twenty minutes. She didn't appear. I know that it's a bit complicated in this region between different genders, as Yuriy, a friend of mine at the university who is originally from Uzbekistan, has indicated. Maybe she told it to her mother and she thought it's too dangerous or something like that? Well, I don't really care. It's not like I had seen everything the previous day so I just walk around as usual.
Bukhara is a city where the cultural stuff is more or less naturally preserved. So if you go to the city center you can see a lot of historical buildings that pretty much look like Iranian buildings. Well, it was a part of the Persian empire so it's not very surprising that not only the buildings but also the people actually speak Persian as a native language. Now, tragically enough, the fruits etc. come from Iran because they are much cheaper over there.
I took more than 100 photos on this day alone so I definitely need to develop something like a slideshow.
The huge carpets are obviously sold like this in Uzbekistan. I hope you can see the size by comparing them with the entrance (?) of the building.
After the lunch, I continued to stroll around, when the girl from the previous day suddenly appeared in front of me. She told me she went there 9:30. So we just missed each other? Anyway she apologized and we walked together.
After visiting another bazaar she told me there's a very special touristic place near Bukhara and we should definitely go there. We then took a marshrutka. In the marshrutka though, she asked me something if I'd pay her if she explains the history of the building? I was not sure what she was talking about but I just thought she wanted to say I should pay the marshrutka. Hm, ok it makes sense and it anyway doesn't take so much. When we got out of the marshrutka, I asked her again, if she wants to get money or I should pay the marshrutka. She said just marshrutka. Hm ok.
Unfortunately I didn't understand so much from what she was telling about the site but well it doesn't matter so much :)
After we went back to Bukhara, she asked me:
"So, can you pay me now?"
Well, evidently I didn't misunderstand her. Just she didn't speak English sufficiently well so I could not make her understand that I'm not interested in historical monuments that do not have anything to do with the local life.
I wrote this story in a very hostile way but for her it was the first job ever as a tourist guide and I know that she tried to explain me the stuff as well as she could there. After all, it's just a pity that we didn't understand each other but in any case I think she was more or less innocent. It's just a bit weird that we became a kind of friends and she demanded money. I gave her 4 dollars. Hopefully she'll speak English enough well next time :)
In the evening, I thought about the amount of money I have. It's not much, but I will probably not be too short of money anyway. The thing is much more that I was just wondering, if there are ever people interested in donating to this kind of project? I'm not a kind of person who needs a lot of money in life. Only when I had a girl friend last time who lived in France and I lived in Germany, I spent a considerable amount of money but otherwise, I'm not interested in sumptuous stuff or high quality devices. So it was much more out of interest, that I created a button for donations on my website this evening, because I have never donated to a project like this. I personally don't do it, but are there people around ... ? On the other hand, I also wanted to officialize the fact that Shadi gave me 100 euros when I was leaving. I didn't feel bad in that moment but I want to substantialize this fact. Well, I'll report it to you whenever any result is there. (And most probably I'll create a section for the list of these people then) Anyway, it'll have more a symbolic meaning than a materialistic one.
At the market there, I could buy as much as I could, though 2kg of apples were completely gone before the departure. I think I should rethink about how to coexist with apples. This was by the way appropriately enough the plastic bag I got for my bread.
As I wrote somewhere there are much more people in Uzbekistan than in Turkmenistan. Especially the region I was in was heavily populated. There are therefore always big cities in good distances. The city I was heading for was not a historically interesting city but it was said to have a lot of hotels, which totally makes sense considering the Silk Road.
I arrived in the city of Navoi in the evening and I found out that the hotel I was looking for was quite far away. There was an old man though who wanted to help me there to find a good hotel. He then took me to a hotel which had just opened one week before.
The guys working there, who were by the way about at the same age as I and spoke English as well, told me it would cost 25 dollars. Hm, sorry too much. They just didn't know to negotiate because the owner clearly was not there at that moment and it was probably the first time. They seemed to be a bit puzzled by the fact that a Japanese doesn't want to pay 25 dollars. Well, I did have 25 dollars but I explained that I'm now traveling from France to Japan by bicycle. Obviously, it impressed them a lot. I said I would put a good advertisement on my website and we agreed on 17 dollars.
If you ever visit Navoi, you should be well informed that the other hotels do not seem to offer a room for a lower price. Well, the staff there were extremely friendly (which is really not often the case in Uzbekistan) so it's not a bad idea to visit the hotel, Navoi Plaza
The distance between Navoi and Samarkand is around 170km. So it's one day and a half. Samarkand is by the way again a UNESCO city so I want to stay there a little bit longer. Does it make so much sense to stay in a small city in between and throw away one day? Since I was also a bit tired of negotiations I decided to go to Samarkand in one day. So I got up early in the morning and made them make the breakfast at 7am. A great thing in Uzbekistan is that the people also drink coffee and the staff in the hotel were also willing to offer it to me all the time. Nice.
The way to Samarkand though was not as simple as I had hoped. The main problem was wind. Actually headwind is blowing every day since the beginning of Turkmenistan. So, it's been quite a while (and you can also clearly see it on the map with a sudden drop of velocity) though I could catch a farmer tractor going with 30km/h and behind it I could drive with the same speed.
And of course on such an occasion I get a flat tyre. More precisely, I accidentally destroyed it myself. I wanted to pomp a bit more air inside and it broke. Stupid French nozzle.
I don't know what was so wrong with my calculation (Google told it to me!!) but after 170km I was still 20km away from Samarkand. And it was completely dark outside. I'm now a bit used to it but I was still a bit afraid of wolves. There was one car which stopped in front of me.
The car driver, Alexander, was a student in Samarkand and spoke a bit English. We put my bicycle onto his car and went to the hotel together. Wow, I thought nothing like this would ever happen in Uzbekistan. I immediately booked a room for two nights. I was way too tired to do anything in the evening.
Sometimes I feel like a teenager in this trip: I can sleep so well. It's not like I could not sleep well before but when I start to sleep I can sleep to the end at the moment. And there's nothing like bad morning. Anyway at the breakfast I met other guests who were working as doctors without borders in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, curing tuberculosis there.
I could not really see the city from the car but Samarkand is actually a very modern city. In the middle of the city especially there's a place called Registon which is entirely restored and it looks so artificial. Now it's just a tourist attraction though :)
Like in Bukhara I made an infinite number of photos but I was to be honest not so much interested in the cultural stuff they prepared there. It was neatly done but I think I'm forty years too young. And every attraction cost something like 3 or 4 dollars.
To see a bit of local life, I went to the central bazaar. Also I needed something to eat for the way.
I don't know how many people have ever noticed but the contrast between Iran and Uzbekistan is sometimes quite strong. In Iran, everyone is really excited if you speak a little Persian. In Uzbekistan on the other hand, everyone expects you to be able to speak Russian, which is by the way way more difficult than Persian. And if you don't, you are an uneducated person. You are crazy if you speak Russian in France.
And you can feel pretty lucky if you are not ripped off in Uzbekistan. Not only at the bazaar but also for example in museums they say whatever price. That's probably the reason why nowhere they write the price.
Later in the afternoon, I bumped into the doctors without border in a café. They told me they spent bunch of money at every site, though they apparently found it pretty interesting.
One very nice thing in Bukhara was that the hotel I was staying in had a very friendly staff. It's run by a family and the both sons spoke good English. According to wikitravel they are willing to sell beer in summer and I think it would have been really fun to drink with them. The WiFi didn't work on my computer but via cable I could finally update my website again. In Uzbekistan, there are still people who even don't have the old-fashion email address. They can use their phones and they told me it's enough. When they are at home they watch TV whereas there's nothing than Russian channels, which I personally find are not so bad. At least I find the news channels much more interesting and informative than occidental channels (let alone Japanese channels). Just the programs showing Russian children adopted in USA have been ill-treated which were very popular when I went to the Ukraine last summer were gone. Probably because the Duma made the decision to forbid the adoption a few months ago.
So, up to Tashkent. And I think it was the hardest days I really didn't have luck: First of all I started too late in the morning. I don't know exactly why. Maybe I found the hotel simply too comfortable. If ever I come back Samarkand (which is very unlikely I daresay...) And just after starting I noticed that the headwind was still blowing, probably more strongly than before. It's been 10 days boy...
Two hours later maybe, a flat tyre? No, not exactly. I wanted to pump up the front tyre and the nozzle broke. What's going on with the nozzles!? Anyway, it was again a good occasion to replace the tube by the car-nozzled one. So far so good but the tyre fitted so tightly to the wheel that it took maybe 30 minutes to remove it. Well, this kind of stuff is not that complicated, I put everything together. And it turned out that the tube had had a rupture before being used. I don't know if it happened in my bag or it was sold like this but I have had the same experience before, even several times. I strongly recommend you to check the tube before using it if ever you should change it. There's pretty much only one maker in Germany which sells car-nozzled tubes and they sometimes have this problem as far as I know (black and blue package. Those who have been in a shop to look for a tube definitely know which one I mean) Anyway, I had to remove everything again, and put it together. The whole process took almost two hours I think.
Obviously, my reparation was not enough. The pad I put let go out the air and I had the same flat tyre again. For the third time on the same day. The tight tyre frustrated me a lot and there were Uzbek kids interested in what's going on with my bicycle though they spoke only Uzbek and they didn't stop talking to me. Good boys I think if I had the same flat tyre for the fourth time I would be able to speak Uzbek too. The sun was very low in the sky in this moment but well, what can I do. I just repaired the tyre again and go.
Several minutes later, I found out that the GPS was not working. Hmm? I checked the light. It didn't work either. Apparently I cracked down the dynamo. I opened several parts and everything seemed to be okay. I had to figure out what went wrong for around half an hour when I noticed that I messed up the cable connected to the dynamo. Aha. This took me again much time and when I finished it was almost dark. Well, at least I could solve this problem while it was not dark yet.
I was simply exhausted when I saw a hotel just before Jizzakh, where I wanted to be. Fortunately it turned out to be the cheapest hotel I had had so far. Nice. I could sleep like a log.
Have you ever seen the route between Samarkand and Toshkent? Probably not. So, what's the problem? Actually I don't know what the history of this region was like, but it certainly affected that it has once been a part of the USSR since the route connecting Samarkand and Tashkent is partially in Kazakhstan, entirely out of context. Big time. Other Japanese tourists told me there's no need for a visa. Okay, cool. I'd try to continue to Tashkent then.
On the way there, there were two cars full of students from Tashkent. They spoke decent English but they told me it was the first time to see a foreigner there. It's kind of weird that the people in this region have never seen a foreigner. It's the Silk Road!! Well, they told me I just had to continue to Tashkent and there's no problem with Kazakhstan.
However, the police at the border told me I must have a visa to cross the Kazakh region. So senseless... Please look at the map to understand how futile it is, isn't it?
So I turned around to go to Gulistan, without really knowing what kind of city it was. It turned out that there's actually only one licenced hotel which was senselessly expensive. So, fellow cyclists, if ever you have the possibility to go to Tashkent from Samarkand or other way around, do it. There's no reason to stop by in one of the small cities. It's even more frustrating when there's someone actually inviting you to his or her place. Мне нужна регистрация!!!
These guys helped me to find the hotel. My hair style indicates how windy it was this day.
The lady at the reception told me she speaks English.
"Just ayn moment"
This was the only phrase she said in English, probably partially miscomposed in German...
Following day, in the morning. I had a very very bad feeling with my bicycle:
"bong, bong, bong, bong..."
Where is this noise coming from? Well, not only the noise, every time the whole bicycle was quaking. Hm, actually I had the same feeling for several days but I thought it was just due to the bad state of the road. But it was the first day that was not windy and I could clearly feel the speed and therefore the coupling of the quaking and the speed of the bicycle. Something is twisted:
I was almost freaking out. I mean, if it's something like a flat tyre, it's okay. I can just fix it. But it was clearly something like a deformation of wheel. What to do?
I checked the rear wheel and I found out that the rim of the tyre was partially trapped between the tube and the wheel. I let out the air and pulled out the rim and pumped up the tyre again. Mission completed. It probably appeared far too strange to the locals, a Japanese boy in the middle of a normal street being in raptures.
I could arrive in Tashkent quite early since it was finally not windy on this day. On the way to Tashkent, there was one boy who spoke to me. I don't know what we were talking about but at one point he said:
"... but you don't behave like a Japanese, why?"
Well, maybe I'm German inside. At least there are many people who tell it to me.
"So, you mean you are someone who butters the croissant with a piece of cheese on it and spreads it thickly with choco cream?"
!? ... ah, maybe I'm not that German... (though meanwhile I'm a bit used to spreading bread with butter and Nutella at the same time...)
Actually there was one couch surfer in Tashkent who wanted to host me. Well, officially I have the right to stay in a city less than three days and then I don't need a registration. I can dare it. The only problem was, I could not contact him for more than 5 days because the internet in Samarkand did not work properly. It was also three days too early but I just hoped he would be there. I directly went to the district, Parkent, and I could find the street fairly fast, but it's agonizing to recognize which building has which number in Uzbekistan. The majority of people don't know anything about that. Finally, I could find it and he wasn't there. (Just to finish this story: following day, I found out that he had seen the message I wrote to him and tried to find me in the street. Apparently through the SMS that I wrote him I ejected him from the apartment...)
I then asked around. Actually Tashkent is a very famous city among travellers for the pricey hotels. I just simply tried to go to the hotel nearby. 60 dollars.... It was more than frustrating since I know that I went to this hotel after taking this photo, which indicates it was 10pm... I knew that most of the hotels would cost more than 100 dollars per night. How hinky...
I noted at least a list of cheap hotels in Tashkent. The cheapest one, which was a family-run guesthouse, was pretty far away, but I decided to go there nevertheless. On the way there there was one café with internet. No useful information but I could at least know the exact position of the hotel.
I know that the distance between Parkent and Chorsu, where the hotel was, was more than 10km. It must have been almost 11pm when I arrived there. It was said on wikitravel that the owner of the hotel is sometimes quite rude, but they were actually quite warm. The mother even cooked an omelette when I arrived, seeing I was completely worn out.
I took a shower quickly because I know that I would not be able to do it after a slight hesitation. Then I sat on the bed. The next thing I remember is that it was morning.
I took one day of break not only to recover but there was another problem but first I wanted to go to the market because I heard that it was 2000 years old or even more. It's always nice to be a tourist.
Flashing fresh flesh. What a wildness. Unfortunately I could not find out which part was 2000 years old.
Tashkent is more or less a modern city but you can sometimes see Soviet buildings. NICE.
After the market I went to the same café as the previous day, to fix the problem I spoke of: do you know the visa policy of China? Actually Japanese citizens do not need a visa for a stay of less than 15 days. But in my case it will clearly take more than at least one month since I've got to do more than 4000km alone in China. So, I will definitely need a visa, for 90 days if possible. But the visa for 90 days is issued only in Japan or Hong Kong. It's way too risky to send the passport to Japan by post because I'm sure the post will lose it when it comes back to Kyrgyzstan, where by the way I can stay without limitation, though passport control there is not less than in other CIS countries I imagine. Hence, I will need my passport in Kyrgyzstan while staying there as well, I suppose. So, what to do?
Of course I can get a visa for 30 days in Bishkek and try to extend it somewhere in China. This possibility though contains the lotto that actually the extension procedure is quite dodgy in China and therefore you cannot know beforehand whether it's accepted or not. If not, you've got to fly. It's not like Iran where I could have quickly cycled to the next country. And it's very hard to extend the physically non-existent visa of 15 days. First of all, my entry will be refused since it's clear that I cannot go anyway in 15 days with my bicycle.
I discussed this issue with a friend of mine, who is by the way Chinese herself. I looked up language courses for Chinese in China which may take at least more than 30 days which might require a visa for more than 30 days, therefore 90 days since there's nothing in between. Well, it was too expensive. Apparently there's quite a number of people in this part of the world confrontated with the same problem, as my research revealed.
I considered seriously to stay in Kyrgyzstan for several years, in order to wait for China and Japan to cool down the stupid issue they are discussing violently for several weeks, though I know that it will not be solved in the near future, but at least I know that Myanmar and India will be connected by 2016 so I would be able to cycle to Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and to SE Asia, which will probably take I don't know how much time. ("which will probably take I don't know how much time" is pretty much the most dense type of text I could ever imagine)
In the end, however, I came to the brilliant idea: I just go to Urumqi from Kazakhstan and I fly to Hongkong from there, which will probably be an internal flight and therefore it will not be that expensive. I looked up in the internet. Well, it's not very cheap but it's not too much. At least less than sending my passport to Japan and back, which doesn't really make sense but I don't ask why. Here, the summary: I'll go to Osh from here first, then to Bishkek where I'm gonna get a visa for Kazakhstan for the transit then to China where I can show the flight ticket from Urumqi to Hongkong and therefore my entry will not be refused. As soon as I get to Urumqi, I fly to Hongkong and get the visa for China for 90 days and I fly back to Urumqi. Excellent!!
I felt much better here. Well, I just took one cup of coffee and I was sitting there more than four hours so I wanted to eat something. Maybe the waiters found me shifty by I don't care. I went back to the hotel and on the way I dropped by at a restaurant. There was something like Ramen. Ramen is my favorite Japanese dish. Did you know that? When I arrive in Japan I'll do a tour where I eat ONLY ramen everyday (probably four times or maybe more) going from Tokyo to Hokkaido by bicycle, though drink is free of choice, I would say. I'm still looking for people who might be interested and want to do it with me.
I told the waiters that I'm cycling from France to Japan. They were literally stunned. It's always good to tell this story in Uzbekistan because they stop ripping me off in this case. The guy here on the photo next to me was especially impressed by the story. We talked and talked for quite a while. Boy, come with me if you are so much interested.
It's not like I hated Tashkent but I know that there's not much to see in this city. And I was a bit tired of being afraid of being ripped off. I was staying in the café the whole previous day but I restarted the journey nevertheless.
Have you ever seen the borders between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan? It looks like as if a three year old boy wanted to draw a line according to his humor in the USSR and it remained since then. I think his humor wasn't as successfull as he hoped. The mountains separating the so called Fergana Valley and the rest of Uzbekistan can be easily connected via Tajikistan, but of course I cannot go there without taking the visa and I would be obliged to get an Uzbek visa as well after that, which means I've got to go through mountains, again...
Before going there, in the city of Angren, I decided to stay, which is apparently the standard route of cyclists. However, I found out that there was only one hotel with licence, which would cost more than 20 dollars. It's more than stupid to spend so much money for nothing (I'm too greedy?). In the end, I decided to take the risk to stay without registration.
Following morning, I got up at 7 and I started directly cycling. The road was horrible, but there were some stops where I could spend time with locals. The people there were pretty nice. Not only they didn't rip me of, but also they offer me tea or cheese or whatever. Actually I don't need to get anything to eat but this kind of people are always nice. Well, maybe there's a different culture in this region.
On the way though, I was caught by soldiers when I was taking photos. Apparently, I was taking photos in a military zone and they told me it was also written 200m before on the road. Well, sorry I didn't see that. I was held for an hour and then they let me go whereas I had to erase all the photos I had on my camera. That's actually the reason why there's no photo between Tashkent and here. It was probably the most stupid and careless thing I have done so far in this trip.
The top of the mountain was, as I was expecting, snowy. What about me? I was sweating like losing all the water I was containing in my body. I took my sweater off and I could see vapor coming out of my arms all way long. Later I thought it got misty but it turned out to be vapor coming out of my face. Lol it was the first time to feel so hot with snow lying around.
At a gas station after the mountain there was one guy who wanted to offer me a samosa. Fergana valley is in Uzbekistan but later I could see clearly that the people were a little bit different from what I saw before in Uzbekistan.
It's really hard to find a hotel in every city in this country. I could find one in Kokand, though it was again quite expensive. And the people don't really negotiate the price. And they promise that the internet works but it in reality doesn't. Well, Uzbekistan is almost over I don't complain anymore. At least I slept quite well there.
The distance to the Kyrgyz border is around 170km and it's a bit higher than where I was. It means I need one more day, though I didn't have enough money to stay in a hotel anymore. I eventually decided to use my tent for the last day.
In the evening, I asked in a restaurant whether I could put my tent in front of it. They said yes so I decided to eat there. While I was eating, all the staff of the restaurant came to me asking what I'm doing. I explained I am going back home by bicycle starting in France. They were visibly delighted to have a guest from Japan. I wanted to do a bit of favor and took out my guitar responding to their request. Well, it was a funny evening.
However, then they said it's forbidden to put a tent there at the restaurant. Hey, what did you promise me!? But the owner of the restaurant contacted a friend of him who runs a hotel. He told me they'd host me for free. Oops, I couch surf in a hotel? Hilarious.
And here we go. The guy with my guitar came to the restaurant and we went to the hotel together. Unfortunately he didn't speak Russian at all but we managed to communicate by pantomime. Younger generation doesn't speak so much Russian anymore here in Uzbekistan. What a pity. The guy behind spoke broken Russian (though way better than my Russian) and was obviously impressed by my trip. He seemed to be puzzled by the fact that I spoke Russian. Hm, it's simply because a friend of mine from Lyon, Jérémy, wanted to get me involved in his mission. In total though, I think he is not continuing to learn it. What a consequence.
They really didn't want money from me. What a happy end in the end of Uzbekistan. The distance to Osh was less than 50km. Slowly slowly I went upwards, nearing Tian Shan, which literally means "heavenly god" by the way.
The border control was much more simple than I presumed. I don't even know whether they checked the registrations or not. Maybe it's not so important if I'm getting out of the country without using an aeroplane.
So far was Uzbekistan. Eventually, I found out that Fergana valley has a very different atmosphere but in other regions you will go nuts after seeing all the swindling business and hostility against foreigners. Well, actually it's not only about foreigners but I think in this country the people sometimes seriously gloat over the misfortune of others. I don't expand on the real context but I think it was a country I would not visit at least for a while. On the other hand though, I was not that depressed to see Uzbekistan as it was, making a strong contrast to Iran, where I felt so sorry for the segregation of what we know in the Western countries and what the reality of the people looks like. Uzbekistan is a country as everyone thinks and not better or worse than that.
At least, I personally know one Uzbek in Germany who is smart and rational. I'm already more than proud of me having him as one of my best friends.
I was WAY more than overjoyed when I arrived in Kyrgyzstan, one of few free countries in Asia. Actually, it was the first time after Georgia and until Japan there is no control free country again, though anyway there are only Kazakhstan, China and Korea on my way.
Kyrgyzstan is a country where one third of population lives below the poverty line but in contrast to Uzbekistan the people seem to be happy. The political situation is not the best but it doesn't matter. The Georgian politics was also far from perfect but it was still a very good country.
And I was somewhat staying in a hotel, since my host, Umar was invited to his parents' place for the national holiday. I took the allegedly best guesthouse of Osh, which had very kind staff who spoke brilliant English.
Following day, before I went to Umar's place, I walked around the city. The city partially makes you feel as if you were in the USSR, as in the Ukraine.
As in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, Japanese cars are VERY popular in Kyrgyzstan. But in contrast to these countries, they don't bother with the position of the steering. They apparently import the cars directly from Japan and they use them. Nice.
At noon, I went to the rendez-vous point. Umar could recognize me easily with my monster bike. Who cannot?
The last time I couch surfed was in Iran (almost like an eternity...). I felt a bit light hearted to be able to do it again. Umar is a very easygoing doctor with a small boy, Aman and with wife, Chinara. He just started couch surfing last summer and he's got maybe 10 guests so far? he told me. Well, I think he's gonna get a lot of them next summer since every cyclist passes through Osh if he or she wants to go to China. After all, it's a relaying point of the Silk Road.
Since it was a Sunday, Umar had a bit free time for me. There was another couch surfer who had contacted him but as Umar's place was full, he was staying in a guesthouse. Instead, we walked around the city together, also with a German guy who happened to be in the same guesthouse. Germans and French are omnipresent on earth. Why? (You can see also a lot of Brits distributed in the world but because of their passports they never appear in certain places.) They told me however, in over-extreme places there are only Japanese. Aha. No wonder I have never seen them.
On the holy hill of Osh, in front of the Kyrgyz flag. I think I cannot be more nationalistic (Germans would freak out if I'd do the same thing in Germany)
Umar told us that the very first couch surfer Umar hosted, Andrew, was coming back from Afghanistan. He's originally from Australia and going from there to Barcelona by hitch hiking, though it's been a year and a half since he started. After having beein Osh for the first time, he went to Afghanistan to go to Iran afterwards, though his visa for Iran expired just the day before he arrived at the border (the visa for Iran allows you to stay for one month, but you must activate it in a given period of time. In my case, I had three months for the activation alias entry) The second try for the Iranian visa was refused without any reasons. In total, he stayed two months and a half in Afghanistan. He was completely ruined he told me during his stay there. To be honest, his exhaustion was too visible when he arrived at Umar's place, quote, "Afghanistan is a place that God has left".
As a matter of fact, this was what I felt when I was in Zahedan.
Kyrgyzstan is a place where even young people are still living in a traditional way, though Chinara, Umar's wife, prepared something Chinese. Concerning the cuisine it looks more and more Chinese.
I don't think there are a lot of people who know what happened in Kyrgyzstan in 2010. There was a serie of clashes between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz. Actually Osh was an Uzbek city but the former USSR allocated it to Kyrgyzstan, causing to create a small diaspora of Uzbeks. I had the feeling that the world is getting more and more peaceful these years (except in Far East Asia) but Umar told me that the tensions between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz are boiling up in younger generations. However, the people here think that the clashes were created artificially, probably by Russia, to aggravate the political situation of Kyrgyzstan. I don't know anything about its correctness so I stay neutral but it's more than stupid to fight against each other here in this poor region between two very small ethnic groups.
You can see therefore a lot of houses in Osh like this one, burnt down during the clashes. I say it in plural but in reality it happened in one night. Crazy.
Andrew and I went to the city center in the morning this day. As I said, Kyrgyz is not a rich country but free. Freedom!! I was too happy to be able to change money in a normal bank (though it was a holiday for banks so I could not change money XD)
Well, so far so good, but this day was a bit overshadowed by the fact that I ate a very strange salad that I bought in Uzbekistan which destroyed my stomach. While I was eating I was almost aware of its rottenness but I didn't want to throw it away. I deserved it?
During my stay in Osh, we talked a lot about the politics. The Australian politics is something quite interesting at the moment since Julia Gillard took office. Regardless of my point of view, Andrew likes Australia. It's interesting to see that most of the travelers like us like their own countries. And most of them don't like their governments.
Both Andrew and I were down on this day. Umar seemed to be upset about our health. Sorry!
Following day, Andrew departed for Osh. I stayed at home to entirely recover from my stomachache. Since the beginning of my stay in Osh, the rain didn't want to stop. Well, I don't really care. I just have to be in Urumqi on March 31st. No restriction no rule. Just relax.
Umar generally works until 3pm so we went to the city center to buy a SIM card and to change money. It's quite straightforward in Kyrgyzstan. There is even no ID check when you want to buy a SIM card. Actually, you can see everywhere in the city a lot of telephone numbers that are displayed on a board. You choose one of them, you pay something like 2 dollars and 90% of what you paid will be directly your charge. Easy, isn't it? What's more, it's incredibly cheap. I think it takes 0.5 cents per minute or so. Anyway so cheap that you will be too German if you feel too concerned. UPDATE: It's 0,02 cents per minute. I think the electricty you need for the phone is more expensive.
Exchange offices can be found also everywhere in the city. Just you must be aware of shifted weekends of usual banks, that fall on Sunday and Monday.
In Osh, you can see a statue of Lenin in the city center, which is the second highest statue in the Central Asia. The people here don't care so much about this, Umar told me.Kyrgyzstan is the most distant country from the former USSR but there's no discussion on whether or not it should be removed or so.
In the evening, we went to a Korean restaurant. In Central Asia, Korea is quite popular. Why? Actually, during the Japanese occupation of 1910 (or was that 1911?) to 1945, thousands of Koreans went to USSR. During the war between Japan and USSR, Stalin presumed that the Koreans would help Japanese and sent them to Central Asia. Now, Korea is anyway one of most popular countries in the world and the effect was even more explosive. NICE!
On the first day in Osh, I found Jägermeister in a supermarket. Kyrgyzstan is a free country so it's not that weird to find it there but this is something Germans can be proud of, I would say. It's in principle the same thing as Ramazzotti but has more flavor, though in Germany Ramazzotti is a high class liqueur and Jägermeister rather for peasants.
Whenever I see a bottle of good liqueur, I always think of the family in Tehran. It's possible to buy a bottle of Georgian wine or vodka, but they don't know anything about good liqueur over there. I think I'll appear with a bottle of chartreuse next time (though I don't think I'd be able to enter Iran without problems after having condamned the government uncountable times)
Do you think it's possible to cycle again the day after Jägermeister? No no of course not. So I decided to stay one more day, saying "Hey Umar! I'm gonna stay one more day!" And I stayed. At least this little boy seemed to appreciate my decision.
It's February. Kyrgyzstan is a peaceful country. A lot of farmers are staying at home. Who in this amiable country would ever cycle then? Well, I just have to be in Urumqi on March 31st so I've got to go... Anyway I went to a supermarket to have provisions for the way. And actually I bought way too much but it's gonna be something like 3600m above sea level so I cannot really avoid it.
It snowed the whole night. What can I do? Madarbozorg would have said "Chikar konam (what should I do?)"
I think I've mentioned it often enough, but the geography in this region looks ugly enough. So many irregularities. I think the surface of the skin of my sister looks like this if I take a microscope.
When I started the trip in the morning it was around 0 degrees. Aha. Anyway I cycled. The faster I cycle, the warmer. I was cycling with almost 30km/h partially.
At noon, it was quite warm. Being a bit relaxed from the weather, I noticed that actually the landscape was pretty beautiful. I think the nature has been preserved from the development of technology so there were still a lot of people riding a horse instead of using a car.
There are surprisingly many people in Kyrgyzstan who don't know what "Japan" is. Most of them find me apparently quite interesting. Some of them make photos, with Sony. Then they go away, with Toyota...
In the evening, there was an alcoholic guy in the street with his car just next to him. He wanted to know where I came from and what I was doing. I neatly explained everything and told him that I was looking for a place to sleep. Then he wanted to invite me to his place. Weeeeeelll, I thought about it for a while, then I thought well, it's probably safer to stay inside with an alcoholic than to put my tent outside, simply because of the temperature.
His name was Sapar and he was actually a bit more reasonable than I thought. Anyway I could stay at his place peacefully. His family was also pretty nice, obviously it was the first time to see a foreigner there, though I think I didn't really look like a foreigner to be honest. I put "Massy" as the name of the village but it's somewhat unclear where exactly was the place because Google clearly doesn't know the place.
So, it was the last day of February. As you know, February has only 28 days. Did you also know that this page was the longest text so far? The winter is almost over. And my greatest concern, Central Asia is also mostly over. I think for the rest I can quite enjoy the journey back to Japan. Yahoo!!!