Our nine day stay in Tashkent was full of travel-sickness related incidents. For your sakes and mine I won't divulge the specific details, but when we cycled away from the city I was feeling more tired and drained than when we arrived. It's a tough part of the world to be ill in, as there are constant visa-related time restrictions that need to be adhered to and one can't simply decide to stay in one place until fully recovered. It doesn't help also that food hygiene in Uzbekistan didn't seem that high...walking around the bazaar was an interesting experience, but one that could have quite easily converted me to vegetarianism...if there weren't such a dearth of fresh fruit and veg!
So, we 'cautiously' pedalled away from Tashkent and reached the border crossing the same day. The Uzbek border control guard seemed keen on drawing out the process of our departure as long as possible and asked a host of pointless questions (considering we were about to leave his country). The passport control officer slumped on to his desk with head in hands when we approached his little booth to have our passports stamped. I couldn't hide a bemused smile at his apathy. To be honest, I think he was just a knob!
So we approached the Tajik side of the crossing with a little apprehension and anticipation of more ex-soviet nonsense! We were greeted by a child in soldier uniform: gun slung, far too casually for comfort, over his shoulder! We completed our info documents (which were stamped without any checks!) and were beckoned into the country with big smiles and fields of sunflowers!
It wasn't long before we were flagged down by a policeman..."Here we go!" I thought. Passport check and more questions about what we were doing in Tajikistan...but no; we were invited to join him and his colleague for watermelon and a friendly chat! On leaving, he popped open the boot of his patrol car and presented us with an entire watermelon to take with us! Maybe Tajikistan wasn't going too bad after all?!
In all truth (and perhaps you might think "I've heard this before") the people here are some of the friendliest we've ever met. Genuinely. We've had teenagers join us for lunch (bearing the ubiquitous watermelon), drivers stop to give us bagels, bread and, err, watermelon and one lunchtime we were invited...no...ordered, to join a group of men for tea. This turned out to be a two hour feast of (freshly slaughtered) goat stew, beef kebabs, bread, tea and, of course, watermelon! We had a great conversation discussing the cultural differences between Tajikistan and the UK and were completely humbled by the generosity and warmth that we were shown. If I can incorporate just a small degree of the benevolence that I've experienced on this trip into my life then I will be a far better human being for it.
We currently rest in Dushanbe by the way! It took five days to cycle here and we crossed two passes on the way. Well, we actually passed through two tunnels which saved us a few hundred metres of climbing each time! The first (Shahriston) tunnel was superbly lit, ventilated and paved. The second (Anzob) tunnel was horrific! As soon as we arrived at the entrance, we were invited to strap our bikes to the roof of someone's car and ride with them through the tunnel. We had heard stories about the conditions lurking within and had no intention of cycling through (we were going to thumb a lift on a truck), so we gladly accepted the offer! What followed was one of the scariest 15 minutes of my life! The car, overloaded with seven passengers, two bikes and 80kg of luggage, bumped and scraped its way through the fume-filled, 6km void. Water flowed freely from every conceivable crack, the road surface was more like a lunar landscape and there were rocks, boulders and piles of rubble everywhere. A breakdown wouldn't have been funny. We emerged on the other side, possibly more relieved than I've ever been in my life!
Unfortunately, I haven't yet managed to shake of the illness that I picked up two weeks' ago in Tashkent. Cycling with all the symptoms of giardiasis hasn't been fun and, at times, has been painful and debilitating. Without wanting to sound like I'm whining (although I probably am!) wild-camping and a very restricted diet hasn't aided my recovery. Yesterday morning I awoke feeling ill and sleep-deprived and just broke down. This stage of the trip just felt incredibly hard and remote and more than anything, I just wanted to be at home and have a big hug from my Mum. Ashley had to endure my slightly embarrassing 'I-feel-so-sorry-for-myself' rant and managed to lift my spirits enough to make the final two hour ascent before a long downhill into Dushanbe.
We are due to leave Dushanbe tomorrow and head towards Khorogs and the Pamir Highway, where five 4,000m+ passes await us (no tunnels this time!) before we reach the Chinese border. Physically, I'm not currently in a fit enough state to tackle mountains of that magnitude (although at least 7 days cycling currently separates us from the big passes). Ashley and I must now weigh up our options and decide how best to approach the next stage of the trip. I know I will (hopefully) soon feel better, but with the deadline of entering China before July 28th ever in our minds, the clock is ticking!
In many ways, Central Asia has proved, to be a topsy-turvy old place!
Love and hugs. X