Into The World - 2Up around Africa, 2 bikes along the Silk Road

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by mrwwwhite, Jul 27, 2011.

  1. mrwwwhite

    mrwwwhite Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2010
    Oddometer:
    907
    Location:
    Bucharest or RTW
    Thanks for the nice words Viking and for the tempting offer :p :freaky Will definitely love to visit sometime this part of Europe.

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    Cheers Skian. I guess the next posts will have also prove you a little wrong about the motorcycling side :p. Just kidding... we love to immerse ourselves in the culture we are traveling through but in the end the human contact makes it all so real and amazing. Really glad that it's shown in our RR.
  2. mrwwwhite

    mrwwwhite Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2010
    Oddometer:
    907
    Location:
    Bucharest or RTW
    Samarkand... The name is enough to make us dream of giant empires, cruel warriors, but also splendid Koranic schools, traders and heroes. Some of the most celebrated monument of the Islam have survived here the ebb of two ambitions: Timurid and bolshevik.

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    Registon - the monumental ensemble that has urged UNESCO to add in 2001 this city on its aclaimed World Heritage List dominates the skyline of Samarkand.

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    We look at the Ulugh Beg Madrasah (cent. XV), the Tilya-Kori Madrasah (also a mosque) and the Sher-Dor Madrasah (cent. XVII) but cannot walk closer. Because of some show the square is closed, we must comer back tomorrow, so we ride out of town into the golden sunset..

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    We look in vain for a place to camp. Desperate and cold, Ana crosses the street on foot to what looks like a swanky suburban neighborhood. The beautiful face of the woman who is watering the flowers freezes in an arrested grin when she is asked if we can put our tent in their garden for one night. But after the first moments of confusion, she calls up her husband and then she agrees to invite us in.

    Not only that she tells us that we can sleep outside on their terrace, but she also feeds us. Bread, a vegetable stew, tea and candied peanuts are brought to the table by the daughter, who on the other hand behaves as if she is not allowed to talk to us. The boys enjoy a different status -Muzaffar (20) and Mashraf (14) join us for dinner and even get to sit on Ana's DRZ. Would you want one of those? says the mother to her youngest and obviously the bravest of the two sons. Rano is 40 and almost no wrinkle around her beautiful eyes. But her upper arcade is all in gold; we cannot figure out if it's because of bad nutrition, poor healthcare, a quirky sense of beauty or a combination of the above.

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    We have a pleasant night in the open air and we enjoy a light breakfast with our hosts. Now off to Samarkand!

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    We start our visit in a veritable alley of treasures: the cemetery is packed with centuries old mausoleums decorated in some of the most astonishing mosaics.

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    Riding back to Registon, we spot the impressive Bibi-Khanoum mosque.

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    Then we are in awe at the elegant architecture of Registon.

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    Imagine that before the restoration the level of the square used to be a meter lower than today.

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    Samarkand is dense in extraordinary monuments. Like the mausoleum of the dreaded Timur Lenk.

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    Not far from the mausoleum there is Mr. Timur himself. Cast in metal, and still casting its shadow over the destiny of Uzbekistan.

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  3. mrwwwhite

    mrwwwhite Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2010
    Oddometer:
    907
    Location:
    Bucharest or RTW
    This bit of our adventure starts in front of a closed border. 50 km off Samarkand two young soldiers are holding their AK47s in front of us. Wordless. A man comes waving: we learn that this border is not open for foreigners. So we will take a long detour across the southern provinces of Uzbekistan, peaking over into Afghanistan and enjoying a bit of peace and quiet. Because in this stretch of the country there are no tourists and no tourist buses. We can walk quietly in the shadow of splendid mosques and bask in the glitter of the mosaic that covers mausoleums just as stunning as in Samarkand. We can also marvel at the feet of a statue that honors the national hero - a guy whose hands, some say, were dirty with the blood of no less than 17 million of his own people.

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    Soon loneliness starts eating our soul. We take the first chance to stock on dried food: people are selling dehydrated fruits and nuts and something else that looks like little white and pink pebbles? It's kurut a type of cheese that is made by drying in the sun the kefir, so no salt is needed for preservation. The pink variety is rolled in some chilli dust, enough to give a pleasant tingle on the tongue.

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    The landscape more than makes up for the loneliness. Rolling hills are covered in a brisk payer of grasses. Only animal foot paths interrupt this vast expanse of golden green. The few villages we pass appear just as lifeless. Whenever we spot a teenager herding his cattle through the clouds of dust, we are never too sure that he is real, or just imagined.

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    It's so hot. We are both covered in a sticky layer of dust and sweat. Ana stops to have a sip of water and as she is tying the bottle back on top of the tires, some kids come shouting. One of them has Ana's plate number. We discover that she has just lost it a couple of dozens meters down the road. The bike has been enduring this hardcore corrugations for many hours and we were lucky with these kids. As I start mending the problem, a bid crowd gathers around us, just like in Africa. But here there are only men, all curious, a gazillion questions to ask... Do you sell this bike? How much is it? How many cylinders? Whats the max speed? ... etc.

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    While I'm working Ana is entertaining our audience. Everybody requests a photo, but the camera has a strange effect. The faces that were very lively a minute ago suddenly become frozen and timid. So Ana's portraits look rather like official photos for a socialist event, than like some pics taken on the side of the road.

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    I'm done, we get on our bikes, but... the DRZ battery is dead. It's getting late and I'm tired and frustrated with one more problem to solve. A couple of drivers stop over, to check out what is going down. Nobody can serve me any good, there are no cables, no handy man, so I use my own battery to kick start Ana's. When I'm done again and the bike starts moaning, the spectators are more ecstatic than we are!

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    One guy invites us over for tea. He tempts us with Internet connection, but tonight it's not the right night for such interactions. I'd hate to spoil the special moments when we are hosted in someone's home. We are spent, too tired, no energy to enjoy a proper visit. So we skip it, we continue riding farther. As the sun goes down, Ana makes me proud again, climbing behind me a steep hill, from where we can see the entire valley. It's just what we need for a good night sleep.

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    The morning is calm: tea, a samosa. It's just the calmness before the storm.

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    A couple of hairpins up, the road gets nervous and rough, the mountain rockier and the dry river beds even drier.

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    No tree for as far as the eye can see. But what the landscape has lost in diversity, it is gaining in color. The steppe has exploded in dozen of shades of purple, khaki, brown, gold. It's a stunning preview of what's to come: the Pamir and probably Mongolia.

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    In the last chaikhana we are greeted with free tea, a bottle of fresh cold water and hot bread taken straight from the oven.

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    But let's not mistake this day for a fun day. The closer we get to the border the nastier the road is: crumbled, potholes, covered in layers of loose gravel that makes our street tires rock and roll.

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    On the Tajikistan side there's confusion. It's difficult to park our bike to the police liking, but in the end we are rewarded with a handful of apples.

    It's the last kind gesture until Dushambe. The last hundred of Ks to the capital is a desperate fight for centimeters with mad Tadjik drivers, hoping on the horrendous road. It’s a draning task, it’s a daunting ride. Every bit of decent tarmac is claimed by cars, trucks, bikes and mopeds. Nobody gives a rat's ass about rules here. There are no breaks in the mayhem. Oh, no, today is not a good day. Today we'll leave many kids unwaved, many onlookers unsmiled. We just want to make it to the capital of this 6th country alive.

    Tajikistan remains the poorest in the former Soviet sphere, with one of the lowest per capita GDPs among the 15 ex-republics.. It came under Russian rule in the 1860s and 1870s, but Russia's hold on Central Asia weakened following the Revolution of 1917. Bolshevik control of the area was fiercely contested and not fully reestablished until 1925. Much of present-day Sughd province was transferred from the Uzbek SSR to the newly formed Tajik SSR in 1929. Ethnic Uzbeks still form a substantial minority in Tajikistan, a country that became independent after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and experienced a civil war between regional factions in the 90s, and more recently an armed conflict between government forces and criminal groups in Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast.

    Less than 7% of the land area is arable. Actually, drug trafficking is the major illegal source of income in Tajikistan, as it is an important transit country for Afghan narcotics bound for Russian and, to a lesser extent, Western European markets. Because there are no jobs in Tajikistan, more than one million Tajik citizens look for employment opportunities abroad, almost all of them in Russia. We meet them crowding in at the Russian embassy, where we queue on for hours, in no less than 49 degrees Celsius!

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    Most of these things we learn them from our couchsurfing hosts. And man, we were lucky to find them! A charming, multi-talented family of globetrotters and artists. Helene is French, Ervin was born in Romania, in Transylvania's Gheorgheni, where our African Tenere got sold. Thanks to Ervin we are introduced to a spicy concoction brought by him from Romania only a couple of days ago :)

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    Their adorable Adele, who will soon turn 2, is also about to welcome a baby brother.

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    We feel again like home: cooking together, browsing the stunning fresh produce market, experimenting with fruit sorbet (hint: apricot and mint are a great match!). We are not alone: we share our hosts generosity first with a young French couple on recumbent bikes.
    And a few days later we meet a very brave couple, also from France. Caroline and Cedric are determined to walk around the world in 10 years. We have so many stories to share over dinner at Ervin's...
    ...or over a big serving of khourtob. This dish is made of layers of bread, yoghurt, hot melted butter, onion, tomatoes and fresh coriander. The best thing to enjoy while sipping on sour cherry compote!

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    While we deal with visas and socialize with our fellow travelers, we explore Dushanbe. The city is calm and easy, with wide boulevards cutting across a dense texture of residential neighborhoods that make this feel like a village, rather than an urban area. of course the big monuments, the opulent fountains and some kitschy architecture could not be missing!

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    The portrait of the president is scattered around town: the propaganda is aimed at introducing this dude as the best athlete, best scientist and in general the best of its people...

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    Check out this poster that suggests the president and Putin are good buddies :)

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    Dushambe has a few lovely buildings, but the most charming is the old chaikhana downtown

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    In the meantime we are striving to update the blog and tend to the bikes fort the upcoming ride in the Pamir.

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    I meet Andrei, who has a small bike garage in Dushanbe. Noah has been here, and Andrei helps me switch from road tires to knobblies in a snap.

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    After we finish working, Andrei invites us to join him and Dimitri for a trek up on the mountain. After 50 kilometers thru Varzob canyon, we leave the KTM and the mopeds of the guys with a local family:

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    The kids are eager to try on Ana's helmet. Dabilsar, Fezet and Aliser are all smiles as we start hiking away.

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    At the start of the trail, a crystalline water from thawing snows is mixed with the cloudy river that flows south.

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    It is very hot, but we are happy to move our limbs and the landscape makes us think of our home mountains.

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    The exotic detail are the donkeys that carry bags of salt up into the mountain :)

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    Before the climb becomes really steep, there is a lovely tapshan to chillax on top of the cool stream ...

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    Sadly we cannot stay the entire weekend up here. We must say good bye to the guys.

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    We have a meeting back in town with another Romanian expatriate. We also have a lot of work to do: both in the garage and online, as our blog is still stuck in... Georgia. Finally, at the end of ten days in Dushanbe, we start rolling towards the Pamir. Where we are about to experience drought, snow and generosity.

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  4. IVAN38

    IVAN38 Adventurer

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2013
    Oddometer:
    81
    Location:
    Veyrins , FRANCE
    Each of your photos offers me a little of dream...:happay

    Especially change nothing...

    You are my idols....:thumb

    I am jealous:shog

    Thank you for all you magnificent photos

    Continue, please, your road and has very soon
    :freaky
  5. BcDano

    BcDano One Lucky Dude

    Joined:
    Nov 11, 2010
    Oddometer:
    355
    Location:
    Rolling on the RTW
    Love the update! Really looking forward to the Pamir.. :clap
  6. mrwwwhite

    mrwwwhite Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2010
    Oddometer:
    907
    Location:
    Bucharest or RTW
    Cheers!

    Here's a scoop on what's going to come in the next weeks/months :)

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  7. mrwwwhite

    mrwwwhite Been here awhile

    Joined:
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    Oddometer:
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    Location:
    Bucharest or RTW
    (by Ana) I'm, as you well know, a rookie motorcyclist. I left Bucharest less than two months ago with less than 600 km done on a motorbike. By car I have clocked even less, perhaps a little over 150 km, driven more than a decade ago. In May I had zero traffic experience, and I struggled even on a lowered DRZ with my vertically challenged silhouette. But while it is scary, testing myself is also lots of fun. It brings excitement to my life, smashing through the smug facade of everyday routine. As I ride out of Dushanbe to my inevitable apex of motorcycling, the mighty Pamir, I'm still having a blast trying to imagine how this geological trial will go down - the way the rocks will crumble and the waterfalls will thaw, and how my fears and weaknesses of today will be incinerated by doing, while my virtues will be spared.

    John is helping me negotiate the morning rush hour. But after 10 days of rest, I feel less confident. My tongue is swallowed as if stung by a hive of wasps, my limbs are stiff, my left arm is squeezing the clutch while my right index is desperately reaching for the hand brake. Have I forgotten how to ride this thing already? And frankly, this is the worst day to doubt myself. The tarmac provides some sort of comfort only for a few hours of sweaty riding. The last friendly face is of this Austrian girl, who is at the end of her cycling tour along the Wakhan corridor.

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    After we say our good byes, we turn right, off the tar and into the Russian roulette of whatever this next week will bring upon us. There is no traffic to speak of, only a few jeeps pass us, forcing us off the trail. For the rest of the time we are alone, and might I say miserable. I go slow, John goes mad. I struggle to make again the connection that I feel got lost while skype-ing and hiking in Dushanbe. Come on, girl, encourage yourself!

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    There have been quite a few rains lately, so we find the road mushy and damp. Most hairpins are decorated with a slush of loose gravel mixed with sand and in the apex there is usually a stream overflowing into the valley.

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    With every kilometer I doubt that we will make it to Tavildara today. We have chosen this route - called the summer route- because it is supposed to be more scenic and rough. And scenic it is, indeed. About the roughness of it, only my sore bum and wrists can say a lot!

    We stop often. It is so hot and we are sweating so profusely that we are easily drained of energy. If only we could switch to third gear perhaps we'd find some relief in the cool air, but where there are no streams to cross...

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    ... there are steep climbs or rocky stretches to munch.

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    So we must rehydrate a lot, and soon our dried fruits bags that we thought would serve for emergency food who knows where, are visibly dwindling.

    As I remember from Africa, the hardest stretch of a road will be at the end of a hard day of riding.

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    So, in a way, when we see the river we should cross as the sun is setting down, we are little surprised. John passes first. I watch him jiggle and his feet and wheels sinking under the water. I open my helmet to hear the current. It is strong, but not scary strong. Before I could get anymore spooked, I pull the clutch, bring it into gear and slide my bike into the river. I cannot say how hyped I am to find myself on the other side, after about 15 meters of variable depth and rockbed structure. I've made it! I am so excited that I continue on for another kilometers. After I cross a small village John catches up and signals that I should pull over. He tells me that Greg, the French on recumbent bike from Dushanbe and his g-friend are in the village before the river crossing and that he invited us to join them at the guesthouse they've found. It's only 2 euro per person a bed, it's a truckers' joint, he says, and we could use some company. But that means I have to do this river again, and not only once, but twice. I gotta say that this ruins my mood.

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    At the guesthouse Greg and Cyrielle are nicely installed in a shabby dorm. The bed sheets must be the same since the last year and the last hundred of truck drivers, but outside it's damp and soon quite cold, so we'd better stay. While we order a pot of tea, rain starts pouring. It's raining cats and dogs through the night, and none is venturing outside for a pee in the horrendous toilet. The power cut brings some relief from the equally horrendous music playing on TV: it's the national day in Tajikistan, and they are broadcasting the festivities from Dushanbe. Nobody will miss the screechy voice and the queer dancing of the Tajik Michale Jackson impersonator.

    In the morning the rain is on and off. Our group packs up our stuff and ponders the situation on the veranda. Greg is joggling with his wet socks pretending that it's the best day of his life :) This attracts the attention of some local kids, who must think we have lost our marbles.

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    We decide to ride on, the cyclists decide to linger and wait for the weather to improve. Our Rukka gear is awesome. Drenched in showers from the outside, and in sweat from the inside, we stay dry and clean. In our former gear this day would be a nightmare, in this gear it is slightly inconvenient. We pass another couple of French cyclists, and then we hit the ascent. The valley narrows up into a swift mass of rock. Strange flowers dot the mountain, water is surging across the land and we start seeing the snow on top of the pass.

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    We cross into the first GBAO district. The road still shows no mercy and the humid weather keeps at it. But this nasty clay is just what the doctor ordered for our Dunlops.

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    We climb at 3252 m and as we do, the clouds assemble a hazy snow storm.

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    The views must be fantastic on fair weather, but even now its' a breathtaking sight of shadows and light.

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    We are already wearing everything that we have: the warm layers, the wind-stoppers, the goretex gloves. And we've switched on the heating, but it hardly make any difference. Its surely below zero, and we are crunching our teeth and trembling with cold. We stop for a brief photo. The only way back to sanity is down, beyond the pass, so we give it gas.

    As the road becomes curvier, the air temperature becomes gentler. Once we can zip off and stretch our bones, I feel alive again.

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    The second half of the road downhill is all rock.

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    And curves, and hairpins, and adrenaline.

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    We stop in Tavildara to refuel. We were also hoping to find a restaurant where we could have a warm meal. But all we find is this joint that sells tea in a discreet cubicles decorated as if a show-girl will pop from behind the scarlet curtains any minute now.

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    When finally the Pamir's domes come in sight, I am still incredulous. It's one of our most vivid encounters with the vastness of nature. It's a lot for us to take in. We pass another group of cyclists. This time all dudes, who've done the Wakhan. If yesterday I was doubting myself that I could do it, today I am sure that I must.

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    In the thick summer air the distant crests beyond the river Panj appear as a hazy beige shadow, not entirely solid, but a tempting line of reference. Then we ride closer. There is no sign of humans. Looking around full circle all we can see is mountain, extending out in all directions, until it joins the sky. Then we ride even closer, and we see it.

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    The Afghani side of the river. A wonderland. It soon becomes dark, and the people in the village light up their mud-brick houses. We will stop here tonight.
  8. TwilightZone

    TwilightZone Long timer

    Joined:
    Dec 2, 2008
    Oddometer:
    4,176
    Location:
    Behind the Redwood Curtain
    Wonderful stuff !

    >"I go slow, John goes mad. "

    IMHO: Going slow is far better than falling off !
  9. mr.joke

    mr.joke Adventurer

    Joined:
    May 25, 2011
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    Barcelona, Catalonia
    awesome pics bravo !!:clap:freaky
  10. dallastx

    dallastx Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 23, 2007
    Oddometer:
    462
    Location:
    Holland
    Still awesome pics and mucho respect for Ana, riding her maiden trip on her own bike!
  11. mrwwwhite

    mrwwwhite Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2010
    Oddometer:
    907
    Location:
    Bucharest or RTW
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    This is where we camped. It's our first night on the Wakhan corridor.

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    Let us zoom in. This narrow stretch of land lies between Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. What we can see over the river Panj is surely more charming than what we have going on on our side.

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    And it's not what we would have expected to see. Afghanistan is the most beautiful country we have not visited, of course, we are only talking about this bit of Afghanistan. So instead of packing our bags and continuing our journey, we linger for hours, unable to help ourselves from staring at the curious life-show beyond the water.

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    The village is so close. Less than 50 meters separate us from another life, another era. On our side there are still bits of tarmac and soon we'll reach a big town, Khorog,. On the Afghan side we see dirt roads zig-zaggingup and down the mountain and dung fires. As the sun starts illuminating and warming up the valley, the village wakes up. Other villagers show up, walking impetuously from some neighboring settlement. The women wear long purple dresses. The men have their heads covered in turbans, and they are wearing long shirts, wide belts, baggy trousers and vests. It feels like looking back a few centuries into the past. We wonder if the older man who is being invited by that women to enter inside the house could be some respected relative. or if she is cooking for him a welcome meal. We wonder what those two men who have stopped their donkeys on a trail are debating so passionately. The entire mountain is blanketed in gardens. Terraces bear golden crops. And further up there is the blue deep sky, where peaks impossibly steep are powdered with snow.

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    Unfortunately we do not have a double entry visa for Tajikistan, otherwise we would try to get a permit and cross on the other side. We spend our riding day gesturing to the Afghani and gawking at the fabulous landscapes that follow the mighty river.
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    As we cross into another GBAO district, the Wakhan starts really flexing its muscles. But sand it's my prime territory, and Ana is quite entertained by my drills.

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    After we cross the sandy stretch and the river Panj, we meet a nice bistro owner who feeds us fresh milk, fresh kaymak and hot bread. The protein load keeps us pumping until we hit Khorog.

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    We pass many cyclists: Japanese, French, German, Ukrainian, and even 3 Polish riders on 1200 GS, Super Tenere and 990, who may I say have not chosen the best bikes for the job. Actually after Khorog they ony made their way to Ishkashim, then they turned back, exhausted and pissed because of the hard off-road.

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    Khorog is the main hub into the region, where all travelers meet and where the last proper shopping and the last arrangements can be made. Around us, just bare rock. In stark contrast to what we will experience beyond this town, the roads are mostly paved and in good shape. But Ana is spent. She sits on the platform of the only gas station in town. I promise her a hot shower and a full tank tonight. But tomorrow, my darling...

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  12. mrwwwhite

    mrwwwhite Been here awhile

    Joined:
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    Oddometer:
    907
    Location:
    Bucharest or RTW
    True, anyway the Pamir is so beautiful that the slower you ride, the more you take in. We were quite jealous with the cyclists who do slower and richer stints in the region. Not when we hit a steep slope, tho', where we were quite happy to be riding a motor vehicle rather than having to push 50 kg uphill :)
    As for what I said, I must say sometimes I was feeling quite guilty for stalling the pace of our team, as John could have done this astonishing road in a different manner if I was not a rookie. Being so consumed with the riding experience, I also missed some of what the place gives back to the rider. I made a promise to myself to come back one day and ride it again.

    Cheers, riding in Central Asia is the best crash course for a newbie. I was lucky to enjoy different terrain and all weather conditions in one of the most beautiful natural landscapes. I guess it beats doing 200k everyday to work :)
  13. mrwwwhite

    mrwwwhite Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2010
    Oddometer:
    907
    Location:
    Bucharest or RTW
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    The sun proves capricious and cruel: hiding behind clouds, yet fiercely toning down colors and burning our skin. Every single centimeter that remains exposed, hurts like hell. Our swagger is less dashing. Ana's riding off-road reveals my brand new girlfriend: disciplined, focused above her usual morning haze. I feel that this is more than an act of bravery, it is part of her desire to recover abilities that were slipping away.

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    The road is always changing: after the gravel sections that Ana enjoys so much, we hit some patches of soft, deep sand, mixed with glitter-stone.

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    Beyond the angry Panj river, the Afghan trails are no longer wilder than our tadjik road.

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    Luckily the sandy bits are quite short and there are not so many of them anyway. The cyclists must suffer more than we do, having to push their super charged two wheelers across.

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    Back on the gravel, we kick it until we feel a water and pee break is in order. Who is not convinced that these two are the most awesome feelings of relief, has not suffered of real thirst, nor have they sat in a saddle for long enough.

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    Some kids stop to check us out. Their mum soon joins them. Hello ma'am, do you know where we could drink some tea? Tea?? she is visibly surprised; Well, there is no restaurant or tea house around here, she says. But her face lights up. Come, I make tea for you. Rosa is home alone, her husband is working in Russia. Most men do; this is not place for employment opportunities. While their father is living a double life many thousands of kilometers away, the kids keep company to their mother: Dilangez, the eldest daughter (19), Eradj (15), Sheroz (12) and Surajd (10).

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    Their house is a huneuni chid. A traditional Pamiri house, built by the grandfather of Roza's husband. The large room where we are invited is illuminated through a skylight (tsorkhona). The most notable detail here are the four concentric squares that represent the four elements: water, fire, earth and air.

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    The roof is supported by five pillars. This is also symbolic, suggesting the five pillars of Islam, the 5 prophets and 5 Zoroastrian deities. The number of roof beams is about the number of imams and prophets in Ishmael-ism, a shot-off of Islam that is prevalent in the Pamir valley. These people really care for Aga Khan, whose portrait is adorning one of the pillars. So our gift - a photo of the Aga - is received with much joy, Rosa even kisses the piece of paper and sticks it next to the other one. In the meantime the older daughter has prepared a proper feast: black tea, shir choy (milk with a bit of tea and some melted butter) and a large plate of boiled buckwheat. Rosa takes the homemade bread and tears it into pieces, then places them in front of each of us, a symbolic invitation to enjoy their humbling and moving hospitality.

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    We try to think of a nice gesture to thank for this, but no matter what we do, Rosa is one step ahead. We pull out a box of dates, she pulls out a charcoal pencil and starts beautifying Ana. She draws deep shadows under her blue eyes and darkens her eyebrows. Now you look like a Tajik woman, she says. It is fun and pleasant inside, we find it difficult to leave. Outside the riding conditions are brilliant: dry gravel, crazy sun, winding road.

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    In the first petrol station - a hole in the wall with the dubious liquid in plastic cans of course - we meet a cute potential play-pal for our adorable Adele; he older sister who is dealing the fuel tells us that the cutie pie is called. This photo shoot allows me to showcased a newly beautified Ana; wearing tajik make-up that is. :)

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    Once her tank is filled, Ana takes off. Her growing confidence is ever more obvious.

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    We pass the last village on the map until Kargush Pass..

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    The road takes a swift turn uphill; which costs us a DRZ clutch

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    A few tight hairpins later we are treated to an awesome panorama;

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    We climb a few more hundreds of meter. The air is so sharp and cold that it makes our lungs hurt. We decide it would not be a wise idea to push any further, as the weather must be even more harsh as we would draw closer to the pass. We will set camp and see about that tomorrow.

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    While we do our business around the camp, we hear the sound of motorcycle engine. Two bikers on 650 BMWs show up on the trail. The first guy lifts up his arm for hello, but shortly they both disappear behind a curve. Where are they from, why are they in such a hurry? No idea.

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  14. LusoViking

    LusoViking Aspiring Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 22, 2013
    Oddometer:
    30
    Location:
    Copenhagen/Portugal/CA/AZ
    A question about communication - I am curious as you seem to be able to communicate with the locals to a much better degree than most travellers I have known. What languages do you speak and do you actively try and learn the local tongue? You mentioned this in Mocambique I think? It could be interesting to know what languages you resort to in your encounters with locals. From your african travels and Romanian background I assume one of you speaks French - how good is your Russian?
  15. mrwwwhite

    mrwwwhite Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2010
    Oddometer:
    907
    Location:
    Bucharest or RTW
    Cheers LusoViking. More electronic gear failing on us is preventing us from updating our RR as often as we'd wish. So thanks for still tuning in.

    Only in a few countries we found that language is a true barrier - for simple comunication that is. We normally manage to learn a couple of dozen practical words to help us cope with the basic: numbers, where/when type of questions, staple foods in that area etc. Ana likes to write down the new words, so many times when people notice that they start teaching us more stuff. Kids are the best teachers in our experience, they love to play and exchange this kind of info. Making simple sketches also helps,and of course the mother-of-all sign language. Mind you though: not all signs mean the same in all countries! Sadly we eventually forget those basic words once we leave the native territory and experiences dim into just memories. For exemple we can manage a rudimentary Italian and since we have been riding in Central Asia and Russia an even more rudimentary Russian (we love this language BTW! and our parents hated it). We understand quite a bit of Turkish and can handle communication in markets and restaurants. While in East Africa we could do an acceptable Swahili, now we barely remember some words. In Central Asia the easiest language to memorize words in was Kyrgyz, because it resembles Turkish so much. The most difficult was Mongolian. Georgian was untouchable for us.
    After years of travels there are actually only a couple of languages we speak properly: English and French. The others I mentioned cannot serve us enough in more meaningful conversations, except maybe for Russian, and that is largely due to the amazing desire of the Russian people to talk and their friendly curiosity. Our Russian has evolved from a few scattered words picked up from memory of communist era TV to short phrases. Actually our communication skills improve over time along with the level of confidence that allows us to risk making a fool of ourselves and saying something wrong or stupid. It's also up to the local customs: some people are eager to talk and curious about travelers, others are more shy and difficult to interract with. As a rule of thumb I'd say you must try and make yourself understood, learn a few greeting and practicalities and be daring. Ana has her tricks for kicking up a conversation that lacks pizzaz (notebook, games with kids...). In our experience African people are the best communicators: they are all multilingual and have amazing musical ear, they can pick up what you mean even if you say it in a very truncated accent, they are the most forgiving with grammar and they embrace you if you show the minimal willingness to learn their language.
    As a side note, music must be one of the best communication tools: we met a Japanese guy (we talked about him a while nack from Nairobi) who was barely speaking any english, yet he had made some extraordinary encounters on his solo travels while playing his guitar and singing.
  16. mrwwwhite

    mrwwwhite Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2010
    Oddometer:
    907
    Location:
    Bucharest or RTW
    Rain wakes us up. Then a roar of shouting - must be some shepherds passing by. Before we could decide to check out the weather, something hits our tent. So I pull the zipper. A bleak blizzard is consuming the valley, now mountains almost invisible through the fog. My stomach is my emotional gauge and it gurgles as I look around me. Out in the distance, where last night there was bare brown rock, now there's is fresh snow.

    We inspect the tent: next to the canopy lies a wood stick, and about half a meter from the ground the rainfly has been slashed open. The cut is perhaps 5 cm long. We are not happy. Last night we didn't eat anything so hunger is the first thing to tend for. While we boil our porridge and brew our tea, we have plenty of time to feel sorry for ourselves, then regroup and decide on our game-plan. Two hours later we make a move; rain and wind haven't loosen their grip since morning. But the Pamir retains its beauty eve under inclement weather.

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    The anemic sun could fool us into thinking that the day is ending, but it's just noon. We ride carefully, hands gripped on the frozen levers, lips almost blackened by cold.

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    If it were not so damn cold, we'd be on cloud nine. This road is awesome. But happiness... hurts, man.

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    70 kilometers before the first pass we spot a tent pitched next to the road and a bicycle lying next. We meet the owner: a Hungarian who has opted to wait here for the weather to improve. We exchange information about the distance to the next presumable settlement where there might be a shop for food supplies, about who else might be coming this way from one direction or the other. Then we take a hasty photo and wish each other the best of luck.

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    Higher up we are riding in thin air, among the clouds.

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    Nobody still, and we are freezing alive.

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    We are not able to stop often enough to take pics, and it's a shame, cause the landscape changes with almost every bend.

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    So varies the distance to the Wakhan river: it's either far, munching deeper on the bottom of the abyss, or very close, almost spraying onto our tires. Something like this:

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    The road is deceiving: it sometimes feels like we are crawling across a plateau surrounded by gentle hills, but in fact we are hoovering around 4000 meters altitude.

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    We arrive at an unmanned barrier. As we bang and rattle, two soldiers show up, heavily dressed in winter clothing.

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    But only up the Kargush pass, at 4344m, the weather unleashes its doom. It's snowing; our riding gets nervous, we roll on a slippery mix of mud and gravel, taking our left arms off the lever only as long as it takes to swipe the dirty flurry of ice off our visors.

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    Suddenly we hit asphalt. The junction with the Pamir Highway is so unexpected that we forget to take a finish photo, and keep on riding like robots. Then I remember about my GoPro.

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    As we descend we feel normal again. The road is smooth and flat, and there are many Chinese lorries loaded with merchandise. It still feels like we have come from another planet, and at 3863m the village of Alichur does little to alleviate this feeling.

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    Before entering the village we pass two phantasmal creatures: two cyclists, one of them on recumbent bike. We wave hello, then regroup 30 minutes later in front of the same restaurant for a triumphant pic. We are sporting no frostbites, nor eyebrow icicles, our butts, heads and limbs are numb with pain, but hell we're happy!

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    In the restaurant we decide together with JP and Jacques to treat ourselves to a generous dinner of everything they have on the menu and in the kitchen. It's an unspoken truth among us: this is one of the best days of our lives.
    In the restaurant we decide together with JP and Jacques to treat ourselves to a
    generous dinner of everything they have on the menu and in the kitchen. It's an
    unspoken truth among us: hands down this is one of the best days of our lives.
  17. TwilightZone

    TwilightZone Long timer

    Joined:
    Dec 2, 2008
    Oddometer:
    4,176
    Location:
    Behind the Redwood Curtain
    Everytime I come to this thread... the adventures and photos are awesome. Up there on the pass... there's nothing to build a fire from... except motorcycle tires!
  18. mrwwwhite

    mrwwwhite Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2010
    Oddometer:
    907
    Location:
    Bucharest or RTW
    Cheers, Twilight! It's true, tires or Chinese border poles as you can see in the next post :p.
  19. mrwwwhite

    mrwwwhite Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2010
    Oddometer:
    907
    Location:
    Bucharest or RTW
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    Let's cut to the chase: this is real yak blood left to rot in the middle of the street, and an actual yak hoof left to rot in the dumpster. Both nothing short of boring details in the life of Murghab. A town sitting in the middle of bloody nowhere.

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    Last night, when we rolled into this place we thought it sucked ass. It was cold, we were wet and we had been riding for two hours behind a pack of uber-charged Kamaz trucks. But rest assured:even if the camels have been replaced by the 4-wheelers and the silk by the heroin, the Silk Road has remained as relevant as ever. So have the towns scattered along this famous network of roads. Murghab is one of them. We have raced up to here hoping for a hot shower and a cheap bed, as other travelers promised, yet we found little more than a pricey hotel where the watchman can't be bothered to heat us a bucket of water. Oh, well... Maybe should've stayed behind with our cyclists friends, but frankly sleeping another night at altitude in a dripping wet tent sounded nightmarish.

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    The good thing is that in the morning we are awaken by brilliant sun and clear sky. So everything looks good. On closer inspection, the market is plentiful and there are many cafes zooming with hungry workingmen. We enjoy a nice cuppa and a steaming plate of yak dumplings with.

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    The bazaar is a cluster of metal containers arranged on three rows. We restock on canned fish, dried fruits and nuts, fresh vegetables, condensed milk and crackers... you know, a traveler's staple. Ana locates a small dairy shop selling exclusively yak products: butter, kurut (curd cheese), milk, yoghurt.

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    The market is a riot. But as Murghab is a kyrgyz enclave, the tajik brick houses have been replaced by the yurts of the nomads. People with high cheekbones burnt by the sun, slanted eyes, the kind of features that seem to appear indigenously in Asia, right alongside the Pamir mountains and the yaks. All women cover theirs faces in colorful scarves to protect their skin from the merciless wind; men wear quirky embroidered hats that were said to have been introduced to the nation by a kyrgyz king who wanted to hide his donkey ears under. But this is a story for another time.

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    Just hours after our arrival at our second attempt at a cheap home-stay in Murghab, down reveals the stunning contours of mountains against a rosy sky. 93% of Tajikistan territory is mountainous and its glaciers feed the crops of many of its Central Asian neighbors. Yet, as the night-time blackout kicks in, it reminds us that much of the population has electricity only 2 hours per day. So I feel ashamed to complain that our Apple charger bought in Tbilisi was roasted during the blackout. People here have much bigger problems to cope with than updating travel blogs.

    After registering the minor disaster, we hit the sack. We sleep like rocks. We grab a morning bite. We pack fast. The sky is spotless. An eerie light melts the horizon. Time to rev up them bikes and explore.

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  20. sion

    sion sigh-own

    Joined:
    Jul 9, 2010
    Oddometer:
    3,811
    Location:
    Hocking Hills