Tuesday, 27 May 2014

seven days in Monday

"The taxi drivers here are monsters" Gayle declares.  Gabor nods in assent, adding "and everyone's a taxi driver".

We arrived in the capital of Tajikistan yesterday after riding from the border along a highway that alternated between brand new tarmac and bulldozed bedrock - at least the road is being built.  It turns out it may be the only one in the country that is - the Turkish and Iranian trucks bring food and goods along this route.  We are being hosted by a wonderful woman called Veronique who works for the EU and lives here with her young son Gabriel.  Being a cyclist herself, she is happy to host others who have taken to pedalling.  Her lovely house and walled garden is tucked away down a backstreet near the city centre, an oasis of calm and tranquility and a perfect place to rest and recuperate and plot the next steps.  On the way here we have agreed to try for a Russian visa.  And a Kazakh one.  It would make a nice route to Mongolia.  We also catch up with Gabor who has come directly south from Tashkent.  At Veronique's are another cycling couple, Tyson and Hanne, who were put in touch with us by Teona at the guesthouse back in Batumi.  It's funny to meet them after connecting on-line.

the new and the old in Dushanbe (which translates as Monday)
We are both a bit weary from the ride here - an alarming thought, considering what lies ahead - so we take it easy the first day, and just do a few chores.  Then we start the visa process at the embassies.  Hanne and Tyson are preparing to set off up the Pamir Highway when we learn that there has been trouble in Khorog, the main town of the Badakshan region where the Highway runs through.  Shootings.  Disturbances.  It happened two years ago.  The region was closed to foreigners while the army were sent in to sort it all out/mess it all up even more.  It's the start of the main season for tourists and cyclists and Veronique ponders what will happen if the region is closed.  She fears a logjam. I do not, for I discover that Central Asian diarrhoea truly is the Gift That Keeps On Giving.  While I lie low, an English cyclist called Chris turns up.  We have heard of Chris from his funny blog on 'A Crazy Guy On A Bike'.  He looks worse than me when he arrives, and I immediately perk up.  Meanwhile Veronique invites Gabor to stay, Tyson and Hanne head off, and Lynn and Raf from Belgium arrive in their Toyota Landcruiser.  Despite being a bit nesh, they're a lovely couple, and we take back all the things we said about them when they drove past us (twice) on our dash across Turkmenistan without stopping to offer us beer and chocolate, as all Belgians should.

We are blessed with Veronique's hospitality.  She tells us about some of the folk who have passed through, many who found it hard to leave.  It doesn't take much to understand why.  Gayle's replacement rim has arrived but we are unsure whether to attempt to replace it.  Her wheel has stood up well to the lousy roads and we know it was well-built even if the actual rim was cheap.  The joint has not got worse.  So, maybe we take the new rim as a spare in emergency.  If there was a recommended mechanic here we would replace it immediately.  Meanwhile there's more news about the problems in Khorog.  The roads have been closed to foreigners and permits to travel in Badakshan are not being issued.  We are in Limbo. Limbo is a place in Central Asia akin to Brigadoon.  Now and again it pops up out of nowhere.  The unsuspecting tourist may find themselves here for several days or weeks.  In 2008 we found ourselves in Central Asian Limbo whilst trying to get a Pakistan visa in Bishkek.  As that oft-quoted philosopher Yogi Berra once said, it's deja vu all over again.

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