Tuesday, 5 August 2014

the time killers

We spent a while with Greg here in Bishkek in 2008.  He was waiting for his Iranian visa while we were waiting for a Pakistan visa.  After two months in the country we all failed.  In the end we got other visas and took different routes.  Greg was one of the cycle tourers we met who inspired us to turn to cycle touring.  I think this was principally because he was such a nice fella and started each day with a big fry up.  So when Greg sees we're in Bishkek he writes to Gayle on Facebook: "At least you're prepared for Kyrgyzstan - you won't be stuck in Bishkek waiting for visas." So, here we are in Bishkek waiting for a visa.
this sculpture represents the tourists' eternal struggle for visas in Bishkek
It's China this time. And there's trouble at t'mosque in Kashgar so there's an element of doubt. Whenever there's trouble in Xin Jiang the authorities get jumpy. Is the border close to Kashgar closed? Are foreigners being turned away?  Are visas being issued in neighbouring countries? Who knows. We hand our passports over to the woman in the agency who tells us we'll have to wait ten days. It's Eid tomorrow and the Chinese consul doesn't do anything on Fridays. She might be stringing us a line about the Chinese consul, but it is Eid tomorrow. We can't imagine many Kyrgyz observing Ramadan, but any excuse for a holiday - they celebrate Christmas and No Ruz too. And why not.

at guesthouse - a place to chill
At the guesthouse there's a peloton of cycle tourists all waiting for visas.  Most of us are camped out in the garden.  It's busy.  Nathan and Angie only opened up in June but they've not needed to advertise - the cyclists' grapevine has brought them more guests than they can manage.  Angie is taking a holiday back in Bulgaria, so Nathan has to cope on his own.  In his young life he's been a roughnecker, a horse wrangler and probably a pearl diver - currently he's training to be a paramedic. He's a quiet thoughtful guy who wanted to open up a guesthouse purely for cyclists.  He's got spare parts for bike repairs and enough tools to take apart your bike and put it all back together again.  But who'd be crazy enough to do that?  Nathan wants to keep the guesthouse only for cyclists and I think the number of guests has surprised him - although this is peak season.  The main reason is that no-one's leaving in a hurry.  Chad and Alison are studying Russian.  Chad talks a lot (disappointingly not in Russian), Alison doesn't.  Jacques is teaching the two kittens to chase and retrieve.  David is testing the limits of not washing his grey t-shirt. Dino is practising the trombone in the bathroom on the hour every hour.  Pascal is cultivating a long, flowing beard so that he can masquerade as a pilgrim at the holy Shia shrine in Mashhad.  Susanna is wistfully reminiscing about the young man "with a beautiful heart" who has passed through going in the wrong direction (yes, Chris, that was you).  Philip is having a 'fire sale' of all his unwanted gear having cycled here from Austria without ever cooking anything.  More seriously, Radu, a Romanian who cycled here and then climbed Khan Tengri, is receiving treatment for frostbitten toes at the local hospital.  He pads around in his bandaged feet.  To Gayle's horror she remarks to him one morning at breakfast "It was cold last night in the tent.  My feet were freezing" before realising her gaffe.

anyone seen me yoghurt?

service centre
The bikes get some serious maintenance.  It's not my strong point. Thankfully Nathan is on hand to advise and make suggestions and even show you how to do it if you keep making a pig's ear of it or discreetly withdraw while you steam in frustration.  But bike maintenance in the presence of twelve other cyclists can be a traumatic experience.  It's quite unnerving to be doing something you're not really confident about because you've never done it before whilst someone stands and watches you with hands on hips, head askance.  Or when someone asks "Why are you doing it like that?"
Anya and Barbara at the meditation stand
(The obvious answer: because I don't know any other bloody way!!!!!).  I've just removed the crankset for the first time using Nathan's crank extractor.  I'm feeling very pleased with myself - no cross-threading, no stripped bolts, no cracked parts - when I realise I don't actually know how to put the new cranks back on.  Nathan looks at me in astonishment.  "You're kidding, right?" Okay, it's easy. Just had to think about it for a minute.

at guesthouse - still a great place to chill
The days flash by in a blur.  This is ridiculous.  A friend from home asks "What exactly do you do each day?" Good question, Claire.  I'm not sure we gave you a proper answer.  So, after some consideration, here goes: Wake just before 7am to the sound of a loud Austrian explaining how he broke the frame on his 4000 euro bike. Breakfast until 9am interspersed with chit-chat and nipping into the bathroom for morning ablutions as soon as I can.  Messing about with bikes. More chit-chat and going up the road to the shops for lunch ingredients. 2pm (2pm??? where does the time go??) lunch. Further chit-chat about bikes/journey/photos/food/visas/restaurants and/or a trip to the main bazaar/local bike shops. Shopping for tea/choc ice/beer. Tea. Surfing (the internet.  Kyrgyzstan is landlocked, remember). Bed. How on earth do we ever cope with the Real World?

classic English cuisine - bread 'n' butter pudding

There's a sociable bunch gathered here, and some other cyclists also drop in to do repairs and buy spares from Nathan.  Damian and Hannah and Tyson and Hanne all turn up while we are here.  Their trips are about to finish so they're winding down.  Sam turns up coming from Mongolia and telling us how simple and cheap the Chinese visa was to get.  Gayle hurtles off to try and withdraw our expensive visa application but to no avail.  David, a young Englishman with a fine bushy beard, has recovered from his lassitude in order to set off for the Pamirs.  But you can see it's hard to leave this comfortable and friendly place and I wonder if we will have to push him out.  He's changed his shirt though - his mum'd be pleased.

six tents - so why does the cat piss on ours?

Suzy, who works in Sussex C.I.D. (and addresses her boss "guv" but has never used the phrase "you're nicked my son!") is now starring in her own mini TV series: The Cycling Detective. Each day there is a new case for her to solve. Who stole the yoghurt from the fridge? Who left two dirty saucepans on the cooker? Is the woman who turns up with just a tent really a cyclist? Why are there holes appearing in our merino wool t-shirts? Can watermelon really give you the shits?

Who's been munching the merino wool t-shirts?

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