Some two or three months ago. Just going by my blurred memory, we were in the exhausting heat of Uzbekistan. On the roads where there was a high probability of getting an icecream, we’d often attract quite a bit of attention. Along with the beeping, there was this constant question of Otkuda ‘where are you from?’ in Russian. If my motivation was high my reply was always Anglia, if they didn’t respond to England. If I was too hot or run down, I will admit to not replying at all. But these request were in the hundreds. Coupled with that heat, it was driving me nuts. Of course each person we met, it was a new experience for them. Of course not for me, it could be 10am and I’d already been asked five times. I really wanted to get something out of this. Then it dawned on me that I could be from anywhere. It was mundane because I always said England. These requests would often come from a slowing car window. Once the question was answered, off they went. I never understood what they got out of it. At one point I convinced myself that all Uzbeks were on a mission to fill in a country wide database of all the differential nationalities visiting their country. Seeing as England gets a pretty big representation on the travel front I thought Id mess about with their database. For some weird reason I liked being from Bolivia. With what I deemed to be a thick Bolivian accent, I would shout back “BOLIVIA!” With one particular car I chose Uruguay, another favourite of mine. I had to repeat four times in my best accent. This group of old men looking at one another shrugging shoulders. I pointed south and said “America”
“Ah America da” And off they went. I almost felt offended that they didn’t know where my adopted country was. However the entertainment was short lived and even Bolivia became a mundane response. And with the border fast approaching I ended my last days in Uzbekistan as an Englishman.
Like any new country, we entered Tajikistan with a bit of optimism, and by some fortune of fate the beeping was gone. The occasional Atkuda remained, but I could deal with it occasionally. We were here for the famed Pamir highway. One of the high motorable roads of the world, topping 4000m. I had feelings of excitement, but also apprehension. Especially after my achilles playing up. But this was a big part of our journey and one that so many cyclists have on their hit list. For good reason to. The road takes us on so many twists and turns, surprising me with so many different landscapes. I’ve seen plenty mountains, but there’s always a unique quirk from one to another. Although at times the road was tough, it didn’t disappoint.
So what am I becoming numb to? I’m writing this in the most relaxed environment. We’re camped next to a crystal clear stream, alone in the foothills of the Kyrgyz himalayas. Smoking weed that we’ve found growing on the side of the road. But despite the joint, I’m certainly not numb right now, I feel alive and clear. However it hasn’t been so relaxed like this since leaving Tajikistan. Instead of taking in the experience, my mind only focuses on when I can next have a break. How many days can I just sit down and stare at a screen. The city of Osh was our first real break since Dushanbe, over a month on the move. Moving on from that week off the bike was a painful experience. I yearned for some more time in a bed, a kitchen, to make another cake. In short I was still tired and not ready for another sun baked day on the saddle.
Travel is something we need to enjoy, or at least be learning something from. I felt like I was becoming numb to it, and only learning that a lot of cycling without rest makes me tired. If I’m honest this was a lesson I didn’t want to be learning. But I am and I think we need a break. When I’m tired I overlook things, I fail to take in my surroundings, think of the bigger picture. Realising that being here means I’m not at a desk. Even though sometimes I wish I was. Because anything beats slaving up a gravel road in the heat. With a song stuck in my head that liked but now hate. But at the desk I dreamt of these moments, of being outside, loving the world you are born into, and collecting memories not money. Of course I still feel this way, and I do love being outside. I guess the dreams of the desk job was just the heat getting my head a bit.
Some how amongst all my feelings of tiredness I found the energy to read each night before sleeping. I downloaded a few different things in Osh and in that collection was a book by Carl Sagen ‘Billions and Billions’ I was first attracted by the book because it talked about the universe and its scale. I didn’t really know what the book’s context was, but it changed. It moved on to global warming, population, political views and many other subjects. Things that I hadn’t spent much time thinking about in a while, as I was too focused on self pity. Especially the effects of global warming, a term that seems unfashionable these days. In western europe I feel like the media doesn’t talk about the science, what is really causing it and what the effects might be. Instead the tired audience has heard enough, and has to deal with their own set of problems. We know the problem is there, but out of our control. That’s how I felt anyway. Also I think that there’s a strong belief that we have cleaned up and we are pushing towards renewables. That is a positive thing certainly, but from what I have seen outside of Europe this is not the global trend. The earth is warming but no one really knows what are going to be the true effects. Instead of shying away from the idea I want to know as much as I can.
We will take a break soon, to give us some time to rest and recover. Some time to think about life and our next destination. India. Which no doubt will re awaken all sorts of emotions. But I want to arrive with energy and a positive perspective so I can make the most out of the experience. I have learnt once again, that if I push myself, get over worked in whatever I am doing. I become numb to it. Life that is.
I wrote this around two weeks ago, like I said by a crystal clear stream enjoying natures herbs. Since then Mayu and I have really slowed our pace. It almost felt as though we are no longer travelling, but living on the side of the road. Cycling around 20km a day, much more relaxed. Still some days have been a bit grim, battling some serious thunderstorms in the night, holding the tent up from the inside as the wind tries to collapse it. Or spending the evening fully covered with clothing with our head nets on, cooking dinner. Whilst being dinner for all the insects around us. But in complete contrast to that we have had plenty of magical moments. Out of this world camp spots that left us spell bound throughout the evening. Always with the time and energy to enjoy them.
As I write we are still at over 3000m by a beautiful lake about 100km from Bishkek. We took the old Osh to Bishkek road that leads us over a pass of 3500m. The road was a grassy track, but avoids a long busy tunnel that we were advised hitch hike through. As its too dangerous to cycle. Seeing the traffic and the way people drive, that is good advise. But avoiding one danger, lead us to another. The ascent was a steady climb, and we could cycle most of the way. The descent however, down to the lake was a different story. There had been a heavy landslide, the mountain was literally crumbling. Sat by the lake now I can see the top of the pass and occasionally you hear the sound of rocks falling. In my eyes the road is not safe. By chance we met a guy from New Zealand as we were cycling up the main road before we took the turning for the old road. He said he went over the top as we had planned. He had big strong legs and lots of climbing gear strapped to his bike. He was mountaineering and planned on climbing a 7000m peak in the south of the country. He casually mentioned a landslide and that we would have to get off our bikes at one stage. However if we had to tackle this on the way up we almost certainly would have turned back. Hopefully to my untrained eye it is safer than it looked and certainly safer than cycling the tunnel.
All in all it was a nice way to end our adventures in central Asia, feeling rested and positive. Ready to hit the big city lights of Bishkek, Delhi and beyond.