Chris and Gabs provide their August update on their World Cycling Tour in aid of Prevent Breast Cancer. This month they were in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan!
Author: Chris & Gabs – 23rd August 2019
Cycling for… 438 days
Through… 20 countries
Currently… in Uzbekistan
Raising so far… £7,195.20
CLICK HERE to see a recent Chris & Gabs’ video
This month we’ve visited…Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan!
We left Azerbaijan, sailed from Baku across the Caspian Sea to Kazakhstan – a twenty-three-hour crossing! From here we cycled across Kazakhstan’s deserts (country 19) to the border of Uzbekistan (country 20 only 47 to go) near the town Beynue. When we arrived at the border, there was a mile-long line of cars and trucks all waiting to cross, some of them had been waiting for 16 hours! The officials at the border only opened the gates when they wanted, allowing only a few vehicles to pass. Luckily for us we just cycled straight to the front and the guard waved us to the gate, and we were across into Uzbekistan in no time. We had none of our bags checked as we were ushered to the front of the queue at the passport control booth. This was the easiest border crossing. We then continued to cycle along waste land, on long flat bumpy dusty tracks, making our way to Samarkand, the last town just 27 miles from the border of Tajikistan.
The most beautiful area has been…
In Uzbekistan, it was very exciting arriving at the three main cities of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand, after days and days of waste land, endless cotton fields and the terrible pot-holed roads
Here we found many historical architectural monuments, including monumental madrasas and minarets, plus mausoleums of rulers and spiritual leaders.
Khiva: We liked Khiva the best. Khiva is a small very ancient city, which was mentioned in the 10th Century as a major trading center on the Silk Road. All the caravans had a stop here on their way to China and back. When we arrived, they were having their water melon festival.
Bukhara: Here was a prominent stop on the Silk Road trade route between the East and the West, and a major medieval center for Islamic theology and culture. It still contains hundreds of well-preserved mosques, madrassas, bazaars and caravanserais.
Samarkand: We visited Registan Square which ranks among the world’s most beautiful squares, it is called the pearl of Central Asia. We also loved walking around the local bazaar and food markets, mingling with all the locals.
Chris has taken some great photos which you can see on our website.
The most bizarre experience whilst cycling has been…
Kazakhstan: It was an awesome feeling cycling across the desert, made even more amazing to see lots of wild horses everywhere. Sometimes there were groups of twenty or thirty just galloping across the sand, then camels just strolling around too. It was great to camp alongside them with nobody else around.
Azerbaijan: The whole process at the port of Baku was some experience. We camped inside the port next to the ticket office for three days along with other travellers trying to buy a ticket and get any kind of information on what day and time the boat would be sailing. Three days passed and we were none the wiser, as we just got different information all the time; it was just a waiting game.
On the day we sailed we were told to wait at gate number one at 11.30am, and we were still sat there at 4pm! When we asked again, an official said the boat had been boarding elsewhere! So cutting a long story very sort, we finally got to the boat but then were told to go back as we had to unload the bicycles, take them into a room where they had to be scanned and emptied! The guys were really nice, so interested in all our camping equipment and wanted to know what it was all used for, they even liked Chris’s machete. Chris said they could have it, but they gave it him back. They were all given a Chris and Gabs wrist band.
On board the boat was nothing special; it was like being in a prison camp with two very grumpy, bossy and scary Russian ladies. Nobody had any idea what time we arrived or how long the crossing was going to be. We just got a loud banging on our cabin door at midnight, followed by the cabin door flying open and being ordered to get out of bed. We were all ushered into a room and here we sat till 3am waiting for immigration officials to board and stamp our passports so we could leave the boat. Finally, at 4am just outside the Kazakhstan Border, we were allowed to leave. We made a lot of friends from this experience, including seven motor bikers from all over Europe heading in our direction and three cars from England all heading to the Mongolia rally. So, we all had lots to talk about, but these poor guys didn’t get out of the Border Control till 8am!!!!
Azerbaijan : One night we set up camp late in a field near a village. Within an hour, we had three visits from three different families who all lived nearby, each time bringing us a different kind of melon! Each family wanted to say hello and to see if we needed anything (though communication was a little difficult), and we had a lovely breakfast in the morning with our collection of melons!
The most challenging part has been…
Water: In Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan you can go for 60 miles or more without seeing anything, so water was difficult to come by. We had to make sure we had enough to get us through the day and night, as we had no idea if we would be able to get any along our route. Some days we would wave cars down and ask if they had any they could spare. One day we were running low on water and could see a few huts in the distance so we made our way over, and we couldn’t believe it because we turned up just as the water man was there! This village had no running water so a guy in a truck came with a large water tank and the locals fill up their buckets and plastic bottles. Luckily they kindly let us do the same. We were so relieved to have more water as it is a worry when cycling in such hot weather knowing you are going to run out.
Road Conditions: The roads in Uzbekistan are non-existent, and there are potholes everywhere! We cycled 50 miles of just the worst broken up roads and it really slows you down and damages your bike due to all the bouncing up and down. It gets very frustrating.
Food: Not the best food in Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan, it’s just horse meat, hard bread and melons. Even if you think you are getting a vegetable soup it always comes filled with horse meat, as everything comes with meat. You cannot buy anything cold either. You see a fridge full of drinks and you get all excited that you can have something cold, but the fridges are never turned on. Everything we are used to being refrigerated is always warm here and also months out of date.
A special highlight this month has been…
After long, slow, hot, lonely cycling in the desert of Kazakhstan, we had had enough for one day and camped up just off the roadside in a caved area. I was just at the road and a camper pulled up alongside me, asking if I was ok as they thought I was on my own. Then I pointed to Chris and the tent just further up. They were a Swiss couple called Anna and Erik, aged 73 and 75, and they loved travelling in their converted camper van. Anna wanted to cook us dinner, so they parked up for the night with us. It was great to have some different food; they even shared their cold drinks with us. It was great to hear about all their adventures; they had been to so many countries and what an inspiration to meet a couple still touring and doing what they love (travelling) at their age. They were heading in the opposite direction back to Switzerland has they owned a farm and Anna had to get back to plant her potatoes.
Next, we are heading to …
We are cycling across the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan, but we cannot enter the country until the 5th September as that’s when our visa starts. Our visa is for forty-five days but it will take us twenty-two days of cycling to get to the border at Kyrgyzstan. From there we will head to the Chinese border for the end of the month.
Thoughts and feelings?
We are feeling proud of ourselves as we have made it to country 20 and can’t believe we are nearing China. Cycling the “Stans” has not been our favourite place to cycle but we will certainly remember the experience of the Silk Road (bumpy roads) and of course the satisfaction of making it across Central Asia’s landmass on our own pedal power.
A sense of nervous excitement at what lies ahead, as we cycle to new countries, with new cultures and new adventures.
Cycling has become so special to us because of the people we meet and the new cultures we get to learn about. Even though some days I (Gabs) want to throw my bike into the nearest river…but that’s not possible, out here in the “Stans”!
Read last month’s newsletter here.