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21.07.09 03:01 Age: 8 yrs

Boom!

By: Roger

A tale of sickness, tyre troubles, and a new favourite food

July 5, 2009, was to be the day that we would finally cross into Uzbekistan.  We'd stayed with an Uzbek family on our final night in Kazakhstan, and following the directions given from this family, we rode through a bazaar and then onto the bitonka (main road). This was a very strange road as it didn't look like any cars had driven it for years (or decades more like). We have since learned that this is an old Soviet road that runs from Tashkent to Samarkand via a bit of Kazakhstan, and when the USSR collapsed and the borders closed, this section of road was also closed (and still is). Thus this border post itself is for only pedestrians to cross... and quikes :) and thus rarely used at all (if ever), since no one crosses borders by foot.

As we approached the Kazakhstan side of the border post, we saw the guards scurrying to put on their shirts and trousers back in the office before they came out to meet us (nothing suss - they had been sitting in undies by the border post, and snoozing). We had four circling us and being very friendly, but when they asked for a "padarak" (gift, of money) we suddenly knew no Russian and kept talking about our "palatka" (tent) as if we didn't understand. They gave up pestering us for money and let us through. The next stage was a bit more organised - we had our details checked and passports scrutinized (our hair cuts were different), and then we were out of Kazakhstan, albeit chased by a very large and aggressive Alsatian who only stopped after we had crossed into Uzbekistan territory.

The first section of the Uzbekistan border post had a very friendly man from Bukhara who made it a smooth and fast progression into the customs control area. Down the road a km or so was the last and worst stage. We had to declare every cent of our tenge (352, which is about AUD $3.52), and open up ALL our luggage (all 150kg's worth) to show them what was in every single bag. We think that it was more out of interest than out of duty since they didnt really search our gear, but rather play with it (taking photos on mobile phones, asking to listen to Australian music etc). But it was very inconvenient as afterward we had to re-pack everything in the hot midday sun. With the amount of luggage we had, and everything being inspected from bras and undies, to files on the computer, to koala souvenirs, it took well over 2 hours, with constant requests for souvenirs, to see all our photos, to listening to Australian music on our computer, to read what we had written about the country, watch the videos we had taken etc. After this we were finally on our way. What a relief!

After a short lunch break at the first town we encountered we decided to head back out west, away from the main roads, toward the elusive town of Gagarin. So far Uzbekistan had seemed very different to Kazakhstan, the streets were just filled with donkeys and bikes (we hadn't really seen donkeys on the street in Kazakhstan, only camels and horses). Even more interesting was that there was a lot less rubbish on the roadside than in Kazakhstan, despite Uzbekistan having a much higher population density. The other items of interest for us was the ever-present canal system where everyone would go for a swim (perfect given the ever present heat).

On the way to Gagarin (which we would not reach that night) we passed a few villages with identical names to other cities in Uzbekistan, all clustered together (Andijan and Fergana city are both next to each other, as are Andijan and Fergana village, albeit the villages some 500km from the cities!) and decided to go in an see one, named Andijon. Riding through this maze of a town we were soon encircled by some 50 people around us and were forced to grind to a halt. All of a sudden, a man started walking towards us and the crowd parted and asked us to be his guests, which we happily accepted. At his home we snacked on Calbasa (which was to come back to haunt us later) whilst strangely surround by piles upon piles of money (each pile as thick as a small dictionary) on the table with us. This was a bit disconcerting at first, but we decided not to ask any questions and just accepted his hospitality.

Over the course of that evening, Megan had building stomach pains and by bed-time it was becoming unbearable. Just an hour or so after attempting to go to sleep, Megan suddenly awoke with incapacitating stomach pains and hobbled out to the drop dunny and garden for a mass exodus of calbasa from both ends. Throughout the night this happened time and time again, with no relief, even by morning, however we knew we had to get to Gagarin that morning to get registered or face deportation (foreign citizens must register within a set-time frame). Thus it was now Roger's turn to ride Megan to the next town. Megan was still too sick to do much so just sat on the quike (this is the great thing about the quike, on person can do all the pedalling for the other person if need be), so as soon as we arrived in Gagarin it was time to look for Guest House (which we knew would be near impossible to find, as why would there be any guest houses in such a remote village, its like having a hotel at the top of mount everest but alas this was the only option for us) to stay at. However as is usual with Uzbek hospitality, the moment we asked someone where the guest house was (of which there was none), they offered/ordered us to stay at their house instead, till Megan was better, which we gratefully accepted.

This man, called Tolik was an old man on a broken pushbike. We followed him for 40 minutes back to his house, which turned out to be a kind of  "Mad Max" house, full of metal work being repaired. Whilst Megan was resting Roger decided (was ordered) to take a Banja (it was a 45degree day, but this is the Uzbek cure, taking a 60degree sauna!). Being over tired (from not sleeping at all the night before since he was tending to Megan) Roger somehow managed to burn himself on some piping in the Banja, leaving a large 35cm blister on his left bicep which really hurt! Now there were two sick people in the one house!

Knowing that we needed to register within the next 24 hours or face deportation, we decided to go to the Passportny Stohl. When we arrived however, we were told that there was no need to register and that it would be no problem. Thus with a sigh of relief, we then headed back to Tolik's house for a Shashlick dinner. Megan still being a bit ill, we decided to stay another day in Gagarin, we had a lot of work to catch up on for the website and documentary anyway. The next day we discovered our new favourite food - Koksu!

Traditionally, all Uzbek and Kazakh people believe that hot food cures all ills (the cure for heat exhaustion and sunstroke is hot tea!, even the head doctor at the main hospital in one of the cities we were staying in told us this when we interviewed him!), and cold food is the food of the devil. However Tolik being Korean/Uzbek (his relatives from many generations back migrated to grow rice), had been brought up on Koksu, a dish of cold noodles, cold soup, cold vegetables, and cold meat, perfect on a hot day (albeit, accompanied by hot tea....). Thus we have now decided that Koksu is our new favourite dish, it beats eating steaming hot food on a 45 degree day!

Nicely refreshed from our cool lunch, we then set about repairing our tubes again, only to find 12 new punctures, you guess it, from the same thorns that had plagued us on the Kazakh Steppe. Our tubes now have some 15 patches each on them, more patches than tube! After all this work our Quike was finally ready, so we decided that we would depart early the next morning. We awoke however to find that our hydraulic brakes had leaked oil all over our rotors and pads, making the brakes totally non-functional. Some quick (3hour) repairs ensured, before we were ready to leave, escorted out of Gagarin by Tolik and his friends on bikes (all of them over 55)

Riding out of Gagarin, it was only a few more hours before we encountered a small village called Dostlik. The bridges and placenames however were more confusing than ever, they did not match up to what was on our map. A quick stop to open some Topographic maps on our computer (place names and streets can change, but we thought that the location of lakes and mountains couldn't!) and we soon found where we were. Being such a hot day, we decided to follow one of the large canals on the map, to find somewhere to swim. Trying a few spots, we found them a bit too fast flowing for our like, so decided to take a small side track to a smaller canal. Following a quick rest and dip in the canal under the shade, we then made our way onto a very rough dirt track, we had seen a donkey walking along it, so decided to follow.

A few hundred metres down and we heard a large explosion and our quike was suddenly unmanouverable. What had happened? We looked down and our tyre (the best of the best toughest/most durable/punctureproof tyre which cost us $150 each) had split right along the centre. We were on flat soft-ish ground(sand), our tyres were pumped over 50 psi, we had a light load, and no bumps, how could this have happened! And it wasn't even a sidewall blowout! Since these were supposedly the best tires one can buy for heavy off road touring (and most expensive!), we had only one spare on the road. Offloading the quike to inspect the damage, we found a big 20cm tear, smack bang down the middle seam of the tyre (the strongest part of a tyre), and a matching one on the tube. Very disconcerting as we didn't know how we could prevent another blowout. These tyres are supposedly the toughest in the world, when most tyres "pop" it is normally a side wall blowout, since the strongest part of the tyre is the middle seam right down the centre!

As this was happening drunk workers from the neighbouring fields started gathering around to see what was going on (we were really in the middle of nowhere, this was a field in the middle of the steppe, with no houses or cars or towns around as far as the eye could see, these men just lived in a small shack on the edge of the field. As they started to get a bit too "curious" we hurriedly switched to the new tyre in the hot sun, and hurriedly moved on.

[posted by TK]

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