All my posessions for but a moment of time...
We had many pieces of equipment broken, stolen, lost or damaged on our travels. However, the story of the Watch is the one that makes us most upset. This Watch had been with Roger on his previous expeditions in Southwest Tasmania and Greenland, saving his life many a time. You see, it is not just any ordinary watch. It's an expedition-specific Watch with solar panel charge, altimeter, all world times, barometer, thermometer, compass, waterproof to 30 m, plus many other features. So when we refer to the Watch, we're actually referring to also our expedition altimeter, weather predictor, and compass.
The first time the Watch was stolen was in Pakhtakor, Uzbekistan (refer to old news update for more details about our time in that town). When we first arrived in town we'd been invited to dinner by the local restauranteur, who cooked us some fine shashliks. He had insisted to us that it would be safe to leave our quike, with all lights and computer and Watch still attached and in clear view (we tried to remove and hide these items and lock the quike better but he refused to let us), out the front of his restaurant while we went inside to eat. The quike, he said, would be under the eyes of his staff at all times. Unfortunately he overestimated the integrity of one other townsperson, and by the time we were back outside after our meal, the Watch had disappeared. From then, the police search begun and continued on for several days, only to turn up empty-handed by the time we had to leave town. The head of the investigative unit of the Jizzakh Oblast police was sincerely and extremely apologetic for our misfortune, and assured us the search would continue despite our departure. We didn't have our hopes up too high though - we expected that we would never see the Watch again.
However, just on the evening before the Samarkand police forcibly (and illegally) deported us to Tajikistan (another long story :) ), we heard back from our good friend (Dilnoza) back in Pakhtakor giving us the good news that the head of the police unit had located the watch and would personally drive with her to Samarkand immediately to deliver it back to us. Within a few hours Roger was wearing his watch again, although we were quite surprised at how shiny and new the Watch was, despite its rough journey through crime. As it turned out, the perpetrator had obviously felt bad about his/her wrongdoing, and had left the Watch in a location for the police to discover and return to us. Then, the police had hired a watch "master" (term to describe a trade professional) to clean and polish the Watch, to have it in best condition for our reunion. Yay!
Sound unbelievable? Well, that's probably for good reason. Another thing we should mention is that the Pakhtakor police also confirmed and re-confirmed with us a number of times the model code and colours of the Watch, and we overheard a phone conversation between the head of the unit and his son in Tashkent, where they were repeatedly calling out the model number and city names such as Dubai and Almaty (other big city locations that would be likely to stock this Watch model). So we figure that it was probably a brand new watch. It's quite nice of them to go to such trouble for us, but we can't help but wonder, where'd they get the money to pay for it?
The next time the Watch (well, its identical twin brother anyway) was stolen was late in our journey through Kyrgyzstan. We'd been riding out from Osh toward Sary-Tash when Megan's knee got a bit too bad to continue riding on. However, we did still need to push forward in order to make it into China before our visa entry date expired. So once again, very regrettably, we found ourselves sitting on the side of the road, hailing down a truck to pick up us and the quike. That day we'd hailed down a few but without success as the drivers were all demanding a price far higher than we would or could give (side note on this - the trucks were going there with an empty load anyway, and once we covered a bit of petrol expenses, our cash would be all profit for them... why were they so greedy and trying to bleed us dry?). Just as the sun was ducking behind the surrounding mountains, we got on board a truck heading to Sary Tash, albeit due for arrival the following day. But it was a reasonable price and we were getting cold so we shook on it. The reason it would be an overnight journey was that we were to stop in at his family's house by the road for the night, about halfway there.
That evening we shared a meal with the truck driver and his big family, and then after dinner he and his two sons came outside with us to adjust the rope system for tying down the quike. We weren't to be gone for long or very far, so we left our purple handbag (containing easy access essentials such as phrasebooks, a few medicines, toilet paper, pen and paper, leatherman, headtorch, and of course the Watch) in by the eating area. It was not until early the next morning, when Roger went to check the time, that we discovered that the Watch was missing again. We did a quick search of all the rooms we'd been in the previous night, but deduced that the only time it was left alone was when we went outside to tie down the quike. The only people that could have possibly taken it were members of this truck driver's family, and most likely one of his other two sons that had remained outside at that time.
However, even when there are only two possible suspects, and you have both their names and faces, it is not that simple to recover a stolen item. After explaining ourselves over and over, and re-iterating that no, we did not accidentally drop the watch down the long-drop dunny, and that the watch must be in the possession of some member of his family, he finally called his youngest (about 10 years old) son back home from school to help with the search. But of course, he swore he never saw it. The other suspect (the other son) was at work already, and no he never saw the thing either. After seeing how distressed we were, and hearing what it actually meant to us, the father was clearly going to be quite angry at whomever had done this to us, so we figured this would be burying the Watch further underground, if it wasn't there already. No-one would own up to it now, and they'd most likely get rid of the evidence too, so we could see that hanging around waiting for it to magically reappear, for the second time, would be a waste of our precious time.
Thus we jumped in the truck and decided to just continue on toward China without it. The truck driver, feeling sorry for us, gave back the money we'd paid for the ride. Nice gesture, but little consolation for what our trip with him had actually cost us.
Since then we've been in a bit of bother when it comes to telling the time. This trouble is compounded by the fact that we're in China now (which is, in general, a lot more punctual) and specifically, in Xinjiang which appears to concurrently run on two official time zones, two hours apart (Xinjiang vs. Beijing time). Our speedometer had been quite handy for this as a backup, but that broke long ago so we didn't even have that option to carry around either.
Within the first 24 hours after arriving in Kashgar we'd obtained a new, plain, basic cheap watch. Within the next 12 h, it had failed us miserably and within the following 12 h, it had no display. Within the next 24 h, we'd bought a new, better, more expensive (but still cheap) watch. Within the next 24 h after that, it had failed us miserably and within 24 h following that, it had no display. We then went on to buy the better watch a new battery, but the trend carried on and we were left out of time yet again. We now know not to buy watches or batteries here in China as it will only lead to heartache.
Now we have a few less than ideal methods of performing the simple task of telling the time. One option is to carry around our satellite phone, but the problem is that flashing that thing around in public in Xinjiang is not a good idea, for reasons beyond the pickpockets. For those of you that are unaware, there's been a block on all internet and international phone calls in Xinjiang since July. Our other (though not much better) option is to use the clock on the camera because that seems to hold its time well. But again, the problem is that we can't go flashing that thing around willy nilly either. Let's just say that we're lucky that all the PSB offices here have big clocks at the entrance, otherwise we might soon be arrested for checking the time!