News Single

14.11.09 22:43 Age: 9 yrs

Our struggle to get out of Kyrgyzstan

By: Roger and Megan

A -25 C winter blast cold stops us dead in our tracks

Sitting in Sary Tash, gathering our thoughts and preparing ourselves for the final push through to China, we were reflecting back on our time in Kyrgyzstan.  When we'd crossed into Batken Oblast in the Fergana valley, it still on the final edge of summer.  Skirting along the edge of Uzbekistan for a few weeks we had still been sweltering in the heat, but also enjoying the plentiful summer fruits of the region.  However, looking back, it has felt like our entire time since Osh has been focussed on our getting into China.

Back then, the first task we had to face was choosing the correct means to try to obtain our visa, and we'd decided to get a local company to represent us at the Chinese embassy in Bishkek.  After the recent riots in Xinjiang, the situation has been a bit sensitive, so we didn't want to ruin our chances of entry by talking to them ourselves and accidently saying the wrong thing.  Then we'd followed our passports to Bishkek, anticipating an interview for the visa application, but then turned back, chasing it back down to Osh, because there had been new laws saying we could only be issued our visas 10 days before the validity starts (and then we'd have only 30 days to enter).  By the time we'd actually got our visas in our own hands, Megan was developing the flu, and then Roger got it too, and so we had to sit it out and rest to try to rid ourselves of any flu symptoms before approaching the border.

But riding out of Osh Megan's knee started playing up and she had to go on a moderate dose of anti-inflammatory pills just to ride, so we set up camp halfway to Sary Tash.  Then the next day it was worse, so we had to catch a truck for the remainder of the ride to Sary Tash just to ensure we'd have the rest days for the knee to recover before pushing onto the border.  All of a sudden, due to these setbacks, we once again found ourselves behind schedule!

Then the heavens turned on us.  We had to enter China before the 19th of November, and by the night of the 14th we were all set to start riding the 78 km to the border on the 15th.  However, a huge dump of snow, some 40 cm worth, landed overnight.  This would normally not be such a problem, as the trucks and cars on the road to/from the border would drive through too, marking the way for us.  But this was a Saturday night and the border would be closed Sunday, so there was to be no border traffic for the next day.  We spoke to a customs official in Sary Tash who informed us that it was not a concern that the road would be bad after the snow - instead, the problem would be that the road would be indistinguishable from the steppe, so for all intents and purposes, there was currrently NO road to the border and it would be very easy to get lost or fall into a river beneath the snow.

That evening and early the next morning, the trucks started flowing through again and the wind blew away the top few layers of snow overnight, and by the time we were leaving in the morning there was abit more of a path(some compacted snow tracks) for us to follow to the border.  However, it was not all good.  This same wind that had cleared the way was making the road very difficult to ride... an 100 km/h dead-on icy headwind to be precise! Combined with a very slippery road covered in ice and deep snow on the edges, this made for a very precarious situation.

So that put us in the best case scenario of doing the distance to the border in two days instead of one.  However, as noted before, we certainly could not afford to take 3 days to the border, since we needed to take the crossing before the 19th.  As the wind picked up and the temperature dropped however, we knew for certain that we would be camping halfway.  After about 7 km (which took about 4 hours to ride) we were getting so cold that we decided to stop for a bite to eat and to upgrade to warmer gear.  However, Roger's hands were having trouble recovering from the cold few hours of riding (we need to watch out for frostbite with the recumbent riding position) and we were ducked into a nearby shepherd's house to warm them up properly.  After an hour or so we headed back into the growing icy winds and set about climbing up through a small pass.  Reaching the top of the pass, we were greeted by an icy blast, pushing quikey back up the hill (yes we had to pedal to go down the hill, for if we didnt, we would get pushed straight back up it) which was rapidly growing in intensity, making even standing up and walking hard.  We took a look around the corner and noted that the wind had also done a very good job of blasting the snow off all the mountains and surrounding land.

Some of the mountains that were covered under huge amount of snow earlier that morning, were completely stripped, looking like no snow had ever fallen. Our "road" however was now just pure solid ice, making traction extremely difficult (walking on it was just like ice skating). Faced by the conditions, and looking down to where we were heading, we realised that any campside we found would be extremely exposed.  Not wanting to risk losing/breaking our tent we sadly decided to retreat from the pass, the long climb that had sapped all our afternoons energy, was to be wasted.

We sadly rode back down the hill (well skated, and skiied might be a better description) and popped our heads back into the shepherds hut, and he gladly accepted us in there again to warm up, and wait out the bad winds.  As we warmed up in front of his dung fire, he left to go round up his animals on horse back (it was around -25c, and the horse seemed to have no worries at all!).

That night, he returned, along with 2 other shepards all on horseback. The men looked huge, like giants. It was only after that had removed all their winter clothing that they shrunk back down to normal size. After a hearty soup filled with sheep meat, it was then time for bed, 5 people to a small room 3m by 3m. Only the clouds knew what what the weather would have in store for us the next day, and whether we would reach Irkeshtam pass in time for our Visa deadline - time was running out..