Bishkek Kyrgyzstan 56km
Over the last two days I've bused 300km, flown for four hours, west across Pakistan and the Gulf, to Dubai, sat in the Dubai Airport for 15 hours, then flown for six hours NE, across the Gulf, Pakistan and Afghanistan, to end up about 1000km north of my original position. All because I couldn't get a visa for Pakistan. But oh my goodness. The difference a day makes.
Maybe four planes land at Bishkek in half an hour, around 4.30am, so the arrivals hall is packed, and the queues long. However, Kyrgyzstan has a No Visa Needed policy, so the first hurdle is quickly crossed, just a quick stamp, and through immigration. The baggage claim is a zoo, but there, at the large items gate is Fiona. I drag her to a quietish corner, and cut her out of her gladwrap constraints. She sighs with relief. Everything seems ticketyboo, so I put her together. By the time I'm done, perhaps 30 minutes, the crowd has dispersed, and I casually walk through the rest of the arrivals hall, into Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia, ex USSR.
And wow, it is different. A completely new world. For a start, it is cool, really comfortable to cycle. Then, there are no horns. And everything is flat, and green, except the mountains to the south, which are white with snow. And the roads are smooth, and wide, and the traffic....well its fast....so different from the Asia of the last nine months. And as I cycle through some small villages, I can smell the amazing, mouthwatering aroma of fresh bread.....my mouth is awash with saliva.
30km, and I'm hitting the morning traffic of Bishkek. Once again I'm in a land with a different script..... it all looks like scratches and drawings. There is no way I can know what anything says. I have no money, so I need an ATM or bank. I'm unsure where I'm going, as the map to the homestay would not upload. I need food. I need wifi. I ask a taxi driver. He understands not a word I say, but points across the road. I follow his directions. It looks like it may be a hotel. I'm greeted by a very well made up woman, it's 7.30am, in very flimsy underclothes. Nope, probably not a hotel, although she's very pleased to see me, and very helpful, I learn nothing except an hour with Alicia will cost $100. Wrong shop.
Just down the road, I find a money exchange, and a bakery. Things are looking up. Then I find a restaurant that allows me to use their Internet. 30 minutes later, I'm at my accommodation. I'm very tired, but the sun is up, it's quiet, it's not 35°C. I eat, I sleep, I lounge, and later, I sleep 12 hours straight in my tent.
Day two, and it's down to the Tajikistan embassy. Too easy. Visa and permit for the Pamir Highway all done in one day. I've got a month to get to Tajikistan, then 45 days to cycle through one of the most beautiful highways in the world. Before then, however, I need to procure visas for Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Iran. Each has its own problems. For Uzbekistan and Iran I need Letters of Introduction, provided by Tourist Companies, for a price. Each visa is date specific. Turkmenistan will only allow me a five day transit visa, once again date specific, so the whole process needs to be very carefully planned. Hopefully I've got all the dates sorted, and I won't be stranded between border posts. Time will tell. I'm at present waiting for my LOI for Iran. The whole process, can take up to two weeks, if you're lucky. I've got my fingers and toes all crossed.
And this weekend, I've been left looking after the homestay.....and a couple of cyclists bowl up, out of Kazakhstan. Some of you may recognize one of them.