Today's titles could so easily have been "The Beast of Bishkek", or "She was a kidnapped bride", or "My Dad cooked my dog". While I rest here in Bishkek, I'm meeting so many very interesting people, and hearing some amazing stories. I've certainly made a huge jump from the culture of India and the rest of SE Asia.....huge.
I'm resting, and getting visas. The Tajikistan one was easy. Walk in at 9am, fill in a form, pass it and passport over the counter .....come back at 3pm, pay a few dollars....done. The Uzbekistan one not so easy. Protocol says you have to ring for an appointment. Rumour says you are greeted rudely, may get hung up upon, may or may not be granted an interview time, sometime within seven days, then may have to wait another week before pick up of Visa. You are dealing with "the Beast of Bishkek". I decided to break protocol. I went to the Embassy, and snuck in through the normally locked door as a Kyrgyzstan couple were admitted. Goodness me. I got an earful. First in Russian, and then, when I just looked my normal blank look, in English. Pleaded dumb, but the upshot was I was to ring for an appointment after 4pm. I did. She was rude and unhelpful, but I did manage an appointment the next day at 10am. Woohoo. 10am, outside the Embassy, and she calls out a list. Neither Simon or I are on the list. We are admitted one at a time through double locked doors. And...I come out with a visa. World record time. Two days rather than two weeks. Everyone is amazed, and a little jealous. I'm done with visas until Dunshabe in Tajikistan, where I apply for Iran and Turkmenistan.
I'm staying at a cyclists rest, At House, (athousebishkek), hosts, Angie (Bulgarian) and Nathan (Canadian). It's fantastic. Lots of cycle tourists, all with stories, all with different plans, and all behind a high fence, protected from the goings on of the Kyrgyzstan locals.
Angie is teaching at the local "American" university. She's been telling us about the reasonably common practice of "kidnapping" a young woman if you want to marry her. Sometimes it's arranged by the couple, especially if parents don't agree with the match. However, at least 50% of the kidnappings are real, where the woman has no say in the whole procedure. Hmmmm. Might not go down very well at home.
Here, at AtHouse, I've met Dr Steve, (Cyclingthe6), who has been cycling for five and a half years, and expects to get home to the UK in nine months. Have a look at his blog. Inspiring.
I've met Nick and Roman
( Doitinadress for One Girl ), who have cycled across Mongolia in freezing conditions. They're heading for Istanbul, but Roman has run out of pages in his passport, and with a wedding to arrange in Paris, and a fiance in Malaysia, has some hurdles to climb before that can happen.
I've also met up with Simon and Kim. I met Simon in Ho Chi Minh City in December. They've cycled across China, on their way to a "Climate Change" conference in Paris at the end of November. Check out their blog: Bike4aFuture. Kim is Vietnamese, and has been telling us stories of coming home from school to find her father had "cooked her dog". How would that go down in NZ?
Then there are the young Englishmen, who have cycled from England in less than three months, and are heading to Hong Kong, and the other one who is doing a circuit of the globe, but needs to be back in England by October. He is using trains and buses a lot.
So I'm questioning my itinerary, and the length of time I've allowed. I'm pretty happy with the plan. I've spent the last couple of months under some pressure, time wise, visa wise, and in the very hot weather. I'm looking forward to the next couple of months, taking in the scenery and atmosphere of one of the best cycle routes in the world, at a relaxed speed.
Tajikistan, and the Pamir Highway. Where's that? Well part of it follows the border of Northern Afghanistan, for 300km. I'm told it is very safe, but will keep my head down. Very much looking forward to being back on the road.