I am at a cross roads. To the north, the road I came on, is Osh, to the east, China, to the west Lenin Peak (7000m+), to the south Tajikistan. And from every direction come adventurers from around the world, Alpinists looking at summitting Peak Lenin, backpackers, heading to base camp for trekking, and cyclists coming from China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and the Pamirs.
Over the last few days I have met people from Slovenia, Slovakia, Slovenians from France, three people from Basque country, and one from Spain (they are very different), three from France, one from Belgium, one from the USA, East and West Germans, Austrians and Australians, English, and of course locals from Sary Tash, Kyrgyzstan. I just missed meeting Sandy from NZ, and three Koreans.
I had never ever met a Slovenian, nor anyone from Basque Country, before arriving here. Now I've met nine Slovenians, and they were not even in a group, and Juliet and I are going to be hosted by some lovely people when we cycle through Slovenia in February.......look it up if you don't know where Slovenia is. I'm also looking forward to being shown some great mountain bike trails in Basque Country.
And the stories, the experiences, the advice, the camaraderie, and the sharing of information has been amazing. Meeting so many like minded people.....fabulous.
But that's not why I've been sitting here so long. My visa to enter Tajikistan is dated 17th July, and the border is only 48km away, although it is at 4200m, so it may take a while to cycle there. However, on top of that, I have hurt my back.....
I was squatting, as you do in most of Asia, over a roughly cut hole in the wooden floor, of the outhouse. I reached for the water, there is no toilet paper, and a shooting pain shot across my lower back. I couldn't move. I was stuck, squatting, with my pants down, unwashed.....rather awkward really....trying not to stumble down through the hole.....it's difficult to balance in a squat, with shooting back pains.... I suppose I can count myself fortunate, that there was not a queue at the door, because it took quite a while for the pain to ease, and I was able to stand, almost upright. (I know, sounds very much like a JF story). I shuffled, bent at the waist, like a very old man, back to my bed.....bother. Since then, the pain has eased, and I'm only getting the occasional "shot" of pain. I'm resting, hoping it will fix itself. I've got some incredible cycling to do.....the Pamirs, just across the valley, and up a hill......
I've done a bit of sitting and watching. Picture three old timers sitting on a bench outside the general store, just waiting to watch the car pass..... there is one about every 20 minutes....that's been me with a couple of locals. Not much chat....just hanging out.
One thing I've noticed is that here in Central Asia the people are still mostly operating on a Communist sort of thinking. There doesn't seem to be too much drive to improve their lot, very little initiative, a sense of "we are all equal....and poor". An example: I've heard of several tourists looking for maps. No one sells maps of anywhere other than Kyrgyzstan, but tourists are constantly asking for maps of China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and other nearby countries. Noone has taken the initiative to source these maps. You just can't get them. A little thing, but sums up the thought process here.
Sitting watching, and I see that the cows, sheep and goats are taken into the hills early in the morning. The goats are watched all day, every goat from the village together, by one boy. The cows are left to roam. They find their own way home by dusk. The goats and sheep are herded, and their owners wait on the road to ensure they go home to the correct house. The animals know where they live, and it's quite amusing watching then split from the herd at their gate.
I see the men of the village visiting the "village shop" at all times of the day, for their vodka shots, from as early as 8am, and then at least once again on the way home in the evening. The village drunk just wanders between the three shops all day, and is herded home with the animals at dusk.
The kids are enlisted to collect water from the stream. They wheel old cream cans, on little trolleys, down the gravel road to the stream, and bucket water into the cream cans. It looks pretty hard work dragging the cans up from the stream, but that's about all they do all day. At other times they seem to roam free in the hills surrounding the village. There are no fences to keep them, or the animals contained.
Life is tough in the villages in Kyrgyzstan.