It has been brought to our attention that this blog is perhaps presenting a fairly rose-tinted view of our last eight months. Therefore, in the interest of unbiased reporting and to show what lies behind the smiles and the sunsets, we have compiled a series of photos which should illustrate the somewhat less glamorous side of cycling from China to Africa.
Back to basics: bread, water and bikes have been our staples.
Not usually a fussy drinker, but the homemade Tajikistan brew was not to our liking.
The floor is often preferable to the bed.
With a limited wardrobe, all fashion sense was discarded early on.
The reason communism failed: an ex-soviet en suite bathroom.
Uzbekistan was hot! Taking a post-lunch nap under a bus shelter.
There is simply no greater (nor more widely available) refreshment.
Bike rebuild in Istanbul.
Language barriers occasionally require a more hands-on approach.
You know that storage room behind a hotel reception…. our first night in Egypt.
Finding a pesky thorn.
Another unsatisfactory breakfast.
Fire up the bedroom stove, again.
Beans for lunch and beans for dinner. Hope you like beans if you’re heading to Sudan.
Who would have ever thought that camping in a thorn field would result in multiple punctures?
Low key birthday celebrations this year.
‘Hotel’ rooms: there have been some heart-sinking moments.
Pursuit of cash in Africa has been a challenge: queuing for another empty ATM.
A long weekend in Dushanbe is probably enough. Ten days is almost certainly too much. During our stay here we have thankfully managed to secure our onward visas, which should in theory see us through to the Mediterranean. This time hasn’t quite been long enough though, to fully understand this capital city. We now know that Dushanbe proudly boasts the world’s tallest flag pole (161m), suffers fairly frequent (minor) earthquakes, and belongs to one of the few countries to have avoided invasion by the English at any point in its history (details here). Beyond this however, the chequered past of this country seems to have resulted in a bit of an ambiguous present
Visa success, thanks Kazakhstan.
Tall and proud.
The former Soviet influence still dominates the city of Dushanbe; wide streets flanked by largely bland grey concrete buildings, and of course an abundance of enormous statues depicting historical leaders, Gods, sorcerers and the like. Add to this the spread of western capitalism, albeit a unique take on it, throw in a recent civil war over the desire to become an Islamic State, and the result is today’s Tajikistan. We have been warmly greeted by many proud locals eager to practice their English and hear of our story, but we have also been a little disturbed by some of the seemingly reprehensible characters darting around in fantastically expensive cars with blacked out windows, and without any apparent concern for the law. It seems a fairly odd dynamic – both in the capital city and the rest of the country – but one which most people seem quite content with.
Statues: the Soviets did them well.
Overall, Tajikistan has been kind to us; delivering some incredible landscapes and some great people, and it is a place that will certainly warrant a return trip at some point. Tomorrow we head towards Uzbekistan, which is apparently as hot as the sun at the moment.
Without knowing exactly what constitutes cycling utopia it would be foolish to make any claims about getting there. However, the route through the Pamir-Alay Mountains in western Tajikistan is certainly knocking at its door. The largely uneventful days of climbing from the northern city of Khujand and ongoing language battles were spectacularly rewarded by the huge mountain descents and towering gorges that followed. Tajikistan was on fine form.
Take a bow Tajikistan
It looks like a conversation, but it’s not.
Our finest 30km
Such beauty though clearly comes at a price, and the price for us on this occasion was an entirely dire experience through the poorly constructed Anzob tunnel. It is only around 6km in length and although we were heading predominantly in the favourable downhill direction, it stands out – without exception – as the most unpleasant riding conditions either of us has ever encountered, or in fact can even imagine. The absence of any lighting, frighteningly deep potholes, errant driving, frequent broken rebar and the shin-deep flooding were all fairly inhibiting for a bicycle, but the lack of ventilation and build up of fumes was the real kicker that provided most concern. A puncture or any type of mechanical issue would have really put us on the back foot, and escaping without either is likely to remain as the kindest fortune of our trip for some time. Once out into the fresh cold air, despite being muddied and just a little shaken by the ordeal, the descent into Dushanbe was a two-hour, free-wheeling, aesthetically pleasing delight.
Thankfully all the events from the past week appear to have counter-balanced each other perfectly and we remain married. Which is positive.