Making Our Last Stan19 Aug 2010, by Uncategorized in
That “lamb shish” that I “just finished” in my last post? It was a vile poisoned thing! Either they rushed it out or the whole kitchen was filthy, because that was the 2nd worst food poisoning incident I’ve had yet.
After finishing that post I heard my name called in the courtyard outside the internet cafe and joined the guys in our convoy, Tom, Boris, Hugh and Will, along with another German, Sebastien, whose birthday was being celebrated, again, because we didn’t make it to Bukhara the night before. It was after 11pm and Bukhara had completely shut down, but we sat on the steps near a fountain and shared a few drinks and stories… such as Hugh’s work with the UN and a funny German “perfection”-ist trainer who tried to show American NGO aid groups why the houses they built were all wrong… and our favorite funny movies. After Hugh was slightly harassed by the fuzz and a very drunk Uzbek became convinced Tom was Mike Tyson, we decided to pack it in and finally go to bed.
After sleeping just a few hours I woke up trembling and emptied the contents of my stomach which had turned rancid in my belly and were begging to escape. I tried to drink some water and go back to sleep, but I couldn’t even keep that down for more than an hour. At 8am, I woke up Tom, told him I was ill and needed to sleep some more, asking him to figure out our fuel situation. I tossed for a few hours, and tossed my cookies a few more times (all just water I couldn’t keep down, even with re-hydration salts), and when I finally emerged at noon I was surprised to find Tom was *still* trying to sort out our gas! The Uzbek fuel shortage was no joke. By 8am all rations were tapped out already and he had to talk to two different guys to find enough black market gas to get us to the border. Supposedly the situation was improved nearer to Tashkent, but we did not want to risk it and just wanted to make the border.
Getting such a late start did not help, but finally we were fueled up and on our way after noon. While Jean & Tom drove in convoy with the CooperTroopers, I fidgeted uncomfortably in the passenger seat. Boris opened up his pharmacy to me and provided some foul tasting concoction that successfully eased my stomach… but now I found that my muscles, particularly my back, ached, and I could not sleep much in the car. At least I could stomach water.
We made Samarqand in the early evening, took some photos of Tamerlane’s statue & mausoleum, and grabbed a quick bite to eat. I was too uncomfortable to join the group for more photos & minaret climbing at the Registan (this one dazzlingly lit and accompanied by music, in stark contrast to Bukhara’s solemn square)… I’m jealous Boris must have gotten some amazing photos! We pushed on toward the border and stopped in a field just before midnight to camp out again.
New day, new man. When I woke up again I was feeling completely better. Whatever nasty bug had gotten into my system had finished excreting it’s toxins and I vanquished them from my body, ready to move on. With the CooperTroopers and Will heading to Tashkent to pick up their Tajik visas and Pamir highway passes, we split the convoy again and BaatarHero was on its own once more. We made pretty good time to the border, and had a relatively smooth Kazak border crossing, similar to the Uzbek crossing. What a pleasant surprise after dealing with such long process & expense in Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. Another nice surprise were relatively well paved roads in Kazakhstan!
Our drive up to Shymkent was a breeze and before we knew it we were sitting down to dinner at a Kazak barbecue place with live entertainment… well, it was basically 1 guy doing karaoke all night, but beggars can’t be choosers. Chicken for me this time… very well done. We crashed at a hotel rather than drive out into the country and camp again, knowing we would need a good shower and breakfast before today’s long drive.
Thinking we woke up early, we learned at breakfast that we’d lost another hour due to the timezone change, so we dashed out of Shymkent and sped off for Almaty. The cop who pulled us over for accidentally making an illegal u-turn was nice, and let us off with a warning instead of shaking us down. This great start to the morning was improved by absolutely stunning views of the country along the M39. Each border crossing brings about a stark change in geography, from the desert of Turkmenistan to the lush cotton fields of Uzbekistan, to the rolling hills of grass and various crops in Kazakhstan. We drove east, skirting around the feet of the towering Tian Shan mountains which climb off into Kyrgyzstan, passing herds of cattle and horses. Big Kazak horses, not like the tiny ponies we expect in Mongolia. Some of these look domesticated, but many look wild, roaming free along the freeway and crossing the road in their own convoys. It is killing me not having Kim here because I know she would love the landscape and the horses. We will just have to come back… maybe do the rally again some day?
After passing some tanks on the freeway we were surprised to come up on a bright yellow mini cooper with Superwinch written across the back. We had run into this team at the Kazak border crossing and thought they were heading North. It turns out they are, but not directly, first heading East a bit and then turning North before reaching Almaty. We drove with them for a while, taking turns passing the slow trucks, and then they seemed to disappear. Not having their phone or a plan to travel with them, we figured they stopped for a bathroom break or something and we continued on into town. After a few minutes though, a local driver flagged us down to tell us our friends were in trouble, so we turned back to find them along the side of the road with the front right tire completely missing, and all the steering bits turned about in different places. It turns out one of the steering control arms just bent. For no particular reason. They didn’t hit a big pot hole or rough patch of road… it just bent and drove them off the road. As it happens, they have a spare of EVERYTHING in that car, and they were probably a quarter of the way to repairing it. They just couldn’t find a bolt, which I happened to stumble upon and hand over. Glad I could be of some use! We stayed behind for a bit to make sure they’d be ok, but it was starting to get dark and we wanted to make it to Almaty tonight to reunite with Amy & Yasmin. They reassured us they were fine, so off we went.
Trying to skirt the Kyrgyz border without actually entering, we had to get off the main road which goes to Bishkek, and took this nasty detour just North of the border which had a ton of construction, pot holes and gravel. It made the night drag on, but we finally made it past the bad parts by about 11pm and hit really good pavement 200km outside Almaty. We cruised the rest of the way, and despite some really bad directions from a gas station close to the hotel which sent us 45 minutes in the wrong direction, we finally pulled into the parking lot where Amy & Yasmin were staying at just after 2am.
I whipped out the laptop straight away to have a Skype with Kim as its been days since we could have a real conversation. The internet connection here is decent and we will take advantage of it to finally catch up on photos & video in the morning. We’ll probably be in town all day tomorrow fixing up the cars. They’ve been taking a beating but are still holding together. We think we have an exhaust leak in one which is robbing us of power and fuel efficiency… despite which I still seem to be averaging 40mpg after our just over 6000 miles. I’ll have to corroborate the odometer against the map track tomorrow, but we’re now over half way through the trip in both distance and time. We’re hoping the roads stay better than expected so we can make good time in Kazakhstan and Russia to be reunited with Kim finally in Mongolia. We are also looking forward to meeting up again with the teams we’ve convoyed with the last few days who have split off in different directions. There are several arrival parties in Ulaan Baatar, and as we’re swinging through there to pick Kim up before touring Mongolia, we might actually be able to make both of them!
See you all again on the other side of a few hours’ sleep with some photo updates of our progress.