A Few Days Away from the Convoy

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August 8th 2006



After sticking together through thick and a hell of a lot of thin we arrived in Shymkent which as our amazingly friendly hostess in Bishkek put it is the pimple on the boil on the armpit of Kazakhstan which by the way ain't exactly the pleasant tropical paradise to start with. We had split with our American friends as my visa had did not start for a few days, little did we know at that stage how costly it would be!

We made an instant impact on the city driving right through and red light and a no-right turn sign right in front of some onlooking policemen who instantly pulled us over, after some mad map waving and begging the policeman to think of the children he let us on our way. Just as we pulled off a local followed our trick and got himself into a whole world of trouble no dodgy sign language was going to get him out of that!

We found ourselves a nice hotel thinking that we'd treat ourselves after the treck through the desert and went around the corner to jump in the pool which we soon discovered had no water but two really pissed off dogs!

We shook off this little set back and went to get some shashlik which at this point was still a friend of digestive systems. The next morning I got up relatively early and went to sorting out our radiator problem which had been the scourge of the convoy since Seth so kindly tagged us as "lill scampy" a name which I still claim today was the reason for the FIAT not finishing the rally! This is when our Samaritan showed up, a local gardener of the hotel, realising the problem he told us to jump in his van and we went around a whole host of auto repair shops looking for a new hose but to no avail. So not giving up he called his brother a local taxi driver that looked remarkably like uncle jr from the sopranos, anyway he took us to the bazaar which as the dukes found out contains a huge motor section where cars (probably mostly rally cars) are striped for parts and sold. This however was not before we had to stop in a petrol station so he could put all of 5 pence worth of fuel in whilst lighting a cigarette. After a little mad searching, bartering and so forth we managed to find a hose that we thought would do the job. However when it came to leaving we had a problem, the taxi wouldn’t start, the price you pay for parking on a hill and only having a dribble of petrol left in the tank I feel. After completely killing the battery from just turning the engine over the driver signalled us to get out and push start, not a completely foreign idea to these taxi drivers. So after primping the engine using the leaking fuel pump with one hand and smoking with the other we pushed the car and got it started only for the idjit to let it stall, SO we had to push the car back up the hill to try again. Bear in mind that it was really starting to get hot and this guy is not fast becoming my best friend! We arrived back at the hotel after receiving a reduced fare for the taxi and sorted out the car so it was running like a beaut.

It turned out that we had broken a spring, so we camped just off the road in a mosquito infested field and wondered whether our american friends would wait for us

By this time it was pushing on for 4 o'clock but we weren't too worried as the receptionist had told us that we could check out at 10, which turned out to be lies as they changed the check-in receipt that night and said check out was at 1. We tried to argue our case but the lack of english speaking people and the fact they had our passports and we needed to get going meant that we gave in and headed off cursing Shymkent and all the little urchins that lived in the sewer of a city. Things didn't go so well on our way to the border either, as our hose repair didn't exactly last as long as I had intended so after a hour stop at the side of the road we had it back to running with a little silicon help. By this time it was starting to get dark, but we were in high spirits as we wound along the little roads looking over as the sun set and the then the moon rose over the mountains. Then at around 8 disaster struck, or rather we struck disaster and hit a huge crater-like pothole. We carried on for a bit but soon realised that something wasn't right when we needed to turn the wheel almost completely to keep it straight! It turned out that we had broken a spring, so we camped just off the road in a mosquito infested field and wondered whether our american friends would wait for us after we missed our meeting the next day. The next day we got up at dawn to make our way to the next town to get the car sorted, unfortunately Kazakhstan being the laid back place it is meant that there was no-one around to see the car for 4 hours which was possibly the most infuriating thing known to man! But the chief of the garage and his little helper monkey sorted us out, while about 12 of his mates just sat at the door smoking and watching and we were back on the road.

Crossed the border no problem but then proceeded to get pulled over by every policeman on the way to Bishkek, turned out to be 7 times in 60 miles. At this point we were starting to see the benefit of the convoy and wonder whether we'd see them again. We managed to find a place to eat and get in touch with the other half of our convoy who had decided to stay and wait, and we were just starting to eat when Seth pulled up. We regaled our story of woe and he told us that Bishkek had been a little kinder to them, and how they had been given a free meal and room at the Hyatt then had a free night out with our amazing hostess who had even gone as far as to lend them their driver. At this point I could see James almost choke on his food with fury after what we'd been through all because of my visa, so I decided I'd pay for that meal!