Still Alive, Still Kicking

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August 8th 2006



It's been a long time since I've felt this clean. One of our travelling companions, the Dukes of Harlow, had a connection with the Xanadu Casino in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. The casino just so happens to adjoin a Hyatt. For some reason the manager took pity on us, allowed us to park our ridiculous automobiles front and center, fed us, and treated us to three king deluxe rooms last night. I think my shower this morning clocked in at about 40 minutes.

So after days and days of Kazakhsand (by the way, we've seen very, very little of Kaz that looks like the picture in a previous post), we're into Kyrgyzstan. It's been a long haul over everything from immaculate "western" highways to dirt trails in dried riverbeds. The cars have taken a beating but for some reason continue to carry us further. Cell phone coverage has been mostly non-existent and Pocketmail seems to have fallen victim to sand and dust.

Unfortunately we had to say goodbye to our friends Neil and James and the Mini Scamp in NE Kazakhstan. The fuse for the fuel lift pump blew fuses continually and eventually the electrical system caught fire in the dash. Useful items were divided up and the scamp left behind. Neil and James we dropped off in Aktobe with a local who spoke minimal English but seemed to understand that they needed to get to an airport. We've heard they made it back to the UK but that it wasn't cheap.

Down to 4 cars in caravan we made a dash for Aral, a dried up port town on a dried up portion of the Aral Sea. Needless to say it didn't take long for us to draw attention. We had dinner with a Frenchman named Phillip who is in process of cycling from Marseilles to China. He'd been on the road for 110 days. The children of Aral were quite amazing as well. Curious, playful, and fearless. They swarmed from the moment we parked the cars up until we left town.

In other news we decided against travelling to Uzbekistan. It's disappointing, but probably a better decision in the long run. The original plan was to cross the NW border of UZ. Reports were that even though the map didn't show a road there it did exist to some degree. Later we heard that the UZB threat level had been increased and that the area we would be travelling through was rather lawless. After hearing that one of the teams last year was shot at along that route we decided to stay in Kazakhstan and head for Samarkand the long way round. A couple of days later we ran into some drivers not affiliated with the rally who told us about the roads from Samarkand to Bishkek and how long it takes to drive them. The time factor stepped in and Uzbekistan is no longer on the itinerary.

So, we're in Bishkek. Within 30 minutes of driving in Kyrgyzstan, Patrick and I were pulled over by police 3 times. The first 2 the cops just wanted to see the cars and wish us good luck. The third was for a moving violation. Apparently you can't drive in on the road directly in front of the President's house. Oops. We launched into a masterful game of misdirection with the policeman. Everytime he tried to tell us what we'd done wrong, we asked him for directions. Then he drew a picture of a "Do Not Enter" sign on some scratch paper and gestured that he was taking our licenses. We pretended to not undertand what "money money money" meant and a few minutes later returned to our cars with no exchange other than shaking his hand and thanking him for pulling us over.

The fourth car in caravan, See You In A Bar In Ulan Bator, is stuck in Kazakhstan at the moment. Their visas don't begin for another day. This afternoon the plan is to head up into the mountains and find a spot to camp for the night. Not sure whether the Dukes will join us. Yesterday their front right spring snapped. A temp fix at a roadside truckstop by fellows who claimed to be both Mafia and Taliban didn't hold. They may stay in town to get that sorted.

A quick update on our vehicles. We've covered about 5100 miles now. Tyrone's (Seat) been fitted with spotlights on the front bumper - courtesy Scamp. Though they haven't been wired yet, it does make the car look more tough. The exhaust pipe is pretty much broken at the manifold. Annoying, but not serious. May even help out with river crossings later. Yesterday I noticed a noise that can also be felt through the steering wheel. It's inconsistent and nothing looks amiss with the steering. Both cars are idling rough. Seems to be more fuel related than anything else. I'll let Nathaniel handle the Ford Fiestavus.

With that, I'm off for now.