Lazy start to the day with a sleep in til 7.30am. It was a restless night’s sleep, with frequent startling and moments of unbelievable disorientation. No sooner was out of town than I hit 15kms of road works: dust, slush and rock combining to slow progress. I had another bad stretch between 40 and 50kms. It was uphill, rocky and incredibly hot. I stopped at a roadside stall and could barely keep my eyes open, and eventually didn’t. I’d fallen asleep sitting up against a wall with a group of guys looking on curiously. Again I awoke disoriented – not surprising when you wake up in the middle of the day in southern Kyrgyzstan with a group of strangers crowded around – and pedalled on over the 2500m pass. The drop down into the valley below was spectacular, and for once the wind was behind me.
At Gulcha I crossed a rickety plank bridge over the river and found a café serving a kind of perogi and Pepsi. I made small talk with the young girls working there, and seemed to incur the wrath of a male diners who was obviously keen on one of the girls. The competition from a foreigner was riling him, and I made an early exit to avoid confrontation.
The plan was to cover another 30 kilometres or so before finding camp, but that plan was foiled when I can across Frank – a Dutch cycle tourist – on the side of the road. Frank implored me to camp with him and I obliged. He was a real character and had been travelling for 29 years, having covered a staggering 480,000 kilometres. He had made his living from publishing books on his travels (in Dutch) and slide nights. He had some great stories, including how he was robbed at gunpoint in Africa and tied to a tree with his own bicycle tubes. He’s also been ambushed with machetes in Central America, but outsmarted his captors by handing over currency from Africa that was worthless. He smiled as he recalled his assailants eyeing each other off over who would get to keep the 50,000 `dollar’ note – actually a 50,000 dinar note from Zaire worth 50 cents.
His years of isolation had also made him a bit cantankerous. He was annoyed that I would risk our safety by writing my diary entry by torchlight. It was like camping with a fun prevention officer.