Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Day 14 Murgab – Alichur

Distance: 115kms

Nightmare bureaucracy at its most zealous. My hopes of getting chores done quickly dissipated at the hands of administration. I was required to register with the KGB in town or risk a $100 fine it was supposed to open at 8am but actually opened at 10am. Luckily I had copies of my passport and visa which saved me an hour, as they were required for the GBAO permit for entry into the sensitive Afghanistan border zone I was travelling to. A poor Swiss girl hadn't and wasn't allowed to advance past Murgab - she would have to go back to Osh to organise the permit.

I visited the bazaar and bought food for the next5 days. I also had to exchange US dollars on teh blackmarket, which was more straightforward than I had expected but never without risk. I also had one last try at phoning home which killed two hours stone dead. The woman behind the counter was classic soviet administration. Though she'd dealt with me yesterday there was not a flicker of recognition in her eyes, or a molecule of competence in her work. A young guy came to help and inspired confidence, but he disappeared without trace.

Frustrated I pedalled off towards Alichur with a ridiculously late start of 1.30pm. Soon after the military checkpoint on the outskirts of town I rode into a hailstorm and howling headwind. It was the first time the goretex had been required and it was icy cold at the top of the 4300m pass through towering mountains (pictured right). My strength and motivation tracked at similarly low levels until the headwind miraculously swung around and pushed me all the way to Alichur.

Alichur is a dusty little village of not more than 100 houses. The sister of the woman I stayed with in Murgab lives here and I was able to track her down. It was 7pm and I was presented with a progressive dinner of biscuits, tea, bread, dip and finally rice with meat. I spent an hour helping the young kids (pictured with mum below) learn English which was a bit of fun. It was a great night immersing myself in the Tajik family unit. It's easy to get caught up in the cycling and the scenery but actually the reason I travel is the people, and today I felt genuine Tajik kindness. As an example, at the bazaar the bag of food I was carrying broke. A young boy appeared with a plastic bag and helped me scoop up the peanuts but
refused to take any. I definitely feel at home in Tajikistan.

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