A strange, disjointed day with radical changes in landscape and culture. The day would end in the famed Fergana Valley – the most Muslim region of Kyrgyzstan – a lush valley in stark contrast to the desert where it started.
I hatched my plan last night to rescue the situation: find a ride to the point I got to yesterday and continue cycling from there. I tracked down a willing driver complete with 1960s Studebaker, but I would have to share the ride. The first pick-up was a drunk who’d obviously been on the vodka all night. I had to carry him to the car, then transport him to his family home. His wife, father and two kids were waiting and not impressed. Fireworks kicked off when he staggered across the paddock towards them. It was then I realised they had their bags packed – they were joining us! We had 6 adults, 3 kids, a bike, 9 people’s luggage and one dead weight on the end of a vodka bottle for the journey.
Ten minutes passed before vodka boy needed a pee, then another. He fell back into unconsciousness as we retraced the painful kilometres from yesterday. I winced as I passed the rock from yesterday. My fellow passengers were relieved when I got out of the car near the top of the pass, and so was I. The thought of tackling the descent on bald tyres and a loaded rustbucket was not one I relished.
Jalal-Abad is a great little town with a teeming market (left) and different feel. Forty per cent of the residents are Uzbeks and strictly Muslim, which manifests in manner, costume and attitude. I found a great little guesthouse, enjoyed shaslik and was able to buy my first bottle of still water for days. I played a couple of games of chess with some local lads in the market, and in the games I at last found a common language. The way you play chess says a lot about your personality, and I finally got to really know some Kyrgyz and overcome the language barrier. I felt like the fog of Central Kyrgyzstan had lifted.