Day 58 – Thursday May15 – Bishkek to Lake Issy Kul – Dave

Susan and Ben have done a great job updating the blog with Simon’s dramatic texts, so these ‘retrofits’ from our time in Kyrgyzstan may now seem a little pedestrian and out-of-date, but Simon and I are going to include them anyway because we bloody well wrote them!

We left our hotel and made a brief stop at the garage where they’d changed our tires, so the mechanics could have their photos taken on the bikes, then, in bright spring sunshine, we headed east out of Bishkek towards the mountains and much-lauded Lake Issy Kul.

Lake Issy Kul

Almost immediately my ‘BRAKE FAILURE’ light flashed on and we pulled over.  In the last few days my mechanical confidence had swelled (admittedly from a base of zero) after having changed my engine oil and filter, disengaged the brakes and ABS, removed the wheels and then reversed the process to replace the wheels (with new tires on), but in an instant that fresh confidence evaporated.  In reconnecting the brakes and ABS mechanism I had somehow screwed up.  Furthermore, in the 24 hours since I did it, I had failed to test ride the bike and so the problem had not been revealed until now, on the road, holding everyone up.

Fortunately, my traveling companions knew exactly what to do.  “Ignore it”, said one.  “It’s just a warning light” added another.  “That’s right” said the first, “do the brakes feel okay, that’s what matters?”  “Er…yes…but those big mountains we’re heading for look like they might require perfect brakes…”  “Don’t worry, it’s probably just the ABS not working, and you don’t need it, not really” said someone else.  “Right”, another pal chipped in, “Never even had ABS when I was a kid.”  I glanced nervously at the snow-covered mountains and back at my helpful companions.   “Okay…”

So we rode on down an unusually well-made road through Alpine scenery with the Kazakhstan border a hundred yards to our left and high mountains to our right.  Other than John and Richard being ticketed for speeding (fortunately the cops’ speed gun only records two readings), it was a great ride and my sense of wellbeing was completed when my brake warning light turned itself off.  Things seem to have  beenjolted back into place.

Here’s a cool Kyrg dude we met on the way.  We like the hat so much we found and bought one each to wear at Grey Silk reunions.  Eat your hearts out, readers.

Kyrg Dude

After a few hours we came upon Lake Issy Kul a 115 kilometer long brilliant blue lake, the north side of which is lined with Soviet-era summer resorts and the south side of which is still fairly wild and empty – and that’s where we headed for.  On the way we went off-roading through an orchard to the shore of the lake where, surrounded by a flock of grazing sheep and looking over brilliant blue water at snow-capped mountains, we lunched on bread and cheese and basked in spring sunshine.  It was a very fine moment.

As we continued on our way we came across a man riding a heavily loaded moped (a Suzuki 91) and realized that this must be Ernest, a Swiss adventurer that Nathan had told us about having met, so we stopped to talk to him.  What a guy!  Early 50s but boyish with a pony-tail, goatee beard and infectious laugh.  He’s a cabinet-maker from Zurich who has already ridden this far alone on his tiny bike and is now headed across Mongolia and Russia to Vladivostok!  Extraordinary.

Meeting Earnest

A little further on, we saw a couple of guys preparing to hunt with an eagle and a hawk…

Hunting eagle

And finally we arrived at the Tamga Lodge, a basic hostel but clean and well-managed by the proprietor, Luba, a former mountain guide who had a good dinner waiting for us.  Simon is chomping at the bit to get into the mountains and put his super-cool hiking boots to the test.

We are all liking Kyrgyzstan.

Best wishes,

Dave

 

Day 31 – Friday, April 20 – Somewhere by the Black Sea to Tblisi – Dave

It was raining when we set off today.  Big heavy soaking drops.  So we headed slowly north – slowly not just because of slippery roads and poor visibility , but also because any puddle might have concealed a cavernous pothole capable of turning the bike’s wheels square.

One of the oddities of this country is that off-road riding skills (standing on the pegs, leaning forward, knees and elbows bent as shock-absorbers) are in most demand in the towns, where the streets can be a churned-up mess.  In one town we had to work our way up a hill between huge trucks  that were stuck in a bog of mud and chunks of macadam that was once a street.

Mid morning we stopped at a ‘restaurant’ where the only food on display was a skinned goat stretched over the counter like a great bloody bird, and where we were served by a a Norman Bates lookalike.  We are exotic in these parts.  When we walk in, the locals stop talking and turn to stare – like we’re Butch Cassidy and the boys.  If we manage to communicate and they ask where we’re going, the answer ‘China’ just gets us glassy stares, like we’re clearly not right in the head.

We pushed on through the rain.  Our clothes proved waterproof, but visibility was a challenge for us all.  It’s hard to stop the visor fogging up, but if you push it up, the icy rain blasts your face.  Meanwhile, the Georgian drivers continue to play chicken around us like its more fun in the rain.

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant that had 8 separate dining rooms (on the left in the photo below) – each containing a dining table, chairs and wood-burning stove.

Servers delivered large trays of food and drink through the rain from a central kitchen.  Simple fare, but at that moment, very welcome.  Outside was a thundering mountain river, about to burst its banks, and a very sad bear in a cage.

The stick-to-the-ribs food was good and we were  starting to thaw out and relax…

….when SImon, who had stepped outside, staggered back in, blood pouring from a wound on the bridge of his nose.  His camera was covered in mud and he looked like he was in shock.

“That bloody bear just punched me”, he said.

It turned out he’d gone to snap a pic of poor old Paddington and had stepped over the guardrail to poke his camera through the bars (yes…I know..and so does he now…).  In the instant it took him to raise the camera and focus, Paddington leapt up, hurled himself across the cage and took a huge swipe at him. He smashed the camera back into Simon’s face and sent it (the camera, not Simons face) flying into a muddy ditch.

Fortunately, Simon wasn’t badly hurt, just a little abashed (and his camera and the bear were both fine).

The rain stopped and we pushed on to Tblisi, Georgia’s capital.  It looks interesting, but we were too tired to explore – just dined in the hotel.

Tomorrow we look around.

Best to all,

Dave