Sunday, November 12, 2006
Silk Route Trip 2005 - Kazakhstan/Kyrgyzstan
5/31/05 Tue Bishkek, KZ hot, sunny
Even so we got an early start and left at 6.30am we only arrived at 7 pm at the Hotel. The van took until 10.30pm to get here. Bumpy roads kept the van from going fast. Two border crossing held us up, too. But…….all is well.
Crossing from UZB to KZ I noticed the lack of trees at once. While UZB tries to grow trees, KZ has mostly steppe. Large, huge hills with grass cover on the left of me and high Mountains visible to the right of me. The mountains still have snow covers. I see police hiding in KZ just like I saw last year in Siberia. 2 of them tried to stop me but I pretended I did not see them, just like last year in Siberia. I know that all they want are bribes; they don’t care if you go fast or not. Kyrgyzstan in contrast is green and has trees. From the border to Bishkek are houses, cities, towns along the road. It took 90 minutes to cover 90Km to the Hotel. All along the 90 Km I had lots of traffic, houses and people everywhere. The roads are typical for a former Soviet satellite city, potholes, bumpy and dangerous. So are the roads in KZ. I am glad I have the BMW GS model. The machine was made for roads like this. I feel for David Ow who has to ride these roads with his broken shock. Mike will bring him a new shock to Almaty. Toady was basically a long day of riding. My body is NOT sore so I guess I must be getting used to riding all day.
For my next long journey I should try a camel pack. I find it hard to stop and just take a drink. Especially when I know it is going to be a long day ahead and every stop will slow me down. It’s easier to drink out of a camel back.
The hotel is away from the city and outside in a park. One bottle of beer is US $ 5.-
6/1/05 Wed Lake Issyk-Kul hot, sunny
The morning gave us a Russian tour.
A visit to: Lenin Square, Communist Street, Parliament, famous Statue, Museum, all very typical.
We left Bishkek (Bishkek means: stick to stir mare’s milk) around noon. A side tour led us to see a replica of a silk route watchtower and then on to the resort on the lake. Issyk-Kul is the 2nd largest Alpine lake in the world. (Biggest is Lake Titicaca in South America).
Lot’s of little stories about her; the name of Bishkek (see above) and how it got the name. On a caravan the leader lost his fancy stick. He send someone back to find it and that spot is now called Bishkek. The old name of Bishkek was “Tumse”.
The hotel on the lake is a retreat or a spa. The top brass of the Soviets got free vacations here. Nice setting with large Park, tennis courts, boating, massages, etc. Very quiet!
This is a good place to recover. On the way in we picked up Arno, a German guy from Ulm. He sleeps in Dean’s room. Dean and Gerissa remain in Bishkek so Dean can rest up and also to ship their purchases to the U.S. via an Army Base. They promised to send some of my stuff back to N.J., too.
NYC rates apply and every Army base has a Post Office. I had to pay 12.50 Dollars for riding around the lake Izzyk-Kul. They call it an “environmental fee”
6/2/05 Thu Lake Issyk-Kul hot, sunny
We took off this morning to see a horse show. No road to speak of, just dirt roads, water crossings and horse pastures. We saw the way Genghis Khan used to live. We were absorbed for one day into the horse culture that has been here for hundreds of years.
Horse race, kissing in full gallop, woman chasing a man with her whip, young men, in full gallop picking up stuff off the ground, and of course, fighting. The fighting goes on to pull the other guy off his horse, fighting to carry a sheep carcass across a finish line.
2 teams of 4 riders each, fought each other to bring the carcass across the finish line. Punches, kicking, hitting, pulling all is allowed. The young guys fell of their horses, got up and rode again, some were hurt, too but no matter, the fight goes on until one team wins. This is a very ancient, vicious way of fighting. The people ride everyday, all day. They are at home on the back of a horse; it’s their natural way of living. A guy carried a 4 by 8 sheet of plywood that way. One man was sleeping on the back of the horse. Another was watching the games sitting on the horse backwards; another looked at his horse as if it were a couch. Amazing to see this, this was NOT a tourist stop. It was difficult to get to this area, I fell off the bike when my crash bar got stuck on a rock but all is ok. The crash bar is bend up a little but that is it. All is well. Riding on these horse meadows is not easy with all the undulations and rough terrain. Rick Wenzel is really good on these surfaces. I fretted the way back to town but all went well. I changed oil (used Mobil One 5-50 Synthetic). I did not change the oil filter.
I had a hard time pulling off the kick plate because of the bend in the crash bar, but…..all is done! The area is beautiful, very Alpine. It is rough and basic. I would say like the ‘Alps’ used to be. The people seem hardy and are very friendly. Lunch was in a yurt. Very cozy and I could have slept right there on the floor of the yurt. This was NOT a tourist spot but the real thing. It is amazing to see all this in the year 2005.
To see Mongols on horses, their camels, their life style, all still active and doing well deep in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan.
I fret the ride tomorrow. 480 Km over dirt roads! I don’t’ like dirt road that much. I am getting better but it’s scary. I need to stand on the pegs and that is not fun. In addition one needs a very high level of concentration, for hours on end. I hope all will go well on tomorrow’s way to Alma Ata.
Tools missing in my assortment: Allen wrench for oil change
Star key for back plate
Socket wrench (Honda?)
Miles on bike: 28994
6/3/05 Fri Alma Ata (Almaty) sunny
We all took the ‘Adventure’ road to Almaty.
Potholes like you would not believe. Only bomb craters are larger. We had an early start, breakfast was at 6 am. Going east, into the sunrise, was an adventure in itself. The sun is in your eyes and that makes it hard to see the cows, sheep, goats and horses in the road. You better watch out for the slightest movement or you will have a hood ornament. In addition, of course, we are watching for the police hiding in the bushes. People are squatting on the side of the road waiting for something, kids running around waiting for something, too. There is an early morning chill this high up in the mountains, sand on the road and like I said, POTHOLES. The bike takes a hell of a beating. Rocks are spraying behind each bike (do not ride too close to the bike in front of you) and large dust clouds from oncoming traffic greet us on the way. Well it could have been worse. It could have rained. We had some puddles, but no rain. Thank God! All went well.
David Ow drove into a closed gate on his side of the road; he could not see the gate in the dust. He got hit in the face, broke off his front tooth. Lucky he had his full faced helmet on otherwise, who knows what could have happened. He is sore, but ok.
6/4/05 Sat Almaty Sunny-nice
Again, we had a typical city tour. Almaty looks prosperous. I see new cars, lots of Mercedes’ and all because of Oil Money. I used the day to wash my shirts, clean the bike, downloaded email, send postcards, etc. I consider today a recovery day after yesterdays “Adventure” rough road trip.
Everything is in good shape. I seem to have lost my 3 pointed Allen wrench. I need to find better tools.
6/5/05 Sun Zharkent (China Border) hot, sunny
Two Kazakhstan guys guided us out of the city. One guy was on a KTM, one on a Harley. We left the city as a group and real orderly but fell apart as soon as we hit the open road in the desert.
Getting gas made some people fall off, then some ride slow, some fast. We learned that there is a ‘Grand Canyon’ on the way and some just had to see it. I rode on and got to the Hotel at 1pm. Nice looking, local hotel. Nobody knew we were coming, though. It is confusing to talk to them but it does not matter, I got a nice room. It feels good to be in a ‘local’ hotel and not in a Hilton, Hyatt or whatever (Marriott?). Lunch was soup, bread and tea for 400 schlotnees (Tenge). Everybody is using the term schlotnee to describe local currency. It is hard to keep track of all the separate monies so we call any foreign currency schlotnees. The 2 Kazaks came right after lunch and we talked politics and business. One owns gaming parlors (KTM) and has about 1000 employees throughout Central Asia. The other (Harley) owns Internet Café’s with a total of about 1000 computers. He has 4.5 Million U.S. dollars as a bank loan from a local bank and the interest rate for the loan is 14%. All local banks, in turn, borough Dollars and/or Euros from U.S. or European banks at a rate of 4%. This Harley guy pays the local bank $ 68,000 monthly as loan payment. He thinks he will have the 4.5 Million Dollar loan paid off in 4 years. He has been paying his loan for about 18 months now and so far, so good. Mortgages on apartments are at 12%. The Harley guy feels that 14% for a business loan is a low and good rate. Looks like Banks here make a lot of money. Everybody here thinks and talks in Dollars because Oil money is talked about in Dollars and they just use the same structure for local business. Business men are very happy that they have independence from the Soviets and/or Russia. The tax rate is a flat 35%. But taxes are only paid on ‘White’ money. Everybody deals in black and white money. To get a loan from a bank one needs to show a lot of ‘White’ money. There is no IRS in Kazakhstan. Not yet!