Status Update:

Current location: Bochum / Germany

50 countries, 1226 days, trip mileage: 124200 km

4 Aug 2008

Leaving Uzbekistan for Tajikistan

Between the Tajik and Uzbek border 6

After 4 weeks of following the Silk Route in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, we are getting increasingly tired of hot and boring desert rides and so are very much looking forward to a change of landscape.

On the 2nd of August we leave Samarkand and make our way towards the Tajikistan border, some 40km away. From what I’ve heard and seen, Tajikistan has some of the most stunning landscapes in Central Asia: the Pamir mountains, stretching just North of the Afghan border.

Just a few km east of Samarkand, outside the main silk route trail, the tonws and villages already look a little more remote and less developed. Petrol stations are closed because of a power-cut, but a few km before the border we finally find a little garage where we convert our remaining local currency into some bottled, overprized & low-octane petrol.

As we rock up to the Uzbek border, the bikes once again get the full attention of the border guards. One of the guards takes particular interest in the bike’s GPS, pressing all the buttons he can. After a quick hand-shake & greeting, I decide to take his new little toy off the bike – the result being a sulky border official. Without any sense of humour, he points at every single piece of luggage: “Open! – Check!”…. great – well done, Bjorn! Maybe not the best idea to provoke a border guard. But then again: I don’t take his mobile phone & start messing around with it, do I?

2 hours later, we can finally leave Uzbekistan and make our way down a 100m track towards the Tajik border post. Another hour or so and we should be stamped into the country. Well… not quite: as it turns out, our visa starts running on the 4th of August. So we’re a full 2 days early. Great trip-planning, isn’t it? Back in London, I had spent a fair time mapping out the route and dates in my calendar. And yet I still managed to mess up one of the most basic & essential things… well done, once again!

A little glimpse of hope comes up when one of the border posts hands me over his mobile. An English-speaking voice with a decidedly Russian accent tells me exactly what I was thinking: that it should be possible to resolve the situation with a bribe. We decide that a $10 ‘contribution’ should be enough – but it soon becomes clear that ten bucks isn’t anywhere near worth a negotiation. Disillusioned we go back to the bikes, and with 2l of water, 3 apples & some bread in the pockets we prepare ourselves for 2 jolly nights of camping in Noman’s Land, between the two borders.

The best place for our campsite is about 50m away from a small farm-house, behind a few trees next to a river. The river water is so dirty, I’m sure I could use it to process my films if I wasn’t using a digital camera. Luckily, Len manages to score some tap-water from the border house, which is clean enough to boil & make some tea. Later in the evening we get a visit from Makhmut, one of the Tajik border guards we had met earlier, and another local guy. It’s the end of Makhmut’s shift and they’re here to check if we’re doing alright, and if we need anything. “We’re OK for water, but something to go with the bread would be nice.” 10 minutes later, we’ve got tomatoes, cucumbers and a bottle of vodka in front of us. Happy days!

Border crossing – Day 2: Although the trees cast some shade on the tent, it’s soon getting too hot in the tent. 9 o’clock marks the early end of my attempt for a nice lie-in. It’s not long before the first travellers make it across the border, all of who donate some food and clean water towards our ‘Stupid Motorcyclists Survival Fund’: over the course of the day we get spoilt with water mellons, energy bars, nuts, crackers and even some pot noodles from England. According to one of the tour agents who come through, we are THE topic of conversation at the border – everyone knows about us. Nice.

With nowhere to go, a full day between borders can get pretty dull at times, the only entertainment being to find a new spot in the shade every few hours, as the sun makes its way across the horizon. As I’m sitting underneath one of the few trees staring towards the Uzbek border post in complete boredom, all at once I see a huge red rectangular object, which from the distance looks like a bit like a British telephone box, slowly making its way across the border. I close my eyes, and when I open them again the red thing is still there & getting closer: what appears to be a UK telephone box, IS in fact a UK telephone box with an old lime-green/black bonnet “Mr Bean” Mini underneath. Crikey!

The two guys inside the car introduce themselves: Ben and Lewis from team ‘A Very British Adventure’ are part of the Mongol Rally, which takes them overland from London to Mongolia in aid of charity. Shortly afterwards, their female counterpart “Heels on Wheels” arrives: a pink Citroen with 2 high heels as a mascot. It’s getting later in the day now, and the heat is a bit more bearable. We start to fill our water bottles through the water filter & prepare for tomorrow’s ride into Tajikistan. We could cross the border at midnight but don’t want to ride in the night & instead aim to get up as early as possible in the morning.

But things soon change again – this time in our favour: A group of five people on 3 motorcycles from Poland comes past and they stop for a quick chat. I was on my way to the Tajik border guards anyway, and so I accompany the others up to the border post. If possible, Len and I would like to do all the bike & customs paperwork now, so we can ride off as soon as we get up. Luckily the polish bikers speak fluent Russian and explain my inquiry to Makhmut (the guard who supplied us with some food the day before). A brief discussion between them, and the following translation puts a big smile on my face: Makhmut wants us to remember him and Tajikistan in good spirit, and since it’s only another 5 hours to go until midnight, he’ll let us pass through the border now so we can travel with our new friends from Poland.

Getting into Tajikistan takes less than 30 minutes, and about 20km into the country we soon find a suitable campsite for the night: the locals point us towards a safe spot near the river where there’s enough space for all the bikes & tents. Food & a well-deserved beer in the panniers, we rock up to the river. Happy days, it seems… if it wasn’t for my first ‘off’: trying to cross a little muddy stream on the way to the camp, I loose control of the bike and the pannier corner falls straight on my left foot – a mere 15m away from happiness.

The pain soon diminishes and I’m humping along trying to set up the tent for the night. Thanks to Justyna, a trained vet from our EnduroStany friends, I get the appropriate treatment, followed by some ber and vodka. 2h later I’m alright to hit the sleeping bag for a good night’s kip.