Status Update:

Current location: Bochum / Germany

50 countries, 1226 days, trip mileage: 124200 km

11 Sep 2008

Kyrgyzstan: Bishkek (2)

17_Alley in Bishkek(Sep2008)

Something I had been looking forward to in Bishkek was to finally meet someone who’s been really helpful & encouraging via e-mail: Arne, another contact I got through Horizons Unlimited, is a Danish guy and motorcycle enthusiast who’s currently working in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Arne’s job keeps him really busy, working in agricultural projects between the two countries, and I’m lucky to meet him one evening whilst he’s here on a brief visit.

We’ve got a real good meeting in central Bishkek, and very unexpectedly Arne offers us to stay in his flat in the heart of town. He’s hardly there anyway, he says, and the way it looks we might be up for a long-term stay here whilst trying to arrange shipping the bikes… so why not stay in his flat? We happily accept the offer and once again, we’re treated for absolute luxury – just like back at Trevor’s place in Dushanbe. On top of that, Arne introduces us to his project manager Yulia. Over the next week, Yulia helps us with internet access, translations from Russian to English and trying to find a cheap cargo-agent to deal with the bikes. (Yulia, if you’re reading this: you’re a real gem, and without your help things would have been so much harder, if not impossible to arrange – Thank you so much for all your help and efforts!)

As it turns out, Arne is a good friend of Trevor from Dushanbe, and they’ve recently gone for a little ride-out in the same area we’ve been to just a few weeks ago in Tajikistan. Arne also dreams of doing a long-distance motorcycle-trip one day – maybe from Central Asia to Europe. What a great idea, of course, but: One evening, we have a conversation, which turns out to be a bit of an eye-opener for me. Back in England, when I was preparing this overland trip, I often struggled with the paperwork that’s involved with crossing various countries by motorcycle. But when you’ve got Tajik license plates (like Arne does), things get so much more complicated… Where do you get your carnet de passage from if there’s no automotive club in the country? What about bike insurance when you enter Europe? All at once, the paperwork I thought was difficult to deal with in Europe seems to be like a walk in a park compared to what you’ve got to organize when you want to do the same thing, starting in Tajikistan.

22_Second hand car market- most cars are German (sometimes still with a German registration plate), most SUV - 4WD cars are Toyotas... and ALL of them are in mint condition!(Sep2008)

One day, Arne and I set out for the outskirts of Bishkek to visit the used car market. I already noticed the large number of German cars on Bishkek’s streets., and the car market is just the same: endless lines of BMWs, Mercedes, Audis, Volkswagen, amongst some Hummers and Toyota 4WDs… and all of them in absolute mint condition. Apparently, they’re all getting here overland – some of them even have the German license plates still on. As one of Arne’s friends in Bishkek explains: there’s quite a large Kyrgyz community in Germany since the fall of the Soviet Union, and they buy second hand cars in Germany. Their Kyrgyz friends come over to Germany to pick up the cars, and with the German license plates drive them overland to Kyrgyzstan. Once in Kyrgyzstan, the cars get polished, waxed and (if necessary) fixed up, until they’re sold second hand. Probably with a healthy profit, considering the relatively cheap labour in Kyrgyzstan.

14_An incredible variety of vodka in every shop(Sep2008)

Back to our ‘dead end road on a bike problem’: We get all sorts of prices from various shipping agents, and all kinds of requests of how to disassemble the bikes to make them small enough to go on an airplane. And in most cases, it takes a good few days, if not a week, to even get a rough quote. Our favoured option (Galaxy Air) turns out to be fairly vague: there might be a cargo plane going to India or Pakistan – but we won’t know for sure for at least another week.

As time passes, I get increasingly annoyed about the long-winded process of getting a definite quote from any of the shipping agents. Thanks to Arne’s offer of staying in his flat, we’re not spending any money for accommodation. We even got television with CNN and BBC World News amongst a dozen of Russian and Kyrgyz channels. But I very soon get tired of all the news repeats about the financial crisis, the US election campaign and the hotel bomb attack in Islamabad… time to move on, or at least to try & see something of Kyrgyzstan. After all, we’ve already extended our visas here, and all we’ve done in this country is to wait for spare parts and things to happen…

After a long time of waiting in Bishkek for 2 weeks, very unexpectedly things suddenly start to happen: during an internet session, I receive two crucial e-mails within a few minutes: One is from Iza and Kamil (Singapore-to-Poland overland bikers we met near Sary-Tash about a month ago), the other is from their Chinese agent. Iza and Kamil somehow managed to cross into China. They know that we are trying to get into China and asked their agent (Taher from Newland Travel) to contact us. The deal is perfect, though it comes at a prize: $700 per person/bike seems a lot of money to cross through to Khunjerab Pass/Pakistan, but we also know that this is the standard rate for a motorized vehicle and the mandatory guide in China.