Tajikistan | Khorog - Kalaikhum - Kulob - Dushanbe | 5th to 28th November 2015 | 16,268km
Our bodies had held up well against the infamously nasty Tajik bad bacteria we’d been warned about. Every cyclist we met pre Pamirs had recalled, with a vacant stare, their own experiences of getting ill and in the mountain town of Khorog we too finally succumbed. A couple of days rest became a week spent quick walking between the freezing cold toilets and the little room we had at the mostly deserted Pamir Lodge. We were both suffering from a first bout of Guardia, one of the symptoms of which is undeniably eggy burps. Awesome.
On the final stretch to Dushanbe things became progressively more difficult as they have a habit of doing when we’re at our most exhausted. The stove packed up (dodgy Pamiri petrol), the road refused to improve and a westerly headwind roared. Flo fell off again after a blissfully unaware chid tricycled out in front of us and a particularly angry dog put a big gash in one of her panniers. She also made a very charitable but unintended donation to one village by losing her jacket, gloves and most devastatingly, a fresh dustbin lid sized naan we’d just been given from the back of her bike. Naturally a heavy rain came on later that day.
We succumbed to a second breakfast stop after a record four minutes when offered chai at a military checkpoint. Two years in the army is mandatory here and we were ushered into a room full of baby faced (even by Luke’s standards) lads still in sleeping bags, Kalashnikovs on the floor next to them. We recognized the labelless tins of ‘fish’ that where knifed open and were served up alongside condensed milk and more naan, a breakfast of champions.
From Kalhaikhum, we were told that the Northern route to Dushanbe (shorter but higher) was a no go this late in the year, so weand we got stuck into the longer bit allegedly easier southern route, with the promise of some stretches of tarmac. There was some tarmac, which we had a good look at, riding head down into the driving wind and rain. Changing back into wet clothes the following morning, an opportunity presented itself in the form of 4 trucks parked outside the cafe we’d slept in. Even in the trucks 100km took over 8 hours as our trucking dream team stopped to pull comrades out of mud baths, fix endless mechanicals and sound their horns at everything. We hopped out at about 10pm just as they were breaking out tins of 8% alcohol energy drink and fumbled around in the dark pitching the tent. Camping wasn’t quite as cold and we could now bear changing out of cycling shorts before getting some kip, a victory for hygiene.
Finally on the run into the Tajik capital we experienced the most rarest of natural phenomenons, a Here Be Dragons tail wind! One of the silver linings of our delayed arrival was that we had the chance to stay with a cycle touring legend, Vero, who we had thought we would miss. She’s hosted hundreds of cyclists at her (mega swag) house for the last three years and, along with two extremely amiable Aussies Tim and Het, we were her last of this season. Probably the most shattered we’d been on the tour, we spent a week recovering, enjoying another bout of Guardia, eating crepes and enjoying the freedom of wearing less than 5 layers. Dushanbe marked a whole year of being away for us - 13 countries and over 16000km, updated map below.
We used what little energy we had to romp around the Uzbek, Turkmen and Azeri Embassies. Frustratingly, we can’t pass through Iran and so hatched a plan that would see us clear central Asia and make it to Georgia for Christmas. The Uzbek embassy was awful, seeming to relish creating panic and distress for it’s own citizens and caring very little about the fact they had lost our application. Next we had the avoid the direct stare of the Turkmen consul who would, if he was stroking a cat, have made an excellent bond villain. If the country described as the ‘North Korea of central Asia’ would grant us a 5 day transit visa, we could finally get the enormous Azeri consul man, who appeared to bathe in cologne, to give us another 5 day transit visa with which we could make it to Georgia. Easy.