Jul 12 2008
From Aral the road is asphalted again and of relatively good quality and cycling with my recovering shoulder is relatively painless when my hand rests on the handlebar. I only have to be careful when mounting or dismounting the bike because of its weight.
Our first day back in the steppe is very difficult. The heat is intense and we are cycling straight into a strong headwind. There aren’t many cafes between towns and 50km from Baikonur, Olivier (‘petit jedi’, with the trailer) starts to suffer badly from dehydratation. He has a high fever and his muscles go into spasms. We’re stuck in the middle of the steppe with only 1L of warm water between ourselves. We manage to cycle back to a bus stop we saw earlier and start flagging down passing lorries. We are given water but we haven’t seen an empty lorry yet that could take our bikes. After waiting a couple of hours we manage to catch the local bus to Toretam (the city next to the Baikonur space centre which is closed to foreigners). In Toretam we all decide that we’ve had enough of the boring steppe road, and combined with Olivier’s and my own poor health, we choose to take the overnight bus to Shimkent, 700km away.
In Shimkent we begin to think seriously about what to do next. Olivier ‘petit jedi’ must fly back to France in September (work commitments) whereas Olivier ‘rouk’ and myself still have 6 months of freedom left, although limited in this part of the world. From what we heard it is still impossible to obtain a Chinese visa in Central Asia so we are a bit in a dead end. We will probably apply for a one month Kyrgyz visa in Almaty to sample the mountains of this small country that borders China. Afterwards we could fly to a different part of the world or try to cycle back through Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran. I will try the latter option first, which means running after complicated visas in Almaty and Bishkek. If this fails, the only option will be to take an expensive flight from Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan. I’d rather cycle!