Almaty's little brother?

Trip Start Apr 26, 2012
Trip End Oct 31, 2012

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Where I stayed
sakura guesthoue

Flag of Kyrgyzstan  ,
Saturday, July 7, 2012

It was an easy matter to pick up a cab down to the bus station and then book a seat on the Marshrukta going to Bishkek. However, to preserve the peace, we willingly purchased an extra seat for our packs so that the driver didn't have to keep pulling them in and out when others departed. The trip itself was nothing to write home about unfortunately, most of the way is flat, fallow fields baking under the harsh sun. The border crossing was infinitely easier and quicker than our previous one. Stamp out, walk a short way and stamp in. Yay.

Probably the most memorable thing about the trip was the number of times our Kazak number-plated van was stopped by the cops. Inevitably the driver would hop out, give them a big hearty handshake (we think with a transfer of notes) and hug, then jump back in and drive on. It was never obvious why we were stopped or why everyone was so happy about it but we figured it was a revenue raising activity by the Kyrgyz police.

About three hours later we were at the bus station in Bishkek. We wandered past the taxi drivers quoting ridiculous prices to a guy who appeared to be more honest looking than the rest. A great pick as he knew where our guesthouse was which not as easy as it could be. Sakura is located in a back lane behind Sovietskaya (a main street) but you have to enter a specific way to be able to get the car up close. Anyway it wasn’t long before we were sorted in a lovely clean room with access to spotless bathroom facilities, good wifi and a small meeting area in the garden where we were to spend most of the next 9 days.

Bishkek is a bit like Almaty’s little brother. Similar architecture, boulevards and parks made walking around, even on the hottest days a pleasure. They have a great "Gourmet"/Turkish supermarket where you can buy all those things you miss from home, beer sold in every street corner shop and a number of excellent café/restaurants in their parks where you can while away a few hours over a coldie.

Our main reason for staying so long is to collect a couple of visas. In the end they were easy – Tadjikistan in 15 min and the Uzbek one in 20 (once we had our Letter Of Inivitation through Stantours) - but the people we met at Sakura and the comfortable digs saw us stay at least three or four days longer than intended.

It was here we were inspired on what to do Post-Africa. Our original plan had been to head north to Cyprus and stay there while Tim finished Bigsound. We would then plot a route up through the Balkans and Eastern Europe as long as the weather stayed bearable and then get a job somewhere. The expense of Europe precludes travelling around for too long without your own transport!. But as more and more cyclists told us of their travels on touring bikes we started to wonder if we could do something like that. Many a nigh'st was spent over a couple of beers quizzing them about bikes, gear and training regimes. It soon became obvious that while a lot of planning (in some cases!) had gone into equipping their bikes, many of them had just gotten on them and started riding, gaining fitness and losing weight as they went. One Japanese girl bought a bike in Kashgar and then rode it over to Kyrgyzstan. 2 couples had come from the UK and one from Germany. Martin and Alex (Melb) and Sergai and Adreinn (NZ/Hungary) had ridden from Britain and had clocked up over 12,500kms each and had some pretty good stories to match. They took time to show us their bikes and explain some of the reasons why they had kitted them the way they had. They also enjoyed a cold beer at day's end and knew how to shout in turn - not common knowledge amongst backpackers unfortunately! We were also lucky to meet Eireen and Michael from Berlin, they had been cycling with Lucia, a tiny Yorkshire terrier who commanded centre stage everytime we sat down. Their times on the road with Lucia should end up in a book. They also took time out to show us their bikes, which looked fantastic. Sakura became a hard place to leave as we got to know these adventurous, like-minded people.

So that's what we plan to do …Fly from Africa to Perth…get some bikes and gear and ride over to the East Coast via Tasmania. We figure that will give us a good idea if we are cut out for bike touring. We can then get some work somewhere and plan a trans Europe, trans Canada and USA and South America over the next 5 or so years. It’s a perfect if it all works out and way cheaper overall than trying to buy cars or campers to get us around. We’re realistic about our age and state of health, and it won’t start happening for another 12 months, but we don’t want to die wondering. Hopefully it will add the extra challenge I think we are both looking for since the world of back-packing became so easy.
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