After leving Kazakhsatan we went straight to Bishkek (capital of Kyrgyzstan) to get our Tajik and Uzbek visas. The Tajik was easy, 30 minutes and done (once the taxi driver found the embassy). The Uzkek one took 8 days, not helped by the same taxi driver getting totally lost, making 3 phone calls and asking 3 pedestrians before he got us there.
Whilst we waited for the visa we went up into the hills, ripped a hole in a tyre on the cruiser and realised that the rear wheel of my bike was no longer with us! probably somewhere in Kazakhstan. The cruiser tyre was easy, 200 som (less than £4) to repair. We then went to a bike shop we had seen in Bishkek to source a back wheel for the bike. I don't think I mentioned that the bike was damaged in Mongolia when I reversed into what I thought was a bush, but turned out to be a bit more solid and bent the rear forks. As it happened the bike shop had a sale and the owner offered to buy what was left of my bike so turned out a better option to buy a new one. He also arranged an appartment for us for £17.00 per night (instead of £50.00 in the Hotel) and also let us park the cruiser in the workshop to keep it secure.
After finally obtaining the Uzbek visa we set off on our travels once more, stopping at Issyk Kul lake and then up to Song Kol lake at just over 3,000m over a 3,400m pass and staying in a Yurt. Turned out we would have been better off sleeping in the roof tent as the wind howled all night and blew through the gaps in the fabric so it was freezing. Next day I couldn't resist jumping on the new bike to ride from 3,100m down to 1,700m, but felt just a little guilty when we met an English guy cycling up with full packs, still at least we topped him up with filtered water.
The next few days the weather was amazing and the scenery absolutely stunning, there is no need to go to Mongolia it is all here and we found the people much more freindly and helpfull than the Mongolians and the food is better, but we found it better to try and drop below 1500m to camp or it becomes rather chilly and Chris has to have her hot water bottle.
Over the Fergana Mountains into the Fregana Valley and although technically still Kyrgyzstan has a very different look and feel, but this is the area that the Foreign Office still advises essential travel only due to troubles betteen Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in this area. This is a legacy of Stalin who carved bits of Uzbekistan off to enlarge Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan and whilst in the main everyhere is peacefull the Kyrgyz part of the Fergana Valley is still somewhat in turmoil. Having said that nobody bothered us and we passed through without problem.
After all we heard about the problems of getting into Uzbekistan and vehicles being searched from top to bottom, it turned out to be no more difficult than any other. The only problem was that the forms were all in Russian and we came to a bit of a stalemate when the customs official spoke no English and simply shrugged, but we eventually found someone in another office to help fill them in and after they were typed into a computer in one office, stamped in another, hand written into a ledger by security I think even they had got bored and after a cursory look in the back we were on our way. I must say though that the clear plastic Staples boxes everything is packed in has worked out very well as they can see what is in them and so far not one has opened any of them.
Uzbekistan is different again. The money is ridiculous! The largest note is 1,000 som which is worth 40p. The official rate is 1,750 som to $1, but you can get 2,500 som to $1 on the black market. The Hotel we are staying in was quoted at $100 per night, which is 175,00 som which you can aquire for $70 just down the road!!!
The people here though are the friendliest we have ever met. As we drove into the first City (Andijon) we asked a driver at traffic lights in which direction we would find a Hotel, he waved his finger for us to follow him and after an unbelievable u turn across 3 lanes of traffic in each direction he led us straight to the Andijon Hotel - and wanted nothing for it. Three times now we have stopped to ask directions from pedestrians and they have got in and taken us there.
On our first morning in Andijon we headed for the bazzar to get some fruit and met up with Baha, a University student who spoke exceptional English and who adopted us for the rest of the day, introducing us to the art of changing money and also helping us to get car insurance (which we failed to manage in Kyrgyzstan). When we asked him for directions to Fergana he took us to the main taxi rank and arranged for us to follow a taxi all the way here (45 miles) and in fact turned out to be a tag team as the first taxi handed us over to another after a few miles and after he had dropped off his passengers led us right to the (Asia) Hotel. (We unfortunately have to stay in Hotels here in order to register).
The Andijon Hotel was a real dump (but only cost £11 per night). The Asia Hotel is quite the opposite and so nice we have stopped for 2 nights as we have an exec room for £43. There are no registration issues in Tajikistan so will be in the roof tent again for the next 8 nights, but the following 10 or 11 we will be in Uzbekistan again and Hotels again, hopefully with internet so we can update the blog.