Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bishkek, Kyrgystan, still

I am still stuck here for reasons of uncooperative Uzbek officials, shifting weather and a series of " You've got to come out tonight it's so-and-so's birthday/ rugby final/ random feeble excuse for boozing" and subsequent voddie hangovers

I have, however, managed to get out of the city and enjoy Bishkek's fine mountainous surroundings. I have finally managed to scoot up to 3000 odd metres and got to practice my huffing, puffing, sweating, suffering and of course work on my sunburn.

It's been a while since I have had to go for serious walkies and the trot up to the Ala Archa national park glacier was a eye-opening and lung-expanding experience. My instinct is to place the blame on China and the assorted heavy metals it has made me breathe but my lazy lifestyle in the Middle Kingdom probably has more to do with my still aching legs.

There is also a question of perspective since my last serious walking. My memories of South East Asia have edited themselves to the point that I retrospectively view myself as a mountain goat, bouncing along trails and hills to gaze at the half dead followers behind me. Selective memory aside, there is a shade of truth in these recollections.

South East Asia is full to the brim with assorted dopers and piss artists. A byproduct of this is that it is easy to compose a walking group full of people whose fitness is even lower than mine. Though I am woefully unsporty, I can still outwalk folk who have been sipping the CHhng or puffing pot nonstop for a fortnight. This gave me the real pleasure of cresting hills and gazing down at the distinctively unhappy members of whatever ad hoc rambling group I joined.

Kyrgystan is a different kettle of gasping fish. Folk come here specifically for the trekking and are prepared both in terms of equipment and body. Overnight stays in refuges are tricky for me as I seem to be the only tourist in Kyrgystan with a mozzie net but no sleeping bag. Day walks are fun but I then have to be the slow chap of the group. Nothing quite kills moral than stopping for a vital breather, hoping your legs will not buckle then looking up at your trekmates 200 yards up the hill and still prancing gaily. Poetic Justice sweeps down to punish me again.

Beyond hauling my flabby body up to altitude sickness heights I have been busy revising my plans for the umpteenth time. Bishkek is a traveller's twillight zone where everyone ends up and stays for longer than expected. The silver lining with this is that there is a lot of up to date info to be gleaned. I had already dismissed Iran as the visa takes eons to acquire and our Persian friends have started to shunt Brits on the same heavily controlled tours they put the seppoes on.

The alternative overland(ish) route is to take a ferry acroos the Caspian to Azerbaijan then go through Georgia and Turkey to the Middle East. THis sounds simple but once again the mighty gods of officialdom cast their loaded dice against me.

To get from Uzbekistan to Baku I can see 3 options each with their separate pros and cons.

1. Get a 5 day transit visa for Turkmenistan, speed through the country to the town of Turkmenbashi and try to get on the ferry to Baku.
Pros: Get to avoid flying (very eco-cool) and collect amusing stories of Central Asian sailors.
Cons: The notorious unreliability of the ferry means that the Turkmen authorities have started to refuse transit visas for that route. Even if I can score the visa the chances of getting on the boat on time are 50/50 so I might experience the joy of being an illegal in one of the most fucked up and paranoid countries in the world.

2.Take the ferry from Aktau (Kazakhstan) to Baku.
Pros: I can get a tourist visa to Kazakhstan quite easily and ditto Azerbaijan though it's time consuming and expensive. Kicking around Aktau would be risk free.
Cons: This ferry tends to sink and kill its passengers. Aside from the risk of spending my last minutes on earth with sturgeons this means that the ferry is cancelled untill someone rustles up another unseaworthy boat for the 12 hour crossing.

3. Fly from Ashgabat to Baku
Pros: Don't have to paste it through Turkmenistan so I get to see more than the golden statue of Crazyboy. I might be authorized to do this trip. Cheap fuel in the Stans means that it would actually be cheaper than the ferry and bus way. Visa on arrival in Baku. Might make Instanbul for New Year and see some family.
Cons: End of no fly ban. Central Asian planes somewhat dodgy.

Decisions, decisions, decisions. Need a beer.

Next stop, Osh, Jalalabad, Arslanbob or anywhere south of Bishkek

Take care,



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