First two weeks back on the road (Xinjiang and Kakakhstan)

At last the winter had passed and it was time to get back to spending my days outside, on the road on Stella. Although I enjoyed my time in Urumqi, certainly not regretting spending the winter there; I made some good friends and was genuinely upset about leaving. However, I left Dalian, almost a year to the day earlier with the intention of heading back to England on my bike.

I packed my things and was out back on the road. Suddenly it seemed the last months were a dream. I was gliding around the road like nothing had changed. Though it had. I had certainly put on some weight in the previous months and was sure I’d lost a significant amount of fitness. I stopped by a nearby city to visit my former colleague. After spending lunch there and chatting for a while I continued on. After about 80kms I was getting tired so decided to call it a day.

The following days were mostly flat and good conditions to ride it. My fitness was alot better than I assumed.. My muscles clearly remembered what it is like to cycle all day long and they didn’t seem too fatigued by it. Even the uphills weren’t such a struggle. That was until the 5th day and I had a 50km, 2000m incline to ride. After 45 kms I was exhausted and spent the night under a bridge. The following day I made it to Sayram Lake. The staff at the information centre were overwhelmingly friendly. Offering my food from the Shop inside. After spending some time chatting there I headed off, cycling around 3/4 of the Lake. Many cars stopped by to chat and get a picture with me. Clearly not many foreigners passed this way; which is surprising as the Lake was really beautiful. I found a gem of a spot up in the forest. It meant pushing my bike up a hill; but was well worth it for the panorama of the Lake which it provided.

I spent the next day relaxing. Having a well earned rest. Then it was off to get to the border town of Khorgos. Getting there though was quite fun. Amazing bridges and tunnels, and about 50 km of all downhill, which was great. Arriving at the border mid-afternoon I spent the remainder of the day relaxing, deciding whether to spend another day there or not. That decision was made easy the following morning when I was told; whether accurate or not, that the border would be shut from tomorrow for the next week. It didn’t make sense, but I didn’t want to take the risk! I packed my things and headed the few hundred meters the border zone. Getting out of China was easy. However getting through ‘no man’s land’ was more challenging as I was told I couldn’t cycle the 7kms. I had to get a bus, which cost 100RMB! I persistently pressured them, keeping my smile. In the end, I had no choice but to put Stella on the bus, however I got on for free, avoiding the astronomical fee that would have gone to the Kazakh guards on the other side.

I was in Kazakhstan! As is normal, the first hour or so is a little strange. Adjusting to a new road, culture, etc. Many drivers were honking as they passed, waving madly. I had a good impression. I stopped at the first town in order to register my visa as I thought I might be there longer than 5 days. For some reason I expected it to be quick and hassle free. After an hour or waiting I went away being told that everything was good and that I didn’t have to register. I wasn’t convinced, but wasn’t going to argue. It wasn’t that bad waiting though, as I had a sexy police officer ask to see my phone, and she spent a good while looking though my photos and asking questions. Out of genuine interest and curiosity.

I cycled on and was impressed by the friendliness of the locals. Upon stopping for supplies I met a lovely lady from Uzbekistan. She had the most amazing smile, and I felt I magnetic connection to her. Even though she couldn’t speak any English we sat and ‘chatted’ for 30 mins before I had to continue on. I then made a bit of a mistake of judgement. I was planning to head to the ‘Sharin Canyon’, one of the only genuine sights in Kazakhstan when I had the choice of two roads. They both would lead to ‘Kegen’ where I was heading, but one was a secondary road, the other was the main road, along which was the canyon. As I came to the intersection the secondary was signed with ‘Kegen 78kms’ without even thinking I continued straight on it. Turning right would have put me back on the main road. So, I missed the chance to go the Canyon. I was a little annoyed with myself. Even more annoyed when the road I was on turned out to be flat, and consisted of rather desert like scenery. Oh well. I believe everything happens for a reason.

I next day I knew was going to be challenging. A climb of up to 3,000m. In the end it translated as about 30km of a gradual incline, then 20 of rather steep mountainous terrain. I enjoyed it though, even though it was certainly testing my fitness. Thankfully ended the day passing a friendly town and cycling downhill.

So, I was approaching the border already. It was only my fourth day in Kazakhstan, and I felt like I certainly would like to stay longer. As the asphalt made way for the gravel road a passing truck full of soldiers stopped to get out and greet me. The Captain (who was rather inebriated it seemed; my suspicious confirmed when he got close enough I could smell it on him!) insisted I load Stella in the truck and join them for breakfast at the border. At first I insisted I must continue. However, knowing that the next 11kms weren’t asphalt was convincing enough accept his invitation. We loaded Stella in the back and I sat up front withe the Captain. He was completely bonkers. He was going on and on how he had 2 wives. He kept shaking my hand, and even giving me a big kiss on the cheek several times. He was certainly a character. I was a little relieved when we arrived at the border, and more so when I got out, and they just continued on, driving into Kyrgyzstan! Breakfast was forgotten. I got a very memorable photo of them all.. It’s these type of moments you cherish as a travller. At the time who wonder just what is going on. After, you appreciate that another memory for the future has been stored.

With little hassle I was stamped out of Kazakhstan and into Kyrgyzstan. The remote borders are alwasys easier to cross. As I cycled off I passed a French tourist who had been forced to walk the last 10kms or so to the border. I had 40kms of unpaved road ahead, and with that the many months of adventure which are sure to follow. It’s good to be back on the road! :)

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One Response to “First two weeks back on the road (Xinjiang and Kakakhstan)”

  1. Chris Beggs
    May 27, 2015 at 6:17 pm #

    Wow! What AMAZING photos! Cool stories too.

    I just attended Paul and Luna’s wedding in Yining (in Ili valley or Yili whatever you prefer), which would make a blog article in itself. Visited Narat grasslands which were BEAUTIFUL. I chose that over Sayram lake as I hope to visit Kanas lake later in the year.

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