Day 26 - Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan
Minefields, machine guns, terrorist attacks, speeding fines, corrupt policemen, the bubonic plague, anthrax, an eagle and a couple of quad bikes… the Mongol Rally refuses to let us have an uneventful day.
We were too ill to move anywhere so we stayed one more day in the hotel… We did venture out for 3 hours to the local water park which was awesome. The only downside was having to bargain for ages for a pair of acceptable trunks for Matt and a growing fear of relieving ourselves on the slides.
Time to go to Kyrgyzstan. First we had to stop at the national Bank of Uzbekistan to withdraw some cash.. we looked like right idiots in our shorts and tank tops surrounded by the 'high end business folk' of Uzbek.
Then the fun all began again… We were stopped by the army by the Tajik-Uzbek border for using the Go Pro in a tunnel (inadvertently filming a key terrorist target area under Uzbek army protection). They had AK47s and were very angry… Jamie was filming them on an Iphone as they walked over. They wanted us to delete all of the footage we had taken but obviously its difficult on a GoPro so we gave them our two other cameras instead. We were sent back through the tunnel and searched. Jamie managed to stab one of them with a toothpick by accident to which they took great offence. Finally we were granted passage through. Turns out the entire area is under terrorist attack- someone was killed last month in an exchange of fire.
Darkness fell over the mountains and we soon realised this was not a good place to camp (it was also in fact illegal to camp). We ran into ‘Of Micras and Men’ and convoyed with them to the Kyrgyz border village. We were about to set up camp on the outskirts but were warned by the locals that it was an ACTIVE MINEFIELD (Jesus!) and were directed to a safe area outside a Kebab shop where we made a perimeter using the cars and both teams slept in our tent for security.
We woke up to face a crowd of locals surrounding our tent… and made a quick getaway into a market where we found some breakfast. Then we crossed the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border. This was one of the fastest borders yet and also the least developed… three guys in a hut essentially. The rest of the drive was beautiful, huge mountains and bright blue lakes, one of which we swam in while we cooked pasta. We continued on to ‘Ana Bel’ pass which was over 3000m altitude.. and freezing (remember you lose 1 degree temperature per 100m climbed). There were 1000s of horses and livestock roaming the hills which were dotted with small living tents for the local farmers.
We were trying to find a camping location that looked relatively free of ticks (Japanese encephalitis), fleas (Bubonic plague- yes they still have that here) and according to the travel health guide ‘livestock areas’ (Anthrax- again yes, its endemic here). We pitched up at the back of a petrol station - only to find the elastic on one of our three tent poles had snapped. Bugger. We made do and crawled into bed… only to hear the sound of cattle/bulls being herded around our tents and more rabid dogs patrolling the area.
Another drive through breathtaking scenery… then we had to spoil it by accidentally speeding through a police checkpoint (Matt claims he didn’t see the sign). We were stopped by a man with an AK47 - he threatened to shoot Matt if he didn't give him a watch or an iPhone. Not ideal, but we ended up (after a lot of negotiation) turning this situation around without losing a single valuable by letting him sign his name on the car. ‘Happy Birthday- give me’ (in his own words) to him.
Throughout the day we became much better acquainted with the Kyrgyz Police…on four separate occasions to be precise:
First - Matt got stopped for speeding 1km over the (un-signposted) speed limit (60km/h) while overtaking another car on a dual carriageway… we paid about $25 fine. It seemed they stopped almost every other car for the same reason;
Second - We decided to follow the speed of two other cars to be safe… until the two cars in front got stopped as well as us. Speeding again (104km/h in a 90 zone). The two cars were dealt with, then Police took Matt aside for longer, they threatened jail time and confiscation of his licence but in the end he walked away scot free;
Third - Rob took over driving. We were stopped again but this time for our lights not being on (in the daytime). We noticed a pattern emerging- we were just being picked on for being tourists. They wanted $180 in fines but we managed to pay only $2 after playing deaf and dumb for a good 20 minutes;
Fourth - Stopped again. ‘Speeding’. They wanted $15. We were about to pay but then asked to see the video of us speeding- they suddenly looked sheepish then dismissed the fine… they were lying about catching us speeding just to get money out of us. Bloody pigs!
We finally stopped at a beach on the biggest lake in Kyrgyzstan. It was beautiful. Rob spent the evening with a bird (no really, one of those Eagles you can pay to hold) and we traded Jamie’s Rugby ball for a ride on two quad bikes along the dunes… incredibly stupid, but awesome. We had shisha and were attacked by millions of midges whilst chatting to a local about the Islamic faith and its portrayal in the western media- very interesting.
Woke at 6am to swim with the friend from last night in the lake. Set off to Bishkek- this time the police had all vanished- where we planned to regroup with ‘Kahn touch this’ and ‘Lion Rampant’ before we head into Kazakstan. In the early hours of the morning we received a call from Adam from 'Kahn touch this' (prior to this we hadn't heard from them in 2 days) letting us know that they had finally made it and were waiting downstairs in the hotel - the hotel was full so they had to trek around at 1am in a lightning storm until they finally found an inn with a room.
All the teams are together at last and are setting off to Kazakstan at 3pm in a 4 car convoy. Already Kazak has claimed more cars than all of the other countries put together due to its extremely treacherous Northern Roads.
Thank you for your donations, you have really been very generous. If you would like to donate to E.A.C.H. or Cool Earth, please click the link above named 'Donate'. Only half of the teams who leave the UK make it to the finish line in Mongolia. From now on each day will be make or break… Wish us luck!
The Boys x