7,033 miles from Edinburgh.
Bukhara ended up being a two day stop for MMC. Spent most of the day wandering around Mosques and Bazars before stumbling across a 16th century bath house. Not one to miss an opportunity to treat himself, AJ headed straight in for a massage. Emerging an hour later feeling and smelling glorious, he urged Zack to take one too, advice he quickly heeded. The process involved first sitting in an ancient looking stone sauna for half an hour before being subjected to a peeling, rubbing and cracking. All of which was carried out on us on a stone slab in the centre of the room, bollock naked. Finally he smeared us in ginger and honey, which really stung before washing it off and handing us a cup of tea. An afternoon well spent.
Woke the next day feeling ill however. Probably more to do with the last nights dinner. This was bound to happen at some point, just unfortunately it happened to us both at the same time, with only one toilet and limited paper. Reluctantly leaving the safety of our hotel, we payed a taxi driver to show us to a petrol station. The car was not behaving at all by this point and we were running on fumes. Arrived at a decent looking petrol station only to discover (after they’d filled the car) that they didn’t take dollars and we had no Som. To make matters worse the car stalled and then refused to start again. After a lot of confused babbling, the taxi driver bailed us out and agreed to take AJ somewhere to exchange our last $50., leaving Zack in the petrol station desperately trying to revive the car. Long story short AJ went on a small adventure round Bukhara to a market and managed to exchange money with a large gentleman in the back room of a shoe shop. He did not receive a receipt. Flush with cash, we paid the taxi driver for the lift and fuel and he promptly buggered off and left us in the petrol station. After several woeful attempts a stranger hopped into the front seat of the car and the 3 of us managed to bump start in 2nd.
Made it 60 miles down the road before getting stopped by the police for no real reason. After 30 minutes of arguing over a $50 (which we couldn’t afford) he gave up and let us go. Several police check points later we crawled into Samarkand, wheeled into the first hotel we saw and went to bed without dinner.
In the morning we discovered that this 4 star hotel did not take credit card. “Not to worry” said the hotel receptionist, “there’s a bank just down the road”. He drew us a map and off we went. Unfortunately as it later transpired, he’d marked the hotel on the map in the wrong place. After 30 minutes of wandering around and miming “bank?” to strangers, we found one. This was not a bank that gave out money we were told by the man behind the desk however. He helpfully pointed us down the road to more banks. The next bank was the same. And the next one. After 5 different attempts to find a money bank (god knows what they hold in the first 5) a policeman took pity on us. He took us to 2 more banks and then finally a hotel that had an ATM. Hugging the machine we thanked the policeman who didn’t even ask for money as we’d expected, stocked up on cash and headed back to the hotel.
Next up was car repair. We’d figured our problem to be due to the shitty fuel we’d purchased from the two chaps on bikes and decided to get some injector cleaner to try to flush it out. The receptionist directed us to “car shop” that was on the way to Andijon. This turned out to be an entire market place devoted to cars. You could literally buy everything from replacement sunroofs to furry dice. Found what we wanted and headed off. 390 miles and countless police check points we arrived in Andijan, by the Kyrgyzstan border late at night, found a hotel and again went to bed without dinner.
Determined to have a less stressful day we arrived at the Uzbek/Kyrgyzstan border early the next day to avoid the rush. We bumped into our Scandinavian pals again. Uzbek side was all going fine until the customs official asked AJ to produce our car insurance. Knowing full well we had no such thing he tired to suggest that our British insurance covered us. It did not replied the official.
“Our Kazakhstan insurance covers us?”
” It does not”
“Hmm, I guess we don’t have that one. Oh well no problem”
The official paused for a minute and then said “You have two options. Option 1, you drive back into Uzbek and buy insurance. Option 2, you pay here.”
Seeing where this was going AJ asked “I pay to you? How much?”
Turned out the boy was only after $20 and considering insurance was $24, all in this was a good deal. Handing over $20, AJ paused for a second, expecting an insurance certificate to appear before noticing the dollars slip into the officials pocket. Accidental bribery over, the Kyrgyzstan border was no more hassle than a high five and thanks for visiting. We headed into Osh in a good mood in search of an American pizza joint.
Determined to achieve some significant miles the next day we set off early with the Swedes through Kyrgyzstan only to get separated from them early and then lost. After driving right up to what was clearly and a border fence and deciding not to jump it, we found the right road through the mountains. This proved one of the best days driving of the whole trip so far. Magnificent lakes and desert gave way to rugged mountains dotted with cattle and yurts. Pulled over towards a yurt to ask if it would be ok to camp for the evening around 7.
Chapping on the door of the nearest hut we asked the girl who appeared if it would be ok to camp. Just as she seemed to be agreeing however she gasped and pointed. Turning to face the main road we saw to our horror two cars collide at 70 mph head on (where we ourselves had only seconds ago pulled off). One car bounced off to the side of the road while the other rolled over several times towards us. As none of the passengers were wearing seatbelt so two flew through the front windshield and one through the back. Immediately we sprinted over to help. AJ helped rip open the front door and pull out the driver but after that both of us stood back feeling useless. Ran back to the car to grab our first aid kit, from which we able to offer antiseptic wipes and not much else to one of the people who had gone through the windscreen. A small girl of about 6-7 with a large gash on her face. The whole thing was an awful experience but in the end none of them were mortally injured. One woman had suffered a broken leg but that was the worst of it. After 30 minutes we removed ourselves for the scene and decided to just set up camp. There was nothing more we could do.
After a quick dip in a nearby stream we set about making dinner. Before we had a chance to rustle up a single pot noodle however a man came came over and beckoned us to follow. He led us into his nice warm yurt nearby and gestured us to sit. Obliging we kicked our shoes off, sat on the floor around his table and were presented with what turned out to be horse milk. This was of course disgusting but we pretended to enjoy our bowl each and politely declined a second helping. The man the insisted we stayed for dinner and we were presented with some sort of delicious soup and bread. We thought it would be nice to give him some whisky although he didn’t really seem to fussed about it when Zack presented it to him.
After a couple of hours he threw us out and we proceeded to have a freezing cold night in the tent. We woke late the next day to some spectacular views for breakfast. Our good mood however did not last long. AJ opened the bonnet to check the oil, only to discover it had leaked all over the engine. We topped up the oil only to discover that the car would not start at all. At this point we took the rather foolish decision to try to bump start the car down a hill into a field. Zack volunteered to drive and after AJ pushed him down a hill almost succeeded in revving the car. Almost. After a few minutes of coughing and spluttering the car died completely. At this point we decided to phone AJ’s dad, who can usually be relied on for some mechanical knowledge. Unfortunately Russel had not had much sleep and at 5am GMT was not much use. He was however able to suggest removing the air filter. Undoing the cover it transpired this was covered in oil from the leak. Removing it entirely enabled us to finally start the car.
We limped along the the road to a mechanic, who after an hour and a half of tinkering, removed our thermostat and announced we could no longer use the heater. Well that’s fine we replied, we’re in a desert. But what about the oil pissing out of the engine? To this he had no reply. Irritated we headed to Bishkek, not daring to exceed 40 mph. We found a communism themed hostel and headed to bed.
Deciding our best bet was to cross the border back into Kazakhstan and fix the car in Almaty. After a few FaceTime calls to Russell we knew what we had to do to repair the car. Had to offer the Kyrgyzstan border guard a “present” as we had apparently lost some form but apart from that made it across the border in good time. We did get briefly stopped by the Kazakh police, who tried to demand $1000 for overtaking a lorry. After a fair bit of arguing AJ managed to get the dowry down to 50 and 4 bottles of whisky which is still daylight robbery. Feeling pissed off we made it to Almaty by 3.
We decided to take a rest day here to recharge the batteries before the last 2 weeks of hard driving In far eastern Russia and Mongolia. The first problem however was that AJ was unable to withdraw any money from cash machines. This was sorted after phoning RBS via FaceTime to unblock this card. We spend the rest of the day wandering around the sights and treated ourselves another massage to prepare for the rough roads ahead. The plan is to smash out a good 400 miles tomorrow and get well on our way to Ulan Baator. We now have parts to fix the car so hopefully she can hold out as long as us.