Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Once again I was deeply surprised after having crossed the border: in just a few hundred meters, people behave themselves differently, landscapes changed drastically. Bye Tadjikistan, welcome in Uzbekistan! 

Uzbek road after Denau.

Registan, Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

After the friendly but highly chaotic crossing of the Uzbek Border, I found myself cycling in a totally new country. The outside temperature seemed to have raised drastically when crossing the border. The density of people increased even more. Cotton growing became dominant. People were friendly like never before, showing an incredible hospitality, but showed also less respect in regard to our western education: they constantly whistled and yelled at me, tried (and often succeeded) to stop me while cycling to shake hands, take a picture or ask the typical question 'atkuda?' (where are you from / where are you heading to?)... A brutal change after the respectful Tadjiks.

Uzbek women selling living poultry on the road. They stopped me by blocking the road, asking if I wanted to buy a turkey, or marry one of her!

And I was rich like never before, or at least I had the feeling when I changed 50 dollars and ended with nearly 140.000 som. The money is changed at the black market, and, sign of a degenerating economy, moneychangers offer 2750 som for 1$, when official banks gives less than 2100 som: 30% difference! You need to change your wallet to a plastic bag, as the biggest bill is only 1000 som.

50$, or 137500 Som...

The first night in Uzbekistan was spent in Boris's garden, because I couldn't find a place to put the tent the last twenty kilometers, and the night was coming. I asked the middle-aged man if I could put the tent between trees in his orchard behind the house, and he immediately accepted. He was disassembling a truck's motor with his two hands but only seven fingers: he lost his right thumb-index-middle finger in a motor five years ago! I helped him to finish the job, sometimes using hands and feet, to loosen nuts and rusted pieces. He explained me that the motor was really dead (which is an exception in those countries, where every motor have more lifes than a cat), and that he wanted to collect all the pieces to make a bit of money by selling them. I was enjoying the concept of recycling, until he started to light a big fire, where he threw all the cables, intending to burn the plastic sheaths, to recover metals... I was watching sadly the rainbow-coloured flames, when he brought the first vodka bottle. I was in the mood to drink that evening, so we sat next to the tent and I cooked spaghetti with peperoni for us two, while drinking vodka in bowl. Nice guy and nice evening!

Herder and his donkey in the desert.

Hot climb after Shahrisabz.
The ride was really hot, and surprisingly not flat at all! East of Uzbekistan is quite hilly and I ended climbing more than 1000 meters a day under a bright sun. Mountainous landscapes are beautiful in this arid country, and the colour-palette really impressive. It was just sad to have a living example of an ecological disaster who started under the soviet era: they once decided to make an intensive irrigation in the country to produce cotton and other crops. They wanted to be the biggest producer of cotton in the world, and you know one result of this politic: Aral sea is now nearly empty, leaving a devastated dusty region! So from one valley to another, I cycled between orgy of cotton and watermelons fields, or in a dry desert, with no plants at all, depending whether or not they irrigate it. Nothing have really changed with cotton policy since 1991, Independence of Uzbekistan, and election of Islam Karimov (he became president in 1990, and he is in 2013 still there - before letting soon the power to his daughter Gulnara, maybe?). During cotton harvest ('Pahta') in fall, students, soldiers and villagers are forced to go working in the fields. It was not rare to see children working. I saw 3 convoys of buses, sometimes full of students or peasants, sometimes empty, with at least 50 buses per convoy: impressive! Only way to escape this forced-labor: pay a peasant to do it at your place if you're rich, or try to claim medical problem, but you may be unlucky, like one of the pop star of Uzbekistan a few days ago (http://tinyurl.com/qgfll7q for more information).

Cotton picking in Uzbekistan.

Bus convoy bringing students, soldiers or villagers to cotton fields.

One positive point of the irrigation policy is that fruits and vegetables are incredibly tasteful, due to the big amount of sun and water. I had to come to Uzbekistan to really know how taste tomatoes and watermelons. It will be hard to eat them in Europe, where they taste like nothing. 

The best watermelons ever...

Uzbekistan may in some point be irritant for travellers. Everybody tells a different story, but as far as I understood, tourist have to register in hotel at night. So you end collecting registration papers, which you should present at policemen whenever they ask for them. You're allowed to have maximum three gaps during your whole stay. If you are backpacking, everything is OK, because you're moving from city to city, where you find hotels and guesthouses. But if you're cycling, it's an other story. I soon learned that they are more easy-going than I was told, maybe because I was cycling, and ended quite often sleeping in my tent. Other stupidity: you declare all the currencies in cash that you have when you enter the country, and you have to leave the country with less, or you may be fined!  

Night spot in the desert.

I decided to end this bicycle trip here in Uzbekistan, and let Iran for another time, backpacking instead of cycling. I never saw Alina during all the trip. Not easy! Incertitude with the Turkmen visa; the hurry that it would have meant to be at the Turkmen border, a few days after entering Uzbekistan; the idea of having to cross the 500 kms of Turkmenistan in less than five days; my demotivation to cycle in deserts again or simply cycle under the heat: all of this helped me to make the decision of riding to Tashkent and find a flight from there. 

I then enjoyed the ride in Uzbekistan as it deserves: taking time to go off-road to the mountains, taking time to visit main touristic cities, taking time to read during the midday heat in tea-houses, taking time to find best places ever to camp and watch the sun go down... If I chose to travel like this, it was of course to discover new countries and cultures, but it was also to have time! This precious time, that tends to slip through our fingers in our western life!

Reading, resting and eating at Lutfi's home. 

It was still really hot at the end of September

The headless herder?

Canyons formation near Boysun.

Dry fruits at the bazaar.



Mountainous formation near Boysun.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


The plan was to meet Nathalie and Iason in Khorog. They were travelling in Tadjikistan for some weeks, and we projected to spend few days together. 

First of all: FOOD! The first day was spent to eat any kind of vitamin's rich food, one can find in Khorog. The body was in a really good shape, but asked for fresh fruits and fresh vegetables, after those weeks of deprivation. 

And then a bit of sight-seeing. Last year, the city saw what human can do best: war! In July 2012, some Tadjik forces moved to Khorog and 'cleaned' the city, after the murder of general Nazarov. A complicate situation made of political control of opposition and drug trafic control. From Khorog, it's just a bridge to cross to enter Afghanistan, so Khorog is a first class entry door for Afghan poppy, on its way to Russia... They closed the Pamirs' region last year due to this episode, so it was a great chance to be allowed to ride it this year! 

The day after, we left in the morning with a car to Dushanbe. We put the bike on the rooftop and started the 600 kms and 14 hours trip. It was great to spend time with Nathalie and Iason, but somehow I felt bad during the drive: it went way too fast for me, I should have cycled this road... But I was in a hurry (the worst ennemy of travellers) and had to apply for the Turkmen visa in Dushanbe (consuls could be also bad friends for travellers). 

The first 350 kms, you follow the river, which materialize the Afghan-Tadjik border. A really rocky road, with massive cliffs on both side, and huge mountains everywhere. Life on the other side of the river is quite tough, and not many people can live there. 

To see Afghans living, walking, working, children playing was just fascinating: you're back one hundred years ago, in one of the most beautiful and remote place on earth. There is a donkey path running the whole way of the Afghan's side. It finds its way in screes and cliffs. Goes up and down, makes serpentines... And stops sometimes in small villages, some kind of paradise on earth! Walking this path would be great, but even if Talibans are not in this area, I'll let it for later... 
Small paradise in Afghanistan

The donkey path on Afghan side

The donkey path, once again

Afghan village

Climbers? This valley has about 10 boulder's paradise, on both side of the river. Unbelievable! And I don't talk about all the beautiful lines in cliffs. Sandstone, granit, limestone, pudding, all that you need. Small roofs or 2000 m long lines... Aie aie aie, so much rock, that I seriously thought about quitting climbing, in front of this infinity... 



We arrived in Dushanbe the day after. I had the contact from Véro, a french girl living there with her son Gabriel. It was Bruno, a french guy travelling the world with his wife and five children, who gave me her contact in Ulaanbaatar. The guard opened the door, and... Waouuuh! welcome in paradise! You feel immediately well and at home. 

Véro is hosting for free cyclists and backpackers passing by Dushanbe (a cross-road if you travel in Asia). She cycled 3 months in Patagonia with Gabriel, who was only 5 at that time. Tough girl with more energy than you'll ever have! 
Thank you Véro!!! Sometimes, we were 10 guests around the table ;)

Thanks to an untrusty Turkmen consul, I ended making the longest pause ever on this trip and enjoyed 10 days of rest in this house! 10 days of meeting travellers, making huge food together and spending days and evenings listening and talking about the Road... 

Thank you Véro and Gabi! 
Time to leave the paradise's house in Dushanbe. I think  it is Raz on the bike.

So the plan in Dushanbe was to ask for the Turkmen visa. I obtained an Iranian visa in Bishkek, and needed this last one. Turkmenistan is not so tourist-friendly, and you may at best obtain a 5-days transit visa with fixed dates, to cross the nearly 500kms of Turkmen desert. Not so exciting! 

It took me 10 days and 4 visits to the embassy, to obtain a 'yes', but nothing to put in my pass! 'It may come in a few days... Sorry!' A bad conjonction of 'computer problems', 'national Tadjik day-off', 'bank closure', 'come on monday' but consul never appear... I started to lose the motivation.

Well... It was time to move. Time was ticking, and if I really wanted to be in Iran on-time, the race through 1200 kms of dry lands and bad roads should have begonnen. And I have only 10 days for that! And I don't like race. 

One hour after this last visit to the Turkmen embassy, I left Dushanbe and rode the whole afternoon toward west, to the Usbek border. The road was really bad and dusty, the sun really hot and my head couldn't stop visiting nostalgic remembrances of the nature and those million magic moments in Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan and Pamirs... 

One question kept coming: Is it not time to change the plan and slowly come back?

In the serie 'I love my president', Tadjikistan is really good! Everywhere, huge picture of him, doing everything....
My favourite ;)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

High in the Pamirs!

Location: Khorog, Tadjikistan
Counter: 5762 kms

And then we met...

Carole, Simone, David and Sebastian. Four smily faces just dropped with their bikes in Sari-Tash, last station before Tadjikistan!

It is midday, the weather is not really nice, but it doesn't matter, as I would soon learn with them.

We are now a team. And we are leaving the next hour for Tadjikistan and the Pamirs... So perfect to meet them now, exactly like in my dreams, I can't believe it! We will soon be 10 days at about 4000 m above sea level, riding one of the highest plateau on earth, surrounded with beautiful mountainous landscape. The lowest point will be at about 3700m, the highest 4655m!

Let's go!

The energy of the group was so incredibly positive, I will never be able to describe it. We had really bad weather at the beginning, but each of us saw only big smiles on the other four faces, we heard only positive words coming from others. Passes were intense moments of celebration, seeing us clapsing in each others' arms again and again, exhulting our joice to be there, living those intense moments together.

And it went on again and again. We found terrific places to camp (we spent one night in the no man's land between Kyrgyz's and Tadjik's border ;)). We cooked three times a day in dramatic landscapes. We had a magic moment eating fishes fresh from the river with and thanks to a great Tadjik guy, just walking and fishing there. We got drank in Murghab in the afternoon and spent a wonderful evening discussing during hours and drinking beers and vodka, a few kilometers away. We spent evenings watching stars and enjoying exceptionnal conditions.

What a chance, what an unforgettable experience!

Carole, Simone, David, Sebastian: as I told you in many occasions, I love you! Thank you once again for all these moments we lived together. Thank you one million billion times for the place you gave me in your group, it felt so normal to be at your side, from the first minute, until the last. You are four great personalities, four strong characters, and I enjoyed every moments with you.

When I left you that morning, up there next to the Bulunkul, I had quite a difficult day. Beeing alone, after those intense days together, was not easy. My tears didn't stop to fall, I couldn't refrain it during hours. I ended the day totally KO from all those emotions, put the tent at the top of the last pass of the M41 and didn't find the energy to eat. But I was happy, so happy...

's warr di hühöre Geile! Dankre meine Fründe! Et à bientôt, mes Lapinoux ;)

Impressions of Kyrgyzstan...

All pictures are from Philippe!

Thank you my friend for all those nice moments together ;)