Home away from home, the Sakura Guesthouse, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Home away from home, the Sakura Guesthouse, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

It’s been three weeks since my last post and a lot as happend, although only around 150 miles have been cycled. I’ve had many adventures in hospitals around the world but am happy to be back on the road and have crossed into Kazakhstan, putting me a mere stones throw from the Chinese border..

The first week was spent with Stephen and I picking up some visas in Bishkek (Kazakhstan for me) and mostly killing time waiting for these to be processed. There isn’t a huge amount to see or do in Bishkek so our time mostly revolved around drinking with various other people who were in our guesthouse long-term for the same reason.

The place was nice but that doesn’t prevent an encroaching feeling of being trapped coming over you (Half the time was spent re-hashing the lyrics to Hotel California to fit the situation). Anyone who has spent 10 days in the Sakura Guesthouse, Bishkek, will know this seating area all too well…

Killing time in the Sakura Guesthouse, Bishkek.

Killing time in the Sakura Guesthouse, Bishkek.

Luckily the Kazakh visa came through no problem…

Kazakh Visa... Great Success!

Kazakh Visa… Great Success!

With our fast race across China approaching Stephen and I were keen to strip as much weight from our bikes as possible to make the climbs and long days that bit easier. One of the main ways we planned to achieve this was through what we dubbed “Operation Bivvy” which involved getting two British Army Bivvy bags out to us in Bishkek. In case you don’t know a Bivvy bag is a waterproof outerlayer for a sleeping bag that negates the need for a tent which saves you weight and bulk from your luggage. There are more pros and cons which I will go into later.

During all of this I also attempted to have a mystery pain in my groin and abdomen diagnosed by one of the cities top clinic. A huge round of tests was done ruling out everything from testicular torsion to kidney stones and everything in-between (literally and figuratively). No answer was forthcoming, and the pain became so debilitating that I was struggling to stand. I made a tough decision to load myself onto a flight back to London and was kindly rushed straight to A&E from Stanstead airport by my parents.

The biggest kicker about this delay meant that Stephens schedule would force us to have to continue on separately leaving each of us to face the deserts of Western China alone, something neither of us particularly relished the thought of based on our previous desert stints.

After more tests (tip: Providing a primary symptom of “Mystery Abdominal Pain” will get you seen fairly sharpish in Accident and Emergency) I headed out with a bundle more drugs to see if they helped…

Why are my bags rattling?

Why are my bags rattling?

Things began to improve and one final visit to the GP resulted in a likely diagnosis of groin strain with an unusual amount of “referred pain”. I never knew muscle strain could have such wide ranged affects, for me this included aches in my kidneys, locked muscles in my abdomen, burning sensations in my lower abdomen as well as a stack of more painful symptoms in a more “personal” area (4 testicular exams in 5 days is not something I hope happens again in my life).

Thankfully this meant that a combo of high strength anti-inflammatories, proper stretching and taking it easy should mean I could carry on. I bought a ticket on the next flight back and used my last couple of days in England to enjoy some time with family and friends, stuffing myself with foods I’ve missed as well as picking up a few toys to help reduce the weight on the bike (A lightweight down quilt to replace my sleeping bag and a down jacket to replace my cheap body warmer from Turkey)…

Lovely new camping goodies!

Lovely new camping goodies!

After a happy re-union Stephen and I had all our gear ready to go ASAP as after 17 days off of cycling we were desperate to crack on. We rode the short 20km to the Kazakh border and were promptly through the other side and getting some Kazakh Currency (Tenge) at the first ATM we saw. Whilst waiting for Stephen to buy a local SIM card for his phone a man walked up to us and introduced himself as Baghdad (spelling?) and invited us for lunch at his home, he seemed nice enough and had his kid in the car so assumed he wasn’t dodgy and we followed him a few blocks to his house.

Baghdad’s place was big but fairly modest from the outside but once you stepped in it was decorated to a higher spec than most homes in the UK. Chandeliers, gloss ceilings, jacuzzi’s and wall sized prints of the Dubai skyline, quite a surprise!

After watching TV for a bit we were shown into the dining room where a huge feast had been laid out. The main course was served, an entire sheep, with the head being placed far too close to Stephen and I for my liking. I whispered to Stephen that I had a feeling that it was going to be customary for the guests to be served the eyes but luckily we got away with just a cheek each (which was still a bit of a challenge as the Anti-inflammatories have done a bit of a number on my stomach).

We had a great time chatting with the family, quite a few of them spoke some English and one of the women was extremely happy with how much we enjoyed the apple tart she had made. Another surprise was that the tea in Kazakhstan is served with milk and tastes almost exactly like what we have back home! Before heading off we did some group photos…

The Kazakh feast!

The Kazakh feast!

As we left Baghdad explained the feast was in honour of his mother who had passed away 40 days prior, we gave our commiserations and said our goodbyes but not before being handed several bags of food to take on the road. We pressed on up a gentle climb for the rest of the day with me keen to not push too hard and we eventually made it to the 80km mark and setup out first camp with the Bivvy bags just in time for a huge thunder storm to roll in. Now herein lies one of the big problems with Bivvy bags, the waterproof material rests on your face and body so you can feel the rain which a lot of people find prevents them from sleeping. We made it through the night dry, impressive considering the extremely heavy rain and thanks to my jet lag causing me to wake very earlier I caught some great “demo photos” of Stephen in his Bivvy…

More body bag than shelter...

More body bag than shelter…

The sunset gave some lovely lighting across the Kazakh Steppe and onto the end of the Tian Shan mountains…

Morning views in Kazakhstan.

Morning views in Kazakhstan.

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful with us taking a two hour siesta in the shade of shop to avoid the worst heat of the day…

Siesta in the midday heat

Siesta in the midday heat

As well as getting some surreal landscapes due to a recent brushfire charring some of the landscape…

Remains of a brushfire in kazakhstan

Remains of a brushfire in kazakhstan

All along this road from Bishkek to Almaty you have very dramatic scenery, predominantly the huge flat plains of Kazakhstan to your left and then steep mountains on your right…

Tian Shan in Kazakhstan.

Tian Shan in Kazakhstan.

Once we hit the days goal of 100km we started looking for a campsite. The first few contenders were ruled out due to ants and mosquitos but as we rolled down the embankment on the side of the road to have a look at a third spot I will never forget the way in which Stephen shouted with genuine happiness “A PIPE!!!…. AND IT’S A BIG ONE!”…

The pipe/tunnel.

The pipe/tunnel.

And Stephen looking depressed as we cook up yet more instand noodles for breakfast in the pipe…

Noodles for breakfast in the tunnel.

Noodles for breakfast in the tunnel.

We smashed out the 60km to Almaty in the morning as we wanted to beat the midday sun (although it did still catch us out) but we got some lovely views along the way including a couple of horse statues on a mountain surrounded by a huge car park…

Big ol' horse statues

Big ol’ horse statues

Some traditional herding…

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As well as the very dramatic mountains that border the south side of the city…

Almaty nestled into the mountains.

Almaty nestled into the mountains.

A well earned day off in Almaty, as the the 3 weeks off have killed out ability to recover quickly, and then we’ll be off towards the Chinese border! It’s crazy, the next blog post should be from China. I will have cycled from London to China! Let’s just forget for a moment that I still have 3,000 miles of China to cycle across…

If you’ve enjoyed reading this then checkout my site 121degrees for more info and subscribe to this blog for more entries along the way!

I also want to divert the interest this trip generates towards helping out a charity that made a big differance to some friends of mine. Samuels Children Charity are a Lewes based charity providing support to families throughout the UK who are currently affected by childhood cancer. I hope to raise the sum of £5,000 from people who hear about this trip to help them continue their work, and to also keep me motivated throughout the challenges this trip will provide! If you’d like to see how the fundraising is going (or even better would like too donate!) then click here.

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