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Spring Cleaning: German singing boys

Posted April 13th, 2008

Beautiful doors, they're everywhere in this part of the worldThey tell us Samarqand is a beautiful city but it’s pouring rain outside and how can you see all the ancient buildings when the heavens are open and water is falling from the skies with full force? There was nothing for it but to do a bit of spring cleaning instead and for us this meant digging out all those things we’ve wanted to share with you but haven’t. Why haven’t we? Well, you know, it’s complicated. So much to do on a world bicycle tour, so little time! Anyway, finally we found the time and here you are, a spring present from us.

Our interview with six German fellows (correction: five Germans and one Lebanese, listen to the show and you may understand) who we met carrying guitars at the Iranian-Turkmenistan border. They’re hitching to Mongolia and singing along the way and they were kind enough to sing a song for us.

And as a bonus, take a look at the site of Michel, a French guy who’s staying in our hotel in Samarqand. He’s going around the world on a recumbent tricycle and his motto is one we can really identify with: don’t dream about your life, live your dream.


The Road to Samarqand (285km)

Posted April 12th, 2008

Andrew at a cafeWe’re getting into the groove of Uzbekistan now, a few days after crossing the border. The country has greeted us in style with two of the most marvellous cities we’ve seen anywhere on our travels. Bukhara and Samarqand certainly live up to their reputations with charming old quarters and a string of tiled mosques, madrassas and mausoleums that rival anything we saw in Iran.

Between the sight-seeing we’ve done a bit of gastronomic touring as well. How nice it is to linger over cups of coffee laced with cardamom, sample the local wines (whites reminiscent of Spanish sherries and some surprisingly good cabernets) and treat ourselves to lunches of grilled meat and tall mugs of draft beer. And all within a modest budget too! Life here is miles more affordable than what we were experiencing in Europe a year ago.

Perhaps our biggest surprise has been discovering that the hospitality we experienced in Iran continues to be an important part of life here. We entered Central Asia with stereotypes of bribe-seeking police officers and overcharging merchants in mind. Instead we’ve been showered with good wishes as we pass by on our bicycles. One elderly cafe owner even insisted on saying a touching prayer for us as we stopped for tea. All three of us held our hands out together, palms pointing to the sky, as he asked Allah for a good journey ahead and safe return to Canada. (more…)

41km Yakatut to Bukhara

Posted April 8th, 2008

We managed to get up before the farmers this morning to the beautiful sight of the sun breaking through some low clouds as a bright red ball in the sky. After breakfast “bread and chocolate spread with some not-so-great coffee” we set out to knock off the last few kilometres into Bukhara. It was too hard to resist having a second breakfast when we found a shop selling giant loaves of fluffy white bread, just like you’d find in Europe or Canada and the first we’ve seen for a very long time.  Soon we were rolling into the old city of Bukhara, a gorgeous place filled with ancient buildings, street markets, art galleries and leafy trees. It’s too bad we only have a month in Uzbekistan or we could happily spend quite a few days here.

In the afternoon we met Jungsun, our Korean host who’s teaching language classes. She’s kindly welcomed us into her home for a couple evenings and as we write this she’s cooking dinner. The smells are really making our mouths water!

The only small dilemma on our minds at the moment is the problem of registration in Uzbekistan. All tourists are supposed to have a docket which shows where they’ve spent the night. Normally we would get this at a hotel but obviously we don’t get anything if we use our tent or stay with friends. We’ve heard we could have troubles leaving Uzbekistan if all our nights aren’t accounted for. At the same time, we know plenty of people cycle across the country and the nature of cycle touring means you spend many nights in the middle of nowhere. There must be a solution here but we haven’t figured it out yet. What is really amazing is that no Uzbek official has told us about this requirement. We only know from Jungsun and from reading guidebooks. You’d think that something supposedly so important might be mentioned when you receive your visa or enter the country?

Postscript: On our second day in Bukhara we went to see Rakhima, Jungsun’s friend, and we watched her family making bread. Here’s the video:

97km Jalkym to Yakatut

Posted April 7th, 2008

“Any carpets? Drugs? Guns?”

We shook our heads and giggled. The thought of carrying a carpet or a rifle on our bike tour was oddly funny to us. The guard smiled too. “We’ll search your bags, just to make sure there’s nothing dangerous.”

Turkmenistan was trying to be thorough as we made our way through their customs formalities and towards the Uzbekistan border post. They turned out to be quite soft in the end. The bag check never materialised and when an official came over to berate us for not registering with authorities after five days (something we checked with the Tehran embassy and were told we definitely did not need to do), he immediately backed off when we said we were sure of our position.

A few minutes later the exit stamp was in our passports and we were on our way, past the last smiling picture of Niyazov and across no-man’s land to the Uzbekistan frontier. Several families were pushing their belongings on carts between border posts and  for perhaps the first time ever we caught people enviously eyeing our relatively speedy and efficient bicycles. The deluxe mode of transport! The Uzbek officials were efficient and friendly, helping us to fill out a customs form entirely in Russian and then speeding us through the rest of the process. All told, it took us just over an hour to leave Turkmenistan and enter Uzbekistan. (more…)

Cycling in Iran Podcast

Posted March 6th, 2008

Christian and Friedel chattingWe took advantage of the afternoon sunshine yesterday to sit down and record our latest radio show. It’s all about our thoughts on cycling in Iran (fantastic people but crazy drivers) and getting visas for Central Asia (immensely frustrating and time consuming). We’ll also introduce you to two cyclists we met on the road: Tyson, an American we ran into in Syria, and Christian, an Austrian who’s heading for China. Finally, we talk a bit about a new section of our website we’ve been developing over the past few weeks featuring resources for cyclists. Take a look and let us know what you think.