Day 3. Kergen to Karakol. 134km, 715m of climbing
We were up well before the glorious sunrise this morning because we needed to start riding by 6.30am to get to the Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan border crossing soon after it opened at 8.30am. But as speedy as my pack up was, I still had time to savour the view.
It was only about 18c when we set off so it was a delightful 27km ride up the valley to the border. Tho I was feeling better, I still managed only a modest breakfast so I wasn’t sure I could ride the whole day. But this was going to be a big day anyway – my first time riding across a national border.
As I pedalled along I thought lots about Lynn’s intrepid Uncle Jack, her Dad Bill’s older brother. A couple of years before World War II, he spent the summer after graduating from the University of Chicago on a long cycle tour through Europe as far east, as memory serves, to places in Hungary and Romania. Drawing on friends in Chicago who had family ties in Europe, he stayed with many of them and experienced the rise of Nazism at close quarters. A great raconteur, he told vivid stories of his encounters.
Thankfully Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are close neighbours in terms of culture, language and religion. Which probably explains why the border post was at a small kink in an otherwise straight line right down the middle of a broad valley as far as I could see either way. Probably somebody in Moscow drew the arbitrary line on the map when the Soviets were created and became the USSR.
The only drama I saw at the border was at the Kyrgyzstan side. A young girl, possibly 8 or 10 years old, was clutching at the last railing in Kyrgyzstan, sobbing her heart out. An older man, possibly her grandfather, had to pry her off the railing to get her into a Russian registered Audi to drive into Kazakhstan. Maybe she had family over there. But she certainly didn’t want to leave the place and people she knew.
But the two countries do indulge in road rivalry. The Kazakhs had just completed 5km or so of magnificent new tarmac on their side. Whereas the Krygyz have the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative to thank for the 35km or so of new road under construction on their side of the border.
The road, tho, was literally under construction with barely enough rough room for vehicles and bikes to travel. Knowing that was the case, I sat out that section in the van…to conserve my still meagre energy. Our lunch stop was exactly where the old road was untouched. So after a still modest lunch, I set off for a delightful 65km ride down the valley, tho the temperature was still in the low 30sC.
Where that road hit a T junction with a main road, the road sign pointed back up the valley 350km to Almaty. Well, I thought, I can tick off the first one-fifteenth of my journey.
Far more importantly, I was very glad to see to the left an incongruously new, big petrol station. I could hold off my feeling of incipient diarrhoea no longer and rushed into the shop, expecting to find toilets as smart as the pumps. Nobody understood my question until I crouched down pointing at my arse. Ah, they laughed and pointed me to the squatting long drop in the neighbouring paddock. I made it just in time…
The traffic on the poor, main road was heavy and the going hilly for the last 36km into Karakol, our overnight stop. We all had stories to tell about that over dinner. In my case, along with a few others, I bailed out after 15km and took the van to our hotel. I was utterly spent.