There are similarities and differences between cycling with Cam, and the rest of the "Stinky Finger Band", and cycling with Ali. One difference is that while cycling with Ali we never seem to completely run out of toilet paper.
After a protracted stay in Bishkek, waiting for Indian visas, we got out of dodge and into Kazakhstan. Because the border crossing in the East (Karakol/Kegen) is currently closed, we had to use the crossing nearest to Bishkek/Alamty. Because the area we were interested in cycling is in the east we caught a bus to Almaty and then quickly caught another to Taldy-Kurgen. Kazakhstan is really big, so if you check on a map it probably looks like we didn't really travel that far, but it took a full day of bus travel. I'd like to note that the Kazakh side of the border instillation is unquestionably the most chaotic and scary border crossing I have ever encountered. Border crossings are the scene on which states act-out control and sovereignty. The disorganization, panic, and violence of the scene really struck me as out of control and utter failure of the authority. Pedestians and vehicles amassed behind a gate for about an hour. When the gate lifted hundreds of people rushed for the narrow double doors that led into the customs building. Above the din of motors we could here women screaming and watch grown men plowing into the crowd. We watched little old ladies with lots of contraband tied around their waists pay small bribes to the officials as they pushed through. It was stupid and frightened me, and I'm not faint of heart. Luckily a nice young man, I think he was an ethnicity from the Caucuses, helped us get through in one piece.
From Taldy-Korgen we cycled south-east toward Tekkaly, before crossing the mountains into the desert basin of the Ili river, which flows out of Xinjiang, China. The riding was blissful, the camping spectacular. The roads in Kazakhstan are generally good, mostly paved asphalt. The rolling way carried us through little Russian and Kazakh farming villages. Gold was the primary color of the landscape. Seeing the big pastel combine tractors cris-cross the golden wheat and hay fields was like watching a sexless Soviet's wet-dream. We camped on stream banks surrounded by the golden autumn leaves of yellow birch and willow.
Crossing the desert plane was a challenge as the wind picked up to gale force. Ali started to simply refer to me as her windshield as she hung in the eddy behind me. All You've got to do what you do best, and in those moments being a windshield was what I could do better then anyone else around. At one point we were riding with a strong cross wind, both of us were leaned over into the wind. When a truck broke the gale we would swerve momentarily until we could regain our windward cant.
Last year Ali's birthday was our first day in Tajikistan, she sat in a puddle of someone else's vomit. This year we spent Ali's birthday holed-up in a rain soaked tent in a narrow canyon. When the rain eased we left our tent standing and sprinted to the closest village, 20 km disistant, to buy supplies. We enjoyed several hours of reading, chess, tea, and birthday lagman in the best, and only, resturant in town. By the late afternoon the clouds cleared and we enjoyed a liesurely ride downhill back to our caynon camp. In the afternoon we hiked down river into a narrow gorge. As we rested we caught sight of a small herd of ibex fleeing us on the opposite bank. It could have been a worse birthday, but Ali asked me if next year we could just have a party. I think that's fair.
In Almaty we enjoyed sweet backed goods and the hospitality of Lisa Min, a fellow Fulbrighter, her husband Andrew, and their Chiwawa mutt, Rufus.
After a night in the Dehli Airport we arrived in Kathmandu early in the morning. Highlights in Kathmandu included: beer that doesn't suck, half-price after 9pm German bakery goods, wait-staff that isn't totally apathetic to the needs of their customers, monkeys, watching bodies burn at the ghats, Karmasutra temples, and bike riding in crowded narrow allies that is like playing Tony Hawk but better.
But the lights, sounds, and colors of Kathmandu are overwhelming after the sensory deprivation of post-Soviet Central Asia, so we got out of town as quickly as possible. Along the way we picked up an American cyclist who is afraid of South-Asian traffic patterns and doesn't like to ride very far. We helped him get out of Kathmandu and on his slow way in the countryside.
On a whim, Ali and I pulled into a river side rafting and kayaking resort to check out what they had to offer. Four days later we emerged with water up our noses and in our ears. Al i and I enjoyed 3 full days of instruction by Nepal's freestyle kayak champion, a wicked strong little guy named Pradeep. After a lot of time spent up-side-down underwater I finally got a handle on the Eskimo roll. Ali is was right behind. On our last day we ran some big class III rapids, in which both Ali and I flipped. This was a great experience as we both demonstrated composure and skill we had learned over the preceding days. I was able to roll back up, while Ali signaled for a T-rescue and had the patience to wait in swirling white water for Pradeep to get to her. At the kayak camp we enjoyed the company of Scandinavians and great Nepali guides. This has definitely been a highlight of our journey.
Back on the road we enjoyed the scenery of steep ripe rice terraces and lush jungle foliage. We are currently in Pokara for one night before we push on to Bardina National Park, where Ali is looking forward to riding an elephant.
Wisdom from the rear-end of a Nepali dump truck, "Love is like a Chinese mobile...there's no garentee."
That's the news. Stay cool,