Friday, 8 April 2011

Uzbek Photos Below

oh, and what happened in Turkmenistan here if you missed it..

No Man's Land

A guesthouse in Tetserleg, regional capital of Central Mongolia, about 300km West of Ulaanbaatar. We are sitting on the bed of a simply decorated room, reading, sewing patches on our trousers, wasting time. A bright sun is shining outside, the cold air enters the open window and carries the playful sounds of the sleepy town. Inside we are restless and yet somehow unable to shake ourselves off of this malaise. A long walk on the hills yesterday brought us some respite but the chronic lack of enthusiasm is now very difficult to shift.

I remember exactly the turning point. It was not a moment after which everything looked bleak, but from then onwards the innocent joy of movement slowly started fading away. We were sitting in a cafe just off the N11 on Shikoku. In the past few days we had just cycled over 7 bridges connecting this and other 5 small islands to mainland Japan. The weather was still cold enough for us to wake up with frost on the tent, but definitely turning for the better. We had left the heavy snow on the mountains behind us and just finished some of the most enjoyable cycling we had done in a while.

While sipping our very expensive coffees we ran through the accounts of the previous few weeks. Japan is notoriously pricey, but we were not expecting to spend quite as much on a daily basis. On camping days, paying only for food and water, not accommodation, we were averaging 5000 JP¥ (around 40 GBP). Every 4-5 days we had been stopping at guest houses and hostels to dry out the sleeping bags and tent. Dampness is a cumulative problem and because of the cold wet air and chilly mornings we had no chance to dry our things while camping. The result is that day after day the sleeping bags get wetter and wetter and after the fourth or fifth day they are sodden, uncomfortable, and not that warm. The cheapest hostel (hostel, not hotel) in Japan costs around 3000 JP¥ (24 GBP) per person per night and along the road we did not find a great many of them. In practice we worked out that at that price our time here was very limited. Probably we could afford cycling another 3-4 weeks towards Tokyo, then have just enough money to fly back.

This was an uncomfortable discovery. Our plans had changed in Kazakhstan because of the cold, but when we decided to visit Japan first, we were never expecting to have to forego China, Mongolia, and the Transiberian on the way back home. In the space of a month our dream to cycle to Japan turned to a compromise to cover the distance half-way there and half-way back, then crumbled. We had to face our fallibility and weakness against the brutal cold of Siberia as well as an end for this trip. We originally envisaged to stay away for 18-24 months. We were now looking at the reality of having to come back just short of 1 year of traveling. Not a happy morning.

We later reviewed our accounts again and realized we could trade 4 weeks of travel in Japan and a flight back for 4 weeks in Mongolia and a train back. So in Japan we ended up spending much of our time at Komeichi Farm wwoofing instead of touring about. But the sense of nearing the end of the trip by this point had well and truly set.

The trouble with seeing a conclusion is that you start making plans for the future and not stick to the present. The end of the trip is a wall to jump over and its shadow looms over all that you are doing. It's not that we haven't had fun since, in fact we had good times and happiness but the tension in the background has been much more palpable. Japan had a lot to offer and is certainly a country we want to come back to. The tragedy that unfolded around us only made us more determined to dedicate at least some of our time to service. But again, those are all plans, future fantasies, and only contribute to make you more detached from where you are just now.

Just now. Mongolia. We dreamt of crossing this vast land. The landscapes are so wide around us, we cannot absorb them in one long gulp. You can feel your awareness of distance bending, as it follows the curvature of the horizon. Dots, hidden in the folds of small hills or curled at the feet of taller mountains, small Ger camps. Smoke rises from their rickety metal chimneys as yaks and goats and sheep and horses graze lazily around. Two or three gers, usually a wooden pen behind. Maybe a UAZ jeep parked just outside. So welcoming and yet somehow closed to us. When we were on the bikes we were travelers. If we approached a family it was because of a true need, for supplies, shelter, maybe company. Now we are tourists we are embarrassed to approach. It feels like it's just curiosity, the chance to steal a memory, an opportunity for a photo. It doesn't feel right. The lightness of movement transformed into a duty to experience. And, maybe being the timid people that we are sometimes, we don't feel quite so justified to intrude.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Transiberian Winter Leg

High contrast monochrome, shadow and glare,
black specks of crouched Baikal fishermen on vast flatland of pure white.
Pocked betulla trunks streak vertically a wide angle vista
while a logical chaos of twigs and branches adds depth and texture.

As dark cross-hatched promontories elbow out onto the Persil™ nothingness,
the juggernaut centipede carves its inexorable advance through the frozen silence.
Its rumbling roar and rolling heartbeat lulls us into a satiated stupor,
soft flowing landscapes stream past our thirsty eyes.

Like a breaker through pack ice, the desire to feel the sharp wind on our faces
and explore villages of stained logs and brightly coloured shutters
slices into the coal warmed womb of a 10,000 tons of steel.
Inside, the odorous presence of humanity pervades the thick air,
lucid spirit vapours and cured meats, tinned fish, artificial flavourings, breaths and armpits.

The subdued quietness is at times shattered by the clumsy crow of drunken laughter,
the rocking stillness interrupted by the shuffling of lost souls towards the samovar.
In the restaurant car the provodnitsas listlessly play a worn game of cards,
their once provocative allure tarnished by leery stares and long hours of tedium.

99 and 53 minutes for us two
between the thin bunks and the corridors of the Kupeyny Class Wagon Lits,
The Master and Margarita and Murder on the Orient Express
as we make our way
towards the Sea of Japan and the Golden Horn Bay.

4 handed written


Monday, 10 January 2011

Dear Tanya and Vladimir

thank you for the lovely couchsurfing review and voucher. Yes, we are in Novosibirsk, Siberia. We got here by train from Ushtobe via Semey-Barnaul after spending a week camping in rather chilly conditions. We decided that, actually, we are not really really prepared for the Mongolian wilderness in the depth of winter when, on New Years Eve the temperature outside our tent plummeted towards -30°C. We slept in all of our clothes (3 wool thermal layers, 1 down vest, 1 down jacket, phat pants over thermal pants, 2 pairs of expensive thermal socks) and still felt the cold attacking us inside our expedition -40°C sleeping bags. The day after, on Isla's birthday, we had to do a small pass to reach Талдыкорган (Taldıqorğan) and the wind was blowing quite strong. By the time we reached the top of the pass our noses started to freeze in front of our eyes (well, they do tend to be in front of our eyes all the time) and our fingers were getting rapidly bitten off by the frost. Luckily, in a dire moment of near panic for our slightly desperate situation a group of Russian hunters picked us up and carried us off the remaining few km to Taldıqorğan. It was a fearful and humbling experience. Our happy-go-lucky attitude got slapped back into the reality of severe cold weather.

Our finger tips are still not completely healed up but our noses were still there the last time we looked. We felt quite demoralized for a while, realizing that we either needed to throw a whole lot more money in getting better and better equipment (and still suffer through months of winter) or we had to stop cycling and camping altogether. Neither option really appealed.

So, somehow, we hatched a new-fangled plan which will not stop us from cycling and will not cut short our trip. Instead of (not) cycling towards Japan through winter and then trying to catch the Transiberian all the way from Vladivostok to Moscow and St. Petersburg, we will catch the Transib to Vladivostok tonight. There we'll jump on a ferry to South Korea and Japan. After spending a couple of milder winter months cycling around Japan and hopefully witnessing the beginning of the blossom season, we will slowly make our way back across China and spend the late spring/early summer on our bicycles in Mongolia. We should arrive back in the Russian Altai around mid summer (visa dependent). From there, after spending a little time looking around and experiencing the Siberian summer (whoopee) we will catch the Transib back towards home.

I (Pietro) feel slightly reticent in admitting this is a much better plan than trying to face a brutal 3-4 months of winter ill prepared. Sometime in the future, maybe with better knowledge and better equipment I might try to push my boundaries further on a forgotten mountain somewhere. But that is not for today.

So that's the new oiooio trx Coldcut remix. Of course things change at all times when you are on the road, but this is the general direction we are trying to move towards.

By the way, fancy reaching us in Altai this Summer? *** If you have some time and are going to visit parents, it would be great to meet up and maybe do some mountain trekking together!

Much love from us

Big hug to you

Isla & Pietro

Tanya and Vladimir Muravskiy wrote:
>Hey Dear!
>It shows that you reached Siberia already, did you take train or bus? Where are you now and how it's going on? Hope you're alright.
>Godspeed and good luck!

*** Actually this invite/tease is also directed to you, [INSERT NAME]. How about a little vacation in a splendid bit of Siberia? Or cycling across Mongolia?

Go on, you know you want to!

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Peek Preview: Isla's Birthday Post

Plenty Frosting Zero Cake

Mascara Kazakh Stylee


vveely, I'm twing tvu smile

When I grow up...

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Central Asia II: Uzbekistan