Silk Road 2007 Live!Journal Chapters Menu
Week Five Chapter - 29 May ~ 04 June 2007 - Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, China
"There is a wide world out there, my friend, full of pain, but filled with joy as well. The former keeps you on the path of growth, and the latter makes the journey tolerable." - R. A. Salvatore, Sojourn
"Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers, that the mind can never break off from the journey." - Pat Conroy (1945 - ), The Prince of Tides
Starting location for this week: Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Ending location for this week: Yining, China
Planned mileage for this week: 1,136 miles (1,817 kilometers)
Salaam aleikhem - "Hello" in Uzbek
Asalom u alaykhum - "Hello" in Uzbek
Salom - "Hello" in Uzbek
Yakhshimisiz - "Hello" in Uzbek
Salamat sizbe - "Hello" in Kirghiz
Kandisiz - "Hello" in Kirghiz
Kandaisen - "Hello" in Kirghiz
Kandai - "Hello" in Kirghiz
Salam aleykum - "Hello" in Kirghiz
Salam - "Hello" in Kirghiz
Salam - "Hello" in Kazakh
Asalamu alaykim - "Hello" in Kazakh
Salamatsyz ba - "Hello" in Kazakh
Khayrly kün - "Hello" in Kazakh
Selem - "Hello" in Kazakh
Asalam aleykum - "Hello" in Uyghur (Northwestern China)
Ässalamu äläykum - "Hello" in Uyghur (Northwestern China)
Hoy - "Hello" in Uyghur (Northwestern China)
Néih hóu - "Hello" in Cantonese, China)
Neilhou - "Hello" in Cantonese, China)
Lay ho - "Hello" in Cantonese, China)
Ho yat - "Hello" in Cantonese, China)
Ngh on - "Hello" in Cantonese, China)
Jou san - "Hello" in Cantonese, China)
Nî hâo - The simplest form of "Hello" in official Mandarin Chinese
We begin this week in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and will endure border crossings from Uzbekistan into Kazakhstan, transit through Kazakhstan into Kyrgyzstan, ride through Kyrgyzstan into Kazakstan (again!), and finally, leave The 'Stans behind us and make our way into China.
Oil and tires have been changed. Screws, nuts and bolts checked and tightened. Where torque and Loctite alone don't suffice, bailing wire, cable ties, and the universal solution for all things, duct tape, do the job. Our steel, aluminum, plastic, synthetic, flesh and blood caravan rolls on. Precious remaining supplies of Immodium are shared. Dust is everywhere, and winds have enough energy to over-turn vehicles. From the cool highlands of Kyrgyzstan, we begin our descent into lans which only see 16mm of rain a year.
Welcome to Week Five of the Silk Road!
Mike, Your Webmeister
* * * * * * * * * *
The many forms of "Hello" in over 800 languages and other useful words and phrases are courtesy of Jennifer's Language Page.
To find out what time it is there (or anywhere!), visit The World Clock.
To see where they are now, visit the Navigation Technology Chapter.
For more information about China in this week's leg of the Silk Road, please visit the resources listed below:
- The World Factbook, maintained by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States:
- The Consular Information Sheets, provided by the Department of State of the United States:
- The web-based, free-content encyclopedia entries at Wikipedia, maintained by "GlobeWriters" everywhere":
Day 29 - 29 May 2007 - Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
(Rewind to 25 May 2007)
While the group is having numerous collective experiences, each one of us also encounters moments that it is difficult to truly share. Such moments can be talked about, reviewed, laughed at, and analyzed repeatedly, but they remain solo experiences. We were about 70 kilometers away from Samarkand on the 25th of May when the adventure shifted a bit for me. The police escort that we were obligated to follow through Uzbekistan was leading us down a four lane divided highway. Ahead of me rode Jeff who was leading, followed by Mike with Linda on the back. Riding in the third position, I was up on the left side of the lane as we rode about 100 km. an hour. Just behind me came Enda.
I saw the collection first off on the right side of the highway, goats and sheep together. Two other sheep were huddled against the concrete barrier in the middle of the road as we approached. Just after the two-up Tiger rode by, the white sheep leapt the meter-high barrier and skipped across the highway. Getting on the brakes, I slowed to about 60 km. and tried to assess the situation. Determining that I could sneak through I began to accelerate. As I rolled on the throttle, the remaining black sheep took his turn, cleared the median, and appeared in front of me. Left with no choice, my memory says I hunkered down into the seat, steadied the GS, and rolled into the living obstacle. After the initial impact, while headed for the concrete retaining wall, my first thought was, “I’m going down.” Then almost simultaneously, as I realized that although the motorcycle was slewing about both front and rear, I found that I still had control. With power on and increasing slowly, I held on and rode right over the sheep. Amazingly, the motorcycle seemed fine and I felt ready to keep riding.
In a few seconds, Jeff pulled over and all followed. Expressions of amazement, congratulations, and thanks, were delivered. Many were very supportive as the adrenaline wore off. Mike Paull calmly asked me to put the motorcycle on the center stand so that the front end could be checked. Enda promptly took care of that. Damage was assessed: front beak cracked, left fog light bent. Nothing major at all.
With gratitude for my own survival, I bought the drinks at dinner that night. If I had gone down, almost inevitably, given the nature of riding in convoy, perhaps half-a-dozen others would have followed. My sympathies are with the shepherd boy who was left crying over the wounded, but still living sheep.
Whew! Breathe deeply and roll on. . . .
Day 30 - 30 May 2007 - Lake Issyk-Kul, Kygystan
Big Honking Statues
And I do mean big. Bigger and more heroic than anything I’ve seen. Statues made to bring tears to the eyes of every patriot, and make women swoon into the arms of their men. Huge, larger than life depictions of manly men and the women who stood by them in the worst of times. Or on the other side of the coin, sad, weeping Mothers, standing desolate and lonely, consumed with grief for the loss of their sons in some great war.
If there ever came a world competition for over the top, iconic depictions of man’s struggle against all odds, no-one in the world could come close to the monument builders of the old Soviet Union. Hands down. Bar none. I’ve done a lot of traveling and seen a lot of statues, but the ones built by the former Soviet Union are in a class of their own.
I don’t know if they meant as a distraction to people who had nothing, or they truly had to be of immense proportions to symbolize the huge sacrifices that the people of the republics made in the great wars. Perhaps it is a bit of both. Over twenty million people in the Soviet Union died in World War II. That is a supreme sacrifice.
The first one that caught my eye was the ghostly weeping woman, standing forlornly in the fog and rain and an intersection in Azerbaijan. It was meant to commemorate the losses of the mothers of Azerbaijan from 1941-1945. The cold, wet roads and empty rain only added to the sadness in her eyes.
The second was in Uzbekistan, to commemorate the strength and stalwartness of the people of Tashkent after the earthquake of 1966. Over 80% of the town was destroyed in a few moments that day, but the Soviet Premier immediately dispatched 40,000 architects, builders and tradesmen to Tashkent to begin the rebuilding. The 30 foot tall statue shows the man and woman and child standing fast against the ripples of the torn earth moving towards them. Wow.
The latest was the War Memorial in Panfilov Park in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Almaty was the mid-point of this trip, but it also had the most incredible park, dedicated to the Second World War. General Panfilov was a Kazakh, and many soldiers from Almaty served in the heroic (have I used that word before?) defense of Moscow. Although the entire park is dedicated to General Panfilov, the memorial and eternal flame is to the sacrifices of the men of Almaty, 28 of whom where in one unit, and who heroically fought and destroyed over 40 German tanks before they were overrun. They must have performed so stalwartly that the depiction of the leading soldier was probably the inspiration for “Thing” in the Fantastic Four comic series. Just look at the pictures and decide for yourself.
Yup. I have a thing for big honking statues. Maybe I read too many Ayn Rand novels as a kid, or I am a reincarnated artist from the Art Deco period, but they all touch something in my soul. Whether you like the style or not, when you discover the story behind each one, you cannot help but begin to understand why they need to be so big.
Day 32 - 01 June 2007 - Almaty, Kazakhstan
This episode comes to you from the Uzbekistan/Kazakhstan Border and is titled “Money Exchanging as a Contact Sport”
After a very difficult border crossing, we needed to exchange money on the Kazakhstan side of the border and found that we had stepped right into a scene out of the movie “Borat” where we proclaimed, “We wish to make beautiful fun in your glorious country!”
Once we persuaded customs officials to allow us into Kazakhstan, we pulled to the side of the road to locate a money exchange. We parked our steel camels at the curb and were immediately surrounded by numerous young men, all yelling “Money? Money? Money?”, urging us to come to their individual stalls to exchange money. These stalls were actually small sheds; so small that when you stood in the center you could nearly touch all four walls without moving. Despite the cramped quarters, there were nearly a dozen people crammed into each stall, customers and money exchangers alike. We randomly selected a stall and entered, only to find our fearless leader, Helge at the front of the line. Naturally, we assumed that we were in good hands following on the heels of this seasoned traveler. We were soon to discover that this was a very naïve assumption on our part!
Helge happily exchanged his money and left us to deal with the non-English speaking hordes. Mark gave a U.S. hundred dollar bill to one of the money changers and I handed another young fellow sixty U.S. dollars. This money was then handed to a young lady with gold teeth, who sat in a small cage with steel bars. Once the money was handed to the lady, our young money changers high-tailed it out of the stall in search of their next victim and disappeared into the crowd outside.
Meanwhile, our gold-capped friend counted out a stack of bills for Mark and another for me. We counted the stack of Tenge (local currency) and compared the amounts that we each received. Mark began to try and wrestle a calculator from a couple of the exchangers to check what exchange rate we each received. We discovered that I received half of the money I should have and Mark received three-quarters of what he should have. I grabbed one of the money exchangers and asked him where the rest of my money was. He gave me hand signals that he wasn’t the guy that I dealt with and there was nothing he could do. So I went outside to find the gent that I dealt with, however, he was nowhere to be found in the sea of humanity. I believe this was the point where Mark claims I “blew a gasket”.
I started to make quite a commotion outside and started yelling at the top of my lungs, “Where is my #@!%&**%$ money? Unable to locate my little thief, I went back into the stall and yelled some more. Mark was so shocked at this outburst that he bent over in a fit of laughter. At this point there were about eight Kazakhs in the stall and I decided that there would be no more trading until we got our money sorted out. I began randomly grabbing people and threw them outside of the little shack. Dennis blocked the door so others that had gathered could not enter the fray. Once the room was cleared of all but two Kazakhs, I figured the odds were now in our favor to adjust today’s going rate of exchange.
Mark jumped on the back of one large fellow and attempted to wrestle him to the ground (actually he was just trying to get the guy down to his level). I started wrestling the other guy to keep him off of Mark. During this exchange, Dennis continued to block the door to prevent the small crowd of onlookers from jumping in. The Kazakhs were yelling and swearing at us in Russian and we were yelling and swearing at them in English a stalemate reminiscent of the Cold War Era. At this point the guy I was wrestling with picked up a plate and attempted to hit me over the head. Dennis intervened with a death grip on his neck and informed our friend that he was going to eat the #@$% plate if he didn’t drop it. Despite the language barrier, he quickly got the point and dropped the plate.
At about this time, Mike Paull stepped in the doorway, calmly looked at the five of us wrestling on the floor and muttered, “I don’t think I am going to exchange my money here” and calmly turned around and left. (Later Mike said it looked like we had things under control and did not need his assistance).
Finally, Mark managed to wrestle a large stack of cash from his dance partner and money was scattered across the floor, at which point we scooped up what we believed to be a fair amount for our transaction and ran out of the humble surroundings. Dennis followed on our heels and caught the eye of two police officers that were being summoned by the crowd that had gathered outside. Dennis stared back at them with a crazed, rabid look (he may have been drooling at this point, but I am not sure) and they let us pass. We immediately hopped on our bikes, fired them up, laid on the horns, cut into traffic and high-tailed it out of there.
All three of us were laughing hysterically with tears in our eyes about this fiasco and figured all was good No punches were thrown, we got a large sum of money and we saved our “Get Out of Jail Free” cards for another day.
That is, until we stopped about 50 kilometers down the road to buy some petrol and a few sodas. We couldn’t understand why the cashier was so upset with us. After another episode of charades, hand signals and yelling in Russian, we discovered that the money we had scooped up from the floor was actually Uzbekistan “Sum” and was worthless in Kazakhstan (actually it is pretty useless in Uzbekistan as well).
We all laughed so hard that we could hardly ride the bikes to our second border crossing of the day into Kyrgyzstan. We were filled with anticipation at the mere thought of another opportunity to exchange money!!!!!!
Day 34 - 03 June 2007, Zharkent, Kazakhstan
Motorcycle Repairs in Foreign Lands
After several days of sickness which included the Silk Road Squirts and an unknown attack on the body that caused fever, aches and general exhaustion, the motorcycle adventure continues. Fortunately, my sickness (which happened twice and went away within 24 hours each time) always occurred when we arrived at a city with a layover day, and I had time to recover before our departure, so Linda and I have lost no riding days across the Silk Road. It has been a great ride for the two of us along with all our other riding companions. The challenging roads with pot holes that will swallow the front tire if entered at slow speed along with some rain and cool weather have been the norm so far.
Several days ago my challenge changed from the roads and weather to my motorcycle. Riding with a passenger and luggage is challenging as a driver, but also much more difficult for the mechanical parts of a motorcycle, particularly with the road conditions we’ve encountered. Being a past GlobeRider, I know that the number one failure on this type of journey is the motorcycle’s rear shock absorber. I focused on this failure to improve my success of completing the Silk Road Journey. Prior to sending the motorcycle to Seattle for shipment, I purchased a new rear shock from a well known manufacturer which greatly improved the performance and ride of my Triumph Tiger. Linda and I did a 200 mile test ride and were very happy with the results of the new rear shock and improved front suspension. Now, here is my story.
May 28 - Day 28 -Tashkent, Uzbekistan - - Over the past several days when loaded with luggage and the two of us mounted, I begin to notice that the motorcycle seemed to be lower than it should, so an inspection was necessary for adjusting the ride height of the rear shock. It was a really hot afternoon, just arriving at our parking area outside the city, so I found some shade against a huge tractor trailer to work on the motorcycle.
Upon removing the rear wheel I discovered the threads on the bottom of the shock (which controlled the ride height adjustment) had stripped. With the help of our local bus driver and his huge box of bolts, nuts, washers and old coins, we found several washers that could be used for a repair that would raise the ride height and allow me to continue with my rear shock. It only took about 1 ½ hours - with the help of Enda, Henry, Jeff and Helge, and the repair was complete.
May 31 - Day 31 - Lake Issyk-Kul, Kyrgyzstan - - It was a beautiful cool morning and the ride today was into the mountains to visit with the local villagers and attend some horse games. All of the motorcycle riders had removed their panniers, carrying no extra weight for the steep, rough dirt mountain roads ahead with a few stream crossings. Several of our friends sped past Linda and I, but for some reason, this morning, I was content to keep my speed at 50 mph, much slower than the other bikers.
We had not turned off the paved road yet to the dirt when all of a sudden the rear of the motorcycle collapsed. The rear end was trying to move from side to side, smoke was bellowing out the rear of the bike and the smell of burning rubber was in the air. I was able to safely pull over to the side of the road. Linda got off and as I tried to put the side stand down, I realized the problem. The rear shock was broken into two separate pieces!
Luckily, a few of the riders and the chase vehicle were behind us. With the help of Sasha, Mike Paull, Mark and some of the locals, we loaded the broken Tiger into the chase vehicle and returned the motorcycle to our hotel. Linda and I then rode in the chase vehicle to the horse games and had a wonderful day watching all the others ride with the horses on their motorcycles in the beautiful mountain valley and fields. Yes, it was a big disappointment that we could not participate riding our motorcycle, but things happen on any journey.
There was a scheduled oil change for most of the bikers that afternoon, so when we returned to the hotel I had the help of Enda, Dennis, Bill, and Henry. In 2 ½ hours we removed the old broken shock and replaced it with the original shock. Yes, with the advice from Helge, I was wise enough to bring my old original along as a spare shock. If not, it could have been a much bigger problem and potentially the ride for Linda and I would have been over. The performance of the motorcycle is less than desired but most of the really bad roads have passed with the exception of some anticipated construction areas in China.
June 1 - Day 32 - Almaty, Kazakhstan - - It had been a beautiful ride into the city. Jack and I were following the ‘bread crumbs’ [Editor’s Note: from Hansel and Gretel, “breadcrumbs” are GPS tracks] to the hotel when I started to experience difficulty turning the steering wheel. It was if something was binding on the bike, preventing me from turning left at the traffic lights. Fortunately, we weren’t far from the hotel and arrived safely. After unloading the motorcycle and settling into the hotel, I returned to the motorcycle to determine the problem. Placing the bike on the center stand with weight on the rear wheel I tried to turn the handlebars…..click, grind, click. The conclusion by me and others was a failed steering head bearing. The motorcycle has one on top and one on bottom so you must disassemble both to determine the problem.
It was dinner time, so, off to dinner. After dinner, once again Enda was there to provide me with a lot of help and resourcefulness. Remove the fuel tank, remove the front wheel, take off the whole front end and with a big hammer - finally the steering head was free. We found no grease in the lower bearing. The upper bearing had some rough spots but due to the complexity of removal we decided to leave it in. We didn’t know if we could find another one to match exactly; we also discussed fixing it rather than replacing it. It was dark now so we decided to figure out our actions for repair the next day, a layover day in Almaty.
June 2 - Day 33 - Almaty, Kazakhstan - - After much discussion about bearings, wear, replacement and the way we found the bearing, we decided to clean it and give it a close inspection for possible reuse. To reassemble the Tiger properly, however, we needed a special spanner tool for the locking nut on the steering head. This would need to be manufactured in a machine shop somewhere or we could not reassemble the steering head. Plus, there were several other motorcycles needing repair. Enda had lost the rear support bracket for his panniers so he was looking for a place to manufacture a bracket and Dan had a failed fuel pump on his BMW R1150GS. So, our first stop was a visit to the local BMW car dealer where we found a fuel pump from an X5 (BMW SUV which is assembled in South Carolina, where I live); that, with a few minor modifications would do the trick. Fuel pump, hose clamps and fuel hose in tow we headed to find some place that would let us clean the bearing and manufacture some parts.
Sasha has been our guide since leaving Turkey. I don’t know how he did it, but as we were driving along the road in a less desirable part of town the driver of our vehicle stopped. Sasha got out and walked behind a long fence of sheet metal. After a few minutes part of the fence opened and an old man came to the vehicle to inspect our bearing. Only then were we allowed to enter the compound behind the fence. It was really unbelievable as we entered. Cars were everywhere in all status of repair. We were directed to a part of the compound where we found several mechanics very busy. We walked right up and there was just what we needed: a large pan of cleaning solvent with a brush and carburetor cleaner to clean and inspect the bearing. With a few words from Sasha and a head nod from the local mechanic (let’s call him Joe) we began our work. With the bearing cleaned and air-blown dried, a close inspection revealed no damage. Joe knew what we needed so with the tube of grease in hand, Helge began the greasing process, while Enda took me to the machine shop that he and Sasha had found.
The location of the machine shop was at the rear of a huge bus repair complex. First, we had to pay a small fee just to enter the complex. Go back to the late 50’s or early 60’s and imagine a building with a concrete floor, loaded with grease, oil and dirt. Imagine spots of sunlight piercing the floor through holes in the tin roof. Imagine the odor of this old building. Several long grease pits lined the floor almost 60 feet long for working under the buses. Old buses were everywhere, broken, salvaged, damaged, rusting; some with wheels removed and others looking abandoned in place. I call it the ‘bus dungeon’. We found a small work area in this huge complex with 2 machinists and several machine tools. We drew a picture of the spanner tool we needed and left the locking nut with our machinist (let’s call him Jimmy) so the proper size could be confirmed. It was 2 PM in the afternoon and the parts would not be ready until 6 PM. We returned to the area where Joe was working; Helge finished packing the bearing and Joe wanted to help more with modifying Dan’s fuel pump. When we left, Joe gave me a new can of can of carburetor cleaner as a gift just in case we needed it, would not take any money from us, and wished us a wonderful journey. Joe was incredibly helpful and no, he didn’t speak English.
Returning to the dissembled Tiger, we did all the work we could do putting it back together without the spanner tool we needed. The fully greased bearing slipped right into place, but the special tool would be needed for the final adjustment. At 5:30 PM we were again standing at the machinist’s (Jimmy) door in the ‘bus dungeon’. I told you that Jimmy told Sasha that it would be ready at 6 PM, so we waited. At 6 PM my spanner tool appeared along with the support bracket Enda needed. I had Sasha give Jimmy a small card that Linda made for our Silk Road Journey showing us on the motorcycle. He now understood we needed the tool to repair the motorcycle to finish our journey. He was all smiles now and lost the sternness that had previously dominated his facial expressions. With laughter, a couple of photos, and a fee so small ($10), Enda and I paid double indicating our pleasure, and we were off to the hotel to complete the assembly of the Tiger and Enda’s bracket. With the help of Enda, Jeff, and Dennis the final adjustment of the steering head was completed and it was time for dinner again. There was to be a special performance of the evening so a decision was made to finish the final assembly in the early morning daylight.
June 3 - Day 34 - Almaty, Kazakhstan - - At 6 AM, Enda, Jeff and I met to complete the assembly. It only took less than 45 minutes; the Tiger was ready to ride again!
My many thanks to all the riders that helped me with work, disassembly, assembly, and advice along with the tools necessary: Rupert with the torque wrench and big hammer, Mike Paull with the 30mm socket and pull handle, Henry with the huge crescent wrench, Dennis for his final feel for a good fit of the bearing, Enda and Jeff for the final assembly, Helge for his fantastic bearing packing job, and Sasha for his finding just what we needed for the repair work. And let’s not forget Joe and Jimmy!!!
Note: Dan’s motorcycle runs great with the new BMW auto fuel pump modified by Helge, and Enda’s bracket is keeping his panniers from falling off (which can not be said for all the riders, but that’s another story for another day).
Day 35 - 04 June 2007 - Yining, China
What it Takes to Be a GlobeRider
Before we started the trip, my friends would joke most often about how sore my butt would be, and since we started our trip one of the most frequently asked questions from my friends has been, “is your butt sore yet?” So, obviously a good seat on the motorcycle is required (by the way, my butt is not sore). And two other obvious requirements are having a “road worthy” motorcycle and being an experienced rider. Here are few less obvious, but necessary, attributes you’ll need to be a GlobeRider.
Humor - You cannot take yourself too seriously, can take a joke (or two or tons), can dish it back, don’t mind looking or acting silly, like to laugh and have fun.
Ability to Entertain Oneself - Sure, we’ve been treated to great planned group tours and extraordinary entertainment, like traditional music and dancers, but then there’s times when entertaining oneself is critical on a ferry crossing, at a border crossing, in a hotel in the middle of bum-f somewhere. We’ve bowled, played snooker and backgammon (Pete and Mark improvising at the ferry dock), and Gail, you would be proud of the rousing competitive team game of charades (using trip terms) that Mike and I hosted for the group.
Excellent Conflict Management Skills We have an incredible group that has a strong bond, and while we really haven’t had any conflicts amongst ourselves, we have discussed different techniques to resolve conflict. Here’s Enda showing us his Irish technique on Rupert, and Mike and I attended a relationship seminar taught by Kyrgyz horsemen.
Compassion for Other Group Members - We look out for and take care of each other, whether we’re repairing motorcycles, exchanging money (see Joe’s story), or tidying our appearances as done by Yves, Mike and Helge.
Patience Patience with internet service, restaurant service, motorcycle repairs, border crossing officials, bureaucracies, crazy drivers, you name it…you need patience or just find a place to nap.
Flexibility When it comes to the quality of accommodations and food, one needs to be flexible. Yes, we’ve enjoyed recharging our batteries (our group, not the motorcycles) and luxuriating at the comfortable and familiar Marriott in Georgia and the Hyatt in Azerbaijan. However, our more memorable experiences have come from staying at caravansaries where traders and camels stayed while transporting goods on the Silk Road, magical cave dwellings, and beautifully decorated rooms at Bukhara, Uzbekistan (see picture). But trust me, that’s not the norm. The nights we’ll probably remember most are when we are in “funkier” environs like the bunk-bed cabins on a freighter across the Caspian Sea, lodgings still under construction, hotels with no air-conditioning, and the infamous Aurora Resort Hotel. Don’t let the name fool you we are talking bizarre. On the beaches of Kyrgyzstan’s gem, Lake Issyk-Kul, we stayed in a monstrosity of an old Soveit institution-like building. You get the idea when the best sculpture on the property was a Native American Indian shooting a dinosaur. And another hotel had instructions on what to do in case of an earthquake. Those will be the ones we’ll remember most. (Just an informational note - one critical criterion for selecting hotels is secure parking for the motorcycles and all are thankful for that).
Resourcefulness and Innovation Are Key People asked Mike and I before we left, “how will you fix any of the motorcycles if they break?” When it comes to fixing motorcycles, the collective knowledge, tools, eagerness to help (and learn) in this group has been impressive to me. And if “we” can’t fix it, the locals can. Their resources may be limited, but not their resourcefulness.
A Doctorate in Economics Keeping track of 8 different countries’ currency, money exchange, black market operations, current rate of exchange, etc., etc. can be very confusing. Here’s where patience is required again, only this time it’s needed for the guys with me when I ask them a thousand times, “what’s the exchange rate, again?”
Knowledge of GPS While nice, it’s not required…..you can always rely on the ancient practice of map reading, exhibited here by the Frenchmen, Yves and Yves.
Being Physically Healthy Well, at least at the start of the trip. While the men are concentrating on driving, as a passenger I have a lot more time thinking up funny things to say for the journal. No trip journal would be complete without some toilet humor. Someone may have already talked about the Silk Road Squirts we’ve all had varying degrees of it. In the beginning we’d start out the day by asking people “how are you?”, then it went to “how are you feeling?”, then “did everything come out alright?” and finally, one person went too far the other direction and ended up at a pharmacy for a laxative. I think by now we’ve figured out what works for oneself. A few people did get pretty sick, but mostly due to some nasty virus that went around. Mike got sick a couple of times, but so far I’ve been well throughout. Fortunately, now everyone seems to be in high gear.
Speaking of health I hope everyone’s well back home. Thanks for all the emails you’ve sent me with news from home. Looking forward to catching up when I return.
13 JUN 2005 - Dunhuang China, China
I have not had a chance to write in the journal because the computer that I brought with me did not handle the rough roads in Uzbekistan. So I sent that home with a lot of other junk that I did not need and now I can relax because I have no way to respond to email. Now I can say that I am really on vacation.
The ride so far has been fantastic. The group is getting along very well and we are handling all the minor problems of this type of travel.
I think that the most memorable thing about this trip is the difference that I see in China compared to the last time I was here. Traveling through Tibet 25 years ago compared to now is like night and day. What I expected and what is here is unbelievable. I also could not believe the difference in going from Kazakhstan to China. As soon as we crossed the border we were in a country that is “on the move”. I could not say that for Kazakhstan or for that matter the other Central Asian countries that we rode through.
For those of you who might want to know how I am doing physically, I am great. The food is different but good, the hotels are not five star but very comfortable and better than I expected. I have had two haircuts since I left, one in Georgia and one here in China. The barber shop in this town was very dirty but the barber did a fairly good job. They like to cut your hair short. I hope that it grows out before Erika’s wedding.
The riding is challenging and sometimes boring but you have to keep your concentration because if your mind wanders you will be surprised by a sheep, cow, horse, chicken, bicycle, moped, pothole, car coming at you in the wrong direction in your lane, and any other thing that you might think of.
By now I have been on the road for about five weeks and am getting a little homesick. I miss seeing Edwina, Jenn, Erika, and Mia and Jaden. It will be great to see everyone in Steamboat at Erika’s wedding. What a homecoming!
I would like to thank Linda for allowing me to use her computer to respond to my email and get some information from home. Edwina is working on the new house plans for Florida and as Joe Brennan says “she has an unlimited budget that she is exceeding”. I am sure that it will be fine when I get back home I can change everything.
That is all for now. I hope to write one or two more journals before the end of the trip.
Helge Pedersen Images from the Silk Road
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