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  • Jamie Shannon

Beyneu to Uzbekistan and the road of death!

After having stayed in the lovely cosmopolitan city that is Beyneu for two nights and getting, quite literally, eaten alive by the friendly resident mosquitoes, I decided it was time to tackle part two of my desert challenge. Having stocked up on enough water to drown a small kitten and enough food to see me through until I finally reach civilisation again, I headed out on my trusty stead through the not so bustling streets.

Before heading across the railway lines, I picked up another half litre of fuel for my stove which I stored in an empty coke bottle. Ahh the imagination I tell thee!

The road was a complete and utter joke from start to finish. Literally from the moment I crossed over the railway track and turned right, the road disintegrated into concrete slabs with iron rebar sticking out. It was a mess. I knew that the road to the border was in bad shape but this just took the biscuit. I picked my way through as best as I could and made very slow progress south east.

Cycle touring in Kazakhstan
What a lovely sight this 'road' was!

I was soon out of the town limits and ahead of me once again was an unbroken horizon stretching out into the distance in every direction. Nothing was present to break up the monotony. Well there were camels. Lots of camels but I have now found out that they simply don’t answer your questions and indeed do not speak English. Looks like it’s gonna be a few days with my own brain again.

My bicycle was overloaded with food, water, fuel and other crap and with the road being a mixture of gravel and sand, I knew today was going to be difficult. It was kind of funny watching the trucks weave from one side of the ‘road’ to the other trying to find the smoothest line. A lot of the time there were hard sandy tracks to the right and left which made my day a little easier. These never lasted long however and I soon always found myself performing my own dance across the gravel.

I slipped a few times in the deep gravel or when the sand became wet and I was thoroughly exhausted from the constant braking and steadying of myself. I cursed out loud to an audience of no one. I shouted at the sand to improve. I even asked someone above to smoothen things out and then, like a miracle and seemingly out of nowhere, the gravel ended and the smoothest most beautiful piece of asphalt appeared. I could have kissed it.

Sandy roads in Kazakhstan

I was now in a different world……for two kilometres. Literally after two measly kilometres, the asphalt ended and I was back on gravel and sand. How? Why? What had just happened? It was a beautiful piece of road with all the markings and everything. Why had they built just a two km stretch of road in the middle of nothing? It didn’t make sense. Were they simply playing an expensive joke? This is crazy.

Cycling through Kazakhstan
Why! Why?

This was possibly the toughest 90 km's I have ever cycled

Come on Jamie push. There is asphalt on the Uzbeki side! Its only eighty km’s away! You can do it son! Crash! I fell down again. What’s the point? Ninety km’s of this? My bicycle would be broken in half. I would be a mental wreck and the only thing I would have to show for all my effort was a thin slither of desert on the map. But there is asphalt in Uzbekistan. Surely that’s worth it….isn’t it?

I suppose I can give it a shot.

Needless to say I carried on and on and on and it was possibly the hardest day of the journey so far. I keep saying that but here it is true. Nothing can compare to it. Imagine cycling with 40 kg’s strapped to your bike in baking heat for ninety km’s over gravel and sand. It was quite simply…..hell.

But of course I did do it because that’s what you do. You just carry on in the hope that something better comes along.

Cycle touring through Kazakhstan

About 25 km’s from the border I came across one of those dusty little villages in the middle of the desert. As I entered, two people whom were sat by a shop shouted me over and so, in need of a break, I cycled over and sat down with them. They were two Russians on two very large motorbikes doing a tour of the region and heading to the Pamirs in Tajikistan like me. I dare say they will arrive a little sooner though. I attempted to buy a bottle of coke but the Russian guy insisted on buying me two. That’s nice I thought. Now I can buy some more water with my remaining Tenge. They kept inspecting my bicycle and the other guy filmed the whole encounter on his phone. I should have liked to have gotten his details for that movie but alas and like always I did not ask.

I left a little later and found a shop that sold water, and, well, not much else. After the water ,I had like 0.30 Tenge left and so simply gave it to the lady telling her I would be in Uzbekistan soon and that I wouldn’t need it. She gave me a cigarette from her own packet. Strange.

I found a spot to camp one kilometre off the road over a small hill a little later leaving me with just fifteen km’s of this nightmare the following morning. I was beaten.

Wild camping in Kazakhstan
Camping in Central Asia

I arrived at the border by ten and a car pulled up to say hello. The man in the car, not the actual car. He emphatically announced to me “welcome to Kazakhstan”. I said thank you very much but I’m just about to leave, you’re about ten days too late mate but thanks anyway.

Crossing the Kazakhstan/Uzbekistan border

The border was a dump. There was rubbish and camel shit everywhere and it resembled a refugee centre with masses of people milling about with what seemed like half of their worldly possessions. My obvious status as a tourist however brings me straight to the front. Literally with the soldier pushing me through the hordes of people shouting tourist, tourist! With a stamp in my passport I went back outside and followed the soldier through the fences where I had my passport checked three more times. It took me not even ten minutes on the Kazakh side.

Kazakhstan/Uzbekistan border
Looking towards the border

On the Uzbek side, things wouldn’t go as smoothly. There was a little hut outside where everyone was filling in two identical customs forms, listing the currency and any valuables they were bringing into the country. I went inside to try and see if I could get an English form and the soldier told me to go past passport control to get to the other side to ask, all the while people thought I was pushing in front of them to try to speed my own application up. They were getting pretty Irate. On the other side I found no English forms but another soldier gave me an identical sheet with the ‘answers’ written in English. This was something I could work with.

When I was waiting in line, another soldier came over to me and started to push me through again. “Tourist, tourist”. Alright mate, I think they can see I’m not from here. Evidently I have special status as I’m ushered through to the front once again. One look at my passport and of course I'm asked if I like football. Yes, yes, Ryan Giggs is very good.

I now have the fun task of trying to create a path through the masses so I can push my bike through. Not an easy thing to do when it’s the size of a mini. All my bags have to go through the scanner and I’m asked to produce my phone so they can rifle through it. No problem I thought. Upon handing the guy my Nokia 3310, he gave it straight back to me. Apparently, he's not up for a game of snake.

I then had some of my bags searched but, to be honest, It was nothing like what I had expected. They didn’t look through my camera, hard drive or computer but just wanted to see my medicines and even then only wanted to know about sleeping pills of which I had none. I don’t usually require them funnily enough after eight hours on the bike.

Well, with my bags checked and my tobacco sniffed, I was sent on my way. It wasn’t so bad and most of the people were actually really nice. I was happy that I had shaved my beard off as not one person in the building had been sporting one. I was told to do this several times by various people in Kazakhstan as beards are, well not much liked here as the president had decreed them 'too Islamic.'

At the final gate, I was given a heartfelt, “welcome to Uzbekistan” by the final border guard and I was let out to continue on my way.

I'm in Uzbekistan! I had made it! Wahoo!

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