Well, the next day was probably one of the best of the entire trip. Grettle climbed to a record height of 4650 meters, against all the odds, without any pushing, lifting, shoving, towing, or hitching, and I experienced some of the most breathtaking views I think I have ever seen. So well done G, is all I can say!
Having made it up the final and infamous mud slide slope of the Wahkan, Grettle began to deteriorate rapidly. The landslide-lift saga the previous day, had caused the metal rack attached to her bottom, to split clean in two, and the only thing holding the entirety of my luggage, to the bike, were two bolts found in the Home-Stay at Jlangar, and some quick-fix super glue, hurriedly applied before I set off that morning.
One pot hole too many, tipped the precarious balance, and without warning, the entire rack, along with top box, tent, petrol canisters, and watercolour pad, tumbled off the bike, and into the rubble.
I jammed the rack, and baggage between my knees, and began hurtling off down the highway, in the hope that I might catch up with John in his taxi 4 x 4.
'Em, you look completely mad' he said, as I ground to a halt at a little café, having spotted the 4x4 parked outside. My eyes were popping out of my head, I felt the most exhilarated I ever remember feeling, completely high as a kite on the altitude, and buzzing with energy. I gave him all of my things, and exclaiming 'I'll see you in Murgab before dark!' hurtled off, on half a Vespa, into the distance.
The fact that I no longer had a tent, shoes, helmet, sleeping bag, spare petrol, or any warm clothes, didn't seem to worry me at the time, but as the sun went down, the rain broke out, and the road turned silent, it slowly began to dawn on me, that if I couldn't make it to Murgab that evening, I would have no where to sleep, nothing to wrap up in, no shelter to take cover under, no tools if G were to play dead the next morning, and no spare petrol if her tank ran out.
This is certainly not something that ever worried me cruising the coastal paths of Normandy, a couple of years back, when the weather was so splendid, I didn't need a tent at all, but up at 4000 meters, it really was a wee bit chilly, for sleeping rough in the rain!
Thankfully I made it to Murgab by about 10pm, soaking wet from driving headlong into floods and mud in the dark, to find John and 4x4, waiting in the rain for me, outside the only hotel in town. Inconveniently, and astonishingly, it was full, and so we found a little hovel belonging to a local Kyrgis family instead, and slept on some rugs, spread out on the floor in their sitting room.
The next stop was Osh. John kept hold of my baggage, other than the tent, which I sensibly decided to strap to my seat on this occasion, in case I got stranded somewhere on route.
The road out of Osh, climbed higher into the snow capped peaks, and G and I must have been scooting at a speed no greater than 5 miles per hour, by the time we reached the top of the pass, where there was a flat plateau, and an area of no-mans land, between the Tajik and Kyrgis borders. It was the stangest border I have ever crossed; two men sat outside in a bog, peered at my curiously, as I toppled over into the mud on Grettle, who's little wheels couldn't handle the uneven ground, stamped my passport once G and I were standing vertical once again, and opened the gates into nothing.
This No-Mans land continued for about an hour, before we reached the kyrgis border, at which point I whooped for joy...G and I had made it to Kyrgyzstan at long last!
It seemed the mountain pass had taken its toll on poor old Grettle, and not far into my journey to Osh, she conked out once again. It was that same, dreaded feeling, of a loose spark plug, and despite my attempts to fix it back in place, with duck tape, it was clear we were getting nowhere. As the rain began to bake out, and the light began to fade, I flagged down a lorry, in the hope of a lift to Osh, which was still a good 200 km away from where we stood.
The two drivers agreed, rather apprehensively, that Grettle and I could travel in the back, and so we heaved her inside, and they handed me a blanket, and a beer, before closing the big metal doors, leaving us settled and snug, in the darkness. I attempted to keep G stable, as we were thrown from one side of the lorry to the other at every bend, wending our way up and over the mountains to Osh.
A sudden CRASH caused the two of us to fall, after which the lorry ground to a halt, and silence resumed for a good half hour. Getting a little concerned about what on earth was happening, I began knocking from the inside of the lorry. After 10 minutes of consistent pounding on the metal doors, one of the chaps, opened the back, put his finger to his lips, and told me to ‘Shhhh’. I did as I was told, still totally at a loss for what was going on, until we gradually began to roll off, once again, down the winding road. About twenty minutes passed, until the two men opened the back doors, handed me a packet of crisps and a fruit juice, and showed me the damage to the back of the lorry. We had had a bad collision, the police had arrived, and I had been kept out of sight, to prevent any further charges….having a young English girl with a Vespa, locked in the back of a dark lorry, was probably not something that would have helped their case!
We finally arrived in Osh, and having thought I would be dropped at the address of John's Hostel, which I had scribbled down on a piece of paper, and given to the lorry drivers (clearly wishful thinking), I was rather surprised, when they opened the doors, smiling broadly, onto a large, and deserted lorry park. With absolutely no idea where I was within the city, I rang the number of the hostel. After much confusion, during a conversation between the two lorry drivers, myself, the Kyrgis owner of the hostel, and John, who had been roused from bed, a rescue plan was eventually formed. Ten minutes later, a very unamused hostel owner arrived in his car, to pick us up, and towed Grettle,
alarmingly fast (the man was not impressed, and had no intention of making things easy for me), to the Hostel.
During my time in Osh, I got Grettle seen to at a mechanics, where she received some tender loving care, at long last, from a chap called Patrick. We even constructed a pair of metal contraptions, to support a new pair of speakers, so that I could play music whilst driving.
John decided to sack off his bicycle all together, and buy one of the motorbikes stored at Patrick's (appropriately named as Hansel), and so for the first time since we met, a couple of months back, in the Uzbek deserts, we both set off, on the same mode of transport, to Bishkek.
Words could not do justice to the spectacular scenery we drove through, opal blue turquoise lakes dotted the landscape, herds of horses, cows, goats, donkeys, and sheep roamed across the road, and through the lush green valleys, wonderfully tapestried yurts cropped up in every village, offering chai and cheese balls, and the blue skies and sun, lit up the snow-capped peaks in a magically romantic way.
Without a doubt the Wahkan corridor, The Pamir Highway, and the final drive over the mountains from Osh, were the highlights of the 10 000 miles, I drove to reach Bishkek. Amusingly, word had been spread that a Vespa was in the vicinity, and consequently, during my drive, many cyclists and families in their 4x4’s, flagged me down ‘You must be Grettle’ they would exclaim excitedly, ‘we have been waiting to meet you!’. And so G made some good friends, and strong supporters during the journey, many of which are now arriving in Bishkek, so it’s time for celebratory brews all around, and of course, a wee bit of teaching!
So here I am, in a rather flashy flat, with a large screen television, a comfy double bed, a big sitting room, a kitchen, and some absolutely hideous furniture; grotesque candle sticks and Gothic lamp stems, which I have hidden out of sight, and replaced with Travel frog, and a random selection of other ornaments accumulated over the trip. Grettle is parked loyally outside. She broke down twenty kilometers outside the city, and so John towed me from the back of Hansel, the final half hour of driving into the city. I am hoping it is nothing serious, but I plan to get her to a mechanics asap to discover the damage.
Until next time...Adios
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