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Discovering more Istria

19 Sep

The Outlook festival is behind us now, there we had such good times with our fellows. Having the caps was a real succes as everybody wanted to get one 🙂 ! The day after the festival Yves and I took a different route, he went to spend a few days on a island with some friends by the time I was resting in Rovinj, a really nice place in Istria. After 3 days we found ourselves again in a city called Pazin. There was a concert of TBF, a well known croatian band we had seen 7 years ago. On the way down to Pazin Yves’ front tire exploded due to a chinese fix that couldn’t resist too long. Fortunatly it was just few hundred meters away from the city center of Pazin and he was on time for the concert. There we just parked the bikes behind the soundtable and had a great evening with the locals. Around two am we still had no idea where to sleep until Dino gave us the keys of  a kind of cultural center where we could sleep, and even enjoy an internet connection.

VIP parking

TBF

The day after we still had to fix the tire, so we walked to a shop uphill who was supposed to help. Once there we found the door closed but the guy took on his freeday to fix the problem. The tire was that damaged that we had no other option to replace it and buy a new one.

Nicolas Matic is the guy

In the middle of the afternoon we were ready to go cycling to Motovun, a lovely village hanged  up in a hill, wellknown for its beauty, its truffels, and for the fact that it is located at a “crossroad of positive energy meridians”. Arriving close to the village the scenery is breathtaking, the  hill is surrounded by vineyards, making it so peacefull. On the way to the top we met one of Yves’ friend, living both in Motovun and Zagreb. Funny, unexpected meeting! In the evening we of course tried the famous truffle melted with some cheese and had a great tender piece of meat in a classy restaurant on the top of the hill. We found a place to set the tent on a parking behind the wall of the castel and had a great night there.

Motovun

with Jacob

One of the best piece of meat ever

Outlook Festival here we go!

7 Sep

 This morning we feel really excited cause we know we’ll meet some friends we haven’t seen for the past 4 months! They also planned to go to Outlook festival so it’s gonna be a big Belgian meeting. We just have to cycle around 40k. What a great feeling to see all those familiar faces wearing a big smile entering the city of Pula. After some squizzy hugs, we brought the bicycles to the camping place, the security did not even look at what was in our luggages and even provided a guard with a dog between the fence and the bicycles to make us feel it is safe !

We still plan to sell some caps from Kyrgystan or trade it for beers as the prices are really expensive here as the festival is “English organisation”. Hopefully everybody will want to get one! But for now and for the next 5 days, let’s have some fun! And don’t be shocked looking at the pictures….this is just a music festival!

CF part 2, on the road again

6 Sep

After spending five days with our beloved girlfriends (Nic and Anna in Budapest) (Yves and Iva in Zagreb) it was already time to hit the road again! I first took the same train as Yves did 5 days earlier and had to deal with the croatian customs for the 50 caps I was carrying ;). Once done  I found my fellow back in Zagreb and got ready for the 332 k heading up to Pula in Istria where we were supposed to have one of the best music experience ever. But before we had to set up the bycicles from the boxes it was sleeping in for more than a week and make a proper clean up.

cleaning our babies

new handlebar style

It is really nice to be back on european roads as they are brand new in Croatia, the first day is mainly flat which is good for our legs getting use to cycling again. Around 7 pm we started to think about a place to sleep. We quickly sent a couchsurfing request arriving in Karlovach after cycling 80 km. Jelena called us back within a short time and welcomed us at her place. She did a great job as she had a house for the guest in the backyard and we felt like kings staying there. After some nice talks we went to sleep.

Jelena cool couchsurfer

We woke up with a flat tire the day after, but we enjoyed staying there fixing it as the place was really nice. Around midday we went back on the road and started to feel the legs as the Balkans showed up bigger and bigger. There is always a price to pay to get some impressive sceneries and we know it!

Yves at work

Balkan beats

The sun is now getting down and the legs are tired, we have to ring a bell and ask for setting the tent in a garden. At this point it is really easy to see the difference between Europe and Central Asia. The people are not curious about us anymore, they don’t wave at us when they see us and they look suspicious when we get to their place asking for a piece of land to set the tent. But still they accepted after looking at our faces a few seconds realizing we are not murderers 🙂 .Winter’s coming

The night was great for our tired legs, today we might see the Adriatic sea, but before there is still some steppe roads to climb. We are now deep in the Balkans and enjoy every downhill. We also meet more and more cyclist telling us we are getting closer to the sea shore. Finally we reached the sea after a 20 k downhill well deserved. We stopped for lunch in Rijeka then we starting following the coast and we enterred Istria region. On the way to pula we met a Dutch/Australian family they are cycling for four years they sold their house to do it and school the kids via internet. We felt a bit boring compared to them :). At 10pm we were still on the saddles and had to find a place for the night. We found a bar and they agreed to let us set the tent next to it on the parking. Pretty tired after 128k we slept like babies.

 lucky Nico and his Joly Jumper

The beautiful Adriatic sea

Cycling for 4 years…Respect!

Days 108 – 110 : Issyk Kul it’s so cool

27 Aug
For a few euros, we could get in a Marchroutka, a shared minibus, and reach Issyk Kul in a few hours. The lake is the second largest mountain lake in the world, with a length of 180 km and depth of 700 meters (!). The water is clear, slightly salty, and never freezes due to thermal activity underneath. All around, huge mountains with snowy peaks, where float many rivers ending up in the lake. It is also the most famous tourist spot for Kyrgyz, Kazakh and Russians in the region.
It has numerous discos next to Chopon Alta, the city we arrived, on the north coast. The first night, we went out and spent the night with a group of Kyrgyz students on the beach, sharing vodkas until the early morning, and properly celebrating the end of the first part of our trip!
After having tasted the Kyrgyz nightlife, we decided to go further, leave Chopon Alta, and give it try with the countryside. 40 km away, we hitchhiked and the guys lead to a house owned by a family of Russians, where we could sleep for 5 euros. The place is remote, and has a direct access to the lake, with a tiny beach and a handful of people. After sunset bathing with the family, we came back to our little soviet bungalow. We made a barbecue of duck shashliks with the group, and stayed out next to the fire for good few hours. Our hosts all have wives and kids, but it didn’t prevent them to go out to night club after emptying 2 or 3 bottles. We were tired and didn’t want to go out again, so we managed to skip this one. “Just don’t tell our wives and kids we went out, and tomorrow we’ll say we went to sleep at the same time”. All right, no problem man. Have a good one!
Menu: Donald duck shashliks
crazy Pavel and his friend
We were next to Gregorievka mountains, and found a group of people going deep into the mountain to pick mushrooms. We got into the car, which was 62 years old Bolga from the soviet era. We were 10 people in it, and the engine didn’t handle well our weight in those mountain paths…so we had to stop every 3 km or so to let the engine rest. One of the youngers in the car speaks english, and we asked him if we could stay with them for the night, in their camp. We negociated a deal with him (we’d give them around 7 euros for the night and food) and set up in their camp high in the mountains.
62 years old Volga
There were about 30 people from 3 generations, picking mushrooms and cutting wood next to their tent. Those guys spend the whole summer in the mountain, where they go back to their traditional nomad lifestyle during the good season. We rested during the day, took a swim in the cold water of a small lake nearby, and ate excellent food made by a woman in the camp.
Second lake
Tavarichi
At evening time, the guys told us “hey, lets go to the store!” -“Mmhhh, but we’re in the middle of nowhere!” -“Beside the second lake, there is a yourt sellling beer, vodka and cigarets!” -“No, not again, not today!” -“Yes, today! Davai!”. We headed up there, had to wait the shop owner to finish his prayers, and paid them 2 bottles of vodka for 2 euros. After a night walk in the trails, where we could hear chacals screaming, we  went back to the camp and shared few glasses before going to sleep. The stars were incredibly shiny and the sky reminded us of what we’ve seen in the Kazakh desert few weeks before. 
still no idea what happened with that picture
The next day was our last one before coming back to civilization, and we decided to trek and go even deeper in the mountain. Our friend proposed us to go to some waterfalls he heard about. We started following the river, in the path made by the cows and horses living there. We walked for 2 or 3 hours to get the beautiful, untouched waterfalls we were looking for. We took some time to enjoy the scenery, and took a -very- cold shower there. This point was the furthest we’d go in our trip. From now on, it will all about going backwards : first to Bishkek, then Europe and ultimately Belgium.
 Chai loo…Chai maker
On the way to the waterfall
Cooling in the waterfall
The way down

Day 107 : The final ride

27 Aug

The last ride of our trip in Central Asia was from Karabalta to Bishkek, approximately 60km. Nothing interesting on the way, but we were pretty excited as it was our final destination in Asia, and getting there was the result of 107 days of pedaling through eastern europe and central asia, for more than 5300 kilometers. After celebrating our achievement with a beer, we headed up to the bike shop to see how we could pack our bike. The guys gave us empty boxes and helped us packing our gear as well as possible. We did a pretty good job and just have to hope that there won’t be any damage in the plane. Bike packed, we could plan the last few days of trip we had in Kyrgystan to explore the Issyk Kul area, with its beautiful lakes and mountains.

Alexei

Days 104 – 106 : Yourts and yogurt

26 Aug

Delayed with our little excursion in the mountains, followed by a u turn to the west, we decided to hitch hike to the north to catch up the distance. After waiting for a few minutes next to the main crossroad a truck stopped and agreed to give us a ride to Toktogul, 300 km further, for 1000 soms (approximately 15 euros). We got in the truck, fixed the bikes in the back, and took a seat behind the drivers, 2 friendly Kyrgyz in their early 30s. On the road, each cop we see is stopping us, requesting a bribe to let us go without problem. 50 soms (a bit less than 1 euro) is enough for the cops to be happy. In one hour, we were stopped 4 or 5 times by the police for no specific reason and bribed all of them. After few hours in the truck riding between mountains, we reached Toktogul, the hometown of the drivers, and one of them  offered us to stay at his place with family, where we could sleep outside, under the stars and next to the chickens.

Cirga our friendly driver and his family

Toktogul has a big reservoir of water, a lake with calm water surrounded by  big snowy mountains all around. The water is warm and swimming there has been a real delight. We didn’t take a proper shower for 4 or 5 days and washing/refreshing there was the only thing we wanted before getting back on the asphalt. A swim and a fish later, we started the ascension of a big mountain, with 50 km uphill. The road is good and the scenery starts getting breathtaking. We see many nomads on the way, living in their yourts and selling dairy products from their horses , mainly milk, cheese and butter.

Toktogul reservoir

This part of the road might be the most amazing place we cycled. Huge spaces, incredible mountains, and good conditions. We crossed two ranges of mountains, one at 3200 meters and the other at 3600 meters. Nomads welcomed us to stay with them and set up the tent next to their yourt. We witnessed and experienced their lifestyle, centered on the horses. From a very young age, they use them to commute, and nearly exclusively eat food made from horse milk.

How to make Kumizz

Drying the cheese
Arrived a the top of the mountain, we had to cross a 3 km long tunnel to pass on the other side. A jeep stopped next to us, and the driver told us we shouldn’t cross it on a bicycle, as people die there every year due to lack of aeration in the tunnel, falling asleep with gas emanation. Azret, the driver, speaks good english and works as snowboard and paragliding guide in the mountains. He kindly proposed us to stay at his place in Karabalta, in the valley. The downhill was incredible : 80km long in breathtaking landscapes. We quickly got to Azret’s flat, and we visited the city together. It used to be an active industrial town during soviet era, but since the decline of the empire, it declined and it is now more like a ghost town with empty factories and radioactive areas.
Just one more
Azret
We should’nt stay more than five minutes   

Days 101 – 103 : suffering in the dust

25 Aug

Our map showed us a nice, national road that would lead us to Naryn via the mountains, in central Kyrgysztan. We thought it was all good, and were excited to leave the flat Fergana valley we were in for the last week. Locals told us that the road was no good and that we shouldn’t go there, but we skipped their warnings. Kyrgysztan is all about mountains, and we wanted to get in as soon as we could! After getting lost for an hour or two (there are no signs of any kind, and Google Maps is not very useful here), we got on the right track, and hitch hiked a truck for a few kilometers to catch up the time lost in the afternoon. Speed, wind and bumps at the back of the truck was all good! They left us at the end of the road, and we got back on the bike on a decent path made of rocks and hard sand.6k ride in a truck

It got hilly and exciting, as we entered a new area, completely lost in time. We crossed small villages and laid back people in the street, stopping us to offer their plov and water. Many kids were playing in the street among the cows and donkeys, running after us, and requesting high fives.

We got to the next village that was shown on our map before the sunset, and where shown the way to the next destination, Kugart, a small town we had no clue about. The asphalt was already long gone, but we didn’t expect the road to become that bad  : the track evolved to a way that was just made by the wheels of the few cars that passed there recently, where we had to guess what way to follow. We found our first nomads on the top of a hill and were happy to be offered some refreshing watermelon and a cup of Kumizz, the local drink made out of horse milk. Energetic indeed, but damn hard to digest!

Kumizz do I like you?

It’s nomad ‘s time

After struggling and pushing our bikes for about 20 km, we finally reached the other side of the mountain and started downhill for about the same distance. We found a guy with a car, who lead us as he was going to the same town. Arrived in Kugart, we stopped in the shop of the village, got offered vodka by the drunks, and then got offered to sleep in a house nearby! We did not refuse of course, and spent the evening with the father of 10 kids, 3 of his daughters and one of his boys.  Many drinks later with the men (we had to celebrate our 5000km!), we went to sleep on carpets and blankets in a big room…the Kyrgyz way. 

5OO1 km celebrating time with vodka…what else 🙂

When we woke up the next morning, the elder of the family (our host) had already few vodka shots and it has been really hard to make him understand that we had to leave. After pushing real hard, we managed to escape and started cycling to Jallal Abad, on the west, where we would find the only decent road in the region, linking Osh to Bishkek.

100/100 gold 

Bye bye Kougart, Welcome back to the asphalt

Day 100, Kyrgyzstan here we are!

25 Aug

Our arrival in Osh customs was a symbolic one, as it would be the last border we cross on the bike, since the rest of the trip is in European Schengen area. As most of the previous ones, we’ve been asked to skip the queues and go straight to the passport check. The guy was a bit confused as we got a Kyrgyz visa, made 2 months ago, while in the meantime Kyrgysztan became visa free for Europeans. Osh is the last big city before the chinese border, and you feel the influences straight away : Chinese cars, chinese food, and blinking lights in markets where they sell cheap chinese things in plastic. For the first time in weeks, we had the possibility to eat something new and went for a chinese meal in a restaurant that even had a menu! At that time, Osh was full of cyclotourists who got deported from Tadjikistan (most were cycling the Pamir road) due to recent tensions in the country. We talked to few nice people in the guesthouse, and were advised not to go closer from the chinese border as we intended to : the road was in a pretty bad shape, and many people came back heavily food poisoned. We therefore decided to change our itinerary and cycle towards Naryn, in the east. The following day was off cycle, and fully devoted to the blog : internet speed has not improved, and we still have to use proxies to login to WordPress, which slows even more the connection. We didn’t experience such a slow internet since the early 90’s, and uploading our pictures has been really painful!

Osh bazar speciality

Day 99 : Last stop in Uzbekistan : Andijon!

8 Aug

It has been a bit emotional to say goodbye to the family in the morning, but we had to go : Kyrgysztan was waiting for us! The next town was Andijon, a city that is sadly famous for the fights that happened here in 2005. Surprisingly, the road was going down and was in a good shape as well. We quickly went through our 120 km to get there, stopped for fish (!!!) next to a river, and did several breaks to eat nectarins, peaches and apples, which are incredibly tasty.

Nice spot on the way to Andijon

Fresh and tasty

Best fruits ever

In order to get a last stamp in Andijon, we stopped in a hotel that had been recommended to us (Villa Elegant), and were delighted to see it was nice and big, with even a clean swimming pool and ping pong table -Incredible-. We met 2 french cyclotourists who were there for the same reason, and went to eat with our last uzbek shashliks in a nearby restaurant.

Good reward after 10 days cycling

Days 97, 98 : Getting to Chindovul…or trying to.

8 Aug

We were now in the Fergana valley. The morning ride was very pleasant, 25 km downhill from the top of the mountain we climbed the day before. After that, it was flat again. We headed up to Kossonsoy, as we had the address of an old uzbek cyclotourist we met in Ukraine, 2 months ago. We printed pictures we took together, and wanted to bring them by hand to his family, in that (very) remote corner of Uzbekistan, next to the Kyrgyz border. I got a haircut during our afternoon stop : hair washed/cut, and beard shaved by a 14 year old kid…all for 0,80Đ‚. Feels like a new beginning 🙂

Do you know this guy with his bicycle?? Da, da! Chindovul!

The shortest road was passing along the kyrgyz border. Half of it in Uzbekistan, half in Kyrgysztan…at least, it looked like! We got warned it was hard to ge tthrough, but gave it a shot. When we got there, we got stopped and explained we where going just 10 km away to see our friends’ family, that we were on bike, etc…but it didn’t work out. We had to go backwards and take a much longer way to get where we wanted to (Chindovul). All in all, it was about 150 km extra to give those damn pictures to a family we’re not even sure to find. Anyway, it worths it, we thought. With all the time wasted arguing at the border, we got late and had to catch up with another night ride. When we got tired, we asked some guys hanging out with their mobile phones if we could set up the tent in their backyard. As always in Uzbekistan, it didn’t take long before they brought us plov and watermelon, gave us blankets and room on the terrace to sleep outside. Even if we were exhausted after 130km of cycling, it was good to meet those friendly guys and socialize with them for a good bit of the night.

Night ride

Improvised toast

Sleeping outside is the way to go in Uzbekistan

It’s still very hot in the fergana valley (30 degrees at 8 AM), so we left in the morning. When we got close to the village -still, 40000 inhabitants-, we started asking people if they knew where did Zahid the cyclist live. We quickly got escorted to his family house, where we met his mother, and 2 of her granddaughters. We got extremely well received, and even could (try to) talk on the phone with Zahid, who was currently cycling in Russia. The family, in a very traditional way, insisted for us to stay for the night. At first, we thought we’d cycle some more, but gave up with this idea when we saw the girls were picking up vegetables in the garden to cook dinner for us. We took time to rest, had a swim in the river, fixed our bikes, and improved our russian with them.

Cycling postman

Cooling down in the river

Homemade plov!

We were curious to learn more about Zahid background : he is the oldest of the 11 kids of the baboushka hosting us ; had had 2 wife and 6 kids, and was a 55 years old russian teacher. All in all, there are 56 grandchildren in the family, most of them living nearby. We met good few of them, who came to see those 2 cyclists coming from Europe to give fez pictures. Staying with the family had been our deepest/purest/nicest immersion in Uzbek culture and definitely do not regret those 150 km extra cycling to give them the pictures 🙂

Looking good with our silk gift