Early start of course, we have ground to cover. We started with an early breakfast and had a convoy meeting about our progress. We were making good progress but the pressure was still on to cover ground. Our team had had a discussion or two about what we needed to do, which today would mean driving as long as possible into the night or early morning if possible. Our logic was this: Every day from now on was going to be a long day in the car which meant we were really going to be pushing the Doblo. We still had an oil leak and a radiator leak, not to mention half a suspension and a wonky fuel pump. Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan were the last 2 countries we were going to be going through that would not stamp my passport with a car stamp, which means if we hit a catastrophic failure we could technically ditch the car there, sell it or whatever and have no problems leaving the country. Russia and especially Mongolia would not be as easy. We would later find out that if we had to leave our car in Mongolia the import taxes would be 7k+. We also knew that Kazakhstan was such a long drive that IF we were to break the car pushing it too hard, the next 4 days would be the time to do it. Bummer, but that was our reality of having a slowly dying car and visa deadlines.
So we sat down with team Starsky and Dutch and laid this out and told them we were considering cannonballing through the next 2 countries. Everything is day by day of course because something always happens that could change circumstances (even for the better if you’re lucky) but we set a goal for Kara Balta – 618 km and 10 hours minimum from Osh. Let’s just say the conversation didn’t go over well. Hendrick was understandably concerned about driving at night. It gets sketchy and it’s not fun. Not to mention they only have 2 people in their van, and the way that it’s built there isn’t really a way for them to rest and rotate like we do. Ryan threw out the idea that we would unfortunately have to consider driving on without them later. For the time being we had a lofty goal so we focused on that.
About 2 hours in it went to shit for a little bit. Google maps REALLY sucks in this part of the world, and it’s recommended 1 of 2 routes ended up taking us off the M41 highway and onto a dirt/gravel road that was who knows how many kilometers long before it met with another highway. The alternate route would take us briefly through Uzbekistan which wasn’t an option as we didn’t have a dual entry visa. About an hour into this detour and after the first big mud puddle ditch we had to power through the van sped up to us and inquired very frustratingly why on earth we were taking this road instead of the M41. We explained that we were just following google, and that the alternate route showed that it crossed back into another country. We decided to press on a little further and re-evaluate. About 5 minutes later and looking at our maps.me downloaded map we determined that there was no way that this would work, and Ryan saw that there was another way back onto the M41 that didn’t take us through Uzbekistan. WHAT THE FUCK GOOGLE?? We swallowed a little pride and told them we needed to backtrack, so we ended up losing a solid hour and a half at least. Fuck.
Around 2 we stopped in some random town to find some food, and for that matter a way to pay for it. We were running very low on their currency and it was still early in the day. Couldn’t find a working ATM, but we did find a little restaurant for food. Food being of course……more shashlik. The meat didn’t feel like it was completely cooked, but it was steaming when you cut into it and pretty hot, so we went with it. I managed to spill some tea (twice) the second time on my phone that already had a crack in it, so it started going a little bonkers. Great day so far.
About 4 hours later Starsky and Dutch got pulled over for speeding. We got waved on, and about 10 minutes and $20 later they were free to go. Then we entered the mountains again, and oh boy did our speed drop. Climb and climb, then drop some, rinse repeat. We finally made it to the top of the range right as the sun went down, which was really unfortunate because the road wasn’t clearly marked and with the oncoming traffic and a dirty foggy windshield it made for an extremely white knuckle ride. A little bit later we felt like the other team was way far behind us so we slowed down and eventually pulled over. They eventually caught up to us and were not happy at all. Hendrick had come dangerously (like inches) close to hitting a horse which was a little off-putting, not only because of the experience which I’m sure was quite scary, but because the visibility was so poor we hadn’t seen any livestock at all. Unfortunately we’re on the way down a big mountain and we can’t really do anything but keep going.
It flattened out for a brief time so we stopped to try to clean our windows. The passenger window was covered in a film of gross grease and who knows what else to the point where you couldn’t really see out of it. It was too cold to camp and we were only 100 km away from our goal town, so even though the idea was thrown out to stay overnight in a yurt we kinda ignored it and pressed on. The next 2 or so hours was pretty crappy also. The roads weren’t marked at all or if they were it was so faint they might as well not have been, so you never really knew when you were or weren’t in your lane. Add the lights from the oncoming traffic again and it made for an unpleasant ride. Oh yeah, then we had to climb another mountain that wound up back and forth (pretty impressively) so tightly and steep that the entire trip was basically in first gear. At least the road was smooth. At the top we went through a really weird tunnel and then started the trip down.
Another 2 hours later we made it to the town. At this point it was about midnight if not a little later. We had figured that a town with a population of over 30k would have at least a few hotels in it. We were kind of right, as there ended up being about 2. The first one we couldn’t find. Wherever google had brought us wasn’t right, and on the way out of that creepy parking lot our back right wheel got stuck in a muddy ditch. Like buried to the bumper at a crazy angle stuck. Thankfully the locals have nothing better to do that just hang around in the street at night, and a couple of them came over to the car and helped push us out of the ditch. We tried asking where we could find a hotel but they had no fucking clue what we were talking about. Another one popped up on the map so we headed there. We drove down the street it was supposed to be on and couldn’t find that one either. What the fuck.
I hopped out of the car to walk around and see if I had missed something. Still couldn’t find anything that looked like a hotel, but I did see some teenagers walking down the street so I gambled that they might know some English and asked them where the place was. They did speak (some) English! The kid I’m gonna call the leader of the group pointed towards a bunch of trees, and told me to follow him. So we walked through some gate and into an unlit park type thing and he pointed towards what looked like more woods. Of course for a second my “am I going to get stabbed?” meter went off, but I was bigger than all them and they seemed nice. I told them we couldn’t get our machina in this way, so I invited him into our car and help us get there, which he did! We circled the block and took what looked like it would be a back way but was the front way to the hotel. There was a wall with a locked door leading to the hotel, but the kid said it was 24 hours so he knocked a whole bunch until the staff guy came out and told them what was up. And thus begins the saga of the old drunk man.
Dude was in his 60s and smelled like booze. It also appeared he was watching some dubbed Ryan Reynolds movie in Kyrg, which was unfortunate because even in English that movie was confusing and not very good. This hotel was also creepy in a Shining type way. It looked to me like it used to be the private residence of some rich person that was re-purposed. He spoke ZERO English. This was tough. We told him we needed 2 or 3 rooms, and he pointed to a framed price sheet that of course we couldn’t read. 30 minutes later we had a few rooms, but there was confusing on how to pay. Again, we didn’t have a ton of their money. Originally we were supposed to pay 5300 of their money, which we were short of. So we gave him all the large bills we had and then gave him a $10 bill, and explained that the exchange rate was actually in his favor with that. For some reason but thankfully some other guy showed up in the “lobby” of this place and confirmed that we were right. He gave us the keys and we went up to go sleep.
15 minutes later there’s a knock on my door and he asks me to follow him back downstairs. He points at the price sheet and works out some more math in his little notebook (aka his ledger?) and he wasn’t very happy with having to accept the $10. Frustrated and exhausted I explained again and did the math for him that we had paid more than the amount. He eventually gave up and I went back to the room.
10 minutes later there was another knock on the door I think, but we ignored it.
10 minutes later there was another knock on the door I know, so I opened it and sure enough drunk old man motions for me to come downstairs. He pulls out his ledger again as well as the price sheet, and it turns out what he was trying to say was that the 5300 Kyrg money was a misquote, and that we owed 6300. After looking at the sheet that did make sense, but old drunk guy couldn’t do math. So I had to go back upstairs and grab a handful of $1 bills, after which I took his ledger and did my best to show him the math of what we were short, and laid out the $1s that would cover the bill. This he was not happy about at all. Keep in mind it’s 2:30 in the morning at this point, and we’re obviously not leaving. After going back and forth and using a rough translation to show him that our money was more valuable, he eventually gave up and waved me off to bed. Thank god.