Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), 16.06.2013
An update for all those that don’t follow us on Facebook: we are still in Bishkek, and the Range Rover does not start. The guys at the car repair couldn’t fix the car on thursday afternoon, friday and saturday morning. We spent almost two days trying to find solutions, in a workshop where the air is filled with oil and diesel fumes and European and Russian pop songs of the eighties and nineties play merciless all day long. We have contacted with various Land Rover service stations: Kazakhstan and Russia couldn’t help; Spain gave some indications that didn’t fix the problem, and communication with them is difficult due to language and working hour differences; Azerbaijan couldn’t help our mechanics on the phone either. So we decided to not continue with the repairs, also because the brand new car is under warranty and should be repaired at an official Land Rover center. The next one is 300 km away in Almaty (Kazakhstan), where we’ll try to get the car next week. The inconvenience is that to go to Kazakhstan we need a Visa, and that might take several days to get. Tomorrow morning we’ll find out.
We want to thank all the (known and unknown) people that mostly on FB have helped and are trying to help these days. We were surprised by the speed and multitude of solutions that came up. Thank you all for your support!
On Friday Nicolai, one of the guys in the workshop, took me to lunch at a great place, an Uighur café at the Madina market on Almatinski street. The place was full, and is so apparently most of the time when open (09:00-18:00). We had Lagman and Mante with green tea. I had eaten these before, but here they tasted better then ever.
During lunch I got an insight into used car economics in Kirgizstan. According to what I learned, almost all cars sold here are used, a pretty evident fact if you look around at what drives on Bishkek’s streets. (We’re driving by cab these days, and these are all 20-30 year old cars, mostly VW, in horrible conditions.) The few new cars sold are pretty much all Toyota. A used Subaru for example costs 12-13.000 USD. Of this price, only 2-3.000 USD are needed to buy the car in the US, Europe or Japan. The rest is all transport and taxes. Cars are shipped from the US by sea to Latvia, then by land to here, the whole process takes 1 month. If you get a right had drive car (from the UK or Japan) you get a discount of 3.000 USD, since these cars are imported as “spare parts” and subject to less or no taxation. All this sounded pretty crazy to me. I understand that cars come here from Europe (some 10.000 Km away) or maybe from Arabian countries. But from the US, around half the planet? Insane. And inefficient, since if you have to pay so much for transport that there is little money left for a decent car, reason why there are so many junk vehicles on the streets here. And the people are left with junk cars at an absurdly high price. The concept of “environmental impact” is unheard of around here. I wonder how someone can make a profit from all this.
Another thing we’ve been exploring these days in Bishkek (there is not much to do around here) are restaurants. There is a vast choice of international ones. We have a French bistro in the hotel, the Ratatouille. Food is surprisingly good, as we wrote in one of the last posts we had our first bottle of wine in a long time. The terrace is well kept, and the service OK, the guys are trying hard. Then we tested an Italian, Bella Italia, recommended by our Italian biker friends, with whom we share the desperate need of a good pizza and beer after so many weeks on the road and on a kebab/shashlik diet. Unfortunately we must say that we didn’t like the food at all, although the place has a good Tripadvisor ranking too. The Caprese was so so; the Melanzane alla Parmigiana were barely chewable; the pizza margherita was not only small, but with a white crust, as if it would come right from the freezer; and instead of the grilled trout we got served a fatty slice of salmon drowning in lemon sauce. The Chardonnay from Veneto and two good coffees couldn’t save the lunch. Another place we ate at was L’Azzurro, a mediterranean/lebanese restaurant. We went for the Lebanese part of the menu, and the food was delicious (tabouleh, hummus, fresh hot bread, eggplant salad, and various other mezze). The ambience is a bit strange though, the place is huge and sterile. Our favourite so far has been the Cafe Faiza. Although they serve no beer (they seemed shocked when I asked for it) and the waitresses all wear headscarves, every table was full with locals. We didn’t find the entrance on Jibek Jolu st. (there is another of their restaurants on Tynystanova st.) immediately, but had to follow the mouthwatering smell of shashlik on the street. We had, guess what, Lagman and fried Mante! And a delicious cold soup made of yogurt, egg, dill, potato pieces and vegetables.
So, to wrap up: what does this stop mean for our trip? If we cannot repair the car tomorrow, our entire travel plan will probably go bust and we will have to find alternative routes or turn around and drive back to Europe, two months after we started our adventure. The main issue is that on wednesday morning we must enter China at the Torugart Pass, 1 day drive from Bishkek. We are not allowed to drive freely in China but need to get a guide on board and pass a lengthy control at the border. Since the China piece was not only difficult to organize but has also costed an indecent amount of money, if we don’t manage to postpone it by a week or so it is gone as an option and closes the direct route to Pakistan and India. It also kills the Karakoram Highway trip, one of the highlights of this tour.
Should China no longer be an option we can a) go north, through Kazakhstan, Russia, Mongolia and Siberia (the route we wanted to take back towards Europe) and return through Southern Asia later this year or b) go south, through Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan or Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan-Iran-Pakistan, trying to get back to our initial route somewhat on time. All these options will require additional visas that we will have to organize in Kirgizstan or other Central Asian countries, a time consuming and expensive process. And since the return to Europe is so to say “dictated by nature” though the start of the winter, it might happen that we won’t make the route entirely in both cases without getting stuck in snow and bad weather on the way back. It’s a shitty situation, there are a few difficult decisions to take ahead, and many variables involved. Tomorrow morning we will start seeing what happens. We have our fingers crossed…
No trip data for today, unfortunately (@Rui: also no consumption data, we’re sorry!).