Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), 17.06.2013
Over the weekend we had made all kinds of plans B, C and D, researched solutions, routes, options. We had stayed in touch with friends that helped, contacted people that we hoped could help us to save our journey by getting the car going. And today was our all out fight to fix the situation and save this journey!
The first stop at 09:00 in the morning was the Kazakh embassy to get visas, so that we can bring the Range Rover to the next service station in Almaty. In an hour we had the two applications filed. It was cold and rainy this morning, not the most welcoming weather for a day where we had to move, and fast. From the embassy we got an unofficial cab to another mechanic, that supposedly was specialised in electronic failures. We drove for half an hour through industrial areas as it kept raining. It could all be so easy, the distances in Bishkek are small. But since there are no roadsigns, no house numbers, no clear signs, everybody gets lost. It actually was quite consoling that this not only happens to us. But also the cab drivers have no clue where places are.
The mechanic couldn’t help. “We don’t handle new cars, everybody here has used cars. Your car is too new.” They called another mechanic that apparently confirmed they could handle Range Rover electronic problems and had a cooperation with Land Rover Almaty. So we got into the next cab and drove there. This “cab” was probably one of the most run down and rancid cars we saw in Bishkek. A VW Golf in a sporty red edition, probably over 20 years old and completely filthy, that didn’t make it to the third gear. The engine stopped every couple of minutes, we were not sure if there was anything left of the brake pads. Of course the front window was fragmented. The driver had two old Nokias in a sack tied to the car radio that kept ringing all the time, but nonetheless played folk music uninterruptedly at high volume. It took ages to get to the other place, and right in front of the road it was on there was some construction that blocked the entry, so we had to take a detour through the adjacent industrial area’s mud tracks. We finally got out and walked the last hundred meters through the rain.
The second mechanic was actually a Mitsubishi-Subaru-Volkswagen dealer and service center (Asia Motors). But they had no clue about Land Rover. Obviously, when we asked, they “cooperated” with LR Almaty. Sure, I also called them over the phone to get come info. As we left, the phone rang. It was Nicolai, the owner of the mechanic workshop that had out Evoque. “The car is working!” “What?? How did you do it??” “Too difficult to explain, when are you here?” “Give us half an hour.”
We walked back to the main road, it was still raining and freezing cold. Into the next “cab”, another ride through Bishkek’s traffic. Here in Bishkek you sit in front with the driver of the cab usually. Tis time we couldn’t, since the driver had a broken leg that he stretched across the other seat. With the crutch he would use to walk and the not broken leg he drove the car, and pretty good actually. We were happy when we arrived though. The Range Rover was parked in front of the workshop, the engine silently running as if nothing had ever happened. The solution had been that the mechanics had found air in the pump that gets the fuel from the tank into the engine and fixed that leak. We had spoken about that pump on friday, LR Spain had mentioned it to me over the phone. Well, oil change, car cleaning and three hours later we were packing the car.
At this point we need to thank Nicolai, Alexey and their boys at the “car workshop that fixes all Land Rovers in Bishkek but is still looking for a good name”. Should you have any issues, they are on Mederova str. (corner with Jukeev Pudovkin str.), in a complex behind a green entrance. We also would like to thank Mr. Wittemann, GM of Land Rover Russia, for moving his organisation and having several people contact us to help. We really appreciate the responsiveness.
We didn’t trust this “miracle” though. What if the car broke down again in a couple of kilometers? If we called off the transport to Almaty and got stuck again? We had two options now. Option 1 was to keep getting the Kazakh visas on thursday (and in the meantime wait more days in Bishkek and surroundings, days lost), get the car to Land Rover Almaty on thursday night or friday morning, then have the car checked until friday night at best or tuesday at worst, then drive back here and to China. This would have costed us at least a week. A lost week. And it only worked provided we get that week by the Chinese authorities – very, very unlikely. Option 2 was to continue our route as planned., without having the car checked. We were still in time to be at the Chinese border as planned.
We called our China travel agency in Berlin once it was 09:00 their time and explained our situation. Mr. Kriwet was very understanding and asked for an alternative proposed date. I told him that it was either as planned or a week later. He told us to call back in the afternoon. Then we recalculated the legs of the route to Delhi, altitudes (up to 4800m), ascent and descent distances (quite rough), acclimatization stops (none), distances (2600km), road conditions (all sorts of, and particularly bad in Pakistan apparently), alternative routes (none). We then started to test the car, driving around Bishkek to get some things we needed. We found two great outdoor equipment shops in town, Red Fox (Soviet str. 65) and Marco Polo (Gorki str. to the east of Soviet str.). The latter has more camping equipment, but less customer orientation. We asked for a linen sleeping bag for example, and the reply was “ooh, we have [moment of hope], noooot! [we should have guessed that]”. Still, we found other things we needed urgently. As we picked various items to buy they turned off the lights at 18:00 sharp and almost kicked us out while we were shopping! After a lot of start stop, fast acceleration and some overtaking the engine seemed powerful and responsive. We then went to the countryside southwards, where we got lost around Chong Tash (yes, you guessed right, no roadsigns). We wanted to see a monument to the 140 members of the Kirgiz SSR government shot dead by Stalin’s execution squad in the thirties. We didn’t find this monument, but instead one for the victims of the 2010 riots. In searching this place, we drove through the hillsides south of the city, and the car responded well. Only diesel consumption was terribly high initially, something we didn’t quite understand. And although consumption was high, the autonomy calculated by the car’s computer was over 750 km, something we made in the best of cases. Strange.
Final stop of the day was a place Nicolai had recommended us, the Supara ethno complex just outside Bishkek. The dinner was great! The hot mutton soup was exactly what we needed in this cold day. And then we had noodles (basically fettucine and linguine, Kirgiz style) with meat (mutton and horse). Delicious! The Ethno village is a little kitschy, but still worth seeing in a country where pretty much all heritage got erased by decades of Communist dictatorship. Back in the hotel we called Mr. Kriwet again. We got two days of mercy from the Chinese authorities, and they were “not amused” apparently. Still, while this kills option 1, it allows for option 2, but instead of racing to the border tomorrow we can spend one more day to see lake Issyk Kul, 1600m high and the second largest mountain lake in the world. Deal!
Trip data for the day
– Km driven: 115
– Hrs on the road: approx 5h
– Diesel l/100km: 11,5