Saturday, 16 October 2010

Desert Diarrhea - 17/09/10 – 21/09/10

Location: Baykonur to Kyzylorda
Date: 17/09/10 – 21/09/10
Distance covered: 180.79 Miles
Overall distance: 4,129.14 miles

“Screech, Screech, give me the toilet roll.” The noise of Ped shouting awoke me. It was dark and the cold rain still pattered hard against the tent. “Screech, give me the toilet roll,” Ped anxiously repeated from his tent across from mine. Screech gave a some what sleepy reply. “I have been sick just give me the fucking toilet roll,” a final demand from Ped.

This moment during the last trip I made with the cycling for charity team always makes me smile. Not of course at Ped’s misfortune of being sick. But more the point that he was sick in his tent. As in his haste to be sick, instead of opening both mesh doors he only opened the one. This resulted in a rather messy and smelly tent for the rest of the expedition.

Now I have been sick on expedition before. In the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco during the Malaga to Marrakech trip I had a bad case of it. I was up all night squatted out in the cold rain. By morning I was so weak that I could not continue. This would have been a problem had I not had a good team with me. They took care of it and got me to a warm hotel to recover. Now I was asked on quite a few occasions before I left what happens if you become sick? “Then I am sick,” is all I could usually reply.

Up to this point things were going okay as well. I was covering a fair distance considering the road conditions and had just past the Russian owned section of Kazakhstan without any problems. I was a little disappointed that I never seen a rocket soar off into space as I past Baykonur at night. This is the location from where man first went into space. This was the reason for Russia owning this section of the country. On a side note three weeks after I past here, Russia would send there brand new space shuttle into space. Now that would have been something to see.

I had not long past Baykonur when a Belarusian motorcyclist stopped for a chat and told me of a café I could stay at nearby. This is always a better option than the tent. As it is warmer than a cold night out in the desert and usually food is offered. When I arrived at a village where the café should be I asked for direction. Instead of pointing out the way I should go they invited me to stay with them instead. Problem solved I thought, a bed for the night and maybe some food.

Sure enough there was food, loads of food. I was given a large bowl of besbarmak all to myself. This is meat (usually mutton) served on flat pasta with onions. It tasted a little funny but hunger soon put those thoughts to the back of my mind. Anyway the kind host kept saying “cushy, cushy, Sean, cushy, cushy.” Eat, eat, Sean, eat, eat. So I did, though he never did.

Come morning I was keen to go but strangely not hungry. I had 100 miles to do so I thanked my host and left. Something wasn’t right today though. Sure there was a headwind. But this was Kazakhstan it was always windy. It couldn’t be hunger after all the food I had the night before. Maybe just from riding so many days in a row I thought. But my legs and body really were feeling weak.

After 30 miles I would get a clue. The cramping pains hit hard around the bowels forcing me to search out for somewhere to answer the call of nature. This is no easy task in the great plains of Kazakhstan. The urgency of this forced me to a not very well hidden bush clearly visible to the road. Even in this situation the drivers would still beep their horns and wave. I chose not to wave back on this situation. I managed another 30 miles south of Kyzylorda before stopping I just couldn’t do any more.

I had been riding on the new road that they were building which ran directly beside the old one still in use. I set up camp beside the new road. I was hidden behind a large mound of soil with a distance of about 40 meters between me and the in use road. As I set up camp on the hard cracked ground I surveyed the desolate empty landscape before me. There really was nothing around me, nothing at all. Little did I realize that this would be my home the next few days.

It started to get worse during the night. The frequency of the need to go and squat outside the tent increased. I would have to leave the warmth of the tent to do the business. At first I had the strength to walk a good distance from the tent. But this became less and less. During this first day I had ran out of water. I never had any food in the first place. During this period I had some sleepy, daydream hallucinations. I was sure I had a team with me. All I had to do was wait for them to go and get food and water. It was only during one of the trips out of the tent that I noticed no one else was there. It was a little confusing to say the least. But then reality kicked. I would need water soon and would have to solve it myself.

The solution was to go to the road and beg. There really wasn’t any other choice so it wasn’t a tough decision. This however did take all my strength and I would have to take a rest during the 40 meter journey to the road. I held up my empty 5 litre water container and hoped someone would stop. Cars and buses zipped past on the road. I struggled to keep the empty bottle held high. Even though I was only there five minutes I knew I wouldn’t last much longer. Not surprisingly a truck driver stopped.

They had always been the friendliest vehicles on the road. Within half an hour I had five litres of water and four apples. On my return I again had to stop for a rest only for the police to come along and start questioning me. To be fair I was just lying down on the new unused road so quite an unusually sight to come across. They didn’t understand me explaining that I was sick so I Just ignored them and slowly walked away.

The next day it got worse still. I was weaker and now really did not have the strength to walk far from the tent. It got to the point when I could only just crawl a small distance in front of the tent. It got closer and closer until the inevitable happened. Squatting not far from the tent I managed to hit it. The only saving grace was that it was on the outside. I was thankful that my aim wasn’t a little more to the left, the open door of the tent. On the cracked floor of the desert on all fours I now knew how Ped felt. I looked back in disgust but had no energy to do anything about it. I simply crawled back into the tent.

By the morning of the fourth day I was only slightly better. I knew I couldn’t stay any longer. I hadn’t eaten in 48 hours for a start and had lost three days of riding. I tried to ride it out to Shymkent, I really did. But I was so weak and after 5 hours I had only covered 22 miles on the flat road to Shymkent. I knew then I had no choice but to hitch a ride. I had to think of the bigger picture. After all, the border crossing deadline for China was looming.

Again a truck driver came to the rescue. To be honest I wish I was able to cycle. To give an idea of how bad the roads are it took 8 hours to cover 200 miles. If you have ever felt turbulence on a plane then you will have a good idea of what this ride was like. Eight long hours of bumping and rattling, just what I did not need! In the early hours of the morning we arrived in Shymkent. I got a hotel, food, water and was looking forward to a proper day of recovery.

Sign the Confession Mr. Newall - 22/09/10 – 24/09/10

Location: Shymkent to Taraz.
Date: 22/09/10 – 24/09/10
Distance covered: 154.76 Miles
Overall distance: 4, 283.9 miles

“$100 Mr. Philip Sean” announced the head officer at the border. The stars on his shoulder distinguished his position of importance. He wrongly read my name from my passport that he had firmly in his possession. “You must pay us $100,” he repeated. I sheepishly corrected him about my name and looked around the large office helplessly trying not to make eye contact with the four other border guards that were deemed necessary to handle my case.

My eyes fell upon the large map of Kazakhstan that covered the wall to my left. Without thinking I scanned along the route from Uralsk to Taraz that I had finally completed. Compared to my relatively quick journeys through the other 8 countries that I had crossed, this had felt long. All I had wanted to do was leave Kazakhstan as well. Ever since being ill in the desert I wanted nothing more than to be out of this country. Each day it seemed it would give me a new problem. Be it, riding in the desert or on terrible roads, worrying about crossing Russia again or about wolves at night and of course problems with food and being ill.

The buoyant feeling I had from arriving at Taraz, the final town in Kazakhstan was fading fast. It had taking me a day and a half to cover the distance from Shymkent to there. I was still not fit either. I was maybe at 65 percent fitness. My legs felt heavy and body was still weak. I would have stayed in Shymkent if the deadline for China wasn’t so close. I had enjoyed my time in Shymkent. Well the time not spent on the toilet anyway. I had my first proper wash since Moscow. Trust me this was much needed after the desert illness episode. I was even fit enough to wander around the near vicinity of the hotel I was staying at for food and the search for an internet connection.

It was during one of these walks, that a Kazak woman started chatting to me. I was wearing my UNICEF T-shirt as it was the only clean item of clothing left. She recognized the logo and assumed that I worked for them. She went on to explain the situation of her son getting beat by his teacher at school. It really was a shocking tale and should not be happening to the boy. She was looking for help from me, in her eyes a representative of UNICEF, with this situation.

I went on to explain that I was only fundraising for UNICEF and did not directly work for them. But pointed her in the direction of the UNCIEF website where I thought she might be able to get some help. This conversation really did highlight the importance of the work that UNICEF does. But mostly it highlighted why it is such a valid cause to fundraise for. As a random woman, on the street can see the logo and identify it as being a possible source of help.

After we parted I was accosted by a man that also noticed the UNICEF logo. He however made the connection with Barcelona a proud supporter of UNICEF. He was clearly drunk and kept trying to grab hold of me. His repeated neck flicking, the Russian sign for drinking, more than hinted that he wanted me to join him. This is a major downside of this part of the world. There is a serious alcohol problem. Anyway all I wanted to do was to get back to the toilet. So I made my excuses and left.

Back in the office the head guard said, “Do you understand? You must pay $100.” To which I replied “No, I don’t understand.” So yet another guard arrived and it became quite apparent that this woman was to be my translator. Not a very good one I might add! Guards came and left the room. The head guard left with my passport. So the other guards took this opportunity to ask me about my trip. Considering the situation I thought it was wise not to get angry and answer them politely.

The head guard then returned with my passport and showed me the arrival slip I had received from entering the country. He pointed out a section of English on the back. It stated that I had to register in the country after five days. I hadn’t done this so maybe I was rightly at fault. With registration came a second stamp on the arrival slip. I only had one. However the UK is part of the EU stable group of countries that does not need to register I explained. My translator ignored my argument. This annoyed my a lot as it was true I did not need to register. But they were right I did not have the second stamp.

I was unaware that when entering the country the border guard was supposed to stamp this slip twice. So they were at fault. I could see they were a bit flustered when I retrieved a document from Kirsty clearly stating this. The translator read it to the other guards. Only for them to reply “No this is wrong, you pay us $100.” They then started moving me upstairs and downstairs. More questions were asked. Particularly along the lines of why I had committed this “crime”. But since I knew that I did not need to register they seemed to be unsure as to what they were going to do with me.

I thought I would get my passport back and be allowed to leave. This wasn’t to be. Not till they got the $100. I felt vulnerable and helpless. Even though they were in the wrong I was still the one being punished. They had my passport and I couldn’t leave without it. I had no choice but to pay the $100.

Even this was complicated. It meant going the 15km journey back to Taraz. I was chauffeured by two young guards in an army jeep to the bank. This seemed more than a little suspicious to me that I had to pay the money into a bank account. But what choice did I have. To add further misery to the situation, I caught my cycling shorts getting out of the jeep. This ripped a large hole down the side. What next I thought? After the money was paid into the bank my escorts boasted how they had got three more like me to pay last month. All I could think was they are going to have a cracking works night out this year with all this scam money. My escort asked me a question, “I don’t think you will come back Kazakhstan?” I gave a wry smile which more than answered this question.

Then the final insult came. As if the last four hours of questions and the $100 “fine” had not been enough. They made me write a confession. I was even shown an example by the translator on how I should confess. My first attempt was not to my guard’s satisfaction. I clearly did not confess to the appropriate crime. So I had to rewrite the confession until they were happy with it. Only after signing this and a good few other forms that I couldn’t read; could I leave. They gave me my passport back, stamped it and told me to leave. I could finally continue the journey. Dazed, disappointed and very angry I pushed Kirsty towards the Kyrgyzstan border. It was back to getting to the China border for the 27th of September.