Having dressed and vacated the Boss’s office (just before he arrived), I loaded up the bike and was about to depart. But, before I could, there was a gathering. News travels fast around here and a number of people had arrived to see the strange guy who slept in the garage office, and to look at the bike. This brought irritating news.
I had already melted one of the bike cable locks, as it wasn’t the right length to fasten securely around the top box mount on the rear of the bike. But that was ok, I sent that one back with Brigid and I kept the good one, always taking care to make sure that it wasn’t anywhere near the exhaust! On leaving Beyneu I had even looped it through the cargo net which was keeping the bag on the back seat. No problem I thought, but hadn’t reckoned with the road from Beyneu … At some point during the world’s longest switchback, the cable had escaped its secure mounting and, yes, you’ve guessed, it sagged – right in front of the exhaust. Not only was it melted, the lock was knackered as well, to the point the only way to get it off was by use of an angle grinder. Oh Bu**er, that’s it for me and cable locks. Chains all the way from now on, when I can find one, I suspect I may have to wait until Almaty!
I was just thinking of moving on when Jakesh asked if he could have a go on the bike. I was horrified, I mean he only had a tee shirt and sandals, but they had been so kind how could I refuse without losing face? I couldn’t. So, trying to put on my best smile, I gave him the keys and said “ok!”. He got on and rode it like he had been riding it for years. Accelerating at a rate of knots down the road, he looked like he was going to finish my trip for me! A minute later he was back, beaming from ear to ear. He had loved it!
Having finally got on the road to Muynaq (at the southern end of what used to be the Aral Sea), and just as I had reached a sign indicating a diversion away from the route, I was caught up with by one of the curious crowd from earlier. The first thing he asked was, “Are you a policeman?”, news did travel fast! “Well I was, in London, but I have retired”, I replied. He then told me that the road was flooded from yesterday’s rain and led me through Kungrad to a point where I only had to follow the road. Kindness personified.
The Aral Sea used to be one of the biggest inland seas in the world, until man changed all of that. Apparently the Russians diverted the route of the rivers following south into the lakes to water their vast wheat crops. The sea has been disappearing ever since, with rusting hulks of ships tilting precariously across the sand that had previously been a seabed. It has been a disaster of epic proportions, putting a whole industry out of work at both ends of the sea. To see the rusting hulks listing on their sides on the semi desert floor was really sad. There is good news at the north end of the Aral Sea, however, as they have diverted water sources to start filling it again, keeping the water restricted by building two dams. That said, it’s taken 50 years to get it this low, Lord knows how long it will take to fill it again.
Anyway, having seen all there was to see it was back to Kungrad to fill up again at the same garage. Having done so, I was no more that half a mile down the road when the bike started swaying alarmingly. I stopped, checked the wheels. No, nothing wrong there … Then I noticed that one of the panniers had come adrift from the top mount, and had caused the front extension to break away from the frame. The only thing that stopped it falling off were the two bungees holding the bag on the back seat.
Disaster! I know nothing about metal, but the frame didn’t look as if you could weld it. What the Hell could I do? I couldn’t leave the pannier there while I got help?!. It would take days, or weeks, to get a replacement and could make me late for my rendezvous with GlobeBusters in Kyrgyzstan. Despair! Hang on a minute, there must be a way. Could I tie it to the back seat? No. Nowhere to secure it. The frame is broken …… But I did have more bungees. If I pushed the broken bits back together and used a load of bungees, it might be enough to get me back to the garage I had just left. All of this probably no more than a few minutes, but it seemed like hours, as I went through a whole dictionary of emotions, thinking my goals were in tatters.
I bungeed the frame back on to the bike, and gingerly put the box back in place ….. and it held. Ever so gently, I got back on, and rode – ever so slowly – back to the garage. It was really easy to show them what had happened. The boss looked and made one phone call. Motioning me to leave the box there and follow him, we set off in convoy to another garage, where he spoke to one of the mechanics. “No. Follow me”, he said, again and off we set again!
At the next garage, everything happened so quickly. I saw the mechanic start to get his spot welder together and sent off a couple of quick text messages to Brigid. I was about to take a photo of the guy at work, but he had already finished! Hells’ teeth that was quick! I had seen the boss pay the man, so I got out my wallet and started to pull some money out. But, no. The boss closed my wallet and gave me the wagging finger, “No, no, no! That’s from me.” I was astounded as to why he had paid for my repair and then I remembered a comment made by another man, just before we set off for the garage.
The Boss was explaining who I was and this unknown man had just said “Toureest important.”It then became clear to me that this poor country has high regards tourists, for the money they spend in hotels, restaurants and elsewhere and, if paying for my repair meant that I was happy, then maybe more “toureests” would come. Now, it could be my fanciful thinking, but one thing is indisputable, the Uzbeks are generosity personified. And the whole episode took no more than one hour, though it seemed like a week!
So having left the garage for the third time that day, I eventually reached Nukus and made for the impressive-sounding “Hotel Nukus”, which seemed nice and big – and appropriately impressive – on the outside. The room wasn’t up to much but, frankly, I was shattered. The last two days from Beyneu, down the 90 kms road of Hell, no hotel and sleeping on the garage floor, followed by the emotions of the dead Aral Sea and then the luggage rack problem, had all caught up with me. I was exhausted and couldn’t ride around trying to find another hotel – which could have ended up being worse than this one. So I took the room, had a bit to eat, dosed for a couple of hours, went for a walk around the block, had a beer in the hotel, and collapsed into bed.
Not surprisingly, I didn’t sleep right through. Just thinking about the kindness of the people here and their friendliness has got to me. Since I crossed the border from Kazakhstan, I have been flashed at (by cars!), tooted at, waved to and smiled at by just about everybody. I’ve lost count of the times I have got off the bike to check my lights were still on and everything was secure. It took until the Boss paid for the welding that the “Toureest important!” message really hit me.
A real day of emotions!