This was a tough day, I’d anticipated a fairly straightforward ride to Taraz but not for the first time on this trip when I expect an easy ride it never turns out that way.
The problem today was the wind, a strong headwind to be more specific which hit me the minute I got on the bike and didn’t relent throughout the day. It meant that I was cycling speeds of 7-10 kilometres per hour and made for a thoroughly disappointing day on the bike.
I was exhausted by the time I arrived in a small village at lunchtime and the paltry 30 kilometres I’d amassed in the morning did little to lift my spirits. I had a picnic lunch sitting on a bench with an old guy lying next to it, the customary empty vodka bottle by his side. Alcohol abuse here does seem to be extremely common and it makes for a rather depressing side story to what has been an overwhelmingly positive experience of Kazakhstan.
The wind eased slightly in the afternoon and on the plus side the road improved significantly. The police aware that drivers now had access to a smooth piece of tarmac made sure to set up numerous speed traps and I spent the afternoon passing motorists who’d been collared by the police for excessive use of the accelerator; something that I certainly don’t have to worry about.
I stopped at a gas station some 20km’s outside of Taraz as I could see a massive storm brewing in the distance. That is the good thing I guess about the steppe is that you can see storms when they are coming. A trucker treated me to 3 bottles of coke and a bottle of iced tea which was nice but I knew any hope of reaching Taraz on this day were going to be scuppered by the combination of the early morning wind and the storm.
I once again happened upon a small restaurant where the owner agreed that I could put up my tent under the shelter outside.
There isn’t a lot to do once you’ve set up camp and I settled down to watch the sun go down on the horizon. A Turkish man appeared in his rather beaten up Lada car and offered me what I thought he said was ‘beer’ but in actual fact turned out to be coffee. Not the best drink to have at 10:30 in the evening but I didn’t want to appear rude. We chatted for a while and like most guys in this region he loved his football. His wife came along later and they once again demonstrated the hospitality I’ve come to expect in this region. They wrote down their address and said that if I was passing tomorrow I must stop by their house and stay. The guy indicated that this would involve drinking lots of whiskey and brandy. Secondly they gave me two pairs of new socks. They must have taken a look at the things on my feet and out of pity thought ‘he can’t surely be serious about wearing those?’
Their car pulled out of the car park and I waived them goodbye, just as it was about to go onto the road the brake lights lit up red and the car swung back around. The guy got out of the car with his wife clutching a bundle of small notes ‘do you need money, please take’ I was surprised, touched and slightly embarrassed by their offer, did I really look that much of a tramp?