This travel writing piece was the runner-up of the 2018 Travel Writing Competition which was done in collaboration with Travel Garage, Egypt‘s must-go to online store for purchasing adventure and travel goodies.
That was my seventh month on the bicycle, and after Cambodia, India, Nepal and China, I felt like it would be a piece of cake. The plan was to cross the Kyrgyz border from China, and go to an ATM because I had run out of money.
From the Chinese border to Sary Tash it was 70 kilometers, and it was like paradise: beautiful grasslands, crystalline lakes, and huge mountains topped with glaciers 4,000 meters above the level of the sea. At night it was so cold I had to wrap my arms and legs with the rest of my clothes, and in the morning my tent had a layer of ice.
I arrived in Sary Tash to discover that there were no ATMs, not one, and I only had a transit visa in Kyrgyzstan for five days, so I had to skip it and try to get to the next ATM in Tajikistan.
The Tajik border was thirty kilometers. It was beautiful, except for the children who threw stones at me… I have never been very fond of children. I found two Austrian motorcyclists before the checkpoint on monstrous BMWs. Their names were Max and Monica.
Monica was very upset after hearing my plan; she told me: “You’re crazy, you don’t have clothes for the cold, you don’t have a stove, you don’t have medical insurance, you do not have money, and you ride on a broom with wheels. Honestly, I would not go to the Pamir Highway in your condition.”
“Calm down, I know I can. Also, I have no choice, my Kyrgyz visa is ending today, and the only place I can go to now is Tajikistan,” I replied calmly.
They gave me a spectacular army knife, and fifty somonis (around US 5$ ). I hadn’t asked, but they insisted and then I was on my way. I kept on pedaling, I would be at least four days without money, but with food. What did I have to eat? Bread, cheese, cookies, ten bags of raw noodles, peanuts and nuts, dried grapes, a can of corn, one can of sardines and bottles of water.
I got to the Kyrgyz checkpoint where the guards told me there had been a massacre in Korogh, close to the Afghan border, but go ahead, they said, ‘it’s not our responsibility’.
It is 20 kilometers from one check point to the next, so that the land in between belongs to no one. From there, I had to climb the mystical pass of Kyzyl Art at 4200 meters above sea level. It was a hard-pedaled climb up the hill, with beautiful sights.
At four o’clock in the afternoon, I reached a little house of a family that lives in no man’s land and ate with a Japanese girl, Tomoko, and two Swiss who were going down. The Swiss told me that they had no idea how the situation was in Korogh and that the only way to know was to try.
A breath-taking descent full of suspense showed me the Pamir highway, which can barely be called a highway because it even lacks asphalt, and some parts look more like a ridge. The bike was jumping up and down because of the rough terrain; I looked for a windless place to set my tent and sleep.
Happy, gazing at the red mountains with snowy peaks, I munched on dry noodles and entered heavy slumber, snoring.
When the sun touched my frozen tent and began to melt the ice, it was time to ride. Maybe it was the low air pressure that made me feel weak. I had no strength to keep on climbing and after an hour I decided to push the bike, I reached a plateau and there was a yurt.
Yurts, portable round tents covered in skin and used by nomads in central Asia, are wonderful; I wish I could live in one. They are like tents but huge, and they are full of all the luxuries you would like to have, including a black and white TV that works with… yeah, solar energy!
From there, I went down the hill to the valley of Karakul Lake. I lost my breath at the sights surrounding me: it was the most beautiful lake I had seen in my life. I was happy as I could be, then I reached the small and forgotten town of Karakul. I was ready to give ten somonis for a fat juicy watermelon for lunch, but I did not see any signs of humans alive. I left the lake behind and stepped into arid mountains and lots of snow. I camped in a ruined building and ate the sardines which tasted horrible. Then, I went to sleep.
I had bread, cheese and water for breakfast before re-packing my belongings and being back on the road.
Only a few kilometers ahead, a van from the army stopped me. The driver told me that the road to Murghab was closed and I had to return to Kyrgyzstan. The soldiers forbade me from continuing towards Murghab and took my passport. Kristina, a girl from Germany and Stephen, a guy from Scotland got off the truck; they had been picked up with their bikes some minutes before too. The girl told me that the authorities were closing the country, it was because of the conflict in Khorog, that’s when I understood that the situation was actually serious as 300 people had died under heavy fire. They picked up my bike in a white Lada and they drove us all three of us away.
They left us at the Tajik checkpoint; we fixed our bikes and went up the hill, making a huge effort to reach a flat area to camp before sunset. We stopped at the house where I had eaten before with the Swiss and the Japanese. It was as cold as it gets at 4500 meters, but we managed to cook one of my noodle packets with corn and tuna and sleep there.
We got along well all three of us, and in the few days that we spent together, we became friends.
Because of my Colombian nationality, I thought I wouldn’t be allowed to re-enter Kyrgyzstan without a visa. It was very possible that they would not let me pass, or that they would give me a transit visa, like the one they gave me at the beginning, and if they didn’t let me enter, I would forever stuck in the no-man’s land.
We hit the road and went down, jumping on our bikes violently due to the bad condition of the road; I had three punctures on that route, as if my tire was haunted.
We arrived at the Kyrgyz checkpoint, and my friends and I imagined I wouldn’t be able to pass the border. Maybe I would create a new country, the Independent Kingdom of Ciclyztán, between the Tajik and Kyrgyz border. I would be the king, of course. Self-declared and lifelong King of the Independent Kingdom of Cycliztan. The land of the bikes. Official Religion: Orthodox Cycling. Extension of the territory: 20 kilometers.
We joked about it but at the end they gave me an emergency stamp. Happy as hell, we crossed the checkpoint into Kyrgyzstan. I was alive.