Time for another post.
I rode down to the ferry two days ago and received some bad news. The Mongol Rally is passing through, and excursion for charity that involves teams driving crappy cars from Prague to Mongolia, most of which clog up the ferry across the Caspian something awful. It looked like a refugee camp. There were about 35 cars there, and a few motorcycles. The French couple I met at my hostel was still there, going on day nine. I talked to some rally-ers, who told me I had at least 5 days to wait. They were pessimistic about their own prospects after 4 days. I went to buy a ticket, but was told to buy one the next day. Apparently it takes hours to buy a ticket, and then you just wait around hoping for news. I spent the night outside the port with a nice Englishman, camping in a grass roundabout populated by wild dogs and frequented by cows. The security guards gave us tea, showed us videos about the Armenian genocide and tried to convert us to Islam. Later they fed us dinner. In the morning we were told all the rally-ers were going on a boat in a few hours. I thought about trying to sneak on, but I feared I couldn’t get a ticket in time and didn’t want to leave without Marine.
Two days before I departed, we were dragged out to a free wine night in Old Town, which we were skeptical of, but turned out to be entirely true. Bertie, the British hitchhiker almost got arrested for kissing a girl outside the bar, where we were all drinking wine on the street. They wanted to take him to the station, which would have been bad, but a local stepped in and prevented his arrest. They did empty out his wallet first though. Took him for about thirty dollars.
We were quite drunk, as free wine tends to do, and on the way home Marine appropriated our friend Tofiq’s bike and was zipping around the streets. Somehow, she hurt her foot without crashing. The next day it was very painful, but we all told her to rest, it was probably fine.
When I learned how chaotic the port was I relayed the info back to the hostel. Marine replied with a picture of a cast, she broke her foot! All of us dumbasses gave her a lot of terrible advice, and apparently a local guy checked in to the hostel, saw her limping around, and managed to trick her into going to the hospital, thankfully. The chap also paid for her cast! Some chums we are.
So, I rode back to Baku, covering the same sweltering 70 kilometer stretch of road for the third time. Thankfully, some old Azeri road cyclists kept me company for the last 30k and I even got to practice some Russian in order to explain why I did not want to stay at their home. So, hopefully there is a boat we can catch this week!
The Americans took a train back to Tbilisi in order to sort their Chinese visas, their bikes are still here at the hostel. The chances are becoming good that we will all catch the same boat, even though they won’t be at the port until Saturday. There is a british cyclist who has been sick all week and a Swiss cyclist here named Frederic who had spare parts for my pannier and generously parted with some of them, so at long last I can do away with the bungee cord! You are the man Frederic. He also hooked me up with a bigger tech towel, I seem to have left my towel and some clothes somewhere, including a PAIR OF MY EXOFFICIO UNDERWEAR, to my chagrin. Maybe I am losing my mind: I seem to have lost my travel scissors as well. I am a bit disappointed about a long-sleeve shirt my Dad gave me, reminded me of him. How I could have missed all this stuff is quite beyond me. I should count my socks.
I should count my blessings too, because I still have most of my possessions. My Dad, step-mom, and siblings cannot say so much: last week my Dad’s house burned to the ground in the Carr fire in Redding, California. They are all alright, they got the animals out too, aside from some chickens and a turkey, if I remember right. It is a strange thing to consider. California always seems to be on fire somewhere during the summer, but it is surreal to finally be affected by what you see on the news. I saw the fire area and noticed my Dad’s house was comfortably within the boundaries of the fire. The forest is a tinderbox during the summer, despite there being proactive measures taken to mulch the underbrush and manzanita. It’s just dry. The house was right on the edge of the forest too. I have a lot of good memories of the house, the surrounding forest, and Whiskeytown lake. Whiskeytown and Shasta, small towns near the lake, are gone. The place I spent so much time will never be the same in my lifetime, kind of strange. But I never lived there for more than a week or two at a time, it is only close to home for me, it was home for my Dad and the family. Just remodeled the kitchen too.
Unfortunately, the news gets worse. On Sunday, July 29th, a group of seven cyclists were attacked about 70 kilometers southwest of Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. Initially it appeared to be a hit-and-run, leaving 4 CYCLE TOURISTS DEAD and three injured. This seemed suspicious right off the bat. A video emerged and it was plain that the road was flat and straight, not a winding mountain road as we suspected initially.
Initial rumors that it may have been deliberate have been confirmed: it was an attack. 2 Americans, a Swiss and a Dutchman have been murdered, three immediately and one en route to the hospital. One of the survivors was stabbed, and it sounds like those who were run over also had stab wounds. The government swiftly rounded up four suspects and a damaged vehicle. 4 of them are now dead, the 21-year-old driver captured and interrogated. The government claims members of the group were affiliated with the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, which was outlawed three years ago for purportedly planning a khu. The group denies any involvement. The Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS or ISIL) has claimed responsibility for this, but everyone seems to suspect the former Tajiki group.
I will tell you right now that I will be careful and if I feel endangered I will skip Tajikistan, entirely. Surely we will not go through that particular area, but the Pamir valley is in Tajikistan, the most beautiful part of Central Asia, I am told. Yeah yeah, I won’t risk my life for the scenery.
I will not cancel my trip, I will not significantly alter my trip, I do not feel endangered as of now, but I have no intention of risking my life, so please refrain from providing your opinions about this region of the world unless you have been here before. Otherwise, I ask you to trust my judgement.
What a dismal post. Wish me luck about the boat, and don’t waste your energy worrying about things that haven’t happened. Right now I am thousands of kilometers away relaxing in a nice hostel eating nice breakfasts and lounging around like a rotund feline.
Seriously, I don’t need any panicky advice.