We stayed with the Hungarians for the next couple of days. As we didn’t have a tent we had to ask people if we could sleep in their homes. In the village 5km past KalaiKhum we stopped to ask a Lady, she was very regretful but said that her house was still being built and that we should go back down the road and find her mother. Apparently it was behind the Magazine (shop). Asking everyone we saw for “Zalina’s Mama!”. We were pointed in the direction of a building behind a shabby looking shop. At the gate Beth went in to try and find someone, whilst the rest of us waited outside. She came back with Zalina’s Mother and half a dozen children ranging from 4 to teenagers.
We were ushered inside, sat down on a carpet. Fresh bread, fig jam, biscuits, cakes, sweets and, ofcourse, a pot of Chai! We had fallen for the pre-dinner treat trap before and fell again, after eating our full, bowls of potato and lamb soup were handed out. Not ones to refuse delicious food we polished them off and went to bed having eaten like Kings and Queens.
To our surprise we kept up with Adam and Marcus the next day! That evening, as we entered a small village we found Richard and a sick Cliff. They had been camping there all day as Cliff was too sick to move. The remained in their tents whilst the Hungarians and ourselves found a house (we originally were asking to sleep in the mosque but the man we asked invited us into his house) to which we were again treated with the utmost hospitality!
We needed to address the issue of our tent poles. There is some history behind our tent. It has made this journey before. We got it off Laurence and Nick 2 weeks after they arrived in HK last April. It has done us well, a few scrapes and tears but nothing a bit of gorilla tape can’t handle. It was, therefore, a sad day when we discovered that we had lost the poles up at the top of a mountain pass, unreachable due to the 27cm of snow. So one evening we stopped early, the Hungarians had been a bit too fast but our hairy Brits camped with us! Beth stole some wire from a nearby fence and Julia used her engineering skills to tie the tent up to two trees – almost as good as new apart from we now needed to carry around two trees with us to have any hope of a standing tent!
For four days, from Kalaikhum to Khorog, we have been cycling along the Afghan border. There was a never ending chorus of “Hellos” as the children ran out to give us high fives and ask us our names. It was fascinating to glimpse a picture of the life across the river. Women washing clothes, children screaming and waving, men on motopeds and laden donkeys hobbling across landslides. We send our thoughts out to those suffering from the Afghanistan Earthquake.
The Awesome foursome set off from Dushanbe towards Kalaikhum, taking the Northern route over the … pass. Beth was still recovering from being ill in Dushanbe and Richard was having some mechanical issues, but we managed to maintain our 50km/day average which we needed to ensure we got out of the country in time.
We remained together for the first three days but then the time came for us to say goodbye to Cliff and Richard. There visa was ending before ours and they snuck off in the early morning as we slept, apparently bored of being our alarm clock. Not really, but we did get back into bed! Back to fending for ourselves then…
The road deteriorated and it was hard to believe we were cycling on an international motorway! Our bikes really took a bruising as we tried not to fly over too many rocks on the occasional downhills. The evening that we arrived at the foot of the big climb up the pass the weather began to deteriorate- it began to rain just as it was getting dark and we thought we should ask a lady in her yard dressed if we could sleep inside.
Climb day! 50km to the top. All going well until…One puncture and a snapped chain later… Fending for ourselves was not going so well. But at least Beth was on coffee morale boosting duty. In need of a Snickers!!
It took us two days to reach the summit – we thought we had it in the bag on the first day but as the sunset we realised we still had another 700m of vertical climbing to go. We camped at the edge of the roadside, making sure that the risk of mudslides was minimal and that we wouldn’t fall over the edge! That night it started to rain, and it did not stop raining! Reluctant to get out of bed we stayed where we were finishing off the 6th Harry Potter book! It was almost midday when we slowly emmerged, cold and damp. We thought there was only 5km to the top – but even now we have no idea how far it was.
3,252,8m altitude (record!). It was 5pm, getting dark. Snowing, freezing… Minor disaster ensued.
The exurberation of finally reaching the top after 3 excruciating days of climbing lasted a whole 10 minutes before we remembered the cold and imminent night time. At the top of the pass we encountered 2 Hungarian tourers: Adam and Marcus. All four of us sped down the steep mountain road, sliding in mud and rattling over rocks and debris, as the weather drew in. With everything wet and the sensation in our hands and feet lost, we strove to go 15km to the nearest village in search of warmth and food.
But alas, although we pushed as hard as we could and as long as we could (there were tears) no village appeared. We were surrounded by harsh inhospitable rock face. Finally we chose to set up camp in a small bay at the side of the road. This is where things went from bad to worse. The tent poles were missing. Our only explanation is that they slid out unnoticed from their location on Beth’s bike as she thundered down the mountain. We were so thankful to have met Adam and Marcus as they kindly lent us one of their tents for the night!
The weather was still yuck in the morning, clothes still wet and bikes were bruised! We tried to get a lift up to the top of the pass to locate the poles only to find that the pass was closed in a snowstorm. Only 20km more of ice cold pain, worse than either of us had ever experienced before, until we would arrive in the small town of Kalaikhum.