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05 Sep, 2009

Almaty: Part One

Posted by: Scott In: The Rally

We slept in on Monday and set off about the city in the early afternoon. We needed to develop a plan of action–we were running out of money and time. We needed to find a way to get to Ulaanbaatar soon. I figured that our best option from here would be to take a train to Russia and then hitch a ride on the Trans-Siberian Express towards Irkutsk and then south to Mongolia. It would take a bit of time, and wouldn’t be inexpensive, but it seemed like a good way to see the scenery in a similar way to what we had hoped to do (and it was less of a cop-out than flying). The problem was that our Russian visas, which still had an additional unused entry on them, expired in two days. We had to head to the Russian Consulate, on the other side of town, to extend our visas.

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04 Sep, 2009

The Taxi

Posted by: Scott In: The Rally

We were at the airport, it was late, and we were planning on taking a bus for the 12km ride to where our hotel was located. Unfortunately all of the buses had ended as it was near midnight. After coming out of customs we were immediately greeted by a man who shook our hand and expected us to follow him. Warning signals immediately went off in my head and I stopped to assess the situation. We changed some money at the currency office and asked the man if there were any buses running. Nope. He and his friend would be happy to drive us to our hotel for s small fee though! Of course. I had read in our Guide to Central Asia book that a taxi to the city center should cost around 2000 tenge or so but private car operators would frequently try and extort 4,000-5,000. I asked him how much it would be to get to where we were going and he replied that it would be 500 tenge (a bit over $3). Having been taken advantage of before and learned a lesson or two about how to deal with cab drivers I reasserted that it was indeed 500 tenge, not dollars, and even typed it on my phone for him to make sure. Sounded like a pretty good deal–who knows, maybe they just needed the money and were undercutting the competition!

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03 Sep, 2009

Dushanbe: Redeux

Posted by: Scott In: The Rally

Ah yes, Hotel Dushanbe: you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

That’s the way we felt, coming back to the same hotel in the same city that we had waited in for a few days the week before. We had a few priorities to take care of, the first being finding a way to get out of the country before our visas expired yet again in four days time. What we wanted to do was get a flight from Dushanbe to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, explore the northern part of the country, take a taxi from Bishkek to Almaty, Kazakhstan, explore that city, and then take a train across the country, into Russia, and then eventually reach a Siberian Express stop where we could take that train all the way to Irkutsk and then Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, our final destination. Unfortunately it was Friday and we weren’t expecting to be able to get much done during the weekend, especially as it was the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Time was of the essence.

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01 Sep, 2009

Back to Dushanbe

Posted by: Scott In: The Rally

The house phone rang at 5:20AM. Imomdad’s uncle was moving up the time yet again (it was originally 7:00AM)–we have fifteen minutes to pack everything, eat, and get ready. We jumped out of our futons and set about getting everything ready. We were still packing up by the time he arrived and had to skip breakfast in order to not keep the driver and other passengers waiting. Imomdad and his father helped get all of our bags outside to the driver so that he could put them in and on top of the vehicle. We said thanks and goodbye to Imomdad and his family and jumped in the vehicle, a Pajero 4X4, which was already occupied by a woman and her two daughters in the middle row of seats (along with the driver’s helper in the passenger seat). We got in the back but they could not put the seat back up because my legs stretched out too far. The woman and her children were kind enough to switch seats with us and we got in the middle row. We were thinking we’d be lucky and get the row to ourselves, but we stopped just a couple minutes outside of Imomdad’s house to pick up a young guy in his 20’s, who sat in our row. I got pushed into the middle. It was going to be a long ride.

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31 Aug, 2009

Sold!

Posted by: Scott In: The Rally

The next morning we were awakened around 8:00AM by Valler’s nephew banging on the door. It was time to pick up the car. The truck was waiting outside, so we hopped into Valler’s car and drove off with the truck to the mechanic’s place. Surprise surprise, it was the same guy that we went to a few days earlier, the guy who had ripped us off. He took a look at the damage and offered to fix it for $200. I said that wasn’t going to happen. Valler’s brother reiterated that they would like to buy it. I talked it over with Collin, and considering the damage, we didn’t think it was prudent to continue on with the car in the state it was in, even if we got it fixed. While it was on the truck bed we looked at the underside of the car and the damage was extensive–there were many things we had never even noticed before. Add to that the steering, rust, engine overheating, gas leak, destroyed catalytic converter, and other miscellaneous problems and it was time to retire Buster to pasture. They had a deal. Valler’s brother handed us $300 and said that he would have the other $700 that afternoon. After we got all of our possessions out and into Imomdad’s father’s car we let it go with Valler’s family.

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30 Aug, 2009

The Rescue

Posted by: Scott In: The Rally

It took another hour or so before we got back to Khorog. Along the way Valler stopped at a few small villages where he saw some flatbed trucks parked, but we couldn’t find anything available. Valler had said earlier that he was working on opening a hotel and restaurant in the city, and that’s where he took us. Walking in it was clear that there was still quite a bit of construction to be done, but it looked like it was turning into a nice place. He said we could rest there for a bit and gave me the keys before taking off.

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29 Aug, 2009

The Death

Posted by: Scott In: The Rally

We were stuck in the mountains, almost 10,000ft up, and it was getting dark. We had to get out of there or face a freezing night in the car. Changing from our shorts into warmer clothing, we tried flagging down the first vehicle that passed to no avail. The second vehicle did stop–we were very lucky. We explained our situation and he offered to tow us to the next town. Collin got in the guy’s car–I got our tow rope out and took our first shot at towed. Due to the bumpiness of the road it came undone pretty quickly. We tried again. Same thing. We took out our other tow rope, which had a clamp on it, and attached it to the first one. That too fel off. We tried tying them together, and it seemed to be working. The guy was driving pretty fast, and controlling the car with minimal steering capabilities was tough. After going just a few miles over extremely bad roads the wheel starting making even louder noises and our steering went kaput. I honked the horn nd signaled to stop. We couldn’t do this anymore–it was destroying the car. The wheel was basically being dragged against the car and had lost a fair amount of its tread in the process. It would be in even worse shape if we tried to continue.

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28 Aug, 2009

The Pamir Highway

Posted by: Scott In: The Rally

M41, or the Pamir Highway, is the highest elevation roadway in the world. Winding through the Western Himalayan range from Southern Tajikistan to Osh, Kyrgyzstan, the road takes one through some of the highest elevation passes traversible by vehicle (4,655m/13,965ft). This was one of the things we had been waiting to do the entire trip.

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27 Aug, 2009

Khorog

Posted by: Scott In: The Rally

Nestled between the mountains of Tajikistan and Afghanistan and bordered by the Gunt River, Khorog is the capital of the GBAO (Gorno Badakshan Autonomous Oblast) region of Tajikistan. As the location of the Aga Khan Central Asia University it is home to one of the most educated, English-capable populations in all of Central Asia.

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26 Aug, 2009

To Khorog

Posted by: Scott In: The Rally

We had slept three to a room on futon mattresses while numerous flies, moths, and other insects buzzed around us the entire night. Again, we didn’t such a restful sleep. We stocked up on water (only gassy water available here–seems people don’t usually drink bottled water if it isn’t carbonated) and headed out towards Khorog.

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25 Aug, 2009

Pictures!

Posted by: Scott In: The Rally

Hello all! I am slowly but surely uploading all of the pictures from Odessa onwards. Expect for everything to be up-to-date within the next day or so (hopefully).

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25 Aug, 2009

To Khalaikum

Posted by: Scott In: The Rally

The next morning we awoke early and set off towards the east. We traveled through ever increasing heights, as we entered the western reaches of what is technically the Himalayan mountain range. Our goal was to reach the city of Khalaikum by nightfall, and then continue on from there to Khorog the next day.

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23 Aug, 2009

Dushanbe

Posted by: Scott In: The Rally

Unlike many of the cities we had visited, Dushanbe was relatively new with little real history to speak of. Because of this there really wasn’t much to see or do there. Our plan was to stay one night to recouperate and then head off to the Pamir range the next day. The only problem was that we had found out that we needed a special GBAO (Gorno Badakshan Autonomous Oblast–a.k.a. Pamir Region) permit to travel there. As I had had little internet access as of late it had been difficult for me to secure this pass–our only hope was to grab one in Dushanbe, or be faced with traveling back along to route we had just came.

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22 Aug, 2009

Tajikistan: Day Two

Posted by: Scott In: The Rally

We got a few restless hours of sleep in the car during that night. It got pretty chilly, with temperatures hovering around freezing, so we were pretty cold in the car wearing shorts and a T-shirt. Both of us were awakened multiple times during the night by passing vehicles, people, and of course, the cold. I eventually ended up throwing some clothing on top of me, a travel towel over my legs, and putting my fleece jacket on. Collin went in the trunk to get his sleeping bag out.

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21 Aug, 2009

Tajikistan: Day One

Posted by: Scott In: The Rally

Besides taking a couple wrong turns we had little problem getting to the Tajikistan border. The greatest thing was actually the border itself–everyone was so friendly! After our not-so-great experiences of the past we never knew what to expect when crossing into another country, but we were pleasantly surprised by this border. Everyone was interested in what we were doing and chatted with us as they expeditiously handled our paperwork. We were into the country within an hour or so.

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20 Aug, 2009

Samarkand

Posted by: Scott In: The Rally

It was about a five hour journey from Bukhara to Samarkand, and we passed through many villages on the way. As always, we were stared at by everyone we passed and enjoyed a fair bit of waves and friendly shouts from the locals. We were planning on getting into the city before nightfall so that we could find out way around a bit easier, but that was not to be so. We circled around for a bit trying to find a B&B recommended to us by Charlotte. We couldn’t find it, so I decided to park the car and get out to walk around the city a bit and see what we could find.

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Synopsis

In the summer of 2009, two guys from Metro Detroit traveled 10,000 miles from London to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia in an effort to raise money to assist underprivileged Mongolian families in becoming self-sufficient.

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