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Four Days on the Pamir Highway

August 16, 2017

 

Pamir - day 1 (or, take the shitty road)

 

The Pamir Highway is one of the ancient Silk Road routes connecting China to the West.  It winds its way through mountain,s along rivers and streams, creating an easier path from Bishkek and Osh to Dushanbe and Bukhara.  Traders followed this route for centuries, long before Marco Polo went on a long walk.  

 

I planned to follow the Pamir from Dushanbe to Kharagh before heading even further south to the Wakan Valley, one of the most remote and untouched places on earth.  This part had my family quite worried as it borders Afghanistan and the Taliban has retreated to the Wakan valley region in an attempt to evade US forces.  Did I mention there is a 2500 year old fort there that I was dying too see?

 

I made it to Dushanbe around noon and immediately headed or the Pamir.  A lovely road wound through a countryside filled with orchards, flowers, and smiling faces.  If this was the Pamir, I was in for a treat!  

 

I stopped at the first police checkpoint to register my vehicle.  It is standard practice in Tajikistan to register vehicles as the travel along various roads.  It is also an opportunity for the local police to collect bribes.  At the first checkpoint, I met a Frenchman in a souped up Renault that was doing the Pamir for fun.  We compared vehicles (his was top of the line and had several modifications) and laughed about the insanity of what was ahead of us: more than 600 miles of dirt roads, high mountains, and questionable Benzine.  

 

At the next police checkpoint, there was a fork in the road.  According to my GPS, I wanted to take the right fork...but that barely looked like a road!  The left fork continued down the lovely lane I had been driving for the past two hours.  The souped up Renault took the left lane.  I followed for a few kilometers, but my GPS kept telling me to turn around!  I finally pulled over, checked my paper map, and decided that, yes, I wanted to take the right fork.  About a mile down the right fork I pulled over and checked again.  This couldn't be correct.  Yes, the scenery was lovely, but the road was TERRIBLE!

 

It was there that I learned the first great truth of the Pamir Highway: When in doubt, take the shitty road.  Every time I came to a fork in the road, invariably the Pamir was the road that looked like goats might turn up their beards at it.  Rocks, potholes the size of the Rascal, and hills that required first gear became the norm.

 

I wound my way along the Pamir next to a raging  river the color of poured concrete,  I knew there had been a lot of landslides recently and I wondered if this was what was causing it.  The river was in stark contrast to the amazing colors on display in the rocks that made up the mountains on each side of the river.  Brilliant reds, yellows, and greens were the backgrounds to beautiful gray and black mineral striations.  My geologist friends would be having a field day with this!  For me, it was the first day of what would be an amazing journey.

 

As the light began to fade, I decided it was time to pull over.  I had not made my intended stop of Kharagh, but the road was too bad to press on in the dark.  I found a nice turn off just outside of a sleepy little village and made my camp.  

 

Just as I was unpacking the camp stove, I was greeted with a chorus of “Hello”’s.  Five of the village children had decided to come over and see what this crazy fool in the little van was doing.  I showed them my map and then showed them how I was making dinner.  They sat in rapt attention.  I demonstrated setting up my hammock, and they were surprised that I was going to sleep in the Rascal.  When dinner was ready, I offered them some, but they all shook their heads.  I think bottled curry over rice seemed a little to exotic for them.

 

As darkness truly set in, the children wandered back to their homes.  I crawled in to my sleeping bag and was almost immediately asleep.  The need for constant vigilance on the road to avoid potholes and rocks had drained me mentally. The full moon rose over the valley and bathed me in its glow as I drifted off to sleep.

 

 

Pamir - day 2 (or how I ended up with a dead goat in the Rascal)

 

I woke up to the face of a small child pressed against my window. I smiled and waved.  He waved back and then immediately disappeared. It was just seen in the morning, and I wanted to get an early start.  The road conditions limited me to about fifteen miles per hour, and it was going to be a long day of driving.  I wanted to get to Kharagh so that I could learn about the road conditions on the southern route I was planning.  

 

As I was packing up my camp, a man from the village wandered over.  He was one of the parents of the children i had met the night before. We “chatted” for a bit as I packed up.  When it came time to go, I shook his hand, hopped in the driver’s seat, and turned the key,  Nothing.  I tried it again.  Nothing, Not even a click.  

 

Damn,

 

I checked my lights and the USB charger.  Everything had been turned off the night before.  Why was my battery dead???  The man watched as I pulled everything out of the Rascal to get at the battery.  Maybe there was a loose connection?  No, everything was in place.  I was ready to pull the battery and walk into the village to see if I could get it charged when the man stepped in.  

 

He took a screwdriver and a fork from last night’s dinner and pressed them to the negative terminal of the battery.  There was a spark.  So, the battery wasn’t dead after all!  He then crawled under the Rascal and cross-wired the starter motor.  It spun.  So, I was dealing with an electrical issue.  For the next ten minutes the man chased the issue until he had discovered the source of my problem: the cutoff switch.  My Rascal had a switch installed that allowed a person to cut off the battery when it was being stored.  Somewhere along the way, the switch had become damaged and was now telling the rascal that it was in storage.  

 

He pulled apart the switch and found a broken wire.  Damn.  Before I could start figuring out a solution, the guy was indicting that he was going to run over to the local mechanic garage and get some wire. Ten minutes later he was back and hard at work.  An additional ten minutes later, the Rascal was running.

 

All he wanted n exchange was a lift five kilometers down the road so that he could visit the dentist. I could do that.  Off we went.  

 

In many countries I have visited, there is a culture of hitchhiking.  Everyone does it. Little kids on their way to school.  Women on their way to market.  Men on their way to work. No one thinks twice about hopping into a car with a complete stranger.  When I dropped him off I realized that the only reason I was on the road that day was because of him and his generosity. A quick 5km jaunt did not feel like it balanced the karmic scales, so I decided to pick up another hitchhiker and see how it went.  

 

My next hitchhiker was a young man, about18 who needed a ride about10km down the road.  Everything went smoothly.  I realized that my biggest worry was not getting mugged (I’m twice the size of most people I have met), it was not being able to take people where they wanted to go.  But, along the Pamir, there were just two directions, andif they were headed mine, there was a pretty low chance of me not dropping them off in the right place.

 

My next hitchhiker did not go as planned.  Initially I thought that he wanted a ride, but then he started hooking up a tow cable to the Rascal!  The boy who was helping him just shook his head.  It was clear that, in his mind, this was not going to work.  He was right.  Less than a kilometer up the road the Rascal had enough.  We unhitched his car and pushed it to a local’s house.  The man, Heharoj, then grabbed a large sack of what appeared to be grain out of his car and tossed it in the back of the Rascal. Away we went.

 

Let’s just say that there is no way in hell that the Rascal, or any other reasonably sized vehicle was going to get his car where he wanted to go.  The road started climbing up the side ofthe mountain.  Large grassy alpine meadows soared above us and the valley opened below.  It was gorgeous and hard going.  The road deteriorated and soon we were in first gear, struggling to get the Rascal over the top.  Eventually we made it over and started down the other side.  I was relieved.  The engine temperature had been steadily climbing and I was worried that I was going to do some real damage.

 

As we made our way down the other side of the mountain, I noticed some disturbing signs.  There were warning signs about land mines.  Tajikistan has an uneasy peace with Afghanistan and the two fought a war many years ago.  The land mines and active military patrols along the Pamir and Wakan valley are reminders of that.

 

Heharoj made the sign for eating and seemed to be asking if I was hungry.  Yes, food sounded wonderful!  As we passed a pair of girls ding laundry in a stream, he indicated I should slow down.  He yelled something out the window to them.  They replied and he motioned for me to keep going.  About a kilometer or so down the road, he told me to pull over.  There was a battered old military tent, a small lean to, and several people near a stream.  This did not look like a restaurant.

 

Heharoj indicated that I should turn off the Rascal and join him.  He embraced the older woman and yelled a few good natured things at the children who surrounded us.  Two younger women in their twenties were also there, tending to infants.  A man who appeared to be in his thirties was also there, but his demeanor and appearance indicated that he was being cared for as if he was one of the children.  We were motioned into the tent where we sat on mats and were given bread, fresh yogurt and butter.  This was a family of goat hereders, and the food came from their goats which were being tended further up the mountain.  Fresh tomatoes and watermelon were offered up as well.  Hot tea rounded out the meal.

 

They had set up an ingenious paddle system using the mountain stream to churn their butter.  I had initally taken it as a generator system, but a quick glance around the tent and kitchen leanto showed me that there was no electricity here.  

 

When we finished the meal I was given a bottle of fresh goat milk as a parting gift.  This had been quite the treat.  Never would I have imagined that I would be spending a pleasant afternoon having lunch with goat herders in Tajikistan!  

 

Our payment for the meal was giving the man a haircut. Heharoj got to work with a pair of craft scissors and a comb.  I have to admit, he didn't do a half bad job!  

 

While he was cutting the hair, a large 4x4 stopped in front of the Rascal.  It was heading up the way we had come but had a slow leak in a tire.  I offered them my compressor to pump it up.  Ha!  The little Rascal was helping the big 4x4!

 

With the tire pumped up, it really was time to leave.  Heharoj indicated for me to wait a moment. He opened the Rascal’s sliding door and took out the sack he had brought along.  Maybe payment for lunch was a haircut AND whatever was in the sack.  

 

I was wrong.  Heharoj had only taken out the sack to make room for what was coming next.  Heharoj and one of the daughters pulled a huge sack of goat cheese from the stream where it had been kept cool by the mountain water.  They hoisted it into the Rascal with an audible grunt.  It must have weighed fifty pounds!  Then they went back and got a sack of onions.  To cap it off, Heharoj brought a sac that had two skinned legs sticking out of it!!!  I asked him if it was a goat.  He smiled and indicted that it was just a small one.  With that, he tossed his sack of grain on top of the dead goat and we were on our way.  Apparently our real payment for lunch was carrying these things down the mountain to be sold in the local market.

 

The rest of the trip was uneventful.  I kept a close eye on both my temperature gauge and the fuel gauge.  The last thing I wanted was to break down on a hot day with a dead goat in my van.  But, the Rascal prevailed, and an hour and a half later we arrived at Heharoj’s house.  We unloaded the van.  Heharoj wiped out the cheese draining (I hope it was only chees iquids and not something leaking from the goat) and invited me in for a cup of tea and some dinner.  As good as that sounded, I wanted to get a few more miles in.  

 

I headed down the valley, marveling at the lovely changes that had occurred.  The raging gray river had been replaced by streams of brilliant turquoise.  Apple orchards lined the road, and children ran alongside the Rascal.  It was a beautiful day.

 

As the sun began to set behind the mountains, I looked for a place to sleep.  I knew my mother would worry because I was so close to Afghanistan.  I passed through a village that had a military outpost.  I figured there was no place saver than being guarded by the Tajik military!  There was a small store on the outskirts of town.  I pulled in and was immediately surrounded by children saying, “Hello,” and sticking out their hands for a handshake.  I made my way to the store and bought a few items.  The lights had not been turned on yet, so the woman behind the counter was wearing a head lamp and the customers were pointing using cell phones and flashlights.  

 

Eventually I bought a bit of sausage and a cold drink, then contemplated how I was going to ask to sleep next to the store.  I decided it was time to break out the pen and paper again.  Last time it worked (well, it eventually worked after an armed escort from the Turkish police), so I figured it was my best chance.

 

I went back in to the store and did my best to draw the store, the Rascal, and some z’s coming from the van to indicate that I was sleeping.  I have no idea if z’s are the universal sign for sleep, but it was worth a shot.  After a lot of head scratching, some pantomime on my part, and consultation with two customers, one of the store patrons announced that I could sleep there.  I have no idea if he had the authority to make that decision, but that was good enough for me!  I went back outside, moved the Rascal over next to the store and set up camp.  Day 2 on the Pamir was complete and the Rascal only faintly smelled of goat.

 

Pamir - day 3 (or how I almost became a goat herder)

 

I woke up bright and early, ready to put some miles on the road.  The Pamir was beautiful and I could not wait to see more of it.  Also, I was feeling really behind schedule.  I was now two full days into the Pamir and had not yet reached Kharagh.  At this rate it was going to take me a full week to do the Pamir!  I made the difficult decision to abandon the southern route and just stick to the main road.  It was slow going as it was, and I could only imagine what the secondary road would be like.  

 

Additionally, the road was taking its toll on the Rascal.  The back hatch no longer opened from outside.  I now had to crawl over the spare tires and fiddle with the latch from inside in order to get the door open or closed.  If I was just driving, this would not be a big deal.  But, since I used the back hatch to secure one end of my hammock as well as to access my jerrycans, I needed to use it two or three times a day.  I could only imagine things were going to get worse as I drove more.

 

About ten kilometers down the road I picked up my first hitchhiker.  It was a woman in her 40’s wearing a beautiful green dress.  The young man she was with had flagged me down and told me some city further down the road.  He then helped her into the Rascal and wished us both a safe trip. I could not imagine flagging doown a random vehicle, placing my mother in the car with a complete stranger (who does not speak the language) and then waving good bye!  But such is life on the Pamir!

 

We rode in silence for about twenty minutes.  Each town we came to I made a “keep going?” motion with my hands.  Each time she nodded.  Eventually we came to a village where either she really wanted to stop, or she was tired of the crazy American waving his hands at her and shrugging every few miles.  

 

My next hitchhiker wanted to go to Karaugh.  Karaugh!  I was thrilled!  If someone expected to hitchhike to Karaugh it must be close!  

 

Two hours later we arrived.

 

By now my fate was clear.  There was no way I could do the southern pass.  It had taken me two and a half days to get to some place that, according to the map, should have taken one.  I was a bit sullen as I drove out of town.  

 

I caught up with the French driver and his Russian counterpart at the next police checkpoint.  So far the Renault was doing great.  There had been a few rough spots, but it was holding up well.  I made it through the checkpoint first, and without paying the bribe (the Frenchman got stung for 40 Tajik - about $5 -  on a bogus parking ticket).  I headed up the next mountain pass, enjoying the scenery.  If I was not going to get to do the southern route, I was going to soak up every bit this route had to offer.

 

My next hitchhiker only rode with me for about thirty kilometers.  He asked me to stop outside a house by the road.  A man came out from behind the gate and the two of them had a conversation.  The man my hitchhiker had been speaking to then turned to me and asked in English if I wanted some tea.  Sure, I like tea!  I parked the Rascal in the shade of a tree and followed the two into the house.

 

Again, we sat on mats and I was given bread, butter, and tiny red-orange apricots from the man’s garden.  He then asked if I liked black tea or “the national tea.”  I indicated that whatever he was drinking would be fine with me.  “National tea it is,” the man said, and disappeared out of the room.  My hitchhiker busied himself by slicing the loaf of bread that was on the table.  

 

A few minutes later, my hose returned with two bowls for the tea and a tea pot.  He poured out a milk based tea into each bowl and then explained that I should take a spoon full ofthe butter and mix it in the tea before dunking my bread in it.  Some people, he explained, also like just soaking the bread in the tea nad eating it like a porridge.  I decided to try the tea first before doctoring it with bread and butter.

 

The tea was salty, made with sheep’s milk and a type of tea leaf I had not had before.  It was not terribly pleasant, but I did not want to be rude.  It was better with bread, but the butter did not improve it much.  I decided against turning it into porridge.  The apricots, however, were delicious!

 

The host and I chatted for a bit about the Rally, driving the Pamir, and my route going forward.  It was a pleasant conversation, but I couldn’t help feeling like he was probing me.  When tea was over, we all stood up and went outside.  A few people had come to the man’s house and were milling about in the shade of his carport.  When I returned to the Rascal, I was surprised to see that there were three sacks sitting next to it.  It looked like my hitchhiker was staying with me for a while longer, and was bringing cargo! I did a quick check and there were no dead goats in any of the sacks.  

 

We opened the slide in door and one of the men who had arrived during tea began loading in the sacks.  Once they were all loaded, he hopped in on top of them!  My single hitchhiker had turned into two!  I thought about saying no and kicking him out, but I figured if he was willing to ride like that over this terrible road, then he could stay.  It would be lumps on his head, not mine.

 

About thirty kilometers down the road the first hitchhiker got out and the second hopped in front with me.  He kept saying “Murgab,” which was a city over two hundred kilometers away. What had I gotten myself into??? We drove along, listening to music and “chatting” as best we could given the language barrier.  About five pm he indicated he was getting hungry.  I agreed.  We should definitely figure out a place to stop for food, and a consultation of the ma to see just how far away Murgab was.

 

Thirty minutes later, in the middle of nowhere, he motioned for me to stop.  He pointed off to the distant hills and made an eating motion.  I looked, but there were no restaurants, no shops, just a herd of goats and sheep and a small stone hut.  I gave him a confused look.  He indicated eating again, pointed to the hut, and said, “Good spot.”  

 

About this time, another vehicle pulled up beside us.  It was a minivan, about the same size as the Rascal,  that had its roof cut off and was turned into a pickup.  The two men got out and came over to talk to us.  They both indicated to me that, yes, this was a “good spot” and I should join all of them for food.  “Ok,” I said and. I pulled out my jacket, ready to walk the half mile or so to the hut.  “No,” they said.  “Machina.” The two got into their pickup and my hitchhiker got in the passenger side of the Rascal.  It looked like we were going off roading!

 

We bumped along a dirt track, over a stream, and across the field until we stopped in front of the hut.  The goats and sheep were being brought in for the night, and a few cows roamed nearby.  My passenger hopped out and hugged the small children who had come out to see us.  He then hugged the older woman who came out of the hut.  This was his family and his home!  

 

I got out and looked at my surroundings.  Huge mountain peaks loomed a thousand feet or so over head.  Snow still rested on the peaks and glowed in the setting sun.  Small streams crisscrossed the land.  Low bushed, grass, and lichen dotted the landscape, but otherwise it was pretty barren. A small stone and mud hut was carved out of the ground, with a stone enclosure to the back and side for the goats and sheep.  I struggled to figure out how a family could eeke out a living here.

 

As I was getting my bearings, the two men in the pickup began bringing over cows. The first was loaded into the back of the pickup, and then a second.  The pickup was now resting noticeably lower on its springs and I wondered how it was going to make it back over the rough terrain we had just traveled.  While I was pondering this, a calf was led over and it was squeezed into the back as well!  Before I could comment on how crazy this was, a second calf was squeezed in and the rear gate was put back in place!  How on earth did they all fit???

 

I was directed to go into the hut and make myself at home.  There was a metal stove in the middle of the hut, with stone platforms on two sides.  The platforms were large, over six feet wide.  I figured this was where the family must sleep.  The patriarch ofthe family joined me, and we sat together eating bread and drinking the national tea.  I did my best to explain my travels, and he did his best to explain his family.

 

He was married and had several children.  Some of those children had moved to other locations, and some lived there with him.  Some of those children had children, and they all lived together in this hut.  As the evening wor on and the light faded, more people came into the hut. In all there wee fourteen of us gathered around, sharing bread, butter, tea, and watermelon.  It was a simple meal, but one filled with love.  

 

The family bantered and talked.  While I could not make out the words, the relationships became clear.  My hitchhiker was the oldest son still living at home.  He was the one who was sent to town to buy supplies and bring them back.  The older daughter appeared to be single and spent a lot of the evening caring for her mother and organizing the chaos of so many bodies in such a confined space.  The younger daughter and husband were some of the last to arrive, having worked until dark to bring in the herd and secure them for the night. 

 

After supper the two men in the minivan made their goodbyes.  They were taking the cows back down the road to the market.  I wished them luck, wondering how they were ever going to make it.  

 

The evening went on.  A small speaker was produced and we listened to some music.  The children passed around a phone with a coupe of games loaded on it, and the family laughed, argued, and chatted the way a close knit group does.  I sat in the corner, taking it all in.  

 

 They lived a good life, but it was difficult.  The hard life was etched on those around me. Sun, wind, and long days of labor shown in the lines on their faces.  The daughters could have been anywhere from twenty to forty and the patriarch looked somewhere in his seventies, but I’m sure he was much younger. 

 

As night truly set in, the family began to convert the hut for sleeping.  The mats we had been resting against were rolled out, and heavy blankets were placed on top.   I took this as my cue to make my goodbyes.  I figured. Would sleep in the Rascal next to the hut that night and then leave the next morning. When I got up to leave, my hitchhiker indicated that, no, I was going to sleep in the hut with them as their guest.  

 

My spot was against the wall, next to the patriarch.  My hitchhiker squeezed in between us and we all snuggled in under the heavy blankets.  It was cold on top of the Pamir, but inside the hut was warmth and family.

 

 

Pamir - Day 4 (or 4655 meters)

 

As the guest, I was allowed to sleep in.  By a quarter to six, the sun was up and everyone was up and moving.  The daughters had been up since before dawn to milk the cows and goats.  After a quick reakfast of bread, butter, and national tea, it was clear that the day was getting started and I was either going to have to stick around and herd some goats, or I was going to have to move on.  

 

I indicated to the hitchhiker that we should get going.  He shook his head and demonstrated that he was staying there.  I guess I had misunderstood and he just had wanted to go in the direction of Murgab.  I made my goodbyes and headed back to the road.  The little Rascal made short work of it.  I was pleased since Mongolia was still yet to come and there would be plenty more “roads” like this to traverse.

 

About an hour later I crested the mountain pass and made my way down into the next valley.  Chinese long haul trucks struggled in the thin air, reminding me that this was the ancient Silk Road, still in use today.  Cargo from China is trucked along the Pamir to Central Asia just as silks, spices, and gold were brought by camel caravan hundreds of years ago.  

 

At the edge of the first small village i came to, there was a young man with his thumb in the air.  I pulled over and he said, “Hello,” in beautiful English.  His name was Avi and his backpack did not show any signs of carrying dead goats.  Avi was from Israel and was taking the time after his military service but before university started to travel through the area.  He was looking for a ride to Murgab and eventually Osh.  I told him that i was heading to Osh and if he wanted to stick with me, he was welcome.  Avi couldn’t believe his luck.  Yesterday he waited seven hours for a ride.  Today it was five minutes AND it was a ride all the way to Osh!

 

We settled in and chatted as we went.  It was strange having an English speaker in the car with me.  I had not had that in quite a while and I found myself trying to remember how to have a conversation.  Wee talked about Tajikistan (he had been to the Wakan Valley and did his best to downplay its beauty since he knew I was sad to miss it), traveling, and out lives.  He played Israeli music for me, explaining what each song was about and the history of different Jewish people who had made their way to Israel over the years.  

 

As we drove, we marveled at the amazing landscape.  The Pamir was putting on a show for us.  Brilliant reds, greens, and even blues were visible in the rocks.  The sky was a brilliant cobalt with puffily clouds accentuating.  We drove through the day, knowing that Osh was out of the question, but hoping for the border.  

 

I was beginning to worry about the Rascal.  It seemd sluggish.  I knew that the altitude was a problem, but I thought I had been through the worst of it.  Early that morning when i had crested the pass, I thought that was the highest poin and it was all generally downhill from there.  I was wrong.

 

Avi informed me that the highest point was actually just before the border.  I recalled that the Pamir was the second highest road in the world, and I wondered just how high it was going to get!  We steadily gained altitude over the next hour.  The Rascal struggled, but continued to make progress.  Up ahead, a blue sign showed something in Russian and Tajik with “4655 m” next to it.  This was the pass. This was going to be the highest point.

 

The road took a steep pitch up and a decline in quality .  I put the Rascal in first gear and we crawled up the road, barely making ten miles per hour.  There were a few times where I wondered if it was going to stall out on me.  But, like the trooper it is, the Rascal kept on chugging.  We crested the hill and I cheered.  We had done it!  We had conquered a elevation of over 15,000 feet in a little 1 liter van!  I was literally and metaphorically on top ofthe world!

 

Around the next bend I spotted the Frenchman and the Russian off to the side of the road.  I pulled over and there were hugs all around.  They were attempting to launch a drone, but the frosty wind was making it difficult.  We talked about our Olga she for the night.  They, too were heading to Osh but figured they would stop somewhere over the border.  We once again said our goodbyes and headed down the road.  

 

About an hour later, as staggeringly beutigul lake came into view.  Lake Karakom is a saltwater lake in the bowl of several mountains.  It's cobalt blue color matched that of the sky.  Both Avi and I were in awe of it.  How could such a beautiful thing exist?

 

We pulled off the main road and followed a dirt track down to the water’s edge.  The shining sun and the blue water gave the illusion of it being a tropical locale, but the wind was blowing and the water was bitterly cold. We stopped to take photos, struggling to capture both the size and beauty of it all.  The remote location and high altitude meant that there were very few people around to enjoy it.  There was a small village up the road and an abandoned Soviet Military base, but that was it.  In America there would have been at least a dozen hotels and restaurants.  But here there was just us, the wind, the water, and a few birds.  It was magical.

 

We wou,d our way along the lake and then headed for the border.  There was one more pass we had to cross, but it was 200 meters lower than the last pass.  I was confident it would not be a problem.

 

I was wrong.

 

At the crest of the pass, the road was washed out and swiftly moving river blocked our path.  Avi and I got out and walked along it, picking the best place for crossing.  The river was not too wide, maybe thirty feet, and only about a foot deep.  It should not  be a problem for the mighty Rascal!  We both agreed on a crossing point and Avi got out to record it for posterity.  I gunned the engine and entered the river.  Halfway through I got stuck.

 

The rear wheels spun in the gravel bed.  Avi came behind and pushed, but it was no good.  He then got in front and we tried to back out,  That did not work either.  I got out and began to pull rocks from behind the tires.  I figured the best bet was to back up and try again.  We eventually got unstuck, put the Rascal back on dry land, and re-evaluated the situation.  

 

Avi suggested a slightly different angle of approach and we spent a few minutes removing the largest rocks in our path.  With the route clear, I got back in the Rascal, gunned the engine, and almost immediately was stuck in the middle again.  

 

About this time, a Toyota Land Cruiser full of tourists came towards us.  Since we were blocking the road, they had no choice but to help us.  As Avi and I attached the tow cable to the Land Cruiser, all the tourists hopped out and began to take photos.  A second Land Cruiser appeared just as we were getting ready to go, and they, too hopped  out for the photo op.  

 

The Land Cruiser pulled us free with no issues.  Handshakes and high fives all around.  The tourists hopped back in their 4x4’s and sped off, just as the Frenchman arrived in his Peugeot.  I had no idea how he was going to make it across since his vehicle was much lower than mine.

 

As he was sighting his crossing, another Land Cruiser arrived.  We all convinced the Land Cruiser to tow the Peugeot across.  To be fair, I’m not sure the Peugeot needed the tow. With the engine directly over the drive wheels, he had a lot more traction than I did.  But, safe and sound, we were all on the other side of the river, ready to drop down out of the Pamir and into Kyrgyzstan.  While the Pamir Highway does not technically end until Osh, the worst was behind us.  

 

We all met up at a little hotel the night just on the other side of the Kyrgyzstan border.  For $15 per person we got dinner, breakfast, and a bed in a dorm.  We drank vodka and talked about our adventures.  We all agreed that the Pamir had been much more than we had bargained for.  Its beauty, terrain, and its people made this place worth every trial and tribulation.  

 

As I drifted off to sleep I began to make my checklist for my return.  1. More time.  2. My family.  The only thing that would have made this better was being able to share the wonder and beauty of it all with the ones I love most.

 

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