Day 41 Khalaikum

03072009606-smallFilled up with petrol in Kulob. No pump, just scooped out of a barrel. Then after asking half a dozen locals for directions we eventually found our way out on to the road to Kalaikum and quickly started up into the mountains. A quick a thankfully bribe free passport check at the end of the tarmac and onto the rough stuff. Very rough. A lot of fairly easy gravel with loads of potholes, but the recent landslides were really hard to cross. Amazingly there were a lot of big trucks on the road, it must take them forever and be very difficult. We came to a very rickety looking bridge and walked across to scope it out. It looked pretty scary. Big holes, no barrier. Nervously, we rolled onto it and found it to be actually pretty easy going. Not so the next obstacle, a fast flowing torrent of water about 3 feet deep at the edge, 50 feet across and flowing straight over the road and out into space. With a load of trucks queueing up to have a go, and no other option, we had to just gun it and pray. Incredibly we stayed upright, weren’t swept away, and blasted to the hill on the other side. We covered about 10 miles in an hour over stuff like this. Twice we were stopped by groups of 3 young lads in military uniforms carrying AK47s. They looked about 12 years old and seemed to be just walking along in the middle of nowhere. Probably some sort of border patrol as just across the river, literally a stone’s throw, is Afghanistan. The first group obviously wanted money, after playing dumb for a while it became clear we weren’t getting away free, so handed over 10 of the local each for each boy. 60 smackers. The next 3 seemed happy to walk away with 3 tins of sardines, a tin of tomatoes, a tin of sweetcorn, and a packet of toffees, thus depriving us of a campsite meal but leaving wallets intact. It really was little short of robbery, but if you give kids guns in a place like this it’s what will happen. A brief hold up at a fresh landslide being bulldozed out of the way, leaving us a very challenging ride across freshly torn up ground, uphill, squeezing past more trucks waiting to get through. Then bizarrely a stretch of perfect tarmac in the middle of nowhere and eventually to Kalaikum for more petrol from the barrel and another passport checkpoint. Riding through the villages kids come running out to shout and wave. They shout “hello hello hello!” and look so pleased when we wave back. In the town a group of kids link hands to block the road so i twist the throttle wide open and roar directly at them. They scatter, laughing and cheering. After asking a few times for “gastinitsa”, the russian for guesthouse, we found our way to a very odd little shack of a house where the lovely Maya made us chai and a meal of potato, onion, and the bits of chicken you’d normally throw away. After dinner, which was actually very nice, we set to work changing my front tyre, then experienced the horror that passes for a toilet for these people, before retiring to our room, seemingly in the family home, to sleep on the floor in our sleeping bags in conditions nowhere near as nice as our tents, but much more unusual.