Having walked for a few kilometers beyond the end of settlement in Bishkek, it worried me when a man stopped the car in-line with my tent and got out.
I shrunk down behind the half-zipped door, trying not to move while watching him anxiously. Peep Show was playing quietly next to me, like a friend trying to calm me down.
He stood there for 5 long minutes, after which time he got back in and drove away.
The next morning was warm, bright, green and airy, as most would be in this mountainous country. I was picked up quickly and taken a few dozen kilometers, bought breakfast and some fruit for the next couple of days.
I walked for a bit before getting too hot and ducking out into the shade of a tree.
Afterwards, three separate drivers asked for money to take me before one took me 50km to the beginning of a mountain pass. The highest peak ahead caught my eye and I had no idea I would soon be summiting in a truck.
The white peaks divided the North of Kyrgyzstan from the center. We came to what looked like a minor border crossing, beyond which was a very remote stretch of 300km.
I walked beyond the crossing and a truck driver pulled in within a minute to ask if I wanted a lift. When I got in, he laughed at the thought of me trying to walk the treacherous road ahead.
The truck waded through the thick masses of cattle present throughout the journey.. It was a sharp contrast between old and new – the age-old nomadic way of life meeting the new, modern world.
We ascended the steep, hairpin bends with almost every other vehicle overtaking us. Over the coming hours, the lush green nature became coated in thick, white snow.
We reached the highest point at 3149m and my driver stepped out to use the toilet. I opened the door and took my jacket off because I wanted to get an idea of how could it would be in the Pamir Highway, which I would be tackling in a few weeks’ time. It was fecking cold!
Night took over at around 9pm. but my driver was getting ready to drive through the night. I took his bed until 4am when he took a break for 2 hours to continue at 6. For that time, I was in the passenger seat, half sitting, half lieing. It was such an unnatural position that my back became terribly painful; I was dreaming when it happened, and in that dream I was with Mate and his friend, screaming and breaking down after every step. I woke up, readjusted slowly and slipped back into a few more minutes’ sleep.
A truck took me all the way from where I was to Osh – halfway through the country. He even tried to give me 10p to cover the bus fare into the city center, but I felt uncomfortable taking money from a poorer man and decided to walk in.
After 3 days’ rest, ahead was a road of around 800km, which normally would comfortably take 2 days, but the next country was 93% mountain and and I definitely underestimated the time it would take.
The daytime temperature was now around 30 degrees and I was not yet used to it, so I had to wait until near sundown, lets I get heat exhaustion again.
At 7pm, I brought my backpack from my room and went to say goodbye to everyone. As I put it on my back, the owner asked ‘are you leaving?’
‘No, I’m just doing my impression of a turtle,” I sarcastically replied, smiling.
‘Are you joking?’ he asked, confused.
I have noticed that British humour does not translate well, and not being to make jokes like this and get the response I am used to has started to bother me.
I walked out of the city comfortably over 2 hours and, without difficulty, found a camp spot behind some roadside trees. I slept about 11 hours. For some reason, I find it far too easy to sleep-in unnecessarily when camping.
The midday sun heated the inside of my tent to a dangerous level, and I was now dizzy and dehydrated.
After standing up and getting a nauseating head rush, I walked in a daze to the nearby shop. Fruit, sugary snacks and sparkling water was what I needed and after a bit, I felt okay again.
I had allowed myself today and tomorrow to reach Dushanbe, and the day was already nearly over. ‘I really need to be more disciplined’ I thought.
Halfway on this route was the border. Just make it there today, I told myself. A long wait lay ahead, partly my fault. Well, mostly actually.
5/6 drivers will ask for money in Kyrgyzstan, and I have realised that those drivers will most likely be in small and/or old cars. For that reason, to avoid the awkward conversation, I let them pass. I only put my thumb up for trucks and 4x4s, which tuned out to be about 5% of the traffic, and still in a daze, it took me 3 hours to realise this.
A couple pulled in and gave me a bottle of vodka. I didn’t want it, so I offered it to the next car to stop, which happened to be going all the way to border.
I crossed at 00:15 on Kyrgyz time, but Tajik time was one hour behind, so in my passport, it is recorded that I entered one country while still in another.
I set my tent up, knowing that in 4 hours I would need to be packing away. I was on a farmer’s field, because there was no other option available. The ground was hard as concrete. I didn’t bother getting my sleeping bag or roll mat out, besides, if I woke up from the cold it would be easier to get moving again. And it was.
With a sore back, I packed away and went to walk away when the farmer came out of his house. There was no anger in his tone, just interest in why an English man was sleeping next to his house, and why I hadn’t asked to sleep inside.
Ahead of me was the 400km to Dushanbe and the initial road from the border saw only one vehicle every 3-5 minutes, so I started to walk. Tajikistan was going to be different; people are poorer, therefore fewer cars and more people asking for money.
A man stopped before too long without me even putting my thumb out. He took me for free, bought me breakfast and even arranged a lift 100km more with his friend.
His friend then drove me round the city showing me everything and took me out of his way to the outskirts to continue easily.
A stranger then stopped me just to make sure I was okay and to ask if there was any way he could help me. Tajikistan is a Muslim country, and I certainly felt very welcome in my first half-a-day.
Next came two very short lifts to the middle of nowhere, where I would then wait for 4 hours. I quickly realised I couldn’t be picky with which vehicles I put my thumb out to, and about 15 cars then bstopped, all asking for money. 2 locals came up to me separately on that roadside to tell me I had no chance and needed to pay for a taxi.
What was confusing was that up until now, in the last 12 months of hitchhiking, getting to the capital city has always been easy. But no one was going there, it seemed. Between me and Dushanbe was yet another mountain pass, and it seemed to split Tajikistan into two.
Another short lift of 5km took me even more into the middle of nowhere. To my right were the mountains I was set to pass over. I was passed by about a hundred sheep being herded by their farmers, all of whom gave me a wave. Hitchhiking is, in my opinion, the best way to experience a country, and even when I’m waiting on a roadside, things still happen.
Finally, I was picked up and taken all the way to Dushanbe. I slept for a lot of the drive.