Today it is 7 months since we left Germany. It feels much longer, though. In our second „stage“ we travelled through countries both of us have never been before and a few years back, we didn’t know much about them. A lot of these countries have a bad reputation and a lot of myths exist about them. In the end that was one of the main reasons to visit them in the first place.
The second „stage“ started on May 11th when we set foot on land in Batumi and will end on October 13th when the plane takes off from Bishkek Airport. Right now we are in a warmshower in Bishkek and will stay there until Tuesday when the plane departs and brings us directly to Delhi.
Traveling for such a long time has changed us. For me it took a few of these „exotic“ countries to finally – deep inside – believe that there is nothing to worry about. It is now difficult for me to understand, that some people at home are actually concerned about us. We are cycling like we sometimes did in Germany on the weekend. We are cycling on roads, like in Germany. We buy in shops, like in….well, almost like in Germany. We sit together with people in buses or travel in their cars. We laugh together with them, we sleep in their houses and we eat together. I don’t feel like a stranger or like in a foreign country. People are all the same, everywhere. And of course we already imagined that before we started travelling, but we have been warned so often and repeatedly of so many things, that it takes some time until these voices calm down inside of you and you no longer fear someone saying: „I hate to say I told you so.“
Again this is a blog post for lazy readers, since it mostly contains numbers, lists and conclusions. It is the final post about our time in The Caucasian Mountains, Persia and Central Asia.
Lari, Dram, Rial, Manat, Sum, Somoni, Som and Tenge. In Iran we were multi-millionaires easily spending 100.000 for dinner, in Tadjikistan we could pay with a 3 Somoni note and in Kyrgyzstan with a 3 Som coin. We didn’t have to deal with such a number of different currencies for a while. This was especially confusing, since the exchange rate of course is very different and we often only stayed less than two weeks in a country. It also means, that you always have to get rid of the money close to the border and get the new currency a few kilometers later. If not you may end up like us, carrying your Rials through Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan so you can finally exchange them in Tajikistan.
Rarely having an internet connection we often crossed the border without knowing the exchange rate of the next country. To be honest we several times didn’t even know the name of the currency. Let’s call this „clueless bargaining“, because you just have to push the exchange rate of something you don’t know the name of to a limit you actually don’t know as well. And all that in a language you hardly speak. Worked well several times, except when we entered Kazakhstan. Money is also not easy to get in most of the past countries. There is only one ATM in Turkmenistan accepting VISA-card. There is a financial embargo against Iran, so it is (almost) impossible to get cash there. In Uzbekistan most ATMs are empty if you find one at all. Only later we noticed, that ATMs in hotels actually charge an enormous fee (of course there is no note about that) which we don’t get refunded from our bank. While you are keen on having a brand new dollar bill in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, because older ones are not accepted, your standards drop to a Snickers with a valid best before date in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. In fact, Snickers with a valid best before date and a bottle of RC Cola seems to be the real currency – at least for cyclists.
But traveling also got cheaper for us. Not only due to the extraordinary hospitality in some countries and new ways of traveling we only figured out during our journey, but also because the weather got warmer and we therefore spend a lot of nights in the tent. So for three months – from July to September – we spend an average of less than 3.50 Euro per person per night. And this is NOT because these countries are cheap in general. As soon as you enter a city, hotels are usually not cheap at all. By the way we are actually throwing money out the window. We met several other cyclists who travel half a year or more without paying for a single night.
One thing is for sure: If I traveled these countries again, I would estimate the amount of money I need and then take twice as much with me. One half in dollars and another half in euros. And only small bills, that have been freshly printed.
When we were cycling through Europe we only crossed the Schwäbische Alb in Germany and the last small hills of the Carpatian Mountains in Serbia. This changed rapidly when we set off from Batumi towards Goderdzi Pass (2025m). A few days later we accomplished Paravani Pass (2170m). In Armenia Meghri Pass (2535m) was our biggest challenge so far, because we climbed the 1804m in one day starting at 7 o’clock in the morning and arriving at the top at dusk. Only after we had left Tehran we crossed another big mountain range at Elburs Damarvand Pass (2700m). In Turkmenistan the only hills to climb were some dunes. Same in Uzbekistan. But then! The monster was rising slowly. Beginning with Sagirdasht Pass (3252m) east of Dushanbe. So far we had taken all passes in one day, but this changed at Khargush Pass (4344m). Due to the worst roads so far it took us three days to make it to the top. And finally we were standing on the roof of the world when we crossed Akbaital Pass (4655m), the highest elevation we both have ever been standing on. Let’s see how long this record will persist.
We already applied for the Iranian Visa in Germany. The first contact with an embassy we had in Yerevan, where we picked it up. Embassies are a funny thing, especially if you are only there to get a Visa. In Tehran we actually had to deal with small windows through which we exchanged documents with several embassies. It stays a secret why some embassies can issue a visa within an hour (Uzbekistan) and others need a week (Tajikistan). In the end you need a fancy piece of paper with holograms and stuff, some glue and a stamp. Someone has to sign it, too. I say „someone“ because the signature looks more like the symbol of the artist formerly known as Prince (Iran) than an actual signature. You also need lots of pictures of yourself. For the Indian Visa (which we got in Almaty) it needs to be 5x5cm. Rectangular, that’s special and mandatory. We had to go to a photo studio nearby to get these kind of pictures. After all it’s pretty silly, when you look at the result. I think my face already expresses the level of amusement I reach when it comes to these kind of regulations. But look at this big white empty space right of my face and how it actually overlaps the text.
The GPS says we have traveled almost 13.000 km so far. But the GPS was off several times when we took the ferry or hitchhiked. So actually we have no idea how far we traveled. And we even less know how far we traveled on our bicycles. But it should be roughly 10.000+ km by now.
In the last five months we have slept in many different places. We have spend 56 nights in the tent, 50 nights in hotels, guesthouses or homestays, 19 nights in rooms or flats we found on AirBNB, 19 nights we got invited and 11 nights we slept at other cyclists homes via warmshowers.org.
We met a lot of people and had a very good time with them. Arthur and Artush in Georgia, Emma in Armenia, the unknown Iranians in Kharvana, Manuchehr and Marieh in Tehran, Faghri in Isfahan, Reeza in Babolsar, Amir and Sanaz in Ramian, Ritzo at Mount Damavand, Pablo and Ilze in northern Iran, Jerome in Iran, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Tim and Mariam in Turkmenistan, Nuri and his sister in Turkmenistan, The twins in Uzbekistan, Micha close to Afghanistan, the unknown man who installed a light bulb in Tajikistan, Tural in the Pamirs and so on. I probably forgot a lot. Most of these people usually don’t write a blog because we met them at the place they live. But we met several cyclists and we wanted to share with you their travel blogs. So we created a new page called We are not alone, where you can find links to Ritzo, Pablo and Ilze, Tural and Jerome. These guys are like us traveling the world on their bicycles. Right now Tural tries to get a visa for China. Pablo and Ilze are already in China. Jerome decided to take the land route to India via China, Pakistan and the Karakorum Highway. Ritzo lost one clog but also made it to China.
The animal kingdom again opened its doors for us. On the black sea ferry we saw dolphins following our ship for a few minutes. In Georgia we met Michelangelo the turtle with a major life crises. Snakes were mostly dead and sticking to the road except in Iran, when I was looking for a place to pitch the tent and the gras was suddenly moving. Two pretty big snakes fled the scene as fast as they could. Anyway, we pitched the tent somewhere else. In Iran we also entered the land of a Leopard for the first time, but unfortunately never saw one. Camels appeared in Iran, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. In Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan we also saw thousands of dudes. Above Tajikistan hundreds of eagles were soaring in the sky. We heard wolves in Kyrgyzstan and saw thousands of horses. Kyrgyzstan is also the land of bears and snow leopards. However we have never seen any of them. And in Kazakhstan we saw a big mantis sneaking up on its prey. But I was shocked the most at around 3800 m in the Pamirs when I heard a very loud whistle repeatedly. I thought I had accidentally crossed another checkpoint. But there was no checkpoint around. I heard another whistle and thought maybe some Turkmen dudes play hide in the mountains. But still, I couldn’t see one. Eventually it turned out, that the ground squirrels warn each other by making this whisteling sound.
We have crossed 8 countries and unfortunately also had to cross 8 borders. The most remote border crossings have been Tajikistan/Kyrgyzstan at above 4300 m altitude and Kyrgyzstan/Kazakhstan just in the middle of nowhere, which is probably already closed by now. The hottest border crossing was Armenia/Iran. The most difficult was Iran/Turkmenistan. The most harassing ones were Turkmenistan/Uzbekistan (Turkmen border guard browsing our private photos) and Uzbekistan/Tadjikistan (Uzbek border guard browsing private photos and thoroughly inspectiong the content of all bags).
The countries have all been different from what I had expected. Of course especially Iran, but probably because I had a pretty strong image of it before. I mean how often is Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan in the news? On the other hand we heard several stories just after we had left countries. There was a flood in Tbilisi shortly after we had left. Iran signed a new nuclear deal which will rapidly open up Iran for tourism and also stop the financial embargo. Turkmenistan almost completely stopped issueing visas for tourists. In Tajikistan several people died after some guys opened fire at a checkpoint east of Dushanbe. And Kyrgyzstan had elections a few days after we left. The Kazakh Tenge already dropped before we arrived in Kazakhstan, which meant a good exchange rate for us. If we stayed in Germany we would probably not take much notice of these events. But now, after traveling these countries, I guess we will always be connected to them in one way or another. They are no longer some mystical *stans. They are now the home of friends and hundreds of people we met and who helped us in various situations.
A dude is a person with no obvious qualification whatsoever. It usually creates problems just to prove how well it can cope with them. Additionally that way it ensures to stay useful and important. Dudes usually appear in groups and wear uniforms and weapons. In Iran dudes make sure you comply to the Sharia law. In Turkmenistan dudes always have whistles and don’t know the name of the street they are standing in the whole day. In Uzbekistan dudes have a look at your dirty underwear and make sure you are always registered. Unfortunately so far you cannot register using facebook. Dudes in Tajikistan sit under trees, watch movies and have a rifle. Dudes in Kyrgyzstan are alcoholics and always ask if there is any problem. Dudes in Kazakhstan are very protective when it comes to tourists and to be honest „das ist fantastisch!!!“, but get real jerks when dealing with locals.
In your head in your head
They are fighting
With their tanks and their bombs
And their bombs and their guns
In your head in your head they are crying…
In the end a dude assumes that the people around him are all stupid, violent idiots and he is probably right, because as I said, they usually appear in groups.
However, I have to point out that we are not talking about soldiers or police in general or how we know these professions in Europe. This is something completely different.
Throughout all of the past countries we have been under the additional and constant „protection“ of the dudes. I really thought they already went extinct in the nineties. Apparently I was wrong. The wind of change has never blown their mind.
An August summer night
Soldiers passing by
Listening to the wind of change
The world is closing in
Did you ever think
That we could be so close, like brothers
Since we have spend most of the time in the former Soviet Union (except Iran) we had to speak Russian all the time. My 1.5 years of Russian classes in evening school paid off pretty much. I speak a very bad Russian, but more or less fluently. Of course we had to repeatedly tell the same story. That we travel by bicycle and where we have already been. Where we started in the morning and where we plan to spend the night. Two situations however were challenging in particular: Getting money in Dashoguz, Turkmenistan and getting to a clinic in Termiz, Uzbekistan and telling the doc about Cora’s condition. Afterwards I wasn’t really sure how I managed to do all that with the few words I know. Cora of course also learned some words. The first thing she orders in a restaurant is a „черный чай“ (black tea). And with all the hospitality „Спасибо“ (thanks) was also a common word to say. In shops Cora asked for хлеб (bread), масло (butter), молоко (milk) and of course вода без газ (water without gas). And when we had everything together we always said: Это всё.
All posts from Batumi to Bishkek
Ferry Slow – Reality check
Ain’t no mountain high enough – Batumi to Vardzia
Over the top – Vardzia to Tbilisi
With arms wide open – Tbilisi to Yerevan
Can’t live if living is without you – Visa vie
Get rich or die drying – Southern Armenia
Der Picknicker – Entering Iran and towards Tabriz
Interkulturelle Kompetenz (German)
Taxi Driver – Tehran
Hot sun beating down – Isfahan, Yazd and Shiraz
Dances with wolves – Northern Iran
How bizarre – Ashgabat
Highway to hell – Karakum desert
Problem gelöscht! – Leaving Turkmenistan
Fünf Tage Turkmenistan (German)
Road Rage (German)
The Tourist (German)
Adaption – Persia and Central Asia
It ain’t over till it’s over – Uzbekistan
A dollar is all I need – Into Tadjikistan towards Dushanbe
Hello world – The road not taken
Planet Terror – Afghanistan
Some kind of monster – The Pamirs
Tadschikistan – Enjoy! (German)
Dahoam is Dahoam (German)
Enjoy the silence – Kyrgyzstan
Prince Garmin – The equipment
Very nice. I like! – Kazachstan