Back in 2010 when I first set off to travel the world, I met some guys in a hostel in Turkey who had cycled all the way from Germany. Back then when I first knew that people could ride that far, and even now, after meeting many others who’ve done long-distance bicycle journeys, I am still amazed. Weeks, months, some even years of riding, going from city to city, country to country. Just amazing.
At our Osh hostel, we met a cyclist named Frances who was riding her bicycle from Scotland to Mongolia. She was soft-spoken, mild-mannered, elegantly-spoken but I could tell, she was one mentally-strong and focused individual. You can’t be mentally weak if you are attempting such a daunting journey. Even I myself would find a long distance bicycle journey to be quite difficult as I draw the line at possibly a motorcycle journey.
Because Frances enjoyed the serenity of the neighborhood we were in and how quiet the home we were all staying at was, day and night, compared to say, hostels in Europe where people always wanted to make noise at night from talking, drinking, partying etc., she decided to stay for a week to recharge her batteries and to catch up on her route-planning and blog-writing. Anyway, her website is https://gobibike.wordpress.com/ and it chronicles her ride from Scotland to… South-East Asia. (I had given her my Lonely Planet China guidebook and after crossing Xinjiang into Mongolia, she decided to go see the rest of China as well because the guidebook got her interested… and then from there, she worked her way down into South-East Asia.)
Back to Osh. One day, Sem, Zoe, Alex, and myself walked around the city and even got as far as a simple museum built into a small mountain. Another day, we went to a public pool frequented by the locals on hot days. There wasn’t anything I found particularly memorable about the city as it was just like any other city; people were everywhere, they lived their lives, they did what we all do in our own cities, maybe a little differently but nothing that would make me think I was on a different planet.
At some point, we were all in our hostel and we asked each other what our plans were in the next few days. Alex was going to join an older Dutch gentleman who was also staying in our hostel to parts of Kyrgyzstan that were only accessibly by a 4×4, which he had rented and was traveling in. Sem and Zoe were going to cross into the Ferghana Valley of Uzbekistan and work their way west-ward through the traveler circuit. I wanted to work my way north, to Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, and possibly check out Lake Issyk Kul, supposedly a popular summer destination, before crossing into Kazakhstan.
(The chance meeting with the Dutchman was a blessing as he mentioned a change in Uzbek visas. I was initially going to rule out a visit to Uzbekistan because a tourist visa for an American would cost $160, quite excessive but even then, I was on the verge of deciding to pay that $160 fee and go anyway because #YOLO and I always wanted to see Samarkand since I read about the city in my childhood encyclopedia. The discussion sparked some research that led me to find out Uzbekistan was getting ready to launch an electronic-visa system that very week. And the visa fee? $20! It was a sign from the universe. However, it wasn’t so straight-forward. More on that later.)
Knowing our time together was coming to an end made me sad but also gave me some relief. Why? I’ve mentioned that I am more comfortable traveling solo because of the freedom it affords me. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve had a week or two of some amazing company and traveling with this group gave me memories that far surpassed anything I could’ve had on my own and for that, I am thankful. But as an introvert, I needed some extended alone time again. I needed to go face the road alone again, to move freely and at my own whim.
The next morning, Alex left with the Dutchman. I heard her wake up so I wished her safe travels. (I follow her Instagram but I thought that may be the last time I’d ever see her in person. Little did I know, fast forward many months later, I would go pay her a visit in Germany since I was passing through her town.) Later that morning, I also set off on my own journey. I didn’t see Sem or Zoe around so I sent them a Facebook message thanking them and wishing them safe travels to Uzbekistan. I walked into town and found a taxi driver who took me to a “marshrutka” stop that had transport that would take me to my next destination.