10th August 2018
As Jim sits next to me on Turkish flight T345, from Bishkek to Istanbul, (and then from there a shortish hop to Lyon), I have set aside my new Amor Towles novel to update our blog.
Having tired of hanging around in Bishkek in intolerably high temperatures, waiting for our car, we have decided to take a break from our trip and head back to Beaubery in France.
I blame my girls actually, because they kept sending photos of fun times spent in our French garden and my heart yearned to see it for myself. Also we hoped, that if we made it that close, that maybe we would be visited by our long lost family? We certainly hope so, given that our bags are weighed down with an assortment of felt hats and slippers Kyrgyz style!
If I was not blaming the girls, I might think about how much time and money our broken gear box was absorbing. The car’s gearbox first broke down impossibly long ago, in Iran and although we replaced it there and then with a reconditioned box, it was not long before that one was playing up again. In Dushanbe, Tajikistan, we threw more money at clutches and general gear box remedies, but all to no avail.
On arriving in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz Capital, the gears were troubling us again big time and this time around, we decided to treat Landy to the attentions of a main Toyota dealer, who was very unimpressed with the Dushanbe work on our clutch and replaced it again.
Our joy at being roadworthy was short lived. Following a quick romp around Issy Kul Lake, so close to the border with Kazakhstan and surrounded by snowy capped mountains, we realised that we were entirely missing 5th gear and that we would need further incarceration in the Toyota garage before embarking on our impending tour of China.
The news there was bad. Nothing short of replacing gearbox parts, that needed to be imported from Europe, would do and the gearbox had to come out again. These parts would take two weeks to arrive and we were left carless, cooling our toes in the pool in our hostel in Bishkek.
Just as well we had a big chunk of time pencilled in for Kyrgyzstan or we would be up a creek without a paddle, or up a Tien Shen gorge without a Landy.
We took a few trips out to the wilds to see various lakes, more nomad games and to climb again up to the Ala Archa Waterfall in the National Park near Bishkek, but our wings had been clipped and our minds were never far from the pile of cogs laid out on yet another garage workbench.
We were more worried when, on the day of reckoning two weeks later at the garage, we learnt that the wrong Toyota gear parts had been sent and that more improvisation would be required.
Our next visit to Landy a few days later, involved being presented with a dealership gift bag of T shirt and hat and we knew then that it was going to be more bad news.
Needless to say that improvisation too had failed to get Landy back up and running. And we were now up against it to get Landy back on the road before our trip to China at the end of the month. (Slightly strained conversations were had between Jim and myself as to the best course of action!)
With helpful advice from our friendly garage in Hereford, we eventually bit the bullet and decided that only a new gearbox would do and it was just possible for it to be ordered from Abu Dhabi, delivered and installed in the time it would take us to whizz over to Beaubery and back and before we took off for China.
And that idea certainly beat the notion of two weeks more of travellers’ tales in the over-hot garden of the fabulous Tunduk hostel.
Back in the Tunduk Hostel we shared our deepening woes with the many others whose vehicles were holed up in various other garages in Bishkek and we realised that even the most intrepid of overland vehicles need regular attention. And in the case of Landy it has always been the gearbox!
The following morning, we dismantled our very tall capacious tent, leaving the scars of our extended occupation on the Tunduk lawn and Jim exhausted himself in the early morning heat to carry all our belongings to stow away in the Tunduk lock up, including our mattress which was now stained from an impossibly heavy rain storm which had seeped soggily under our tent which has no built in ground sheet only a large polythene sheet.
Later that day, we took ourselves off for our last garage visit. The new gearbox order was placed with a company in the United Arab Emirates and the garage were now describing us as their favourite customers, as we had almost taken up residence in their plush red leather seats in their air conditioned waiting area, being served cups of free coffee by red uniformed girls with identical pouty lips and impossibly long eye lashes.
Emails and phone numbers were exchanged with our parts sourcer as we fessed up to going back to France and we headed off to a last night of comfort in the Lavitor guest house, as our favourite, but more rough and ready, Tunduk was now overrun with travellers and full.
Our last day concluded with a second visit to Bishkek’s best loved Japanese restaurant where a table was waiting for Mr Jim.
The evening was only marred by the fact that the road (and pavements) outside our hotel had been massively dug up and access involved dodging open drains, a rutted rocky dusty roadway and having to struggle up in the dark with no lights because our taxi took one look at the street and thought the better of it!
(Nearly all the roads in Bishkek are being dug up at present, and many new roads in rural Kyrgyzstan are being constructed, presumably as part of China’s One Belt, One Road policy. This is doubling Kyrgyzstan’s national debt from 40% to 80% of Gross Domestic Product. Let us hope the investment delivers better returns than it costs!)
On returning to the hotel we booked our cab to the airport and were just about to fall asleep, when a rap at the door resulted in us ending the evening in a protracted and rather heated, Google translated, exchange with the hotel caretaker who spoke no English, to the effect that we had massively over paid for our room and that therefore the taxi would be free and we would still get change!
I growled at Jim before turning the lights out and dropping off to sleep to thoughts of seeing the family and our morning flight back to Europe.
I should not have worried about the morning airport taxi, (which I could not see venturing up our road), as when we came down stairs, the hotel caretaker just changed his cap and took his car out of the garage, bumped along avoiding the drains and handed back our overpaid room rate! So all was well.
Now the challenge will be to forget about the car as we pile on the pounds with French steaks and Maconais wine for two weeks. Shouldn’t be too difficult.