Landing in Osh after three flights and a total of fourteen hours, killing time and drinking coffee in airport cafes, was a welcome relief. Leaving the airport we were immediately barraged by taxi drivers enthusiastically offering their services. Understanding very little of what each driver was saying and naively unsure of the value of Kygryz Som, we mutually agreed on a price. Jacob and I, along with our bike boxes and industrial, cellophane wrapped pannier bags, were loaded into a vehicle and chauffeured into the city. En route, the taxi driver, who was perhaps in his early twenties demonstrated exceptional ability in navigating busy roundabouts whilst using his smart phone translator app. The niceties of “Welcome to Osh” and “What is your name?” quickly digressed to more uncomfortable topics of “Kyrgyz women like you” and “Uzbek women at good price!” A slight culture shock that took us by surprise.
We spent two nights in Osh and stayed at a friendly hotel a short walk from the center, Hotel Salam. Unable to function without a plan of action or a to do list, Jacob and I worked our way through our designated tasks, which started with the task of utmost importance; de-boxing, inspecting and building our bikes. It could be said that bikes are seemingly simple contraptions. Confident that I could rebuild my bike without my trusty photos I was all of a sudden stunted and growing increasingly frustrated, “Something is not quite right Jacob, I think I am going to be here all day!” followed by “I think I have had my pannier rack fitted wrong this whole time.” Exhausting every possible method and now infuriated, I scratched my head, stood back, took a sip of lukewarm coffee. “Oh my days, my front forks are backwards!” Was immediately followed by an eruption of laughter. Jacob rushed to grab his camera before I could correct the amateur error. Feeling rather ashamed and embarrassed, but, at the same time relieved, I cracked on with the job at hand, finished assembling my mobile home of the next eight months and in no time she was on two wheels and ready to go. Jacob may perhaps disagree, but despite incurring the amateur set-back, I believe my bike was still ready to roll before his.
Next on the priority list was Jacob’s mop chop. To prevent overheating and having to cope with an entangled, sweaty mess, Jacob considered it mandatory to cut it short. He was welcomed into the salon, accompanied by his personal photographer, yours truly. After a swift flash of a short back and sides screenshot on his phone, the clippers were out, the barber went in full force, no scissors necessary, though Jacob thought otherwise. The grimace on his face made it quite clear that this was perhaps not the most pleasant experience. Nevertheless, he left the salon a new man, waving his head from side to side, “It feels so good!”
Content with the new look, we continued and navigated the narrow, winding alleys of the Osh Bazaar. A maze of stalls where locals can sell their wares: an abundance of clothing and materials; rice and grains; brightly coloured, fragrant ground spices out of hessian sacks.
There was even a ‘pool hall’ sheltered from the scorching sun by draped canvas, where men were out enjoying a game of billiards, donning their Kalpaks, traditional Kyrgyz hats. We set out bartering for the cycle touring essentials; oats, rice, lentils, vegetables, dried fruit, nuts and some loose green tea. In the dry heat and becoming quite weary, we decided to drop all our supplies back at the hotel and treated ourselves to our last supper, a lavish vegetarian meal and a pint of the local draught ale at Tsarskii Dvor.
Back at the hotel and we had the laborious task of strategically tetris-packing our panniers, with the additional and potentially excessive seven kilograms of dry foods bought from the bazaar. It was 01:30 by the time we had finished. Setting the alarm for 05:30, we tried to squeeze in some much needed rest. With the excitement and anxiety building I struggled to sleep for more than three hours, not quite adequate for the endeavour that lay before us. Weary eyed but in typical Luke Woods fashion I jumped out of bed, brewed a fresh coffee and got to it. At 06:45 Jacob and I finally put our feet to the pedals. Loaded with enough food to feed a football team, we were off into the dawn chorus.