Today has been a sobering day. I’ve never felt so much despair: being in the middle of nowhere, utterly dependent on a car that won’t run properly, and miles from anywhere.
Sleep last night was impossible, though our host was kind enough to provide us with blankets so we wouldn’t be cold. After a breakfast of curried potatoes, bread and tea, we headed over to the mechanics.
They had come up with two new ideas overnight. One was to use wood blocks to raise the back tires and the other was to weld in metal pipes. They were essentially the same idea and with the purpose of achieving the same goal: to give our car some ground clearance and possibly cushion us from bumps on the road. We opted for the metal pipes.
In the most ghetto-esque fashion possible, they welded the pipes to our car and raised the back part by a good 4 inches. It wasn’t by any means a good solution, but it was a solution.
We paid our creative mechanics 300 Somoni; no actually, we paid 299 Somoni (33.5 EUR). It was the last bit of Tajik Somoni we had left. Somewhere back in Langar, we still owe money to these two guys!
We loaded our things into our newly ‘tuned’ car, paid our host far more than he had asked for as we had no perfect change in USD, and started for Murgab. Murgab was the next big town. With about 4,000 people in population, it is the most significant town on the Eastern side of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region. We crossed our fingers and hoped that we wouldn’t bounce around too much without a proper suspension. Boy, were we naïve!
It started off well. But the road was shitty the entire 130km we drove for the day. I suppose we were just positive and optimistic initially about having a car that moved. However, we really only just covered 40km in the first 2.5 hours. Then we got stuck in a narrow mountain pass, where a cargo truck was caught in the sand. We could’ve passed him, but 1km ahead, there were 6 other trucks parked. The drivers of the rest of the trucks had gone off to help the driver in trouble.
Because the key supply route into Central Asia through the Pamir Highway had been washed away by the floods, cargo trucks from China were also using the same detour we were using. Unfortunately, these roads are not meant for even the savviest 4-wheel drive. Imagine a massive cargo truck trying to traverse some of the sandy sections of these roads. You could be stuck for days!
To get that truck out took 2 hours. While we waited, we snacked and napped intermittently. It was 2 precious hours that prevented us from reaching Murgab, for the second day in a row. By now, we had resigned to our fate. You don’t mess with nature.
Once we got out of the gridlock with the trucks, the roads were so bad that it almost would have been better to stay put. We were jerked both sideways and vertically at every turn. The roads were also full of sand, so we were afraid we would get stuck in them. The many trucks we found along the way, stranded or toppled over, made us even more cautious.
The landscape was truly stunning, but I couldn’t admire it. It took all my focus and energy to stay grounded inside the car, despite having the seat belt strapped on, as we got tossed around.
The last 50km were truly the worst. We had a nice lunch by a mountain stream and then started the car. But soon I burst into tears. I was in physical pain. I never knew your breasts could hurt from bouncing for 6 hours continuously. Both Moritz and I had stomach and back pain. It felt like our internal organs had completely rearranged themselves.
We were by now aiming for Alichur, a small town 105km from Murgab. At this point, all we wanted was a place with another mechanic who could potentially think of another solution. The current one was not a solution.
It has been incredibly emotional. To be so far from home, knowing we may never reach Mongolia, not having cell phone reception, not even seeing another human for miles on end can play with your mind. Knowing that what happened to us, i.e. a broken suspension, is a known problem in this particular model of Renault and that we were not prepared to deal with the problem is a tough pill to swallow.
A lot of teams don’t make it to the end. We weren’t supposed to be one of them. It kills me that this will very well prevent us from reaching Mongolia. The time & energy, not to mention resources, spent on this adventure has been very high. For it to end this way breaks my heart.
We eventually arrived in Alichur around 8pm. I was ready for the day to end.
We found a homestay that seemed pretty popular with travelers passing through. Our host was a kind, elderly Tajik man, seemingly the head of the family that owned the house. We were offered floor space with a Dutch couple cycling their way from Kyrgyzstan to Tajikistan. After a hot shower and a hot meal of vegetarian noodle soup with bread, shared with 10 other travelers also staying for the night, we settled into our sleeping bags.
It had been a rough day, but I was thankful for a hot meal, running water and a warm mat to sleep on. Tomorrow would be another opportunity to make things right again.
This post is part of a series covering my trip across Central Asia in four weeks.