We knew we had made the right decision to hitchhike when we passed a field of sunflowers who had all turned their yellow and black faces away from the scalding sun and were drooping towards the dry, cracked ground. The mercury in my keychain thermometer was pushing its way past 40*C but the turbulent wind crashing in through the truck’s open windows provided some relief from the heat. We were entering the Fergana Valley, one of the most fertile regions of Central Asia, which Kyrgyzstan shares with its neighbors, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
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It wasn’t easy to leave the At-House in Bishkek. We were getting used to having a kitchen and a bathroom and were enjoying the camaraderie of our fellow cycle tourists. But we knew that once we had tuned our bikes and gotten our visas for Tajikistan, it was time to hit the road. The At-House was also getting a bit crowded. Word had spread that it is the place in Bishkek for cyclists. When we left there were 23 cyclists staying there.
Panniers are a cycle tourist's suitcases. They are the bags which clip on to a bicycle’s front and rear racks. For our trip, Erica and I are carrying all of our stuff in waterproof Ortlieb Front and Back Roller Classic panniers (two on the font and two on the back of each bike), Ortlieb Handlebar Bags, and a backpack strapped to my rear rack. We thought our family, friends, and other cyclists planning their own longterm bicycle tours might like to know what we are carrying in our panniers for our journey from China to Italy by bicycle.
We arrived at At-Bashy in a light rain. Away from A365, the road deteriorated quickly and was pockmarked with muddy potholes. I stopped at the first official-looking building we saw and asked about a hotel. A man inside explained that he worked for the Kyrgyz Forestry Service and drew a map to a place called Hotel Tash Rabat. Perfect! At the Hotel Tash Rabat a little man came out and frowned at our muddy bikes and shoes.
After leaving Kunming, our first stop on the road to Italy was Kashgar, the cultural capital of the Xinjiang Province in China. Kashgar is a multi-ethnic place but Uyghur people are the majority ethnic group. To us, the Uyghurs more closely resembled Eastern European people than their Chinese neighbors. They also have their own language and use Arabic script. Taking all this in while wandering the streets of Kashgar's old town, surrounded by mud brick houses with ornate arabesque arches, Erica and I felt like we had already traveled a long way from China.