Bishkek was getting me down as I’m not the most patient person and waiting around for my parcels to arrive really became a nightmare. At the root of my problems was that wonderful (not!) company DHL and their office in Bishkek centre. I attempted to track the first parcel (sent by Chain Reaction Cycles from Ireland) through their website and followed it up to leaving Heathrow Airport, then it just disappeared. No updates to say it had arrived in Kyrgyzstan and it wasn’t until I went along to their offices I found it was awaiting customs clearance, which was in another part of their office. Great I’m thinking as they told me on the Monday to come back the next day. Not so great when they repeated this every day until Friday, when after being sent away again I called in the cavalry – my friend Ryan’s office manager came down to ask them what the problem was and hey presto, miraculously the parcel was given to me.
This whole fiasco was repeated with my second parcel, sent by Clive from England. You’d think paying them a massive 170 GBP would be enough, but they once again held onto it, no doubt expecting me to pay them a bribe to release it. Ryan once again came to the rescue, but it had taken another week. However it wasn’t all bad news as UPS proved how sending parcels should be done, with the bike sent from America arriving in just four days, being tracked every step of the way and being delivered when they said they would. I can’t speak highly enough about this excellent company – outstanding service.
Luke built up the bike for me in two days, after we chased around for cables and a few other bits in Bishkek. In hindsight I should have ordered these with the other stuff from Chain Reaction, but I never thought we’d have difficulty in getting such basic bike parts. Getting a cardboard bike box proved expensive as they insisted on charging me for it, even though they throw them away, but I’ve come to expect this kind of thing in Kyrgyzstan. So it was with great delight I gave my notice at the hostel and booked my flight to Beijing, emailing them with the bike details. I knew I’d be charged for it as it was outside the (small) dimensions they stipulate, but when I got to the airport I was charged a whopping 308 dollars. Not happy, but I had no choice. By now I just wanted to leave behind Kyrgyzstan and start afresh, but the flight was delayed… would I ever get out of here?
The Chinese Visa
Actually getting the Chinese visa was easy and I’ve put the whole procedure on my page, The Visa Jungle (click to open). Scroll down to the bottom of the page to find it. Note that you do not get it from an embassy, it is issued by a travel agent and is the easiest visa I have got so far on this trip.
I did get out! – landing in Beijing International Airport Saturday morning after a whirlwind transfer from one aircraft to another in Novosibirsk (Russia) where myself and a Canadian I met were whisked away and quickly put on the connecting flight. The question is, can I now say I’ve been to Russia? – err, no, I don’t think that’s fair. Landing at around 6:00 a.m. I would have to rush if I was to meet my kind Warmshowers hosts who planned catching up with me at the end of the tube journey into Beijing at 07:30 a.m. before they went off to work. As I struggled to get myself, a 20kg bag, 7kg hand luggage and 30 kg of bike box onto and across the metro underground system, I realised it was not going to happen.
The Chinese metro is stunning; efficient, clean and most importantly a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It was so easy to navigate I had no problems deciding where to go and when to change trains. I arrived at the designated meeting point just outside the subway station an hour late and decided I’d build up the bike, cycle off to find a sim card and then call my hosts to let them know what was happening. Fortune however was smiling on me, as both Ira and Rachel turned up before I could open the box – they were on the way to work and Ira took time out to drop me off at his place before he had to leave. I happily beavered away putting the bike together, then spent the rest of the day exploring my new surroundings. Initial impressions were good and I thought to myself “I’m going to enjoy Beijing”.
I’ll let you know how I get on in my next blog post, but before I go I have to once again say Thank You. Without your kind donations and the bike from Surly, my trip would have been over. I think I’ve spent wisely in replacing the damaged kit, but I’m also trying hard to limit my spending after the unexpected cost of getting my bike here and with careful budgeting I should make it to Canada. Exciting times lie ahead and I’m very positive about riding through the winter. More soon…