Aware Christmas 10k: Saturday 12th December

Image: Ferg wheezes on the home straight- Aware 10k 2007

Get your running shoes on and head to the Pheonix Park on Saturday the 12th of December for the Aware Christmas fun run. Break a sweat, get the endorphines rushing and help Aware continue there important work beating depression in Ireland

Sign up for the 10k here

Find out more about Aware’s work here

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Tasting Note- KUMIS- Fermented Mare’s Milk

Mmmmm- horses, tasty!

Note: some of the horses in the picture are stallions, and not to be milked ; )

Fearghal

Tashkent-Uzbekistan

Before writing this post I feel I should lay my cards on the table; I absolutely detest milk. I’m lactose intolerant, so I’ve never drank a glass of cow’s milk in my life. As a nipper I was force fed soya and goats milk, all in my own best interests of course, and now as a result I would rather lick the…… of a….. than drink a glass of milk. Its a drink for baby cows for fecks sake, why do grown men and women need to be drinking it?

That said, the thing about travel that I love the most is trying local foods and drinks. So when I was offered a frothy glass of mare’s milk while thawing out in Kyrgyzstan two weeks ago, it was with mixed feelings that I accepted.

Fermented mare’s milk is pretty important to the peoples of central Asia with roots in a nomadic horse culture and is found in Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

One of the girls who gave me the Kumis, explained the brewing process:

  1. The fresh horse milk is put into a wide plastic basin
  2. Bread is added to provide the yeasts for fermentation
  3. Sugar is added to boost the alcohol content
  4. The milk is stirred regularly for a couple of days
  5. Mixture is strained through muslin

The result is a frothy drink of 2-3% alc that needs to be chilled and consumed within a few days of fermentation.

How does it taste? I wrote the following note, in the WSET systematic style, in my journal

Details:Kumis, Kyrgyzstan, Homebrew, Horse, price unknown.

Appearance: White, Opaque Intensity, Frothy, No Visible Legs(tasted in chipped mug)

Nose: Clean, Simple, Medium Intensity, Youthful. Yeast, Rotting Apples, Sourdough Bread, Salami

Palate: Off Dry, Medium + Acidity, No Tannin evident, Low Alcohol Level, Medium to Full Body, Frothy Textured and Faint Petialance, long unharmonious finish of cooking apples, salami and sourdough

Conclusions: ????????????

I got a little kick out of sitting at 2,500m in the Kyrgyz mountains, cross legged in a caravan, wearing the same cycling shorts for four days straight and using skills I’d learned in Dublin and Melbourne to taste a mug of Mare’s Milk handed to me by an old woman with bridgework that Goldie would have been envious of.

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Dulce De Leche

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Cracked Chainstay

Fearghal

Tashkent-Uzbekistan

Generally we don’t write too much about the day to day frustrations of our little project. In part because they would be as boring to write about as they would be to read of, and usually there are plenty of other interesting occurences to fill our online missives.

But our current frustration is the most serious we’ve encountered to-date, an unfortunate mixture of beaucracy and mechanical two things that keep us awake at night, and it deserves to be told.

As regualr readers will know Si’s frame was crumpled by an idiot driving a Daewoo Matiz. If you’re not a regular, his account can be read here. As soon as they heard about his accident, our sponsors sprang into action: Mike at the Cycle Inn and Damian from Freewheel got on to the lads in Austria to get a 2010 KTM Race Action frame winging its way to Tashkent as soon as the paint dried. We’d like to say a big thanks to Mike and Damian, who’ve been amazingly supportive and helpful- seeing that we keep rolling towards home.

While Si keeps his excitment at getting his hands on an extremely tasty new frame, and I try to keep my breaking of the tenth commandment under wraps -thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s bike, there is a pressing worry. Both of our Visa’s run out roughly around the time that the frame is due to arrive in Tashkent-700km from the Turkmen border, and there is little or no chance of extensions.

This wouldn’t be such a problem if we were in Europe or somewhere with predictable and dependable services. But we’re not, we’re in central Asia- a place where it took me 5 hours to take a train to visit a town 120km south of Tashkent. Everything here, except visas, runs on Central Asian time.

The worst case scenarios are all possible, if not vaguely probable, and we really don’t have much time to wiggle with. So, we’re on tenterhooks here in Uzbekistan- hoping that we’ll both get our visas for Turkmenistan, that the frame will arrive in time, in the right place, that we’ll make it to the border before our uzbek visas run out, that we’ll make it across Turkmenistan on the 5day transit visa they’ll hopefully allow us.

Then, if the frame doesn’t arrive on time we hope that it will arrive early enough to allow me to get an over night train back to Tashkent pick it up, get a train back to the border and cycle across before my visa runs out. All the time praying that Si’s bodged frame(crafted by a blacksmith) holds on for the 700km to Iran.

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m looking forward to getting to Iran, where we can relax a bit.

Right now, there are so many variables that can scupper our circumnavigation attempt.

Magical Mystery Tour

Si with village elders

Front row, from left: Father of the Bride, Kobol Iche, Bhartyr, Me, Kobol Iche’s Dad, Local Holy Man

Simon

Samarquand – Uzbekistan

After having my crash with a car, a local Uzbek guy, named Kobol Iche, took me to his home where I was his guest until my legs got better. Kobol Iche lives with his children, and as he was the youngest son of his family it was his duty to support his parents, so they lived with him too. For the few days that I stayed with him, I was taken from place to place at a moments notice. Kobol Iche would just go “Simon” (with a high pitched “i”, in the French sounding way) and we’d dive into his microscopic Daeoo mini van to go to tea with some family, lunch, to the market, school and even to a wedding party. I called it Kobol Iche’s Magical Mystery Tour, and had the Beatles track in a loop in my head the whole time.

Since I had no Uzbek, a local English teacher named Umid took a few days off work so he could practice his speech with a “real English speaker”. He wouldn’t actually have been teaching though, as the whole school was off helping farmers to pick the cotton, which they do every year at harvest time (each student getting $0.1 per kilo of cotton). During the course of my time there, over 100 locals passed through Kobol Iche’s house, word had spread like wildfire that there was a dirty, smelly Irishman staying there, and they all came to have a gawp and a chat. Each man would greet me and all the other men with a strong handshake, the women would usually stay in the background and prepare food and tea for the guests. Umid helped me translate with all the locals that were itching to talk to me, asking about Ireland (is that part of England?), family (you’re 28 and not married?) and Europe (there are no borders? But how do you protect yourselves?).

When we weren’t being visited by the locals, we’d usually be off having tea, though “tea” will always be accompanied by bread, fruit, pastries and usually some sweets at a minimum. If the guest has time, you’d be offered a hot dish, but you should never leave without having some food, it would offend your host. Of course, it’s the women (usually the wife, daughter and grandmother together) that prepare everything, the men just sit down, chat, and expect to be served. Umid was dying to get me to “meet” his sister, but when we arrived she just giggled and blushed, then ran off to prepare food and spent the whole time serving us; we didn’t get to talk once.

At dinner time, we’d sit on the floor around a low table and eat dishes such as pumpkin stuffed dumplings and the Uzbek favourite, plow which would be accompanied by lots of flat bread and lashings of tea. Not being able to speak Uzbek, I couldn’t really join in much of the conversation, so I just sat, ate and observed. I was particularly fascinated by Kobol Iche’s dad (on my left in photo above). He was a big man with a barrel for a belly and long bushy eyebrows that cascaded down towards his huge dimpled golf ball nose which was surrounded by deep, cavernous wrinkles. All his movements were slow and grumbling, like a glacier, and when he talked, it was with an incredibly deep voice, like Darth Vader from Star Wars. But he was such a soft friendly man, when I first met him, and also both times I left, he gave me a huge bear hug.

There was a wedding on in town which I was whisked off to one chilly morning. The grooms parents had selected the bride, and she had only met her husband 2 days before! After the wedding ceremony, she would have gone to live in their new home which would have been furnished by her brothers. Umid, the English teacher said that when his sister was married, he was “ordered” by his father to spend over $5000 on ornate rugs, curtains and such, and he obliged as it was his “duty”. And this is in a country where $1000 a month is an astronomical amount of money to earn, even in the capital city.

As is the custom, everybody went to the bride’s house for food, including me. It was 7 in the morning when we arrived and I was still bleary eyed when I was intruduced to the village elders, then ushered into the courtyard where a few dozen tables were set up. At that time only men were eating, the women eat later. I was told that over 1000 locals would be fed on that morning, each being served soup, plow, bread and tea. Later in the day, the women had eaten and the music had begun, so we returned to party. The Traditional Uzbek music has drum beats that would put any hardcore drum and bass enthusiast to shame, with strings and live vocals laid over the top. I was offered some Uzbek wine made from both grapes and apples, and tasted like sherry, which came accompanied by an odd horse terrine and chunks of soft gooey fat taken from a sheeps bum.

Si strutting his stuff

I was invited to say a few words to the congregation, which I really didn’t want to do having been shown off and gawped at like a zoo animal for the previous few days. Before I knew it though, I was standing with a microphone in front of around 200 strangers and wishing my best to the wedding couple. I figured at that stage that I was finished and could hobble away into the corner, but then I was told to dance….. I was pushed out onto the dirt and gravel “dance floor”; by myself, where I did my best at imitating the traditional Uzbek dance, arms up high and waving my hands about. I did a bit of improv too, Saturday Night Fever style, wiggling my hips, then finished off with the Hokey Pokey, though I’m not too sure what the locals thought of me crucifying their traditional dance moves. It’s a custom that dancers are given money by onlookers, and the cash is put in the pot for the new couple. I reckon my gyrating body earned them a fair few quid, and definately much more than any of the other dancers that I watched earlier. I strutted off the dancefloor leaving slack jawed faces in my wake, which I like to think was due to my dancing prowess, then jumped back to the mini van to continue the Magical Mystery Tour.

Guest Post – One Year on, Marking the Occasion

Pete Evans

Well, it’s been just one year since Simon and Fearghal embarked on what has turned out to be a fascinating, emotional and eventful – to say the least – journey, not least for those of us following the lads through every day and every kilometre through all their trials and tribulations via their brilliant web updates and position reports. Our large school map stuck on the wall at home has so many pins stuck in it that I’m worried about the state of the plaster underneath!

Some of us thought it would be fitting to mark the occasion in some way, so on Sunday 1st November,  fifteen hardy souls dragged themselves out of bed, looked at the rain pouring down outside, dragged the bikes out of the shed and set off on a re-run of the original ‘start’ route from Blackrock to Greystones. The forecast was poor: strong westerly winds and heavy showers.

We all assembled at a damp Blackrock College as before (by kind permission), and set off at 1pm. Miraculously, as we cycled up Mount Merrion Avenue, the sky lifted and the sun appeared. We turned southwards towards Greystones and the wind obligingly turned with us to give a following breeze. Now if that’s not a good omen I don’t know what is!

We cycled happily and in great good humour through a sunny Loughlinstown, Shankill and Bray. Even the slog up Bray Head didn’t seem too daunting any more. There was a wonderful sense of cameraderie, a combined celebration of all that Simon and Fearghal have accomplished. Indeed, many people remarked on the fact that for them, not having cycled for many years, cycling has opened up a whole new perspective on life. So go on, give it a go…you’ll be surprised!

We eventually reached the top of Bray Head and the whole panorama of Greystones and the Wicklow coastline opened up in front of us. A race down into Greystones saw then 60kph barrier broken for the first time by some, though this was of course nothing to compare with Simon’s record!

Kitted out in our Aware tee shirts, we continued the celebration in Dann’s pub in Greystones, where we all raised a glass to the continuing safety and ultimate success of Revoutioncycle. We made a collection for Aware, and even the local stallholders at the county market outside the pub were enthusiastic and helped us raise over 200 euro for this hugely worthwhile cause. 

Can’t wait till next summer’s homecoming spin..better start training!

Uzbekinomics

100$ in Uzbek Currency

100$ of Uzbek Currency

Fearghal

Tashkent-Uzbekistan

Tashkent won’t be Capital of Culture anytime soon, as I’ve come to realise on my daily hikes from my digs to one tin pot embassy or another. Its a city of avenues lined with vapid tower blocks. The few sites of interest are so spread out that its culture quotient is diluted to almost homeopathic concentrations.

Uzbekistan also makes it to number 12 of Foreign Policy Magazine’s failed state index mostly for reason’s that it wouldn’t be clever to write about here, though a certain NGO with a candle and barbed wire as it’s logo could shed some light on why. Not that I’m suggesting a link between cultural richness and a functioning state- though I’m sure there most definitely is.

One thing that we can write about though is the ludacris state of Uzbekistan’s currency the Uzbek Som.

This morning, I needed to change some dollars to Uzbek Som’s. When the girl at the desk heard this she excitedly asked me if she could change them for me. A little suspicious, I said sure, suggesting a rate just over the going black market rate- expecting a haggle. No haggling, 200,000soms for $100 (about 5% above the blackmarket and 25% official rates) would be fine.

As you can see from the picture above 200,000soms is a ridiculous wedge. At first it seems that the Uzbek central bank have taken their currency issuance philosophy from the wiemar republic, favouring a doorstop of notes where one piece of well crafted paper would do the job nicely. It doesn’t take an economics graduate to see that they could make things easier for themselves and everyone else by printing more valuable notes- the 1,000som note worth roughly $.50 is the biggest available. It would also help their accounts, increasing what economists call seigniorage On the other hand, if they did that the Uzbek men wouldn’t be such good money counters, they all count with a bookie’s flair. Even worse, they wouldn’t be able to look like big sugar daddies when they peel off their wodge to pay the $6 for their family’s meal out.

But it is high inflation that leads to a cycle tourist sitting in a room swapping one American note for 200 Uzbek notes with a cleaning lady. After the “deal” I naively asked if she was planning a trip. She laughed and explained that these were her savings; as inflation is so bad, (a quick google trawl suggests around 20% in 2008) people hold their cash in dollars, exchanging them into soms when needed. That way they are not hit too hard when the real value of their country’s currency drops, minimising what economists call the cost of carry.

Its not that $100 or 200,000som is an enormous amount of cash here, though it does represent an ok monthly wage. In the city of Tashkent however, the skies the limit, my exchanger had a friend who had a friend who was earning $1,000 a month. “A $1,000 a month” she said again incredulously. I blushed and thanked her, feeling like a decadent European as walked back to my $5 dollar a night bed to stuff my face with a dollar’s worth of pastries for breakfast.

$1,000 a month- can you imagine that?

The world seems like an especially complicated, unfair, and crazy place if you think about money and exchange, and try and compare here with there and understand why.

Not so perfect days

Last of the yurts

Fearghal

Tashkent-Uzbekistan

In his Perfect Day post Si asked what made his perfect day’s cycle across the Kyrgyz mountain range, asking what are the deterministic aspects that bring about a perfect day’s cycling? I’ll  vouch that timing plays a huge role, covering the same route that inspired the post less than two weeks later and, if I’m perfectly honest encountering three of the toughest days cycling since crossing the Pyrenees last winter, or the rocky tracks of Bolivia.

Being accustomed to the maritime climate, so unpredictable that even Irish weathermen admit that really their predictive powers are more in line with those of astrologers than conventional science, I had to force myself to listen hard to the locals advice in Bishkek that the winter definitely would start and the snows would definitely come at the end of October. The certain delivery of the prediction seemed naive to someone used to the mysterious magical ways of the north Atlantic weather system; where you might be able to cycle in shorts and a t-shirt in December and need a fleece and rain jacket in July or visa versa. Sure how can you say that when its going to snow? Only the snow fairy can tell you that.

Either the Kyrgyz have some mercurial gift for predicting the future or Kyrgyzstan has a predictable climate with proper seasons, I feared the latter.

Kyrgz Mountains

And so it came to pass, the day I left Bishkek the rains fell in cold stinging sheets. Then as I began the 3000m climb across the Kyrgyz and Suusamyr mountain ranges this rain had turned to snow and ice. As the road wound upwards the mercury dropped ever further. The stream beside the road stopped gurgling- and froze solid. The air grew sharper, eventually cutting any exposed flesh with surgical precision.

Just two weeks later than Si, and everything was different. The roads were icy, the vista bright white.

Evening wore on as I reached the top of the first pass; 2,500m. It was so cold I my water bottle froze within 30mins of filling it- during the day time. I passed a workers camp and abandoned the bike, running inside for shelter from the wind blowing down from Siberia. They let me stay the night and gave me a hot dinner.

The following day I passed through the dreaded tunnel- luckily I had it all to myself and was spared Si’s dodgy experience. I descended wearing almost all of my clothes, still shivering, then began the next climb through a deserted white wilderness- the Yurts the horses, sheep and goats were all gone, the rivers were frozen, all was still and static save for the occasional passing Lada or wheezing Kamaz truck.

The countryside was beautiful, to be sure, but an austere beauty. Not the moreish autumnal beauty, the comeliness of summertime, or rosy cuteness of spring. Winter beauty is not the type to be oogled and leched at, rather a cool sharp aestheitic to be acknowledged and admired from a distance.

This day also finished with a dash into a warm home in search of warm sanctuary and a bowl of steaming mutton broth. In the warm raodside cabin of a kind family who I stayed with, I nearly cried with pain after the blood began to circulate in my hands after being numb for almost an hour, as the mixture of the conducting properties of wet gloves and 25km windchill made my body decide to starve my digits of its red elixir until they warmed up a bit.

Finally on the third day the road crested the last pass, I stopped briefly and stood, steaming, and sipping the tea that had been boiled only three hours previous but was now iced. It was not particularly enjoyable experience, and there were places that I would rather be. It was I knew, to borrow a phrase, a mood of future joy, rather than a present perfection. It should also be said that my gripes about cold hands and frozen water bottles when compared to this, sound like the moaning of a little girl.

After 30km of downhill the air warmed enough for the muscles in my neck and shoulders to begin to loosen. Then I could begin to look around and enjoy the scenery again. For the next 300km it was impressive, and, if I wasn’t bitten on the calf in a dog attack on the shores of Lake Toktogul- it would have merited a perfect day blog.

It really is striking how a place can change so drastically in just two weeks and how those changes can determine a completely different experience of that place.