Today we leave our beloved pond, Issyk Kul cross Balykchy, "pleasant" little town, once a tourist destination for Soviet proletariat, now left to itself. Truly an ugly place but somehow fascinating, at least if you like the genre. We note that there is a lot of drunk people, and it's just 2pm. Living here must be pretty bleak.
We wander in search of an ATM who likes our card (Maestro) but no one likes it. We move towards Kochkor, theoretically the largest town in the area where we hope ATMs are more friendly.
Passed Balykchy a dashing wind starts to blow, obviously against us, we cycle to a maximum speed of 10km/h and I occasionally come rattling here and there. I begin to think that the Extrawheel is better than the front bags.
We ride again along our dear Chui river and we stop to camp in a nice small field on the shore, under a large olive tree. Too bad there's the usual garbage left over by some asshole. Tomorrow we'll start the climb to Song Kul lake and we hope the wind would turn, it would be the first time in five months.
We leave the creek behind and move to the mountains, the road is beautiful, both scenically and from an asphalt point of view. We arrive in Kochkor, last "urban" place before heading to the lake. We enter into a one of the many tourist office to ask if there are still yurts up at the lake. Given the altitude (3000msl) evening will be cold and you better have a B plan in case the tent is not enough (our tent is not really a proper winter one). We are told that the yurts, in Kyrgyz language "Boz Uy" which literally means gray house (from the color of the felt that covers them), are still there, even though the season is almost over. Most of the Kyrgyz nomad shepherds are indeed semi-nomads, living in the yurts only during summer, when they go graze their herds up in the high mountain pastures, where the grass is nourishing. The sheep are brought on trucks while the horses go abreast, transhumance could take days, and if on the way back something goes wrong, for example a snowstorm, they can loose the work of the entire season, the animals can loose the fat or even die. So to come down at a right time is a must.
After visiting all the ATMs in the city, we can say those are not friendly neither, they have more feeling with the Visa electron circuit, a levy costs of "only" 5 euro more. A bargain. We keep on following the wonderful made in China road, the landscape is very mountainous, large vertical walls on all sides. But still quite barren. We're back near the river. Let's see some majestic eagles and some Chinese worker who greets us with big smiles. They seem much friendlier than Kyrgyz highlanders. The only problem is that there aren't many places to camp, there is little space and when there is it's stony. We arrive at 2200 meters and find a spot for the tent, not the best but until now we haven't seen anything else. With courage we wash in the river two sweatshirts we found on the street, hands are frozen, literally. It 's like putting your them in the ice. But at least we have some more warm clothes.
keep going, always uphill, but never too steep. We arrive at the village of Sary Bulak, turn right and within a few kilometers we reach the fork for the lake and also the last village where to make supplies. With our extreme displeasure, not to use other more vulgar expressions, we have to leave the Chinese road and take the Kyrgyz one. The sign says Song Kul 50 kilometers. Asphalt "nietu". The beginning is vertical and we must necessarily push the bikes. Besides, the road soon bacomes a washboard. Basically, it is a dirty stony road composed of many small waves, it's like driving a jackhammer. The bikes are suffering, we as well. We spend more time pushing the bike then trying to pedal, even when the road is flat. The consolation comes looking at the scenery, but not for long. The brain is in a shaker, wonder what kind of cocktail would come out.
see more pictures about the road to Son Kul on our photo gallery
To our left is the river that runs through the valley, no lack of camping spots at least. Even there are houses of shepherds, who live here all year long. Houses made of mud and stray. Keep going, pushing 80% and 20% on the pedals. We want to go and call some Chinese workers, in the space of a week would certainly be a beautiful road here too. In a full day we were able to do only 20 km on this road. We stop to sleep along the river, at 2700 meters and tomorrow we hope to reach the lake.
The night goes quiet, we thought we could feel cold but it went well. Outside was around 0°C but our tent behaved well. When we wake up there's a nice sunny day. At least in this we are lucky. But the road, if possible, get worse. The climb becomes more vertical, is an expanse of stones. We are at 3000 meters, the pass before descending to the lake it is 3400 and we really think we couldn't do it in one day. While we are in the midst of yet another shove up a never ending series of switchbacks there pass a van, the guy rolls down the window and jokingly asks if I want to load the bike. But I take it seriously and with the cry "pajalsta" (please), he stops and we load!
With Russian tourists there is also an Italian hitch hiker. Even backpacking here is not easy, taxis are expensive and, in fact, given the road, we understand why. They invite us for a vodka, just perfect given the chilly weather. The lady of the house is preparing dinner, there is a big pot on the fire, the recipe is typical, a whole boiled goat... very nouvelle cuisine.
see more pictures of Song Kol on our photo gallery
Upon waking breakfast of eggs, jams, bread and tea.
But there is also another great discovery out of the yurt, it seems that the storm is coming one day in advance. Is very cold. We convince ourselves that, not sure how the road it is maybe is better not to venture. If we get surprised by the storm might not be fun. In addition, the dirt road in the rain, or worse, in the snow would become a muddy mess.
We have to find a ride to get down from there. The Russians they are already gone. Behind our yurt, however, is parked a truck, which was turned into a bus and brought some tourists here. We try to ask. The drivers are a boy and a girl from England and will give us a ride! Hooray! They invite us into their yurt for lunch, which unfortunately was cooked by them. I have to say that the British have no hope when it comes to food (sorry guys, there could be exceptions of course). There is a cold pasta, frozen, with inside a whole tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley and a lot of other things I don't want to remember.
Around noon we go. The above truck is called Dragoman, in practice you can book online and the truck takes you around the world. Basically it's a thing sold as adventurous which is not adventurous at all. You go in the hotels already booked, fixed schedules, eat at the appointed time. In short, the only thing different is that it is a truck, and is cheap. The rest is a simple all-inclusive trip with everything organized. But the important thing is that we can load the bike and go back with them to Kochkor. Even for the truck the road is not easy, we come across the snow storm, about 0 degrees, yesterday there were 30... the face of temperature variation. We arrive in Kochkor around 16, we feel a bit cold and a fever. So we stopped to sleep in the guest house where are the dragomani. The most expensive part of our trip here I would say, 800 som per person with breakfast, more than 11 euro. But tomorrow they will give us a ride to Bishkek so we do not have many alternatives, else than ride the same way back. Let's take a hot shower and go to sleep.
September 20, 2014 - September 27, 2014
Day in the truck, pretty boring.
We arrive in Bishkek in the early afternoon, we leave the guys at their all inclusive hotel and we head towards our guest house. Upon our arrival Angie (the owner) is not there, we meet an English guy and his girlfriend from Iran, who just came from Pamir. We assemble the tent, we are not yet very well. Shortly after arrives Angie, this evening there will be a barbecue. We sit all night like zombies in front of the computer... We are not yet very well.
We're here for a week to recover. The house is crowded again, back from Arslanbob are Chad and Allison, a German couple who is going to China, and even Misha and Jiulus are back. And a Dutch couple on holiday. W go wander around Bishkek, the last time we had not seen so well. Let's go to Osh Bazaar, a huge market made of narrow streets (streets that are not real roads, but consist of the stalls) in which it is easy to get lost. Bishkek is a capital unpretentious but peaceful and quiet, it seems very livable.
Perhaps it would not be so bad to spend the winter here. These days we also met again Scott, an Australian guy who lives in Istanbul and that is going to China backpacking. We met him in Cholpon Ata. He also wants to go to Arslanbob, this is the time of harvest of the nuts, and we talk about the possibility of splitting the cost of a taxi. It should cost about 1000 som per person but we hope to spend less. Tomorrow we go to Osh Bazar and try to find some taxi.
Note: the name of the lake is written in many different names because there are many way of transliterate it from Cyrillic.
Check more pictures about Osh Bazar in Bishkek on our photo gallery