Creswick to London » Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan

Written by Jess Dan. Posted in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan

We left you last in Astana, Kazakhstan and it has been quite some time since we last updated the blog. We are at an interesting time in the trip, well underway, but still a long way from the end and some days it can be hard to find the motivation to record the nitty gritty. But finally, here we are again.

Astana was great, we ended our stay with a few more games of ultimate and a brilliant local dish of Beshbarmak prepared by our friend Khapirat. Many of our new friends from Astana came around for lunch that day to farewell us but I think mostly to join in the Beshbarmak feast. Beshabarmak is a traditional Kazakh dish that translates literally to “five fingers” – how you are to eat it – it’s a dish of horse meat, potatoes and carrots and the fatty meat tasted just amazing.

We took the overnight (and half the day) bus back to Almaty to rejoin John, Nina and Sadie at their home. We picked up my bike from the bike shop, fitted with a new wheel to replace the old broken one. We departed the following day and were treated to some nice camp spots as we made our way to Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan has been on and off our list of countries that we intended to visit for some time now. Leaving Astana we were without any trace of an Iranian visa (the reason for our visit to Astana) as it had not come through yet. We aborted the plan to cycle around the mountains to Uzbekistan, as we had left it too late and the distance was now too far to cycle in the remaining three days of our Kazakh visa. So off to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan we went to face the biggest mountains of our trip and find our way to Uzbekistan. One hundred metres after crossing the border and having our passport checked for the last time, I decided to stupidly ignore what turned out to be a police stop sign. We were signalled in to the station by a grumpy policeman with a red wand. Oops. After twenty minutes he finished dealing with the car in front. “Problem”. “What’s the problem?”. “Stop sign. Problem”. He pointed to what we figured was the police building, but we couldn’t read the sign so just shrugged. “You, one hundred dollar, you one hundred dollar” he pointed at us with his wand. We burst out laughing, ok he is having a joke. “Don’t have”. We changed the topic pulling out our world map and showing him where we had been. Eventually we bored him so much that he let us go and we rode on into Bishkek.

We were warmly received by our new friend and host Aynura. How we came to be staying with her was a little unusual. We recently had an article published about our trip in the Astana Times. Aynura’s sister, Altynay, who lives in Brisbane, read the article online and found us on facebook, saying that if we made it to Bishkek, her sister could host us. To our surprise due to the change of route, a week later we were on Aynura’s doorstep. She cooked us a great meal and made us feel very welcome. The following day she drove us out to the major tourism site of Lake Issykul where the hotel she works for was opening to the public after years of being just for major sporting events and government meeting.

The lake and the complex were very beautiful and we were so lucky to be treated to a performance of ethnic games on the Saturday night. The main events were horse games as the Kyrgyz people continue to live a life revolving around these animals. Our favourite was the match of Kokboru, a game played by mounted teams of 4 fighting over a dead sheep, and attempting to ride clear of the pack to throw the 30kg sheep into the goals. There is a video of the game up on our facebook page for anyone who wants to see it. The crowd of government officials seemed to enjoy it at least as much as us. Aynura managed to get us in to the main food hall to eat for free at every meal with the government officials and media over the weekend. We were very lucky to be so well looked after. We left late on the Sunday after watching some dance performances. The drive back produced just one speeding fine for Aynura, an improvement on the two she had received on the way out. The fines were effectively bribes paid to the policeman who waved her over with his magic red wand and seem to take the comical figure of around $3.50 and seemed to do nothing to curb any of the drivers behaviour behind the wheel. Needless to say we made it back to Bishkek in record time.

The following day before leaving Bishkek we replaced the brake pads on our bikes as we were heading into the big mountains. we left in a storm that came about suddenly around 4pm. Thankfully it cleared for us to camp that night 50km from town. We were in no particular hurry so we rode shorter days as the road began to slope up. We pitched our tent out of sight of the road on the second night, nearby to a river and with apparently nobody within a cooee apart from the occasional passing car. So we were very surprised when a short chinaman came marching down an impossibly steep hill with two jerry cans to fill with water. In his limited english he invited us up to his house for coffee. We ambled up the side of the mountain behind our new friend Harki and eventually made it to his hut that he explained that he had built himself. We stayed with Harki until it became dark, I can’t imagine he gets many visitors up on that hill side 100km from Bishkek and it was a shame to refuse his offer of spending the night in the cosy and warm hut due to the fact that we couldn’t possibly get our bikes up the damn hill! So we camped at the bottom and joined Harki for another coffee and cognac in the morning. The man didn’t have much, but he knew how to make a damned good coffee. We left him with all the biscuits we could afford as shops weren’t exactly in abundance out there and we knew he would enjoy the treat.

We delayed our departure as long as we could, before facing the daunting climb of the Too-Ashuu pass, up to 3200m. The climb took us all day, hitting the hairpins near the top around 3pm. We rode as fast as we could through the tunnel at the top feeling rather vulnerable in the darkness before emerging out the other side to a welcome descent into a beautiful grassy hillside covered with yurts (the local tent/huts), horses and large ladies selling horse cheese balls. The smell of the horse cheese balls put us off so we opted for just a bottle of coke, unfortunately the lady didn’t have change in the form of the local som so we were gifted with cheese balls as compensation. We descended for 10km and pulled off the road to a lovely grassy campsite just next to a yurt village. 360 degree views of mountains to look at with the setting sun. Kyrgyzstan is something quite amazing and we were glad that things had worked out in a way that had brought us to Kyrgyzstan and to this hill top with the horses roaming free.

The following night we found an even better camp spot next to a river, again out with the horses. We woke to a very cold tent at our 2500m elevation and another climb to get out of this valley and back up to 3200m. The climb was nowhere near as hard as the previous one, and we passed early in the day and then descended at speeds in excess of 70kmh. Quite a rush after the 7kmh ride up and you are all of a sudden just curious as to whether all of your bags are secure and what that rattling noise might be. We didn’t dare go much faster.

We stopped for chai after taking in some of the descent and were caught by a kiwi and american couple Jared and Katie who had been tracking us down for a couple of days. These guys were real cyclists and putting in some big k’s in the mountains to make it to the Pamirs in Tajikistan. We leapfrogged them back and forth for the rest of the day. Before finding each other first thing in the morning the following day and realising that we had unfortunately camped apart just 2km away from each other. We rode together for an hour or so which was great fun, after another chai break we let them go on ahead as they were just a touch faster than us, and unfortunately we didn’t catch them again as there was another steep beast of climb to get out of the lake area we had found ourselves in.

Another cause of our delay was stopping in Karokol to get some internet credit for the phone and a pot of chai. The credit part went smoothly, but when we made a move for the chai we were greeted by a strange old lady, who grabbed our arms and said she would lead us there. She asked for our map and then examined it. With her glasses, then with mine. She was a little odd and quickly took a liking to Jess. She asked Jess’ name, “Jessica”, Jess replied. “oooh Jessica” the crazed lady said squeezing her hands together and looking rather giddy. “I loooove Jessica” she said and continued to repeat for the next half hour or so. Eventually we managed to finish the chai and try to make our escape from this lady, so I left to fill our water bag, leaving Jess with the lady. The lady asked to see the map again, and then squeezed over next to Jess to look at it. Once she had resettled she realised that her legs were apart and that Jess could see her underwear. Embarrassed, or maybe excited, she laughed and lifted her dress up above her head which sent Jess flying out of the room telling me to hurry up with the water bag and that its time to go as she dodged smooches from the old lady. Just another day on the road I guess, we meet all sorts.

I soon came down with a fever and stomach cramps and we ended up having to stop for a day in the middle of nowhere near Karakol until I had recovered. While we were stopped we contacted Jess’ brother Terry as we had decided to pull the pin on Iran. We had waited 5 weeks after paying extra to have it process in 3-5 days. The agent had advised us that she didn’t think we would be granted the visa. So we decided that we would make a flight to visa free Georgia and continue from there. As soon as we had committed to the new plan, we were granted permission to enter Iran. In the end for a bunch of reasons we decided to take the new option, of flying to Georgia and continuing from there. Terry saved us a lot of hassle by booking the flights for us as the internet dropped in and out and cost a small fortune in the mountains. We are both excited with the new plan and have a goal of arriving back in Australia in October now and hopefully meeting with some opportunities to get some work and top up the old bank balance.

Speaking of which, during that time that I was ill we found ourselves forking over for some medication, more than we thought we would be up for, and we found ourselves down to our last five dollars of local currency – quite a big blunder in these remote parts. We stopped in each town and asked for banks and ATM’s and each time we were turned away as our mastercard was not accepted (everyone uses visa here). We had planned to cross to Uzbekistan at a rather remote border post but given we had no money, and Uzbekistan had so many rules regarding paying for accomodation – we decided not to cross straight away, and instead take a 200km detour to Osh in the hope of finding the right ATM in the cities of Jalal Abad or Osh. This was a testing time for us and brought on a little bit of worry. Both of us were feeling ill, we were out of money, and no one could tell us where a mastercard ATM might be. On a whim, we spent our last 100 som on (5) loaves of bread so that we wouldn’t go hungry and we decided to stay in Kyrgyzstan and try our luck with the ATM’s. At our first stop of the day we pulled into an old service station to sit in the shade and eat some bread. But the lady in the shop came outside and told us to put the bread away, because she wanted us to come in and have soup and fresh fruit with her family. It was a great gesture at a time when we were pretty low and luck had been against us. At this point our luck seemed to change and a bank along the way told us we would be able to get money from Demir Bank in Jalal Abad. In the end we got lucky with demir bank in jalal abad and we gorged on kebabs and ice cream. it felt good to have cash again – although we are fast running out.

We continued up and down the hills to osh, an ancient 3000 year old settlement on the silk road. The town has a lot of beautiful mosaic artwork and nice people in town. We tried to find a hostel and were met on the road by Ahnemark a kyrgyz who had spent ten years in the US and had great english. Ahnemark had seen the crowds of 30 people trying to communicate with us and had pulled over to see if he could help with his english. He invited us to stay at his inlaws place and we obliged. Although when we got there we realised he had intended for us to pay for the nights accommodation. A simple misunderstanding but we stayed all the same. They had the freshest juiciest cherries we had ever tasted as well as raspberries and apricots. These were all picked from the back yard trees. We ate too much fruit and both fell ill…. we couldn’t afford two nights there so we left late in the afternoon and camped right near the uzbek border. A very makeshift campsite that was soon spotted by one of the neighbours who came out bearing gifts of bread, apricots and still more cherries.

In the morning we crossed to Uzbekistan and that’s a story for another day.

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