Kyrgyzstan Bike- Packing Day 10: Splitting up the Team
Breakfast consists of 3 hard fried eggs each plus some bread (fresh!!) and jam. Finally, we get fresh bread, but alas, no butter. Steve and Kati both eat hungrily – looks promising, but the pong that permeates the place after Steve visits the loo is distinctly worrying…this is not a sign of healthy bowels!
He declares he feels ok, so we set off on our 3-day journey towards Naryn, the next big town. Our route takes us well off the beaten track and it is a slight, but definite uphill for 20km to the base of a big Pass (the English name eludes me). Kati is back to her old self, but Steve is well off the pace and we are waiting a lot. Kati and I attempt to lighten his load by taking on some of his luggage, but it doesn’t help much. Figuring he just needs to regain his strength, I feed him periodically on peaches, plums, bananas and boiled potatoes, but he just gets slower and slower and we are running out of water. This was a complete oversight on our part. We should’ve packed additional water for this day, but we’ve become so accustomed to having the river nearby, that we never thought about it. A truck piled high with nomads and yurt materials passes us on the road and we later rue the fact that we didn’t flag it down and pile Steve in too! By the time we hit the pass proper, he is walking at a snail’s pace and once again visiting the bushes. We should never have left the guest house! We hope against hope that another truck will come by, but alas, we are alone…10km from the top, with the worst still to come and no prospect of water anytime soon, Kati calls an Indaba: “It’s decision time. We’ve got 10 steep km to the top with no water, then 10 km down into the next valley, where we may or may not find water. If we do, we can camp there and tackle the next 16km hill tomorrow, but if there’s no water, we’ll have to continue up the second climb. “
It’s clear Steve’s not going to make it either way. The best bet is for him to turn around and freewheel back to Bayertov, then catch a taxi to Naryn. Kati and I will continue on and meet him there in 1- or 2-days’ time.
We re-arrange the luggage again then say our fond farewells and send him off to find the best guest house in Naryn, while we plod onwards and upwards, trying our best not to drink.
The climb proves to be quite brutal – no chance Steve could’ve done this! The surface becomes progressively rockier and the gradient steeper, but I am determined to stay on the bike. I employ my mental climbing mantra, while weaving side to side to reduce the steepness – “push, push, you can do it with ease “, in time with my breathing. At some point I become aware that the mantra has changed to “bread, eggs, tomatoes and cheese”. What a mysterious thing the mind is, though I guess in this instance the message is fairly obvious! I stop and shove some chocolate into my mouth. We make it up in 2 hours and toast the top with a gulp of precious H20, then head down the rutted and rocky descent with the hopes of finding water in the next valley. Thunder clouds have been gathering thick and fast around us and the rumblings are getting closer. Just as we stop to acknowledge the rare occurrence of two other bike -packers heading up the other way, the heavens open and the air turns icy cold. We cut our chatter short and hurry to don our wet weather gear and get the hell off the mountain.
By the time we reach the valley floor the rain has dissipated and we are relieved to find water flowing in narrow rivulets. There are lots of animals about and some yurt camps. We see a woman heading out with a bucket to collect water, so figure it must be ok. We signal our question and she nods, but indicates we should go on a little further. We go on to the next pool and struggle to fill the bottles, as the flow is not strong. We then sit on the rocks and Steri-pen each bottle for the requisite 90 secs until we get a smiley face. Some youngsters playing in the water nearby watch us curiously.
Just a little further on we feel like fools when we see the water is much clearer and flowing well! Ah well, water is water, as long as we purify it properly. We decide to continue up the next climb and camp at the top, so we fill another 2L each to use for cooking (chances are good there will be nothing up there).
It’s a long haul up and seems never-ending. We are both getting weary. “Is there some reason we can’t camp short of the top and do the rest tomorrow with fresh legs?”, I ask. Kati seems to think there will be better hiding spots at the top, but concedes that if we see a suitably secluded option before then, we should pull off.
We plod on, but actually it’s unlikely we’ll find anything along here – the mountains on both sides of the road are pretty open – no river or koppies or gullies. We come around a corner and there’s a yurt camp set slap bang on the right-hand side of the road. A woman waves to us and offers Chai. We stop and look at each other – why not ask if we can put our tent right here on the left side? We’ll be 100% safe with a woman around. We agree, she agrees, but she’s insistent we come in for chai. We indicate that we’ll put our tent up first and she watches with interest and runs to fetch a hammer when I am struggling with the pegs. We unpack the bikes and throw most things into the tent, but Kati leaves our 2 loaves of bread and a block of cheese perched on top of her bike. She insists on getting out of her cycle kit first, but I stay as I am, figuring, correctly, that it’ll be cosy warm inside. Then it’s finally time for chai.
We prepare to enter the dining tent and notice large trays of white clumps laid out on a shelf at the door. We indicate our curiosity and she invites us to taste – some sort of smokey goats cheese. I’m not overly keen, but Kati likes it and I surreptitiously pass her mine, which she polishes off as well. Our host indicates for us to sit on small hide-covered stools at the low table. Then out comes a massive loaf of bread, which she proceeds to cut into chunks and pile into a plastic bowl in the center of the table.
Her husband enters at this point and there is much greeting and trying to communicate, but Steve has the phone with the translator app, so we are well and truly stuck. Out comes butter and cream and she cuts up a bowl of cucumber and tomato, which she places before us with 2 spoons. Kyrgyz do not use knives to eat, so you dip the bread or spread butter on with a spoon. It’s a little tricky. The chai is poured and we are urged to tuck in. Needless to say, we need no encouragement! The bread, though it looks very heavy, is the freshest we’ve had thus far in Kyrgyzstan. It’s super delicious. Especially with the thick homemade butter. We exhaust all the usual questions that can be dealt with via gesture and a slightly awkward interval ensues where Kati and I chat in English and they chat in Kyrgyz – both of us, no doubt, speculating about the others. Then he leaves and shortly after there’s a shout from outside. She jumps up and goes out and then comes running back, gesticulating and saying something over and over, as if repeating it loudly will make us understand. She beckons for me to follow and Indicates towards our tent, then points towards some dogs a little way off. Finally, I get it. The dogs have taken our bread. She is devastated. We assure her it’s fine. It was stale anyway and hers is much better (we don’t mention the cheese).
We eat and drink as much as we can and decide this will be dinner. No cooking tonight. Then she hauls out a basin covered with a cloth and removes it to reveal various cuts of dodgy-looking raw meat – lamb or goat and points to the wood stove and the frying pan. No, No, No! We are full, thank you! Slightly panicked voices, hands rubbing over bloated tummies. She seems somewhat relieved. Then we debate what we should pay. It’s an awkward situation, because we’ve been invited and we would hate to offend, but we get the sense that payment would be appropriate and appreciated. We decide on 150 Kgs each and judging by her reaction, this is more than generous. She is insistent we return in the morning for more chai.
It’s started to rain and is freezing. Kati is still faffing outside (she’s decided I did not do a good enough job with the tent pegs), but I quickly get into the tent and endeavour to get out of my cycle kit and into some clean, warm clothes. I am about to lie on my back and hoist my legs up to whip off my pants, when I get a warning shout from Kati, “watch out, he’s coming in!” Next thing the bottom of the tent flap unzips and the husband’s head peers in curiously. He surveys the scene and decides we can’t possibly sleep in here! He indicates they have bedrolls and blankets in the yurt. We should sleep inside. No, no, nyet, we are insistent, we are happy here. We are used to it. (sleeping with them in the yurt is a bridge too far). He finally gives up, no doubt thinking we are two crazy chicks, and leaves us to our devices.
This is the first night I don’t wash at all, not even teeth cleaning. I even keep on my dirty socks. I’ll just ride in them again tomorrow (Sies!)
We sit inside the tent and watch the couple corral the sheep and goats for the night – him on his donkey and her in her gumboots with a whip, the dogs running back and forth. What a bizarre scene to be witnessing! There seem to be far more animals than the space will allow, but they patiently line up and file in one by one and she eases them forward to make space and somehow, they all squeeze in and are stacked like arctic penguins, flank to flank. There they stand all night long in the rain. Can’t be much fun, but hopefully at least it’s warm!
It’s still bright daylight when we climb into our sleeping bags at around 19h00. It only gets dark around 21h00. Without the usual rigmarole of bathing, washing clothes, cooking, cleaning up, fetching & purifying water, etc, we have so much time on our hands. We lie in the tent trying not to slide sideways (we have pitched it badly on a slope and Kati’s swanky super-length blow up mattress is too long for us to swivel around). We chatter away and giggle like schoolgirls at the prospect of the farmer poking his head under the door and finding me with my legs in the air and my pants coming off – what a sight would’ve greeted him! Thank goodness Kati warned me!
There’s quite a din going on outside, with sheep baa-ing, cows moo-ing, donkeys braying, horses whinnying and dogs barking. We don’t expect to get much sleep, but as the rain comes down harder and the darkness creeps in around us, the sounds taper off and soon we hear only the steady pitter patter of the drops falling on the tent – let’s hope it’s fully waterproof…