Day 1: Finding our Feet
A very wobbly exit from Bishkek, through right-hand-drive traffic on HEAVILY LADEN bikes, has us a little rattled, but we are soon past the hustle and bustle and pedaling along the canal, which we follow, more-or-less, for the next 35km. Here we detour into a small town in the hopes of finding some food. We are almost at the end of town with no sign of anything, when I spot what looks like a yurt. “That’s our best bet”, I declare and indeed, we find ice cold peach tea, but are disappointed when the ladies shake their heads in response to our “eating” gestures.
Then Kati spots an old wood fired oven around the back and upon further exploration, discovers what look like large savoury bread rolls being baked. Oh joy! Seeing our enthusiasm, the baker declares they’ll be ready in 10 mins, so we settle in to wait, quaffing down 3 large iced teas in the meantime. We are happy to sit outside on a bench, but they insist we enter the yurt and sit on the floor at the table, where we are served chai and piping hot pie-like loaves filled with a savoury meaty mix.
A father and his 2 young sons join us and he does his best, using various hand gestures, to explain the mystery meat, but in the end, we are none the wiser – Lots of flapping, shooting and hands over heart.
Judging from the gristly bits, I think maybe heart of blackbird? Either way, I pick my way around it. He also insists we try the milk his sons are drinking – “traditional Kyrgyz juice” – Eish, we’ve been warned about this, but politeness dictates that we partake of the fermented horse milk, which turns out to be quite bitter and Smokey – definitely an acquired taste! After sharing family photos and lots of small talk using i- translate, we are on our way again and heading for Kegeti, the last town we’ll see in four days. Best we stock up well before heading into the Big Mountains. Well that was the idea anyway…the shelves of the only shop in the dusty one-street town are sparsely stocked with mainly heavy canned goods, but we do find some bread, cheese and tomatoes and most importantly a bottle of wine!
We realize at this point that the dehydrated meals plus smash, 2 min noodles and cuppa soups we’ve brought from home for emergencies, are going to be used right off the bat.
As we head out of town in search of our first wild campsite, I am planning dinner in my head – freeze dried risotto with an added can of corn and some cheese. Chocolate from home for dessert. We’ll save the bread for breakfast and lunch tomorrow.
We struggle to find a suitably secluded camping spot though, as the route is clearly farmland and Kati & I would happily keep going, but Steve is growing mutinous, so when we spot what looks like a venue of sorts, just off the road, we pull in and negotiate to set up our tents in their pasture for 250 Kgs ( Kyrgyz Som/ R50 pp) plus R300 Kgs pp for dinner and breakfast – total R 110 pp – seems like a bargain and we won’t have to cook and can save our emergency supplies for 1 more day.
We are quite rusty at the whole camping rigmarole, having not used the tent since Patagonia 2 years ago, so after a long haul in the saddle, it all proves rather daunting, especially since there’s no shower and after a very hot day we are feeling pretty mankey. The basic starting block ablutions are filthy and stink to high heaven! This trip is clearly going to provide ample opportunity to practice my newly-found and still very tenuous “equanimity”, (acquired on a recent 10-day silent meditation retreat).
There is a private party underway as we have dinner and we go off to bed with the jive in full swing. Kati and I contemplate opening the wine and getting in the groove, but we are just too bushed and decide to decant it into our Platypus for tomorrow.
Just as I’m dropping off, the 3 resident horses start ripping out chunks of grass and chomping loudly right next to the tent. Their shadows loom large and menacing and I am afraid they might step on one of the bikes or worse, sit on the tent!!
I dare not shoo them off in case they get irate and decided to kick the tent – how on earth do people sleep in tents in the game reserve with lions and elephants about, I wonder?
Eventually they wander off and the music stops and I drop off into a fitful slumber, only to be awakened about an hour later by the advent of, believe it or not, karaoke! I determine to allow it to lull me to sleep, but luckily it turns out to be just the resident show-off performing one song and then all goes quiet again.
It is about now that I realized my thermarest blow up mat has deflated and I am lying directly on the hard ground – DARN! I thought I’d tested it properly, but clearly, I did a rush job. The thought of sleeping directly on the ground for the next month is far from appealing – “equanimous, equanimous, equanimous” I chanted over and over in my head until I drift off again…