Kyrgyzstan Bike- Packing Day 12: Yurting Again
Sleep definitely does the trick and I feel great after a clean, warm night in a proper bed. My appetite has returned for breakfast, thank goodness!
We have a relatively short and easy day today, so it’s a lazy start and we shop for food on the way out of town. According to the guide books, we need to stock up for at least 4 days. We plan to spend tonight in a commercial yurt, and as it happens, Datke, the owner of our current guest house, also owns the yurt! She calls ahead to alert them we’re coming and that we’ll require dinner and breakfast.
It’s a pleasant ride along mainly narrow, paved, jagged country roads, passing through a series of small farming hamlets – so this is where the proverbial tomatoes, cucumbers and potatoes come from! Up until now we’ve seen very little in the way of agriculture.
We pass a bunch of bee hives. There’s a sign that we assume means “Honey for sale”. You need your own receptacle and we have nothing to hand, so they decant for us, pouring directly from a 25L drum into a small iced tea bottle without spilling a drop. They won’t accept any payment and insist it’s a gift. How very sweet, literally! “Ragmat, thank you” we enthuse and ride off feeling buoyed by their generosity.
We pass through another village and I see what look like 2 massive falcons perched on poles in the front yard of a small wooden house. Are my eyes deceiving me? No, indeed, I double back. There are a number of people milling around. The falconer invites us to take photos- he is the coolest looking dude on the planet, with his haughty attitude, his shades and his leather arm mantle – the giant raptor’s claws wrapped around it and giving equal attitude, gazing off into the distance. Kati holds the bird and poses for photos. She urges Steve to hurry – it’s heavy as hell!
Who would’ve thought – prize falcons in a tiny village in Kyrgyzstan? We learn later that there’s a falconing competition being held in Karakol in a few weeks’ time. I guess it’s a thing here. Wonder if Mr Cool is going?
Finally, we leave the tar and are back onto dirt, but thankfully nothing like yesterday’s corrugations and we are once again blessed with a strong tail wind. We need to watch our backs though, as some of the drivers are really reckless and come far too close. Steve has his helmet mirror, so he calls out warnings when we need to get right off the road. He is too far back though, when an orange Lada nearly knocks me off my bike. I shout and raise my arm and he immediately slows down and blocks my way. I pull over to pass him on the left and he and his passenger shout out something aggressive in Kyrgyz. I indicate with attitude that he should give some space, then hope he doesn’t stop and pick a fight, but thankfully he roars off. I’m much relieved until I remember Kati’s up ahead. Shit! I’d better warn her. “Kati watch out for the arsehole coming up! “Too late, he misses her by a hairs breadth and she also shouts out and raises her fist. Oh darn, hope he doesn’t stop and get pissy, but his bark is clearly worse than his bite and thankfully he continues. When we cycle into town a few km on, we see the car parked at the side of the road- he has a flat tyre. Ha, Karma is a bitch!
Obviously, they’ve sought help from a local farmer, as we see them hitching a ride on a tractor heading back towards the car. They pull nasty faces at us as we cycle past. Funny how no matter where you go in the world, you always get your plonkers. By far the majority of the people we’ve met have been friendly and welcoming and the truck drivers have been particularly courteous, slowing down to reduce dust and giving us a wide berth. We’re certainly not going to let these couple of tossers get us down!
At this point the wind starts picking up heavily and a few raindrops fall. There is plenty of nasty cloud about and some rumbling thunder. We need to find a place to shelter and have lunch. Our picnic spot ends up being an abandoned horse shed filled with shit. It’s better than eating in the elements. The lovely fresh bread we bought this morning has been sweating in a plastic bag on top of Kati’s bike and is no longer fresh. We scoop out the as yet unused, melted, then re-set, then re-melted butter acquired from yurt lady yesterday morning and pour over the delicious honey. It’s functional.
The threatening storm blows over, but the wind is still very strong when we hit the road again. A few km on I see a couple of young backpackers holding hands and literally stumbling down the road towards us. “Steve, check out these 2. They’ve clearly had too much vodka. They’re paralytic!” “Nah, it’s the wind” he declares. As we pass them, they lurch towards us and the guy starts babbling. I cycle straight on, but Steve stops to endure the drunken rambling. There’s a third one slightly behind. I’m afraid he’s going to accost me, but turns out he’s an independent backpacker from France and not with them at all. He can’t believe that he’s encountered 5 travellers in 1 street, when he hasn’t seen any others for weeks! We chat away and I mention that the other 2 are clearly trollied, when she comes lurching towards us, foaming at the mouth and turns out she is from Canada and speaks French. I hear “trop beaucoup de vodka” – yes indeed! I don’t hang around, but bid farewell and catch up to Kati who clearly has no patience for this shit! Steve is still way back, amiably listening to drunken man’s garrulous slurring.
“What on earth was he on about?”, I ask when he finally catches up. Ah just dispensing travel advice – “sleep below 3000m, some difficult river crossings ahead, wakka, wakka, wakka”. Steve is far too good-natured to blow him off.
We reach the yurt camp at around 17h00 and there’s another, much larger one just beyond it. We see lots of action there and also a bunch of bicycles. Looks like a commercial tour operator. There’s no one else at ours. Dilemma, do we have a quiet night alone or opt for a more social evening? We’ve already committed and they are expecting us, so we stick with our plan and turns out to be another great, authentic, family affair- the camp is run by Datke’s mother and sister in law and there are plenty of youngsters about. They don’t speak any English, but make us feel most welcome and feed us great mountains of potato and vegetable stew for dinner, not to mention salads and a big bowl of bite-sized vetkoek-like dough balls, which we dip in jam and cream. There are also 2 bowls of the typical round sweeties we’ve seen in all the shops. Might as well try one- oh yum, they’re toffee filled with chocolate. We’re too full now, but they’ll be great for the road. We pocket 6 each – don’t want to appear too piggish – and the bowls are still basically full.
Later Datke pulls in. She’s driven through from Naryn, just to make sure everything is ok. She’s most perturbed that the solar-powered shower wasn’t hot, but we assure her it also wasn’t freezing cold, especially since we are used to washing in icy rivers. Her English is pretty good and it’s handy having an interpreter. Two nights in a row in a decent bed with plentiful food and we are starting to feel like softies. Enjoy it while it lasts. Tomorrow we’re back into the really high mountains…