Kyrgyzstan Bike-Packing Day 14: Experience Kyrgyz family life
Kati wakes up and pronounces this to have been the best tent sleep of the trip so far. It’s a good start. We polish off the rice from last night, washed down with condensed milk coffee and we are pumped to hit the climb!
It turns out to be one of the best rides of the trip so far as well – beautiful, rideable single and double tracks across the open landscape with herd upon herd of horses & sheep in every direction.
We stop for lunch on a koppie overlooking the river. We have 2 flat stale loaves left. Need to save one for tomorrow, so I cut one into 3 pizza slices, which we enjoy with tomato, cucumber and cheese. We’d love to eat the second, but restrain ourselves and pack it away for tomorrow.
“Maybe we can buy bread from one of the yurts? Let’s ask if we get the chance”
We mosey on and all around us, the cutest of creatures pop their heads out of their burrows or dash across the veld and dive into their holes. We have encountered them all along the route and surmise they are Marmots – like a mix between a Dassie and a Corgi, but with a fluffy coat and a Platypus-like tail which bounces up and down on the ground when they run. I’m dying to photograph them, but they are elusive little buggers. I need to get up close for a good shot, so I try to creep up surreptitiously, but just as I get ready to press the button, they dive into the hole, every time! I’ve given up now and just enjoy listening to their bird- like warning cries and watching them dash across the grass, tails flapping, and dive into their burrows. I guess they make good Eagle fodder, as they’re very skittish and we have seen some giant raptors about.
Further on I see a strange sight. I can’t quite make out what it is. “Steve, do you see those 2 animals? What are they? Looks like they’re feeding on a carcass”.
On closer inspection we see they are jackals. Eish! For some reason we haven’t thought about wild animals at all. There’s been plenty of sniffing around the tents at night, but we’ve just assumed marmots or sheep. Better be more careful in future about not leaving foodstuffs near the tent entrance…Kati is entirely dismissive “Oh Di you’re just imagining things again. It was only dogs!”
It’s 16h30 and getting to that time when we need to start scouting for a camping spot. There are a number of yurts about, so we decide to ask about buying bread. We cycle past what is actually a more permanent dwelling and a young woman waves. We stop, dig in the panniers, I hold up the old loaf in one hand and some cash in the other “Is it possible to buy (show money) some bread (show loaf). She nods and beckons for us to come in, “chai, chai”. We take off our shoes and enter the kitchen/ living area. She indicates for us to sit at the low table and then out comes plates piled high with food – potatoes with lamb, stir-fried veggies, bread, butter, jam, cream…” We just wanted to buy some bread!!” Ah well, there’s no getting out of this. This will be dinner. No cooking again tonight- suits me!
The whole extended family gathers round to watch us eat – Mom and Dad senior, their son and his wife ( who called us in) & their 1 year old daughter, an adult daughter/ sister, who is clearly not altogether there, but the sweetest of beings, all smiles, and a 9 year old granddaughter/ niece, who is here for the Summer holidays ( her father, the brother of this son and daughter, is in Issy Kul ). The i- translate is working overtime. There’s a cry from a pram in the corner of the room – oh my goodness, another one! The young couple also have a 1 month old.
The son opens a small sliding flap in the wall behind us and indicates for us to peer in. It looks into a bedroom. “Otel, otel”, sleeping gestures – he sees an opportunity for some cash and some company. We traipse outside to get a better look. The room we peered into is actually their bedroom – the young couple plus their 2 babies sleep in this room, which leads into another, larger room, with 4 beds – “Otel”, he pats the beds and pillows “1,2,3,4”. I quite like the prospect of not camping, but am uneasy about having to walk through their room to get to ours. Ah, what the hell, it’s all part of the experience and they clearly need the money. “Let’s do it!” We ascertain a total price for the 3 of us, of 1500 Kyrgyz Som (Kgs), which translates to approx. R 300.
We unpack all our kit and they fire up the donkey. After another awesome bathing/ sauna experience, we are clean and fed and have washed our clothes – what now? We still have hours of daylight. The young niece takes a shine to Kati and they are reading from an illustrated English/ Kyrgyz/ Russian kids dictionary. “Look up the word for bread”, I say – turns out it’s Nan. We won’t forget that! I’m happy for Kati to practice her mothering instincts and settle in to write my blog, while she kicks the soccer ball and plays throw the bunny. Steve meantime chats to the son, who has hauled out his photo albums. Turns out he is a hunting enthusiast. “Holy Moley! Di come and look at this”, He shows us photos of a brown bear taken down at this very river and some pics of him proudly holding up 2 huge wolf carcasses as well as pics of 3 snow leopards, taken in the valley (these are protected, though, so no hunting). Jackal schmackal! I had no idea such wild creatures hung out in these mountains! But of course, why not? It makes sense. Now I see why the herders corral their sheep at night! I think the fear factor is going to go up a notch when camping from here on…
Come 19h30 and we are getting hungry again. So much for no dinner! Kati suggests cooking up some pasta out on the porch. I am uneasy, think it may offend. Maybe they’ll invite us for dinner? Surely the family has to eat? We are not exactly clear what the 1500 covers. We share out a few squares of chocolate and decide to wait and see. Just as we are resigned to pushing through, a call comes for Chai. Yes! We are ushered back into the pound seats on the narrow bench, while the family sit on the floor or on the proverbial hide-covered wooden stools. Each is served a plate piled with fried eggs, pasta and cucumber. Out comes another huge loaf and, of course the butter, cream and endless bowls of milky chai. We know now that “chai” does not simply mean tea. It means more like “kos is op die tafel” or” dinner is served” or “a tavola”. We are definitely not going hungry tonight!
Then it’s time for bed. I have been delaying a visit to the long drop toilet as long as possible, but I can hold it no longer and I definitely don’t want to have to go through their room to pee later! The hole is a narrow triangle with the wider side towards the back. It’s pitch dark inside and I misjudge and squat too far forwards. Next thing I know, I am pissing on my left foot! I knyp to try and stem the flow, shuffle back, and readjust my position, but the damage is done and there is a small river of liquid running along the wooden floor towards the door. I am mortified!! I mop up as best I can with toilet paper and hope like hell that no family member needs to go before it dries.
As I wash my foot and hands with a water bottle, I tell the others of my shame. Steve is most sympathetic. Kati, predictably, kills herself laughing, rubs salt in the wound and makes me feel worse than I already do – Hey, what are friends for?
Just as we’re getting ready to climb into bed, the daughter comes in and goes over to the bed that Kati has staked out. She starts unpacking everything on the bed and we look at each other in confusion – “is she going to be sleeping with us?”, but no, she takes the blankets and pillow and leaves. Oh dear, seems we have kicked her out of her room. I wonder if we’ve ousted the others as well? Most likely, but I guess it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement, so don’t feel bad.
I feel wide awake, so sit up blogging until 23h30, when the phone charge runs out and I finally settle down. I brace myself for a disturbed sleep, what with 2 babies in the next room and indeed, there is much wailing on and off throughout the night, but surprisingly, my equanimity seems to be strengthening, as it really doesn’t bother me. I just hope like hell I don’t need to pee again during the night…